CHAPTER 11. GENERAL GEORGIA.
James Edward Oglethorpe, amongst many other things, founded a colony; it is now the State of Georgia , in the United States of America. Cranham was his home for 41 years, being roughly the last half of his life. The parishioners called him "General Georgia".
Biographies of Oglethorpe are not easily available; they comprise a PhD thesis in 1932 (131), various newspaper cuttings (132), an out of print, antique book from New York (133) and various memorials. There are also various articles and book chapters, some of which appear as references to this chapter. Recently, much good research has been carried out by the pre-eminent historians of the State of Georgia, Professors Phinzy Spalding and E.L.Jackson. Cranham rarely features in these accounts of the General. This chapter will review the whole of the General's life.
The Oglethorpe family could trace their origins on an estate near Bramham in Yorkshire since before the Conquest. Sutton Oglethorpe lost the estate during the Civil War, because of his Royalist sympathies. Sutton's second son was called Theophilus, and he served in both the Life Guards and Royal Dragoons, eventually being promoted to Major-General and First Equerry to James II. It was just as Theophilus was about to lead his troops against William of Orange that the King fled. Theophilus then retired at Westbrook, near Godalming, in Surrey, and should not be confused with his son, another Theophilus, who cast his lot with "Bonnie" Prince Charlie, the last of the Stuart line.
The elder Theophilus married Eleanora Wall. James Edward was the last of their ten children (figure 28). It is said that he was born at Westbrook, but this is not likely: the christening was on December 23, 1696, at St.Martin's in the Fields, at Charing Cross, some 25 miles from Westbrook, and the baby was noted to be one day old. Such a journey with such a young child, and in winter, would be hard to understand. It is more likely that Oglethorpe was born in London. Although on the same site, the present St.Martin's in the Fields church was built by Gibbs about 20 years later, and Trafalgar Square itself came more than a century after James Edward was baptised.
James Edward Oglethorpe attended Eton for at least one short period. Little is known about his childhood; it must have been short. He was enrolled in 1706 (aged 10) in Queen Anne's First Regiment of Foot Guards, a largely ceremonial regiment. He may have been present at Flanders under the Duke of Marlborough, but then returned to England, and was promoted to Lieutenant (acting Captain) at the age of 15. However, he soon resigned this commission, probably looking for more action than a ceremonial regiment could offer (231). At the age of 15 he entered the military academy at Lompres, near Paris. It must have been during this period that Oglethorpe acquired a good command of european languages, a skill which he was about to put to good use.
War brewed between the Turks and the Austrians in 1716. Many young men from the Academy, including Oglethorpe, volunteered to join the Austrian Imperial Army, led by Prince Eugene of Savoy. Together with the son of the Marquis of Chatel, Oglethorpe went to Ulm, and joined the flotilla down the Danube. Oglethorpe's credentials were approved by the Prince on August 3, 1716 at Petrovadin, and he was appointed "Volontaire Attache". Oglethorpe and the Prince Emmanuel of Portugal were then assigned as aides-de-camp to the adjutant general for the latin and spanish languages.
|Prince Eugene of Savoy. Click on the picture to see it full size.|
Remarkably, a full-pitched battle promptly took place, only two days after Oglethorpe had been commissioned. Although the Turks outnumbered the Austrians 2-to-1, an aggressive manoeuvre by Prince Eugene routed the moslems; 30,000 Turks fell, compared to only 5,000 of the Imperial Army.
The campaign then moved to Timisoara. Oglethorpe's one reported act of courage there did not actually involve military action. Oglethorpe got into an altercation with the Prince of Wurttemburg at the dinner table, and got the better of the noble by throwing a glass of wine in his face !
In September 1716, Field Marshal George Browne joined the Imperial Army. Browne was Oglethorpe's mother's cousin. On presenting himself, Oglethorpe was criticised by the Field Marshal for the ornate uniform that Oglethorpe wore. The next day, in a much plainer uniform, and complaining that his mother had actually brought him up to be tough, Oglethorpe was accepted by the Field Marshal onto his staff. On October 1, 1716, the Field Marshal was wounded and Oglethorpe helped to carry him from the battle field. The war closed with the surrender of the Turks on October 12th, 1716.
These were the days of winter leave for the officers. War was fought only during the finer months of the year. Oglethorpe took the opportunity for a quick tour of Europe, visiting Paris, Venice, and Turin. He then went to Vienna, where a detachment of the Imperial Army, under Field Marshal O'Dwyer, was defending the city from the Turks across the Danube.
In the summer of 1717, Prince Eugene called the brigades in Vienna to assist in the Siege of Belgrade. The siege lasted two months with the both the Turks and the Imperial Army sometimes having the upper hand. Several of Oglethorpe's colleagues were killed, including at one, Mr.Villette, right at his side. By the end, although the Turks fled, the Communications Corps had no adjutant-general, and Oglethorpe was the senior aide-de-camp. Oglethorpe assumed the command, and proceeded to occupy a Turkish camp. Oglethorpe then returned a casualty list to Prince Eugene; the Prince promoted Oglethorpe to lieutenant-colonel, and sent him to Vienna to report the news to court. This amounted to considerable experience and seniority for Oglethorpe, who was still only 21 years of age.
