Debtors in Georgia

Georgia was the last British colony to be created. It was founded in 1733, 126 years after Jamestown was successfully established. England and Europe as a whole were in the midst of an intellectual revolution known as the Enlightenment. Enlightened thinkers championed the causes of liberty and progress. Believing in the innate goodness of human beings, James Oglethorpe was such a thinker. He and a group of charitable investors asked King George for permission to create a utopian experiment for English citizens imprisoned for debt. England’s prison population could be decreased, and thousands of individuals could be given a new chance at life. With these lofty goals, Georgia was created.

King George was not terribly concerned with the plight of the English debtor. His advisers pointed out that such a colony in Georgia might provide defense for the South Carolina rice plantations from Spanish Florida. He gave his approval to a charter and Oglethorpe acted.

Here the settlers would have to conform to Oglethorpe’s plan, in which there was no elected assembly. Three major laws governed the colony: the first dealt with the distribution of land, the second and third reflected Enlightened ideals. No slavery was permitted in Georgia, and the possession of alcohol was prohibited. Each debtor was to receive 50 acres of land to farm. This land could not be sold. Silkworms were transported from Europe with the hope of developing a silk industry in Georgia's mulberry trees.

Unfortunately, the plan was a failure. Georgia residents complained that some citizens received fertile land while others were forced onto uncooperative soil. They felt trapped since they could not buy or sell their land. King George revoked the charter in 1752 and Georgia became a royal colony. One of the world’s best organized utopian experiments came to a sudden end.

Source: Debtors in Georgia
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