James Oglethorpe

(James Edward Oglethorpe)


James Oglethorpe was born in Surrey and attended Corpus Christi College in Oxford, but he had not remained at the school a year before he left to join the army of Prince Eugene of Savoy. He soon became aide-de-camp to the prince, serving with distinction during the Austro-Turkish War of 1716, and upon his return home he was elected a Member of Parliament. While in office, he proposed the improvement of debtor’s prisons and the settlement of a colony in America for bankrupt citizens and oppressed Protestants. His first reform came about in 1728, but the results were not optimal; many of those in prison were simply released without any means of financial support, further intensifying Oglethorpe’s larger problem of urbanization. In order to combat the issue, James and his associates petitioned in 1730 to form the Trustees for the Establishment of the Colony of Georgia in America. The petition was approved two years later, and Oglethorpe immediately set out for the New World with a group of colonists.

James Oglethorpe
In Georgia, Oglethorpe established a detailed system of agrarian equality, with land ownership limited to fifty acres. He worked closely with the Yamacraw tribe, from whom he purchased large amounts of property, and he built several defensive forts surrounding the settlement; located between two other colonies, the region was a highly contested and coveted area. Those who came to Georgia were primarily religious refugees and English artisans, and Oglethorpe accepted all newcomers save for Roman Catholics. In 1734, he established the area’s first Masonic Lodge. Slavery was originally banned, but this decision decreased the work force and led many to leave the colony. Later, after Oglethorpe’s departure, the ban was lifted.

In 1835, Oglethorpe travelled to England to meet George II, bringing with him a group of Cherokee men. Some English nobles originally opposed his work in Georgia, but they soon relented, even choosing to support the colony. Back in America, Oglethorpe carried out several impressive raids during the War of Jenkins Ear between Georgia and Spanish Florida, a component of the larger War of the Austrian Succession. During the battle, he failed to take St. Augustine but later commanded British forces in their victory at the Battle of Bloody Marsh. Oglethorpe later returned to England, where he served in the British Army. During this time, he had been steadily creating a force of rangers to protect Georgia from future Spanish attacks, but when he heard news of Scottish Jacobite risings in northern England, he immediately offered his troops for service. He and his men forced the Jacobites to retreat, but they were unsuccessful in capturing them, and Oglethorpe was court-martialed for not pursuing his targets with enough aggression. He was acquitted and given the rank of general, but he never served again.

In 1785, Oglethorpe met with U.S. Ambassador and future president John Adams during the latter’s visit to London. Oglethorpe died later that same year, and he was buried at All Saints’ parish church.

Key events during the life of James Oglethorpe:

Entered Corpus Christi College.
  Joined the army of Prince Eugene in Savoy.
Served during the Autro-Turkish War.
Elected a member of the English Parliament.
Led a committee to discuss prison reform.
Petitioned to form the Trustees for the Establishment of the Colony of Georgia in America.
Sailed to America with a group of colonists.
Established Georgia's first Masonic Lodge.
Visited England with a group of Cherokee.
Led several raids during the War of Jenkins Ear.
Returned to England.
Failed to capture retreating members of the Jacobite Rebellion in England.
  Was court-martialed for his failure but later acquitted.
Georgia's ban on slavery was lifted.
Met with John Adams.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Southern Indians  in  Indian History for Young Folks  by  Francis S. Drake
The Carolina Pirates  in  Story of the Thirteen Colonies  by  H. A. Guerber
Founding of Georgia  in  This Country of Ours  by  H. E. Marshall
How Oglethorpe Saved Georgia  in  Historical Tales: American II  by  Charles Morris
James Oglethorpe  in  Heroes of Progress in America  by  Charles Morris
Other Colonies  in  American History Stories, Volume I  by  Mara L. Pratt

Image Links

Oglethorpe's Landing
 in Indian History for Young Folks

General Oglethorpe
 in Indian History for Young Folks

James Oglethorpe
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

Short Biography
John Adams Second President of the United States. Worked tirelessly to help establish the republic on steady footing.
Eugene of Savoy One of the Greatest generals of the Hapsburg Empire. Led Austria during the War of Spanish Succession.
George II Second Hanoverian Monarch of Britain.