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This Day in Georgia History

December 22, 1696

James Oglethorpe Born

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

Georgia founder James Edward Oglethorpe, tenth and last child of Theophilus and Eleanor Oglethorpe, was born in London, England. Although the Oglethorpe family estate was in Godalming, located in Surrey County, the Oglethorpes lived in a London townhouse during the winter months. Educated at Eton and Corpus Christi College at Oxford, James yearned for adventure and served as aide to Prince Eugene of Savoy while fighting the Turks, who had invaded Europe. After a victorious truce, Oglethorpe returned to England, where he was elected to the same House of Commons seat that his father and one of his older brothers had held before him. In Parliament he became known nationally for his efforts on behalf of prison reform. It was here that he and colleague Sir John Percival got the idea of pushing for a new colony in America to which England’s worthy poor could be sent on charity. After several years of effort, they finally received a charter for the new colony of Georgia in June 1732. Oglethorpe was named one of twenty-one Trustees of Georgia, and in Nov. 1732 he personally accompanied the first boatload of colonists to Georgia. Arriving on Feb. 12, 1733, Oglethorpe obtained permission from Yamacraw chief Tomochichi to build the settlement of Savannah. On and off, James Oglethorpe was in Georgia from 1733 to 1743. In 1736, he was given the rank of colonel and a British regiment to defend the colony from Spain. Oglethorpe lived the last six years of his stay in Georgia on St. Simons Island, where he built Fort Frederica. Here, in 1742, his forces turned back a Spanish invasion, for which Oglethorpe was promoted to brigadier general in the British Army. Oglethorpe returned to England in 1743, where he became less and less involved in the affairs of Georgia because of his opposition to the trustees abandoning such key cornerstones of the colony as the prohibition on slavery. He married Elizabeth Wright and lived his final four decades divided between London and his wife’s inherited estate in Cranham. James Oglethorpe died at age 88 on June 30, 1785. Following his death, Georgia’s founder was buried in a tomb under the church floor within Parish Church of All Saints in Cranham.