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Oglethorpe
Oglethorpe
44

who had fallen into debt, was imprisoned in the Fleet, and, being unable to pay the accustomed fees to the warder, was confined in a house where the small-pox was raging. There Castell perished of the disease. The sad incident directed Oglethorpe's attention to the horrors and brutalities of debtors' prisons. At the beginning of 1729 he brought the matter before parliament, and the result was the appointment of a committee, with Oglethorpe for its chairman. The investigations of the committee revealed infamous jobbery and more infamous cruelty on the part of the prison officials (see Lecky, England in the Eighteenth Century, i. 500 sq.; and art. Bambridge, Thomas).

The insight which Oglethorpe thus obtained into pauperism and its consequences led him to the great work of his life. In all times colonisation has suggested itself as a remedy for the economical ills of old countries. In June 1732 Oglethorpe, with twenty associates, obtained a charter for settling the colony of Georgia in America, a tract lying between the rivers Savannah and Alatamaha, named in honour of George II, who gave Oglethorpe every encouragement. Almost simultaneously he published anonymously an essay setting forth the amount of distress extant, and unfolding his scheme of colonisation as a cure for it. It is true, as Bacon says in his 'Essay on Plantation,' that 'it is a shameful and unblessed thing to take the scum of people and wicked condemned men to be the people whom you plant.' Oglethorpe, however, was careful to introduce certain conditions which lessened, though they could not avert, the evils resulting from his choice of settlers. In the first place, he intended from the outset that they should be under his own personal supervision; and, whatever might be Oglethorpe's faults of character, he was born with the gift of ruling men. Moreover, there was to be some sort of discrimination exercised in the choice of settlers. Mere poverty was not to give a claim for a place in the colony; nor is there any reason to think that Oglethorpe ever expected wholly to escape the evils inherent in his experiment. The results are full of interest and instruction for the social reformer.

Oglethorpe and the other trustees, who opened an office in Old Palace Yard, Westminster, received liberal private subscriptions and a grant of 10,000l. from parliament. The settlement was designed not only as a refuge for paupers, but also as a barrier for the British colonies against aggression by Spain on their southern frontier. On grounds of military expediency, rather than of social economy, negro slavery was wholly prohibited.

On 30 Oct. 1732 Oglethorpe embarked in the Anne galley at Deptford, and in November set sail with 120 settlers. For nine years the life of Oglethorpe and the history of the colony of Georgia are identical. He at once found a satisfactory site, on which was built the town of Savannah; and he established friendly relations with the natives, which remained unbroken during his whole sojourn in the colony. Fresh colonists, and of a more effective stamp, were added: some, German protestants, whose religion had banished them from Austria; others, Scottish highlanders. Settlements were thrown out westward, and an outpost formed at Frederica, on an island at the mouth of the Alatamaha, about sixty miles south of Savannah.

In 1734 Oglethorpe returned to England (bringing with him several Indian chiefs), and the effects of his absence at once illustrated the instability of a colony which rested solely on the energy and capacity of one man, and whose inhabitants had in them no element of thought, industry, or civic virtue. Oglethorpe was at times precipitate in his choice of subordinates, and unduly and obstinately confident in them when chosen. The storekeeper, a person of no small importance in a little community organised on almost communistic principles, was dishonest and tyrannical. In such a colony as Georgia malcontents were sure to be found. Two restrictions, the prohibition of rum and of negro slavery, were specially irksome. On his return to Georgia, Oglethorpe dismissed the offending storekeeper. But he and his co-trustees stood firm upon the other points, and the result was a continuous undercurrent of dissatisfaction and disloyalty.

That was not the only element of discord in the colony. Oglethorpe's impetuous and sympathetic temper led him to select for the spiritual staff of his colony John and Charles Wesley, heeding only their high moral excellence and the attractive side of their characters, and overlooking the absence of that tact, forbearance, and subordination which for this special task were to the full as needful. Charles Wesley went out in 1736 as Oglethorpe's private secretary. He had not been long in the colony before he displeased Oglethorpe. If we are to believe Wesley's own account, his employer treated him not only with harshness, but with pettyminded malevolence. But the solemnity of their parting, when, in the spring of 1736, Oglethorpe went forth against the Spaniards with a wholly uncertain prospect of return, seems to have touched the hearts of both,