Settling the Southern Colonies

Settling the Southern Colonies

The Southern Colonies, including Maryland, the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia were established during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the major events in the development of the Southern Colonies

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Southern colonies included Maryland, the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia.
  • The Province of Maryland existed from 1632 until 1776.
  • The Province of Carolina was originally chartered in 1629, with the first permanent settlement in 1653.
  • The Colony of Virginia existed briefly during the 16th century and then continuously from 1607 until the American Revolution.
  • The Province of Georgia was the last colony to be established by the British in 1732.

Key Terms

  • Plymouth Company: An English joint stock business founded in 1606 by James I of England with the purpose of establishing settlements on the coast of North America.
  • London Company: An English joint stock business established by royal charter by James I of England on April 10, 1606, with the purpose of establishing colonial settlements in North America.

Background

The Southern Colonies in North America were established by the British during the 16th and 17th centuries. At the time, they consisted of South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia; their historical names were the Colony and Dominion of Virginia, the Province of Carolina, and the Province of Georgia.

Prior to colonization, the American Indian tribes of the Algonquin, Siouan, and Iroquoian linguistic groups inhabited the Chesapeake Bay area. Several of the Algonquian tribes were associated with the politically powerful Powhatan Confederacy. The colonies were originally chartered to compete in the race for colonies in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. They then developed into prosperous colonies that made large profits based on cash crops such as tobacco, indigo dye, and rice. Over time, the region quickly became well known for its high slave population and highly unequal social class distribution.

Major Developments for Southern Colonies

Maryland

George Calvert received a charter from King Charles I to found the colony of Maryland in 1634. The province began as a proprietary colony of the English Lord Baltimore, who wished to create a haven for Roman Catholics in the New World at the time of the European wars of religion. Although it was intended as a refuge for Catholics, a significant part of the population was Protestant, and Protestants later gained control of the colony during the English civil wars.

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Maryland: A map of the Province of Maryland.

The Carolinas

The next major development in the history of the Southern Colonies was the Province of Carolina, originally chartered in 1629. The first permanent English settlement was established in 1653 when emigrants from the Virginia Colony, New England, and Bermuda settled on the shores of Albemarle Sound in the northeastern corner of present-day North Carolina. Due to their remoteness from each other, the northern and southern sections of the colony operated more or less independently until 1691, when a governor of the entire province was appointed.

Virginia

The Colony of Virginia existed briefly during the 16th century and then continuously from 1607 until the American Revolution. The name “Virginia” was first applied by Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I in 1584, when Raleigh established a colony on the island of Roanoke off the coast of Virginia. It is the oldest designation for English claims in North America. Charles I eventually granted proprietary charters to the Plymouth Company and the London Company. The cities of Baltimore in Maryland and Richmond in Virginia served as major seaports for the colonies in their trade with Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean.

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Virginia: A map of the Colony of Virginia.

Georgia

The Province of Georgia (also called the Georgia Colony) was the last of the 13 original colonies established by Great Britain. In the original grant, a narrow strip of the province extended to the Mississippi River. The 1732 charter created Georgia as a buffer state to protect the prosperous South Carolina from Spanish Florida, and required that debtors be shipped to free space in English jails.

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Georgia: A map of the Province of Georgia, 1732–1777.

Virginia

The Virginia Colony became the wealthiest and most populated British colony in North America, largely due to its tobacco crop industry.

Learning Objectives

Describe the challenges faced by settlers in Jamestown

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • American Indian tribes who had long occupied the lands in the Virginia area included, among others, the Chesepian, Powhatan, Siouan Monacan, and Cherokee.
  • When the British invaders arrived, the American Indian population numbered around 14,000; by 1700, it had fallen to 1,400.
  • Jamestown was the first settlement of the Virginia Colony, founded in 1607; it served as capital of Virginia until 1699.
  • John Rolfe first brought a specific variety of tobacco seeds to Virginia, establishing it as the area’s most important cash crop and export. The Virginia Colony became the wealthiest and most populated British colony in North America. Elite planters dominated the colony and played a major role in the development of democratic-republican ideals of the United States.
  • The Anglican Church of England controlled Virginian society and government during the colonial era.

