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Biographies Unit Biographies

James Oglethorpe 1696–1785
Founder of Georgia

James Oglethorpe was born into a rich and powerful British family. At that time in Great Britain, people who owed money, called debtors, were sent to prison. There, they were often treated badly. After one of Oglethorpe's friends died in a British debtor prison, he decided it was time to act. He worked to reform, or improve, the prison system. Oglethorpe decided to help debtors by creating a colony where they could start new lives.

In 1733, Oglethorpe sailed for North America along with 120 colonists. They founded Georgia, naming it in honor of the British King. Oglethorpe founded the city of Savannah later that year and served as the Governor of Georgia for the next ten years. He made friends with the American Indians in the region. Trade with the Choctaw, Creek, and Cherokee Indians helped Georgia survive and grow.

Oglethorpe was a strict governor. The colonists had to obey many rules. They could not own slaves and could not sell the land they were given to farm. Oglethorpe returned to Britain in 1744. In the coming years, the colony he helped to create would become part of the newly independent United States of America.

Comprehension Check

Why did James Oglethorpe want to create Georgia?

Critical Thinking

In what ways might the lives of Georgia's colonists have been different if Oglethorpe had not had good relations with nearby American Indians?