History of Colonial Georgia

In the early eighteenth century between the Savannah and Alatamaha rivers, there was a region wholly unoccupied by white inhabitants at the end of the first quarter of the eighteenth century. The South Carolinians proposed to erect a barrier between themselves and the Spaniards in Florida, by the planting of an English colony in that region. They asked the British government to do so. There were great obstacles in the way. Voluntary emigrants preferred a settled country away from immediate danger from foes; and a penal colony for British convicts was not desirable.

At that juncture, the subject of the condition of prisoners for debt in Great Britain, was attracting general attention. These men, unconvicted of any crime, were crowding the jails of the kingdom, and enduring sufferings more horrible than those inflicted upon negro slaves in the West Indies. Disease and moral degradation were making sad havoc among them. The hearts of the benevolent yearned to relieve them. A humane and wealthy citizen of London bequeathed his fortune to the government to be employed in liberating the most deserving insolvent debtors from the jails, where they were doomed to hopeless indigence and misery by the cruel laws oftentimes more cruelly administered.

This act caused the appointment of a committee by Parliament to inquire into the condition of prisoners for debt. It was done at the suggestion of Colonel James Edward Oglethorpe, a graduate of Oxford, a brave soldier, and then a member of Parliament. That was in the year 1728. Colonel Oglethorpe was made chairman of the committee, and they entered upon their duties with vigor. The revelations of the prisons were horrible and sickening. The writings of the afterwards illustrious Howard give us vivid pen-pictures of the scenes. The pencil of Hogarth has left us actual delineations of them. The English merchant, unfortunate in his business, was often suddenly plunged from a sphere of affluence and usefulness, to the dreadful dens called prisons, there to herd with the ignorant and vile in hopeless poverty and degradation.

Oglethorpe stood before one of these men who had been a distinguished alderman, in London, when he was a boy, and had been highly esteemed for his many virtues and practical benevolence. He had also been a "merchant prince," but had been ruined by great losses. His creditors sent him to prison. In an instant he was compelled to exchange a happy home and delightful society for a loathsome prison cell and the company of the debased. One by one his friends, who could aid him in keeping famine from his wretched abode, disappeared, and he was forgotten by the outside world. Twenty-three years he had been in jail. Gray-headed, haggard, ragged and perishing with hunger, he lay upon a heap of filthy straw in a dark, damp, unventilated room. His devoted wife, who had shared his misery eighteen years, had just starved to death, and lay in rags by his side, silent and cold. An hour before he had begged his jailor, with outstretched arms of supplication, to remove her body to the prison burying-ground. The inhuman wretch, who knew his history, refused with an oath, saying, with horrid irony: "Send for your alderman's coach to take her to the Abbey!"

The man expired when he had finished his sad story. There and then, inspired by God, Oglethorpe conceived a scheme of providing an asylum for such as these beyond the sea, where they might enjoy comfort and happiness. He also resolved to bring such jailors to punishment. The records of some of the English state trials show how earnestly he pursued these felons.

Oglethorpe proposed to plant the colony of unfortunates in the unoccupied country below the Savannah. His colleagues readily assented, and in his report to the House of Commons, he laid a scheme for the colony before that body. It promised the advantages of securing that domain to the British Crown, relieving the South Carolinians from danger, and doing good to a large class of worthy British subjects. The king and Parliament approved the project. An appropriation of money for the object was made, and on the 9th of June, 1732, the king granted a charter for founding a colony with the title of Georgia. That name was given in compliment to King George the Second, then the ruling monarch of England.

The management of the new settlement was entrusted to twenty-one "noblemen and gentlemen," who were constituted" Trustees for Settling and Establishing the Colony of Georgia." Colonel Oglethorpe was one of them. They were vested with legislative powers for the government of the colony for the space of twenty-one years, at the expiration of which time a permanent government was to be established by the king or his successors in accordance with British law and usage.