During the winter of 1717-1718 Oglethorpe visited several members of his family who had fled to Italy with the Pretender. His brother Theophilus had received a baronetcy from "King James III".
Whilst a peace conference with the Turks was under way, a new threat emerged: the Spanish invaded Sicily. Oglethorpe was assigned to the squadron of General Georg Wallis, and they mustered in Naples on May 7, 1718. However, for some reason Oglethorpe then returned to England. In spite of a letter of recommendation from Prince Eugene to King George I, and probably because of the Jacobite connexions of many of his family, Oglethorpe could not obtain a commission in the British Army.
So, he went back to University. Oglethorpe had matriculated at Corpus Christi, Oxford late in 1714. However, the Buttery book of that college, which records the dining bills of the students, shows that he attended regularly only during 1719 (231). He never graduated, except for an honorary degree for his philanthropic works in 1731 (see below).
|Pictures above: Oglethorpe's entries in the buttery book at Corpus Christi.
Click on the pictures to see them full size.
Pictures below: Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Again, click on them to see them full size.
In 1722 Oglethorpe fought twice in London. These were duels, which if not illegal were, even then, an anachronism. Both were fought with swords. The first opponent was a political adversary, and both men survived (196). The second opponent was a "common London thug", whom Oglethorpe killed; he spent a short period in gaol as a result, but was released without a trial after the authorities deemed it a case of self-defence (197). It is tempting to think that his experience in gaol contributed to his philanthropic efforts later in life.
We are left with the impression of an energetic man of 26 years. With his European travel and Army experience, London in 1722 probably seemed rather tame. Perhaps the duels were also an expression of his restlessness.
Oglethorpe became M.P. for Haslemere in 1723; it had been his father's seat. As the local squire, this was unusual in the Commons at this time. Oglethorpe's maiden speech was delivered on April 6, 1723, and he used part of it to state a strongly anti-Jacobite position: presumably this was to reassure the House, who were aware of the Jacobite interests of other members of the Oglethorpe family.
The years 1723 to 1728 form the first of three distinct phases in Oglethorpe's parliamentary career. He sponsored several bills, and served on many Commons Committees (figure 24). He gained a reputation for strong humanitarian views, and was an especially strong advocate for the replacement of the 1601 Act for the support of the poor. For example, in 1723, his first year in the Commons, Oglethorpe wrote and navigated into law a bill which empowered churchwardens and overseers to rent dwellings for the use of the poor; this was designed to deter Lords of the Manor, and other principal ratepayers, from destroying cottages in order to prevent occupation by paupers whom they would then have to support through the rates (267).
Remarkably, as the youngest of 10 children, Oglethorpe inherited Westbrook in 1728. Of his brothers, the eldest, Lewis, had died at the Battle of Schellenberg, Theophilus (junior) had died at the Court of St.Germains, and three had died in infancy (Charles in 1686, James in 1689, and Sutton in 1693). Of his four sisters, they would not usually inherit at this time, unless they lacked a brother. Oglethorpe's used part of the estate to pursue his interests in horticulture; Westbrook became the largest vineyard in England since the Roman occupation (134).
The year 1728 also saw the opening of Oglethorpe's second phase in his parliamentary career. This phase centred on the prisons and the Navy.
The Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) had worked for prison reforms since 1699, although it had made little headway. Oglethorpe recruited a group of sympathetic M.P.s, chaired this group, and held many committee meetings between 1728 and 1737, except when he was in Georgia (see below). Reports on the state of the nation's gaols were issued, and the committee frequently provided evidence against those being prosecuted for abuses. So important was this committee that its meeting was painted by Hogarth in 1729, and this picture, which includes a portrait of Oglethorpe, survives in the National Portrait Gallery (262).
|The gaol committee. Click on the picture to see it full size.|
The plight of the common seaman in the Royal Navy was Oglethorpe's other principal Parliamentary interest during this second phase. Press gangs (legal even today in England), and wages were the commonest sources of abuse. Many pamplets on the subject circulated in the 1720s. One, anonymous pamphlet of 52 pages entitled "The Sailor's Advocate", appeared in 1728, and went through eight editions (the last in 1828 !); it is thought that Oglethorpe was its author (136).
Oglethorpe's efforts in Parliament were always of a pragmatic nature. A Tory, he nonetheless would not follow the party line slavishly. The best example of speaking his mind and voting his conscience was an occasion when he spoke against the entire house, taking what he imagined was the interest of the common seaman. His pragmatism again showed during a debate on import duties on distilled spirits. The proponents of the Bill intended to defend the home whisky trade. Oglethorpe's support, however, was because he believed hard liquor to be "untaxed and more injurious than malted licquor". In other words, unconcerned about the economics of scottish distilleries, Oglethorpe thought that drinking beer was healthier than drinking spirits and therefore the latter should have import duties !
