Who is James Edward Oglethorpe?

512px-James_Edward_Oglethorpe_by_Alfred_Edmund_DyerPat here, just back from a three week trip by plane, boat, and car (don’t know how we missed train. . .) and a little too overwhelmed to write a coherent blog. The original intent of our travel was research in Charleston and Savannah, but weather upended most of those plans. Both cities are charming, and their early days would be great for contrasting, but that would take more time and space than I have. So I thought I’d dive into Savannah’s history first—until I remembered General James Oglethorpe, the city’s founder. The man was absolutely fascinating and a century before his time, at the very least. If only all our rich and famous could be as broad-minded. . .

So today you get a bit of English and American history combined. Oglethorpe was born in Yorkshire in 1696 to a wealthy family and did all those things a favored son should do—attend Eton and Oxford and join the military—except he decided to finish school in a French military academy and join the Hapsburgs in fighting the Turks. Adventurous little snot from the start. . . 512px-Col-Johnson-Liberating-an-Unfortunate-Debtor

But he returned to England with military honors and moved on up the ladder by joining the House of Commons in 1722 at the ripe old age of 26, as one does. He may have partied a bit for a few years, or polished his medals or made connections, but whatever he did landed him on the Gaols Committee that investigated debtors’ prisons. That was where his heroism, brilliance, and advanced thinking really began to shine.

He didn’t see the value of leaving hardworking men and women languishing in prison to pay debts they couldn’t pay even when they were working—big duh there. But instead of bringing a bill to the Commons saying “oh these poor people should be given jobs instead of prison,” he brought a bill saying Britain needed to establish a 13th colony to protect South Carolina from the Spanish in Florida. Rah rah, go Britain go, let’s

Pirate house

Pirate house

beat back those—whatever bad epithet they used for Spanish Catholics in the 1700s. And voila, they granted him a charter for all of Georgia. (I have no images of Florida Spaniards so I give you an image of a seafarer's inn built in Savannah in 1753 and reported to be a home for pirates)

In June, 1732, Oglethorpe and his frigate Anne landed in the area that is now known as Savannah, accompanied by 114 colonists. With the aid of local Indian traders, he immediately made friends with Tomochicihi,  the towering chief of the local Indian tribe. With that negotiation settled, the colonists were free to develop the city without warfare.  Gee, who woulda thunk taking land without warfare was a possibility?

Oglethorpe arrived with a plan so elaborate that he had to have been working on it for years. His charter allowed freedom of religion—and forbade rum, lawyers, and slavery. I like his thinking (although indentured servants weren't a huge step from slavery but they did have a time limit).  Freedom of religion opened the colony to everyone, including Jews, and contrary to all popular beliefs of the time, the diversity allowed the city to flourish. 1024px-A_view_of_the_town_of_Savanah _1741

And the one part of his grand scheme that lingers until today is the plan he laid out for the city. He built a grid with four shady public squares to serve as meeting places and centers of business with wide streets surrounded by building lots. Eventually, the city expanded to 24 squares, 22 of which are still in existence today. The lots were eventually taken over by the monstrously large houses of cotton merchants and shipping magnates. In the early days of the city, the lack of slavery allowed shipping and trade instead of agriculture to dominate the economy. That didn’t last, of course, but Oglethorpe couldn’t live forever. If only we could have cloned him. . .

512px-Savannah_Historic_District_(Savannah _Georgia)_3_10I’m grateful for this trip to remind me that there are people out there who can think and do selflessly grand things. I suppose, in one way, the education, wealth, and privilege of Britain’s landed aristocrats allowed them to be noble, but how many actually were? And then one must wonder if Oglethorpe would have been so successful with today’s multi-faceted economic and political problems? Savannah_Historic_District_(Savannah _Georgia)_3_45

This was a quick and impromptu summary of Oglethorpe’s career in the Americas. Does anyone know more about him?

80 thoughts on “Who is James Edward Oglethorpe?”

