James Edward Oglethorpe & Westbrook Place, Godalming
The Manor of Westbrook
In July 1688, Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe purchased the Manors of Westbroke and Binscombe, and the house known as Westbroke Place.
James Edward Oglethorpe was born 1696
Theophilus had returned to Godalming and, in the late Autumn of 1696, took the oath of loyalty to William III. The year was also marked for Theophilus and Eleanor, by the birth of James Edward Oglethorpe, their tenth and last child, on December 22nd 1696. (Click here for the early Oglethorpe family). He was born in London, and christened the following day at St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields Church by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Oglethorpe as the soldier
He had been enrolled into Queen Anne’s 1st Regiment of Foot Guards when only 10 years, but this was mainly a ceremonial regiment. Oglethorpe had some education at Eton and in 1711 at the age of 15 he entered the military academy at Lompres, near Paris. In 1714 he entered Corpus Christi College, Oxford.
In 1716 war between the Turks and Austrians gave him the chance to enroll with the Austrian Imperial army under Prince Eugene of Savoy, As a young man he served in Germany and Hungary under Prince Eugene, to whom he was secretary and aide-de-camp. He fought in 1716 at the battle of Petrovardin, and in the siege of Timisora. In 1717 he fought the Turks at the battle of Belgrade.
This painting of Oglethorpe as an Aide-de Camp hangs in Solomon's Lodge, the Masonic Lodge in Savannah of which Oglethorpe was a founding member.
Picture courtesy Ed Jackson,
University of Georgia
Oglethorpe inherits Westbrook Place and Manors of Westbrook and Binscombe
In 1718, as he was the remaining son, Oglethorpe came into his inheritance at Westbrook, at the age of 22. His five brothers had all died, three in infancy, and his four sisters, who were alive, were not allowed to inherit.
Oglethorpe as an MP, prison reformer, and philanthropist
At the age of 25, in 1722, he became in his turn a candidate for Parliament, and was elected Member of Parliament for Haslemere, following his father, and two brothers. He continued to serve being successful in the elections in 1727, 1734, 1741 and 1747 but lost is seat in 1754.
When Oglethorpe became Member of Parliament he soon became aware of causes needing correction - one special cause was the condition and management of the English prisons. He gathered together a band of like-minded Parliamentarians, and pressed for the formation of a special committee to draw up suitable legislation - the committee was formed and Oglethorpe became its Chairman in 1729 to enquire into the state of the British prisons. The group held many meetings most of which took place at Westbrook, and the house became noted for social and political gatherings. A measure was duly introduced into Parliament which resulted in an improvement in prison conditions, the release of many short-time debtors and the removal of some of the worst warders and overseers.
Oglethorpe as a horticulturalist
Oglethorpe built a massive wall up the terraced hill on his property and planted a great vineyard along it. The warm spell of weather in 1730 coincided with the installation of the vineyard at Westbrook, and it is on record that the vineyard flourished for some years, yielding a plentiful supply of grapes, sufficient for wine-making. A visit by Dr. Richard Pococke in November 1754 found at ‘General Oglethorpe’s there is a vineyard, out of which they make a wine like Rhenish’.
Oglethorpe conceives the idea of a colony in America
Oglethorpe conceived the idea of founding a thirteenth British colony in America, and as a place for those who were poverty-stricken Britons and European refugees, and of religious tolerance. It was a philanthropic move but also it was seen as a military tactic to protect the established colonies of New Bern and Charleston (now North and South Carolina). Oglethorpe formed the Georgia Society in 1730, who petitioned ‘that the cities of London, Westminster, and parts adjacent, do abound with great numbers of indigent persons, who are reduced to such necessity as to become burthensome to the public, and who could be willing to seek a livelihood in any part of his majesty’s plantations in America, if they were provided with passage, and means of settling there’.
The official charter to establish the colony was signed on the 21st April 1732 by King George II to "the Trustees for establishing the Colony of Georgia in America".
Oglethorpe may have ascertained that the mulberry tree flourished in the area where he contemplated setting up the new colony, and so he trained many of his prospective settlers in the care of the silkworm the winding preparation and use of the silken etc. For this purpose he brought over a number of experts from Italy to train his workers. He also had experience of growing vines at Westbrook Place and Godalming already had a thriving woollen industry on which the prosperity of the town depended. He chose his settlers wisely including all trades and professions to establish a working colony of people.
