The 'Special Relationship' - Georgia and the Remains of General Oglethorpe

By Hudson, Paul Stephen | Contemporary Review, September 1993 | Go to article overview

The 'Special Relationship' - Georgia and the Remains of General Oglethorpe


Hudson, Paul Stephen, Contemporary Review


On Sunday, October 10, in the Victorian parish church of All Saints, in Cranham, Essex one of those little ceremonies that mark and perpetuate the |special relationship' between Britain and America will take place. On this autumn Sunday representatives of Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia will read proclamations, lay roses and place a laurel wreath on the tomb of General James Edward Oglethorpe, revered in America as the founder of the Colony of Georgia. On the same day a memorial service will be held at the University campus in Atlanta, the state capital. The joint ceremonies will also commemorate the efforts of the man without whom these ceremonies would not take place. Ultimately the special relationship between Britain and America is as much between peoples with a shared heritage as between nations with a shared history.

GENERAL James Oglethorpe (1696-1785), never regarded the American outpost as his home. Oglethorpe, the leader among the Trustees charged with administering the colony, arrived with the original body of colonists in 1733 at Yamacraw Bluff near the site of Savannah on the Georgia coast. About a year and a half later, in June 1734, he returned to England with eight Yamacraw Indians in tow. The trip was a political and public relations success, and in 1736, Oglethorpe returned to the town he bad founded, Savannah, armed with increased assurances of British support for the new colony named in honour of King George II. Late that year, the founder of Georgia went back to London again--this time with military matters in the forefront of his attention. Back in Georgia in 1738, the general arrived at Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island in September. Following two years of inconclusive military action, in 1742 Oglethorpe was victorious in turning a Spanish invasion attempt at the pivotal Battle of Bloody Marsh. The following year, with the threat from the south apparently eliminated and with the colony solidly, if somewhat factiously, established, James Oglethorpe left Georgia for the last time. Back home in England, Oglethorpe married the wealthy Elizabeth Wright and settled on her ancestral estate, Cranham Hall, in Essex, about sixteen miles outside London. Oglethorpe's fame as a colonizer had reached its zenith in 1743, and his exploits as a military leader were confined to his Fort Frederica days. He spent most of the next forty years quietly as a country gentleman who often visited the London literati, especially his friend, Samuel Johnson.

In 1785, at age eighty-eight, General Oglethorpe died, and his wife had him buried in the family vault under the chancel of the ancient parish church of All Saints in Cranham. Two years later, Elizabeth Oglethorpe died and was laid to rest beside her husband. Before her death, Elizabeth showed the foresight to have a large plaque extolling her husband's achievements engraved and mounted on the wall of All Saints Church. In the ensuing 130 years, memory and recognition of James Oglethorpe's accomplishments faded in his native England, if not in the American state that was his legacy. A great tribute to the general came in Atlanta in 1913 with the revival of Oglethorpe University. Originally established near Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1835, the institution had folded during the Civil War. The key figure in the university's twentieth-century reestablishment was its president, Dr. Thornwell Jacobs.

The energetic college president, who ardently studied the life of his institution's namesake, in 1922 undertook a trip to England to visit key sites associated with Oglethorpe. Jacobs attended a conference at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where an irregularly attending Oglethorpe was on the rolls from 1714 to 1727. Jacobs was sorely disappointed to discover that the college had neither a memorial to nor a portrait of its distinguished honorary alumnus. Even more distressing to the American educator was his realization that the exact location of the Georgia founder's tomb was no longer known, due to the demolition and reconstruction of All Saints Church. …

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