Oglethorpe's political activities were never designed to support his own interests. He was always ready to consider the opinions of the poor, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised lower classes. Even before the Georgia experiment, Oglethorpe had contributed much towards social reform in England.
Oglethorpe first approached Viscount Percival with the idea for a thirteenth British colony in North America on February 13, 1730. Percival was persuaded only after Oglethorpe told him that he knew where the first L15,000 for a Georgia Foundation could be found. All the earlier strands in Oglethorpe's career (philanthropist, politician, landowner, horticulturalist, soldier) came together in the Georgia experiment.
It was not a novel idea. The aim was to provide an opportunity for those who had failed in England. John Smith began in Virginia in 1606, including a number of indigent colonists. The need to make a fresh start had also been the motive for many New Englanders. The Relief of Poor Debtors Act had shifted bankrupts out of the gaols and onto the streets. The eighteenth century philanthropists were acutely aware of the problem that they themselves had helped to create, and perhaps self-sufficient (or even exporting) colonies could be part of the answer.
Debtors have little but their own labour to offer a colony. It was essential better-off migrants also took part. Contrary to popular opinion in Georgia today, the original colonists contained relatively few debtors, and no criminal convicts.
The advantages of the new colony were presented politically not only as a philanthropic exercise, but also, and more importantly, as sound military strategy. The Spanish were in Florida, and the new colony could act as a buffer and protection for the well-established and prosperous colonies of North and South Carolina, with their capitals at New Bern and Charleston, respectively. South Carolina had had much trouble with the Spanish in the early 1720s; they had actually built a fort at Darien, mid-way up the Georgia coast more than 10 years before Oglethorpe's colony was to arrive (272).
The SPCK lent its support after it was agreed that the new colony would be a place of religious tolerance "except for papists". This attracted further political support because large numbers of European refugees had come to England, adding to the widespread problems of parish-based support of the poor.
The proposed fiscal basis for Georgia was horticultural. The latitude of the proposed colony was anticipated to be suitable for growing exotic, and exportable, crops such as rice, silk, and tobacco. None of these could be grown in England, and therefore these products would not fall foul of the laws designed to protect home inductries. However, these types of agriculture would take time to establish, and quick profitability was clearly stated to be unlikely, right from the start.
Thus, the principal supporters were philanthropists, not industrialists. Oglethorpe became the chairman of a society whose only beneficiary was the Georgia Foundation.
In July 1730, the society presented a draft charter for the colony to the Privy Council. The Privy Council sought the advice of the Board of Trade, and the matter bounced back and forth between these two government departments for some time: clauses were added and to the Charter and then amended, detailing boundaries, accounting procedures, numbers of trustees, and many other matters. After many delays, the King signed the charter on April 21, 1732. Co-incidentally, this was the year that George Washington was born.
The Charter gave a more or less free hand in the running of the colony to a group of Trustees, one was Oglethorpe, and another was Thomas Tower of South Weald, who was at that time both an M.P. and High Sheriff of Essex (hence the Tower Arms public house opposite the church there). The boundaries were defined at the coast as lying between the estuaries of the Savannah and Altamaha rivers, and the colony stretched from the Atlantic coast "to the South Seas" (i.e. the Pacific ocean) within lines of latitude passing through the two estuaries. The present southern boundary with Florida on the St.John's river near Jacksonville, and the western edge, on the Chattahoochee, were not defined until the Spanish ceded Florida in 1763 (273). The Charter gave control of military matters to the Governor of South Carolina as Commander-in-Chief. But, the trustees could establish their own legislature and judiciary, which was sub-ordinate only to the King. The philanthropic, rather than commercial, basis of the colony was exemplified by the clause that forbade any trustee to own land in the colony. All this was guaranteed for a period of 21 years.
|The trustees. Click on the picture to see it full size.|
A bill for parliamentary funding of the colony failed in 1732. Private subscribers were then found. Oglethorpe himself recruited 23 of the 28 eventual subscribers. There is no doubt that Oglethorpe was the principal organiser during this period.
Some went privately; these were reasonably well-off individuals who anticipated establishing freeholds in Georgia, farming and exporting their crops. Some of these people took indentured servants, who could be expected to stake claims on the land when their apprenticeships were completed, thus ensuring medium term development of the colony.
A second type of colonist was sponsored. Chosen by the Trustees, the qualifications were to be able-bodied, of good character, and in reduced circumstances.
Two smaller groups came from outside southern England. There were a group of highlanders, looking, as generations of Scots have looked, for more hospitable land. The Scots were fit, knew how to fight, and were anticipated to be both good soldiers and skilled pioneers. Lastly, the SPCK sought asylum for relatively small numbers of Salzburghers and Moravians; these were refugees from Europe, who simply sought religious tolerance.
