James Edward Oglethorpe [the fifth son, the ninth child of Sir Theophilus and Lady Eleanor (Wall) Oglethorpe] was born at the family estate of Westbrook near the town of Godalming in the county of Surry, England on December 22, 1696. He was christened the following day in London at St. Martin-in-the-Fields by the Archbishop of Canterbury. His family were strong Jacobites (supporters of the dethroned James II) but James Edward Oglethorpe was never bound by this tradition. He was to be an individualist making his judgements on the basis of each issue and in some areas he was not only independent minded, he was far ahead of his time.
At an early age young James entered the British Army and saw active service in Flanders under the military genius of the age, the Duke of Marlborough. Later he volunteered as secretary and aide-de-camp to Prince Eugene of Savoy, fighting in the siege of Belgrade in Turkey and having his servant, that was next to him, killed in action. Young James also entered Eton College and Corpus Christi college, Oxford and eventually received his degree of A. M. in 1731. Following the tradition of father and brother, Oglethorpe was elected, in 1722, a member of the House of Commons from Haslemere and held this seat through seven Parliaments for thirty two years until his defeat in 1754. He again stood for election in 1768 but he was again defeated.
In his first five years in the House of Commons he was appointed to forty two Parliamentary committees dealing with a wide variety of subjects, including a 1724 "committee to consider a Bill for the relief of insolvent debtors.". He also became interested in the low rates of pay for the men of the Royal Navy, the mode of their payment and the terrible grievance of impressment. His concern culminated in his quasi-anonymous Sailor's Advocate, a fifty two page indictment of the conditions of the period. It was printed by H. Whitridge and sold for sixpence and was published in an eighth edition as late as 1828. Oglethorpe claimed that impressment jeopardized trade and liberty and this violated the Magna Carta and the Petition of Right.
Next Oglethorpe became involved in prison reform. His personal friend, Robert Castell, had published a handsome folio volume entitled Villas of the Ancients but his bankruptcy put him in the infamous Fleet Prison where he contracted smallpox and died. Believing that the prison warden was directly responsible for Castell's death, Oglethorpe, in 1729, was appointed chairman of a fourteen man committee "to inquire into the State of the Gaols of this Kingdom and report the same with their Opinion thereupon." Oglethorpe's committee made three reports to the Parliament, specifically charging the jailor as having "exercised an unwarrantable and arbitrary Power, not only in extorting exorbitant Fees, but oppressing Prisoners for Debt, by loading them with Irons, worse than if the Star-Chamber was still subsisting, and contrary to the great Contempt thereof, as well as of other good Laws of this Kingdom." Parliament granted limited relief by the passage of a Prison Reform Act of 1729 which released some on thousand debtors from jail but not until 1869 did Parliament effectively abolish imprisonment for debt in England.
Also, in 1729, Oglethorpe advocated a high tax on the consumption of gin and thereby encouraged the drinking of comparatively innocuous malt liquors. In the personal life he drank beer and wine moderately while abstaining from hard liquors. In Georgia he prohibited all hard liquors but permitted wine, beer and ale. In 1732 he stressed the importance of discovering colonial opinion on a proposed imperial sugar tax: "We ought to have no regard to the particular interest of any country or set of people; the good of the whole is what we ought only to have under consideration; our colonies are all a part of our own dominions; the people in every one of them are our own people, and we ought to show an equal respect to all."
Like many statesmen of today, Oglethorpe was concerned with the twin problems of poverty and unemployment. His solution would be the founding of Georgia. As his friend the Earl of Egmont wrote in his diary of February 13, 1730: "The scheme is to procure a quantity of acres either from the Government or by gift or purchase in the West Indies (by that he meant the New World) and to plant thereon a hundred miserable wretches who being let out of gaol by last years's Act, are now starving about the town for want of employment; and that they should be settled all together by way of colony, and be subject to subordinate rulers, who should inspect their behavior and labour under one chief head; that in time they with their families would increase so fast as to become a security and defense of our possessions against the French and Indians of those parts; They should be employed in cultivating flax and hemp, which being allowed to make into yearn would be returned to England and Ireland and greatly promote our manufactures."
