November 27, 2020

Celebrate Georgia Day!

(Franklin) — Thursday, February 12th is Georgia Day. The James Stewart Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution invites you all to join us as we wish Georgia a very “Happy Birthday!”  Take time to remember the birth of our great state.

The story of how Oglethorpe came to bring colonists across the seas is a fascinating one. Not only did he get the local Indians to accept the colonists, but he got the colonists to succeed where many had failed.

Did you know that the colony of Georgia stretched all the way to the Mississippi River?

Georgia was the last of the original thirteen British colonies founded in North America over a time span of 125 years. King George II signed Georgia’s charter on April 21, 1732. Georgia’s charter had to be witnessed at Westminster “by Writ of Privy Seal” — this official process begun on June 9th was not fully completed until June 20, 1732.

The Trustees of Georgia were not officially organized until July 31, 1732. The first Georgia colonists had been left on Port Royal Island in South Carolina while Oglethorpe led a party of South Carolina Rangers on an advance expedition up the Savannah River to find a site for locating the first Georgia settlement.

Oglethorpe actually first set foot on Georgia soil on Feb. 2, 1733, when he met with and  received preliminary permission from the local Indian Chief Tomochichi to allow the colonists to settle at Yamacraw Bluff. Oglethorpe then returned for his settlers, who actually landed at Yamacraw Bluff on Feb. 12, 1733 — which is the basis for the current celebration of Feb. 12 as Georgia Day.

The founder of Georgia was James Oglethorpe, who alone of all the colony planters lived until after the Revolution and saw the thirteen colonies become an independent nation.

DE17AC64-5CCC-43D5-A721-45FC8206471DAlthough Oglethorpe is remembered in history chiefly as the founder of Georgia, he was a man of much prominence. The story of his life shows why he was so drawn to bring colonists across the sea and why he was determined to be part of this new land.

While still a youth he served in the European wars under Marlborough and Prince Eugene and witnessed the battle of Blenheim and the siege of Belgrade. Returning to England, he became a Member of Parliament and took a high stand among his fellows, as he had done in the army.

While in Parliament his attention was drawn to the miserable conditions of the debtor’s prisons, lately replenished by the bursting of the South Sea Bubble, and he devised the plan to transplant the unfortunate inmates to the wilderness of America.

A charter was granted for twenty-one years to a board of trustees for the land between the Savannah and Altamaha rivers and westward to the “South Sea”. The new colony was named Georgia, for George II who had granted the charter. The liberties of Englishmen were guaranteed to the colonies, and freedom in religion to all except Catholics.

The object in founding the colony was threefold: to afford an opportunity to the unfortunate poor to begin life over again, to offer a refuge to persecuted Protestants of Europe, and to erect a military barrier between the Carolinas and Spanish Florida.

Oglethorpe was chosen governor and with thirty-five families he sailed from England, reaching the mouth of the Savannah in the spring of 1733, and here on a bluff overlooking the river and the sea he founded a city and called it by the name of the river.

The character of Oglethorpe’s company was better than that of the men who had founded Jamestown a hundred and twenty-five years before, but inferior to the character of the first settlers of Maryland or of South Carolina.

The year after the founding of Savannah a shipload of Salzburgers, Protestant refugees, a deeply religious people, sailed into the mouth of the Savannah and, led by Oglethorpe, they founded the town of Ebenezer. This same year the governor sailed for England and soon returned with more immigrants, among who were John Wesley, the great founder of Methodism, who came as a missionary, and his brother Charles, who came as secretary to Oglethorpe.

Scotch Highlanders soon came in considerable numbers and settled nearest the Spanish border. George Whitfield, the most eloquent preacher of his times, also came to Georgia and founded an orphan school in Savannah.

Georgia was the only colony of the thirteen that received financial aid by a vote of Parliament — the only one in the planting of which the British government, as such, took a part. The colony differed from all others also in prohibiting slavery and the importation of intoxicating liquors.

The settlers were to have their land free of rent for ten years, but they could take no part in the government. The trustees made all the laws; but this arrangement was not intended to be permanent; at the close of the proprietary period the colony was to pass to the control of the Crown.

Oglethorpe’s military wisdom was soon apparent. In the war between England and Spain, beginning in 1739, the Spaniards became troublesome and the governor, this same year, made an expedition against St. Augustine with an army of over two thousand men, half of whom were Indians.

The city was well fortified and he failed to capture it; but three years later when the Spaniards made an attack on the colony Oglethorpe, by the most skillful strategy, repulsed the enemy and drove him away.

Oglethorpe was governor of Georgia for twelve years when he returned to England. In four respects the settlers were greatly dissatisfied. They wanted rum, they wanted slaves, they greatly desired to take a hand in their own government, and they were not content with the land system, which gave each settler but a small farm that must descend in the male line.

In all these points the people won. On account of these restrictions the colony grew but slowly and at the end of eighteen years scarcely a thousand families had settled in Georgia. The people claimed that the prohibition of liquors drove the West India trade away from them and at length the prohibition was withdrawn.

As to slavery, it still had its opponents — the Salzburgers, the Scotch Highlanders, the Wesley brothers, but the great majority favored its introduction on the plea that slave labor was necessary to the development of the colony.

On this side we find the great preacher, Whitfield, who went so far as to purchase a plantation in South Carolina, stock it with slaves, and use the proceeds for his orphan house in Savannah. His claim was that the negroes were better off in slavery than in their native heathenism.

Parliament finally relented and in 1749 Georgia became a slave colony; but only under strict laws for the humane treatment of slaves.

In the matter of governing without a voice from the people, the trustees found it as impracticable as the promoters of the Grand Model had done in the Carolinas. Before their twenty-one years had expired they threw the matter up in discouragement, and in 1752 Georgia became a royal colony.

The people now elected an assembly and the king appointed the governor. The right to vote was extended to Protestant freemen, with certain property restrictions. But the colony in one respect showed itself still benighted, as were all its twelve sisters, by denying the franchise to Roman Catholics.

After this change of government Georgia grew very rapidly, and by the time of the Revolution numbered some fifty thousand souls, about half of whom were slaves. Georgia in its later career presents no striking features differing from those of the other southern colonies. The English church was made the state church, but religious freedom was extended to all Protestants.

The chief products were rice, indigo, and lumber, and there was a very lucrative fur trade carried on with the Indians. It was believed at first that the production of silk would become the leading industry, as the mulberry tree, which furnishes the natural food of the silkworm, grew wild in Georgia; but after a trial of several years the business was abandoned.

The social condition of Georgia resembled that of North Carolina. There were no schools, and the mails seldom or never reached the inland settlements. The people were mostly small farmers, with here and there a rich planter. There was little town life.

Savannah was the only town of importance, and it was still a wooden village at the time of the Revolution. The roads were mere Indian trails, and the settlers saw little of one another. To the end of the colonial era Georgia was essentially the southern frontier of South Carolina, as North Carolina was of Virginia.

Carla Brown, Regent

James Stewart Chapter NSDAR


(Source: “History of the United States of America,” by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Chapter IV pp. 93-97.)


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