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5.4: Georgia - The Final Colony

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    Georgia was the last of the original thirteen colonies to be established. As British settlement spread to the south and west, it came into increasing contact with the Spanish in Florida and the French in the Mississippi River valley. From an imperial viewpoint, Georgia functioned as buffer zone between British settlements and their imperial rivals; the new colony was to be a garrison province that would defend the British, especially from Spanish Florida. James Oglethorpe, English politician, social reformer, and the founder of the colony, envisioned an additional purpose for the Georgia: a haven for the “worthy poor” and an alternative to debtor’s prison for some English.

    In the years before the founding of the Georgia colony, both the English and the Spanish sought to control the border area at the limits of Carolina and Florida through trade and alliances with Indians, as well as through warfare. Throughout the southeast, a large and lucrative Indian slave trade developed alongside European, and especially British, colonization. The growing need for labor in the Americas, especially in the Caribbean sugar islands, meant that there was a new market for people taken as captives in intertribal warfare and raids. The British used this Indian slave trade to establish greater power and presence in the southern colonies and in the borderlands between British and Spanish settlements as they negotiated and formed alliances with many groups selling captives into slavery through ports such as Charles Town. To the south, the Spanish laid claim to the area through a different means of interacting with native peoples, by establishing a chain of religious mission villages among the Guale, Timucua, and Apalachee Indians. The two most important centers of the mission system were located in St. Augustine in the east and Tallahassee, Florida in the west, but mission outposts pushed north as far as the present cities of Valdosta and Folkston, as well as St. Catherine’s Island on the coast. These missions not only served to Christianize and acculturate southeastern Indians, but also as a source of labor and food and a buffer between British Charles Town and Spanish St. Augustine.

    Eventually, hostilities broke out as the colonial areas of control grew, and the two European powers came into contact. Throughout the 1680s, Indian slave catchers, many allied with the British, raided the missions of Guale. In 1686, these raids forced the Spanish to withdraw south of the St. Mary’s River into modern day Florida. The outbreak of Queen Anne’s War (also known as the War of Spanish Succession) further weakened Spain’s hold. From 1700-1703, Carolina governor James Moore and a force made up of colonists and Indian allies conducted a series of raids on the missions, devastating the Guale and Mocama provinces and razing St. Augustine, laying siege but ultimately failing to take the fortress of Castillo San Marcos. In 1704, Moore again raided the missions of Spanish Florida, this time attacking the Apalachee province to the west, killing and enslaving much of the population in the “Apalachee massacre.” Ultimately, the destruction of the Apalachee missions (and the labor and food derived from it) was the biggest blow to St. Augustine and Spanish Florida, considerably weakening their Indian alliance system and the Spanish hold on the southeast. Conversely, the success of the raids reaffirmed many of the British alliances with tribes such as the Creek and Cherokee, strengthening British power and presence in the southeast and paving the way for the founding of the Georgia colony.

    The British were not entirely successful in their Indian relations. The growing Indian slave trade contributed to the outbreak of the invasion of the Carolinas known as the Yamasee War in 1715. The Spanish and French used the war as an opportunity to push further into the frontier. Spain reestablished some of the Guale missions to the north; the French built Fort Toulouse near the present city of Montgomery, Alabama. Georgia and the southern frontier remained contested ground, and the British emerged from the Yamasee War in 1717 with the realization that they were losing ground in the region. In 1721, they began construction of Fort King George, a permanent outpost at the mouth of the Altamaha River. The fort established a British presence, albeit a tenuous one, deep within the frontier. Soldiers stationed at Fort King George lived on the edge of starvation, and may have deliberately set fire to the fort in hopes that it would be abandoned. Ultimately, the British recalled most of the force and left a skeleton crew at the fort to act as lookouts to warn of Spanish activities in the contested area of the frontier.

