Dinsmore Documentation  presents  Classics of American Colonial History

Author: Greene, Evarts Boutell
Title: Provincial America, 1690-1740.
Citation: New York, N.Y.: Harper and Brothers, 1905
Subdivision:Chapter XV
HTML by Dinsmore Documentation * Added February 15, 2003
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WHILE the older colonies were developing by the help of immigrants from Europe, occasional projects appeared for the organization of new provinces. In 1690 a proposed charter to a new colonizing company was submitted to the attorney-general. It provided for a colony in North America, lying between the thirty-fourth and the forty-sixth degrees of latitude, bounded on the east by the western boundaries of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia, and on the west by the Pacific. The attorney-general offered no objection, but the plan was never carried out. Soon after the conquest of Acadia another new province was planned between Nova Scotia and Maine, but this project also was dropped.1

     One of the reasons most frequently urged for new settlements was the formation of a barrier against rival colonizing powers; and the need of such a barrier colony was especially felt on the exposed

     1 Cal. of State Pap., Col., 1689-1692, p. 761; Hutchinson, Hist. of Mass. Bay, II., 203.


frontier of South Carolina. Here, in the wilderness now occupied by the states of Georgia and Alabama, the traders and soldiers of England, France, and Spain were competing for the Indian trade and for ultimate political control. Within the present limits of Georgia there had been almost no permanent occupation by white men before the year 1733, but explorers, during the latter part of the seventeenth century, brought reports of Spaniards working mines in the mountainous regions of upper Georgia. The French, too, with their headquarters on Mobile Bay, were reaching out to secure a monopoly of the Indian trade.

     To this region the English had already asserted their title by the charter of 1665, which extended the nominal jurisdiction of the Carolina proprietors to the twenty-ninth parallel, several miles south of St. Augustine. This extreme claim was never enforced; but early in the eighteenth century the South Carolina government began to push forward its posts into and beyond the valley of the Savannah. In 1716 Fort Moore was established on the Savannah opposite the present site of Augusta, Georgia. In 1721 Fort King George was established on the Altamaha and garrisoned by a few British regulars. This fort was abandoned in 1727, but another had already been built on the western bank of the Savannah, which was maintained until 1735.1

     1 Charter in Carroll, Hist. Collections of S. C., II., 39; Smith, South Carolina, 208.


     In 1730 a vigorous effort was made to counteract the French influence among the Indians of the hill country by sending Sir Alexander Cuming on a dangerous but successful mission to the Cherokees, which resulted in their acknowledging the English supremacy and promising the monopoly of their trade.1 Thus when, two years later, the British government renewed its claims to the disputed region by granting a considerable part of it to the Georgia trustees, the step was a natural development from the policy of the previous decade.

     In the final settlement of Georgia this idea of a barrier colony was combined with a distinctly philanthropic motive. The new province should serve as a barrier against foreign attacks and a safeguard of English interests in America; but it was also to be a refuge for the unfortunate. Both of these motives are explicitly stated in the charter of the colony and both are admirably illustrated in the personality and the public career of its founder.

     James Edward Oglethorpe was born in 1689, and had therefore reached middle life before his American career began. After a short military service in the English and Austrian armies, he entered the House of Commons in 1722, and, in spite of his prolonged absences in America, he retained his membership for over thirty years. He soon became a conspicuous member and showed the breadth of his public interests by speeches on a variety of

     1 Winsor, Mississippi Basin, 183; Jones, Georgia, I., 76-80.


Map Facing This Page: Settlement of Georgia (1732-1763)

subjects. He agreed with Walpole’s critics in demanding a more aggressive assertion of English interests against the Spaniards, and he objected to a treaty with the emperor, because it failed to secure the Protestants of Germany against religious persecution; he also showed his appreciation of the colonial point of view by opposing the molasses act of 1733. The words attributed to him on this occasion deserved to be remembered: “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.”1

     The most attractive aspect of Oglethorpe’s parliamentary career is his disinterested service in behalf of poor debtors. Not only were honest debtors then generally subjected to the humiliation of arrest and imprisonment, but they were frequently placed at the mercy of jailers who had purchased their appointments and regarded them as investments. Oglethorpe became interested in the reform of this system, and in 1729 he secured from the Commons the appointment of a committee of inquiry. As chairman of this committee he made a series of reports to the house, bringing to light many instances of extreme cruelty and extortion.

