James Oglethorpe and the Georgia Colony

Statue of James Oglethorpe.

Jennifer Morrow / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

James Oglethorpe was one of the founders of the Georgia Colony. Born on December 22, 1696, he became well known as a soldier, politician, and social reformer. 

Driven to the Soldier's Life

Oglethorpe started his military career as a teenager when he joined in the fight against the Turks with the Holy Roman Empire. In 1717, he was aide-de-camp to Prince Eugene of Savoy and fought in the successful siege of Belgrade. 

Years afterward, when he helped found and colonize Georgia, he would serve as the general of its forces. In 1739, he was involved in the War of Jenkin's Ear. He unsuccessfully attempted to take St. Augustine from the Spanish twice, though he was able to defeat a large counterattack by the Spanish.

Back in England, Oglethorpe fought in the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, for which he was almost court-martialed due to his unit's lack of success. He tried to fight in the Seven Year's War but was denied a commission by the British. Not to be left out, he took on a different name and fought with the Prussians in the war. 

Long Political Career

In 1722, Oglethorpe left his first military commission to join Parliament. He would serve in the House of Commons for the next 30 years. He was a fascinating social reformer, helping sailors and investigating the terrible condition of debtors' prisons. This last cause was especially important to him, as a good friend of his had died in such a prison. 

He became a staunch opponent of slavery early in his career, a stance he would hold for the rest of his life. Even though he was an elected member of Parliament, he chose to accompany the first settlers to Georgia in 1732. While he traveled back there a few times, he did not permanently return to England until 1743. It was only after the attempted court-martial that he lost his seat in Parliament in 1754. 

Founding the Georgia Colony

The idea for the founding of Georgia was to create a haven for England's poor, along with creating a buffer between the French, Spanish, and the other English colonies. Thus, in 1732, Georgia was founded. Oglethorpe was not only a member of its Board of Trustees but was also among its first settlers. He personally chose and founded Savannah as the first town. He took an unofficial role as the colony's governor and directed most decisions about the new colony's local administration and defense. The new settlers took to calling Oglethorpe "Father." However, eventually, the colonists grew upset against his stern rule and his stance against slavery, which they felt put them at an economic disadvantage compared to the rest of the colonies. In addition, the costs associated with the new colony were questioned by the other trustees back in England. 

By 1738, Oglethorpe's duties were curtailed, and he was left with being the general of the combined Georgia and South Carolina forces. When he failed to take St. Augustine, he went back to England — never to return to the New World. 

Elder Statesman

Oglethorpe never wavered in his support for the rights of American colonists. He befriended many in England who also espoused their cause, such as Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke. After the American Revolution, when John Adams was sent to England as an ambassador, Oglethorpe met with him despite his advanced years. He died soon after this meeting, at the age of 88. 

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Kelly, Martin. "James Oglethorpe and the Georgia Colony." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/james-oglethorpe-104581. Kelly, Martin. (2020, August 29). James Oglethorpe and the Georgia Colony. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/james-oglethorpe-104581 Kelly, Martin. "James Oglethorpe and the Georgia Colony." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/james-oglethorpe-104581 (accessed March 20, 2023).