Viscount Percival was the Chairman of the Trustees, and his diary for this period survives. One poignant entry in the diary was made just after the Viscount had been told by Captain Coram that Oglethorpe intended to travel with the first colonists. The Viscount wrote:
"Though I am not of the opinion that they should send any away so soon, yet it rejoices me that Mr.Oglethorpe would go, for my great pain was that although we were ever so well prepared, it would be difficult to find a proper governor, which post he has accepted of."
The "Anne" was only 200 tons. Her master was Captain John Thomas, and she was waiting for a cargo at Gravesend. Seventy colonists with all their stores, tools and implements went in carts to the dock. A priest, a doctor, and Oglethorpe himself were probably the only educated people amongst them. They sailed on November 17, 1732. They went south first, in order to catch the trade winds from the East. On a similar journey three years later in the "London Merchant" (220 tons, Oglethorpe aboard, and again captained by John Thomas), the heat on Christmas day at 19 degrees latitude was marvelled as being "like June" by the colonists. It took two months, arriving at Charleston, South Carolina on January 13, almost two months later.
The Governor of South Carolina received them at the dockside. Most of the colonists were temporarily billeted in a military camp, and Oglethorpe was assigned a company of Rangers, two scout boats and a hundred cattle. Colonel Bull, a Carolinian, accompanied Oglethorpe and a small party in the boats, and they went down the coast on a surveying mission.
Prospecting the Savannah river, a suitable landing was found on the south bank. The report speaks of a "bluff", but this probably represents one of the very first american adaptations of the english language, meaning simply a riverbank (another example would be the "bluffs", features amounting at most to stunted cliffs along the Missouri, between Omaha and Kansas City). The area was defensible, and the vegetation looked like it could be easily cleared. A backwoods trader, Musgrove, was camped there with his half-indian wife, and a native tribe was also camped nearby. The trader's wife mediated between the English and Tomochichi, the Indian Chief. This was to be the site of Savannah, Georgia. Tomochichi and Oglethorpe were to become lifelong friends.
Oglethorpe and Bull returned to Charleston on January 24, 1733. The following Sunday was observed as a Thanksgiving Day, and then they re-embarked the "Anne" for the short trip to the Savannah river. Savannah was founded on February 1, 1733. The site of Oglethorpe's tent, on Georgia's first night, is marked with a marble bench today.
The first job was to mark out the township. Oglethorpe did this himself. Each freehold family received a 60 foot x 90 foot plot for a townhouse and yard, 5 acres nearby for a market garden, and 45 acres at some distance for a farm. The house plots in Savannah are still of these dimensions. In addition, the town was marked out with 27 public squares. Of these, 22 squares survive, and, to the confusion of modern day traffic, are still the most numerous of any American city. Oglethorpe's squares are the principal reason for the architectural glory that is the town of Savannah to this day.
Wood was felled and house-building began. The weather in Savannah is not cold in February: then as now, frost is very rare on the Georgia coast. Meanwhile the colonists did very well in tents. Forty houses were finished by July 7, 1733, and within three years the town grew to more than 150 houses of up to 3 storeys, a courthouse and a lighthouse.
Food was an immediate problem that summer. The stores brought on the "Anne" were limited, and the colonists were not used to the sweltering heat of summer in Savannah. An official gardener was appointed who had control of 10 acres of public gardens which were used initially to grow subsistence crops. Birds, squirrels and deer were hunted, but this was very time-consuming and supplies of ammunition were also limited. The Trustees supplied the colony with meat from South Carolina for at least the whole of the first year.
During the summer of 1733 and into the winter of 1734, numerous smaller townships were begun by further shiploads of colonists (Table 10). Eventually, the colony extended along the whole length of its Atlantic boundary, and a road ran from Savannah to the St.George's point in the South. From there, just two miles across the estuary, were the Spanish and Florida.
In the first few years, small amounts of potash, silk, timber (for pitch or for construction), rice and cotton were exported. It fell far short of a commercial success, and the Trustees continued to support the colony financially. Rice and cotton were the most reliable from year to year, and the silk was especially hit-and-miss. On one occasion, the Queen herself wore a dress of Georgian silk. Brick-making, sawmills, and arable farming began for mostly domestic use.
The politics of the day impeded Georgia's progress as a trading colony. Firstly, South Carolina came to regard their southern neighbour as a competitor. Trade agreements, which would have benefitted both Georgia and South Carolina, were not made. Secondly, the Act of 1731 which forbade any colony from the export of goods to any Crown possession (including the United Kingdom) if the same commodity was already available in the importing territory severly hampered the Trustees in establishing Georgia as a break-even concern. This was what guided the proposed crops in the colony. But the financial unattractiveness of Georgia was only what Oglethorpe had predicted right from the start.
The colonists were chronically ill. This limited their productivity. At Fort Frederica there are records of smoky fires being kept burning day and night on the windward edge of the town to reduce the nuisance from mosquitoes. Malaria, then undiagnosed, was probably the chief culprit.
