July 5, 1742 The Last American Colony

Governor Montiano bought the ruse, hook, line and sinker.  The Spanish invaders left St. Simons island for good on July 25, never to return. One of the most brilliant head fakes in colonial history had ended the invasion, leaving the 13th colony in the undisputed hands of the British Crown.

colonial-georgia-3The territory which would come to be occupied by the colony of Georgia was a subject for dispute between Great Britain and Spain, since long before the state became a colony.

Spain had taken Florida for its own, dating the claim back to explorer Ponce de Leon’s first mapping the territory in 1513 and claiming Georgia to be part of it. James Oglethorpe founded the 13th colony as a buffer colony for the British in 1733, serving as a protective zone against Spanish invasion, for her twelve sister colonies to the north.

The Convention of Pardo concluded in early 1739 attempted to settle issues relating to smuggling and to the slave trade, but Spain suspected “cheating” and continued to board foreign vessels at will. The War of Jenkins’ Ear broke out later that year, when Commander Juan de León Fandiño hacked "Sword in hand, the Spanish coastguard captain lunged at Captain Jenkins."off the ear of Commander Robert Jenkins, informing the unfortunate ship’s master that he could   “Go, and tell your King that I will do the same”, to him.

Spain immediately began to draw up plans to invade the Georgia colony.

One day, St. Simons Island would be made notable for having provided the 2,000 southern Live Oak trees, forming the hull of the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”.  On July 5, 1742, that day was far in the future.  On this day, a Spanish invasion force of somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 men landed on the island, in 36 ships.

A much smaller force of approximately 950 British Regulars, Colonial Militia and Indian Allies was under the command of James Oglethorpe, founder of the Georgia Colony. Oglethorpe withdrew his forces in in the face of the much larger invasion, and later attacked a Spanish reconnaissance in Force at a place called Gully Hole Creek. The Spanish were routed, with almost a third of their number either killed or captured. Falling back in the face of superior numbers of Spanish reinforcements, the British attacked the Spaniards a second time as they stacked arms and pulled out their pots and pans preparing for dinner. The “Battle of Bloody Marsh” was another victory for the British, and would prove to be decisive.

Bloody Marsh, 2008
“Bloody Marsh” in 2008

A few days later, Oglethorpe launched what can only be described a a psychological warfare operation.  A Spanish prisoner was released to the other side, with information that a massive British force was on the way.  Fearing that Montiano might learn the true size of his puny force, Oglethorpe spread drummers out until their sound seemed to come from all directions.

Governor Montiano bought the ruse, hook, line and sinker.  The Spanish invaders left St. Simons island for good on July 25, never to return. One of the most brilliant head fakes in colonial history had ended the invasion, leaving the 13th colony in the undisputed hands of the British Crown.

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Georgia colony, 1764
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February 12, 1733 The Last Colony

Tomochichi presented a symbol of power to the King of England, a bald eagle feather, the first time this symbol of our nation was connected to the American colonies.

In 1727 England, the anonymously published book “The Sailor’s Advocate”, argued for improvements in the terrible working conditions, that sailors of the day were forced to endure.

The pamphlet’s “unknown” author was James Oglethorpe, a crusader, an idealist, and member of the British Parliament.  Oglethorpe saw urbanization as the great evil of his day, the stripping of the productively employed from the countryside, while depositing them in cities with no opportunity for meaningful work.

Oglethorpe chaired a committee on prison reform the following year, calling attention to the horrendous conditions in English debtors’ prisons, and the hopeless plight of those released with no means of support.

To deal with the problem, Oglethorpe and others petitioned in 1730 to form a committee of trustees, to form the 13th Colony in America. They would call this new colony “Georgia”, a new start for the worthy poor, and a military buffer against Spanish Florida to the south, and French Louisiana to the west.  The charter was signed by King George II on April 21, 1732.slide_11

Thousands applied to go, trustees narrowing the number down to an initial 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 of that year, when the first group of colonists left aboard the “Anne”, bound for the new world.  James Oglethorpe and his 114 pilgrims scrambled up the 40′ banks of the Savannah River on February 12, 1733, there to establish the Province of Georgia and its Colonial Capital of Savannah.

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Artist’s depiction of Johnson Square, the earliest public square in Savannah

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.

The Trustees obtained £10,000 for the Georgia colony that first year, the subsidy becoming smaller in the following years. Georgia was the only American colony thus dependent on a Parliamentary allowance.

Oglethorpe returned to England two years later along with several “goodwill ambassadors”, among them Chief Tomochichi himself, his wife Senauki, their nephew Toonahowi, and six other members of the Lower Creek tribes. Members of the Indian delegation were treated as celebrities, entertained by Trustees and personal guests of the King and Queen, after which the group became tourists, visiting the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral and enjoying a number of plays, from Shakespearean dramas to comic farces.

Tomochichi presented a symbol of power to the King of England, a bald eagle feather, the first time this symbol of our nation was connected to the American colonies.

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“As the principal mediator between the native population and the new English settlers during the first years of Georgia’s settlement, Tomochichi (left) contributed much to the establishment of peaceful relations between the two groups and to the ultimate success of Georgia. His nephew, Toonahowi, is seated on the right in this engraving, circa 1734-35, by John Faber Jr.” – Hat tip for this image, to the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries

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 – perfect for the yeoman farmer, but too small for major landholders.  Its motto was “Non Sibi Sed Allis”. “Not for Themselves But for Others”.  Oglethorpe outlined four by-laws for the Georgia province, four prohibitions forming the legal framework of his Utopian experiment.

1. No rum, Brandy or spirits were allowed in Georgia, though beer, wine and ale, were OK.
2. No African slaves were permitted, though they were occasionally “borrowed” for construction projects.
3. Oglethorpe believed that every man ought to be able to speak for himself. Hence, no lawyers were allowed.
4. No Catholics were allowed either, as it was feared that they’d be too sympathetic with co-religionist Spain, then in control of the Florida territory.

“If we allow slaves,” Oglethorpe had said, “we act against the very Principles by which we associated together, which was to relieve the distressed.”

Returning to England, Oglethorpe continued 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 which had given it life. Oglethorpe’s grand experiment was over in 1754, when Trustees voted to dissolve their governing charter, making Georgia the 13th of Great Britain’s American colonies.

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Mico Tomochichi’s monument, Wright Square, Savannah, Georgia

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, and saluted with cannon and musket fire. James Oglethorpe himself was one of the pall bearers. If you ever visit the city of my childhood, there you will find Wright Square and Tomochichi’s 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”.

Featured image, top:  LaFayette Square, Savannah, named for the Frenchman and Aide-de-Camp to General George Washington, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.