The latest planted of the English colonies in America was Georgia, the founding of which we have already considered. The settlers there had very little intercourse with or knowledge of the outside world, and thought of but little excepting the material interests of their new homes, until after Oglethorpe's return from England early in 1736. Then foreign politics threatened dangers from their neighbors, and religious teachings stirred the sluggish society into some activity.
With the great guns and the Highlanders skilled in military art, came with Oglethorpe many Germans to join their Moravian brethren who had settled in Georgia two or three years before. He was also accompanied by John and Charles Wesley, sons of an English poet and divine in the reigns of James, William, and Anne. They were religious enthusiasts, and were clergymen of the Church of England. The great guns and the Highlanders came to make war upon visible invaders of the domain; the Wesleys came to make war upon the invisible foes of righteousness. John was then thirty-three years of age, and came as a missionary of the gospel among the settlers and the surrounding pagans. Charles came as an assistant to his brother in this warfare, and as secretary to Governor Oglethorpe. They had lately begun that course of independent action in England, which caused the pulpits of their church to be closed against them and led to the founding of the Methodist denomination.
John Wesley was fervent in spirit and eloquent in speech. A large congregation attended his ministrations at Savannah, at first; but the austerity of his maxims, his fearless denunciations of vice and even foibles, and his rigid exercise of ecclesiastical authority, soon involved him in serious disputes with the settlers, who were a peculiarly mixed people. He became unpopular, and was sorely vexed and irritated by opponents on every side. At length he became involved in a difficulty with a woman whom he had refused to admit to the communion, and he left the province in disgust at the end of two years, and returned to England, "shaking the dust off his feet," as he expressed it. His mission in Georgia was a failure.
At that time there was a sturdy young preacher in England who was swaying multitudes by his fervid eloquence. He was a friend of the Wesleys, and obtained permission to join them in Georgia. He was not quite twenty-four years of age when he arrived at Savannah. The Wesleys had departed, but the young missionary, George Whitefield, entered upon his sacred duties with fervor. More practical than Wesley, he became a blessing not only to Georgia, but to other American colonies, where he labored much as an independent itinerant preacher. He established an asylum for orphans at Savannah, which was founded and supported several years by voluntary subscriptions which he procured in England and else-where. He worked lovingly with the Moravians in Georgia, who made a most salutary impression upon society there.
On his return, Oglethorpe discovered that the Spaniards at St. Augustine were very jealous of the rapid growth of the Georgia colony. He was not fairly prepared to resist an invasion by arms, and he sent a messenger to St. Augustine to invite the commander to a friendly conference. At about the same time he went, with a number of his martial Highlanders, on an exploring expedition among the islands and along the coasts of Georgia. On St. Simons' Island he founded Frederica and built a fort there. Sailing up Alatamaha Sound, he visited New Inverness (now Darien), where a few Scotch people had planted a settlement. He was dressed in Highland costume, and with his Gaelic followers he was warmly welcomed by the settlers, who came to the beach in their plaids, bearing various weapons, and expressing their delight with the sounds of the bagpipe in merry tunes. There, too, he marked out a small fortification.
It was now warm spring weather. Oglethorpe's messenger had not returned from St. Augustine, and he proceeded to manifest the intention of Great Britain to sustain its claims to the country as far south as the St. John's River. On Cumberland Island, to which he sailed on leaving Darien, he marked out a fort to be called St. Andrew's, which would command the mouth of the St. Mary's, the stream which finally became the southern boundary of Georgia. At the southern extremity of an island at the entrance of St. John's River, he also planned a small military work, which he called Fort St. George. He also founded Augusta far up the Savannah River, and erected a stockade there as a defence against Indians from the west who might be under the influence of French or Spanish traders.
These hostile preparations irritated the Spaniards at St. Augustine. They detained Oglethorpe's messengers as prisoners, and threatened war. The news spread among the friendly Indians. To-mo-chi-chi came with painted warriors to offer his aid. So, too, did other chiefs; and the Chickasaws sent a delegation to bear assurances of friendship and alliance to the ears of the governor, and a crown of brilliant feathers, adorned with the polished horns of the buffalo, for the brow of Oglethorpe. With these tribes at his back as allies, Oglethorpe felt strong. The governor of St. Augustine, who had tampered with them, hearing of their alliance with the English, expressed a willingness to treat for a settlement of all disputes. An honorable treaty was made. The messengers were released, and the Georgians abandoned Fort St. George. But the home government of Spain did not approve the treaty, and Oglethorpe was notified that a commission from Cuba would meet him at Frederica. He appeared with his secretary, after leaving three regiments of Spanish infantry at St. Augustine, and peremptorily demanded the evacuation by the British of all Georgia and of South Carolina below the parallel of Port Royal, claiming all of that region as a part of the dominions of Spain. The conference ended without an agreement.
