BLTC Press Titles

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Mortal Coils

Aldous Huxley

My Man Jeeves

P. G. Wodehouse

Tao Te Ching

Lao Tzu, James Legge (trans.)

The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour

Georgia History Stories

by Joseph Harris Chappell


James Oglethorpe was born at Westminster, England, on June 1st, 1689. While he was yet a babe in the cradle it might have been expected that he would become a great man, for he came of a family of great people. Six hundred years before he was born, one of his ancestors, Sheriff Oglethorpe, was a high officer in the English army and was killed in the famous Battle of Hastings while bravely fighting for his country against the invader, William the Conqueror. This brave soldier had many distinguished descendants, the greatest of whom was James Oglethorpe.

James's father, Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe, also was a noted officer in the English army. He fought with great valor in many battles and rose to the high rank of Major-General. When he was forty years old, he retired from the army and settled down in an elegant home in the little country town of Godalming, about thirty miles from London. He lived in great affluence with his family, and his children had the best educational advantages that could be obtained in Europe in that day. James's mother was a Scotch-Irish lady of fine family and of good education. She was counted one of the cleverest and shrewdest English women of her day. She was one of the Ladies of the Court to "Good Queen Anne" and was a leader in society and a power in politics. She was a woman of strong will and no doubt had great influence in forming the character of her distinguished son.

James grew to be a tall, lithe, handsome youth, quiet mannered, good natured, and high spirited. Here is a story that illustrates both his good nature and his high spirits: When a youth of seventeen, while on a visit to Paris, he was invited to dine in company with a number of distinguished military men. He sat at the table by the side of the Prince of Wurtemberg, an officer of high rank and a noted society man. The prince, thinking to have some fun at young Oglethorpe's expense, by a dexterous twirl of his glass flipped some drops of wine into his face. The prank was noticed by the company, and a smile went round the table. Young Oglethorpe did not relish being made a butt of ridicule, even by so great a man as the Prince of Wurtemberg, but he kept his temper. With a smile on his lips he said, in polite French, "Well done, prince; but we do it even better than that in England," whereupon he dashed a whole glass of wine full into the prince's face. The prince flushed with rage and it looked as if the affair would end in a serious difficulty, but an old officer on the other side of the table quickly exclaimed, "Come now, prince, don't get angry; it was rightly done by the youngster; you started it!" Then the prince joined the others in a hearty laugh and the incident passed off pleasantly.

Oglethorpe was educated at a military school, and before he was twenty he joined the English army. He served with the rank of ensign under the great Duke of Marlborough in the Flanders War. After the war was over, he withdrew from the army and attended college for a year or two, but he was a born soldier and did not like the "weak, piping times of peace." As England had no wars to fight at that time, he went over to the Continent and joined the Austrian army, which was then engaged in a war with the Turks. The leader of the Austrian army was Prince Eugene of Savoy, the most

brilliant soldier of his day. He was a small man but a great general, "a bright little soul with a flash in him as of heaven's own lightning," as Carlyle, the famous English writer, said of him. Prince Eugene took a very decided liking to young Oglethorpe and made him his aide-decamp, with the rank of Captain. By the side of this "bright little soul with a flash in him as of heaven's own lightning," Oglethorpe thoroughly learned the soldier's trade and fought with dashing valor in many desperate battles. These were his romantic days, and he always loved to talk about them. When he was an old, old man, nearly a hundred years old, he would charm brilliant company with his vivid descriptions of the battles in which he had fought by the side of Prince Eugene.

When the Turkish war was over, he returned to England and settled down to ways of peace. His father and elder brothers died, and he inherited the family estates. He was now a very rich man, but he lived a simple and sober life. He was elected to Parliament and served as a member for many years. While he was in Parliament, an event occurred that turned his attention toward America and caused him to become the founder of Georgia. This is how it happened:

There was a cruel law in England at that time by which a person in debt might be thrown into prison by his creditors and kept there until his debts were somehow paid. Many poor, unfortunate people, innocent of any crime, languished in these debtors' prisons. Oglethorpe had a dear friend, a Mr. Robert Castell, who was a scholar and an artist. He wrote a fine book on architecture, which he illustrated with splendid pictures drawn by his own hand. He was so much taken up with writing the book that he neglected his business affairs, and when the book was published instead of making money for him it brought him heavily in debt, .and he was condemned to be cast into the debtors' prison. In the prison to which he was assigned, smallpox was at that time raging, and he had never had the disease. He begged the prison keeper, a heartless wretch by the name of Bambridge, to let him lie in the common jail until the prison should be freed of the smallpox or until his friends could arrange to pay his debts for him, which he was sure would be done in the course of a few months. Bambridge agreed to do so if Castell would pay him down in cash a certain sum of money as a bribe, but poor Castell had not the money, so he was thrown into the smallpox-infested prison, where he soon contracted the disease; and after a few days' suffering he died an awful death, leaving his wife and little children poverty stricken and helpless.

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