Oglethorpe generously offered to accompany the emigrants and assist them in making their first settlement. Every feature of the project commended itself to the hearts of the British people. Donations from all ranks and classes were freely given to assist the emigrants in planting comfortable homes in the wilderness. The Bank of England made a generous gift; and the House of Commons, from time to time, voted money, amounting in the aggregate, in the course of two years, to one hundred and sixty thousand dollars. Lord Viscount Percival was chosen president of the trustees, and a code of regulations for the colony, with agreements and stipulations, was speedily prepared.

All things being in readiness, thirty-five families-one hundred and twenty emigrants, men, women, and children-sailed from Gravesend for Georgia in the ship Anne, of two hundred tons burden, on the 6th of November, 1732. They were accompanied by Colonel Oglethorpe as governor, the Rev. Mr. Shubert, of the Church of England, as a spiritual guide, and a few Piedmontese silk-workers; for one of the projects of the trustees was the growing of silk in Georgia.

The Anne arrived at Charleston harbor at the middle of January, 1733, where the emigrants were received with joy by the inhabitants. The Assembly of South Carolina voted them a large supply of cattle and other provisions, for they were regarded as valuable auxiliaries. Their mutual aid was foreshadowed by the following lines which appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine:

"To Carolina be a Georgia joined! Then shall both colonies sure progress make, Endeared to either for the other's sake; Georgia shall Carolina's protection move, And Carolina bloom by Georgia's love."

The Anne was piloted from Charleston into Port Royal Sound, near Beaufort Island, whence the emigrants were to be conveyed to the Savannah River in small boats. From that point, Oglethorpe, accompanied by a guide furnished by the council of South Carolina, went forward to select a suitable place for a settlement. He chose Yamacraw Bluff, on the Savannah River, about ten miles from the sea, where Governor Moore, of South Carolina, had planted a small tribe of Creek Indians thirty years before, as owners of the soil. It was a high plain, its river front forty feet above the stream, and gently sloping to the swamps in the rear. There he laid out a town and returned to Beaufort, where the emigrants had landed, to conduct them to their final destination. They all arrived there on the first of February, and slept in tents that night.

The South Carolinians had sent boats with the additional provisions, and a body of rangers for the protection of the colonists while the latter should build cabins and a fort for their defence. The town projected by the governor was named Savannah, and there the emigrants soon had comfortable dwellings and a formidable military work armed with cannons. Concerning this spot, Oglethorpe wrote to the trustees:

"Upon the river side, at the centre of this plain, I have laid out a town, opposite to which is an island [Hutchinson's Island] of very rich pasturage, which I think should be kept for the trustees' cattle. The river is pretty wide, the water fresh, and from the key of the town you see its whole course to the sea, with the island of Tybee, which forms the mouth of the river. For about six miles up into the country the landscape is very agreeable, the stream being wide and bordered with high woods on both sides."

Before their departure from England, the colonists had received some military training from the sergeants of the guards, in London. Oglethorpe now formed them into a company of militia with officers; and he frequently exercised them that the Indians might be impressed with their military skill. The fort was soon completed and cannon mounted upon it. Then the governor turned his earnest attention to the important business of establishing friendly relations with the Indians. He was within territory claimed by the powerful Creek Confederacy, and not far from the seat of a tribe composed partly of Yamacraws and partly of Yamasees or Savannahs, over whom presided To-mo-chi-chi, a venerable chief. He had suffered banishment at the hands of his people, the Lower Creeks, but for what cause is unknown. He was then ninety-one years of age, of commanding person and grave demeanor. His power over his immediate followers was supreme, and his name had great weight throughout the Confederacy as a renowned warrior and wise sachem. Oglethorpe therefore sought an early interview with To-mo-chi-chi. It was held under the tall pines and wide-spreading live-oaks that covered Yamacraw Bluff, with Mary Musgrove, the half-breed Creek wife of a South Carolina trader, then at Savannah, as interpreter.

That interview was very satisfactory. To-mo-chi-chi pledged his unwavering friendship for the English, and assisted Oglethorpe in making arrangements for a general convention of the heads of the Confederacy. That convention assembled in one of the large houses at Savannah, late in May, 1733, and was attended by fifty chiefs representing eight tribes of the Creek Nation.

