Long before Georgia was settled, the nations of the Old World had founded colonies in America. The Spanish had settled Florida and founded the city of St. Augustine. The French had explored the regions along the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, and had begun the city of Quebec in Canada. The English claimed the territory between Florida and Canada, and had begun their settlements along the Atlantic coast, all the way from Maine to South Carolina.
Before Georgia was settled, Virginia was a flourishing colony, more than one hundred years old. The New England colonies were well established. Dutch settlers had laid the foundation of New York, and lived there peaceably for fifty years. The English would not let them keep their colony, however, and, having demanded the surrender of their town, turned the Dutch colony into an English one. Maryland was started as a colony for Roman Catholics, under Lord Baltimore. Many Quakers, led by William Penn, had made their home in Pennsylvania. These early colonies were composed of small towns, along the seacoast or by the rivers. The great interior of America was almost unknown. It was a wild country inhabited by Indians, and it took a brave heart to face the dangers of the deep forest and the perils of the mountains, rivers, and plains that lay between the oceans. So we see that before our own State was founded there were many English colonies on this side of the Atlantic. It has been estimated that over a quarter of a million white people were living in America at the time Georgia was settled.
In 1663 Charles II, King of England, granted all the land lying along the Atlantic coast between Virginia and Florida to eight noblemen, called the Lords Proprietors of Carolina. All the land in the present State of Georgia and about half of the present State of Florida were included in this grant, and from that date was called Carolina by the English, though no attempt was made to settle the lands south of the Savannah River. The Lords Proprietors had some trouble with their colonists in the northern part of their grant, and finally gave all Carolina back to the king. South Carolina probably had eighteen thousand white inhabitants, and Charleston was a flourishing town, over sixty years old, when Georgia was settled.
The permanent English settlements at Charleston and along the Carolina coast established England's claim to Carolina, while the permanent Spanish settlement at St. Augustine had established Spain's title to Florida; but no agreement could be reached as to the dividing line between Carolina and Florida. The disputed territory was claimed by the Spanish and called Florida, and claimed by the English and called Carolina.
The first effort to colonize this territory was made in 1717, by Sir Robert Montgomery, a Scotch nobleman, who secured from the Lords Proprietors of Carolina a grant of the land lying between the Savannah and the Altamaha rivers. It was to be called the Margravate of Azilia and was to be part of Carolina. The grant was made on the condition that the territory be occupied in three years; otherwise it would revert to the Lords Proprietors. Sir Robert was to pay a rental of one penny an acre for all lands occupied, and to give the Lords Proprietors one fourth of all the gold, silver, and precious stones found there.
The most glowing accounts of the wonders and beauties of Georgia were written. Nowhere in the world could be found such beautiful woods and meadows, such rich mines and fields, such soft climate and fertile soil. The plan was a failure, however. These accounts did not attract settlers south of the Savannah River, and the red men of the forests remained the only inhabitants of Aziha, until a nobler man, with a loftier aim than Sir Robert, came to make its shores the home of the unfortunate.
Many years ago it was the custom in England to imprison people for debt. If a man failed in business, or borrowed money he could not return, or bought things he could not pay for, his creditor could put him in jail as a debtor and keep him there until the debt was paid, or he was released by the law. These debtors' prisons were often the scenes of suffering, cruelty, and injustice. Filth brought on smallpox, fever, and other diseases. The keepers were cruel in the extreme, and the fate of a poor debtor was sad indeed, when once behind the bars of a prison.
The way in which the debtors' prisons were managed attracted public attention, and the British Parliament appointed a committee to investigate the facts and to reform the abuses. The chairman of the committee was James Edward Oglethorpe, a Member of Parliament, and the author of the resolution under which the committee was appointed.
Oglethorpe belonged to an ancient English family. He was born at Westminster, England, June 1, 1689. While still a young man he left college to begin the life of a soldier. Going abroad, he enlisted under Prince Eugene. Boswell, in his life of Dr. Samuel Johnson, tells the following story of Oglethorpe: “The general told us that when he was a very young man, I think only fifteen, serving under Prince Eugene of Savoy, he was sitting at a table with a prince of Württemberg. The prince took up a glass of wine, and, by a flip, made some of it fly in Oglethorpe's face. Here was a nice dilemma. To have challenged him instantly might have fixed a quarrelsome character upon the young soldier; to have taken no notice of it might have been considered as cowardice. Oglethorpe, therefore, keeping his eye upon the prince, and smiling all the time as if he took what his highness had done in jest, said, Prince, that is a good joke, but we do it much better in England; ' and threw a whole glass of wine in the prince's face. An old general, who sat by, said: ' He has done right. Prince; you commenced it,' and thus all ended in good humor."
