A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part IV, Chapter 44." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 44
THE FOUNDING OF GEORGIA

SOUTH CAROLINA extended as far as the River Savannah, and between that river and the Spanish settlement at St. Augustine there stretched a great waste of country inhabited only by the Redmen who ever and anon made raids into Carolina. Southward from this the Spaniards claimed the land and called it Florida; but they made no effort to colonise the wilderness which stretched between Florida and the borders of South Carolina. So at length the idea of founding a British colony there occurred to an Englishman named James Oglethorpe.

James Oglethorpe

He was a truly great man, and in an age when men were cruel to each other out of mere thoughtlessness he tried to make people kinder to their fellows.

 

In those days in England people could be imprisoned for debt. And if they could not pay they remained in prison often for years, and sometimes till they died. They were starved and tortured, loaded with fetters, locked up in filthy dungeons, herded together with thieves and murderers, or those suffering from smallpox and other loathsome diseases. It was horrible, but no one troubled about it. There had always been misery in the world, there always would be, men thought, and no one had pity for prisoners.

The debtor's prison

But now young Oglethorpe had a friend who was imprisoned for debt, and, being treated in this horrible fashion, he died of smallpox. Oglethorpe's generous heart was grieved at the death of his friend, and he began to enquire into the causes of it. The things he discovered were so awful that he stood aghast with horror at the misery of the imprisoned debtors. And what was more he did not rest until he had made other people see the horror of it also. Soon there was an outcry all over England, and some of the worst evils were done away with.

 

Then the idea came to Oglethorpe that he would found a colony in America, where poor debtors who had regained their freedom might find a refuge and make a new start in life. He decided to found this colony to the south of South Carolina, so that it might not only be a refuge for the oppressed, but also form a buffer state between the Carolinas and Spanish Florida. So from George II Oglethorpe got a charter for the land lying between the Savannah and the Altamaha rivers, and in honour of the King the colony was called Georgia.

Oglethorpe's great plan;

colony called Georgia in honour of King George II.

Many well-to-do people were by this time interested in his scheme. They gave him money for it, and he also got a large grant from Parliament. This was the first time that Parliament ever voted money to found a colony in America. Of all the thirteen colonies now founded Georgia alone received aid from the State.

 

Trustees were appointed to frame the laws, and a kind of proprietory government was created. The colonists were to be granted all the liberties of Englishmen, but they were not to be allowed to frame the laws or take any part in the government. After twenty-one years the rule of the trustees was to come to an end, and Georgia was to become a Crown Colony.

 

All these matters being arranged, men were sent round to visit the jails, and choose from among the prisoners those who were really good men and who through misfortune, rather than roguery, found themselves in prison. The Commissioners refused to take lazy or bad men, or those who, in going to Georgia, would leave wife or children in want at home. Besides poor debtors those who were being persecuted because of their religion in any European State were invited to come and find a refuge in Georgia. No slavery was to be allowed, and the sale of rum was forbidden throughout the whole colony. For Oglethorpe knew how the Redman loved "fire-water" and how bad it was for him, and he wanted the settlement of Georgia to be a blessing and not a curse to the Redman, as well as to the white man.

Settlers chosen

Soon far more people wanted to go than Oglethorpe could take. So crowds of poor wretches had to be turned away, bitterly disappointed that they could not go to this new land which, after their terrible sufferings, seemed to them a very paradise.

 

The preparations took some time, and it was about the middle of November, 1732, when at length the Anne hoisted her sails and turned her prow towards the west. There were about a hundred and twenty colonists on board with Oglethorpe as Governor, and it was nearly the end of January when the colonists landed on the southern shores of the Savannah and founded the town of the same name.

They sail for Georgia

One of the first things Oglethorpe did was to make a treaty with the Indians, for he knew how greatly the peace and safety of the little colony depended on their friendship.

 

There were eight tribes of Creeks who claimed the land upon which Oglethorpe had settled. But before he allowed the colonists to land he himself went ashore and sought out the chieftain whose village was close to the spot he had chosen for his town. This chieftain was an old man of over ninety years, and at first he did not seem at all pleased at the idea of white men settling on his land. But Oglethorpe was kindly and friendly, he spoke gently to the old chief, and soon won his consent to the settlement, and a promise of friendship.

Their reception by the Indians;

When then the colonists landed, instead of being greeted with a flight of arrows they were received with solemn ceremony, the braves coming down to the water's edge to greet them. First came the Medicine Man carrying in either hand a fan made of white feathers as signs of peace and friendship. Behind him followed the chieftain and his squaw, with twenty or thirty braves, who filled the air with wild yells of welcome.

