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Reading 1: Building a Planned Community
When Parliament chartered the colony of Georgia in 1732, Englishmen of all classes rallied to the idea of a new stronghold that would also serve as a utopia, or ideal society, in the American wilderness. The first shipload of 114 persons left England under the leadership of one of the colonys trustees, Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe (1696-1785). Reaching Georgia in 1733, this first group of settlers established a town on the Savannah River that they named Savannah. As settlement was not the only purpose in founding Georgia, Oglethorpe sailed down the coast in 1734 to look for strategic points to fortify against the Spanish. He found a likely site on a sea island just below the mouth of the Altamaha River. This was St. Simons, an island with thick forests, good water, and a fertile upland. He returned to England and recruited a group of settlers to accompany him back to St. Simons. On reaching the island in 1736, Oglethorpe and his settlers laid out a military fort and town, both named Frederica in honor of Frederick, Prince of Wales, King George IIs son.
The colonists first raised an earthen work designed according to the ideas of the 17th-century French military engineer Marshal Sebastien Le Prestrede. Over the next few years Oglethorpe and the colonists transformed this work into a formidable fort and its nearby town into a defensive community. The fort was manned by the settlers who constructed it until 1738, when Oglethorpe brought in a regiment from England. Frederica is protected, said a visitor in 1743, "by a pretty strong Fort of Tappy [sic] [tabby is a construction material like concrete made of oyster shells, lime, sand, and water], which has several 18-pounders mounted on a Ravelin [a triangular embankment that projects out from the main ditch of a fort so it will be closest to the enemy] in its Front, and commands the River both upwards and downwards; and is surrounded by a quadrangular Rampart [an elevated fortification], with 4 bastions [the projecting part of a rampart] of Earth well stockaded and turfed, and a pallisadoed [a wall of cedar posts] Ditch."1
Oglethorpe located the town adjacent to the fort on a large Indian cornfield. He staked out 84 lots, most of them measuring 60 by 90 feet. The main thoroughfare, which divided the town into two wards, was Broad Street. The street was 75 feet wide, shaded by orange trees, and ran from the fort to the town gates. Each family received a lot in town for building a house, one acre for a garden just outside the town, and 50 acres in the country to grow crops. The first houses were palmetto huts woven by a Brazilian that Oglethorpe brought to the colony for that purpose. Frances Moore, the towns first recorder, wrote that the palmetto huts were about 20 by 14 feet and that when viewed from a distance, the town looked like a tent city. Within a year those temporary houses gave way to substantial houses built of wood, tabby, and brick in the Georgian style popular at the time.
By 1739 the town was enclosed with a palisade, or wall of cedar posts 12 inches thick and set upright. The entrance to the enclosure was through two gates, one known as the land portal and the other as the water portal. The wall around the town gave a sense of security to the inhabitants, who knew they lived in constant danger. A moat, or ditch, was dug at the foot of the wall, and in case of attack a sluice gate could be opened to allow water from the river to enter.
The first colonists of St. Simons Island had been selected by Oglethorpe and the other trustees for their ability to contribute to Fredericas growth and prosperity. They included 44 men (mostly craftsmen) and 72 women and children.
Before these colonists left England, they signed Articles of Agreement promising to perform the duties for which they had been selected. They included a blacksmith, a wheelwright, and a public baker whom Oglethorpe brought over as an indentured servant. Others chosen to live in the new community were magistrates, constables, and tithingmen (those who collected monies due to the church), as well as a doctor, midwife, hatter, tailor, dyer, weaver, tanner, shoemaker, cordwainer, saddler, sawyer, woodcutter, carpenter, coachmaker, bricklayer, pilot, surveyor, accountant, tallow candler, cooper, locksmith, miller, and brewer (colonists were issued beer, but rum and other strong drinks were forbidden by the trustees as inappropriate for an ideal colony).
Throughout the 1730s the trustees made sure the people had a minister, whose salary came from the English Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts. First, Charles Wesley preached at Frederica, followed by his more famous brother John. These two brothers later founded Methodism. Another famous preacher, George Whitefield, established an orphanage in Savannah and often came to conduct services at Frederica. A magnetic speaker who figured prominently in the 18th-century religious revival known as the Great Awakening, Whitefield often preached outdoors because he drew large crowds to hear his sermons.
With the exception of lacking a church spire, Frederica in the 1740s might have passed for a village in the English midlands. Tradespeople and artisans prospered. Farmers successfully grew crops in the surrounding fields, doing the work themselves because slavery was forbidden in the colony of Georgia. Most families supplemented their diet with the abundant game of the region and with fish and shellfish from the river and the ocean. When increasing numbers of soldiers were brought in to protect against Spanish invasion, however, the character of the town changed. It became a supply center for the fort rather than the self-sustaining fortified town that Oglethorpe had planned.
Today we associate planned communities with models growing out of the imagination of architects, designers, and urban planners who are looking toward the future. Oglethorpe also designed for the future. If not a utopia, Frederica was a well-planned community and a reflection of Oglethorpes foresight and careful design.
Questions for Reading 1
1. Why did Oglethorpe continue to sail down the coast after founding Savannah? Why did he return to England?
2. What was the first task facing the settlers upon their arrival at St. Simons Island? What is an earthen work?
3. Where was the town located in regard to the fort? Why do you think that location was chosen?
4. What jobs were represented among the early settlers? Can you think of any other kinds of people who would have been needed to create a successful town? Try to define unfamiliar 18th-century occupations.
5. Why do you think Georgia's trustees considered it important for the new residents to have a minister?
Reading 1 was compiled from Nancy Aiken, "Fort Frederica National Monument" (Glynn County, Georgia) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1974; and the National Park Services visitors guide for Fort Frederica National Monument, 1992.
1As cited in the National Park Services visitors guide for Fort Frederica National Monument, 1992.