A Charity Colony

LONDON PHILANTHROPISTS were trying to make Georgia fulfill a European dream. They were less interested in what was possible in America than in what had been impossible in Europe. Their ideals for the new colony were the Englishman’s picture of what such a colony ought to be: protector of the frontier, refuge for the unfortunate and unemployed of London, and source of valued semi-tropical products. In a sense, of course, the dreams of New England Puritans and Pennsylvania Quakers were also woven from European experience, but they possessed a theological generality.

No features of English society in the 18th century were more valued than security and dependence. Security came from the assurance of living in a network of familiar and predictable relationships. Squire Allworthy and Squire Western in Fielding’s Tom Joneswere symbols of the security which the English middle class could enjoy for itself and could, incidentally, confer on its dependent classes. The substantial squire who was a justice-of-the-peace, a pillar of respectability, a doer of good, a protector of the weak, and a defender of the national interest was no mere fiction. The obverse of the security he symbolized was dependence. It was the dependence of the honest peasant on his squire, of the squire on the noble lord, of the rector on his bishop, of the writer on his patron, and even the dependence of the noble Lord Egmont on Sir Robert Walpole and the Crown as the fountains of honor and profit. These and a thousand other dependencies gave English life the security and comfort it held for many. Such a system required, of course, the willingness of each party to accept the role assigned him by others. Nothing perhaps was more characteristic of English life, nor did anything more sharply distinguish it from life in the New World, than this set of well-assured relationships. Except for the people dislocated by enclosures or by early industrialism and for occasional vagrants, each man knew what was expected of him; and by doing that he could count on living respectably for his station in life.

For men who had been caught in this ancient web, much of the appeal of America was escape. Franklin, advising prospective immigrants to America, did not lure them with the paternal bounty of a just employer—rather with the fluidity and the promise of life here. It was precisely this openness which fired Crèvecoeur’s enthusiasm later in the century: in America the servile European could begin to have his will of the world—always at some risk of course—but that was what made him an American. The flavor of American life was compounded of risk, spontaneity, independence, initiative, drift, mobility, and opportunity. Even the American ideal of equality could not be imposed from above.

But the Georgia settlers suffered from the fact that they were in the hands of benefactors. While investors seek profits, benefactors pursue an abstract purpose. Investors are not unduly inquisitive about the conduct of their enterprises if they yield fair returns. But the benefactor’s dividend is in doing good in his own special way. The Trustees of Georgia were no exception.

The philanthropic motive of the founders was written into the very charter of the colony, which provided that no Trustee could hold any office, own any land, or gain any profit under it. Whatever the Trustees did was supposed to be solely for the benefit of the settlers or of Great Britain. Despite the storms of protest that battered the Georgia Trusteeship, no credible evidence was ever offered that any of the Trustees had, even in spirit, violated the terms of his trust.

The Trustees themselves contributed heavily to the support of the colony. Oglethorpe, as he on one occasion declared, had “not only ventured his life and health” and reputation but within five years, of the founding had laid out £3000 of his own money; by 1744 he had advanced, mostly for military purposes, over £90,000, all of which Parliament later repaid by unanimous vote. The people of England made numerous contributions in small sums without expecting to be repaid. Lord Egmont notes in his diary that one evening in June 1733, “an unknown hand sent me by a porter £30 for the poor of Georgia.” All over England sermons were delivered appealing for contributions. Again and again the Trustees were approached by people like Sir Edward Debouverie, whose father had left a general bequest of £500 for charitable uses, who gave the whole sum plus a similar amount of his own. The £18,000 raised by private subscription in the first eight years expressed the friendly interest of hundreds of parishioners who had been stirred to put their few shillings into collection-plates.

But much more was needed. Private charity could not support so vast an enterprise. The philanthropic purposes of the venture, together with its importance to imperial defense, repeatedly led members of Parliament to support Georgia by direct parliamentary grants—in sums which before the Trusteeship had expired totaled over £130,000. Never before—except for purely military purposes—had the British Government supported any of its colonies with public funds.

