Georgia, the thirteenth American colony, was founded in a spirit of pure benevolence. the laws of England permitted imprisonment for debt. Thousands of English laborers, who through misfortune and thoughtless contracts had become indebted to the rich, were annually arrested and thrown into jail. There were desolate and starving families. The miserable condition of the debtor class at last attracted the attention of Parliament. In 1728 a commissioner was appointed, at his own request, to look into the state of the poor, to visit the prisons of the kingdom, and to report measures of relief. The work was accomplished, the jails were opened, and the poor victims of debt returned to their homes.
To provide a refuge for the downtrodden poor of England and the distressed Protestants of other countries, the commissioner now appealed to George II. for the privilege of planting a colony in America. The petition was favorably heard, and on the 99th of June, 1732, a royal charter was issued by which the territory between the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers, and westward from the upper fountains of those rivers to the Pacific, was organized and granted to a corporation for twenty-one years, to be held in trust for the poor. In honor of the king, the new province received the name of Georgia.
The founder of Georgia was James Oglethorpe, the philanthropist. Born a loyalist, educated at Oxford, a High Churchman, a cavalier, a soldier, a member of Parliament, benefolent, generous, full of sympathy, farsighted, brave as John Smith, chivalrous as De Soto, Oglethorpe gave in middle life the full energies of a vigorous body and a lofty mind to the work of building in the sunny South an asylum for the oppressed of his own and other lands. The magnanimity of the enterprise was heightened by the fact that he did not believe in the equality of men, but only in the right and duty of the strong to protect the weak and sympathize with the lowly. To Oglethorpe, as principal member of the corporation, the leadership of the first colony to be planted on the banks of the Savannah was naturally intrusted.
By the middle of November a hundred and twenty emigrants were ready to sail for the New World. Oglethorpe, like the elder Winthrop, determined to share the dangers and hardships of his colony. In the early spring of 1733, the company reached the mouth of the Savannah River. Here on a bluff overlooking that stream they laid the foundations of a city to which was given the name of the river. Broad streets were laid out; a public square was reserved in each quarter; a beautiful village of tents and board houses, built among the pine trees, appeared as the capital of a new commonwealth where men were not imprisoned for debt.
Tomo-chichi, chief of the Yamacraws, came from his cabin, half a mile distant, to see his brother Oglethorpe. There was a pleasant conference. "Here is a present for you," said the Red man to the white man. The present was a buffalo robe painted on the inside with the head and feathers of an eagle. "The feathers are soft, and signify love; the buffalo-skin is the emblem of protection. Therefore love us and protect us," said the old chieftain. Such a plea could not be lost on a man like Oglethorpe. Seeing the advantages of peace, he sent an invitation to the chiefs of the Muskhogees to meet him in a general council at his capital. The conference was held on the 29th of May. Long King, the sachem of Oconas, spoke for all the tribes of his nation. The English were welcomed to the country. Bundles of buckskins, and such other good gifts as savage civilization could offer, were laid down plentifully at the feet of the whites. The governor and his poor but generous colony responded with valuable presents and words of faithful friendship. The fame of Oglethorpe spread far and wide among the Red men. From the distant mountains of Tennessee came the noted chief of the Cherokees to confer with the humane and sweet-tempered governor of Georgia.
The councilors in England who managed the affairs of the new State encouraged emigration with every liberal offer. Swiss peasants left their mountains to find a home on the Savannah. The plaid cloak of the Scotch Highlander was seen among the wigwams of the Muskhogees. From distant Salzburg, afar on the borders of Austria, came a noble colony of German Protestants, singing their way down the Rhine and across the ocean. Oglethorpe met them at Charleston, bade them welcome, led them to Savannah, and thence through the woods to a point twenty miles up the river, told them of English rights and the freedom of conscience, and left them to found the village of Ebenezer.
In April of 1734, Governor Oglethorpe made a visit to England. His friend Tomo-chichi went with him, and made the acquaintance of King George. It was said in London that no colony was ever before founded so wisely and well as Georgia. The councilors prohibited the importation of rum. Traffic with the Indians -- always a dangerous matter -- was either interdicted or regulated by special license. When it came to the question of labor, slavery was positively forbidden. It was said that the introduction of slaves would be fatal to the interests of the English and German laborers for whom the colony had been founded. While the governor was still abroad, the first company of Moravians, numbering nine, and led by the evangelist Spangenberg, arrived at Savannah.
