Today's popular culture often gives false impressions. For instance, even today northerners look down on southerners for their slavery traditions.
You would be hard-pressed to know that the first colony in America to legalize slavery was the northern colony of Massachusetts. Quickly followed by Connecticut.
And the last colony to drop the ban on slavery in America, a century after Massachusetts?
That would be Georgia.
If that sounds strange to you, its probably because you are thinking in terms of modern morality. Georgia didn't ban slavery because the people there opposed the idea of slavery.
What's more, they didn't drop the ban on slavery because their attitudes on the practice changed. No, Georgia dropped the ban on slavery because the Spanish cut off the ear of an English smuggler.
General James Oglethorpe
Georgia's corporate charter was granted on April 21, 1732, to General James Oglethorpe. A Yamacraw indian village occupied the land where Oglethorpe was to found the city of Savannah, but he simply moved the indians aside. The colony was named after King George II.
Savannah circa 1730
From the very beginning the colony was dominated by its strategic distinction - it was in a disputed region between Spanish Florida and British South Carolina with both sides claiming the region.
What made it particularly troubling for the British colonists was the fact that Spain simply didn't have enough colonists to adequately populate and defend its Florida colony. To partially compensate for this, Spain offered freedom and land to anyone willing to emigrate to Florida and serve in the militia - that included runaway slaves.
Hence you can see Oglethorpe's dilemma and South Carolina's concern.
With the threat of Spanish invasion hanging over his head, Oglethorpe convinced the Georgia Trustees to oppose slavery in the colony for military reasons. The Georgia Trustees instead turned to indentured servants and debt slaves from England. England had been forceably exporting its social problems to colonies for over a century at this point.
This did not sit well with many colonists who were convinced that Georgia could not develop economically without negro slaves. However, security trumped enterprise and in 1735 the Georgia Trustees convinced convinced the House of Commons to pass legislation prohibiting slavery in the Georgia Colony.
Thus Georgia became the only American colony opposing slavery, and one of the few in the world.
All the colonies suffered from acute labor shortages in their early days. The idea of the Georgia Trustees was to get their labor shipped to them for Britain - mostly from prisons. Oglethorpe was especially keen on having prisoners from debtor prisons sent to Georgia. Since British laws at the time made it a crime to be homeless or deeply in debt, Britain was slowly exporting an entire lower economic class overseas.
The first example of the flaws of this plan were exposed less than a year after slavery was abolished.
In March 1736, a group of 40 or 50 Irish felons met in a tippling house in Savannah to trade stolen goods and formed "plots and treasonable Designs against the Colony". They were second-class citizens, sent by force to the edge of a howling wilderness with no real economic prospects.
Eventually their plan coalesced around killing all the white aristocrats, burn the town to the ground, then meet up with a band of nomadic indians and make their escape. The conspirators would know each other by a "Red String about the right wrist".
The plot was foiled, and the conspirators suffered. Nevertheless, if the current labor force was a security concern, then how would negro slaves be worse?
By the late 1730's a strong movement to reverse the ban on slavery was underway. The pro-slavery group was known simply as the Malcontents. The group's leaders were scottish immigrants Patrick Tailfer and Thomas Stephens. The Trustees were bombarded with letters and petitions demanding the ban be reversed, but their efforts failed to make any headway.
The War of Jenkin's Ear
Robert Jenkins was the captain of the brig Rebecca in 1731.
By the Treaty of Seville, Britain was barred from trading with Spain's colonies in the new world. However, a smuggler could make a nice profit if they managed to avoid the Spanish coast guard. Jenkins wasn't a good enough captain to avoid them. His ship was boarded and he was punished by having his ear cut off.
The incident was largely ignored until 1738, when the British government was looking for new ways to expand their military and economic empire. Jenkins was invited to testify before the House of Commons. In dramatic fashion, Jenkins unveiled a jar containing his pickled ear before the astonished legislatures.
On October 23, 1739, Prime Minister Robert Walpole signed a declaration of war against Spain, and Georgia became the front line, although most of the fighting was to be done thousands of miles away.
Oglethorpe was first and foremost a military general. So when war started he organized 200 men in January 1740 and raided two Spanish forts in northern Florida.
The successful mission emboldened him to launch a much larger raid against St. Augustine in May of that year. On June 4, Oglethorpe's forces attacked the town, but Spanish defenses proved too strong. After a month-long siege Oglethorpe was forced to withdraw back to Georgia.
The Battle of Bloody Marsh
It took a while, but the Spanish eventually organized an army of about 5,000 men, led by governor Manuel de Montiano, for the invasion of Georgia in June 1742. Oglethorpe got wind of the invasion force and prepared to meet it at St. Simon Island.
Oglethorpe's forces numbered less than 1,000, and were a motley crew at that, a mixture of local militia, indians, and soldiers. Oglethorpe built two small forts on the island, Ft. Simon and Ft. Frederica. Oglethorpe abandoned Ft. Simon after the Spanish forces had outflanked him. The Spanish then advanced on Fort Frederica.
Early on the morning of Wednesday, July 7, several Spanish scouts advanced northward toward Fort Frederica to assess the landscape and plan their attack. They met a body of English rangers at approximately nine o'clock, and the two units exchanged shots. Oglethorpe learned of the engagement, mounted a horse, and galloped to the scene, followed by reinforcements. He charged directly into the Spanish line, which scattered when the additional forces arrived. Oglethorpe posted a detachment to defend his position and returned to Frederica to prevent another Spanish landing on the northern coast and to recruit more men.
During midafternoon of the same day, the Spanish sent more troops into the region, and the English forces fired upon them from behind the heavy cover of brush in the surrounding marshes. This ambush, coupled with mass confusion within the smoke-filled swamp, resulted in another Spanish defeat despite Oglethorpe's absence. This second engagement earned its name the Battle of Bloody Marsh from its location rather than from the number of casualties, which were minimal, especially on the English side (about fifty men, mostly Spanish, were killed).
The Spanish morale was destroyed by these engagements, and the army withdrew shortly afterwards. Georgia had been saved.
With the Spanish threat no longer an issue the primary justification for the slavery ban vanished. South Carolina slavers began exporting slaves into Georgia despite the ban, as Georgia settlers simply ignored the law.
The Trustees sensed the changing atmosphere and began negotiating with the House of Commons on how best to repeal the ban.
These consultations were completed by 1750. The Trustees asked the House of Commons to replace the Act of 1735 with one that would permit slavery in Georgia as of January 1, 1751.
Because the slave owners of South Carolina were significantly more wealthy, they enjoyed an undue amount of influence in Georgia. In 1755 they had the slave code replaced with one that was virtually identical to South Carolina's.
Between 1750 and 1775, the number of slaves in Georgia grew from 500 to over 18,000.