OGLETHORPE, James Edward,
founder of Georgia, born in London, England, 21 December, 1698; died in Cranham
Hall, Essex, 30 January, 1785. The Oglethorpes were originally from Yorkshire,
but the branch from which James Edward was descended had been settled for some
time in London and its neighborhood. His father was Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe,
of Godalming, Surrey, but the son was born in St. Martins-in-the-Field, then in
the outskirts of the metropolis. He studied for a short time at Oxford, but at a
very early age he entered the army, having obtained a commission in the Guards,
probably in 1714. He was on the continent with the Duke of Marlborough and
Prince Eugene shortly afterward, and in the campaign against the Turks, in
1716-'17, he was aide-de-camp and secretary to the latter, and took an active
part in the siege of Belgrade. In 1722 he was elected to parliament for
Hazlemere, which he continued to represent for thirty-two years, immediately
after entering parliament he gave his attention to the wretched condition of
unfortunate debtors, who in large numbers languished in London prisons, and
projected a colony for their permanent relief. Oglethorpe's conviction was that
liberation from prison was no benefit to the debtor. What was wanted for him was
a new sphere, with new surroundings and new opportunities.
The scheme found favor; all the more so, that it was proposed to make the new
colony an asylum as well for the afflicted Protestants of Germany and other
parts of the European continent. Parliament granted £10,000, a large sum was
raised by subscription, and in June, 1732, King George II. granted to Oglethorpe
and twenty other persons all that region of territory that lies between Savannah
and Altamaha rivers. It was named Georgia in honor of the king.
In January, 1733, Oglethorpe arrived at Charleston, at the head of a company
of 150 persons, comprising about thirty-five families. The Savannah river was
explored, and a site for the new settlement was selected on what was known as
Yamacraw bluff. There were la, id the foundations of what is the town of
Savannah. In April, 1734, he went to England, taking with him the Yamacraw
chief, several members of his family, and some of his men, and on 1 August, the
chief had an interview with the king at Kensington palace. During this visit he
sent out about 150 Scottish Highlanders as a protection to the colonists, who
had been largely increased by bands of German Protestants from Salzburg and its
neighborhood. In 1735 he returned to Georgia, accompanied by about 300
emigrants, among whom, with others of less note, were John and Charles Wesley,
whom Oglethorpe had induced to accept ecclesiastical appointments in the colony.
Under his rule the colony made satisfactory progress, but he had not a little
trouble with the Spaniards, who were then in possession of Florida. Being
convinced that war was inevitable, he hastened to England, raised a regiment of
about 600 men, obtained a grant of £20,000, "rod was back again in Georgia
before the close of 1738. In October of the following year war was declared by
England against Spain, and the American colonies were ordered each to contribute
its quota to a grand expedition against the Spanish possessions in the West
Indies. Aided by supplies and re-enforcements from South Carolina, Oglethorpe,
in obedience to orders, invaded Florida, and made an unsuccessful attack on St.
Augustine in the summer of 1741.
In the following year the Spaniards made preparations for the invasion of
Georgia, and the purpose was not concealed that, if success attended them, they
would drive the English out of that colony and South Carolina as well.
Oglethorpe made a spirited resistance, and compelled the Spaniards to retire. In
1743 he went to England to reply to charges that had been made against him by
Captain Cook, one of his own officers. The trial was by court-martial.
Oglethorpe was acquitted, and the charges were pronounced false and malicious,
Cook being dismissed the army and declared incapable of further serving the
king. Oglethorpe did not return to Georgia, but he had the satisfaction of
knowing that he had successfully laid the foundations of a prosperous state. In
1745 he was made major-general, and sent north against the forces of the
pretender. Failing to overtake them, he not only incurred much odium, but came
under grave suspicion. He was again tried by court-martial, and again acquitted.
In 1752 he resigned his charter of Georgia to the British government. In 1754 he
retired from parliament to his seat in Essex, where he continued to entertain
his many friends, among whom were some of the most eminent men of the day. In
February, 1765, he was put on half-pay, as a retired general. When, in 1775,
General Gage returned to England, the command in America was offered to
Oglethorpe, but he refused to accept unless he was furnished with powers of
concession and conciliation, he was one of the first to call on John Adams on
his arrival as ambassador in England, and to assure him of his regard for the
United States, and of his satisfaction and gratitude because the war was ended.
Oglethorpe was a man of fine feeling, of excellent taste, and of culture far
beyond the men of his class, he commanded admiration from such men as Alexander
Pope, James Thomson, and Samuel Johnson, who expressed a willingness to write
his life if the material were put into his hands. Thomson alludes to his
philanthropic labors in the poem of " Winter," and Pope's couplet in his praise
is well known. His own account of the St. Augustine campaign, published
immediately after the close of the struggle (London, 1742) is still a readable
book. Oglethorpe's life has been written by Thaddeus M. Harris, D. D. (Boston,
1841); Robert Wright (London, 1867) ; and William B. O. Peabody in Sparks's
"American Biography." His " New and Accurate Account of the Colonies of South
Carolina, and Georgia" and his letters to the trustees of the colony and others
are printed in the "Collections" of the Georgia historical society.
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