Religious tolerance, as promised in London, characterised the colony. The Moravians arrived en masse in 1735 aboard "The Two Boys" and the "London Merchant" (274), although a few of them had also come earlier aboard the "Anne" (259). Methodists, including the Wesley brothers, and the Salzburghers, together with the rest that were at least nominally Church of England, made up the rich mix of an essentially protestant colony. Eventually, one Wesley went back to England, and the other was removed for being a trouble maker. The Moravians moved north to Salem, North Carolina a few years later, being conscientiously opposed to fighting with the Spanish (see below).
Oglethorpe treated the Indians well. The local natives were members of the Cherokee federation, which was highly advanced; for example, the Cherokees had been admitting women to their seminaries for centuries (a religious sophistication unknown in Georgian Europe). The federation was composed of numerous tribes, and the colonists' neighbours were called Creeks (Upper and Lower), Choctaws, Chickasees, Uchees, Yamasees, and Yamacraws. They shared a language, and Oglethorpe understood their importance in the success of the colony. They were good trappers, and gladly traded with the English. Should the French or Spanish attack, Oglethorpe understood that the indians were his only allies available at short notice. The colony would not withstand the indians if they became enemies.
Oglethorpe put a lot of effort into keeping the Indians happy. By the judicous use of gifts, and the force of his own personality, Oglethorpe drew several Indian tribes into a formal alliance. This was no mean feat: several of the tribes in this alliance had been hereditary enemies. Moreover, the Spanish were also vying for Indian assistance. In refusing an alliance with the Spanish, one Creek chief said of Oglethorpe:
"We love him. It is true that he does not give us silver, but he gives us everything we want that he has. He has given me the coat off his back and the blanket from under him."
Chief Tomochichi became Oglethorpe's lifelong friend. The Chief accompanied Oglethorpe to London in 1734. Tomochichi was presented to the King as a trusted ally, and not as an exotic curiosity which was more characteristic of the day. In 1735, in response to Tomochichi's concerns about abuses of the Indians by white traders, Oglethorpe and the Trustees obtained an Act of Parliament (the "Indian Act"), which established exchange rates for skins and pelts. Just before his death Tomochichi specifically requested to be buried at Savannah amongst his friends, the white man, rather than in his ancestral burial ground. His remains lie today at the centre of one of Savannah's famous squares.
Establishing the colony required Oglethorpe's skills in agriculture, politics and administration. Maintaining the colony needed Oglethorpe's experience as a soldier. Skirmishes involving the Spanish and the few, English militia at St.George's point became intolerable. England was at war with Spain. Oglethorpe wrote to the Trustees, urging them to inform the Privy Council that the colony was virtually defenceless.
Within a few weeks, and without reply from London, Oglethorpe learnt that the Spanish had mustered at Havannah, and appeared to intend to strike northwards in large numbers. It was now too late to expect reinforcements from London. Oglethorpe's tactics were clear.
Oglethorpe concluded his treaty with the Spanish on October 18, 1736. This bought valuable time for developing the colony's defences. During a brief trip to London, Oglethorpe persuaded Walpole that a Regiment was needed. Some 600 men were mustered as the 42nd Regiment of Foot. Oglethorpe was made Colonel of the Regiment. The headquarters was at Fort Frederica, but companies were posted at various stations between Port Royal and St.George's point. The Governor of Carolina sent a further 700 troops and three sloops of twenty guns each. The sloops moved between Port Royal, Fort Frederica and Charleston. It is said that the Governor of South Carolina was far more for concerned about the security of his own colony than Georgia. The great organisational advantage was that Oglethorpe, and not the Carolinian Governor, was now Commander-in-Chief of all H.M. forces in Georgia.
The 42nd Regiment of Foot was quite an attractive regiment for the typical, poverty-stricken, english labourer to join. Normally, the Army in England recruited men for life or until discharged unfit or ill. However, in Georgia, they had to sign up for only seven years. After that, and uniquely in the British Army, every soldier received 5 acres upon arrival in Georgia, and a further 20 acres after serving his seven years. Not only that, but soldiers in the 42nd were in the only regiment that permitted marriage, aand again uniquely, the Trustees frequently paid families' passages so that the soldier could live with his wife and children at Frederica. The Regiment had three companies, each of which had a captain, four sargents and about 200 men in total. A resident surgeon was another unusual amenity, and his name was Thomas Hawkins; he was also the Chief Magistrate, and was more popular amongst the soldiers than amongst the civilians. Part of the barracks of the 42nd Regiment of Foot can still be seen at Fort Frederica.
Frederica is on St.Simon's Island; it is not easy terrain. Outside Frederica itself the island is either marsh, or thickly wooded with heavy undergrowth. In the summer it is sweltering, and there are swarms of insects which can only be described as carnivourous.
