Founding Vision for Georgia Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

“As far as their fund goes, they will defray the charge of their passage to Georgia; give them necessaries . . .

By such a Colony, many families, who would otherwise starve, will be provided for, and made masters of houses and lands . . .”

Summary Overview

James Oglethorpe was concerned with those who were in need, especially those who were in debtors’ prison. He was the driving force within a group of individuals who wanted to change the situation of the poor by giving them a chance to colonize North America. A second reason for doing this in the area that is now Georgia was to reinforce British strength on the boundary between the British and Spanish colonies. In this article, Oglethorpe gives background information about the proposed colony and the need to support the colonists financially. He describes steps the colony’s founders would take to ensure contributions would go towards the investors’ intended purposes. To encourage the upper class to contribute, Oglethorpe describes the financial benefits that have been derived from Virginia and Pennsylvania and estimates how much better the revenues from Georgia will be, as well as describing the raw materials that the colony will provide.

Defining Moment

Although Oglethorpe was from a relatively wealthy family, he had great concern for the poor, including enlisted men in the military. In 1728, he had written a pamphlet supporting the needs of seamen in the British navy. In 1729, a friend of his had died in debtors’ prison, which led Oglethorpe to begin parliamentary investigations into debtors’ prisons, their conditions, and their administration. Even with prison reform, many problems still existed. Finally, in 1730, he and a group of like-minded men developed the idea of a new colony in North America that would give poor people the opportunity for more productive lives. The desire of the founders of Georgia was to revive the ideal of the small family farm, in hope that some of the British class divisions would not be replicated in America. King George II granted a charter for the colony of Georgia in the spring of 1732.

It is unclear whether the charitable thrust of the original idea for Georgia was the only reason King George II approved the charter. Oglethorpe gives two other strong reasons for the creation of the colony. The first was to strengthen the security of the British Empire; Oglethorpe refers to Roman colonies and problems on the “southern frontiers of South Carolina” to support his argument that Georgia would help protect other British colonies. He also argues that the new colony, as a provider of raw materials and as a new market for manufactured goods, would benefit the British economy—and be lucrative for individual investors, as well.

Author Biography

James Edward Oglethorpe, the son of Sir Theophilus and Lady Eleanor Oglethorpe, was born on December 22, 1696, in London, England. He was raised in Surrey, briefly attended Eton College, and then was admitted to Christ College at Oxford University. During a break in his studies, he joined the army and served under the duke of Marlborough during the last few years of the War of Spanish Succession. Upon returning to begin his studies at Oxford, he changed his mind and decided to continue a career in the military. Through the influence of Marlborough, in 1714, he was able to secure a position as an aide to another great general of that time, Prince Eugene of Savoy, serving with the Austrian army. Oglethorpe participated in the Austro-Turkish War, advancing in rank and position.

In 1722, Oglethorpe returned to England and was elected to Parliament as a Tory, taking the seat that family members had held for the previous twenty-four years. As a member of Parliament for the next thirty-two years or so, Oglethorpe used his position as a foundation for many of his projects. The special committee investigating and improving prison conditions that Oglethorpe chaired decided to undertake a more ambitious project: the founding of a colony for the poor and persecuted. After securing a charter from the king in 1732, Oglethorpe was the only one of the twenty-one colonial trustees who was willing to travel with the first group of settlers. Oglethorpe journeyed at his own expense and worked hard to make the colony a success. He was the unofficial governor of the colony, as the charter forbade trustees from holding any office in Georgia.

After landing in South Carolina, Oglethorpe and others scouted for and found a suitable location in which to build the first settlement, Savannah. Oglethorpe then met with Tomochichi, chief of a local Yamacraw (Creek/Yamassee) village, and negotiated the settlement terms with him. Oglethorpe held to his conviction that the colony would be strongest by having family farms, which meant no slaves; this and other trustee regulations caused soon great dissatisfaction among the colonists. He was also the military leader in the inconclusive conflict with Spain. By 1743, he had worn out his welcome among many colonists. He returned to England, married, and was paid by Parliament for all the loans he made to Georgia. He became less directly involved with the colony, and it began making changes of which he disapproved. Oglethorpe continued in public service until 1760. After his retirement, he lived quietly, although after the Revolutionary War, he did meet John Adams, the first ambassador from the United States, on June 4, 1785. Later that month, on June 30, Oglethorpe died of an illness.

