Facts About the Colony of Georgia

A printed map of Savannah, Georgia, circa 1734

Pierre Fourdrinier and James Oglethorpe / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The colony of Georgia was the last of the formally founded colonies in what would become the United States, in 1732 by Englishman James Oglethorpe. But for nearly 200 years before that, Georgia was a disputed region, with Spain, France, and England jockeying for the control of land owned by several powerful Indian groups, including the Creek Confederacy.

Fast Facts: Colony of Georgia

  • Also Known As: Guale, Carolina Colony
  • Named After: British King George II
  • Founding Year: 1733
  • Founding Country: Spain, England
  • First Known European Settlement: 1526, San Miguel de Gualdape
  • Residential Native Communities: Creek Confederacy, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw
  • Founders: Lucas Vázques de Ayllón, James Oglethorpe
  • First Continental Congressmen: None
  • Signers of the Declaration: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, and George Walton

Early Exploration

The first Europeans to set foot in Georgia were Spanish conquistadors: it is possible that Juan Ponce de Leon (1460–1521) made it to the coastal reaches of the future state by 1520. The first European colonization was on the coast, probably near St. Catherine's Island, and established by Lucas Vázques de Ayllón (1480–1526). Called San Miguel de Guadalupe, the settlement only lasted a few months before it was abandoned over the winter of 1526–1527 due to illness, death (including its leader), and factionalism.

Spanish explorer Hernan de Soto (1500–1542) led his expeditionary forces through Georgia in 1540 on his way to the Mississippi River, and the "De Soto Chronicles" contained notes about his journey and the Native American inhabitants he met along the way. Spanish missions were set up along the Georgia coast: the most permanent of those was established by the Jesuit priest Juan Pardo on St. Catherine's Island in 1566. Later, English settlers from South Carolina would travel into the region of Georgia to trade with the Native Americans they found there.

Part of Georgia was subsumed into the Carolina colony in 1629. The first English explorer was Henry Woodward, who arrived at the Chattahoochee falls in the 1670s, what was then the center of the Creek Nation. Woodward formed an alliance with the Creek and together they forced the Spanish out of Georgia.

The Margravate of Azilia

The Margravate of Azilia, a colony proposed in 1717 by Robert Montgomery (1680–1731), the eleventh Baronet of Skelmorlie, was to be located somewhere between the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers, as an idyllic establishment with a palace of the margrave (leader) surrounded by a green space and then in descending circles farther and farther from the center, sections would be laid out for barons and commoners. Montgomery likely never made it to North America and Azilia was never built.

In 1721, while Georgia was part of the Carolina Colony, Fort King George near Darien on the Altamaha River was established and then abandoned in 1727. 

Founding and Ruling the Colony

It was not until 1732 that the colony of Georgia was actually created. This made it the last of the thirteen British colonies, a full fifty years after Pennsylvania came into being. James Oglethorpe was a well known British soldier who thought that one way to deal with debtors who were taking up a lot of room in British prisons was to send them to settle a new colony. However, when King George II granted Oglethorpe the right to create this colony named after himself, it was to serve a much different purpose.

The new colony was to be located between South Carolina and Florida, to act as a protective buffer between the Spanish and English colonies. Its boundaries included all of the lands between the Savannah and Altamaha rivers, including much of present-day Alabama and Mississippi. Oglethorpe advertised in the London papers for poor people who would get free passage, free land, and all the supplies, tools, and food they would need for a year. The first shipload of settlers set sail aboard the Ann in 1732, disembarked at Port Royal on the South Carolina coast, and reached the foot of Yamacraw Bluff on the Savannah River on February 1, 1733, where they founded the city of Savannah.

Georgia was unique among the thirteen British colonies in that no local governor was appointed or elected to oversee its population. Instead, the colony was ruled by a Board of Trustees that was located back in London. The Board of Trustees ruled that slavery, Catholics, lawyers, and rum were all banned within the colony. That would not last.

War of Independence

In 1752, Georgia became a royal colony and the British parliament selected royal governors to rule it. Historian Paul Pressly has suggested that unlike the other colonies, Georgia succeeded in the two decades before Independence because of its connections to the Caribbean and based on an economy of rice supported by the enslavement of Africans. 

The royal governors held power until 1776, with the beginning of the American Revolution. Georgia was not a real presence in the fight against Great Britain. In fact, due to its youth and stronger ties to the 'Mother Country,' many inhabitants sided with the British. The colony sent no delegates to the First Continental Congress: they were facing attacks from the Creek and desperately needed the support of regular British soldiers.

Nonetheless, there were some staunch leaders from Georgia in the fight for independence including three signers of the Declaration of Independence: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, and George Walton. After the war, Georgia became the fourth state to ratify the US Constitution.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Coleman, Kenneth (ed.). "A History of Georgia," 2nd edition. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991. 
  • Pressly, Paul M. "On the Rim of the Caribbean: Colonial Georgia and the British Atlantic World." Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013.
  • Russell, David Lee. "Oglethorpe and Colonial Georgia: A History, 1733-1783." McFarland, 2006
  • Sonneborne, Liz. "A Primary Source History of the Colony of Georgia." New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2006. 
  • "The Margravate of Azilia." Our Georgia History.