    Trustee Georgia

    In London, Parliamentary representative James Oglethorpe chaired a Parliamentary committee on prison reform in England. His experiences and the findings revealed by this committee convinced him that poverty in London and Great Britain as a whole was linked to urbanization: as people came in from the countryside, they became members of the working poor and fell into debt, sometimes resorting to criminal activity. In 1730, Oglethorpe and like-minded politicians formed the Trustees for the Establishment of the Colony of Georgia in America. The plan called for the formation of a colony that would serve as a place for the insolvent to go to escape poverty, setting themselves up as smallholding farmers. Land would be parceled into fifty acre bundles, made up of a town plot, a small garden area near town, and a 45 acre farm in the country. Thus, the family farm would be the centerpiece of the colonial system. Wealthy colonists would be able to buy more than one fifty acre parcel, but the amount of land they were able to buy was directly related to the number of indentured servants they brought to the colony. Finally, the indentured servants themselves would receive a land grant after they had completed their term of service.

    Oglethorpe and the Trustees gained support for the Georgia colony by promoting it as a military buffer between the Carolinas and the Spanish holdings in Florida. The colonists, including small farmers, merchants, and artisans, would serve as a militia force against Spanish and Indians alike. Parliament would have to provide an initial investment in the colony, but Oglethorpe and the Trustees argued that Georgia would quickly become self-sufficient. Their plans called for the colony to become a source of luxury items such as wine and silk. Both colonial industries failed; the silk industry failed to produce even one profitable crop. In 1732, the Trustee’s plans were approved, and the first group of colonists departed for Georgia aboard the ship Anne, founding the city of Savannah in 1733 after negotiation with the Yamasee, and later the Creek. Families were assigned lots within the town for their houses, a five acre garden at the edge of town, and a 45 acre farm in the countryside.

    Over the next decade, Oglethorpe and the Georgia colonists worked to ensure that Georgia could defend itself against the encroachment of the Spanish, realizing Georgia’s role as military buffer zone. They began construction of a chain of forts on the Georgia’s coast. The most important of these fortified outposts was by far Fort Frederica, located on St. Simon’s Island. Built in 1736, the fort housed several hundred regular British troops, sent by the Crown on advice of Oglethorpe, and a growing settlement of colonists. The forts and the garrison soon after saw action when the War of Jenkins’ Ear (part of the larger conflicts of King George’s War or the War of Austrian Succession) broke out in 1739. Oglethorpe and a force of about 1,500 sailed for St. Augustine, laying siege to the city in conjunction with a blockade by the Royal Navy. The expedition was initially successful, capturing several Spanish outposts, including the settlement of Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mosé (renamed Fort Mose by Oglethorpe), populated by runaway slaves from the British colonies. These men and women were granted freedom by the Spanish in an attempt to undermine the plantation economy of the British colonies. Oglethorpe’s force was eventually expelled from Georgia because of the failure of the blockade to prevent the resupplying of St. Augustine and the defeat of Oglethorpe’s forces at Fort Mose, known as “Bloody Moosa.” Black militiamen from the settlement of Mosé were among the Spanish forces that expelled the Georgians from Florida. Border warfare between Georgia and Florida continued through 1743, with an invasion of Georgia and another of St. Augustine, to little overall effect and the imperial outpost colonies resumed their stalemate for the duration of the war.

    From 1732-1752, Georgia was governed by a Board of Trustees based in London. Unlike the other British colonies, there was no governor in the colony, nor was there a governing legislative body. The Trustees in London were barred from holding office or owning land in Georgia. In many ways, the Trustees conducted a social experiment in the new colony through its population and through the Georgia charter. Although few colonists were the debtors envisioned by Oglethorpe, many were indeed among the “deserving poor.” However, rather than finding relief from debt in the colony, most colonists found themselves further indebted for their passage to the colony. In most cases, the colonists were indebted to the Georgia Trust itself, Adults typically served terms of five years of indentured servitude to the Trust, but children were often bonded for much longer terms; some were bound to service for terms of seventeen or even twenty-one years. Some of the indebted servants fled the colony to escape their debts. This was especially true in the north, where perhaps as much as three-fourths of the indentured servants had fled.