Key Terms

  • Powhatan: The name of an American Indian confederation of tribes originating from what is present-day Virginia; also known as Virginia Algonquians.
  • Sir William Berkeley: A colonial governor of Virginia and one of the Lords Proprietors of the Colony of Carolina; he was appointed to these posts by King Charles I of England, of whom he was a favorite.

The Colony of Virginia was an English colony in North America that existed briefly during the 16th century and then continuously from 1607 until the American Revolution. American Indian tribes who had long occupied the lands in the Virginia area included the Algonquian Chesepian, Chickahominy, Doeg, Mattaponi, Nansemond, Pamunkey, Pohick, Powhatan, Rappahannock, Siouan Monacan, Saponi, Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee, Meherrin, Nottoway, and Tuscarora.

From London to First Landing: Establishing Virginia

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, King James I ascended to the throne. James granted a proprietary charter to two competing branches of the Virginia Company: the Plymouth Company and the London Company. In 1606, each company organized expeditions to establish settlements within the area of their rights. The London Company sent its expedition in December of 1606 and came ashore at the Chesapeake Bay, an event which has come to be called the “First Landing.”

Settlement Challenges in Jamestown

The settlement, given the name of Jamestown, was an island, and thus favorable for defense against foreign ships. However, the low, marshy terrain was harsh and inhospitable for settlement. It lacked drinking water, access to game for hunting, and adequate space for farming. The colonists arrived ill-prepared for self-sufficiency. In addition to securing gold and other precious minerals to send back to investors in England, the survival of Jamestown depended on regular supplies from England and trade with American Indians. Disease and conflicts caused many deaths to the American Indians and the English invaders. The London Company sent supply ships to the colony three times, but these were sometimes delayed and left the colonists with little in the way of food and supplies. Combined with a drought, this lack of supplies resulted in the “Starving Time” in late 1609 to May 1610, during which over 80% of the colonists perished. As a result, Jamestown was abandoned briefly until new supply ships arrived.

The Algonquian Chief Powhatan controlled more than 30 smaller tribes and more than 150 settlements. In 1607, the native Tidewater population was over 13,000. By the mid-17th century, the Powhatan and allied tribes were in serious decline in population, due in large part to epidemics of newly introduced infectious diseases such as smallpox and measles, to which they had no natural immunity. Surviving members of many tribes assimilated into the general population of the colony.

Success of Tobacco

John Smith, who arrived in Virginia in 1608, introduced an ultimatum to the settlers: those who did not work would not receive food or pay. His struggle to improve the colony’s conditions succeeded—the colonists learned how to raise crops and trade with the nearby Indians with whom Smith had made temporary peace.

The economy of the Colony presented an additional problem. Gold was never found, and efforts to introduce profitable industries in the colony had all failed until John Rolfe introduced two foreign types of tobacco. By 1612, Rolfe’s new strains of tobacco had been successfully cultivated and exported, making tobacco a cash crop that established Virginia’s economic viability. A small number of slaves, along with many European indentured servants, helped to expand the growing tobacco industry. Major importation of African slaves did not take place until much later in the century, however.

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Tobacco plants: By the early 1620s, tobacco cultivation began to impact every aspect of daily life in Virginia.

Tensions with American Indians

In 1614, John Rolfe, prosperous and wealthy, married Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, bringing several years of peace between the English and American Indians. After Pocahontas and her father died and the English continued to appropriate more land for tobacco farming, relations with the Powhatans worsened. Powhatan’s brother, a fierce warrior named Opchanacanough, became head of the Powhatan Confederacy.

After several years of strained coexistence, Chief Opchanacanough and his Powhatan Confederacy attempted to eliminate the English colony once and for all. On the morning of March 22, 1622, they attacked outlying plantations and communities up and down the James River. Thereafter, the British invaders waged a relentless war against the Powhatans, burning and pillaging their villages and cutting down or carrying off their crops. In 1646, Opchanacanough was captured and killed while in custody, and the Powhatan Confederacy began to decline. Opechancanough’s successor then signed the first peace treaties between the Powhatan Indians and the English. The treaties required the Powhatan to pay yearly tribute payments to the English and confined them to reservations.

