Chronicles of America 

Oglethorpe, Philanthropist

In England there dwelled a man named James Edward Oglethorpe, son of Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe of Godalming in Surrey. Though entered at Oxford, he soon left his books for the army and was present at the siege and taking of Belgrade in 1717. Peace descending, the young man returned to England, and on the death of his elder brother came into the estate, and was presently made Member of Parliament for Haslemere in Surrey.

His character was a firm and generous one; his bent, markedly humane. "Strong benevolence of soul," Pope says he had. His century, too, was becoming humane, was inquiring into ancient wrongs. There arose, among other things, a belated notion of prison reform. The English Parliament undertook an investigation, and Oglethorpe was of those named to examine conditions and to make a report. He came into contact with the incarcerated -- not alone with the law-breaker, hardened or yet to be hardened, but with the wrongfully imprisoned and with the debtor. The misery of the debtor seems to have struck with insistent hand upon his heart's door. The parliamentary inquiry was doubtless productive of some good, albeit evidently not of great good. But though the inquiry was over, Oglethorpe's concern was not over. It brooded, and, in the inner clear light where ideas grow, eventually brought forth results.

Numbers of debtors lay in crowded and noisome English prisons, there often from no true fault at all, at times even because of a virtuous action, oftenest from mere misfortune. If they might but start again, in a new land, free from entanglements! Others, too, were in prison, whose crimes were negligible, mere mistaken moves with no evil will behind them -- or, if not so negligible, then happening often through that misery and ignorance for which the whole world was at fault. There was also the broad and well-filled prison of poverty, and many of the prisoners there needed only a better start. James Edward Oglethorpe conceived another settlement in America, and for colonists he would have all these down-trodden and oppressed. He would gather, if he might, only those who when helped would help themselves -- who when given opportunity would rise out of old slough and briar. He was personally open to the appeal of still another class of unfortunate men. He had seen upon the Continent the distress of the poor and humble Protestants in Catholic countries. Folk of this kind -- from France, from Germany -- had been going in a thin stream for years to the New World. But by his plan more might be enabled to escape petty tyranny or persecution. He had influence, and his scheme appealed to the humane thought of his day -- appealed, too, to the political thought. In America there was that debatable and unoccupied land south of Charles Town in South Carolina. It would be very good to settle it, and none had taken up the idea with seriousness since Azilia had failed. Such a colony as was now contemplated would dispose of Spanish claims, serve as a buffer colony between Florida and South Carolina, and establish another place of trade. The upshot was that the Crown granted to Oglethorpe and twenty associates the unsettled land between the Savannah and the Altamaha, with a westward depth that was left quite indefinite. This territory, which was now severed from Carolina, was named Georgia after his Majesty King George II, and Oglethorpe and a number of prominent men became the trustees of the new colony. They were to act as such for twenty-one years, at the end of which time Georgia should pass under the direct government of the Crown. Parliament gave to the starting of things ten thousand pounds, and wealthy philanthropic individuals followed suit with considerable donations. The trustees assembled, organized, set to work. A philanthropic body, they drew from the like minded far and near. Various agencies worked toward getting together and sifting the colonists for Georgia. Men visited the prisons for debtors and others. They did not choose at random, but when they found the truly unfortunate and undepraved in prison they drew them forth, compounded with their creditors, set the prisoners free, and enrolled them among the emigrants. Likewise they drew together those who, from sheer poverty, welcomed this opportunity. And they began a correspondence with distressed Protestants on the Continent. They also devised and used all manner of safeguards against imposition and the inclusion of any who would be wholly burdens, moral or physical. So it happened that, though misfortune had laid on almost all a heavy hand, the early colonists to Georgia were by no means undesirable flotsam and jetsam. The plans for the colony, the hopes for its well-being, wear a tranquil and fair countenance.

Oglethorpe himself would go with the first colonists. His ship was the Anne of two hundred tons burden -- the last English colonizing ship with which this narrative has to do -- and to her weathered sails there still clings a fascination. On board the Anne, beside the crew and master, are Oglethorpe himself and more than a hundred and twenty Georgia settlers, men, women, and children. The Anne shook forth her sails in mid-November, 1732, upon the old West Indies sea road, and after two months of prosperous faring, came to anchor in Charles Town harbor.

South Carolina, approving this Georgia settlement which was to open the country southward and be a wall against Spain, received the colonists with hospitality. Oglethorpe and the weary colonists rested from long travel, then hoisted sail again and proceeded on their way to Port Royal, and southward yet to the mouth of the Savannah. Here there was further tarrying while Oglethorpe and picked men went in a small boat up the river to choose the site where they should build their town.