Document Analysis

The “Founding Vision for Georgia” is a document that demonstrates both the need for the colony and the need for financial support to allow its creation. Although the article begins with an appeal for funding to meet altruistic goals, it then appeals to the donors’ enlightened self-interest. Oglethorpe expresses hope that the creation of the colony will give opportunities to thousands of the poor, while creating a new market for British goods and a cheap source of raw materials. His pamphlet mentions other benefits; additional security for the twelve established colonies, strengthened religious faith, and increased church membership. Not having had a new colony established in the preceding fifty years, Georgia offered opportunities for a new group of immigrants to add to the power and prestige of the British Empire. Due in part to governmental changes since the founding of Pennsylvania, Georgia was the only colony entirely dependent upon Parliament for its existence, financial survival, and laws.

The trustees who were granted the charter for the colony of Georgia included men of a variety of backgrounds. However, they made their plans based upon assumptions rather than firsthand knowledge. Although they expected that the success of the other colonies was likely to be predictive of their own, they could not be sure Georgia would thrive. It was clear, however, that a colony consisting mainly of the poor would need financial support from the government or individuals to flourish. Oglethorpe used the example of Rome to strengthen this argument. His reference to Rome’s colonial expenses being “defrayed out of the public treasury” reminds the readers that the establishment of the colony was to be a national effort. According to the ideas underlying the colony, the income that the settlers generated would eventually all but eliminate the need for external funding. However, during the twenty-year period when the charter was in effect, funds to sustain the colony were almost all from external sources. Donations did decline, as expected, and the external funding for the colonial enterprise changed from large government grants with some private donations to smaller government grants with substantial private investment.

Although individual donors were the main audience of Oglethorpe’s article, he also wanted to persuade other members of Parliament to support a government grant that would subsidize the founding and operation of the colony. In the third paragraph, Oglethorpe mentions that the king had granted the charter not only to demonstrate the legality of the colony, but also to remind people that the prestige of the monarchy was also at stake. At this time in British history, the king would only grant a charter if it had the backing of Parliament. Thus, Oglethorpe’s mention of the royal charter was a clear statement that the nation’s interest was at stake.

The proposal for Georgia’s charter was given to the appropriate parliamentary committee during September 1730. It took over a year and a half to work through the process of amending the charter, and even then, it was passed only because of political expediency on the part of the prime minister. In a classic version of vote swapping in a legislative body, Prime Minister Walpole’s need for the parliamentarians’ support on other issues eventually outweighed his reticence to approve it. The prime minister was concerned that the new colony would offend Spain by the southward expansion of the British colonies; he was correct in that eventually there was a small war between Georgia and the Spanish colony of Florida essentially ending a draw.

From 1732 until Georgia became a Crown colony in the 1750s, an allocation from the government was sought to cover annual expenses, and bills granting this were passed, sometimes covering the grant for more than one year at a time. This governmental subsidy was assumed in the bill that had created the colony. Thus, the vision and arguments Oglethorpe made in his article were as much for Parliament as for members of the public. While the conditions in debtors’ prison were a driving force behind the trustees’ request for a charter, during the political process of acquiring the charter, the classification of those who were eligible to move to Georgia with government assistance broadened to the king’s “poor subjects” and “distressed Protestants in Europe.” While all were British, none of the 114 original settlers were actually from debtors’ prison.

In the article, Oglethorpe outlines his vision to equip the colonists fully: “As far as the fund goes, they will defray the charge of their passage to Georgia; give them necessaries, cattle, land, and subsistence, till such time as they can build their houses and clear some of their land.” It was clearly understood from previous colonies that it would be at least a year until the people in the colony might become self-sufficient. Thus, the twenty pounds for a man or woman and half that for children represented the estimated expenses for transportation to and living expenses in the colony for the first year. Other funds would be used for educational and religious leaders during the settlement phase. Even after that, it would be necessary for colonists to be an “assistant to each other for their natural support and protection.” Thus, while the ultimate goal was to have a society of small farmers and tradespeople in towns, the need for a strong system of social support in the colony was well understood. Life was not easy on the frontier. The charter for this enterprise had been granted for a period of twenty-one years, although the trustees disbanded after twenty. The area to be settled covers about the northern half of the modern state of Georgia. What is now the southern half of the state was disputed territory, with the Spanish colony of Florida claiming that area. However, since farms were not to be more than five hundred acres, the land allocated to the colony would be sufficient for large numbers of small farms, in addition to any towns that might be founded beyond the initial settlement of Savannah.