The uniform of the 42nd Regiment of Foot was most unsuited to the conditions. They wore the traditional tall black hats, and red coats (which became famous during the War of American Independence some 40 years later). They wore leather shoes with very smooth soles, very slippery and noisy in the undergrowth; the shoes were supposed to last 5 years, and the soldiers alternated them between their right and left feet annually. Each man was armed with a "Brown Bess" musket, drawn from the Tower of London, and could choose whether it should have shoulder straps or various other adaptations. All the muskets had a lug at the end of the barrel upon which a bayonet was fixed; the bayonet, and not the gun itself, quickly became the favourite weapon in the woods. Many soldiers had dogs, which they released in front of them, and which were most effective in the terrain. The soldiers also carried various knives and the officers had swords and horses. When not drilling, the soldiers trained the civilians to be a militia. Everyone living in Frederica, women included, had a length of the stockade for which they were responsible to keep in good repair and defended with weapons when requested. The guns are heavy, and the women were taught to rest the end of their Brown Bess on the stockade itself. The musket was accurate at about 80 yards, but required a shot within 50 yards to stop a man. Fort Frederica may be visited today, and occasionally provides a live display of a man in an authentic uniform of the 42nd, and who fires a real 18nd century Brown Bess.
The Regiment was chronically underfunded. Oglethorpe was often making up wages from his own pocket. Most of the soldiers chose to stay in Georgia upon discharge, making up a large fraction of its early white immigrants.
In 1739, Oglethorpe attended the Cherokee conference at Coweta. The French had attacked the Indians in Lousiana, and the pow-wow was to prepare for a war of revenge. In Europe, the situation was quite tense between the United Kingdom, Spain and France, and there was government concern that a conflict in North America could be the spark to the powder barrel for a great european war. Oglethorpe was instructed by the Privy Council to explain all this to the Indians. Oglethorpe wrote in his diary:
"I am obliged to buy horses and presents to carry up to this meeting. The Coweta town, where the meeting is to be, is near 500 miles from hence. It is, in a straight line, about 300 miles from the sea."
Coweta is actually about 250 miles from Savannah, and 200 miles from the sea; but Oglethorpe might have been reckoning the round trip distance. In any case, Oglethorpe accomplished the mission, and, once again, war was avoided.
Inevitably, the delaying tactics eventually failed. Striking first, Oglethorpe tried a pre-emptive strike on St.Augustine (in north east Florida), but failed to occupy the town. The Spanish then attacked a small outpost of the 42nd, at Fort William, from which the English withdrew. The Spanish next attacked St.Simon's Fort, on the southern tip of St.Simon's island, and again the English withdrew along the narrow military road through the forest. Fort Frederica itself was clearly the next Spanish target; but after numerous skirmishes they temporarily withdrew from St.Simon's Island.
Civilian and military morale was low. The Moravians, who were pacifists, left. They had just bought their freeholds, but could not comply with the requirements of civilians in the defence of the town. They moved north in two parts which re-established communities at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Salem in North Carolina (260).
A group of seasoned highland troops from Darien arrived. These were special. In the British Army, only those over 40 years of age were allowed to wear beards. These old soldiers were always reckoned to be of good luck when at one's side in battle, since they had doubtless survived so many battles before. Elements of the 41nd Regiment of Foot from Carolina were also placed at Oglethorpe's disposal. At last, Oglethorpe was in a position to put up a good fight.
The Spanish did not return until 1742. They came in large numbers, probably about 1000 under arms, with naval and logistical support (269). They moored in St.Simon's sound and invaded at several places along the Altamaha river.
Oglethorpe had prepared his troops well: they were in well-dug defences, were rested and well-armed. The Spanish came north, landing on St.Simon's, and re-took the outpost there on July 6th. The 42nd withdrew to Fort Frederica. A group of Rangers appeared to reinforce the English. To this day, it is unknown where these Rangers came from. Both the Rangers and the Highlanders were eager for a fight.
The Spanish did indeed move north from their beach head, in two columns, towards Frederica. The terrain caused the two columns to re-join. When no more than a mile and a half from Fort Frederica an english Ranger patrol engaged them, and conveyed their location back to Oglethorpe at Frederica. The General thought that they should be attacked in column, in the undergrowth, whilst they could not form up into a regular battle line. Some of the captains of the 42nd were reluctant at this point to commit their troops outside the stockade. So Oglethorpe led a group of Highlanders and Indians. The Spanish fell back in some disarray.
Oglethorpe pursued them for another 2 miles south, back down the military road. Halting at a clearing in the forest. The 42nd came up to join him from Frederica, the captains having finally been persuaded. The major engagement came to be known as the Battle of Bloody Marsh. It marked the end of the Spanish claims on the southern English colonies, a point which was re-inforced by Oglethorpe in a retaliatory attack on St.Augustine in February 1743 (270).
Georgia was now almost 10 years old, secure, and facing the problems of evolving from a colonial outpost into a self-sufficient agricultural community. There were three main causes of discontent amongst its people. These were quit-rents, shortage of labourers, and the rum prohibition. This discontent found its way into pamphlets critical of Georgia, which circulated in London.