In February of 1736, Oglethorpe himself came back with a new colony of three hundred. Part of those were Moravians, and nearly all were people of deep piety and fervent spirit. First among them -- first in zeal and first in the influence which he was destined to exert in after times -- was the celebrated John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Overflowing with religious enthusiasm, he came to Georgia as an apostle. To lead the people to righteousness, to spread the gospel, to convert the Indians, and to introduce a new type fo religion characterized by few forms and much emotion, these were the purposes that thronged his lofty fancy. He was doomed to much disappointment. The mixed people of the new province could not be molded to his will; and after a residence of less than two years he left the colony with a troubled spirit. His brother, Charles Wesley, came also as a secretary to Governor Oglethorpe; but Charles was a poet, a timid and tender-hearted man who pined with homesickness and gave way under discouragement. But when, in 1738, the famous George Whitefield came, his robust and daring nature proved a match for all the troubles of the wilderness. He preached with fiery eloquence. To build an orphan-house at Savannah he went through all the colonies; and those who heard his voice could hardly refuse him money.
Meanwhile, Oglethorpe was busy with the affairs of his growing province. Anticipating war with Spain, he began to fortify. For the Spaniards were in possession of Florida, and claimed the country as far north as St. Helena Sound. All of Georgia was thus embraced in the Spanish claim. But Oglethorpe had a charter for Georgia as far south as the Altamaha, and he had secured by treaty with the Indians all the territory between that river and the St. Mary's. In 1736 was begun the erection of the forts. The most southerly was St. George on the river St. John's, which stream was claimed as the southern boundary of Georgia. To make his preparations complete, the governor again visited England, and was commissioned as brigadier-general, with a command extending over his own province and South Carolina. In October of 1737 he returned to Savannah, bringing with him a regiment of six hundred men. Such were the vigorous measures adopted by Oglethorpe in anticipation of a Spanish war.
The war came. It was that conflict known in American history as King George's War. England published her declaration of hostility against Spain in the latter part of October, 1739. In the first week of the following January the impetuous Oglethorpe, at the head of the Georgia militia, made a dash into Florida, and captured two fortified towns of the Spaniards. With a force of a thousand men, besides Indians, he proceeded against St. Augustine. The place was strongly fortified, and the Spanish commandant was a man of ability and courage. The siege continued for five weeks, but ended in disaster to the English. For a while the town was successfully blockaded. But the Spaniards made a sally, attacked a company of Highlanders, and dispersed them. Sickness prevailed in the English camp. The general himself was enfeebled with fever and excitement, but he held on like a hero. Some of the troops, disheartened and despairing of success, left their camp and marched homeward. The English vessels gathered up their crews and abandoned the siege. Oglethorpe, yielding only to necessity, collected his men from the trenches and withdrew into Georgia.
The Spaniards now determined to carry the war northward and drive the English beyond the Savannah. Preparations began on a vast scale. A powerful fleet of thirty-six vessels, carrying more than three thousand troops, was brought from Cuba. In June of 1742 the squadron passed up the coast and attempted the reduction of Fort William at the mouth of the St. Mary's. But Oglethorpe by a daring exploit re-enforced the garrison, and then fell back to Frederica. The Spanish vessels followed and came to anchor in the harbor of St. Simon's. From the southern point of the island to Frederica, Oglethorpe had cut a road which at one place lay between a morass and a dense forest. Along this path the Spaniards must pass to attack the town. The English general had only eight hundred men and a few Indian allies. In order to cope with superior numbers, Oglethorpe resorted to stratagem.