     Oglethorpe was now convinced of the existence of a large class of honest but unfortunate people who might under the more favorable conditions of

     1 Wright, Oglethorpe, chaps. i.-iii.; Cobbett, Parliamentary History, VIII., 920.


a new country, and with a little assistance at the start, be enabled ultimately to stand on their own feet. Public interest had been awakened by the recent investigations, and almost at the same time the surrender of the Carolina charter left the field clear for the founding of a new colony on the southern frontier.

     Many prominent noblemen and clergymen agreed to support the enterprise; and in June, 1732, they received a royal charter incorporating them as “the Trustees for establishing the colony of Georgia in America.” The objects of the colony were declared to be two: first, the relief of the king’s “poor subjects” who in the New World might “not only gain a comfortable subsistence for themselves and families, but also strengthen our colonies and increase the trade, navigation, and wealth” of the kingdom; secondly, the protection of the frontier against the attacks of the savages.1

     The territory of the new colony was defined as that lying between the Savannah and Altamaha rivers and extending from their head-waters westward to the “south seas.” An undivided eighth part of this territory was still the property of Lord Carteret, one of the Carolina proprietors who had refused to yield his share in the original Carolina grant. The trustees, however, promptly secured the surrender of Carteret’s claim.

     1 Charter, in Poore, Charters and Constitutions, I.; Some Account of the Designs of the Trustees (Am. Colonial Tracts, I., No. ii.).


     This charter was a return to the principle of proprietary government. The soil of the colony and the government of its people were intrusted to a private corporation which was to exercise authority over the colonists without reference to any representative assembly. It differs from the older charters, however, in two important respects. In the first place, the enterprise was purely disinterested: members of the corporation were expressly prohibited from receiving any profits from membership or the holding of office, and all the lands of the colony, with any contributions which might be received, were to be held in trust. In the second place, the reserved rights of the crown were more strongly asserted than in any previous proprietary charter. The corporation was required to present annual reports of receipts and expenditures, and all its legislation was to be submitted to the crown for approval. Every new governor had to be approved by the crown and was required to take the oaths and offer the financial securities usually required of royal governors. Even this modified proprietary government was to be temporary, for after twenty-one years Georgia was to become a royal province.

     The charter provisions, taken together with the early legislation of the trustees, bring out clearly the benevolent paternalism of the founders. The corporation was authorized to transport foreigners who were willing to become subjects of the crown, and religious liberty was promised to all except “papists.”


A number of the regulations show the desire of the trustees to protect the moral and economic welfare of the colonists even, if necessary, against themselves. Thus, though the charter allowed one person to hold land up to five hundred acres, the maximum grant was made only to those who transported at least ten persons to the colony. These grants were entailed so that they could not be alienated or divided, and according to the original regulations estates could only pass to male heirs, reverting in the absence of such heirs to the trustees. The purpose of these rules was to protect the settlers against their own improvidence, to prevent the formation of excessively large estates, and to build up a considerable soldier-farmer class.

     A logical part of this plan for developing a class of small landed proprietors was the prohibition of slavery. In South Carolina the system of large plantations worked by savage negro slaves had exposed the small white population to serious dangers from slave insurrections. The large number of fugitive slaves protected by the Spaniards and sometimes enlisted in their military service was also a serious annoyance. These dangers the trustees wished to avoid in their new colony; in close contact with the slave-holding plantation system of South Carolina they hoped to establish a new community founded on the opposite principle of free labor. The trustees also imposed important restrictions on trade: no rum was to be imported into


the colony, and no trade could be carried on with the Indians without a license.1