Quit-rents were fees that civilians paid on transferring real estate. It was essentially a tax, and the colonists saw no reason why the government should benefit from the sale of land that they themselves had cleared and houses that they had built, both without much government assistance. Oglethorpe, and his secretary Francis Moore at Frederica, became the focal point for this protest against taxation of what was regarded as a completely private transaction. Oglethorpe's intention was not so much to tax the colonists as to control a mechanism for the approval or disapproval of such transactions, enabling Oglethorpe to control the mix of population in the interests of keeping the colony self-sustaining.
Slavery was already being criticised in England, and certainly Oglethorpe's christian upbringing was also likely to have been a reason for his forbidding the practice in Georgia. As before in Parliament, however, Oglethorpe's justification of the banning of slaves was practical, not moral or theoretical: he had observed that if white people in other colonies have slaves, then the whites themselves became lazy. He wanted a colony of vigourous people who worked hard and concentrated on the issues of subsistence. The colonists did not see it the same way and thought that they were at a great disadvantage in developing Georgia, compared to all the other British colonies.
Oglethorpe seldom drank wine or beer, and never drank spirits. Rum was banned in Georgia in 1733, only after several deaths were attributed to it. Wine and beer remained available; even Fort Frederica had two public houses (271). It was illegal to run up a debt in a public house: in order to enforce this, the Georgia law required licences for all public houses, and forbade any publican from prosecuting for repayment of debt in court.
The colony also faced problems of establishing a judiciary and a monetary system. There were no trained lawyers. Lawyers were actually banned from the colony because Oglethorpe had an unshakeable faith in the trial by peer; every man argued his case for himself before the lay magistrate. Peer magistrates were appointed in both Savannah and Frederica; the former were less effective in banning rum, which came easily from South Carolina, across the river. A system of "sola" bills, paper scrip, was set up due to the shortage of small denomination english coinage.
Oglethorpe left Georgia for the last time in the summer of 1743. It is unknown whether he intended to return at that time. He had business to attend to in England: for one thing the War Office wanted him before a Court Martial to answer charges made by a disgruntled Captain of the 42nd. His personal finances needed sorting out, and the Georgia Trustees were also in some disarray after the resignation of Viscount Percival (co-incidentally on the same day that Oglethorpe was battling the Spanish at Bloody Marsh). Oglethorpe is the only founder of an American colony who never owned a single acre of it.
His first year back in London was eventful. Parliament had only partly reimbursed Oglethorpe's expenses on account of the Colony and the Regiment. A vote in his favour in June of 1744 allowed him to purchase a freehold in Fulham, whilst Westbrook remained rented. That same month, he was acquitted by the Court Martial of the 19 charges raised by the pesky junior officer of the 42nd; indeed, his accuser was reprimanded.
On September 15th 1744, at the age of 48, Oglethorpe married Elizabeth Wright. Oglethorpe described her as "a lady of magnamity and prudence". Elizabeth had inherited Cranham Hall three years earlier, after a complex legal process (see chapter 2).
|Elizabeth Wright. Click on the picture to see it full size.|
In 1745, the General accepted the command of the Royal Regiment of Hunters. This was a time of rebellion in England herself, and the General pursued the Jacobites to Preston and Lancaster during the winter of 1745. His regiment was then ordered South due to the threat of invasion by the French. Another court martial followed with the accusation that he had had not pursued the rebels in the North as vigourously as he might. He was again acquitted.
In 1747 he was promoted to Lieutenant-General. Probably because of the 1745 trial (which had, in effect, amounted to a charge of treason), however, he received no regimental assignment.
As a Lady Lord of the Manor, and in the era before the Married Womens' Property Act, Elizabeth Wright stood to lose all her property to her husband upon marriage. She was only 36, marrying a man 12 years older, who was an Army Officer in reduced circumstances. A pre-marital agreement was in order. A guaranteed lease of Westbrook to Elizabeth's lawyers, and various other provisions, gave Oglethorpe the Manor at Cranham for his lifetime, which was to revert to his wife upon his death.
Oglethorpe retained his seat for Halsemere in Parliament until 1754. Most of his speeches between 1744 and 1754 were on characteristically humanitarian issues.
It became his habit to divide his time between London and Cranham, spending most of the winter in London and the summers at Cranham. Whilst at Cranham he kept up his London friendships by correspondence; letters survive to Goldsmith, Dr.Johnson and Strahan. There is at least one letter inviting Goldsmith to spend some time at Cranham; however, we do not know whether he came.
Locally, he was known as "General Georgia". The General acted as Surveyor of the Highways in the parish for many years. Whilst there is no doubt that roads were something that Oglethorpe valued (see above, his early parliamentary activities), it was common for Lords of the Manor to want this responsibility. This desire was not altogether altruistic. The Surveyor was empowered to hire labourers to dig for stones wherever the Surveyor thought fit within the parish boundaries; this power allowed protection for the Surveyor's own land (138).
