History of Augusta, Georgia
The area along the river was long inhabited by varying cultures of indigenous peoples, who relied on the river for fish, water and transportation. The site of Augusta was used by Native Americans as a place to cross the Savannah River, because of its location on the fall line. In 1735, two years after James Oglethorpe founded Savannah, he sent a detachment of troops to explore up the Savannah River. He gave them an order to build at the head of the navigable part of the river. The expedition was led by Noble Jones, who created the settlement to provide a first line of defense for coastal areas against potential Spanish or French invasion from the interior. Oglethorpe named the town Augusta, in honor of Princess Augusta, wife of Frederick, Prince of Wales and mother of the future King George III of the United Kingdom. Augusta was the second state capital of Georgia from 1785 until 1795 (alternating for a period with Savannah, the first). It was in the area of Georgia developed as the Black Belt, for large cotton plantations, after the invention of the cotton gin made use of short-staple cotton more profitable. The commodity crops were worked by enslaved Africans, many brought from the Low Country, where the Gullah culture had developed on its large Sea Island cotton and rice plantations. Augusta, Georgia was founded in 1735 as part of the British colony of Georgia, under the supervision of colony founder James Oglethorpe. It was the colony's second established town, after Savannah. Today, Augusta is the second-largest city in Georgia, and the largest city of the Central Savannah River Area. James Edward Oglethorpe (22 December 1696 – 30 June 1785) was a British general, Member of Parliament, philanthropist, and founder of the colony of Georgia. As a social reformer, he hoped to resettle Britain's poor, especially those in debtors' prisons, in the New World. In 1728, three years before conceiving the Georgia colony, Oglethorpe chaired a Parliamentary committee on prison reform. The committee documented horrendous abuses in three debtors’ prisons. As a result of the committee’s actions, many debtors were released from prison with no means of support. Oglethorpe viewed this as part of the larger problem of urbanization, which was depleting the countryside of productively employed people and depositing them in cities, particularly London, where they often became impoverished or resorted to criminal activity. In order to address this problem, Oglethorpe and a group of associates, many of whom served on the prison committee, petitio
ed in 1730 to form the Trustees for the Establishment of the Colony of Georgia in America. The petition was finally approved in 1732, and the first group of colonists, led by Oglethorpe, departed for the New World in November. Oglethorpe and the Trustees formulated a contract, multi-tiered plan for the settlement of Georgia (see the Oglethorpe Plan). The plan framed a system of “agrarian equality” designed to support and perpetuate an economy based on family farming and prevent social disintegration associated with unregulated urbanization. Land ownership was limited to fifty acres, a grant that included a town lot, a garden plot near town, and a forty-five acre farm. Self-supporting colonists were able to obtain larger grants, but such grants were structured in fifty acre increments tied to the number of indentured servants supported by the grantee. Servants would receive a land grant of their own upon completing their term of service. No person was permitted to acquire additional land through purchase or inheritance. Oglethorpe and the first colonists arrived at South Carolina on the ship Ann in late 1732, and settled near the present site of Savannah, Georgia on 12 February 1733. He negotiated with the Yamacraw tribe for land and established (Oglethorpe became great friends with Chief Tomochichi, who was the chief of the Yamacraw) a series of defensive forts, most notably Fort Frederica, of which substantial remains can still be visited. He then returned to England and arranged to have slavery banned in Georgia. Oglethorpe and his fellow trustees were granted a royal charter for the Province of Georgia between the Savannah and Altamaha rivers on 9 June 1732. Georgia was a key contested area, lying in between the two colonies. It was Oglethorpe's idea that British debtors should be released from prison and sent to Georgia. Although it is often repeated that this would theoretically rid Britain of its so-called undesirable elements, in fact it was Britain's "worthy poor" whom Oglethorpe wanted in Georgia. Ultimately, few debtors ended up in Georgia. The colonists included many Scots whose pioneering skills greatly assisted the colony, and many of Georgia's new settlers consisted of poor English tradesmen and artisans and religious refugees from Switzerland, France and Germany, as well as a number of Jewish refugees. The colony's charter provided for acceptance of all religions except Roman Catholicism. The ban on Roman Catholic settlers was based on the colony's proximity to the hostile settlements in Spanish Florida.