  1. What a mixed bag of a British aristocrat!
    I scurried right over to the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia to find out more. Georgia was only part of his story. True, he came to Georgia with an elaborate plan, got along with the Indians (point in his favor), and established an enduring legacy there. He also did a bunch of soldiering. After some victories (against the Spanish trying to invade Georgia) and defeats (making two unsuccessful stabs at invading St. Augustine in Florida), Oglethorpe returned to England sometime between 1742-45 and never returned to America. He continued his soldiering (with some problems) and sat in the House of Commons (with some problems), had some lost years nobody has pinned down (undoubtedly with some problems), and ended up fighting in Prussia (problems unknown).
    In the end, he came back to England and died in Sussex. He almost seems like a dilettante soldier/politician with all that moving around, but he had a long, full, active life. For an aristo, he certainly used his freedom of movement to accomplish good in the world. Sounds likely there’s a fine novel to be made of him–history, mystery, maybe even romance. I’d certainly read that one.

    Reply
  2. What a mixed bag of a British aristocrat!
    I scurried right over to the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia to find out more. Georgia was only part of his story. True, he came to Georgia with an elaborate plan, got along with the Indians (point in his favor), and established an enduring legacy there. He also did a bunch of soldiering. After some victories (against the Spanish trying to invade Georgia) and defeats (making two unsuccessful stabs at invading St. Augustine in Florida), Oglethorpe returned to England sometime between 1742-45 and never returned to America. He continued his soldiering (with some problems) and sat in the House of Commons (with some problems), had some lost years nobody has pinned down (undoubtedly with some problems), and ended up fighting in Prussia (problems unknown).
    In the end, he came back to England and died in Sussex. He almost seems like a dilettante soldier/politician with all that moving around, but he had a long, full, active life. For an aristo, he certainly used his freedom of movement to accomplish good in the world. Sounds likely there’s a fine novel to be made of him–history, mystery, maybe even romance. I’d certainly read that one.

    Reply
  3. What a mixed bag of a British aristocrat!
    I scurried right over to the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia to find out more. Georgia was only part of his story. True, he came to Georgia with an elaborate plan, got along with the Indians (point in his favor), and established an enduring legacy there. He also did a bunch of soldiering. After some victories (against the Spanish trying to invade Georgia) and defeats (making two unsuccessful stabs at invading St. Augustine in Florida), Oglethorpe returned to England sometime between 1742-45 and never returned to America. He continued his soldiering (with some problems) and sat in the House of Commons (with some problems), had some lost years nobody has pinned down (undoubtedly with some problems), and ended up fighting in Prussia (problems unknown).
    In the end, he came back to England and died in Sussex. He almost seems like a dilettante soldier/politician with all that moving around, but he had a long, full, active life. For an aristo, he certainly used his freedom of movement to accomplish good in the world. Sounds likely there’s a fine novel to be made of him–history, mystery, maybe even romance. I’d certainly read that one.

    Reply
  4. What a mixed bag of a British aristocrat!
    I scurried right over to the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia to find out more. Georgia was only part of his story. True, he came to Georgia with an elaborate plan, got along with the Indians (point in his favor), and established an enduring legacy there. He also did a bunch of soldiering. After some victories (against the Spanish trying to invade Georgia) and defeats (making two unsuccessful stabs at invading St. Augustine in Florida), Oglethorpe returned to England sometime between 1742-45 and never returned to America. He continued his soldiering (with some problems) and sat in the House of Commons (with some problems), had some lost years nobody has pinned down (undoubtedly with some problems), and ended up fighting in Prussia (problems unknown).
    In the end, he came back to England and died in Sussex. He almost seems like a dilettante soldier/politician with all that moving around, but he had a long, full, active life. For an aristo, he certainly used his freedom of movement to accomplish good in the world. Sounds likely there’s a fine novel to be made of him–history, mystery, maybe even romance. I’d certainly read that one.

    Reply
  5. What a mixed bag of a British aristocrat!
    I scurried right over to the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia to find out more. Georgia was only part of his story. True, he came to Georgia with an elaborate plan, got along with the Indians (point in his favor), and established an enduring legacy there. He also did a bunch of soldiering. After some victories (against the Spanish trying to invade Georgia) and defeats (making two unsuccessful stabs at invading St. Augustine in Florida), Oglethorpe returned to England sometime between 1742-45 and never returned to America. He continued his soldiering (with some problems) and sat in the House of Commons (with some problems), had some lost years nobody has pinned down (undoubtedly with some problems), and ended up fighting in Prussia (problems unknown).
    In the end, he came back to England and died in Sussex. He almost seems like a dilettante soldier/politician with all that moving around, but he had a long, full, active life. For an aristo, he certainly used his freedom of movement to accomplish good in the world. Sounds likely there’s a fine novel to be made of him–history, mystery, maybe even romance. I’d certainly read that one.