Leadership

In 1619, the first representative assembly in America convened in a Jamestown church. This became known as the House of Burgesses. Simultaneously, however, Virginia was declared a “crown colony,” meaning the charter was transferred from the Virginia Company to the Crown of England, making Jamestown a colony now run by the English monarchy. While the House of Burgesses was still allowed to run the government, the king nevertheless appointed a royal governor to settle disputes and enforce certain British policies.

The House of Burgesses instituted individual land ownership and divided the colony into four large boroughs. Initially, the colony only allowed men of English origin to vote, but they eventually extended suffrage to white men of other nationalities. In 1624, King James revoked the Virginia Company’s charter, and Virginia became a royal colony. Despite the setbacks, the colony continued to grow.

The Anglican Church

Virginia became the largest, most populous, and most important colony. The Church of England was legally established; the bishop of London made it a favorite missionary target and sent in 22 clergymen by 1624. In practice, establishment meant that local taxes were funneled through the local parish to handle the needs of local government, such as roads and poor relief, in addition to the salary of the minister. When the elected assembly, the House of Burgesses, was established in 1619, it enacted religious laws that made Virginia a bastion of Anglicanism. It passed a law in 1632 requiring uniformity among the Anglican congregations of the colony.

According to the ministers, the colonists were typically inattentive, disinterested, and bored during church services. Some ministers solved their problems by encouraging parishioners to become devout at home, using the Book of Common Prayer for private prayer and devotion (rather than the Bible). This allowed devout Anglicans to lead an active and sincere religious life apart from the unsatisfactory formal church services.

However, the stress on private devotion weakened the need for a bishop or a large institutional church of the sort Blair wanted. The stress on personal piety opened the way for the First Great Awakening, which pulled people away from the established church. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and other evangelicals directly challenged these lax moral standards and refused to tolerate them in their ranks. The evangelicals identified the traditional standards of masculinity as sinful, which revolved around gambling, drinking, brawling, and arbitrary control over women, children, and slaves.

Baptists, German Lutherans, and Presbyterians funded their own ministers and favored disestablishment of the Anglican Church. The dissenters grew much faster than the established church, making religious division a factor in Virginia politics into the American Revolution. The Patriots, led by Thomas Jefferson, disestablished the Anglican Church in 1786.

Bacon’s Rebellion

Sir William Berkeley, the governor of Virginia from 1642–1652 and 1660–1677, tried to push for diversification in the economic activities of the colony. Governor Berkeley was a royal insider from an early age, and his governorship reflected the royal interests of Charles I and Charles II. Berkeley remained popular after his first administration and returned to the governorship in 1660. His second administration, however, was characterized by many problems—disease, hurricanes, war with American Indians, and economic difficulties all plagued Virginia at this time.

Berkeley successfully established autocratic authority over the colony. To protect this power, Berkeley refused new legislative elections for 14 years. After a lack of reform, Nathaniel Bacon began a rebellion in 1676 and captured Jamestown, taking control of the colony for several months. After the incident, which became known as Bacon’s Rebellion, Berkeley returned himself to power with the help of the English militia. Bacon then burned Jamestown before abandoning it, and continued his rebellion until dying from disease. Subsequently, Berkeley managed to eliminate the remaining rebels. In response to Berkeley’s harsh repression of the rebels, the English government removed him from office. The rebuilt statehouse in Jamestown burned again in 1698, after which the colonial capital was permanently moved to nearby Middle Plantation, and the town was renamed Williamsburg.

Legacy of Virginia

The Virginia Colony became the wealthiest and most populated British colony in North America. Elite planters dominated the colony and would later play a major role in the fight for independence and the development of democratic-republican ideals of the United States.