Crucial consequences flowed from these subsidies. Since Georgia’s public expenses were covered by the gifts of charitable individuals or by governmental appropriations from England, there was no need for the colonists to pay taxes; and hence no representative assembly was needed to levy taxes. For many years there was no foundation for self-government in Georgia. The settlers of the colony, who would otherwise presumably have been confined to a London jail or have wandered the streets without employment, were public beneficiaries. As wards of the community, they were without any right to complain.

London philanthropists had carefully provided for the needs of the colonists as they saw them. We have some notion of the extent of that care from the “Rules for the year 1735,” as recorded by Francis Moore, who was the keeper of the stores:

The Trustees intend this year to lay out a county, and build a new town in Georgia.

They will give to such persons as they send upon the charity, To every man, a watch-coat; a musket and bayonet; a hatchet; a hammer; a handsaw; a shod shovel or spade; a broad hoe; a narrow hoe; a gimlet; a drawing knife; an iron pot, and a pair of pot-hooks; a frying pan; and a public grindstone to each ward or village. Each working man will have for his maintenance in the colony for one year (to be delivered in such proportions, and at such times as the Trust shall think proper) 312 lbs. of beef or pork; 104 lbs. of rice; 104 lbs. of Indian corn or peas; 104 lbs. of flour; 1 pint of strong beer a day to a man when he works and not otherwise; 52 quarts of molasses for brewing beer; 16 lbs. of cheese; 12 lbs. of butter; 8 oz. of spice; 12 lbs. of sugar; 4 gallons of vinegar; 24 lbs. salt; 12 quarts of lamp oil, and 1 lb. spun cotton; 12 lbs. of soap.

To the mothers, wives, sisters or children of such men for one year, that is to say, to every person of the age of 12 years and upwards, the following allowance, (to be delivered as before,) 260 lbs. of beef or pork; 104 lbs. of rice; 104 lbs. of Indian corn or peas; 104 lbs. of flour; 52 quarts of molasses for brewing beer; 16 lbs. of cheese; 12 lbs. of butter; 8 oz. of spice; 12 lbs. of sugar; 4 gallons of vinegar; 24 lbs. of salt; 6 quarts of lamp oil; half lb. of spun cotton; 12 lbs. of soap.

For every person above the age of seven, and under the age of twelve, half the said allowance, being esteemed half a head.

And for every person above the age of two, and under the age of seven, one third of said allowance, being esteemed one third of a head.

The trustees pay their passage from England to Georgia; and in the voyage they will have in every week four beef days, two pork days, and one fish day….

Such provisions for the emigrants to Georgia have more the ring of a well-run jail or of a mercenary army than of a colony of free men seeking their fortune in a new world.

The minutes of the Trustees and their Common Council (the governing body of Georgia which met in London) reek with paternalism. Thomas Causton, official storekeeper of the colony, had reportedly declared in public that the colonists “had neither lands, rights or possessions; that the trustees gave and that the trustees could freely take away.” If an officer had been brave beyond the call of duty, Oglethorpe appealed to the Trustees to reward him because “no Society can subsist without rewarding those Who do well, and punishing those Who do ill.” If there was to be a schoolmaster or a midwife at Savannah, the Trustees in London had to include compensation in the year’s budget. The Trustees appropriated a saucepan as solemnly as they did the material for making bodices for twenty-six of the women from Salzburg. In a word, the Trustees had taken upon themselves control of the daily lives of people whom they barely knew, living in a land they themselves had never seen.

“The Board will always do what is right,” declared the Trustees unanimously at a meeting in July 1735, “and the people should have confidence in us.” This arrogance, or at best, condescension, in the rulers bred dependence and discontent in the ruled. Georgia settlers complained of their food, shelter, and equipment, and awaited, or demanded, remedies from the good fathers in distant London. After the first year of guaranteed subsistence, settlers who found the going rough demanded another year’s security. The Trustees had little choice but to comply. The efforts of the Trustees to keep the colonists happy and well-supplied postponed the day of their independence.

As early as 1739, Lord Percival saw financial trouble ahead if the paternalistic policy were continued. While the sponsors found themselves more and more deeply involved, the colonists were neither prosperous nor hopeful. In Georgia these needy English city-folk suffered not only from their common weaknesses of character, but from lack of the special skills of the backwoodsman. Before long the Trustees had to concede that the poor “who had been useless in England, were inclined to be useless in Georgia likewise.”

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