     The trustees now set themselves to secure desirable immigrants. They were ready to help the unfortunate, but they did not wish to fill up the colony with recruits from the vicious and degenerate classes. Besides, the funds of the trustees were insufficient to enable them to send over all who wished to take advantage of this opportunity. Hence, a careful sifting process became necessary. By the autumn of 1732, however, about one hundred men, women, and children had been gathered, including men of various occupations: carpenters, bricklayers, and farmers are among those mentioned. Oglethorpe offered to assume the conduct of the colony, and was accordingly appointed its first governor. After a voyage of nearly two months the colonists arrived at Charleston in January, 1733.2

     South Carolina was strongly interested in the formation of this new barrier colony, and Oglethorpe and his charges were cordially received. Temporary quarters were provided for the settlers in the frontier port of Beaufort, and both the government and the people showed every disposition to help in putting the new colony on its feet.

     In the mean time, Oglethorpe had to undertake

     1 Account Showing the Progress of Georgia (Am. Colonial Tracts, I., No. v.).
     2 Ibid.; Jones, Georgia, I., chaps. vi., vii.


the delicate and important task of reaching a satisfactory understanding with the Indians. The eastern part of the new province was mainly occupied by various Creek tribes. With the help of an Indian woman who had married a white trader, Oglethorpe entered into negotiations with the chief of one of these tribes, and secured from him a grant of land near the mouth of the Savannah. With the help of the same chief, a convention of the lower Creek Indians was subsequently held and a treaty of alliance was entered into. The Indians surrendered a tract of land near the coast between the Savannah and the Altamaha, and agreed to have no communication with the French and the Spaniards. These arrangements, subsequently agreed to by the Indians of the back country, were formally ratified by the common council of the trustees, and proved effective in protecting the colony from Indian attacks during the critical period of its early history.1

     Before these negotiations were completed, Oglethorpe had brought his colonists to the tract ceded by Tomochichi and laid the foundations of the present city of Savannah. By the summer of 1733, the town had been laid out and lands allotted to individual settlers, in regular assignments including a town lot, a garden, and a farm-in all, fifty acres. For the first ten years the land was to be held rent free; but after that an annual rent of two shillings was to be paid. During the early stages of the

     1 Text of treaty in Jones, Georgia, I., 141-144.


settlement the inhabitants were dependent upon the common stock; they were governed by Oglethorpe in paternalistic fashion, and for many years the colony had only the most rudimentary political organization.1

     In 1734 an important new element was introduced by the coming of the Protestant Germans from Salzburg. These Germans were subjects of the Catholic archbishop of Salzburg, who had been driven by his persecution to seek refuge in various other states and countries, including Prussia and England. In December, 1733, the trustees agreed to transport a considerable number of them to Georgia. They were to receive their passage and allowances for tools, provisions, and seed, and were to have in the province all the rights and privileges of Englishmen. Under the direction of a German nobleman, the Baron von Reck, and of their Lutheran ministers, a company of them came to Georgia in 1734. The chief settlement of the Salzburgers was at Ebenezer, a little north of Savannah on a small tributary of the Savannah River. They soon, however, removed to a new site a few miles away; both the old and the new Ebenezer have long disappeared from the map of the state. The original company was subsequently reinforced by others of the same nationality, most of whom settled in the region between Savannah and Ebenezer.

     1 Jones, Georgia, I., 155 et seq.; Account Showing the Progress of Georgia, 44-46.


In 1735 a Moravian settlement was begun, but the unwillingness of these people to perform military service made them unpopular and they soon found a more congenial home in Pennsylvania.

     By 1741 it was estimated by the secretary of the trustees that at least twelve hundred German Protestants had arrived in the colony. The Germans maintained a distinct community life, whose most striking characteristics as recorded by contemporary observers were the industry of the people, the strong influence of their clerical leaders, and the primitive simplicity of their civil organization. They had for some time no regular court of justice, and their disputes were settled by the ministers in concert with three or four of “the most prudent Elders.”