    The social provisions of the Georgia Charter also ensured religious liberty for “all” (while specifically excluding Catholics); the population reflected this as religious refugees from Switzerland, Scotland, and Germany arrived in the colony. When a group of Jews arrived in Georgia in 1733, Oglethorpe allowed them to stay in the colony in spite of the Trustees’ objections, making Savannah home to one of the oldest Jewish congregations in the modernday United States. During 1732-1752, the Trustees also banned hard alcohol in the colony and tried to prevent the Carolina colony from shipping rum through Georgia, bringing the colonies into conflict. Despite the Trustees’ opposition, many of the Georgia colonists participated in the Indian trade, including the rum trade. The town of Augusta was established as an Indian trading town, and quickly grew to become one of the largest Indian trading centers in the south.

    Finally, the trustees also banned slavery in the colony during this period. Numerous reasons have been cited for this decision. Oglethorpe’s vision of smallholding farmers would be undermined by slave labor. To the south, Spanish Florida tried to undermine the British settlements by granting freedom to any runaway slave who made it to Florida and embraced Catholicism. Moreover, a large slave population would undermine Georgia’s value as a military buffer with the Spanish, as slaves could not serve in the militia. Bringing slavery to Georgia, the Trustees reasoned, would undermine the colony in a variety of ways. Nothing indicates, however, that the Trustees banned slavery because of any abolitionist sentiments.

    From the foundation of Georgia, Oglethorpe had been the only Trustee resident in the colony, and had served as a de facto ruling figure. In London, the Trustees were often frustrated by Oglethorpe’s poor correspondence habits as well as his habit of making decisions without consulting the Trustee board. In 1741, the Trustees divided Georgia into two counties: Savannah in the north and Frederica in the south. They appointed William Stephens president of Savannah and asked Oglethorpe to make a recommendation for a president in Frederica. Oglethorpe failed to respond, and soon after left Georgia in 1743, prompting the Trustees to appoint Stephens president of the entire colony.

    Under the leadership of Stephens, Georgia moved away from the model of charity colony for the deserving poor. The Trustees gave Stephens the power to grant land in the colony. Very quickly, immigration patterns into the colony shifted as wealthier immigrants established large plantations through land grants. In the years after 1741, the number of land grants to charity colonists declined sharply. Larger land grants, the growth of a solvent population, and pressure from South Carolina plantation owners eager to expand into Georgia increased pressure on the Trustees to lift their prohibition of slavery in the colony. In particular, a group within Georgia called the “Malcontents” worked to force the Trustees to lift their ban. However, many of Georgia’s free laborers feared that legalizing slavery would devalue their labor, forcing wages down and people out of jobs. Other groups, most notably Protestant immigrants from Salzburg, opposed lifting the ban on slavery for religious reasons. Although the Trustees kept the ban on slavery in place for the next decade, Stephens and his council made little effort to enforce it. In 1750, slavery was legalized in Georgia by legal decree, a grave blow to the already waning Trustee system. After the ban was lifted, Stephens tied land grants to slave ownership, effectively meaning that the more slaves someone held, the more land they could get in the colony.

    By early 1750s, the group of Trustees in London had largely abandoned the meetings governing the colony. The colony also had deep economic problems. From the beginning of the charter, Georgia had received economic subsidies from the British Parliament, a circumstance tied to the colony’s founding intent of being for the “deserving poor.” The British government paid for much of the colony’s expenses. In 1733, Parliament devoted £10,000 to Georgia; in other years, the government gave lesser sums, making Georgia the only one of the original thirteen colonies dependent on yearly stipends from the government. Finally, in 1751, Parliament refused to fund the colony. For all of these reasons, the Georgia Trustee system collapsed in 1752 and was replaced by a system of government much more like that of its sister colonies. From 1752 until the American Revolution, Georgia was a royal colony, ruled by a series of royal governors on behalf of the king.

