James Edward Oglethorpe obtained a charter for the founding of Georgia in 1732. Courtney Dainton describes how the English social reformer spent three terms as chief administrator of the colony and lived long enough to see American independence.
‘I know no man whose Life would be more interesting. If I were furnished with materials I would be very glad to write it,’ Dr Johnson told General Oglethorpe when he was dining with him in 1755. Unfortunately Oglethorpe never accepted the Doctor’s offer to be the author of his biography, and so a book that might have added considerably to its subject’s fame was never written.
Today few British people may have heard of James Edward Oglethorpe. Yet he was responsible for important humanitarian reforms in his own country and for the foundation of one of the American states.
Oglethorpe was born on December 22nd, 1696. He was the fifth son of Major-General Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe, a cavalry officer who had been appointed First Equerry to James II. When William III became King after the Revolution of 1688, Oglethorpe’s loyalty to James led to his being deprived of his military command.
He retired to Godalming in Surrey, where he bought a large house called Westbrook Place, in which he lived with his wife, who was the daughter of an Irish landowner, and his large family, of whom James Edward was the youngest.
Before James was five years old, his father died, and so his early upbringing was the responsibility of his mother. Like her husband, she was staunchly loyal to the House of Stuart, and she fostered in all her children an adherence to the Jacobites. This training succeeded with all of them except her youngest son.
Although in his early years he probably considered that William III was a usurper, James never exhibited the devotion to the ‘King over the Water’ that was shown by his brothers and sisters, and he served the first three Hanoverian monarchs faithfully.