    Reply
  6. That is more than the history books have for us. I had to teach Georgia history to 7th graders without ever having studied it myself, that I remember as we moved to Georgia when I was in the 7th grade. John Wesley came to Georgia to bring religion to the people but left feeling that he had failed in his mission.
    There is a county and a university named for Oglethorpe but I don’t remember much being made of him except for the mention in the history books. I think there are some who are ashamed that many of the first settlers were debtors. I live in Georgia and in many cases one would think the history of the state started in 1860. More ink has been used discussing the civil war than the founding or founder.

    Reply
  7. That is more than the history books have for us. I had to teach Georgia history to 7th graders without ever having studied it myself, that I remember as we moved to Georgia when I was in the 7th grade. John Wesley came to Georgia to bring religion to the people but left feeling that he had failed in his mission.
    There is a county and a university named for Oglethorpe but I don’t remember much being made of him except for the mention in the history books. I think there are some who are ashamed that many of the first settlers were debtors. I live in Georgia and in many cases one would think the history of the state started in 1860. More ink has been used discussing the civil war than the founding or founder.

    Reply
  8. That is more than the history books have for us. I had to teach Georgia history to 7th graders without ever having studied it myself, that I remember as we moved to Georgia when I was in the 7th grade. John Wesley came to Georgia to bring religion to the people but left feeling that he had failed in his mission.
    There is a county and a university named for Oglethorpe but I don’t remember much being made of him except for the mention in the history books. I think there are some who are ashamed that many of the first settlers were debtors. I live in Georgia and in many cases one would think the history of the state started in 1860. More ink has been used discussing the civil war than the founding or founder.

    Reply
  9. That is more than the history books have for us. I had to teach Georgia history to 7th graders without ever having studied it myself, that I remember as we moved to Georgia when I was in the 7th grade. John Wesley came to Georgia to bring religion to the people but left feeling that he had failed in his mission.
    There is a county and a university named for Oglethorpe but I don’t remember much being made of him except for the mention in the history books. I think there are some who are ashamed that many of the first settlers were debtors. I live in Georgia and in many cases one would think the history of the state started in 1860. More ink has been used discussing the civil war than the founding or founder.

    Reply
  10. That is more than the history books have for us. I had to teach Georgia history to 7th graders without ever having studied it myself, that I remember as we moved to Georgia when I was in the 7th grade. John Wesley came to Georgia to bring religion to the people but left feeling that he had failed in his mission.
    There is a county and a university named for Oglethorpe but I don’t remember much being made of him except for the mention in the history books. I think there are some who are ashamed that many of the first settlers were debtors. I live in Georgia and in many cases one would think the history of the state started in 1860. More ink has been used discussing the civil war than the founding or founder.

    Reply
  11. Oglethorpe is a popular name in Georgia. We lived temporarily on St Simons Island years ago when my husband had a teaching gig at the Federal Law Enforcement Academy in Brunswick. We rented a house on Oglethorpe Avenue.

    Reply
  12. Oglethorpe is a popular name in Georgia. We lived temporarily on St Simons Island years ago when my husband had a teaching gig at the Federal Law Enforcement Academy in Brunswick. We rented a house on Oglethorpe Avenue.

    Reply
  13. Oglethorpe is a popular name in Georgia. We lived temporarily on St Simons Island years ago when my husband had a teaching gig at the Federal Law Enforcement Academy in Brunswick. We rented a house on Oglethorpe Avenue.

    Reply
  14. Oglethorpe is a popular name in Georgia. We lived temporarily on St Simons Island years ago when my husband had a teaching gig at the Federal Law Enforcement Academy in Brunswick. We rented a house on Oglethorpe Avenue.

    Reply
  15. Oglethorpe is a popular name in Georgia. We lived temporarily on St Simons Island years ago when my husband had a teaching gig at the Federal Law Enforcement Academy in Brunswick. We rented a house on Oglethorpe Avenue.

