James Oglethorpe's Early Career
James Oglethorpe was born at Westminster, England, on June 1st, 1689. While
he was yet a babe in the cradle it might have been expected that he would become
a great man, for he came of a family of great people. Six hundred years before
he was born, one of his ancestors, Sheriff Oglethorpe, was a high officer in the
English army and was killed in the famous Battle of Hastings while bravely
fighting for his country against the invader, William the Conqueror. This brave
soldier had many distinguished descendants, the greatest of whom was James
James's father. Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe, also was a noted officer in the English army. He fought with great valor in many battles and rose to the high rank of Major-General. When he was forty years old, he retired from the army and settled down in an elegant home in the little country town of Godalming, about thirty miles from London. He lived in great affluence with his family, and his children had the best educational advantages that could be obtained in Europe in that day. James's mother was a Scotch-Irish lady of fine family and of good education. She was counted one of the cleverest and shrewdest English women of her day. She was one of the Ladies of the Court to "Good Queen Anne" and was a leader in society and a power in politics. She was a woman of strong will and no doubt had great influence in forming the character of her distinguished son.
James grew to be a tall, lithe, handsome youth, quiet mannered, good natured, and high spirited. Here is a story that illustrates both his good nature and his high spirits: When a youth of seventeen, while on a visit to Paris, he was invited to dine in company with a number of distinguished niilitary men. He sat at the table by the side of the Prince of Wurtemberg, an officer of high rank and a noted society man. The prince, thinking to have some fun at young Oglethorpe's expense, by a dexterous twirl of his glass flipped some drops of wine into his face. The prank was noticed by the company, and a smile went round the table. Young Oglethorpe did not relish being made a butt of ridicule, even by so great a man as the Prince of Wurtemberg, but he kept his temper. With a smile on his lips he said, in polite French, "Well done, prince; but we do it even better than that in England," whereupon he dashed a whole glass of wine full into the prince's face. The prince flushed with rage and it looked as if the affair would end in a serious difficulty, but an old officer on the other side of the table quickly exclaimed, "Come now, prince, don't get angry; it was rightly done by the youngster; yon started it!" Then the prince joined the others in a hearty laugh and the incident passed off pleasantly.
Oglethorpe was educated at a military school, and before he was twenty he joined the English army. He served with the rank of ensign under the great Duke of Marlborough in The Duke of Marlborough,
the Flanders War. After the war was over, he withdrew from the army and attended college for a year or two, but he was a born soldier and did not like the "weak, piping times of peace." As England had no wars to fight at that time, he went over to the Continent and joined the Austrian army, which was then engaged in a war with the Turks. The leader of the Austrian army was Prince Eugene of Savoy, the most
brilhant soldier of his day. He was a small man but a great general, "a bright little soul with a flash in him as of heaven's own lightning," as Carlyle, the famous English writer, said of him. Prince Eugene took a very decided liking to }oung Oglethorpe and Prince Eugene of Savoy. made him his aide-de-camp, with the rank of Captain. By the side of this "bright little soul with a flash in him as of heaven's own lightning," Oglethorpe thoroughly learned the soldier's trade and fought with dashing valor in many desperate battles. These were his romantic days, and he always loved to talk about them. When he was an old, old man, nearly a hundred years old, he would charm brilliant company with his vivid descriptions of the battles in which he had fought by the side of Prince Eugene.
When the Turkish war was over, he returned to England and settled down to ways of peace. His father and elder brothers died, and he inherited the family estates. He was now a very rich man, but he lived a simple and sober life. He was elected to Parliament and served as a member for many years. While he was in Parliament, an event occurred that The Houses of Parliament, turned his attention toward America and caused him to become the founder of Georgia. This is how it happened:
There was a cruel law in England at that time by which a person in debt might be thrown into prison by his creditors and kept there until his debts were somehow paid. Many poor, unfortunate people, innocent of any crime, languished in these debtors' pris'ons. Oglethorpe had a dear friend, a Mr. Robert Castell, who was a scholar and an artist. He wrote a fine book on architecture, which he illustrated with splendid pictures drawn by. his own hand. He was so much taken up with writing the book that he neglected his business affairs, and when the book was published instead of making money for him it brought him heavily in debt, and he was condemned to be cast into the debtors' prison. In the prison to which he was assigned, smallpox was at that time raging, and he had never had the disease. He begged the prison keeper, a heartless wretch by the name of Bambridge, to let him lie in the common jail until the prison should be freed of the smallpox or until his friends could arrange to pay his debts for him, which he was sure would be done in the course of a few months. Bambridge agreed to do so if Castell would pay him down in cash a certain sum of money as a bribe, but poor Castell bad not the money, so he was thrown into the small-pox-infested prison, where he soon contracted the disease; and after a few days' suffering he died an awful death, leaving his wife and little children poverty stricken and helpless.