When Oglethorpe returned to England, he entered upon very wealthy estates and began political life. He was in Parliament for a number of years, and was always the friend of the unfortunate and the needy. Among all the men who sought to found colonies in America for the poor and oppressed of the Old World, no name is greater than that of Oglethorpe.
In his visits to the prisons his heart was touched by the sufferings of the unfortunate debtors. He saw that these poor men could not possibly earn money to pay their debts while they were shut up in prison. Even if released it was not probable that they would succeed in life better than before. He thought of the great tracts of land lying idle on the shores of America. On these lands the poor debtors could build homes, and from the fertile soil they could support their families. He enlisted several others in his plans, and induced them to unite with him in a petition to the king, asking for a grant of land in his Majesty's Province of America where they could colonize many of the worthy and honest poor people living in and near the city of London.
The petition was granted, and the charter for a colony received the great seal of England, June 9, 1732. The territory granted was a part of South Carolina west of the Savannah River. It included all the land between the Savannah and Altamaha rivers, from the Atlantic coast to the headwaters of these streams, and thence extended westward to the “South Sea," or Pacific Ocean. The name of Georgia was given to this province in honor of George II, who was then King of England.
The reasons for locating the colony in this place were to protect the frontier of Carolina from the ravages of the Indians, and to take possession of soil that was claimed by the English and the Spanish. Oglethorpe also heard that mulberry trees grew along the Savannah River, and that the climate was suitable for the silkworm. He believed that a line of raw silk could be raised in Georgia, thus saving to England vast sums of money paid to foreign countries for silks. So firmly did he believe in this that he resolved to send to Italy for persons to teach the colonists how to feed the silkworms and wind the threads from the cocoons.
The charter created a board of trustees, called The Trustees for Establishing the Colony of Georgia in America, for a term of twenty-one years. They were given power to send foreigners and subjects of Great Britain to Georgia and to grant them lands, not over five hundred acres to each person, for which no rent should be paid for ten years. On one side of the seal of the Trustees was the motto Non sihi scd aliis, which means, “Not for themselves but for others." On the other side of the seal was an inscription, Colonial Georgia aug. (for augeat), meaning, “May the Georgia colony flourish."
About two years before Oglethorpe left Georgia the Trustees divided the territory of the colony into two counties, Savannah and Frederica. They were the first counties in Georgia. Savannah County included all the territory north of Darien. Frederica County included Darien and all the territory south. William Stephens was appointed president of Savannah County, but no appointments were made for Frederica County, because Oglethorpe lived on St. Simon's Island, and he retained his authority over the whole colony.
When Oglethorpe finally returned to England in 1743, Stephens was appointed by the Trustees president of all Georgia. He was president for eight years. Savannah, at this time, had increased to about three hundred and fifty houses, besides the public buildings. Some of them were fine residences, surrounded by beautiful gardens. There were some fine country homes near the town, especially the one in which William Stephens lived, named Beaulieu.
You will remember that the Trustees had forbidden the use of negro slaves in Georgia. This produced much dissatisfaction among the settlers. They knew that the people of South Carolina had slaves and that all the other colonies had them. Even Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York allowed negro slavery. It seemed unfair for Georgia to be the only colony where slavery was prohibited. The result was that new settlers did not wish to come to Georgia, and many of those who were already there were dissatisfied.
Many petitions were sent from time to time to the Trustees to allow the colonists to have slaves, but for fifteen years they remained firm in their refusal. The colonists determined to evade the law, however, and many of them hired negro slaves from their owners in South Carolina, for a hundred years or during life, paying the full value of the negroes in advance, the owner agreeing to take them back in case of trouble. In some instances negro traders came to Savannah with slaves and sold them openly to the boldest of the colonists, who declared they would leave Georgia if they were not permitted to keep slaves. Several negro servants were purchased for the Bethesda Orphan Asylum by James Habersham; and George Whitefield declared it was a Christian act to bring negroes from Africa and convert and civilize them, even if they were made slaves.
At last the Trustees saw they must yield, or the colony would suffer. They agreed that slavery might be introduced into Georgia, provided the slaves were taught no useful trade that would interfere with white citizens; that inhuman treatment should be prevented; that religious instruction should be given them; and that they should not be compelled to work on Sunday. Under these conditions negro slavery was made legal in Georgia in 1749.
Another regulation of the Trustees was that no rum or other distilled liquors should be sold in Georgia. Thus Georgia was founded as a prohibition State. This regulation, however, was abandoned by the Trustees about this time, and the sale of liquors was made legal. Another regulation, by which a man could not sell his land, and, on his death, had to leave it to his eldest son, was changed so that the owner could mortgage or sell his land and dispose of it as he chose. Thus the Trustees abandoned three of the most important of their regulations for the colony of Georgia.
We now come to the end of the twenty years for which the Trustees had held the charter for Georgia. There were between four and five thousand people in Georgia, of whom fifteen hundred were negro slaves. There were more than 1,250,000 people in all the English colonies, but they were mainly in Virginia and the northern colonies. Georgia was by far the smallest of the colonies. South Carolina had twenty times as many inhabitants as her southern neighbor.