Oglethorpe now hastened to England to confer with the trustees and seek military strength for his colony, for he was satisfied that it was in peril from the increased number of soldiers thrown into Florida. He was commissioned a brigadier-general, and invested with authority over the military in Georgia and South Carolina. He was also authorized to raise troops in England to serve in America. He did so, and with these he arrived in Georgia in the autumn of 1738, when he found general discontent prevailing. The Colony was not prosperous, owing partly to the unwise regulations of the trustees referred to at the close of Book II, and partly because many of the emigrants who came from England were men unaccustomed to manual labor and habits of industry. The use of slave labor, so productive in other colonies, was forbidden in Georgia, and tillage was neglected. Even the industrious Scotch, Swiss and German settlers in Georgia previous to the year 1740, when the colony contained twenty-five hundred souls, could not give that vitality to industrial pursuits which was necessary for the development of the resources of that virgin soil.
The greed of English merchants, who were growing rich by illicit trade on the coasts of Spanish-America at the expense of Spanish commerce, was fostered by the English ministry, who were blindly bent on destroying the Spanish colonial system in the so-called New World. Spain resented this interference with her rights, and for this--the real cause--England declared war against that kingdom late in 1739.
Oglethorpe had been apprised of this measure at an early date. He knew that St. Augustine had been strengthened by more troops, and he resolved to strike a blow there before his enemy should be well prepared. He had just put an end to a conspiracy in Georgia to assassinate him, and a negro insurrection in South Carolina--both incited by Spanish emissaries. He first penetrated Florida with a small force, and captured some outposts, early in 1740. In May he marched into Florida with six hundred of his regular troops, four hundred Carolina militia, and a large body of friendly Indians. He was before St. Augustine in June, after capturing two little forts, one within twenty miles of the city, and the other only two miles distant. A demand was made for the instant surrender of the fortress and garrison. It was defiantly refused. Oglethorpe determined to starve the garrison by a close investment. He surrounded the town, and with a little squadron blockaded the harbor. For awhile supplies for the fort were cut off, and the English were promised success, but very soon swift-sailing galleys ran the weak blockade and placed ample supplies in the fort. Oglethorpe had no cannon wherewith to batter and breach the fortress. Warned by the increasing heats of summer and the approach of the sickly season, whose malaria had already invaded his camp, the general raised the siege and returned to Savannah.
Hostilities were now suspended for almost two years, when the Spaniards determined to invade Georgia. With a fleet of thirty-six vessels from Cuba and a land force about three thousand strong, they entered the harbor of St. Simons in July, 1742. The vigilant Oglethorpe, who had been informed of the expedition, was there before them, but with less than a thousand men including Indian. The governor of South Carolina had failed to furnish men or supplies, and upon the Georgians devolved the task of defending both provinces from invasion. The intrepid general, when he saw the white sails of the Spanish ships in the distance, went on board one of his own little vessels, and addressing the seamen, said: "We must protect Carolina and the rest of the colonies from destruction, or die in the attempt. For myself, I am prepared for all dangers. I know the enemy are far more numerous than we; but I rely on the valor of our men, and by God's help, I believe we will be victorious."
When the fleet passed the English batteries at the southern end of the island, Oglethorpe saw that resistance would be vain. He ordered his vessels to run up to Frederica, while he spiked his guns at St. Simons and retreated to the same place with his troops. There he waited for reinforcements from Carolina, but they did not come. Spanish detachments annoyed him with frequent attacks, but he always repulsed them.
At length Oglethorpe resolved to act on the offensive, and make a stealthy night attack upon the Spanish encampment near St. Simons. He moved cautiously along a road which he had constructed, with a dense live-oak forest draped with Spanish moss on one side, and a deep morass on the other. When he was near the camp, a Frenchman in his little army ran ahead, fired his musket, and deserted to the enemy. The Spaniards were aroused, and Oglethorpe fell back to Frederica.