A Frenchman had deserted to the Spaniards. To him the English general now wrote a letter as if to a spy. A Spanish prisoner in Oglethorpe's hands was liberated and bribed to deliver the letter ti the deserter. The Frenchman was advised that two British fleets were coming to America, one to aid Oglethorpe and the other to attack St. Augustine. Let the Spaniards remain on the island but three days longer, and they would be ruined. If the enemy did not make an immediate attack on Frederica, his forces would be captured to a man. Oglethorpe knew very well that the prisoner, instead of delivering this letter to the deserter, would give it to the Spanish commander, and that the Spanish commander could not possibly know whether the communication was the truth or fiction. This letter was delievered, and the astonished Frenchman was arrested as a spy, but the Spaniards could not tell whether his denial was true or false. There was a council of war in the Spanish camp. Oglethorpe's stratagem was suspected, but could not be proved. Three ships had been seen at sea that day; perhaps these were the first vessels of the approaching British fleets. The Spaniards were utterly perplexed; but it was finally decided to take Oglethorpe's advice, and make the attack on Frederica.
The English general had foreseen that this course would be adopted. He had accordingly advanced his small force from the town to the place where the road passed between the swamp and the forest. Here an ambuscade was formed, and the soldiers lay in wait for the approaching Spaniards. On the 7th of July the enemy's vanguard reached the narrow pass, were fired on from the thicket, and driven back in confusion. The main body of the Spanish forces pressed on into the dangerous position where superior numbers were of no advantage. The Highlanders of Oglethorpe's regiment fired with terrible effect from the oak woods by the roadside. The Spaniards stood firm for a while, but were presently driven back with a loss of two hundred men. Not without reason the name of Bloody Marsh was given to this battlefield. Within less than a week the whole Spanish force had re-embarked and sailed for Florida. The English watched the retreating ships beyond the mouth of the St. John's; before the last of July the great invasion was at an end. The Spanish authorities of Cuba were greatly chagrined at the failure of the expedition. The commander of the squadron was arrested, tried by a court-martial, and dismissed from the service.
The commonwealth of Georgia was now firmly established, and the settlements had peace. In 1743, Oglethorpe bade a final adieu to the colony to whose welfare he had given more than ten years of his life. He hadnever owned a house nor possessed an acre of ground within the limits of his own province. He now departed for England crowned with blessings, and leaving behind him an untarnished fame. James Oglethorpe lived to be nearly a hundred years old; benevolence, integrity, and honor were the virtues of his declining years. But the new State which he had founded in the West was not always free from evils.
For the regulations which the councilors for Georgia had adopted were but poorly suited to the wants of the colony. The settlers had not been permitted to hold their lands in fee simple. Agriculture had not flourished. Commerce had not sprung up. the laws of property had been so arranged that estates could descend only to the oldest sons of families. The colonists were poor, and charged their poverty to the fact that slave-labor was forbidden in the province. This became the chief question which agitated the people. The proprietary laws grew more and more unpopular. The statute excluding slavery was not rigidly enforced, and, indeed, could not be enforced, when the people had determined to evade it. Whitefield himself pleaded for the abrogation of the law. Slaves began to be hired, first for short terms of service, then for longer periods, then for a hundred years, which was equivalent to an actual purchase for life. Finally, cargoes of slaves were brought directly from Africa, and the primitive free-labor system of Georgia was revolutionized. Plantations were laid out below the Savannah, and cultivated, as those of South Carolina.
At last the new order of things was acknowledged by the councilors of the province. In June of 1752, just twenty years from the granting of the charter, the trustees made a formal surrender of their patent to the king. A royal government was established over the country south of the Savannah, and the people were granted the privileges and freedom of Englishmen. For some time the progress of the colony was not equal to the expectations of its founder, but long before the Revolution, Georgia had become a prosperous and growing State.
The history of the American colonies from their first feeble beginnings is full of interest and instruction. The people who laid the foundation of civilization in the New World were nearly all refugees, exiles, wanderers, pilgrims. They were urged across the ocean by a common impulse, and that impulse was the desire to excape from some form of oppression in the Old World. Sometimes it was the oppression of the Church, sometimes of the State, sometimes of society. In the wake of the emigrant ship there was always tyranny. Men loved freedom; to find it they braved the perils of the deep, traversed the solitary forests of Maine, built huts on the bleak shores of New England, entered the Hudson, explored the Jerseys, found shelter on the Chesapeake, met starvation and death on the banks of the James, were buffeted by storms around the capes of Carolina, built towns by the estuaries of the great rivers, made roads through the pine woods, and carried the dwellings of men to the very margin of the fever-haunted swamps of the South. It is all one story -- the story of the human race seeking for liberty.
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