In 1730 Oglethrope formed the Georgia Society, composed largely of the members of the Parliamentary jail committee. Later that year the Georgia Society petitioned the Privy Council stating "that the cities of London, Westminister, and parts adjacent, do abound with great numbers of indigent persons, who are reduced to such necessity as to become burthensome to the public, and who could be willing to seek a livelihood in any of his majesty's plantations in America, if they were provided with passage, and means of settling there." For his part Egmont wrote in his diary: "There is a project on foot for settling a colony of a hundred English families on the river Savannah that bounds the North (he meant South) side of Carolina, by which it is proposed that a vast tract of good land uncultivated by reason of the incursion of the Indians will be protected and of course improved to the enriching that province, and to the great advantage of England. The King is to give the land, and the charges furnished by subscriptions, and 5 or 6000 is all we think necessary to beginning it. This being entirely calculated for a secular interest meets with approbation, and the Board of Trade have agreed with the undertakers upon a favorable report to be made of it to His Majesty, who, with the Ministry, and the merchants of the city, commend the design. Mr. Oglethorpe, a young gentleman of very public spirit and chairman of the late committee of gaols, gave the first hint of this project last year and has very diligently pursued it. Several Parliament men, clergy, &c. are commissioners for executing it, myself among others. Is is proposed the families there settled shall plant hemp and flax to be sent unmanufactured to England, whereby in time much ready money will be saved in this Kingdom, which now goes out to other countries for the purchase of these goods, and they will also be able to supply us with a great deal of good timber. 'Tis possible too they may raise white mulberry trees and send us good raw silk. but at the worst they will be able to live there, and defend that country from the insult of their neighbors, and London will be eased of maintaining a number of families which being let out of gaol have at present no visible way to subsist."
Oglethorpe expanded the original plan and in 1731 explained that the promoters had "resolved not . . . to confine this charity to prisoners, but extend it as far as their funds would allow to all poor families as would be desirous of it. And in case it would not extend to all, to choose out from among the prisoners and others, such as were most distressed, virtuous and industrious." Oglethorpe added that "the undertaking hath met with great encouragement, as well from public as from private persons; the former being sensible that to this they will owe the preservation of their people, the increasing the consumption of their manufactures, and the strengthening their American dominion. Mankind will be obliged to it, for the enlarging civility, cultivating wild countries and founding of colonies, the posterity of which may in all probability be powerful and learned nations. And lastly Christianity may be benefited."
In 1732 after much red tape King George II issued a royal charter to a corporation of 21 persons to be called "the Trustees for establishing the Colony of Georgia in America." The charter was good for 21 years, after which time Georgia was to become a royal colony. To insure the charitable aims of the corporation , no trustee could receive any salary nor could any trustee hold any land in Georgia. Later when the Trustees designed the seal it carried with it a Latin inscription "Non sibi, sod aliis" (Not for themselves but others). Of all the proprietary colonies Georgia was unique in this respect. Other colonies existed for the benefit of their owners. As trustee Oglethorpe never asked for nor received a pound, shilling or pence for his service to the colony.
By the royal charter of 1732 George II granted the Trustees a vast tract of land between the mouths of the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers and from their sources westward to the South Seas or as we now call it the Pacific Ocean. It was a vast grant so much so that even today Georgia is the largest state east of the Mississippi River. The charter promised all colonists all rights of English (as if they had never left England) including a freedom of worship. The only exception was a prohibition on public worship be Roman Catholics. It was an old fear that religion might pull men's allegiances towards the Spaniards in St. Augustine. The charter also limited land ownership by anyone to 500 acres. Georgia was to be different from Carolina where a few persons owned much land and most persons owned little or on land. Georgia was to be a land of poor but honest folks.
To promote positive propaganda Oglethorpe wrote A New and Accurate Account of the Provinces of South Carolina and Georgia which was published in 1732. Also in that year Oglethorpe's mother died and this left him free to take personal direction of the enterprise. Before sailing Oglethorpe attended 17 meeting of the Trustees only being absent on two occasions. In all 114 charter colonists were selected and brought over on the Ship Ann, 200 tons burden, commanded by Captain John Thomas and owned by Samuel Wragg, merchant. Ample food and drink were provided. Four days of each week the passengers ate beef, two days they had pork and one day they had fish. The water allowance was one quart per day "whilst the beer lasted, and two quarts per day after the beer was done." The ship sailed November 17, 1732, arrived at Charles Town in South Carolina on January 13, 1733, then on to Beaufort arriving on January 20. While the colonists waited there Oglethorpe and Lieutenant Colonel William Bull of South Carolina selected the site for the town of Savannah. Finally a sloop and five small boats brought the colonists to the site on February 1, 1733 (February 12, 1733 N.).