The mid-1750's could have been a period of comfortable middle age for the General. However, there is quite a lot of evidence that he was restless for yet more action. He lost an election to Parliament as member for Westminster in 1754. In 1755, he petitioned for the reactivation of his old Georgia regiment, but this was refused. Recent discoveries (262) show that his restlessness was eventually satisfied in the same way as in his youth: he again went on European adventures, selling a manor in Surrey to pay for them.
One old friend from the days in the french military academy was James Keith, who was, after many years as a mercenary on the mainland, a Field Marshal in the Army of Frederick the Great. Oglethorpe crossed to Rotterdam, and from there wrote to Keith asking for assistance.
Secrecy was essential: Oglethorpe, as a commissioned British officer risked prosecution for treason if discovered in the service of a foreign power. Oglethorpe first used the pseudonym "de Hurtmore" (the name of a manor in Surrey over which he had the right of tithes). In 1756, Oglethorpe joined Keith's army, and was At the Battle of Hochkirch, in 1758, the biographers of Keith record that the Field Marshal died in the arms of an english volunteer called "John Tebay". Tebay was in fact Oglethorpe, who had changed from the french-sounding pseudonym "de Hurtmore" because they were actually fighting the French (the Battenburgs did the same when war broke out with Germany in 1914, becoming the Mountbattens). "Tebay" is spelt in many different ways in various letters and bank drafts. Boswell actually spelt the name "Tibi"; phonetically, this is suspiciously similar to Tybee, the island with the lighthouse at the mouth of the Savannah river.
Oglethorpe returned to England only after the accession of King George III, in late 1760. He returned to his habit of dividing his time between Cranham and London, and doubtless Elizabeth was glad to have him back. It is rumoured that he was offered the command of the British forces in America in 1765, but, at the age of 71, this can hardly be credible. In 1780, his portrait was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds; this portrait was bought by the Duke of Rutland, and was then lost in the disastrous fire at Belvoir Castle in 1816 (263).
His last illness was short. In February 1785, Oglethorpe went to a sale of Dr.Johnson's library, and was sketched by Samuel Ireland (263) whilst examining the sale catalogue (without spectacles !). At the beginning of June 1785, Oglethorpe went to London to meet with John Adams, the first Ambassador of the United States at the Court of St.James's. It is reported that Oglethorpe expressed his regret to Adams at the troubles between the two countries, and offered his best wishes to the fledgling nation (195). This is very plausible: Oglethorpe's problems with London whilst trying to govern colonial Georgia probably felt like a minature version of the situation that the Continental Congress rebelled against. Three weeks later, on July 1st 1785, Oglethorpe died at Cranham Hall. He was 89 years old.
Elizabeth buried the General at the centre of the chancel at All Saints', Cranham. She survived him another three years, and is buried at his side.
In 1925, Dr.Thornwell Jacobs, of Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, made an investigation of the vault, under licence from the Archdeacon at Chelmsford. Jacobs's claim that the position of the vault was "entirely unknown" was an exaggeration because the new church had been built on the foundation of the old one. The vault is at the centre of the new chancel, just as it was at the centre of the old one. It is a brick vault, about 8 feet beneath the present floor of the chancel. The General and Elizabeth reside in black coffins, with silver name plates. The Archdeacon refused permission to relocate the remains to Georgia, after strong objections from the Parish Council and the vestry (61). Today, it is unlikely that even an excavation inside the church would be permitted.
Oglethorpe's memory lives on both at Cranham and in Georgia. Oglethorpe University, in Atlanta, is probably the biggest memorial. Oglethorpe Mall is a modern shopping center and Oglethorpe Avenue is the main north-south street in Savannah's Historical District. Doubtless there are many other Oglethorpe streets in Georgia's towns and cities. Elsewhere in Georgia, are several commercial companies named after the General, and the town of Fort Oglethorpe in the north of the State. At Cranham, things are more muted: a primary school is named after the General, and its houses were named after important places from the colony: Savannah (yellow), Frederica (red), and Augusta (green); Port Royal (blue) is actually in South Carolina, and improbably enough, this book germinated in 1966 in the mind of one of its members. On October 7, 1996 some fifty Georgians, led by their Governor "Zell" Miller, laid a wreath above the General's vault at All Saints' in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of his birth; this was part of a larger Tercentennial programme in Georgia, and has led to a pleasant relationship between Oglethorpe School in Cranham and Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School, Athens, Georgia. More details of the visit can be found elsewhere along with photographs of the occasion.
Several portraits and prints of the General survive (263), all of which catch the General's long straight nose. A less satisfactory statue stands in one of Savannah's squares. In the grounds of Cranham Hall there are three "live oaks", and there are another two outside Boyd Hall. These trees are not oaks at all; they are evergreen, and are also known in England as "Holm Oaks". They also grow on the Georgia coast. It is interesting to wonder whether those specimens at Cranham Hall were planted by the General himself, and whether the Boyd Hall specimens (which are smaller) are propagations from them.