    Reply
  16. I knew who Oglethorpe was, but not actually who he was. You have provided him with an actual personality. I like the idea of someone who had privilege and was still interested in people other than himself. That does seem to be a rarity.
    Thanks for the terrific post. At times I think we forget that all those people before us were actual people with ups and downs and ideas and feelings and a soul.
    You have given me quite a bit of food for thought.
    Hope everyone is happy.

    Reply
  17. I knew who Oglethorpe was, but not actually who he was. You have provided him with an actual personality. I like the idea of someone who had privilege and was still interested in people other than himself. That does seem to be a rarity.
    Thanks for the terrific post. At times I think we forget that all those people before us were actual people with ups and downs and ideas and feelings and a soul.
    You have given me quite a bit of food for thought.
    Hope everyone is happy.

    Reply
  18. I knew who Oglethorpe was, but not actually who he was. You have provided him with an actual personality. I like the idea of someone who had privilege and was still interested in people other than himself. That does seem to be a rarity.
    Thanks for the terrific post. At times I think we forget that all those people before us were actual people with ups and downs and ideas and feelings and a soul.
    You have given me quite a bit of food for thought.
    Hope everyone is happy.

    Reply
  19. I knew who Oglethorpe was, but not actually who he was. You have provided him with an actual personality. I like the idea of someone who had privilege and was still interested in people other than himself. That does seem to be a rarity.
    Thanks for the terrific post. At times I think we forget that all those people before us were actual people with ups and downs and ideas and feelings and a soul.
    You have given me quite a bit of food for thought.
    Hope everyone is happy.

    Reply
  20. I knew who Oglethorpe was, but not actually who he was. You have provided him with an actual personality. I like the idea of someone who had privilege and was still interested in people other than himself. That does seem to be a rarity.
    Thanks for the terrific post. At times I think we forget that all those people before us were actual people with ups and downs and ideas and feelings and a soul.
    You have given me quite a bit of food for thought.
    Hope everyone is happy.

    Reply
  21. the tour guides we heard made a big deal of Oglethorpe and the natives and the no slavery law, but never once mentioned the indentured servants. I found that entertaining. There are monuments to Wesley, but freedom of religion meant he didn’t get to control the population, probably a healthy thing.

    Reply
  22. the tour guides we heard made a big deal of Oglethorpe and the natives and the no slavery law, but never once mentioned the indentured servants. I found that entertaining. There are monuments to Wesley, but freedom of religion meant he didn’t get to control the population, probably a healthy thing.

    Reply
  23. the tour guides we heard made a big deal of Oglethorpe and the natives and the no slavery law, but never once mentioned the indentured servants. I found that entertaining. There are monuments to Wesley, but freedom of religion meant he didn’t get to control the population, probably a healthy thing.

    Reply
  24. the tour guides we heard made a big deal of Oglethorpe and the natives and the no slavery law, but never once mentioned the indentured servants. I found that entertaining. There are monuments to Wesley, but freedom of religion meant he didn’t get to control the population, probably a healthy thing.

    Reply
  25. the tour guides we heard made a big deal of Oglethorpe and the natives and the no slavery law, but never once mentioned the indentured servants. I found that entertaining. There are monuments to Wesley, but freedom of religion meant he didn’t get to control the population, probably a healthy thing.

    Reply
  26. Oglethorpe University is in Atlanta.
    There is an Oglethorpe county in NE GA founded in 1793 and named after Oglethorpe.. Actually Oglethorpe County butts up to Clarke County which is where the University of Georgia is which if you are a college football fan you would have heard of..
    There is also a city of Oglethorpe (founded 1849)in Macon County. It is a little south west of the City of Macon GA Which is not in Macon County. Grin.
    I’m sure there are lots of streets named after him as well all through the state.
    I enjoyed learning more about Oglethorpe because I just have a surface knowledge of him from having visited Savannah previously. True I have lived in Georgia for the past 53 years but he wasn’t pertinent to anything.

