This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Parliament Committee Organizes Trustees.
It was not only the beginning of a new commonwealth, destined to become an important State of the American Union, but also the spirit and purpose which led to it, that made the English colonization of Georgia a great and unique event in the history of this country.
Seldom have military and philanthropic achievements been combined in the career of one man. James Oglethorpe was already a distinguished soldier and a member of the English Parliament when in 1732 he sailed with one hundred twenty men and founded Savannah. His express object was the settlement of Georgia, not only as a home for insolvent debtors, who suffered in English jails, but also for persecuted Protestants of the Continent. It was not the least of his services that on his second visit to the future “Empire State of the South” he took with him John and Charles Wesley, whose influence has been so marked among the American people.
Prior to the undertaking of Sir Robert Montgomery in 1717, with which Stevens’ narrative begins, few white men had visited the Georgia country, which was the home of various Indian tribes. De Soto traversed it on his great westward expedition (1539-1542), but little was known of it when in 1629 it was included in King Charles I’s Carolina grant to Sir Robert Heath, or even at the time of the next Carolina grant (1663), when it passed to Monk, Clarendon, and others. Under the later proprietors it became known to Englishmen through such glowing descriptions as naturally aroused an interest in its settlement.
This selection is from History of Georgia by William B. Stevens published in 1847. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
William B. Stevens (1815-1887) was an Episcopal Bishop and a medical doctor. That does not mean that he could not write great history like this story.
It was not until 1717 that any effort was made to improve the lands between the Savannah and the Altamaha. In that year Sir Robert Montgomery, Bart., whose father was joined with Lord Cardross in his measures for establishing a Scots colony in Port Royal, published A Discourse Concerning the Designed Establishment of a new Colony to the South of Carolina, in what he termed “the most delightful country in the universe.” This pamphlet was accompanied by a beautiful but fanciful plan representing the form of settling the districts or county divisions in his province, which he styled “the Margraviate of Azilia.” In his description of the country he writes “that Nature has not blessed the world with any tract which can be preferable to it; that Paradise, with all her virgin beauties, may be modestly supposed, at most, but equal to its native excellencies.”
Having obtained, from the Lords Proprietors of Carolina a grant of the lands between Savannah and the Altamaha, he issued his proposals for settling this “future Eden”; but, though garnished with the most glowing descriptions, and set forth under the most captivating attractions, they were issued in vain; and the three years having expired within which he was to make the settlement or forfeit the land, the territory reverted to Carolina, and his scheme of colonization came to an end. The Margraviate of Azilia was magnificent upon the map, but was impracticable in reality.
The Lords Proprietors of Carolina having failed in their scheme of government, and their authority being crushed by the provincial revolution of 1719, they sold their titles and interest in that province to Parliament in 1729; reserving to Lord John Carteret, one of their number, the remaining eight shares of the country, as he refused to join the others in disposing of the colony. After the purchase of the territory of Carolina, which then extended from the St. John’s to Albemarle Sound, it was deemed too large for one government, and was therefore divided into two provinces, under the respective titles of North and South Carolina. The territorial boundary of South Carolina, however, on the south, was the Savannah River; the remaining portion being then held in reserve by the British Crown.
The same year that the House of Commons resolved on an address to the King to purchase the rights of the Lords Proprietors to this territory, a committee was appointed by Parliament “to inquire into the state of the gaols of the kingdom, and to report the same and their opinion thereupon to the House.” This committee, raised on the motion of James Oglethorpe, Esq., in consequence of the barbarities which had fallen under his own observation while visiting some debtors in the Fleet and Marshalsea prisons, consisted of ninety-six persons, and Oglethorpe was made its chairman. A more honorable or effective committee could scarcely have been appointed. It embraced some of the first men in England; among them thirty-eight noblemen, the chancellor of the exchequer, the master of rolls, Admiral Vernon and Field Marshal Wade. They entered upon their labors with zeal and diligence, and not only made inquiries, through the Fleet prison, but also into the Marshalsea, the prison of the king’s bench, and the jail for the county of Surrey.
The philanthropy of Oglethorpe, whose feelings were easily enlisted in the cause of misery, rested not with the discharge of his Parliamentary duty, nor yet in the further benefit of relaxing the rigorous laws which thrust the honest debtor into prisons which seemed to garner up disease in its most loathsome forms — crime in its most fiend-like works — humanity in its most shameless and degraded aspect; but it prompted still further efforts — efforts to combine present relief with permanent benefits, by which honest but unfortunate industry could be protected, and the laboring poor be enabled to reap some gladdening fruit from toils which now wrung out their lives with bitter and unrequited labors. To devise and carry out such efforts himself Lord Percival and a few other noblemen and gentlemen addressed a memorial to the privy council, stating “that the cities of London, Westminster, and parts adjacent do abound with great numbers of indigent persons who are reduced to such necessity as to become burthensome to the public, and who would be willing to seek a livelihood in any of his majesty’s plantations in America if they were provided with a passage and means of settling there.”
The memorialists promised to take upon themselves the entire charge of this affair, to erect a province into a proprietary government, provided the crown would grant them a portion of the land bought in 1729 by Parliament from the Lords Proprietors of South Carolina, lying south of the Savannah River; together with such powers as shall enable them to receive the charitable contributions and benefactions of all such persons as are willing to encourage so good a design.
This petition, referred at first to a committee of the privy council, was by them submitted to the consideration of the board of trade, who, after a second commitment, made their report, that the attorney and solicitor-general should be directed to prepare a draft of the charter. This report, being laid before his majesty, was by him approved and he directed the proper officer to make out the charter. The charter thus prepared was approved by the King, but in consequence of the formalities of office did not pass under the great seal until June 9, 1732.
This instrument constituted twenty noblemen and gentlemen a body corporate, by the name and style of “The Trustees for establishing a Colony of Georgia, in America”; giving to the projected colony the name of the monarch who had granted to them such a liberal territory for the development of their benevolence.
The charter revealed two purposes as the object of this colonization: the settling of poor but unfortunate people on lands now waste and desolate, and the interposing of this colony as a barrier between the northern colonies and the French, Spanish, and Indians on the south and west. These designs the trustees amplified and illustrated in their printed papers and official correspondence.
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