 

When the Medicine Man reached Oglethorpe he paused, and dancing round him he swept him on every side with the white feather fans, chanting the while a tale of brave deeds. This done the chieftain next drew near, and in flowery words bade the White Chief and his followers welcome. Thus peacefully the settlement was begun.

 

But Oglethorpe wanted to be friends with the other tribes round, so he asked Tomo-chi-chi, the old chieftain, to invite them to a conference. And a few months later they all came. Oglethorpe received them in one of the new houses built by the settlers, and when they were all solemnly seated an old and very tall man stood up and made a long speech. He claimed for the Creeks all the land south of the Savannah.

a great council is held;

"We are poor and ignorant," he said, "but the Great Spirit who gave the Pale-faces breath gave the Redmen breath also. But the Great Spirit who made us both has given more wisdom to the Pale-faces."

 

Then he spread his arms abroad and lengthened the sound of his words. "So we feel sure," he cried, "that the Great Spirit who lives in heaven and all around has sent you to teach us and our wives and children. Therefore we give you freely the land we do not use. That is my thought and not mine alone but the thought of all the eight nations of the Creeks. And in token thereof we bring you gifts of skins which is our wealth."

 

Then one by one the chief men of each nation rose up and laid a bundle of buck skins at Oglethorpe's feet.

 

In return Oglethorpe gave each of the chiefs a coat and hat trimmed with gold lace. Each of the braves likewise received some present. So a treaty of peace was signed, the Redmen promising to keep the good talk in their hearts as long as the sun shone, or water ran in the rivers. And so just and wise was Oglethorpe in all his dealings with the natives that in the early days of the settlement there were no wars with the natives.

a treaty of peace signed;

Oglethorpe worked unceasingly for the good of the colony. He kept no state, but slept in a tent and ate the plainest of food, his every thought being given to the happiness of his people. And in return they loved him and called him father. If any one were sick he visited him, and when they quarreled they came to him to settle their disputes. Yet he kept strict discipline and allowed neither drinking nor swearing.

 

The work of the colony went on apace. About six weeks after the settlers landed some of the settlers from Charleston came to visit Oglethorpe, and they were astonished to find how quickly things had got on.

a visit from the Carolinians

"It is surprising," one wrote, "to see how cheerfully the men work, considering they have not been bred to it. There are no idlers there. Even the boys and girls do their parts. There are four houses already up, but none finished. . . . He has ploughed up some land, part of which he has sowed with wheat. . . . He has two or three gardens, which he has sowed with divers sort of seeds. . . . He was palisading the town round. . . . In short he has done a vast deal of work for the time, and I think his name justly deserves to be immortalised."

 

But if Georgia had peace with the Indians it was far otherwise with the Spaniards. For the Spaniards were very angry with the British for daring to settle south of the Savannah. They vowed to root them out of America, and they set out to attack the little colony.

The Spaniards are angry;

But Oglethorpe was a daring soldier as well as a wise statesman, and he succeeded in beating the Spaniards. It was at Frederica where the greatest battle took place. This town had been founded after Savannah and named Frederica, in honour of Frederick, Prince of Wales. It was built on an island off the coast called St. Simon, and, being near the Spanish border, it was well fortified. At the little village of St. Simon which was at the south end of the island, there were barricades and a high watch-tower where a constant watch was kept for ships. As soon as they were sighted a gun was fired, and a horseman sped off to the barracks with the news.

 

Here one day in July, 1742, a great fleet of Spanish vessels came sailing. They made a brave show with their high painted prows and shining sails, and they brought five thousand men who vowed to give no quarter.

they attack the settlements, 1742

Oglethorpe had but eight hundred men. Some were regular soldiers, some were fierce Highlanders glad to have a chance of a shot at the Spaniards, and not a few were friendly Indians. But small though his force was Oglethorpe did not despair. He had sent to Carolina for help which he was sure would come if he could but hold out for a few days. He thought, however, that the position at St. Simon was too dangerous. So he spiked his guns, destroyed all stores, and retreated to Frederica.

 

The Spaniards soon landed and, taking possession of St. Simon, set out to attack Frederica. But they found it no easy matter, for the town was surrounded by dense and pathless woods. And struggling through them the Spaniards stumbled into marshes, or got entangled in the dense undergrowth until in their weariness they declared that not the Evil One himself could force a passage through. Added to their other difficulties they were constantly harassed by scouting parties of wild Indians, and almost as wild Highlanders, sent out from Frederica by Oglethorpe.

 

But meanwhile no help appeared, and at length Oglethorpe, having discovered that the Spanish force was divided, decided to make a sortie and surprise one part of it. So with three hundred chosen men he marched out one dark night, and stole silently through the woods until he had almost reached the enemy's camp.