    Reply
  27. Oglethorpe University is in Atlanta.
    There is an Oglethorpe county in NE GA founded in 1793 and named after Oglethorpe.. Actually Oglethorpe County butts up to Clarke County which is where the University of Georgia is which if you are a college football fan you would have heard of..
    There is also a city of Oglethorpe (founded 1849)in Macon County. It is a little south west of the City of Macon GA Which is not in Macon County. Grin.
    I’m sure there are lots of streets named after him as well all through the state.
    I enjoyed learning more about Oglethorpe because I just have a surface knowledge of him from having visited Savannah previously. True I have lived in Georgia for the past 53 years but he wasn’t pertinent to anything.

    Reply
  28. Oglethorpe University is in Atlanta.
    There is an Oglethorpe county in NE GA founded in 1793 and named after Oglethorpe.. Actually Oglethorpe County butts up to Clarke County which is where the University of Georgia is which if you are a college football fan you would have heard of..
    There is also a city of Oglethorpe (founded 1849)in Macon County. It is a little south west of the City of Macon GA Which is not in Macon County. Grin.
    I’m sure there are lots of streets named after him as well all through the state.
    I enjoyed learning more about Oglethorpe because I just have a surface knowledge of him from having visited Savannah previously. True I have lived in Georgia for the past 53 years but he wasn’t pertinent to anything.

    Reply
  29. Oglethorpe University is in Atlanta.
    There is an Oglethorpe county in NE GA founded in 1793 and named after Oglethorpe.. Actually Oglethorpe County butts up to Clarke County which is where the University of Georgia is which if you are a college football fan you would have heard of..
    There is also a city of Oglethorpe (founded 1849)in Macon County. It is a little south west of the City of Macon GA Which is not in Macon County. Grin.
    I’m sure there are lots of streets named after him as well all through the state.
    I enjoyed learning more about Oglethorpe because I just have a surface knowledge of him from having visited Savannah previously. True I have lived in Georgia for the past 53 years but he wasn’t pertinent to anything.

    Reply
  30. Oglethorpe University is in Atlanta.
    There is an Oglethorpe county in NE GA founded in 1793 and named after Oglethorpe.. Actually Oglethorpe County butts up to Clarke County which is where the University of Georgia is which if you are a college football fan you would have heard of..
    There is also a city of Oglethorpe (founded 1849)in Macon County. It is a little south west of the City of Macon GA Which is not in Macon County. Grin.
    I’m sure there are lots of streets named after him as well all through the state.
    I enjoyed learning more about Oglethorpe because I just have a surface knowledge of him from having visited Savannah previously. True I have lived in Georgia for the past 53 years but he wasn’t pertinent to anything.

    Reply
  31. I had no idea that Georgia was originally founded with no slavery allowed. It just goes to show you that human history does not always progress, sometimes we go backwards. For instance who would have thought there would be another major war in Europe, but here we are. I would love to visit Savannah and Charleston, I’ve only passed through Georgia and South Carolina on my way to Florida.

    Reply
  32. I had no idea that Georgia was originally founded with no slavery allowed. It just goes to show you that human history does not always progress, sometimes we go backwards. For instance who would have thought there would be another major war in Europe, but here we are. I would love to visit Savannah and Charleston, I’ve only passed through Georgia and South Carolina on my way to Florida.

    Reply
  33. I had no idea that Georgia was originally founded with no slavery allowed. It just goes to show you that human history does not always progress, sometimes we go backwards. For instance who would have thought there would be another major war in Europe, but here we are. I would love to visit Savannah and Charleston, I’ve only passed through Georgia and South Carolina on my way to Florida.

    Reply
  34. I had no idea that Georgia was originally founded with no slavery allowed. It just goes to show you that human history does not always progress, sometimes we go backwards. For instance who would have thought there would be another major war in Europe, but here we are. I would love to visit Savannah and Charleston, I’ve only passed through Georgia and South Carolina on my way to Florida.

    Reply
  35. I had no idea that Georgia was originally founded with no slavery allowed. It just goes to show you that human history does not always progress, sometimes we go backwards. For instance who would have thought there would be another major war in Europe, but here we are. I would love to visit Savannah and Charleston, I’ve only passed through Georgia and South Carolina on my way to Florida.

    Reply
  36. Instead of calling it regression, let us say society cycles. That’s what history shows us–even the mighty Romans fell but little by little, the path of Europe progressed. It may be two steps forward, one step back all the way, but eventually…
    Make time to drive to the coast next time you do that Florida run!

