Who Was James Oglethorpe, and What Did He Do?

James Oglethorpe was a military leader who often sought social reform. Oglethorpe conceived and implemented the plan to establish the British colony of Georgia in North America.

Oglethorpe was born three days before Christmas in 1696. After a friend, Robert Castell, was imprisoned in 1729 for failure to pay debts, Oglethorpe took great interest in prison reform. Inmates were required to pay prison fees in exchange for room and board and, unable to pay, Castell was cast into a cell with an inmate infected by smallpox. Castell contracted the disease and died, pushing Oglethorpe to launch a campaign against British jails, calling for reform that would improve conditions and restrict who would be imprisoned.

Oglethorpe and members of the prison reform committee saw a change, but noted that England still faced an issue of high poverty. To combat this, Oglethorpe looked to create a new colony in America, which led to the basis of Georgia. After a two-month journey from England to America, Oglethorpe and his settlers landed at Port Royal in South Carolina and moved south until they hit the Savannah River. There, Oglethorpe befriended chief Tomochichi of the Yamacraw tribe and began to lay the foundation that would eventually become the colony of Georgia.

Through the use of slavery, Georgia was built from the ground up to become a successful colony. Oglethorpe, who was widely considered the governor of Georgia, oversaw the colony's growth until his death just before his 89th birthday.