James Edward Oglethorpe and the Founding of Georgia

James Edward Oglethorpe was born on December 22, 1696 in London England. He was one of ten children born to Eleanor and Theophilus Oglethorpe. James had a comfortable childhood, since his father owned land in different parts of England. The political nature of James Oglethorpe’s family had great influence on him. In 1698, Theophilus, James’ father, was elected to the House of Commons. While not much is know about Oglethorpe’s childhood, it is known that beginning in 1714 he was admitted to Corpus Christi College at Oxford University. Oglethorpe soon dropped out of school and joined the English military. He had a very successful campaign against the Turks. He returned to school after, but never graduated. Even though in 1731 Corpus Christi College awarded him an M.A. In 1722, Oglethorpe followed his father’s footsteps and was elected House of Commons where he focused on the domestic and international policies of England. At that time, in England, people could be jailed for their debt. This was the case with Robert Castell, one of Oglethorpe’s close friends. Due to the death of his friend in prison, as a result of bad prison conditions, Oglethorpe launched a campaign to improve prison conditions which earned him national notoriety.

It was during this time that Oglethorpe formed a plan to deal with all the poverty in England. His idea was to take all the “worthy poor” and move them to a new colony in the Americas where they could become farmers and merchants. Oglethorpe was also set on the idea that the structure of the social classes in England, which caused so much poverty, should be avoided in the new colony. This meant no one person would be allowed to hold much land and slavery would be prohibited. After he revealed his idea to King George II, he was given clearance to begin the colony of Georgia. Oglethorpe was also named one of the twenty-one trustees who would govern the colony. Unfortunately, when the new colonists were being selected, the original idea of picking people with debts was lost and the selection focused more on skills and usefulness.

In November 1732, 114 people left for Georgia to make their home there. Oglethorpe was on this first boat load of settlers. As a trustee, Oglethorpe worked hard, and at times, even broke the law, in order to allow Jews and other persecuted religious groups to settle in Georgia. He was strongly opposed to slavery. He did his best to make fair treaties with Native Americans and protect them from white traders. Though he was not officially a “governor”, because as a trustee he was not allowed to hold office, many considered him Georgia’s first governor for his clear leadership over the colony.

Georgia was agreed upon partially because it was a place the English could protect their colonies in America against the Spanish. It was because of this situation that Oglethorpe convinced the king to make him a Colonel. Oglethorpe launched a preemptive attack on the Spanish, which failed. The Spanish counter-attacked but Oglethorpe’s regiment managed to push back the Spanish in the Battle of Gully Hole Creek. In the Battle of the Bloody Marsh, Oglethorpe managed to beat the Spanish badly enough that they decided the heavy losses sustained were not worth the fight. Oglethorpe had successfully defended Georgia.

In 1744, Oglethorpe returned to England and married Elizabeth Wright. He settled in the small Essex town of Cranham. Oglethorpe remained a Trustee, but the other trustees in Georgia relaxed their restrictions on alcohol, slavery and land ownership. Oglethorpe lived to see the colony that he had made become part of the United States of America. After a brief sickness, Oglethorpe died on June 30, 1785.