Georgia State History

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General State History
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General Georgia State History

Although never formally designated as such by the British, Savannah was the center of colonial government in Georgia for half a century.

Georgia, the last of the 13 British colonies established on the Atlantic seaboard, was founded by James Edward Oglethorpe with 114 original settlers on February 12, 1733, at the present site of the city of Savannah.

As more people settled in the colony of Georgia, the Spanish in the Florida area became increasingly uneasy at the growing British presence. On July 7, 1742, Oglethorpe, then "General and Commander in Chief of the Forces of South Carolina and Georgia", defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Bloody Marsh on St. Simons Island, removing the Spanish threat to Georgia. In 1743 General Oglethorpe sailed for England never to return to Georgia.

With the arrival of more colonists, settlements developed along the coast and up the rivers. In 1758 the province of Georgia was divided into eight parishes, with four new parishes added in 1765. When Georgia's independence from British rule was declared in January of 1776, an Executive Council was elected, and the revolutionary state government made Savannah its capital. The Legislature met there in 1777 and in 1778.

Upon the fall of Augusta in 1779, the government was located temporarily at Head's Fort in Wilkes County from February 1780, to July 1781. Government officials returned to Augusta in 1782, only to move to Savannah, which the British had evacuated. The legislators paused en route for several days to conduct business at Ebenezer, a small German settlement.

During the Revolutionary War, many Georgians still felt loyalty to England. Therefore, the war was fought not only between American and British forces, but also between citizens who became revolutionaries, the Whigs, and those still swearing allegiance to the king, the Tories. Between 1783 and 1785, the Georgia Assembly rotated between Savannah and Augusta, and the governor divided his official residence between the two cities.

During the 1783 session of the Legislature, an act was passed moving the capital to Augusta because it was nearer to the center of the state than Savannah.

Georgia suffered both a loss of population and considerable physical destruction because of the Revolution. In time, settlers, attracted by the availability of land, moved from the other states-some being lured by an additional tracts of western land opened through a series of treaties with Creek and Cherokee nations.

On February 22, 1785, the General Assembly held its last meeting in Savannah, and Augusta officially became the capital. Founded in 1735 by Ogelthorpe's men, Augusta was a fort and a trading post. Even in the first year, the Legislature was faced with the prospect of selecting a capital city farther west than Augusta.

In an effort to find a suitable, accessible, an central location for a new capital city, a legislative commission directed that it be built near Augusta within proximity of the Indian trading post called "Galphin's Old Town" or "Galphinton". The new capital was named "Louisville" in honor of King Louis XVI of France in appreciation of French aid during the Revolutionary War.

The first permanent Capitol to be built was completed in Louisville in 1796. Although there is no existing drawing of the building, it is known that it was a two-story brick structure of the 18th century Georgia architecture. Later, after the transfer of the capital, the building was used as a county courthouse and finally was destroyed.

The most dramatic piece of legislation passed during the years that Louisville was the state capital was the rescinding of the Yazoo Act and public burning of the act on the Capitol grounds on February 15, 1799, the present Great Seal of the state of Georgia was adopted in General Assembly in Louisville. Because of continued westward expansion, the Georgia Legislature passes an act in 1804 to move the capitol nearer to the geographic center of the state. A site was chosen on the Oconee River for a new capital to be named "Milledgeville". A brick Gothic style Capital building was erected at a cost of $80,000. The General Assembly met there for the first time in 1807, and Millidgeville remained the capital for 61 years. In 1825 General Lafayette, who had come from France to aid the United States during the Revolutionary War, visited Milledgeiville where he was honored with elaborate ceremonies. The Mansion, the first official residence for the governor and his family, was built in Milledgeville in 1838.

The desire for land, and later gold, created a swift expansion beyond the old frontier, carrying with it increased trade along rivers and migration of people along new roads into the wilderness. The primary basis for this new growth and economic expansion was the production of cotton thorough a slave labor system.

In 1860 the national debate over the extension of slavery into new territories reached a crescendo. Following the election of Abraham Lincoln as president, a special state convention voted on January 19, 1861, to secede from the Union. Secession is only considered to be the most important legislation passed in Milledgeville. Only a few months later Georgia formally joined the Confederate States of America. Georgia did not suffer direct devastation from the war until 1864 when General William Tecumseh Sherman advanced though Northern Georgia, besieged and captured Atlanta, and then pushed on to Savannah on his famous March to the Sea. The Legislature adjourned amid great confusion, later reconvening for a brief period in Macon in 1865. At the end of the war, with federal authorities in control of Georgia's government, the Legislature was allowed to reconvene at the Capital in Milledgeville. During the war years, Georgia lost nearly 120,000 men and boys in battle as well as much of the state's material wealth. The rebuilding of the state afterwards was a slow and painful process. There were political conflicts between the newly enfranchised black citizens who, for the first time, were allowed to hold seats in the Legislature, and the prewar social structure, which sought to minimize the changes it had to accept in its traditional way of life. Georgia's economy was also crippled because of its heavy dependence on cotton production at a time when world market prices were are historically low levels. By the mid 1870'ss, the federal government abandoned its efforts to force reconstruction programs upon Georgia. The Democratic Party became solidly entrenched as the dominant political force in the state. The only serious challenge was a brief surge of activity by the Populist Party under the leadership of Tom Watson.