Oglethorpe addressed the assembled chiefs. He told them of the great power, wealth and wisdom of the English people, and of the advantages the Indians might derive by the cultivation of friendly relations between the two races. He expressed a hope that as the Indians had a superabundance of land, they would freely resign a portion of it to those who had come over the sea for their instruction and benefit. When the governor ceased speaking, the venerable To-mo-chi-chi arose and, in behalf of the Creek warriors present, he gave their cordial assent to Oglethorpe's proposition. "I was a banished man," he said. "I came here, poor and helpless, to look for good lands near the tombs of my ancestors, and the trustees sent people here. I feared you would drive us away, for we were weak and wanted corn; but you confirmed our land to us, gave us food and instructed our children." After further declaring the goodness of the English and expressing thanks, To-mo-chi-chi said, as he gave a buffalo-skin to the governor, on the inside of which were delineated the head and feathers of an eagle: "Here is a little present. I give you the skin of a buffalo adorned with the head and feathers of an eagle, which I desire you to accept, because the eagle is an emblem of speed and the buffalo of strength. The English are as swift as the bird and as strong as the beast; since like the former, they flew over vast seas to the uttermost parts of the earth; and like the latter, they are so strong that nothing can withstand them. The feathers of the eagle are soft, and signify love; the buffalo's skin is warm, and signifies protection; therefore I hope the English will love and protect our little families."

A satisfactory treaty was made by which all unoccupied lands within defined boundaries were assigned to the English. This treaty was ratified by the trustees on the 18th of October, 1733, when the English obtained sovereignty over the domain between the Savannah and Alatamaha rivers, westward from the Atlantic to the extent of tide-water, and all the islands but three from Tybee to St. Simons. Unfortunately the Indians were allowed to reserve for their use in hunting, bathing and fishing the islands of Ossabaw, Sapela and St. Catharines, which were within the limits of the English domain. This reservation was a source of trouble afterwards.

At the conclusion of the treaty, To-mo-chi-chi invited the members of the convention to his own town near by, where they spent the night in feasting and dancing. The treaty was signed on the 21st, when the governor distributed the following presents among the Indians: A laced coat and a laced hat and shirt to each of the chiefs; to each of the warriors, a gun and a mantle of duffils (a coarse woolen cloth with nap and fringe), and to all their attendants coarse cloth for clothing; a barrel of gunpowder; four kegs of bullets; a piece of broadcloth; a piece of Irish linen; a cask of tobacco pipes; eight belts and cutlasses with gilt handles; tape, and of all colors; eight kegs of rum to be carried home to their towns; one pound of powder, one pound of bullets, and as much provision for each one as they pleased to take for their journey home. Rum appears to have been freely used at first in Georgia. In the minutes of the trustees, under date of August 11, 1733, is the following record: "Read a letter from Mr. Oglethorpe with an account of the death of several persons in Georgia, which he imputed to the drinking of rum. Resolved, That the drinking of rum in Georgia be absolutely prohibited, and that all which be brought there be staved." This was a short but pretty effectual prohibitory law.

In the spring of 1734, Oglethorpe went to England, leaving the colony in the care of others. Believing that a sight of England, its inhabitants and evidences of its power, by some of the Indians, would increase the reverence of the Indians for Englishmen and add strength and permanence to the colony, he invited To-mo-chi-chi and some of his friends to go with him. The invitation was accepted, and the old Creek monarch with his queen, See-naw-ki; their adopted son and nephew, Too-na-ho-wi and five chiefs, went on the voyage. The vessel reached England in June, when Oglethorpe sent a letter to his friend, Sir John Phillips, in which he spoke of To-mo-chi-chi as an aged chief, "the mico or king of Yamacraw, a man of an excellent understanding, so desirous of hearing the young people taught the English language and religion, that, notwithstanding his advanced age, he has come over with me to obtain means and assistant teachers. He has brought with him a young man whom he calls his nephew and next heir, and who has already learned the Lord's prayer in the English and the Indian language." The reception of the governor and his dusky friends was cordial. The Indians were objects of great curiosity, none having been seen in England since Schuyler took some Mohawk kings to the court of Queen Anne. To-mo-chi-chi was made the subject of an ode of eleven stanzas of ten lines each, the first of which was as follows:

