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Oglethorpe the Negotiator

By Arlene Angwin


Oglethorpe scanned the shore of the New World. Soon, the Ann would dock in Charleston.

Passengers pressed against the ship’s rail for their first glimpse of land in many weeks. Well

pleased, Oglethorpe rubbed his hands together.

Sent by the Georgia Board of Trustees in London, his task was to create a colony to protect

South Carolina (founded in 1680) from Spanish held Florida (founded in 1565). The trustees had

decided to name the newest and thirteenth American colony after their monarch, King George

III. Knowing the Spanish claimed the area from the St. Mary River all the way to the Savannah,

the English knew this land would be disputed — perhaps by blood.

Protestant England was at war with Catholic Spain as both superpowers struggled for

preeminence in Europe. England had seen her share of bloodshed from the time Henry VIII

broke from the Catholic Church (finalized in 1533) to marry his lover, Anne Boleyn. After

Henry’s death, his son (ascended the throne at age 9 years) carried on the tradition of

Protestantism, but died a few years later.

Next in line was Henry’s eldest child and daughter of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Mary

had suffered the deep humiliation of watching her mother become an outcast and herself declared

a bastard. After a short civil war, Mary I emerged victorious — and determined to return

England to Catholicism. Many refused, only to meet their fate at the stake. After a five year reign

of terror, earning her the moniker of “Bloody Mary”, she died. Her Protestant half-sister, and

Protestant, Elizabeth I, ascended the throne and reigned long enough to return stability to the

land. For many years, Europe had also fought war after war over the “true” religion, which kings

used to maintain the loyalty of their subjects. Thousands of people fled Europe and settled in

America to escape persecution. As the Quakers had in New England, two groups, the

Salzburgers of Austria and the Moravians of Bohemia sought asylum in the new colony of

Georgia.

England needed Georgia to protect South Carolina. Originally, Oglethorpe had envisioned a land

where people could settle and keep them out of debtor’s prison. Understanding the need for

skilled craftsmen, he never saw the fulfillment of that dream. Instead, he carefully screened each

family requesting voyage, basing his choices on their expertise. Once finished, he sailed from

Gravesend, England, on November 17, 1732, with 114 settlers.

The Ann first docked at Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina. Oglethorpe went ashore,

while the new colonists waited aboard the ship. There, he met the governor and learned of a

couple who had recently settled on the Savannah River to run a trading post. Both were born of

native mothers and European fathers. The governor assured Oglethorpe they could serve as

translators between himself and the local leader, Mico Tomochichi, when he landed in Georgia.


Oglethorpe had engaged a smaller boat to take him up the Savannah River in search of the best

place to settle. He discovered Yamacraw Bluff 17 miles upriver and home to Tomochichi’s small

tribe of followers. After finding the Musgrove trading post, Oglethorpe asked to meet the aged

mico. Once he had been summoned, John Musgrove handled most of the translating, even

though Mary’s knowledge of English was better. He remained the primary translator until his

death a few years later.

Oglethorpe had arrived in America determined to treat the leader and all natives with respect and

fairness. Tomochichi expressed several pressing concerns during those first negotiations. First

and foremost, he wanted fair trade practices. He knew the English traders were cheating his

people. However, the French traders to the west and the Spanish to the south had treated the

natives even worse, so he had decided to work only with the English.

Besides fair trading, Tomochichi insisted the native children be educated like the English. He

seemed to know that their way of life would fade away with the coming of so many Europeans.

He wanted those future generations to be empowered with knowledge. His third request was to

educate his people in the English religion. For all its faults, he still considered it better than

native superstitions and beliefs.

In return, Oglethorpe would receive the land that lay between the Savannah and Altamaha (60

miles south) rivers. The mico requested a council of 8 other local leaders to aid in negotiations.

They also relinquished control of several sea islands, while keeping the rest for hunting and

fishing. After a successful conclusion, Tomochichi hosted a huge celebration, with both sides

satisfied over the terms.

Oglethorpe and the mico’s friendship, based on mutual trust and respect, remained firm until

Tomochichi’s death six years later.

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