After a year in Georgia Oglethorpe returned to England in 1734 with the chief of the Yamacraw Indians Tomochichi, with his wife Scenawki, his nephew and adopted son Toonahowi and six other important chieftains. The Indians were wined and dined at great expense. They were received by King George II and also the Archbishop of Canterbury. Scenawki was fitted out with a glass eye and from all reports greatly improved her personal appearances. Tomochichi was greatly impressed with the English and on one occasion expressed his surprise that such short-lived men should build such long-lived houses. Treaties of peace and friendship were signed with the English before the Indians returned to Georgia.
Oglethorpe returned to Georgia staying one year and then returned to England in 1736 to raise funds for the colony of Georgia. The Spanish government demanded that Oglethorpe not be allowed to return to Georgia but the English government allowed him to return to Georgia with a volunteer regiment of over 600 men. Upon his arrival Oglethorpe saw war clouds on the horizon. Accordingly in 1740 he had an expedition into Spanish florida. He captured the town of St. Augustine but was unable to take the Castilllo San Marcos. In 1742 the Spanish retaliated by invading Georgia but they were stopped by Oglethrope's men at the so called Battle of Bloody Marshon St. Simon's Island. Georgia was safe. George Whitefield (the founder of Bethesda Orphanage) wrote: "The deliverance of Georgia from the Spaniards is such as cannot be paralleled but by some instances out of the Old Testament." Oglethorpe was rewarded with this promotion to the rank of Brigadier General on February 13, 1743. Hitherto the title of General which had been accorded him was purely honorary and conventional. After ten years in Georgia Oglethorpe left for England on July 22, 1743. He was never to return again.
In England he had to face 19 charges made by a Lieutenant Colonel William Cook before a Court Martial with the Rt. Hon. Lord Mark Korr, President. Their findings: "We do find that not anyone Article thereof is made out, and that every one of them is either frivolous, vexatious, or malicious, and without foundation. We, therefore, are most humbly of the opinion that the said Lt.. Colonel William Cook deserves to be dismiss'd from Your Majesty's service." Oglethorpe was completely vindicated(55).
A few months later on September 15, 1744, in the King Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey, Oglethorpe married Lady Elizabeth Wright, the only daughter of Sir Nathan Wright, Baronet and heiress of Cranham Hall in the village of Cranham, Essex County, England about sixteen miles from London. The Oglethorpes honeymooned at Westbrook which he had inherited in 1732. After Oglethorpe's death it was sold and eventually it was purchased by the Countess of Meath who turned it in 1892 into a Home of Comfort for Epileptics for Women and Children. The Oglethorpes also acquired a London townhouse in which they generally spent the winter season but this was later torn down. Cranham Hall became the summer residence of the Oglethorpes for forth years of their married life. Afterwards the estate descended to the Marquis de Bellegrade, the grandson of one of Oglethorpe's sisters. Today it still survives as a private residence.
In 1745 Oglethorpe was promoted to Major General but the Jacobite insurrection of that year nearly destroyed his reputation. Ordered to pursue the defeated rebels Oglethorpe was later accused by the Duke of Cumberland of "having disobeyed or neglected his orders and suffered the Rear of the Rebells near Shap to escape." Once again Oglethorpe faced a Court Marital this time with Lieutenant General Thomas Wentworth as President. Their findings: "We are of Opinion that Major General Oglethorpe is not guilty of the crime laid to his charge and do, therefore, acquitt him of the same." In 1747 Oglethorpe was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General and in 1765 he was appointed General. Within a short time he became the senior general for the entire British Army. In 1818 H. McCall's History of Georgia claimed that at the outbreak of the American Revolution, Oglethorpe was offered field command of the British forces in America. The story has been repeated many times by otherwise respectable historians but the story is not supported in the British War Office records. Besides his extreme age (80) would have ruled out such an offer if not Oglethorpe's kindly view of colonial affairs.
Oglethorpe spent the last year of his life in the famous literary circle which included such notables as Dr. Johnson, Boswell, Wapole, Goldsmith, Burke and others. Boswell has it that once when dining at his home Johnson pressed Oglethorpe to "give the world his life. I know no man whose Life would be more interesting. It I were furnished with materials, I should be very glad to write it." Unfortunately no biography was forthcoming. The great artist Sir Joshua Reynolds painted a portrait of Oglethorpe but it was unfortunately destroyed in a fire.