Oglethorpe makes a sortie;

Then suddenly a Frenchman who was with the little British force discharged his musket, and fled towards the Spanish camp.

 

All hope of a surprise was at an end, and Oglethorpe returned hastily to the fort. But that the surprise had failed was not the worst. It was certain that the deserter would tell the Spaniards how weak the British were, and that thus heartened they would soon attack in force. Something, Oglethorpe decided, must be done to prevent that.

it fails

So he wrote a letter in French addressing it to the French deserter. This letter was written as if coming from a friend. It begged the Frenchman to tell the Spaniards that Frederica was in an utterly defenseless state, and to bring them on to an attack. Or if he could not persuade them to attack at least he must persuade them to remain three days longer at Fort Simon. For within that time two thousand men would arrive from Carolina and six British ships of war "which he doubted not would be able to give a good account of themselves to the Spanish invaders." Above all things the writer bade the Frenchman beware of saying anything about Admiral Vernon, the British admiral who was coming against St. Augustine. He ended by assuring him that the British King would not forget such good services, and that he should be richly rewarded.

Oglethorpe's strategy

This letter Oglethorpe gave to one of the Spanish prisoners they had taken, who for a small sum of money and his liberty, promised to deliver it to the French deserter. But instead of doing that he gave it, as Oglethorpe had expected he would, to the leader of the Spanish army.

 

The French deserter at once denied all knowledge of the letter or its writer, but all the same he was fettered and kept a prisoner while the Spanish leaders held a council of war. They knew not what to do. Some thought that the letter was a ruse (as indeed it was) merely meant to deceive them. But others thought that the British really had them in a trap. And while they were thus debating by good luck some British vessels appeared off the coast. And thinking them to be the men-of-war mentioned in the letter the Spaniards fled in such haste that although they had time to set fire to the barracks at St. Simon they left behind them a great cannon and large stores of food and ammunition.

The Spaniards flee

Thus was the little colony saved from destruction.

 

By his brave stand and clever ruse Oglethorpe had saved not only Georgia but Carolina too. Yet South Carolina had cause for shame, for her Governor had paid no heed to Oglethorpe's call for help, and so far as he was concerned Georgia might have been wiped out. He indeed cared so little about it that when the governors of the other more northerly colonies wrote to Oglethorpe thanking and praising him he did not join with them. But much to his disgust, seeing their Governor so lax, some of the people of South Carolina themselves wrote to Oglethorpe to thank him.

 

"It was very certain," they wrote, "had the Spaniards succeeded in those attempts against your Excellency they would also have entirely destroyed us, laid our province waste and desolate, and filled our habitation with waste and slaughter. We are very sensible of the great protection and safety we have long enjoyed, by your Excellency being to the southwards of us, and keeping your armed sloops cruising on the coasts, which has secured our trade and fortunes more than all the ships of war ever stationed at Charleston. But more by your late resolution against the Spaniards when nothing could have saved us from utter ruin, next to the Providence of Almighty God, but your Excellency's singular conduct, and the bravery of the troops under your command. We think it our duty to pray God to protect your Excellency and send you success in all your undertakings."

South Carolina is grateful;

But, although Oglethorpe had many friends, he had also enemies, some even within the colony he had done so much to serve. There were those within the colony who wanted rum and wanted slavery and said that it would never prosper until they were allowed. Oglethorpe, with all his might, opposed them, so they hated him. Others were discontented for far better reasons: because they had no share in the government, and because the land laws were bad.

discontent in the colony

Oglethorpe, too, had his own troubles, for he had spent so much on the colony that he was deeply in debt. So, having ruled for twelve years, he went home, and although be lived to a great old age, he never returned again to Georgia. At the age of fifty-five he married; then he settled down to the quiet life of an English gentleman. Learned men and fine ladies called him friend, poets sang of his deeds, and the great Samuel Johnson wanted to write his life.

Oglethorpe goes home;

"Heroic, romantic, and full of the old gallantry" to the end, he lived out his last days in the great manor house of an English village, and was laid to rest in the peaceful village church in 1785.

he dies, 1785

"But the Savannah repeats to the Altamaha the story of his virtues and of his valor, and the Atlantic publishes to the mountains the greatness of his fame, for all Georgia is his living, speaking monument."

his monument

Oglethorpe was the only one of all the founders of British colonies in America who lived to see their separation from the mother-country. But long ere that he had to see many changes in the settlement. For the colonists would not be contented without rum and slaves, and in 1749 both were allowed. A few years later the trustees gave up their claims and Georgia became a Crown Colony, and the people were given the right to vote and help to frame the laws under which they had to live.

1752 Georgia a crown colony

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom