The Georgia Colony was the last of the 13 colonies to be established, and on different grounds than the rest. While most of the colonies were a chance to escape from religious persecution and to establish trade, the Georgia Colony was intended as a haven for the poor those in debt trying to start over, as well as a buffer between the northern British colonies and Southern Florida, which was occupied by the Spanish, Britain’s strongest rival for the North American territory.
Portrait of James Edward Oglethorpe by Alfred Edmund Dyer in 1735-1736
public domain image
James Oglethorpe, a former officer in the army, presented an idea to King George II, and received a charter for a parcel of land (modern-day Savannah) that was originally part of South Carolina, but was wild and unsettled. It was to be called Georgia after the King. Oglethorpe had designed a settlement in which the poor and debtors who were crowding the London prisons would establish a new colony that avoided a gap between the wealthy and the poor. Land would be distributed equally and could be farmed; no one had more than 50 acres of land. Law was laid down and maintained by a committee of trustees that were in England, not by their colony’s representatives, which was different from all of the other colonies. Liquor was outlawed as well as slavery, lawyers, and Catholics.
Oglethorpe wanted the men in the Georgia Colony to be strong farmers, as he intended the colony to be able to defend the British colonies should they be attacked by the Spanish from Florida, the French in Louisiana and their allies in the Native tribes.
There were no prisoners in the group of 116 men, women, and children that traveled over in 1733. They started clearing the land, building the new colony, and building fortifications. It didn’t take long before the colonists were complaining about the restrictions. Knowing they would either rebel or leave, Oglethorpe bent the rules, allowing more land and relaxing the rules on alcohol. Oglethorpe gave gifts to the Native tribes and tried to build alliances with them, and trade with the Indians became a primary element in the Georgia economy. By 1749, most of the restrictions set down by the trustees had been turned around including the ban on slavery.
Before the charter was up, the colonists had written to King George asking for their own governing system, and by 1755, they became a crown colony like the other colonies instead of a trustee colony.