Maryland

Maryland was established in 1632 as a haven for English Roman Catholics in the New World.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the founding of Maryland

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The province of Maryland began as a proprietary colony of the English Lord Baltimore and as a haven for English Roman Catholics in the new world.
  • British settler-invaders in Maryland raised a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, livestock, and the major cash crop, tobacco.
  • Maryland faced early competition with the colony of Virginia to the south and the Dutch colony of New Netherland to the north.
  • In 1649, Maryland passed the Maryland Toleration Act, was the first law requiring religious tolerance in the British North American colonies. In the Protestant Revolution of 1689, Puritans revolted and took over the colony.

Key Terms

  • Lord Baltimore: An English peer who was the first Proprietor and Proprietary Governor of the Province of Maryland, and ninth Proprietary Governor of the Colony of Newfoundland.
  • Toleration Act: A measure by the Parliament of England in 1689 that allowed relative freedom of religious worship.
  • Protestant Revolution: An event in 1689 in Maryland when Puritans, by then a substantial majority in the colony, revolted against the proprietary government, led by the Roman Catholic Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore.

Establishing Maryland

The Province of Maryland was a British colony in North America that existed from 1632 until 1776, when it joined the other 12 of the North American colonies in rebellion against Great Britain and became the state of Maryland. The province began as a proprietary colony of the English Lord Baltimore and as a haven for English Roman Catholics in the New World. Charles I of England granted the charter for Maryland to create a colony north of the Potomac to rival New Netherland’s claims to the Delaware River valley.

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The Province of Maryland: A map of the Province of Maryland.

Colonial Maryland was larger than the present-day state of Maryland. The original charter granted the Calverts an imprecisely defined territory north of Virginia and south of the 40th parallel, comprising perhaps as much as 12 million acres. Maryland lost some of its original territory to Pennsylvania in the 1760s when, after Charles II granted that colony a tract that overlapped with the Maryland grant, the Mason-Dixon Line was drawn to resolve the boundary dispute between the two colonies. Maryland also ceded some territory to create the new District of Columbia after the American Revolution.

The first settlers purchased land from the Yaocomico Indians and founded St. Mary’s City. In 1642, Maryland declared war on the Susquehannock Indian nation and remained in an inactive state of war until a peace treaty was concluded in 1652.

Leadership

Maryland’s foundational charter created a state ruled by Lord Baltimore, who directly owned all of the land granted in the charter. He possessed absolute authority over his domain; in fact, settlers were required to swear allegiance to him rather than to the King of England. The charter created an aristocracy of lords of the manor who bought land from Baltimore and held greater legal and social privileges than the common settlers.

Religion in Maryland

In Maryland, Baltimore sought to create a haven for English Roman Catholics and to demonstrate that Catholics and Protestants could live together harmoniously. Like other aristocratic proprietors, he also hoped to turn a profit in the new colony. The Calvert family recruited Catholic aristocrats and Protestant settlers for Maryland, luring them with generous land grants and a policy of religious toleration. Despite the focus on creating a safe haven for Catholics, the majority of settlers were Protestant. In 1649, Maryland passed the Maryland Toleration Act, also known as the Act Concerning Religion, a law mandating religious tolerance for Christians. Passed by the assembly of the Maryland colony, it was the first law requiring religious tolerance in the British North American colonies.

Although Maryland was an early pioneer of religious toleration in the English colonies, religious strife among Anglicans, Puritans, Catholics, and Quakers was common in the early years. From 1644 to 1646, the “Plundering Time” was a period of civil unrest caused by the tensions of the English Civil War (1641–1651). In 1654, after the Third English Civil War (1649–1651), Puritan rebels briefly seized control of the province.

The Protestant Revolution of 1689 was an event in Maryland when Puritans, by then a substantial majority in the colony, revolted against the proprietary government, in part because of the apparent preferment of Catholics to official positions of power. The Puritans set up a new government that outlawed Catholicism and deprived Catholics of all official positions. Full religious toleration would not be restored in Maryland until the American Revolution.

