James Oglethorpe was one of the founders of the Georgia Colony. Born on December 22, 1696, he became well known as a soldier, politician, and social reformer.
Driven to the Soldier's Life
Oglethorpe started his military career as a teenager when he joined in the fight against the Turks with the Holy Roman Empire. In 1717, he was aide-de-camp to Prince Eugene of Savoy and fought in the successful siege of Belgrade.
Years afterward when he helped found and colonize Georgia, he would serve as the general of its forces. In 1739, he was involved in the War of Jenkin's Ear. He unsuccessfully attempted to take St. Augustine from the Spanish twice, though he was able to defeat a large counterattack by the Spanish.
Back in England, Oglethorpe fought in the Jacobite rebellion in 1745 for which he was almost court-martialed due to his unit's lack of success. He tried to fight in the Seven Year's War but was denied a commission by the British. Not to be left out, he took on a different name and fought with the Prussians in the war.
Long Political Career
In 1722, Oglethorpe left his first military commission to join Parliament. He would serve in the House of Commons for the next 30 years. He was a fascinating social reformer, helping impressed sailors and investigating the terrible condition of debtors' prisons. This last cause was especially important to him as a good friend died in such a prison.
He became a staunch opponent of slavery early in his career, a stance he would hold the rest of his life. Even though he was an elected member of parliament, he chose to accompany the first settlers to Georgia in 1732. While he traveled back some to England, he did not permanently return to England until 1743. It was only after the attempted court martial mentioned earlier that he lost his seat in Parliament in 1754.
Founding the Georgia Colony
The idea for the founding of Georgia was to create a haven for England's poor along with creating a buffer between the French and Spanish and the other English colonies. Thus in 1732, Georgia was founded. Oglethorpe was not only a member of its Board of Trustees but was also among its first settlers. He personally chose and founded Savannah as the first town. He took an unofficial role of the colony's governor and directed most decisions about the new colony's local administration and defense. The new settlers took to calling Oglethorpe "Father." However, eventually, the colonists grew upset against his stern rule but also his stance against slavery which they felt put them at an economic disadvantage compared to the rest of the colonies. In addition, the costs associated with the new colony were questioned by the other trustees back in England.
By 1738, Oglethorpe's duties were curtailed, and he was left with being the general of the combined Georgia and South Carolina forces. As previously discovered, he was deeply involved in the War of Jenkin's Ear leading campaigns against the Spanish. When he failed to take St. Augustine, he went back to England never to return to the New World.
Elder Statesman and Champion of the Colonies
Oglethorpe never wavered in his support for the rights of American colonists. He befriended many in England who also espoused their cause such as Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke. After the American Revolution when John Adams was sent to England as an ambassador, Oglethorpe met with him despite his advanced years. He died soon after this meeting at the age of 88.