Happy Georgia Day!

GeorgiaHappy Georgia Day!

Today is the 277th birthday of my home state! This date marks the day that English general, philanthropist, and Member of Parliament James Oglethorpe landed at Yamacraw Bluff, in what would soon become the city of Savannah. He arrived on this date with 116 colonists on the ship Anne.

Georgia was initially created as a debtor’s colony, where British people in severe debt could start new lives by creating farms that would grow silk, indigo or rice to be sent for sale in Mother England to satisfy their debts. However, there was a considerable delay between the initial idea of Georgia and the granting of her Royal Charter, so that the philanthropic idea was forgotten. In the end only around two dozen debtor families moved to the new colony. In their stead, early Georgia was populated by disaffected people from all over Europe, including Huguenots from France, Protestants from Salzburg … and soldiers. That’s because one of the other reasons the Crown approved of Georgia was for it to act as a “buffer colony” between the newly prosperous South Carolina and Spanish Florida.

Interestingly, liquor and slave labor were banned in early Georgia. Although the “debtor’s colony” idea was quickly dropped, Oglethorpe and other trustees of the colony nevertheless felt that both liquor and slavery would distract people from their goal of building a new colony. As you might guess, the population of early Georgia didn’t grow very much until these bans were repealed in the late 1740s. Even more interestingly, the importation of slaves saved the colony in more ways than one: not only did it attract wealthy Englishmen who wanted to create South Carolina style plantations, it also required the importation of slaves from what is now Sierra Leone, the Gambia and Angola. These Africans had considerable experience with building dams and earthworks and cultivating rice and indigo. It wasn’t until the Africans arrived that those crops took off in the colony.

You can read a digital scan of Georgia’s original Royal Charter here.

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