James Edward Oglethorpe was born on December 22, 1696 in Godalming, England. He received his education from Eton and then attended Corpus Christi College at Oxford. After a year he left Oxford to attend a military academy in Paris. At the beginning of the Austro-Turkish war he enlisted in the Imperial Austrian Army serving as an aide to Prince Eugene of Savoy. After the Turks were defeated Oglethorpe returned to England in 1717.
In 1722, at the age of 25, Oglethorpe was elected to the English Parliament’s House of Commons. He became a humanitarian focusing strongly on relief of debtors and the conditions in the debtor’s prisons, the low pay for navy personnel and religious freedoms. These concerns brought his visions of a Utopian colony which he started to map out. When the safety of the southern colonies became a concern the initial purpose of a new colony was to have a military buffer between the British and the Spanish in Florida. Oglethorpe presented his views on a new colony and as a result King George II appointed him as one of the 21 Trustees to govern the new colony and a charter was granted. On November 17, 1732 a total of 114 men, women and children gathered at Gravesend on the River Thames for the journey to the new colony onboard the ship Anne. Oglethorpe left the comforts of his home and made the voyage with the settlers.
The Anne took two months to travel from England. They stopped first in Charleston, South Carolina then proceeded to Port Royal, South Carolina. Here the colonists rested while Oglethorpe, accompanied by Carolina Rangers and Col. William Bull, went ahead to find the spot where they would settle. The group followed a river about 17 miles from the ocean, now known as the Savannah River, and found a bluff on the south side of the river. There they met Tomochichi, Chief of the Yamacraw. Friendships were made and Tomochichi welcomed the visitors to settle there.
The waiting colonists were retrieved and the group arrived at Yamacraw Bluff on the first of February, 1733. The Anne was unloaded by the 7th. The settlers raised their tents at night and during the day trees were felled as Oglethorpe began to lay out the planned settlement. The first house was begun on the 21st. The original plan was to have a square surrounded by four residential blocks and four civic blocks making a ward. Savannah began with four wards and two more were added in the mid 1730’s.
Oglethorpe would make several trips back to England to ask for financial support for the colony from parliament but received very little. He used his own money to help the new settlement. He defied the provision of the charter and allowed people of all religions to settle in Savannah even though the charter stated that Catholics and Jewish people were not allowed. The local Indian tribes were respected and protected from traders who wanted to take advantage of them and land disputes were settled with treaties.
On a return visit to England in 1737 Oglethorpe convinced King George II to appoint him as a colonel in the army and give him a regiment of British soldiers to take back to Georgia. After the War of Jenkins’ Ear in 1939, Col Oglethorpe made plans to attack Spanish forces in St. Augustine, Florida. In May 1740 he tried and failed to take the Spanish fort. Disappointed, he retreated with his troops to St. Simons Island and Fort Frederica to await the counterattack that would surely follow. The Spanish invasion of Georgia came in July 1742. Thousands of Spanish troops landed on the south end of St. Simmons. Oglethorpe readied his men. After two critical battles, Gully Hole Creek and Bloody Marsh, the Spanish retreated back to St. Augustine. Col. Oglethorpe became a national hero in England and King George II promoted him to brigadier general.
In 1743 Oglethorpe led one more attempt to take St. Augustine and again was unsuccessful. Then he received word to return to England, An unhappy officer in his regiment had made serious allegations of misconduct against General Oglethorpe. He returned to answer the charges. A special board discharged all allegations in 1744. Parliament voted to reimburse him for the personal money he had spent for the Georgia colony. That same year he met and married Elizabeth Wright. They settled in England and he continued to serve on the Board of Trustees of Georgia until 1750. General James Oglethorpe, founder of the 13th Colony died June 30, 1785 at the age of 88.