Essex Men Who Built the United States: Part Six - Georgia Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Essex Men Who Built the United States: Part Six - Georgia

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Essex Men Who Built the United States
Introduction | Virginia | Massachusetts | Connecticut
Rhode Island | Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey
Georgia | The United States

Georgia was set up to serve two purposes. The first was to stop the Spanish expanding northwards, acting as a buffer between Florida and the British colonies. The second was to clear out the inmates of the debtors' prisons in Britain.

James Oglethorpe (1696 - 1785)

James Oglethorpe was born in London and after an Eton education became an officer of the British Army. He became the MP for Haslemere in Surrey in 1722, taking over from his father Theophilus (no doubt to the relief of the latter's tongue-tied constituents). His friend Robert Castell died in debtors' prison and Oglethorpe was appointed to head up a 1729 House of Commons committee into the state of these institutions. The committee suggested that the prisoners be released and sent to live in America.

A charity was set up and money poured in from around the country. In 1732, George II granted 20 trustees a charter for a colony between the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers. The trustees included Oglethorpe, Sir John Perceval, and Thomas Tower. Perceval was MP for Harwich and recorder of the borough. Tower was a lawyer and MP for Wareham in Dorset. Tower later purchased the Weald Hall estate in South Weald near Brentwood.

Oglethorpe set sail with 114 debtors on board the Anne, arriving in January, 1733. He purchased a large tract of land from the local natives and, using the wife of a local trader from Carolina as an interpreter, forged a lasting friendship with Chief Tomochichi. Oglethorpe chose a place called Yamacraw Bluff for his town of Savannah. He planned a town of open squares and wide streets.

Oglethorpe had a vision of a hard-working, profitable colony. He banned the import of spirits to ensure sobriety and of slaves to ensure that his colonists worked hard1. Land grants were small and non-transferable. Oglethorpe had planned to sell silk, wine and olive oil, but none of these crops could be produced profitably.

Oglethorpe set up Fort Frederica and its garrison on St Simon's Island in preparation for any Spanish attack. He went back to England in 1737 and returned to Georgia with the 42nd Regiment of Foot. When the War of Jenkins's Ear between Britain and Spain broke out in 1739, Oglethorpe went into action. With 900 soldiers and 1,100 natives he attacked the Spanish settlement and fort at St Augustine. This failed, and they retreated to Frederica. The Spanish then tried to capture Frederica with 2,000 men and 50 ships, in July of 1742, but were defeated in the Battle of Bloody Marsh when Oglethorpe ambushed them. This proved to be the end of Spanish military action against the British colonies. Georgia had proved its worth.

Readers may be wondering at this point, what exactly Oglethorpe had to do with Essex. The answer will be revealed shortly. He came back to England in 1743 to sort out financial problems that the military campaign had incurred. He married Elizabeth Wright, daughter of Sir Nathan Wright. The marriage brought James a large fortune, Cranham Hall as well as lordship of the manors of Cranham (a village to the east of Upminster near junction 29 of the M25 on the A127), Fairstead (a village between Witham and Braintree) and Canewdon (a village south of the River Crouch and north of Rochford). Oglethorpe also served under the Duke of Cumberland during the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. The Duke was so unimpressed with Oglethorpe's conduct he put him before a court martial. Even though he was acquitted and promoted to lieutenant-general, his military career was over.

Oglethorpe had hoped to return to America, but after these two events he decided against it. The wisdom of populating the colony with debtors was becoming more and more doubtful. They had rejected Oglethorpe's ideals and the sprits were flowing, slaves were being imported and lawyers were lurking. The trustees gave up on the colony in 1752 and it became a Crown colony.

Even though he spent ten years in America, Oglethorpe was only voted out of his seat in Haslemere in 1754. He retired from public life and became a leading figure on the London literary scene. He died on 30 June, 1785 and was buried at All Saints Church in Cranham.

1It was also felt to be something of a risk to use slave-labour in what was a military buffer zone, since the slaves might defect to the Spanish. Seeing it as an economic restriction, over the years settlers opted more and more for South Carolina, where slavery was permitted: Georgia eventually lifted the ban in 1750.

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