The first settlers
The first 115 settlers sailed with Oglethorpe in 1732, on the 17th November, from Gravesend in the ship ‘Ann’. The full list of settlers showing their names, ages, families and their trades and professions can be seen at
under "Georgia Settlers".
The first journey.
It took them two months before they arrived at Charleston, South Carolina, on the 13th January 1733. Oglethorpe, after looking for a suitable location and finding Yamacraw Bluffs on the Savannah River in Georgia, returned to the colonists. They made there way reaching the site on the 12th February 1733 (new style) to make their settlement, and set about laying out a rectangular plan for their town of Savannah in the new colony of Georgia. In the summer of 1733 more colonists arrived, including Moravians in 1735. As well as enlisting fresh settlers for the new colony Oglethorpe returned to England in May 1734 to raise further funds for extending his work in Georgia.
Oglethorpe and Chief Tomochichi
Oglethorpe had befriended the American Indians, and had made an effort to know their customs, and to have good relationships with them. He befriended the Mico, or Chief, Tomochichi, who was 16 years older
Picture © Copyright: The Trustees of The British Museum
When Oglethorpe returned to London he brought back with him ten American Indians, members of the Yamacraw tribe - an outlawed tribe of the Creeks, - including the Yamacraw Chief, and his friend, Tomochichi, his wife, Scanauki, and his nephew and heir, Toonahowi.
They were taken to Whitehall and Eton, and many other places where they caused quite a stir. Unfortunately during their stay in London one of the Indians, Stimalchi, contracted smallpox. Oglethorpe’s friend, Sir Hans Sloane, physician, came to minister to him but he died. He was buried in the graveyard of St John the Evangelist Church in Smith Square, Westminster. The Indians ‘went to Mr Oglethorpe’s in Surrey to dissipate their sorrow’, and isolated themselves at Westbrook. Oglethorpe had them to stay at Westbrook for a period of about four months.
On one occasion, Oglethorpe caused a sensation in Godalming, by bringing the Indians to dine at the White Hart Inn.
|This postcard shows what the inn may have looked like in c.1895. It has “Old White Hart 1640” written at the bottom, but an earlier inn “The Antelope” stood here from c.1570.
|In 2005 it is no longer an inn
Tomochichi died in Georgia on the 5th October 1739. He had requested that he be buried among his English friends, rather than in his ancestral burial ground, and Oglethorpe arranged a state funeral. He was buried in Percival Square, now renamed Wright Square in Savannah.
Oglethorpe and the Wesley Brothers
Oglethorpe had other notable visitors to Westbrook, the Wesley brothers. Their father, the Rev. Samuel Wesley, had been a good friend of Oglethorpes, and in 1734, about six months before he died, he had asked him to find a place in the colony for his widowed, son-in-law the Rev. John Whitelamb. Samuel Wesley, junior, the poet, was also a good friend to James and he and his brother Charles accompanied Oglethorpe to Georgia in order to minister both to colonists and Indians.
The Next Two Trips
In October 1735, Oglethorpe with Ingham and the two Wesley brothers left Gravesend in the ‘Simmonds’ for Georgia for a second time. Charles Wesley became Oglethorpe’s Secretary for Indian Affairs at Fredrica but returned, while John Wesley stayed on to found an orphanage, and became chaplain at Savannah.
During this time Oglethorpe captured St Augustine from the Spanish, and founded Augusta on the Savannah side and Frederica Fort on St Simon’s island. He was given a commission as General and Commander-in Chief in 1737 for his Majesty’s provinces in South Carolina and Georgia. In November 1736, after one year in Georgia, Oglethorpe returned to London.
Oglethorpe returned to Georgia for the third time in July 1738 and remained until July 1743 as Commander-in-chief of all British Forces in Carolina and Georgia. In 1738 he bought with him a volunteer muster of 600 soldiers. War with Spain broke out in 1739.