Georgia had escaped all the dreadful Indian wars and massacres that had harassed many of the other colonies. The Indians and the whites lived in peace and friendship, excepting an occasional quarrel in which one or two were killed. There was hardly a day in all the twenty years when the Indians could not have put an end to the colony if they had chosen to do so, but the red men came and went in peace, and the towns and farms of the white men were undisturbed.
One of the cherished hopes of the Trustees was to make silk raising a great industry in Georgia. They expected to supply all Europe with Georgia silk. They argued that the Italians and French, burdened with rent and taxes, could not compete with the Georgia settlers, who had everything free. They hoped to engage twenty thousand people in the culture of silk upon Georgia soil. They spent many thousands of dollars in buying silkworms and sending over mulberry trees to be planted for the worms to feed upon. They built houses and bought machinery for reeling the thread from cocoons. In the end this enterprise was all a failure. In all the twenty years the colonists made hardly a thousand pounds of raw silk, and the industrious Salzburgers at Ebenezer made most of that.
The colonists did not care for silk culture. The climate was not suitable, labor was too high, and other things could be raised with more profit. There was more money in rice, cotton, tar, pitch, lumber, and staves. The silk industry declined, and was practically abandoned a little while before the beginning of the Revolution.
The population of Georgia had become so large, and the towns were so numerous, that a General Assembly of delegates was necessary to agree upon laws for the colony. This Assembly met in Savannah, January 15, 1751. There were sixteen delegates present. It was the first General Assembly of delegates ever held in Georgia. The delegates had no power to make laws, but could only recommend to the Trustees such things as they considered best for the colony. The Trustees then decided whether or not they would accept these suggestions. The Assembly was to meet once a year, and remain in session for a month.
To show how determined the Trustees were on the subject of silk culture; there were some curious qualifications for membership in this Assembly. No man could serve who had not one hundred mulberry trees planted and fenced in upon every fifty acres of land that he owned; and after 1753 no one could be a delegate who had not in his family at least one female instructed in the art of reeling silk, and who did not annually produce fifteen pounds of silk for every fifty acres of land owned by him. It is needless to say that the colonists paid little attention to this demand of the Trustees.
William Stephens had grown too old and feeble to act as president of the colony. On account of his advanced age he wished to retire to his plantation near Savannah to spend the remainder of his life. He was succeeded, April 8, 1751, by Henry Parker, who had been vice president of the colony for a number of years. Henry Parker thus became the second president of Georgia.
In 1752 an important addition was made to the colony of Georgia. A body of Congregationalists from Dorchester, South Carolina, secured from the authorities of Georgia a tract of land, halfway between the Savannah and the Altamaha, in what is now Liberty County. In December of that year a few families with their servants arrived and took possession. Others followed until the colony at that place consisted of three hundred and fifty whites, with fifteen hundred slaves. They built a church, began divine service, and established themselves as a part of the people of Georgia.
The ancestors of the Congregationalists had settled at Dorchester in Massachusetts over a hundred years before this time. Fifty years before their removal to Georgia, their fathers had moved to South Carolina, on the Ashley River, eighteen miles above Charleston, and named the settlement Dorchester. The good reports of the lands in Georgia induced them to leave South Carolina for a new home.
They were industrious, prudent, intelligent people, fearing God and hating tyranny. They were not wanderers, but men of wealth who brought their property with them and immediately became one of the strongest communities in Georgia. Their settlement was known as the Midway settlement, and the church was known as the Midway Church. Many of the most distinguished citizens of Georgia were descendants of these settlers at Midway.
The charter of Georgia had been granted to the Trustees for twenty-one years, and the end of the time was at hand. The Trustees were weary of their charge, and refused to have the charter renewed. They sent a memorial to the Lords of Council proposing to surrender the control of the Province of Georgia, and to deed back to his Majesty the lands which had been conveyed to them in trust for the benefit of settlers in the province. The King accepted their proposal, and the last meeting of the Trustees was held on the 23rd of June, 1752.
Every bill had been paid; every claim against them had been settled. The deed of surrender was read and approved, and the seal of the corporation was attached. Then the seal was defaced, the Trustees ceased to exist, and the colony of Georgia, which had been their generous and unselfish care for so many years, passed under the direct control of the King of England and under the special charge of the Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations.
The Trustees were seventy-two in number, many of them noblemen of rank and men of distinction. Only six of the original number survived when they surrendered their charter. During the twenty-one years they had received no pay for their services, but, with pure and unselfish motives, had given their time, their energies, and their money to building up in America a colony for the worthy poor of England. Upon the surrender of their charter, their connection with the colony ceased, and a new epoch in Georgia history was reached.
