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James Edward Oglethorpe (1696-1785)

James Edward Oglethorpe was born in London, the son of Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe and his wife Eleanor. Oglethorpe was commissioned into the army aged fourteen and four years later after the end of the war against France matriculated at Corpus Christi College Oxford. In 1718 he inherited the family estate at Westbrook in Surrey and entered parliament in 1722.

Oglethorpe showed a keen interest in the problem of debt and in 1729 chaired a parliamentary committee that was established to investigate debtors' prisons. In 1732 he was one of twenty associates who obtained a royal charter for the establishment of the colony of Georgia, which was founded to give debtors a new start as well as to act as a barrier against the Spanish in Florida.

Oglethorpe was appointed to oversee the colony (he was never formally named governor, but that was his effective position) and sailed with the first party of colonists in October 1732. Oglethorpe was the dominant force for the first decade of Georgia's existence and although the later years of his leadership were marred by war against Spain and poor relations with some of the colonists, his oversight ended on a high note when he successfully repulsed a Spanish attack in 1742.

Having spent much of his personal wealth on the colony, Oglethorpe returned to England in 1743. He took part as a brigadier-general in the suppression of the Jacobite uprising of 1745 but was court-martialed and acquitted for alleged tardiness in pursuing the rebels. After over thirty years in the House of Commons, Oglethorpe lost his seat in 1754.

Oglethorpe was widely admired for his keen sense of justice and sympathy for the dispossessed. A staunch opponent of slavery, he was a life-long friend of the Wesley brothers both of whom had worked alongside him in Georgia.

Source: Dictionary of National Biography

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