In the 1730s, England founded the last of
its colonies in North America. The project was the brain child of James
Oglethorpe, a former army officer. After Oglethorpe left the army, he
devoted himself to helping the poor and debt-ridden people of London, whom he
suggested settling in America. His choice of Georgia, named for
the new King, was also motivated by the idea of creating a defensive buffer
for South Carolina, an increasingly important colony with many potential
enemies close by. These enemies included the Spanish in Florida, the French
in Louisiana and along the Mississippi River,
and these powers' Indian allies throughout the region.
Twenty trustees received funding from Parliament and a
charter from the King, issued in June 1732. The charter granted the trustees
the powers of a corporation; they could elect their own governing body, make
land grants, and enact their own laws and taxes. Since the corporation was a
charitable body, none of the trustees could receive any land from, or hold a
paid position in, the corporation. Too, since the undertaking was designed
to benefit the poor, the trustees placed a 500-acre limit on the size of
individual land holdings. People who had received charity and who had not
purchased their own land could not sell, or borrow money against, it. The
trustees wanted to avoid the situation in South Carolina, which had very
large plantations and extreme gaps between the wealthy and the poor.
The undertaking was paternalistic through and through.
For example, the trustees did not trust the colonists to make their own
laws. They therefore did not establish a representative assembly, although
every other mainland colony had one. The trustees made all
laws for the colony. Second, the settlements were laid out in compact,
confined, and concentrated townships. In part, this arrangement was
instituted to enhance the colony's defenses, but social control was another
consideration. Third, the trustees prohibited the import and manufacture of
rum, for rum would lead to idleness. Finally, the trustees prohibited Negro
slavery, for they believed that this ban would encourage the settlement of
"English and Christian" people.
Georgia's first year,
1733, went well enough, as settlers began to clear the land, build
houses, and construct fortifications. Those who came in the first wave of
settlement realized that after the first year they would be working for
themselves. Meanwhile, Oglethorpe, who went to Georgia with the first
settlers, began negotiating treaties with local Indian tribes, especially
the Upper Creek tribe. Knowing that the Spanish, based in Florida, had great
influence with many of the tribes in the region, Oglethorpe thought it
necessary to reach an understanding with these native peoples if Georgia was
to remain free from attack. In addition, the Indian trade became an
important element of Georgia's economy.
didn't take long, however, until the settlers began to grumble about all the
restrictions imposed on them by the trustees. In part, this grumbling may
have been due to the fact that most of those moving to Georgia after the
first several years were from other colonies, especially South Carolina.
These settlers viewed restrictions on the size of individual land holdings
as a sure pathway to poverty. They also opposed restrictions on land sales
and the prohibition against slavery for the same reason. They certainly did
not like the fact that they were deprived of any self-government and their
rights as Englishmen. By the early 1740s, the trustees slowly gave way on
most of the colonists' grievances.
For additional documents related to these topics, search
The Capital and the Bay collection using such key words
as James Oglethorpe, Georgia (and
individual towns such as Savannah and Ebenezer), South
Carolina (and Charles Town), Negro, slavery, and
such individual Indian tribes as Creek (both Upper and
Lower), Choctaw, and Cherokee. Another way to find
documents relating to the colonization of Georgia is to peruse the four
volumes edited by Peter Force (in the 1830s) in the
The Capital and
the Bay. Finally, use the terms found in the documents to the right of
the page in your searching.
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