In Their Own Words
August 12, 1733
Oglethorpe Letter to Trustees on Georgia Ills
From late May to mid June, James Oglethorpe was in Charles Town on Georgia business. On his return to Savannah, he was shocked at what he found - dissension, idleness, use of black labor, rum, and worst of all sickness and death (which Oglethorpe incorrectly attributed to the rum). His concern is evidenced by this Aug. 12 letter to the Trustees back in London:
“I have not been able to write at length since I left Charles Town. When I returned hither from thence I found the people were growing very mutinous and impatient of labour and discipline. This petulancy was owing chiefly to several of them having got into drinking of rum … . Some of the silly people desired their provisions that they might be able to gratify their palates by selling a large quantity of wholesome food for a little rum punch.
“…I found that Gray, who pretended to understand the silk, had been one of the busiest in preaching up mutiny and, whilst I was at Charles Town, had in a barefaced manner insulted all order and threatened the chief people here… . By degrees I brought the people to discipline but could not revive the spirit of labour. Idleness and drunkenness were succeeded by sickness. To remedy the first I sent away the Negroes who sawed for us, for so long as they continued here our men were encouraged in idleness by their working for them. To remedy drunkenness I gave a moderate allowance of wine, prohibited rum and staved such as I would find in the town. But found that the [Musgrove] Indian trading house about one-half a mile from us, in spite of all my prohibitions, sold rum to our people. I did not care to disoblige them, because are the only interpreters we have to the Indians. However at present I must either suppress them or our people must be destroyed, we having lost twenty people within a month since the drinking of rum was come into fashion; whereas we lost but one person in five months whilst I was here and kept the people from excessive drinking.
“Millidge [sic], our best carpenter, is dead of a burning fever which on his deathbed he confessed he contracted at the Indian trading house. He drank there rum punch on the Wednesday, on Thursday was taken ill of a burning fever and on the seventh day, the crisis of distemper, died. Poor Overend … is also dead with rum, to which most of the rest owe their deaths. But the illness being once frequent became contagious. It appeared chiefly in burning fevers or else in bloody fluxes attended by convulsions and other terrible symptoms. Dr. Cox being dead, Jones looked after the sick… . Almost everyone that was taken ill at first died. Jones himself fell sick and some of the women (most handy about the sick) died. So that we had neither doctor, surgeon nor nurse, and about the 15th of July we had above sixty people sick, many of whose lives we despaired of. At which time Captain Horton arrived here with some Jews and amongst them a doctor of physick, who immediately undertook our people and refused to take any pay for it. He proceeded by cold baths, cooling drinks and other cooling applications. since which the sick have wonderfully recovered, and we have not lost one who would follow his prescriptions. Next to the blessing of God and this new regimen I believe one of the greatest occasions of the people’s recovery has been that by my constant watching of them I have restrained the drinking of rum.”
Source: Mills Lane (ed.), General Oglethorpe’s Georgia: Colonial Letters, 1733-1743 (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1990), Vol. I, pp. 19-21.