     A more aggressive group of colonists came from the Highlands of Scotland. About one hundred and eighty people were sent out in 1735 and formed their first settlement on the north bank of the Altamaha, a few miles above its mouth; the district was named Darien and the first town New Inverness. A fort was constructed here and the colony was afterwards strengthened by new arrivals from Scotland; for the Highlanders, unlike most of the Germans, took an important part in the defence of the frontier.1

     From the beginning, military and defensive considerations

     1 Jones, Georgia, I., chaps. xi.-xiv.; Stevens, Georgia, I., 85-139.


exerted a strong influence on the policy of the trustees. Georgia, more nearly than any of the other North American provinces, approximates the Roman conception of a military colony planted for the defence of the empire. Nowhere does this policy appear more clearly than in the post of Frederica, at the extreme limit of the charter grant, on St. Simon’s Island at the mouth of the Altamaha. Beginning in 1736 as a military post, the town and its approaches were laid out with definite reference to defence against the Spaniards. Its people were largely engaged in supplying the soldiers, and when, at the close of the war, the troops were withdrawn the town rapidly declined.1

     A more substantial and permanent settlement was developing on the northern frontier at Augusta. Here on the Savannah River a fort was established in 1735, and a town laid out which soon became an important centre for the Indian trade, especially with the Cherokees. Besides these principal towns, there were a number of small villages or private plantations in the low country adjoining Savannah and extending southward along the coast towards the Ogeechee. These settlements suffered from unhealthy situations and some of them soon disappeared.2

     1 Jones, Dead Towns of Ga. (Ga. Hist. Soc., Collections, IV.), No. ii.
     2 Ibid., esp. Nos. iii., vii.; A State of the Province of Georgia (Am. Colonial Tracts, I., No. ii.).


     From the outset the young colony was obliged to guard against attack by the Spaniards at St. Augustine, who regarded the Georgians, like the Virginians and Carolinians before them, as mere intruders. The charter grants of Carolina and Georgia constituted a direct defiance of Spanish pretensions; but the challenge was brought closer home when Oglethorpe, not content with his colony at Frederica, established a series of small military posts extending from the Altamaha to the St. John’s River, well within the limits of the present state of Florida.

     The Walpole ministry strongly desired to avoid war, and in 1736 an English agent was sent to St. Augustine to settle the dispute; conferences were also held by Oglethorpe with some of the Spanish officers. No final agreement could be reached, however, and with threatening language the Spanish agents asserted their claim to all the coast so far north as St. Helena Sound, only a few miles below Charleston.

     It was now necessary to make thorough preparation for defence, and Oglethorpe returned to England for this purpose in the winter of 1736-1737. The Spanish government demanded his recall; but in answer to a petition from the trustees, he was authorized to raise a regiment of troops for Georgia, of which he himself was colonel. Some additional regulars were sent directly from Gibraltar, and Oglethorpe was also made commander-in-chief of all the


royal forces in South Carolina. He returned to Georgia in 1738 with instructions to maintain a cautious defensive attitude until actually attacked. Then he might adopt any necessary measures whether defensive or offensive.

     One of the most essential conditions of success in the conflict with the Spaniards was the good-will of the Indians. This was now endangered, partly by the misconduct of English traders and partly by the intrigues of the Spaniards. To guard against this danger, Oglethorpe undertook, in 1739, a long and dangerous journey into the back country to Coweta, the principal town of the Creek Indians, where he secured a renewal of their alliance with the English.1

     Soon after this mission word came to Georgia of the formal declaration of war between England and Spain, brought on chiefly by the increasing friction between English merchants and Spanish customs officials. On the Georgia frontier the chief interest of the war lies in two leading operations, the English attack on St. Augustine and the successful defence of St. Simon’s Island against the Spaniards.

