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In Their Own Words

April 17, 1736

Oglethorpe Claimed Land to St. Johns River

According to the 1732 charter, Georgia’s southern boundary was to be the Altamaha River. However, by 1736, James Oglethorpe was claiming for Britain (and presumably Georgia) all lands southward to the St. Johns River. In a letter from Frederica on this day to the Duke of Newcastle, Britain’s Secretary of State for the Colonies, Oglethorpe spelled out the basis for this claim. He further indicated his willingness to fight to the death to defend Britain’s claim - providing he had funding assistance from Parliament:

“… The Indian king Tomochichi, pursuant to the assurances he gave to his Majesty and Your Grace in England [in 1734], went down with me to the utmost limits of the King of Great Britain’s dominions to put us in possession of all lands held by their Nation from this island to the Spanish frontiers. There are three beautiful islands upon the seacoast, the first the Indian king’s nephew Toonahowi, who was in England, called Cumberland, saying that the Duke had given him a watch to show him to use time and that he had obtained leave of the Creek Nation to give his name to that island, that through all times his benefactor’s name might be remembered. The next island, the fairest of this province, I called Amelia. Oranges, myrtles and vines grow wild upon it. To the South of Amelia lies another island, the Southernmost part of which, called Saint George’s Point, is the farthest part of the dominions of His Majesty on the seacoast in North America. The River Saint John’s divides that island from the Spanish Florida. It is there about two miles wide and on the point of the opposite side the Spaniards keep a guard …

“I am in quiet possession as far as the Spanish out-guards, and therefore hope I shall have directions what to do. I have heard that the Spanish General intends to order me to quit as far as the River Edisto, that is to say, all Georgia and part of Carolina. But as I cannot deliver up a foot of ground belonging to His Majesty to a foreign power without the breach of my allegiance to His Majesty, I will alive or dead keep possession of it ‘till I have His Majesty’s orders. And if it is His Majesty’s pleasure not to give up this most valuable part of his dominions, I can assure Your Grace that the fidelity of the Indians to His Majesty and the gratitude for their treatment when in England is such that with the same assistance which we had last year from Parliament I shall not only be able to keep possession in spite of all the forces of Florida, Cuba and Mexico. But if I have orders (considering the divisions amongst the Spaniards in one of those provinces) there is more probability that the British arms should entirely conquer them than that they can ever drive us out. And this they know so well that, though they may threaten, they dare not do so flagrant an injustice as to act against so clear a right as His Majesty hath to these countries, which are the keys of all America… .”

Source: Mills Lane (ed.), General Oglethorpe’s Georgia: Colonial Letters, 1733-1743 (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1990), Vol. I, pp. 263-264.