The certainty that the trustees had regarding this enterprise can be seen in Oglethorpe’s comparison of Georgia’s prospects with those of Virginia and Pennsylvania. Oglethorpe chose these two colonies not only because they were among the largest in British North America, but because of their positions in the order of founding. Virginia was the first. By recalling the history of Virginia, people were reminded that the first attempt to establish a settlement there failed. Settlers at that time knew they were taking a great risk. The colonists had no idea exactly what lay ahead for them, either in terms of economic prosperity or relations with the native inhabitants. The fact that this small group could go into the wilderness and create a colony that eventually sent “£100,000 for duties upon the goods that they send yearly home” was a testimony to the strength of the British colonists. The lessons learned in the settlement of Virginia assisted the later colonists, and in the pamphlet, Oglethorpe is certain this will include those in Georgia. Unlike Virginia, where colonists had to rely upon either the American Indians or trial and error to figure out what crops to grow and the best way to grow them, the people moving to Georgia could have farmers from the Carolinas “to instruct in the seasons and nature of cultivating the soil.” However, Oglethorpe’s insistence on creating communities based on small farms rather than large plantations would lead him to adopt regulations that prohibited slavery in the colony, thus making Georgia’s early agriculture much different from that of the Carolinas. In another point of difference, Oglethorpe developed alliances, treaties, and friendly trade relations with the American Indians in the area, groups who had moved southward because of negative experiences with European traders in the Carolinas.

Pennsylvania, the last colony founded before Georgia, was established about fifty years earlier. Oglethorpe thought that, like Pennsylvania, Georgia could draw on the experiences of others for help in creating a viable colony. Similarly, Georgia’s colonists would not have to get everything from England; instead, they could obtain many items from the established colonies, just as Pennsylvania’s first colonists had. Furthermore, Georgia would be different from other colonies because its founders had a vision for their colony, in the same way that founder William Penn’s vision for Pennsylvania had helped it succeed. Because of Penn’s guidance and planning, Oglethorpe notes, Pennsylvania “gives food to 80,000 inhabitants, and can boast of as fine a City as most in Europe.” He and the others on the committee believed that their guidance could make Georgia grow as rapidly as Pennsylvania and make it just as prosperous, if not more so. The trustees assumed that the people settling Georgia would work even harder than those who had settled Pennsylvania, because the Georgia settlers had experienced being very poor while in Europe. In addition, the relative closeness of Charlestown (now Charleston) gave access to first-class port facilities as well as additional trading opportunities.

The promoters based their expectations of economic gains from the new colony on conjectures regarding its location. Although they knew something of its climate from the settlements in South Carolina, they made many erroneous assumptions based upon its latitude. For example, because there was a type of mulberry tree growing in Georgia and because the proposed colony was at about the same latitude as the part of China where silkworms lived in nature, they took it for granted that silk worms would be able to thrive in Georgia. The attempt at a silk industry ultimately failed due to climatic issues, lack of equipment, and an unprepared workforce. In another instance, they should have realized that the humid climate in Georgia was not the type of climate in which grapes would flourish, as the vines did in the drier climates of Madeira and the Middle East. The promise of “raw Silk, Wine, Oil, Dyes, Drugs, and many other materials for manufactures” was not realized, with the exception of the export of indigo as a dye. During the colonial period as a whole, rice was Georgia’s chief export, followed by other agricultural commodities. While these crops did benefit people in the British Isles somewhat, the type of economic return on the grants and gifts that the trustees had envisioned was never realized.

In the opening paragraph of the pamphlet, Oglethorpe mentions the fortification of towns as one of the many tasks Georgia’s colonists would need to undertake. Oglethorpe compares Georgia’s position on the frontiers of British North America to that of the Roman colonies “on frontiers” of the empire. Like the Roman colonies, the new colony of Georgia would diminish “the great danger the southern frontiers of South Carolina are exposed to, by reason of the small number of white inhabitants there.” This statement might seem to be counterintuitive, given the fact that the new southernmost colony, Georgia, would have very few Europeans for the foreseeable future. However, this is from a modern point of view, not from the eighteenth-century vantage point. Although Oglethorpe was very enlightened for his time, he nevertheless retained many of the common class concepts. He discussed the military assets that would be available to help defend the new colony, such as the regular British military units close by in South Carolina and in the Bahamas. However, the fact was that these units were there to help protect the more affluent people in South Carolina. The new settlers in Georgia would be drawn from the very poorest people in England, the lowest of the lower class. As such, they would not be viewed as having as much value as those from higher classes or even those from the upper level of the lower class. Those who were on the brink of starvation in England could be moved to Georgia and used as an expendable shield for the richer people in South Carolina. They would not be passive shields, as armaments were among the things to be given to them. However, the people in Georgia were being put there as a first line of defense against the Spanish.