     In 1740 St. Augustine was believed to be weakened by the want of provisions and by the sending of a part of its naval force to Havana. Oglethorpe proposed to take this opportunity for an offensive

     1 Wright, Oglethorpe, chaps. viii.-xii.; Oglethorpe’s letters in Ga. Hist. Soc., Collections, III., 28-43, 55, 81; Stevens, Georgia, I., 145-159.


movement, and it was agreed that with the help of the South-Carolinians, the Indians, and some vessels of the royal navy, St. Augustine was to be attacked by sea and land. The land forces were to cut off Spanish supplies from the interior and the fleet was to prevent relief by reinforcements from the West Indies. The combined forces arrived at St. Augustine and began a siege; but they failed to work effectively together and the result was a humiliating failure.1

     In the following year Oglethorpe reported that the Spaniards had been strongly reinforced and were planning an invasion of South Carolina and Georgia. Appeals were made to the home government and to South Carolina, but with little effect. Finally, in 1742, the blow fell. A formidable invading expedition was organized, consisting of some four or five thousand men with a considerable fleet, and a landing was effected at the southern end of St. Simon’s Island. Oglethorpe had only a few hundred men for the defence of Frederica, but the character of the road which the Spaniards were obliged to take was such that they could be attacked in detail and in disadvantageous positions. These opportunities were effectively used and the attacking army was defeated and demoralized. Overestimating the opposing force, the Spaniards withdrew from the island and the invasion was abandoned.

     1 Jones, Georgia, I., chap. xxi.; McCrady, South Carolina under Royal Government, chaps. xi., xii.


     In 1743, Oglethorpe led a retaliatory expedition into the immediate vicinity of St. Augustine, but before the end of that year he returned to England and there were no subsequent military operations of any importance on the Georgia frontier. Though the offensive movements of the English failed to accomplish any positive result, the significant fact of the war was that they had held their ground and could not be dislodged.1

     The early years of the colony were also troubled by internal dissensions, many of which were petty enough. One small affair has gained a certain historical interest because of the subsequent career of one of the persons involved. In 1736 the brothers John and Charles Wesley came to Georgia, John as minister of the Anglican church in Savannah and Charles as Oglethorpe’s private secretary. Both the brothers showed at this stage in their careers some lack of tact in their criticism of their neighbors. John Wesley was very popular at the outset, but his aggressive churchmanship soon gave offence; and his attempt to discipline a young woman whom he had himself courted before her marriage provoked so much feeling that he was indicted an a series of petty charges. The case was never brought to trial; but Wesley was convinced that his usefulness in the colony was ended, and shortly afterwards

     1 Jones, Georgia, I., chap. xxii.; Ga. Hist. Soc., Collections, III., 117-155; Gentleman’s Magazine, XII., 694-696.


sailed for England after a stay of less than two years in Georgia.1

     Almost from the beginning there was a considerable element in the colony antagonistic to Oglethorpe, and, indeed, to the general policy of the trustees. Some of the opposition leaders were forced out of the colony; and, taking refuge in South Carolina, they published a vehement criticism of the Georgia government, charging Oglethorpe with arbitrary conduct and emphasizing his failure in the campaign against St. Augustine. Great stress was laid on the misconduct of the “storekeeper” who had been left in charge of colonial affairs during one of Oglethorpe’s visits to England, though the trustees had already dismissed the offender from their service. The chief point of historical interest in this partisan statement is the claim that the growth of the colony had been checked by certain principles of economic policy which the trustees regarded as essential; the writers especially emphasize the prohibition of slavery and the restrictions imposed on the alienation of land.

     In 1738 over one hundred of the freeholders signed at Savannah a petition to the trustees asserting that unless these restrictions were removed they could not compete successfully with their neighbors to the north. They urged, therefore, that lands should henceforth be granted in fee-simple

     1 Tailfer, True and Historical Narrative (Am. Colonial Tracts, I., No. iv.), 32-39; Jones, Georgia, I., chap. xviii.


and that the introduction of negroes “with proper limitations” should be permitted. The Scotch settlers in Darien and the Salzburgers were equally convinced that slavery would be injurious to their interests, and sent in counter-petitions. The trustees rejected the Savannah petition, though they relaxed somewhat the restrictions on the alienation of land. In 1742 the opposition party sent an agent to London, who tried by petition to secure a parliamentary declaration against the policy of the trustees; but the House of Commons voted down a resolution in favor of slavery in Georgia, and the petitioner was reprimanded by the speaker for his “false, scandalous, and malicious charges” against the trustees.1

     Nevertheless, the agitation against the policy of the trustees continued. The production of silk and wine, which had been intended to serve as the chief staples of the colony, failed to develop on any considerable scale, and it was believed that, in the production of rice, white labor could not compete with that of negro slaves. It was found difficult also to hold in the colony enough white laborers.