Here, upon the lower reaches, there lay a fair plateau, a mile long, rising forty feet above the stream. Near by stood a village of well-inclined Indians -- the Yamacraws. Ships might float upon the river, close beneath the tree-crowned bluff. It was springtime now and beautiful in the southern land -- the sky azure, the air delicate, the earth garbed in flowers. Little wonder then that Oglethorpe chose Yamacraw Bluff for his town.

A trader from Carolina was found here, and the trader's wife, a half-breed, Mary Musgrove by name, did the English good service. She made her Indian kindred friends with the newcomers. From the first Oglethorpe dealt wisely with the red men. In return for many coveted goods, he procured within the year a formal cession of the land between the two rivers and the islands off the coast. He swore friendship and promised to treat the Indians justly, and he kept his oath. The site chosen, he now returned to the Anne and presently brought his colonists up the river to that fair place. As soon as they landed, these first Georgians began immediately to build a town which they named Savannah.

Ere long other emigrants arrived. In 1734 came seventy-eight German Protestants from Salzburg, with Baron von Reck and two pastors for leaders. The next year saw fifty-seven others added to these. Then came Moravians with their pastor. All these strong, industrious, religious folk made settlements upon the river above Savannah. Italians came, Piedmontese sent by the trustees to teach the coveted silk-culture. Oglethorpe, when he sailed to England in 1734, took with him Tomochi-chi, chief of the Yamacraws, and other Indians. English interest in Georgia increased. Parliament gave more money -- 26,000 pounds. Oglethorpe and the trustees gathered more colonists. The Spanish cloud seemed to be rolling up in the south, and it was desirable to have in Georgia a number of men who were by inheritance used to war. Scotch Highlanders -- there would be the right folk! No sooner said than gathered. Something under two hundred, courageous and hardy, were enrolled from the Highlands. The majority were men, but there were fifty women and children with them. All went to Georgia, where they settled to the south of Savannah, on the Altamaha, near the island of St. Simon. Other Highlanders followed. They had a fort and a town which they named New Inverness, and the region that they peopled they called Darien.

Oglethorpe himself left England late in 1735, with two ships, the Symond and the London Merchant, and several hundred colonists aboard. Of these folk doubtless a number were of the type the whole enterprise had been planned to benefit. Others were Protestants from the Continent. Yet others -- notably Sir Francis Bathurst and his family -- went at their own charges. After Oglethorpe himself, most remarkable perhaps of those going to Georgia were the brothers John and Charles Wesley. Not precisely colonists are the Wesleys, but prospectors for the souls of the colonists, and the souls of the Indians -- Yamacraws, Uchees, and Creeks.

They all landed at Savannah, and now planned to make a settlement south of their capital city, by the mouth of Altamaha. Oglethorpe chose St. Simon's Island, and here they built, and called their town Frederica.

Each Freeholder had 60 Feet in Front by 90 Feet in depth upon the high Street for House and Garden; but those which fronted the River had but 30 in Front, by 60 Feet in depth. Each Family had a Bower of Palmetto Leaves finished upon the back Street in their own Lands. The side toward the front Street was set out for their Houses. These Palmetto Bowers were very convenient shelters, being tight in the hardest Rains; they were about 20 Feet long and 14 Feet wide, and in regular Rows looked very pretty, the Palmetto Leaves lying smooth and handsome, and of a good Colour. The whole appeared something like a Camp; for the Bowers looked like Tents, only being larger and covered with Palmetto Leaves.

Moore's Voyage to Georgia.
Quoted in Winsor's Narrative and Critical History of America, vol. V, p. 378.

Their life sounds idyllic, but it will not always be so. Thunders will arise; serpents be found in Eden. But here now we leave them -- in infant Savannah -- in the Salzburgers' village of Ebenezer and in the Moravian village nearby -- in Darien of the Highlanders -- and in Frederica, where until houses are built they will live in palmetto bowers.

Virginia, Maryland, the two Carolinas, Georgia -- the southern sweep of England-in-America -- are colonized. They have communication with one another and with middle and northern England-in-America. They also have communication with the motherland over the sea. The greetings of kindred and the fruits of labor travel to and fro: over the salt, tumbling waves. But also go mutual criticism and complaint. "Each man," says Goethe, "is led and misled after a fashion peculiar to himself." So with those mass persons called countries. Tension would come about, tension would relax, tension would return and increase between Mother England and Daughter America. In all these colonies, in the year with which this narrative closes, there were living children and young persons who would see the cord between broken, would hear read the Declaration of Independence. So -- but the true bond could never be broken, for mother and daughter after all are one.

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