Life in Maryland

In the 17th century, most British settler-invaders in Maryland lived in rough conditions on small family farms. While they raised a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and livestock, the cash crop was tobacco, which soon came to dominate the provincial economy. Tobacco was sometimes used as money, and the colonial legislature was obliged to pass a law requiring tobacco planters to raise a certain amount of corn as well, in order to ensure that the colonists would not go hungry. Baltimore became the second-most important port in the 18th century South, after Charleston, South Carolina.

The need for cheap labor to help with the growth of tobacco led to a rapid expansion of indentured servitude and, later, forcible immigration and enslavement of Africans. In 1664, the Maryland assembly passed a “black code” which declared each Negro to be a slave for life by virtue of his color; by 1755, about 40% of Maryland’s population was black.

Up to the time of the American Revolution, Maryland, along with Pennsylvania, was one of two remaining English proprietary colonies. In the late colonial period, the southern and eastern portions of the province continued their tobacco economy, but as the revolution approached, northern and central Maryland increasingly became centers of wheat production. The Province of Maryland was an active participant in the events leading up to the American revolution and echoed events in New England by establishing committees of correspondence and hosting its own tea party, similar to the one that took place in Boston.

The Carolinas

The Carolinas, chartered in 1629, became important southern agricultural colonies.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the early colonization and government of North and South Carolina

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The American Indian tribes in the land area of the Carolinas included the Westos, Creeks, Shawnees (Savannahs), Cherokees, and Yamasees.
  • In 1653, the first permanent settlement was created in the northeastern corner of present-day North Carolina.
  • In 1663, Charles II of England granted the land called Carolina to eight Lords Proprietors, who controlled the Carolinas until 1729.
  • The original charter set the colony ‘s boundaries from the southern border of the Virginia Colony to the coast of present-day Georgia.
  • In 1729, the Province of Carolina split into the separate royal colonies of North Carolina and South Carolina.

Key Terms

  • Lords Proprietors: A position akin to head landlord or overseer of a territory.
  • The Carolinas: A British province in North America originally chartered in 1629.

Establishing the Carolinas

The Province of Carolina was originally chartered in 1629. In 1663, Charles II of England rewarded eight men for their faithful support of his efforts to regain the throne of England by granting them the land called Carolina; these men were called Lords Proprietors and controlled the Carolinas from 1663 to 1729.

The 1663 charter granted the Lords Proprietor title to all of the land from the southern border of the Virginia Colony to the coast of present-day Georgia. In 1665, the charter was revised slightly, with the northern boundary extended to include the lands of settler-invaders along the Albemarle Sound who had left the Virginia Colony. Likewise, the southern boundary was moved just south of present-day Daytona Beach, Florida, which had the effect of including the existing Spanish settlement at St. Augustine. The charter also granted all the land between these northerly and southerly bounds from the Atlantic Ocean westward to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

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Map of Carolina: A map of the Province of Carolina.

Colonization

Although the Lost Colony on Roanoke Island was the first English attempt at settlement in the Carolina territory, the first permanent English settlement was not established until 1653, when emigrants from the Virginia Colony (with others from New England and Bermuda) settled on the shores of Albemarle Sound in the northeastern corner of present-day North Carolina. The Albemarle Settlements, which preceded the royal charter by 10 years, came to be known in Virginia as “Rogues’ Harbor.” In 1665, Sir John Yeamans established a second permanent settlement on the Cape Fear River, near present-day Wilmington, North Carolina, which he named Clarendon.

Another region, near present-day Charleston, South Carolina, was settled under the Lords Proprietors in 1670. The Charles Town settlement developed more rapidly than the Albemarle and Cape Fear settlements due to the advantages of a natural harbor, and it quickly developed trade with the West Indies. South Carolina was primarily settled by French Huguenot aristocrats, while North Carolina was settled by poor whites moving in from Virginia.

American Indians

American Indian tribes in the area included the Westos, who lived on the Savannah or Westo River near present day Augusta, as well as Creeks, Shawnees (Savannahs), Cherokees, and Yamasees. Some tribes, such as the Westos, were well armed, using more European weapons than their neighbors at the time. American Indians around Charleston obtained weapons from the Spaniards and from Virginia traders. Carolina, established relatively late, nevertheless soon established an American Indian slave trade that overshadowed other mainland colonies.