When Oglethorpe heard of this outrage his blood boiled with indignation. He at once introduced a bill in Parliament to have a committee appointed to examine the prisons of England and bring about a reform in their management. The bill was passed, Oglethorpe was made Chairman of the Committee, and, with the other members, he spent several months visiting the prisons. He found in them many practices of shocking cruelty, all of which were immediately abolished.
II. Oglethorpe's Georgia colony enterprise. If Oglethorpe had done nothing more than bring about this reform, he would deserve the lasting gratitude of humanity, but he did not stop at this. While visiting the prisons his sympathies were deeply aroused for the poor debtors whom he found languishing behind iron bars, though innocent of any crime. He determined to try to do something to help them out of their sad condition. By his earnest appeals he got Parliament to pass a law by which they might be set free, provided they would agree to go to America and establish there for England a new colony on a broad strip of unsettled country already claimed by her, south of the Savannah River. It lay next to Florida, which then belonged to Spain and had been colonized by her. The Spaniards were at that time one of the most pow^erful and warlike nations in the world, and in their hearts they were very hostile to the English, although not openly at war with them. The Spanish soldiers were bold, skillful, and heartless; so much so that some one said of them, *'A Spanish soldier is a machine of steel with the devil inside of it!"
Fortunately for Oglethorpe's enterprise, King George II of England was anxious to plant colonies in his unoccupied possessions south of the Savannah River as a protection for South Carolina against the bold and unscrupulous Spaniards of Florida. So he gladly granted to Oglethorpe "for the use of debtors and other poor persons" all the country between the Savannah and the Altamaha Rivers, and as far westward as they might choose to go. This strip of country was named Georgia in honor of King George. A Board of Trustees, consisting of thirty-six members, among whom were some of the most distinguished men in England, was appointed by the King to have entire charge of planting, establishing, and governing the new colony. They were to serve without pay or compensation of any sort. It must be purely a labor of love with them. The good and great Lord Perceval was president of the Board, and Oglethorpe was one of the members. The Trustees set about raising money to pay the cost of establishing the colony, for the poor people who were to go were not able to pay any part of their own expenses. Parliament made quite a liberal appropriation for the purpose, and a larger amount still was raised by public subscription from benevolent people in all parts of England. Altogether, the Trustees soon had in hand $150,000, which was sufficient to establish a small colony.
At one of the meetings of the Trustees it was suggested that some member of the Board, a man of education and ability, should go over to America with the first colonists as their Governor and live in Georgia with them until they were well and thoroughly established. Oglethorpe nobly volunteered to go, and the Trustees were delighted. In undertaking this trying service, Oglethorpe would have to give up his luxurious home, the pleasures of refined society, and the splendid public career that was fast opening to him in England and would have to endure untold hardships, privations, and dangers; and from it all he had nothing, in a worldly sense, to gain for himself. The Trustees had chosen as the official seal of the Board a group of silk worms spinning their cocoons and, written underneath, the noble motto, "Non sibi sed aliis!"* "Not for themselves but for others !" As those of you who have studied Latin know, the word sibi may also be correctly translated himself. The motto truly expressed the spirit of Oglethorpe in volunteering to go on this trying expedition, "Noji sibi sed aliis!" "Not for himself but for others !" He was at this time forty-three years old and was yet unmarried. So far as we know, he had never had a sweetheart. Perhaps he was so busy that he had never had time to fall in love !
When it was known that the great and good Oglethorpe himself would accompany the expedition, hundreds and hundreds of poor people, debtors and others, were anxious to go, but only a few could be taken. Out of the hundreds of applicants, the Trustees carefully selected forty strong, healthy men of good morals and with small families. All together, men, women, and children, the party consisted of one hundred and twenty souls. Many poor wretches who begged to go had to be turned away with tears in their eyes and bitter disappointment in their hearts.
The good ship Anne, a sailing vessel of two hundred tons burden, was chartered to take the emigrants across the ocean to America. In her hold, as she lay moored to the wharf at Gravesend, were stored provisions and all kinds of tools and implements for the journey and for getting the colony well established in Georgia. Everything was then ready for the voyage.
* The original of this famous seal is in the British Museum, London. A few years ago a wax impression of it was obtained from the curator of the Museum by the Oglethorpe Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, at Columbus. It is the only copy extant in America.
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Notes About Publication:
Source: Georgia History Stories, by J. Harris Chappell, Ph.D., published 1905, by Silver, Burdett And Company.
Online Publication: The manuscript was scanned and then ocr'd. Minimal editing has been done, and readers can and should expect some errors in the textual output.