Another planned effect of the new colony was the strengthening and expansion of Christianity. The charter spoke of “liberty of conscience.” However, this again must be read in terms of England in the 1730s. “Liberty of conscience” was granted but only for those who were Protestants. This is why the plea for funding only included a reference to help “the distressed Saltzburgers, and other persecuted Protestants.” Even in mainstream British society, there were limitations upon anyone who was not a Protestant. Oglethorpe was also convinced that “Christianity will be extended by the execution of this design,” but the branch of Christianity to “be extended” was Anglicanism, or at least some form of Protestantism. Formal chaplains for the colony were recruited from the clergy of the Anglican Church, with nine priests appointed during the first twelve years, and were paid for by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Although the Anglican Church was the unofficial church of the colony, it cannot be said that it was any more or less successful in Georgia than it was in other parts of the colonies. A great deal of discussion arose when a group of Jewish settlers were on the second boat that landed in Savannah in 1733, their way having been paid by the Jewish community in London. Although the trustees in London were against non-Protestant settlers and tried to stop them, once they were in Georgia, Oglethorpe unilaterally decided to accept them into the colony and even granted land to some. Catholicism was not allowed in Georgia during the colonial period, however.

Oglethorpe, in his effort to collect donations, emphasizes that the trustees would not personally benefit from their work for the colony and would try to maintain a “spirit of Disinterestedness.” Toward this end, Oglethorpe explained that the Charter contained clauses—approved by the trustees—”restraining them and their successors from receiving any salary, fee, perquisite, or profit, whatsoever, by or from this undertaking.” In addition, the trustees would be ineligible to receive any land in the new colony. While there is no reason to doubt that the wealthy individuals founding the colony had voluntarily renounced any gain from this venture, the fact that Oglethorpe mentions this makes it a strong public relations point. In his plea for support, Oglethorpe makes it clear that 100 percent of any donation or grant will be used to support the colonists. Even Oglethorpe, when he was in Georgia, was there at his own expense. To verify that the money was being used as promised, the trustees would have government officials audit the colony’s finances and verify that everything had been done according to the colony’s governing rules.

Essential Themes

Underlying the appeal for funds was the assumption that all people have the capacity to be farmers and do well at the necessary tasks, if given the opportunity. Oglethorpe also believed that most of those who are “the useless Poor in England” were in that position not because of the lack of initiative or skills, but rather because of events occurring in England, and that the case was similar for the “distressed Protestants in Europe.” Thus, by assisting these people to get out of the circumstances that were keeping them from reaching their full potential, Oglethorpe believed they would prosper and add to the total prosperity of the British society.

Oglethorpe’s plea for support for this project is the means toward reaching this end of greater prosperity for many. It is similar to a public relations pamphlet, which outlines a very positive picture of the situation and possibilities. As Oglethorpe saw it, thousands in England, and elsewhere in Europe, were in great need. There would be enough land in America for everyone, once it was prepared for agriculture. Basic support would be needed to get people to America and to support them during the first few years, while the infrastructure is being developed. Just as the Romans solidified control of their empire by colonization, England could do the same along their border with Spain. The cost of assisting settlers would be minimal, once they were in Georgia. The article makes it clear that those who are establishing the colony are doing so for purely altruistic reasons and that a strict set of rules would be in place to insure that no one profits from the undertaking except the settlers. The pamphlet reminds potential donors of the material rewards of this colonial enterprise, as well as the spiritual ones for the colonists and Georgia’s American Indians. Others who undertook similar enterprises became very prosperous, contributing greatly to the British economy. Oglethorpe then makes a final plea for support.

The British government allocated £10,000 the first year and smaller amounts thereafter during the first twenty years of the colony’s existence. According to the best figures available, a total of more than £136,000 was given by the British government and some £16,000 were collected from private donations during the charter period for the settlement of the colony. Toward the end of the charter period, private investment started to become the primary means of funding necessary projects. Oglethorpe’s plea for assistance allowed the colony to obtain the necessary donations during the time of its inception. Once Georgia was a proven venture, private investment and governmental grants allowed it to continue. This was in line with the Oglethorpe’s assumption that, given a strong foundation, settlers could transform the Georgia wilderness into a strong colony contributing to, rather than taking from, British society in general.

Bibliography
  • “Colonial Settlement, 1600s–1763: Establishing the Georgia Colony, 1732–1750.” Lib. of Congress. US Lib. of Congress, n.d. Web. 25 May 2012.
  • The New Georgia Encyclopedia. Georgia Humanities Council and the University of Georgia Press, 2012. Web. 25 May 2012.
Additional Reading
  • Baine, Rodney M., ed. Creating Georgia: Minutes of the Bray Associates, 1730–1732 and Supplementary Documents. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1995. Print.
  • Lane, Mills, ed. General Oglethorpe’s Georgia: Colonial Letters 1733–1743. Savannah: Beehive, 1990. Print.
  • Parker, Anthony W. Scottish Highlanders in Colonial Georgia. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2002. Print.
  • Russell, David Lee. Oglethorpe and Colonial Georgia. Jefferson: McFarland, 2006. Print.
  • Sullivan, Buddy, and the Georgia Historical Society. Georgia: A State History. Charleston: Arcadia, 2003. Print.

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