In 1784 the young Hannah Moore wrote of her encounter with Oglethorpe: "I have got a new admirer. We flirt together prodigiously; it is the famous General Oglethorpe, perhaps the most remarkable man of his time. . . the finest figure you ever saw. He perfectly realizes all my ideas of Nestor. His literature is great, his knowledge of the world extensive, and his faculties as bright as ever; he is one of the three persons still living who were mentioned by Pope. . . He was the intimate friend of Southern, the tragic poet, and of all the wits of that time. His is perhaps the oldest man of a gentleman living. . . He is quite a preux chevalier, heroic, romantic, and full of the old gallantry."
In 1785 Oglethorpe attended the four day sale of Dr. Johnson's library at Christie's. As Samuel Rogers recalled, "at the sale of Dr. Johnson's books, I met General Oglethorpe, thin very, very old, the flesh of his face looking like parchment. He amused us youngsters by talking of the alterations that had been made n London and of the great additions it had received within his recollections." The only well known portrait of Oglethorpe was made by Samuel Ireland at the Johnson book sale. It is the portrait of an ancient person. Oglethrope is lean as a grasshopper. As Austin Dobson has it: "He wears a military-looking hat, and a caped coat with deep cuffs and ruffles. His sword hilt projects between his skirts; and in his right hand, which is propped upon a stout walking-cane, he holds a book which has been knowked down to him, and which he is reading attentively without the aid of spectacles."
Also in 1785 Horace Walpole wrote that Oglethorpe "has the activity of youth when compared to me. His eyes, ears, articulation, limbs, and memory would suit a boy, if a boy could recollect a century backwards. his teeth are gone; he is a shadow, and a wrinkled one; but his spirits and his spirit are in full bloom." On June 1, 1785 John Adams was received by King George III as the first minister to the Court of St. James's from the United States of America. Three days later Oglethorpe visited Adams and expressed "a great esteem and regard for America, much regret at the misunderstanding between the two countries, and was very happy to have lived to see the termination of it." Quite appropriately Adams returned Oglethorpe's visit. At last on June 30, 1785 Oglethorpe died not as one might suppose, of old age at 89, but of a violent fever which would have killed him at any age. He was buried across the lawn from Cranham Hall at All Saints Church where his wife was to join him two years later. Oglethorpe was a great man and recognized as such by his own time. Little more can be said that that his presence on this earth made it "a bit more beautiful and better."
Since Oglethorpe helped establish the colony of Georgia, he has been honored and remembered in many different ways. In 1737, Gentleman's Magazine sponsored a contest for the best poem entitled "The Christian Hero". The first prize was a gold medal with a the head of James Oglethorpe on one side. The United States post office has twice honored Oglethorpe with a stamp bearing his image. The first occasion was to mark the bicentennial of Georgia. In 1933 it issued a 3 cent stamp in his honor. The second occasion was to commemorate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Georgia. A 13 cent stamp was issued in 1983 to honor Georgia's founder.
Georgia has both a county and town named for Oglethorpe. Oglethorpe County was established in 1793. Oglethorpe County is bordered by Greene, Madison, Elbert and Wilkes Counties. The town of Oglethorpe is located in the Macon County. Oglethorpe, located on the west side of the Flint River, was laid out in 1830. It became the county seat in 1854. Oglethorpe became a regular stopping place for the stage coach and eventually the railroad. Thousands of wagons began to haul cotton in Oglethorpe and the population grew to 20 thousand. A smallpox epidemic swept through and many died, houses were burned and the town never recovered.
Oglethorpe University was established in 1835. Originally called Oglethorpe College, it was built at Midway about 2 miles from Georgia's former capital of Milledgeville. It was built under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church and was referred to Old Midway Seminary. After the War Between the States, the University was removed to Atlanta where it closed in 1872. It was re-established in 1913 under the leadership of Rev. (Dr.) Thornwell Jacobs a Presbyterian minister. The cornerstone of the new administration was laid in 1915.
The city fathers of Savannah were desirous of having an army barracks located within the city. In 1823 they petitioned the Secretary of War to build a barracks and offered to purchase the land for the undertaking. The U. S. government to furnish the materials and use soldiers to perform the labor required. Oglethorpe Barracks was completed in 1834 on the site where the Desoto Hilton now stands. The site was never occupied by U. S. troops. In 1852 the city proposed to purchase the site back from the U. S. government and in 1853 the government honored that wish. Oglethorpe Barracks was used by local military volunteer companies of Savannah until 1864, when Savannah was captured by Union troops. The barracks were sold to the Savannah Hotel Corporation for $75,000 in 1879. The barracks were torn down in the 1870s to make room for the Desoto Hotel. Construction on the Desoto Hotel began in 1888 and was completed in 1890. The hotel had 5 stories, 206 rooms, a solarium, barber shop, drug store and restaurant.
