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In Their Own Words

December 14, 1734

Murders Recorded in Colonial Georgia

Savannah court recorder Thomas Christie wrote to James Oglethorpe (who was then in England) about various problems being experienced in Georgia, including the murder of a slave and of one of the colonists:

“I have often spoke to Mr. [Noble] Jones [the surveyor] to send you the plan and keep a journal of the lands that he runs out, which I could never obtain. Indeed … I believe little has been run out since your departure, ‘till very lately. The people have greatly complained of late for want of knowing the bounds of their lots, for want of which they have neglected fencing, so that most of the crop that was sowed last summer have been eat up by the cows and horses. Another thing I must not forget to mention: the corn and seeds, that was in the Storehouse when you went away, was given to the people, was musty, damaged or spoilt, so that it never came up. And it was so long and late in the year before they got fresh seed that it balked some, and other did not sow it ‘till it was too late in the year… . And indeed we have some people who never were masters of any land and whose heads are turned no way but to the alehouse, and others are so idle to think of nothing but selling and running away… .

“We raise the envy of the people of Carolina, by whom we suffer many aspersions and false reports although we serve them for a bulwark against the Indians, a curb to their Negroes, raise the price of their markets and the value of their lands. And they get all our money into the bargain. They are settling on the river May and all about us and, with the advantage of their Negroes, report that we need not sow any corn or rice for they will always undersell us… .

“[Indian trader Joseph] Watson has behaved very ill since your departure and hath committed several irregularities, has beat the Indians, presented a gun at Mrs. Musgrove’s, proved very dissaffected to the colony and unfit for a trader.

“The Indian Skee offering one day to break open his storehouse in order to kill him, Watson escaped out backwards. And they, finding him gone, in their mad freak fell upon Justice, Musgrove’s slave, and killed him. He is since gone up in the country full of malice… .

“The unfortunate Mr. Wise, his effects was sold except papers and manuscripts remaining in a trunk in the store … . The manner of this murder was thus, which you have no doubt been acquainted with. He lay over in the island a considerable time in a very weak condition and kept [to] his bed. He used to call for some water in the morning to wash himself and White used to assist him in combing out his hair … . Alice Riley [an Irish servant] by the direction and influence of White brought a pail of water which she sat down by his bedside. White came in also, pretending to assist him in combing his hair. He usually wore a handkerchief about his neck and while he was leaning over the bedside, instead of combing his hair, White took hold by that handkerchief, which he twisted ‘till he was almost suffocated. Alice Riley at the same time took hold of the poll of his head and plunged his face into the pail of water and, he being very weak, it soon dispatched him. As to the rest I refer to the proceedings of the Court… .”

Source: Mills Lane (ed.), General Oglethorpe’s Georgia: Colonial Letters, 1733-1743 (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1990), Vol. I, pp. 66-72.