The Georgia colony was unique among Britain’s American colonies. It was founded in 1732 as a penal colony for the “worthy” poor in the disputed territory between the British Carolina colonies and Spanish Florida. It was the last British colony established on the Atlantic seaboard.
Fearing the possible northward expansion of Spain, the British Crown granted General James Oglethorpe and a board of trustees a charter for settling the land between the Savannah and the Altamaha Rivers. Oglethorpe believed that he could give London paupers a fresh start in the New World, while also thwarting any Spanish aggression. Immigration was encouraged, but the terms were not generous. A head of household could claim a grant of 50 acres of land and an additional 50 acres for each servant. On the other hand, one could not amass more than 500 acres of land and could pass it down only to an eldest son; otherwise, the land reverted to the trustees. Slavery was prohibited.
Because the trustees in London retained total control of the government of Georgia, the colonists complained from the beginning. They harried Oglethorpe and the trustees into making fundamental reforms. In 1738, land and inheritance laws were made more liberal, and in 1750, settlers were allowed to import slaves. In 1751, Georgia was returned to the Crown, which authorized an assembly. With the purchase of large tracts of lands from local Indian tribes in 1763, 1766, and 1773, the government was able to attract a wide variety of settlers seeking lands of “the most fertile quality,” most notably several thousand Scots-Irish who arrived by way of Charleston, as well as small numbers of Austrian Lutherans and Moravians and a Jewish community in Savannah. The coastal region remained predominantly English, while the backcountry filled with what historian Bernard Bailyn called “a remarkably poly-ethnic and poly-linguistic community.”