Oglethorpe and ‘Jekyll Island’
In 1742 he defeated the Spanish who occupied the islands of Guale at the Battle of Bloody Marsh on St Simon’s Island, such that the Spanish were no longer a threat to Georgia and the British colonies. In 1743 Oglethorpe was promoted to Brigadier General, whereas before the title of General had been one of an honorary nature.
He was responsible for the first English resident on the island of Ospo and changed the name to Jekyll Island. One of Oglethorpe's friends, Sir Joseph Jekyll, Master of the Rolls (1662-1738) had donated £500 towards the settlement and Oglethorpe commemorated this gift by naming the coastal island after him. Joseph Jekyll is related to Gertrude Jekyll, the well-known gardener, who lived Godalming, as she was his great-great-great-granddaughter.
Oglethorpe finally leaves Georgia
James Oglethorpe finally left Georgia on 23rd July 1743, returning to England to face various charges laid against him by disaffected colonists and others; he cleared himself of much of the calumny attached to his name and secured at last the repayment of his own monies (some £66,000) which he had used in establishing the colony.
This is a poster made for the 300th anniversary of Oglethorpe's birthday depicting the portrait which hangs in the Oglethorpe University. The portrait was painted in 1744 and discovered in England and taken to America to hang in the President's office at Oglethorpe University, Georgia
Picture courtesy Ed Jackson,
University of Georgia
In September 1744, Oglethorpe, at the age of 48, married an heiress, Lady Elizabeth Wright, daughter of Sir Nathan Wright of Cranham Hall in Essex, in Westminster Abbey. They spent their honeymoon at Westbrook, attended by a Chickasaw Indian Chief who had accompanied him to England. In due course the Oglethorpes settled at Elizabeth's home in Essex, and Westbrook saw little more of the Squire.
In October 1744 Oglethorpe signed a deed of counterparts of conveyance of a small piece of land, which was adjoined to a footpath leading from Mill Lane to Godalming Church. This, and an earlier deed of 1734, are on display in the Godalming Museum.
Oglethorpe made General
On March 30th, 1745, Oglethorpe was created Major General, to serve under the Duke of Cumberland. After subsequent maneuvers and excursions Oglethorpe was eventually court-martialed for “lingering on the road” in December 1745, but was acquitted. IN 1747 he was promoted to Lieutenant-General but his career as an active soldier was finished.
|This is an engraving of a portrait of General Oglethorpe c.18th century after a sculpture by Simon Francois Ravenet (who also engraved Hon. Arthur Onslow of Clandon and Sir Joseph Jekyll).
Oglethorpe in Retirement
After his acquittal James retired more and more from public affairs and turned his interest to becoming a patron of the arts. On the 9th November 1749 the Honble Lieutenant General James Oglethorpe of Lisle Street, London (‘a Gentleman well versed in Natural History, Mathematicks and all branches of Polite Literature’) was elected a Member of the ‘Royal Society’ in London. Also on the same date, Philip Carteret Webb Esqr, of Budge Row, London (‘being a Gentm every way qualified to be an useful and valuable member’) was elected. Oglethorpe had a country home at Westbrook and Webb had his at Busbridge Hall, they were neighbours.
These two men were to meet again when they contested the Parliamentary seat for Haslemere. Webb along with James More Molyneux stood jointly for the election, building support by the conversion of leaseholds into freeholds, and were elected in April 1754, defeating James Edward Oglethorpe and Peter Burrel. Oglethorpe had held the seat for 32 years since 1722 and had seen seven parliaments.
It was at Oglethorpe’s instigation, as one of the trustees and executors of his friend, Sir Hans Sloane, that the Government purchased the Sloane Collection, which became the nucleus of the British Museum.
Oglethorpe passes away in his 89th year
In old cartoon shows the aged General Oglethorpe, aged 88, just before he died. Underneath it is written that he was 102 (sic), said to be the oldest General in Europe, sketched from life at the sale of Dr Johnson’s books, 18th February 1785, where he was reading a book he had purchased, without spectacles! Oglethorpe died on 3Oth June 1785, in his 89th year. General James Oglethorpe lived to a great age with a very fine and full record of service to Westbrook, to the state of Georgia, which he founded, and to his native country. He is buried in the Chancel of All Saints, Cranham, near Upminster, Essex.
After Oglethorpe’ Death