General James Oglethorpe was a crusader, an idealist, a member of the British Parliament. First elected in 1722, his anonymous 1728 pamphlet “The Sailor’s Advocate” advocated improvement in the terrible working conditions of the sailors of his day. Oglethorpe chaired a committee on prison reform that same year, calling attention to the horrendous conditions in the nation’s debtors’ prisons, and to the hopeless plight of those released with no means of support.
Oglethorpe saw the greater problem as urbanization, stripping the countryside of the productively employed and depositing them in cities with no opportunity for productive employment. To deal with the problem, Oglethorpe and others petitioned in 1730 to form a committee of trustees, to establish a new Colony in America. They would call their new colony “Georgia”, the petition approved in 1732. Thousands applied to go, Trustees narrowing the number down to the first 114 colonists. Those who couldn’t pay their own way would be subject to a period of indenture, typically 5-7 years.
It was November that year, when Oglethorpe and his colonists left aboard the “Anne”,intending to found their new Colony. The Province of Georgia and its Colonial Capital of Savannah were founded on that date, February 12, 1733. A personal friendship developed between Oglethorpe and native Chieftan Tomochichi, Mico (Leader) of the Yamacraw, a formal treaty of friendship signed in May of that year. Years later the pair would journey to England, where Tomochichi presented a symbol of power to the King of England. It was a bald eagle feather, the first time this symbol of our nation had been associated with the American colonies.
The home town to Oglethorpe’s Utopian experiment, Savannah, was founded around four wards, each containing eight blocks situated around its own central square. Established to help the poor and to produce materials like silk and olives for England, Georgia issued each colonist 50 acres of land, its motto “Non Sibi Sed Allis”. “Not for Themselves But for Others”.
Oglethorpe outlined four prohibitions for his Utopian community, even before the first ships left England.
1: No rum, brandy or spirits were allowed in Georgia, though beer, wine and ale were OK.
2: No African slaves were allowed, though they were occasionally “borrowed” for construction projects.
3: No lawyers were allowed, since Oglethorpe felt that every man ought to be able to speak for himself.
4: No Catholics were allowed, as it was believed that they’d be too sympathetic to the Spanish, then in control of the Florida territory.
Returning to England, Oglethorpe would continue to serve on the Board of Trustees, though he often found himself outvoted. Despite his opposition, the Board of Trustees gradually relaxed their restrictions on land ownership, on hard liquor, and on slavery. By 1750, Georgia’s founding father was no longer involved with the board that created it. His grand experiment was over when Trustees voted to return their governing charter, making Georgia the 13th of Britain’s American colonies.
Chief Tomochichi died in 1739 at age 97, requesting that he be buried among his English friends. The Mico of the Yamacraw was interred in Wright Square, saluted with cannon and musket fire. James Oglethorpe himself was one of the pall bearers. If you ever go to Savannah, you can still see Wright Square, and the monument dedicated on April 21, 1899. A bronze tablet is engraved with Cherokee roses and arrowheads, and inscribed with these words” “In memory of Tomochichi – the Mico of the Yamacraws – the companion of Oglethorpe – and the friend and ally of the Colony of Georgia”.