While the Trustees were the most unselfish of men, their plans and policies for Georgia were often unwise and impossible. Their main purpose in founding the colony was to provide a home for the poor and oppressed, to establish a silk, wine, and drug growing colony, and to relieve the mother country of an overburdened population. These were humane and generous motives. As a matter of fact, however, the Trustees soon found that those who were poor and useless in England were inclined to be poor and useless in Georgia. It was harder to make a living in the wilds of America than on the streets of London. They had sent over, at their expense, about twelve hundred British subjects, two thirds of who left the colony, and many of the others were of little account. They were poor people, honest and worthy enough, but they were ill-suited for the stern life of a raw colony; and, when we consider that about four thousand people were annually being imprisoned in England for debt, we see that Georgia was not much of a benefit to the debtors' prisons, after all. The colonists who did the most for Georgia were those who came of their own accord and at their own expense.
The hopes of the Trustees as to the commercial value of the colony were doomed to disappointment. The wine, which was to supply all the plantations, and for which vine dressers from Portugal were employed, and choice cuttings of Malaga vines were planted, resulted in a few gallons. The vineyards were soon abandoned. “The olive trees from Venice, the barilla seeds from Spain, the kale from Egypt, and other exotics, obtained at much expense, after a short season withered and died in the public garden. The hemp and flax . . . never warranted the charter of a single vessel, . . . and indigo did not commend itself to general favor." The colonists had to battle for food and clothing and to raise what the soil would yield. They had no time for costly experiments in agriculture. Even silk raising had to be abandoned in view of the necessity of other things.
In 1758 Georgia was divided into eight parishes: Christ Church Parish, including Savannah; Map of Parishes, 1765 to the Revolution. St. Matthew's Parish, including Ebenezer; St. Paul's Parish, including Augusta; St. George's Parish, including Halifax; St. Philip's Parish, including Great Ogeechee; St. John's Parish, including Midway and Sunbury; St. Andrew's Parish, including Darien; and St. James's Parish, including Frederica. These divisions were made for the better government of the colony. The law provided for the holding of public worship in each of these parishes. In 1765 four new parishes were added to the number then in Georgia. They were St. Patrick's, St. David's, St. Thomas's, and St. Mary's, and were all between the Altamaha and the St. Mary’s rivers. These parishes were really counties.
The Treaty of Beaufort, also called the Beaufort Convention, is the treaty that originally set the all-river boundary between the U.S. states of Georgia and South Carolina. It was named for Beaufort, South Carolina, where it was signed in 1787.
It set the boundary to be the thalweg (centerline) of the Savannah River, extending north into the Tugalo River (now spelled Tugaloo), and up to the headwater of its primary tributary. At that time, the area had not been fully surveyed, thus the somewhat ambiguous wording. If that headwater point was south of Georgia's border with North Carolina (nominally latitude 35°N), then South Carolina would claim everything north of a due-west line from that point, and south of 35°N, as far west as the Mississippi River. This claim was shown on some maps of the time, though it never took effect.
As it later was discovered, the primary tributary of the Tugalo is the Chattooga River, which does originate in North Carolina. In 1787 the area was Cherokee territory and not considered part of either state. The Treaty of 1816 officially extended the states' frontier northeast up the Chattooga River, where it remains the current boundary.
The other issue addressed was the islands in the rivers, which the treaty assigned to Georgia, but in the two rivers (Savannah and Tugalo) known to be the border at the time. In these cases, the thalweg is drawn through the center of the more northerly (actually northeasterly) channel, curving gradually around the island. This part of the treaty was the subject of some later border disputes between the two states.
There have been two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the interpretation of this treaty. (The court has original jurisdiction in such cases.) The first Georgia v. South Carolina case in 1922 was regarding the islands in the Tugaloo, which was not explicitly named in the treaty because that was prior to its discovery. Although the treaty prescribes the northerly branch as the boundary, and the Chattooga flows in a perpendicular direction (putting Rabun County, Georgia on the north side and Oconee County, South Carolina on the south), Georgia was given the islands as in the lower rivers.
The second case of the same name was in 1989 and was more complex, regarding a Georgia island that had become a South Carolina peninsula due to dredging. Although South Carolina was in adverse possession of the land, Georgia lost this case due to acquiescence, rather than as a matter of the treaty's wording.
An 1876 case, South Carolina v. Georgia, was about dredging for navigation around an island in the river at the port city of Savannah, and not about the boundary location. Georgia won this case, allowing it to widen the shipping channel on the Savannah side at the expense of water flow to the South Carolina boundary side.
The legal status of this treaty, given that the later U.S. Constitution of 1789 made interstate treaties unconstitutional, is now that of an interstate compact. Just as such compacts must be ratified by the U.S. Congress; this treaty was ratified by the Confederation Congress, and is still considered to be legally binding.