As in other areas of English settlement, native peoples in the Carolinas suffered tremendously from the introduction of European diseases. Despite the effects of disease, American Indians in the area endured and, following the pattern elsewhere in the colonies, grew dependent on European goods. Local Yamasee and Creek tribes built up a trade deficit with the English, trading deerskins and captive slaves for European guns. English settlers exacerbated tensions with local American Indian tribes, especially the Yamasee, by expanding their rice and tobacco fields into American Indian lands. Worse still, English traders took American Indian women captive as payment for debts.

The outrages committed by traders, combined with the seemingly unstoppable expansion of English settlement onto native land, led to the outbreak of the Yamasee War (1715–1718), an effort by a coalition of local tribes to drive away the European invaders. This native effort to force the newcomers back across the Atlantic nearly succeeded in annihilating the Carolina colonies. Only when the Cherokee allied themselves with the English did the coalition’s goal of eliminating the English from the region falter.

Agriculture and Economy

As the settlement around Charles Town grew, it began to produce livestock for export to the West Indies. In the northern part of Carolina, settlers turned sap from pine trees into turpentine used to waterproof wooden ships. The southern part of Carolina had been producing rice and indigo (a plant that yields a dark blue dye used by English royalty) since the 1700s, and South Carolina continued to depend on these main crops. The northern part of Carolina continued to produce items for ships, especially turpentine and tar, and its population increased as Virginians moved there to expand their tobacco holdings. Tobacco was the primary export of both Virginia and later North Carolina, which also traded in deerskins and slaves from Africa.

Slavery developed quickly in the Carolinas, largely because so many of the early migrants came from Barbados, where slavery was well established. By the end of the 1600s, a very wealthy class of rice planters who relied on slaves had attained dominance in the southern part of the Carolinas, especially around Charles Town. By 1715, the southern part of Carolina had a black majority because of the number of slaves in the colony. The legal basis for slavery was established in the early 1700s as the Carolinas began to pass slave laws based on the Barbados slave codes of the late 1600s. These laws reduced Africans to the status of property to be bought and sold as other commodities.

Government

The Lords Proprietors, operating under their royal charter, were able to exercise their authority with nearly the autonomy of the king himself. One of the Lords Proprietors, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (with the assistance of his secretary, the philosopher John Locke), drafted the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, a plan for government. The actual government consisted of a governor, a powerful council (of which half of the members were appointed by the Lords Proprietors themselves), and a relatively weak, popularly elected assembly.

Division of North and South Carolina

The Charleston settlement was the principal seat of government for the entire province. However, due to their remoteness from each other, the northern and southern sections of the colony operated more or less independently until 1691, when dissent over the governance of the province led to the appointment of a deputy governor to administer the northern half of Carolina. From that time until 1708, the northern and southern settlements remained under one government. The north continued to have its own assembly and council; the governor resided in Charleston and appointed a deputy governor for the north. During this period, the two halves of the province began increasingly to be known as North Carolina and South Carolina.

From 1708 to 1710, due to disquiet over attempts to establish the Anglican Church in the province, the people were unable to agree on a slate of elected officials. Consequently, there was no recognized and legal government for more than two years. This period culminated in Cary’s Rebellion when the Lords Proprietors finally commissioned a new governor. This circumstance, coupled with hostilities with American Indian tribes and the inability of the Lords Proprietors to act decisively, led to separate governments for North and South Carolina.

The division between the northern and southern governments became complete in 1712, but both colonies remained in the hands of the same group of proprietors. Another rebellion against the proprietors broke out in 1719, which led to the appointment of a royal governor for South Carolina in 1720. After nearly a decade in which the British government sought to locate and buy out the proprietors, both North and South Carolina became royal colonies in 1729 when seven of the Lords Proprietors sold their interests in Carolina to the Crown.

