Why Georgia was founded as an antislavery territory
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At least initially, Georgia was conceived not just as a free state, but also as a state without African or black residents. Partly, the motivation was a charitable move with regard to the British poor, who were expected to emigrate in great numbers.
General James Oglethorpe, a member of British Parliament credited as the founder of Georgia, conceived the idea of
creating an asylum in America for the poor of his own country and for the persecuted protestants of all
nations. A deeply religious man, Oglethorpe landed in Savannah in 1733 to start his new colony under auspices that strictly prohibited slavery, and even "declared it to be not only immoral, but contrary to the laws of England."
Despite the best of intentions, however, slavery gradually penetrated into the territory. By 1752, the petitions for legalizing the institution had become so insistent that the royal trustees revoked their original charter. This act of righteous indignation effectively freed Georgians to practice chattel slavery, which in reality they had been doing for several years.
The Quakers and early abolitionists who had been attracted to Georgia were sorely disappointed. Oglethorpe quit the colony in 1743. Throughout his life he maintained that slavery was an immoral violation of the Christian Gospel.
Nonetheless, the reasoning behind Georgia's status was not entirely altruistic.
In his pamphlet "Some Account of the Design of the Trustees for establishing Colonys in America," Oglethorpe explained some of the grounds for freedom in Georgia in
strictly strategic terms. Referring to Georgian fears of Florida as a source of Indian and slave uprisings, Oglethorpe predicted that the free, white settlements of Georgia,
"[W]ould prevent any future massacre and make a stronger barrier to the present settlements [keeping] the Negro Slaves of South Carolina in awe who are now so numerous as to be dreadful even to their masters."
In other statements, Georgia's status was more explicitly tied to the troublesome
presence of Spanish Florida. As the famous Darien Antislavery Petition set forth in 1739,
"The Nearness of the Spaniards, who have proclaimed Freedom to all Slaves, who run away from their Masters, makes it impossible for us to keep them, without more Labour in guarding them, than what we would be at to do their Work."
Despite Oglethorpe's professions of antislavery sentiment, the founding of Georgia was a complex, political process. Oglethorpe himself led the doomed 1740 attack on the free black settlements of Spanish Florida,
an action not entirely consistent with his moral qualms over the enslavement of Africans.
Willson 262-66, Oglethorpe 23, Jackson "Darien".