The original impetus for creating the colony of Georgia was philanthropic. Founder James Oglethorpe was horrified by suffering of men thrown into prisons in England for debts, and proposed to give these unfortunates a fresh start in a new land. By the time the first group of settlers was pulled together, this theme had faded, and only a small number of languishing debtors ever relocated to Georgia.
Yet there remained, in the settling of Georgia, a heavy commitment to helping “unfortunates”—particularly persons who had been persecuted because of their religion. These included Salzburgers oppressed by Austrian Catholics, Moravians from Germany, Swiss religious dissenters, and Scottish Presbyterians.
A private bequest of 5,000 English pounds, numerous private donations, and funds from the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge paid for 800 foreign Protestants to be relocated to Georgia and provided with tools, seed, and land. Their religious liberties were explicitly protected in the colony’s charter. In 1733, 42 Jews arrived—the largest group of Jewish settlers in the New World to that point, instantly becoming about a fifth of the total population of Savannah. Others seeking religious toleration followed.
In the colony’s early years, both John and Charles Wesley did mission work there. Fellow Methodist reformer George Whitefield founded an orphanage in Georgia in 1740, and made it a top charitable priority for many years.
- History in NYU Law Review, nyulawreview.org/issues/volume-80-number-6/religious-liberty-thirteenth-colony-church-state-relations-colonial-and