Originally created 04/08/01

First Georgians poor, not crooked



In a March 26 letter in The Chronicle, "The immigrant problem began centuries ago," Carl Champlin referred to the first Georgians as "transported felons, debtors and indentured workers, brought here to empty the prisons in the mother country of England, Scotland and Wales."

In fact, the first Georgians were not felons, debtors or released prisoners. The late historians Albert Saye and E. Merton Coulter of the University of Georgia disproved that old myth in 1948, but in this case myth is more persistent than truth.

Georgia's founder, James Edward Oglethorpe, became famous for his campaign to improve conditions in British prisons, and his earliest inclination was to send released debtors to Georgia. However, that idea was lost sight of as the Georgia charter made its way through committees of Parliament.

The "deserving poor" were selected to become the first Georgians. The Georgia trustees screened the applicants and ruled out anyone in debt.

Edward J. Cashin, Augusta

(Editor's note: The writer is director, Center for the Study of Georgia History, Augusta State University.)