"What stranger this? and from what region far? This wondrous form, majestic to behold? Uncloath'd but arm'd offensive for the war, In hoary age and wise experience old? His limbs inured to hardiness and toil, His strong large limbs what mighty sinews brace! Whilst truth sincere and artless virtue smile In the expressive features of his face, His bold, free aspect speaks the inward mind, Arm'd by no slavish fear, from no vile passion blind."

On the first of August the Indians were conveyed in three of the royal coaches, each drawn by six horses, to Kensington palace, to have an interview with the king. They had been dressed at the office of the trustees in English costume. To-mo-chi-chi and his queen in scarlet and gold. The chiefs, less gorgeously attired, had their faces painted according to their home-custom. They were received at the door of the palace by the royal body-guard and conducted to the presence of the king and queen, who were seated on thrones. Then To-mo-chi-chi presented some eagle's feathers to the monarch, and said:

"This day I see the majesty of your face, the greatness of your house, and the number of your people. I am come for the good of the whole nation called the Creeks, to renew the peace which was long ago had with the English. I am come over in my old days, although I cannot live to see any advantage to myself. I am come for the good of the children of all the nations of the Upper and Lower Creeks, that they may be instructed in the knowledge of the English.

"These are the feathers of the eagle which is the swiftest of birds, and who flieth all around our nations. These feathers are a sign of peace in our land, and have been carried from town to town there; and we have brought them over to leave with you, O great king! as a sign of everlasting peace. O great king! whatsoever words you shall say to me, I will tell them faithfully to all the kings of the Creek nations."

The sovereign gave a gracious answer to this speech, assuring the old chief that he and his people might rely upon the friendship of the English. Then they withdrew. A cloud was upon their spirits. One of the chiefs, a brother of queen See-naw-ki, was very sick with the small-pox. He soon died, and was buried with the custom of his country as nearly as possible. Then Oglethorpe took the whole party to his estate, where they bewailed their loss for several days. After remaining four months in England, and becoming deeply impressed with the greatness of the English people, To-mo-chi-chi and his company returned to Georgia, in the company of a considerable number of new emigrants. The Indians were conveyed to the ship at Gravesend, in the royal coaches, bearing with them presents valued at two thousand dollars. The Prince of Wales had given to To-mo-chi-chi's heir a gold watch, with an injunction to call upon Jesus Christ every morning, when he looked on it. They reached Savannah late in December, 1734. Among the emigrants was an English baronet (Francis Parkhurst) and his family, and fifty-six Saltzburghers newly arrived from Rotterdam.

Oglethorpe did not return to Georgia until the beginning of 1736, when he was received with joy by the colonists and the Indians. He took with him several cannon and about one hundred and fifty Scotch Highlanders, well skilled in the military art, who constituted the first army in Georgia during its early struggles. With him also came the Rev. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, and his brother Charles, who came to preach the gospel to the heathen. To Mr. Wesley, To-mo-chi-chi remarked: "I am glad you are come. When I was in England, I desired that some one would speak the great word to me. I will go up and speak to the wise men of my nation, and hope they will hear. But we would not be made Christians as the Spaniards make Christians; we would be taught before we are baptized."

With a population of more than five hundred souls; with a military force, and with means for religious instruction, the foundations of the colony of Georgia were now firmly laid. And had the wisdom of the trustees been equal to their benevolence, immediate and great prosperity would have been visible. But they bound the colonists by such unwise rules and regulations that their energies were cramped, and it seemed, at one time, as if the grand object of the trustees, and the hopes of Englishmen, would be frustrated.

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