James Edward Oglethorpe by Joyce Knight Blackburn

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James Edward Oglethorpe Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Blackburn portrays Oglethorpe much as a novelist would develop a well-rounded character—by showing faults and vulnerability as well as heroic qualities. Oglethorpe, described as “defensive and belligerent” at the age of twenty-five, matures to a responsible decision maker in Parliament and a respected military leader. Blackburn does not omit uncomplimentary facts, such as his dropping out of college or killing a man in a barroom brawl during his early years, or the charges against him of incompetence and the mismanagement of funds in connection with the settlement and defense of Georgia. Instead, she balances these flaws with favorable accounts from his contemporaries and factual information, such as the money that Oglethorpe spent from his own fortune in order to defend Georgia. The reader is left to speculate about Oglethorpe’s actual position regarding the Jacobites; his mother and sister openly supported Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, but Oglethorpe led a regiment to defend England against invasion by Jacobites.

Blackburn uses several events to illuminate the personality of Oglethorpe. As a member of the House of Commons, Oglethorpe instigated an investigation of England’s debtors’ prisons. Blackburn writes vivid descriptions of the deplorable conditions of the prisons and of the bribery and extortion that were common within the prison system. Oglethorpe’s part in the passage of the Debtors Act of 1730, which protected the rights of debtors and outlawed the bribery of officials, underscores his integrity and humanitarianism. Blackburn emphasizes Oglethorpe’s respect for and friendship with the Creeks, his acceptance and support of religious diversity in the colony, and his insistence that Parliament outlaw slavery and the sale of liquor in Georgia. She describes him as “a champion of equality, justice, and tolerance several decades before Franklin and Jefferson.”

The reader sees history from Oglethorpe’s point of view. He was British and served as a representative of the British government, rather than as a colonist who intended to remain in Georgia. Because it was in the best interests of England for the colony to be successful militarily and economically, these issues were important to Oglethorpe, but he never intended to make Georgia his home. Although he was well aware that the colony was being established within territory already claimed by Spain, he believed that the colony was necessary to protect British interests in the...

(The entire section is 589 words.)