     Among those who urged the legalization of slavery were James Habersham, an influential merchant; and the famous missionary, Whitefield, who had founded

     1 Tailfer, True and Historical Narrative; Account (Am. Colonial Tracts, I., Nos. iv., v.); Samuel Quincy’s letter, in Hart, Contemporaries, II., 116; Journals of the House of Commons (ed. of 1803), XXIV., 192, 216, 221, 288.


an orphan house in Georgia and believed that its success had been impaired by the want of negro slaves. In this state of public feeling the prohibition of slavery gradually became ineffective and in 1749 it was finally repealed, though as a precaution against slave insurrections the proportion of negroes to white servants was limited. The other restrictive regulations were also abandoned. In accordance with a vote of the House of Commons the trustees repealed the act prohibiting the importation of rum, and in 1750 the restrictions on the tenure and alienation of land were removed.

     After the removal of these restrictions Georgia developed much more rapidly, and a considerable movement of planters from South Carolina began into the so-called Midway District between the Ogeechee and South Newport rivers. These planters brought their slaves with them in such large numbers that a contemporary writer estimated the negroes brought into the colony during the years 1751 and 1752 at nearly a thousand. Thus the low country of Georgia began, in spite of the theories of the trustees, to reproduce in its essential features the social system of South Carolina.1

     The political experience of Georgia was in many respects unlike that of any other English colony. No provision was made in the charter for a representative legislature and none was established under

     1 Jones, Georgia, I., chaps. xxv., xxvi., xxx.; Stevens, Georgia, II, 262-318.


the proprietary government. An assembly which met in 1751 was not authorized to make laws, but only “to propose, debate, and represent to the Trustees.”

     The superior legislative authority was vested in the trustees, but a large discretion was left to their agents in the colony. At first, Oglethorpe had an indefinite paternalistic authority over the whole province, but a local government was soon organized at Savannah; and in 1741, while Oglethorpe was making Frederica his military headquarters, the colony was divided into two counties, one including the territory extending from the Savannah to a little beyond the Ogeechee, and the other covering all the territory to the southward. Oglethorpe retained direct control of Frederica, but the government of the northern county was intrusted to William Stephens, the former secretary of the trustees, with four assistants. In 1743, on Oglethorpe’s final departure for England, the authority of President Stephens and his assistants was extended over the whole province. This arrangement continued until the surrender of the charter and the final institution of the royal government in 1754. After that date the government of Georgia was substantially that of the typical royal province, with its governor and council appointed by the king and its assembly chosen by the people.1

     1 Account Showing the Progress of Georgia, 45; Stevens, Georgia, I., 216-261, 372, 381-384.


     In caring for the religious interests of their province the trustees showed in the main a broad and tolerant spirit. Men of all religious faiths, except that of the Roman Catholic church, were allowed freedom of worship. The population of the colony included Anglicans, Presbyterians, Moravians, Lutherans, Anabaptists, and Jews, the latter sect being sufficiently numerous to rent a room in Savannah for their public worship. Among the most conspicuous and influential men in the colony were the Lutheran ministers, such as Martin Bolzius, who served the religious interests of the German population. With all this variety the Anglican church had the advantage of special official recognition: several of the trustees were well-known Anglican clergymen; with the first company of colonists they sent out an Episcopal chaplain; and with the help of the Venerable Society they maintained a succession of ministers for the church of Savannah, including such distinguished men as John Wesley and George Whitefield.

     At the beginning of the revolutionary era Georgia still remained much the smallest and weakest of the thirteen colonies. As late as 1760 it had a population of about ten thousand people, of whom over three thousand were negroes. Its historical significance lies mainly in its advanced position on the Anglo-Spanish frontier.1

     1 Jones, Georgia, I., 440-449, 541; Stevens, Georgia, I., 319-370.

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