Oglethorpe’s Colony

In June, 1732, the English philanthropist James E. Oglethorpe received a charter from George II (for whom the colony was named) to settle the colony of Georgia and form a board of trustees to manage it. Oglethorpe planned to settle Georgia as a refuge for debtors in England. The first colonists, led by Oglethorpe, reached the mouth of the Savannah River in Feb., 1733. On a bluff c.18 mi (29 km) upstream, the colonists laid out the first town, Savannah. In 1739 war broke out between Spain and England. Fighting occurred in Georgia, and in 1742, near Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island, Oglethorpe defeated the Spanish in the battle of Bloody Marsh, thereby effectively ending Spain’s claim to the land N of the St. Marys River.

Georgia’s early settlers included English, Welsh, Scots Highlanders, Germans, Italians, Piedmontese, and Swiss. Jews, Catholics, and settlers from other American colonies were at first barred. Immigrants fell generally into two groups: charity settlers, who were financed by the trustees, and adventurers, who paid their own way and came to receive the best land grants. The trustees had hoped that the colony would produce silk to send back to England, and early colonists were required to plant a specific number of mulberry trees for the cultivation of silkworms. The scheme, however, came to nothing. At first slavery was prohibited, but this and other restrictions impeded the colony’s growth, and by the time Georgia became a royal colony in 1754, most of the restrictions had been abolished.

Georgia flourished as a royal colony. It fitted well into the British mercantile system, exporting rice, indigo, deerskins, lumber, naval stores, beef, and pork to England and buying there the manufactured articles it needed. Georgia’s citizens were slower to resent those acts of the crown that exasperated the other colonies, but by June, 1775, Georgian patriots had begun to organize, and the following month delegates were elected to the Second Continental Congress. Georgia’s colonists were about equally divided into Loyalists and patriots during the American Revolution, but the patriots, exposed to Loyalist Florida on the south and Native American tribes on the west, fared badly. In Dec., 1778, the British captured Savannah, and by the end of 1779 they held every important town in Georgia.

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