Key Features of Colonial Georgia

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

This lesson will examine the key features of Colonial Georgia. We will highlight the important social, political, and economic aspects of Colonial Georgia. A short quiz follows the lesson.

The Uniqueness of Colonial Georgia

Contrary to popular belief, Georgia was NOT founded as a debtor's colony. This is a myth that has found its way into textbooks and is widely accepted. Nevertheless, Georgia was a pretty unique British colony. To begin with, it was the last of the thirteen original colonies. Its charter also prohibited slavery. Hard to believe, isn't it? Also unusual is the fact that alcohol was banned. Let's dig deeper and learn more about Colonial Georgia.

The Founding of Georgia

General James Olglethorpe can be thought of as the 'founding father' of Georgia. He was the driving force behind the founding of the colony. In 1732, King George II granted James Olglethorpe a charter to establish the colony. Not surprisingly, the new colony was named 'Georgia' in honor of King George II. Oglethorpe originally envisioned the colony as a haven for British debtors, though this plan never came to fruition. Georgia was never a debtor's colony. Oglethorpe set up headquarters in what is now Savannah, and was instrumental in laying the foundation for what would eventually become Georgia's capital city. At the time, Savannah was occupied by the Yamacraw Native American tribe, but Oglethorpe made provisions for them to vacate the area.

James Oglethorpe depicted in a 1730s painting

Georgia was an important colony because it acted as a 'buffer zone' against Spanish northward expansion. Remember, Florida during this time was Spanish territory, and the British were concerned that the Spanish might venture north and take over sections of their colonies. The colony of Georgia, therefore, marked a clear boundary between British and Spanish territory. This was a major reason why King George II supported the founding of the colony.

Key Developments in Colonial Georgia

British fears of Spanish expansion were confirmed in 1742 when Spanish forces invaded the colony during the War of Jenkin's Ear. At the Battle of Bloody Marsh, the British defeated the Spanish, ensuring that Georgia would remain a British colony.

James Oglethorpe disagreed with slavery, and for this reason, he prohibited the practice in the original character. He also banned alcohol. Because of these restrictions, Georgia initially was slow to grow. Why would settlers want to come to Georgia where alcohol was prohibited, if they could go to another colony like the Carolinas or Virginia and be free to partake? The prohibition of slavery was also unappealing for settlers seeking to establish plantations. Due to discontentment over these policies, Oglethorpe lifted these bans. As of 1749 slavery was permitted in the colony. Within a short period time of it became a major part of the Georgia economy and culture, much like the rest of the Southern colonies.

In addition to crops like cotton and tobacco, rice and indigo became major cash crops in Colonial Georgia. African slaves were brought in by the thousands to labor on large plantations. During the 1750s, many wealthy farmers from the Carolinas migrated to Georgia, bringing with them their upper-class culture and ways of life. Their influence greatly aided the economic growth of the colony.

Loyalism in Colonial Georgia

Like other Southern colonies, Georgia had close ties with Great Britain. In the years leading up to the American Revolution (and during it) Loyalist sentiment was strong throughout Georgia. Loyalists were American colonists who did not support independence, but rather wanted to remain 'loyal' to the British Crown. During the Revolutionary War, Loyalists often fought alongside the British. Georgia was probably the most pro-British of all the thirteen colonies. To the people of Georgia, the British were their protectors. British soldiers protected colonists from unfriendly Native American tribes, and also provided security for colonial sea merchants. Most Georgians had no reason to be upset with the British, and only after much bloodshed did Georgia reluctantly join the rebellion.

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