Georgia

The Province of Georgia was chartered as a proprietary colony in 1733 and was the last of the 13 original British colonies.

Learning Objectives

Examine the origins of the Georgia Colony

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • George II, for whom the colony was named, granted the colony’s corporate charter to General James Oglethorpe in 1732. In 1755, Georgia became a crown colony.
  • The colony of Georgia was established to act as a “buffer state” between the British Carolinas and Spanish Florida.
  • As a social reformer, Oglethorpe hoped to resettle Britain’s poor, especially those in debtors’ prisons in the New World.
  • Oglethorpe’s vision called for alcohol and slavery to be banned. However, colonists who relocated from other colonies, especially South Carolina, disregarded these prohibitions.

Key Terms

  • Yamacraw: An American Indian tribe that settled parts of Georgia, specifically around the future site of the city of Savannah.
  • James Oglethorpe: A British general, member of Parliament, philanthropist, and founder of the colony of Georgia.
  • Age of Reason: A philosophical movement which dominated the world of ideas in Europe and British America in the 18th century; included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy and came to advance ideals such as liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and ending the abuses of the church and state.
  • buffer state: A country lying between two rival or potentially hostile greater powers, which by its sheer existence is thought to prevent conflict between them.

The New Colony of Georgia

The Province of Georgia, also called Georgia Colony, was one of the southern colonies in British America and the last of the 13 original colonies established by Great Britain. George II, for whom the colony was named, granted the colony’s corporate charter to General James Oglethorpe in 1732. An earlier grant to three Montgomery brothers was forfeited when they failed to establish a permanent colony, largely as a result of disease in the marshy area they chose to develop. In 1755, Georgia officially ceased to be a trustee colony and became a crown colony.

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Georgia: A map of the Province of Georgia, 1732–1777.

The original charter specified the colony as the area between the Savannah and Altamaha rivers, up to their headwaters on the Ocmulgee River, and then extending westward “sea to sea.” The area within the charter had previously been part of the original grant of the Province of Carolina, which was closely linked to Georgia. South Carolina had never been able to gain control of the area; however, American Indians had been forcefully pushed back from the Georgia coast after the Yamasee War, excepting a few villages of defeated Yamasee (who became known as the Yamacraw to distinguish them from the Yamasee in Florida and among the Creek). In practice, settlement in the colony was limited to the vicinity near the Savannah River. The western area of the colony remained under the control of the Creek Indian Confederation until after the American Revolutionary War.

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Savannah, Georgia colony, early 1700s: An early drawing of Savannah, Georgia, from sometime in the early 1700s.

Oglethorpe’s Role in the Georgia Colony

In 1733, General James Oglethorpe, who was a British member of Parliament, established the Georgia Colony as a solution for two problems. At that time, tension between Spain and Great Britain was high, and the British feared that Spanish Florida was threatening the British Carolinas. The Georgia Colony would act as a “buffer state” (border) or “garrison province” that would defend the southern part of the British colonies from Spanish Florida. Oglethorpe imagined a province populated by “sturdy farmers” that could guard the border and because of this, the colony’s charter prohibited slavery. Additionally, Oglethorpe decided to establish a colony in the contested border region of Georgia and populate it with debtors who would otherwise have been imprisoned according to standard British practice.

Oglethorpe’s vision for Georgia followed the ideals of the Age of Reason, seeing it as a place for England’s “worthy poor” to start anew. To encourage industry, he gave each male immigrant 50 acres of land, tools, and a year’s worth of supplies. In Savannah, the Oglethorpe Plan provided for a utopia: “an agrarian model of sustenance while sustaining egalitarian values holding all men as equal.”

Oglethorpe’s vision called for alcohol and slavery to be banned. However, colonists who relocated from other colonies, especially South Carolina, disregarded these prohibitions. Despite its proprietors’ early vision of a colony guided by Enlightenment ideals and free of slavery, by the 1750s, Georgia was producing quantities of rice grown and harvested by slaves.

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A new and accurate map of the Provinces of North and South Carolina: A map of the southeastern United States (Carolina, Georgia, Florida).