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This Day in Georgia History

August 25, 1737

Oglethorpe Commissioned a Colonel

To view a publication on James Oglethorpe, see the Digital Library of Georgia.

While in London, James Oglethorpe was commissioned as “Colonel of the Regiment of Foot for the Defence of His Majesty’s Plantations in America.” This commission has caused some confusion, for two months earlier - on June 19 - Prime Minister Horace Walpole had granted Oglethorpe a commission as “General and Commander in Chief of all and singular his Majesty’s provinces of South Carolina and Georgia in America; and likewise to be Captain of that Independent Company of Foot doing Duty in his Majesty’s said Province of South Carolina.” Was Oglethorpe a colonel or a general? The answer is that the designation of “general and commander in chief” was not a military rank in the British Army but rather a temporary field title. In February 1737, Oglethorpe had declined Walpole’s offer of the governorship of South Carolina (which would have forced him to resign his seat in Parliament). Still, Oglethorpe needed some type of legal authority if he was to direct South Carolina forces in the defense of Georgia. In essence, the “general and commander in chief” designation was a political compromise to give Oglethorpe temporary authority over South Carolina forces in the face of a threatened Spanish invasion. His subsequent August 25th commission as a colonel in the British Army, however, was a true military rank that authorized him to raise and command his own regiment. In 1743, after repulsing the Spanish invasion of St. Simons Island, Oglethorpe was promoted to the military rank of brigadier general.