    Reply
  37. Instead of calling it regression, let us say society cycles. That’s what history shows us–even the mighty Romans fell but little by little, the path of Europe progressed. It may be two steps forward, one step back all the way, but eventually…
    Make time to drive to the coast next time you do that Florida run!

    Reply
  38. Instead of calling it regression, let us say society cycles. That’s what history shows us–even the mighty Romans fell but little by little, the path of Europe progressed. It may be two steps forward, one step back all the way, but eventually…
    Make time to drive to the coast next time you do that Florida run!

    Reply
  39. Instead of calling it regression, let us say society cycles. That’s what history shows us–even the mighty Romans fell but little by little, the path of Europe progressed. It may be two steps forward, one step back all the way, but eventually…
    Make time to drive to the coast next time you do that Florida run!

    Reply
  40. Instead of calling it regression, let us say society cycles. That’s what history shows us–even the mighty Romans fell but little by little, the path of Europe progressed. It may be two steps forward, one step back all the way, but eventually…
    Make time to drive to the coast next time you do that Florida run!

    Reply
  41. Savannah was fascinating when I visited several years ago…I spent days wandering around looking at buildings especially. I would love to go back. And Forrest Gump was filmed there…remember the bus stop scenes and the leaf that floats over the city?
    There are quite a few buildings in Savannah that are associated with a Regency architect, William Jay. He was born in Bath but moved to Savannah in 1817. See more info here https://www.telfair.org/article/the-buildings-of-william-jay/
    Just a really neat city to visit and full of history!

    Reply
  42. Savannah was fascinating when I visited several years ago…I spent days wandering around looking at buildings especially. I would love to go back. And Forrest Gump was filmed there…remember the bus stop scenes and the leaf that floats over the city?
    There are quite a few buildings in Savannah that are associated with a Regency architect, William Jay. He was born in Bath but moved to Savannah in 1817. See more info here https://www.telfair.org/article/the-buildings-of-william-jay/
    Just a really neat city to visit and full of history!

    Reply
  43. Savannah was fascinating when I visited several years ago…I spent days wandering around looking at buildings especially. I would love to go back. And Forrest Gump was filmed there…remember the bus stop scenes and the leaf that floats over the city?
    There are quite a few buildings in Savannah that are associated with a Regency architect, William Jay. He was born in Bath but moved to Savannah in 1817. See more info here https://www.telfair.org/article/the-buildings-of-william-jay/
    Just a really neat city to visit and full of history!

    Reply
  44. Savannah was fascinating when I visited several years ago…I spent days wandering around looking at buildings especially. I would love to go back. And Forrest Gump was filmed there…remember the bus stop scenes and the leaf that floats over the city?
    There are quite a few buildings in Savannah that are associated with a Regency architect, William Jay. He was born in Bath but moved to Savannah in 1817. See more info here https://www.telfair.org/article/the-buildings-of-william-jay/
    Just a really neat city to visit and full of history!

    Reply
  45. Savannah was fascinating when I visited several years ago…I spent days wandering around looking at buildings especially. I would love to go back. And Forrest Gump was filmed there…remember the bus stop scenes and the leaf that floats over the city?
    There are quite a few buildings in Savannah that are associated with a Regency architect, William Jay. He was born in Bath but moved to Savannah in 1817. See more info here https://www.telfair.org/article/the-buildings-of-william-jay/
    Just a really neat city to visit and full of history!

    Reply
  46. Cool info on the Regency architect, thanks!
    We saw the place where Forrest Gump’s bench wasn’t. There was never a bench there but the movie prop is now in a museum!

    Reply
  47. Cool info on the Regency architect, thanks!
    We saw the place where Forrest Gump’s bench wasn’t. There was never a bench there but the movie prop is now in a museum!

    Reply
  48. Cool info on the Regency architect, thanks!
    We saw the place where Forrest Gump’s bench wasn’t. There was never a bench there but the movie prop is now in a museum!

    Reply
  49. Cool info on the Regency architect, thanks!
    We saw the place where Forrest Gump’s bench wasn’t. There was never a bench there but the movie prop is now in a museum!

    Reply
  50. Cool info on the Regency architect, thanks!
    We saw the place where Forrest Gump’s bench wasn’t. There was never a bench there but the movie prop is now in a museum!

    Reply

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