Within the city of Savannah there have been many other things named in Oglethorpe's honor: Oglethorpe Club, Oglethorpe Square, Oglethorpe Ward, Oglethorpe Street, Oglethorpe Bench and the Oglethorpe Monument. Two institutions which no longer exist are the Oglethorpe Savings and Trust and the Oglethorpe Insurance Company. Also, on the outskirts of Savannah on Wilmington Island, is a Hotel previously called the Oglethorpe Hotel that is now known as the Savannah Sheraton.
The Oglethorpe Club was established in 1875. Its members were some of the leading citizens of the city. The club was located at the corner of Bull and Broughton on the second of the Odd Fellows hall which was another men's club. The Oglethorpe is now located the Molyneux house, the former residence of General Henry R. Jackson, at the corner of Bull and Gaston streets.
Oglethorpe Square was laid out in 1733. It is the second square south of Bay street on Abercorn and is bounded on the north and south by State and York streets. Oglethorpe Ward was established in 1787 along West Broad (now Martin Luther King Boulevard) Street.
Oglethorpe Avenue, one of the original streets in Oglethorpe's plan for the city, has not always gone by that name. It was originally called South Broad Street and marked the edge of the city for many years. One former resident remembers that many local residents often referred to it as "Under the Trees" street because it was a long shady avenue of Pride of India trees that spanned the width of the city from East Broad to West Broad. "Under the Trees" was the usual route taken by funeral processions on the way to the Old Cemetery at the corner of South Broad and Abercorn. South Broad was later renamed Oglethorpe Avenue.
In 1906, the Georgia General Assembly appropriated $15,000 for a monument to commemorate the founder of Georgia. Chippewa Square was designated as the site because it was owned by the State. Daniel Chester French was chosen as the sculptor and Henry Bacon designed by base. The unveiling of the monument was on November 23, 1910. Many dignitaries and military units participated in a parade through the city ending in a ceremony in the square. Dignitaries in attendance included the Honorable Joseph M. Brown, Governor of Georgia, the British Ambassador and the Resident British Consul. Bacon and French went on to produce the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Because General Oglethorpe had no monument the Georgia Society and the Colonial Dames of America petitioned the city engineer, using old maps, to locate the exact spot where General Oglethorpe, founder of the colony, pitched his tent and rested on the first night he spent in Georgia. In 1905 they ordered the design and construction of a curved granite bench to be placed on that site. That site is near the intersection of Bay and Whitaker.
The road to Tybee was opened to automobiles in 1925. This event paved the way to the rapid settlement of the islands it crossed. The Abbott Hotels Corporation opened the Oglethorpe Hotel, often referred to by the locals as the General Oglethorpe Hotel, in 1925. The hotel was located on Wilmington Island overlooking the Wilmington River. It still stands today but is called the Savannah Sheraton.
Nestled near Chattanooga Tennessee, Lookout Mountain, and Chickamauga National Military Park was Fort Oglethorpe. Fort Oglethorpe was used as an army induction center during World War I and World War II. It was completed in 1904 and was primarily a cavalry post. It also was used for the Women's Army Corps and to house German prisoners of war during World War II. The fort was disbanded in 1947, declared surplus and sold off in parcels in 1948. Today Fort Oglethorpe is private property. The remnants of the fort and others buildings were incorporated as a city in 1949. Today the town of Fort Oglethorpe has about 100 building and a population of about 5,000.
The Oglethorpe Hotel opened on January 9, 1888 in Brunswick, Ga. It was a magnificent structure. Visitors and members to the famous Jekyll Island Club would often arrive by train and spend the night at the Oglethorpe before being ferried to Jekyll the next day. The hotel was designed by J. A. Wood and was built on the site of the Oglethorpe House, built in 1837 and accidentally burned during the War Between the States. The Oglethorpe Hotel was the winter hotel and the St. Simons Hotel, owned by the same corporation, was the summer hotel. The Oglethorpe Hotel had its own dock on the Brunswick river. The Oglethorpe was constructed using 3 million brick. It had 107 rooms, electric lighting, was 4 stories and cost one quarter million dollars to construct in 1888. It was noted for its tear drop Victorian architecture and gingerbread design. It also had a two story rotunda and marble dinning room floors. The ballroom was the center of Brunswick social life with its live orchestra. The Oglethorpe Hotel was torn down in 1958 to make room for a department store and a Holiday Inn.