The general punished the deserter in a novel way. He employed a Spanish prisoner to carry a letter to him, secretly, in which Oglethorpe addressed him as a spy in the enemy's camp. He told him to represent the Georgians as very weak in numbers and arms, and advise the Spaniards to attack them at once; and if they would not do so, to try and persuade them to remain at St. Simons three days longer, for within that time a British fleet with two thousand land troops would arrive to attack St. Augustine.
The bearer of the letter, as Oglethorpe expected and hoped he would, carried it to the Spanish commander. It produced a great commotion in camp. The Frenchman was arrested and put in irons, and afterward hanged as a spy. A council of war was called, and while it was in session some vessels from Carolina were seen at sea. They were mistaken for the British fleet alluded to, and the Spaniards determined to attack Oglethorpe immediately, and then hasten to the defence of St. Augustine.
An advanced division moved immediately on Frederica. On the narrow road flanked by the forest and the morass, within a mile of the fort, they were assailed by Oglethorpe and his Highlanders, who lay in ambush. Almost the whole party of the invaders were killed or captured. A second party pressing forward to their relief, met the fate of the first. The Spaniards retreated in confusion, leaving about two hundred of their companions dead on the field. They fled to their ships and hastened to St. Augustine, only to find that they had been outgeneraled by the governor of Georgia. The place of the battle has been called "The Bloody Marsh" to this day. The stratagem of Oglethorpe had worked such disaster to the Spanish expedition that its commander, Don Manuel de Monteano, was dismissed from the service. That stratagem probably saved Georgia and South Carolina from utter ruin.
Oglethorpe had settled, colonized and defended Georgia with rare courage, energy and skill, not for personal glory and worldly gain, but for a great and benevolent purpose. Having firmly established the colony, he returned to England in 1743, where, after performing good military service for his king against the "Young Pretender," he retired to his seat in Essex. When General Gage returned to England from America in 1775, he was offered the chief command of the British army in this country, though he was then almost eighty years of age. His benevolent ideas did not suit the temper of the British ministry then, and General William Howe received the appointment. When, at the close of the Revolution, John Adams went to England as American minister at the British court, Oglethorpe was among the first to congratulate him because of the independence of his country. The brave Founder of Georgia died the next year, at the age of almost ninety years, with all his mental faculties in full vigor.
Oglethorpe was a benefactor in the higher sense of that term. For the good of his fellow-men, he had renounced ease of body and mind and the enjoyment of fortune and friends in his native land. He had encountered dangers in many forms unknown in England, not for the glory that leads a soldier to brave the perils of a strange land. He was gentle and good; merciful toward offenders and enemies; a father to the emigrants whom he led to the banks of the Savannah River; the warm friend of the Wesleys and kind guardian of the Moravians, with a missionary spirit ever anxious for the spiritual welfare and mental culture of the pagans around him; and it always gave him pleasure to relieve the poor and the weak of their burdens. Oglethorpe outlived most of the companions of his youth; but he was so loving and lovable that he made "troops of friends" on his long journey of life, who were to him in his vigorous old age like green branches nourished by his abounding virtues. Even in that old age, his person was spoken of as "the finest figure that ever was seen." His prominent eyes retained their brightness undimmed, and his person, tall and straight, was like a vigorous pine until the close of his life.
After the departure of Oglethorpe, Georgia enjoyed repose from conflicts with hostile neighbors. He left the country in a state of tranquillity. The same year it passed from the control of a mild military government to that of a civil organization, managed by a president and five councillors or assistants, under the supreme authority of the trustees, in England. Yet the colony languished for reasons already mentioned, and general discontent prevailed. The restrictive laws were generally relaxed and were generally evaded, especially those relating to slave-labor. Slaves were brought across the Savannah from South Carolina, and hired to the Georgia planters for a hundred years, the sum paid for such life-service being the market value of the slave. The transaction was practically the introduction of the slave-labor system into Georgia. It was not interfered with; and very soon ships laden with negroes from Africa came to Savannah, and men, women and children were offered for sale, in a way somewhat evasive of law, in the open market, by the auctioneer. In the year 1750, Georgia was really a slave-labor province. Then agriculture flourished, and the colony took its place as a planting State in an equal position by the side of its sister across the Savannah.
In 1752, when the twenty-one years named in the charter had expired, the trustees gladly gave that instrument to the king, and Georgia became a royal province. So it remained until the old war for independence.
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