    Life in the Colony

    Georgia’s colonial experience was very different from the other North American British colonies. Founded fifty years after Pennsylvania, the twelfth colony, and almost seventy-five years after Carolina, it had by far the shortest colonial experience. Perhaps in part for the same reason, Georgia also had the smallest population and the least economic development of the thirteen colonies.

    Immigrants came to the colony from all over Europe. Many came as religious refugees under the Georgia Charter. A significant example of this was a group that came to be known as the Salzburgers. The Salzburgers were a group of about 300 German-speaking Lutherans who had been expelled from the principality of Salzburg in modern Austria. The Salzburgers proved to be an important group in Georgia’s colonial period. First, unlike many individual immigrants to Georgia, the Salzburgers were not in debt for their passage to the colony; their passage had been sponsored by the Augsburgbased organization the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Their settlement New Ebenezer proved to be one of the most successful in the colony, with the first gristmills in the colony, and some of the earliest sawmills. Moreover, despite the Trustees’ visions of Georgia as a producer of luxury goods such as silk, the Salzburgers were one of the only Georgians able to make an effort to raise silkworms and produce silk. The Trustees had mandated that colonists plant one hundred mulberry trees for every ten acres of land granted to a colonist; however, few of the debt-ridden Georgia colonists could afford to do so. The Salzburgers were a significant exception.

    The Trustees’ early ideas for Georgia to be a producer of luxury goods quickly came to an end. Food was scarce in the colony in the early period, and for many, it was hard enough to produce food, let alone plant mulberry trees for silkworms. Moreover, the coastal soil proved unsuitable for wine production. Instead, colonists turned to cattle, timber, and Indian trade as sources of income and subsistence. Colonists grazed cattle on their own land grants as well as inland on ungranted land to supplement the food they grew. Salted beef soon became a dietary staple in the colony. Colonists also turned to timber for firewood as well as manufactured wood products such as pitch, tar, shingles, and planks to supplement their income. Most colonists could not afford the equipment to produce manufactured products for sale, and so produced only firewood. However, timber quickly became one of the main industries in Georgia and presently remains so. Finally, many colonists engaged in Indian trade for supplementary income. For many, it quickly became a main source of income as Augusta emerged as a major center of Indian trade in the southeast.


    The colony of Georgia was the last of the thirteen original colonies to be founded. It was a strategically important area because it was a buffer zone between the two most powerful empires in North America: the British and the Spanish. For many years, the two empires struggled over control of the area through forging alliances with Indians and through warfare. The colony was founded in part because the British sought to control the area through a greater population and political presence. Weakening Spanish influence in the aftermath of Moore’s 1700-1704 raids on Spanish Florida during the War of Jenkins’ Ear also provided an opening for the British to move into the territory.

    Colonial Georgia was founded as a Trustee colony. The colony was governed by a group of trustees based in London, who drew up the Georgia Charter, which provided for religious freedom for all Protestants. The Trustees outlawed alcohol and slavery, two unpopular provisions that did not outlive the Trustee system itself. By the end of the 1740s, the Trustee system was not functioning well, and in 1752 the Crown assumed control of the colony.

    Georgia’s colonial experience was very different from the other North American British colonies. Founded fifty years after Pennsylvania, the twelfth colony, and almost seventy-five years after Carolina, it had by far the shortest colonial experience. Perhaps in part for the same reason, Georgia also had the smallest population and the least economic development of the thirteen colonies.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    The Georgia Charter did all of the following EXCEPT

    1. grant religious freedom for all.
    2. outlaw slavery.
    3. outlaw alcohol.
    4. provide for religious freedom for all Protestants.


    Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    The Trustee system was advised by a royal governor who lived in Savannah.

    1. True
    2. False


    Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

    Indian alliances were an important means of establishing power in the southeast for the European empires.

    1. True
    2. False


    This page titled 5.4: Georgia - The Final Colony is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Catherine Locks, Sarah Mergel, Pamela Roseman, Tamara Spike & Marie Lasseter (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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