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Modern Voices
Betty Wood on Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia
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Q: Oglethorpe had been part of the Royal African Company. Can you help me understand that sort of duality in his character?
Betty Wood

A: James Oglethorpe was a member of the Royal African Company, as of course were many other English gentlemen. But I think that Oglethorpe's opposition to slavery in Georgia had to do with the specific functions of that colony. Oglethorpe never argued that racial slavery should be prohibited anywhere or everywhere else in North America. There's no evidence that Oglethorpe really was opposed to slavery outside of his one experimental colony. In this sense, one could say that in a specific place at a specific time, James Oglethorpe was anti-slavery.

But was James Oglethorpe, as it were, a friend of West Africans? A very famous case [is] James Oglethorpe's involvement in the freeing from slavery of the West African, Job Ben Solomon. And arguably, Oglethorpe's involvement in that particular case stemmed from the fact that Job Ben Solomon was an elite West African with whom Oglethorpe could see a gross miscarriage of justice. But there's no evidence at all that James Oglethorpe would have gone to bat for a field hand in the rice swamps of South Carolina.
Betty Wood
Professor of History
Oxford University

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