The Origins of Georgia Settlers

Genealogy Tips by Jeannette Holland Austin

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Fleet Prison in London housed debtors. Some (but not all) of Georgia’s earliest settlers were from this prison.

Some of the best stories that you will ever find of your ancestors are found in the voluminous volumes of the Colonial Records of Georgia by Candler. These books may be found at the Georgia State Archives, Washington Memorial Library and Cobb Regional Library. Although a good many persons paid their own passage, the interesting stories surround those who appeared before the Earl of Egmont to present their case why their passage to America should be paid by the trustees. The letters to the Earl is full of information concerning their trade, events during passage and civil affairs. As one patiently reads those these volumes, the world of poor persons seeking a better life unfolds. James Oglethorpe was an advocate against the poor being imprisoned for debts and advertised his message in London newspapers. His belief was that poor people on the streets of London would make a better life for themselvs, if they had opportunity.

The first voyagers from England landed in 1733 at Ft. Royal, South Carolina and walked on foot into the virgin territory of the new colony of Georgia. Only the hardest-working persons survived hardships, heavy rains and drought. Not ten years passed before some persons who called themselves “malcontents” ran away to Charleston. Protestants from Austria who were ordered from the country by the Catholic Archbishop, first chose an undesirable location for their first site, later removing to Ebenezer, Georgia The German settlers were known to be trustworthy and hard-working.

One stormy night in 1734 when a sloop washed up on the Savannah shore with a dead crew and a handful of survivors, it was determined that its passengers were Irish prisoners. For this reason, Oglethorpe sent them to reside with the Germans in Ebenezer. Soon afterwards, the murder of one of its citizens caused a woman and two Irishmen to be hanged near the jail house in the square. The woman was hanged higher than the men, so as to avoid hysteria.

Essentially, Georgia’s first immigrants were English and Germans. The immigration lists included on Georgia Pioneers were found in the Colonial Records of Georgia. The later volumes of these books contain names of those who received land grants. If you have ancestors from some of the first voyages, there are tons of reasons to sit down and read these volumes.

The only ports in those days were in Charleston, Port Royal and later Savannah. Charleston is central to one’s colonial research. Considering the traffic from Europe and the West Indies to Charleston, this is an important place to search for ancestors. The South Carolina portion of Georgia Pioneers features images of old Wills from 1671 to 1782 here

A number of years ago, I extracted a great deal of information and added it to the “Colonial” section of Georgia Pioneers. One of my primary interests was to learn what happened to the first settlers. Thus, the “colonial” section includes biographical sketches of the first settlers, land grants, immigrants, town records, etc. Link for Members of Georgia Pioneers

Sources: The Colonial Records of Georgia by Candler online ; The Methodist Wesley brothers had a miserable time in Savannah. The Diary of John Wesley (available on the shelf at the Savannah Historical Society); online