More Georgians became interested in efforts to diversify the state's economic base. Spokesmen such as Henry Grady, editor of The Atlantic Constitution, began talking about a "New South". Grady's vision was enticing to many Georgians, but its realization required years of additional effort. Although the state suffered along with the rest of the nation during the Great Depression, Georgia was able to achieve slow economic progress during the early years of the 20th century. Following World War II, the pace of industrial growth became more apparent. Atlanta, begun in the mid-1880's as a transportation center, gained recognition also as a commercial, financial, and cultural center for the Southeast. New industries developed in Georgia, and others moved from outside into he state. Meanwhile, rural Georgia was revitalized as Georgia's farmers, who had been driven from cotton production by the destructive boll weevil, diversified their planting operations and adopted new agricultural techniques.

Along with these economic changes have come many more social and political changes. As a result of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., black voters, who after the reconstruction era were excluded from effective participation in state politics, have assumed an active role in the political life of the state. Colleges and universities have expanded, and new cultural centers have opened.

In January, 1977, Georgia sent its first President to the White House-Jimmy Carter of Plains, a former Georgia governor. Profiting from the strong leadership of the past two Decades, Atlanta has become an international city. Georgia governors travel the globe to encourage trade and investment for the state. In the final quarter of the 20th century, Georgia, with its capital city Atlanta, is emerging as a leader in the social, political and economic progress of the nation.

Georgia Historic Figures

Ty Cobb
1886-1961: Baseball player; born in Narrows, Ga. During his 24-year career as an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Athletics (1905-28), he compiled a lifetime batting average of .367, the highest in major league history. He batted .400 or higher in a season three times, and 12 times he led the American League in batting average, a major league record. He possessed exceptional speed and stole 892 bases in his career, the major league record until Lou Brock surpassed it in 1977. His 4,191 lifetime hits was the major league record until Pete Rose surpassed it in 1985. A ferocious competitor, Cobb's intense manner provoked controversy on and off the field. He managed the Tigers for six years (1921-26), but never finished higher than second place. Having made shrewd investments while a player, including the purchase of Coca-Cola stock, he lived comfortably throughout his retirement. Nicknamed "The Georgia Peach," he was the first player elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1936.

Martin Luther King, Jr
1929-68: Baptist minister, civil rights leader; born in Atlanta, Ga. Grandson and son of Baptist ministers (in 1935 his father changed both their names to Martin to honor the German Protestant), young Martin graduated from Morehouse College (Ga.) (1948) and Crozer Theological Seminary (1951) and then took a Ph.D. from Boston University (1955), where he also met his future (1957) wife, Coretta Scott, with whom he had four children. Ordained a minister in 1947 at his father's Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., in 1953. Relatively untested when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in a bus in December 1955, he led the boycott of Montgomery's segregated busses for over a year (eventually resulting in the Supreme Court decision outlawing discrimination in public transportation). In 1957 he was chosen president of the newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and he began to broaden his active role in the civil rights struggle while advocating his nonviolent approach to achieving results; he would base his approach on the ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Mohandas Gandhi as well on Christian teachings. He moved to Atlanta in 1959 to become copastor of his father's church and in the ensuing years gave much of his energies to organizing protest demonstrations and marches in such cities as Birmingham, Ala. (1963); St. Augustine, Fla. (1964); and Selma, Ala. (1965). During these years he was arrested and jailed by Southern officials on several occasions, he was stoned and physically attacked, and his house was bombed; he was also placed under secret surveillance by the FBI due to the strong prejudices of its director, J. Edgar Hoover, who wanted to discredit King as both a leftist and a womanizer. King's finest hour came on August 28, 1963, when he led the great march in Washington, D.C., that culminated with his famous "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. At the height of his influence, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and he used his new-found powers to attack discrimination in the U.S. North. Meanwhile, as the Vietnam War began to consume the country, he also broadened his criticisms of American society because he saw the impact of the war on the country's resources and energies. In the spring of 1968 he went to Memphis, Tenn., to show support for the striking city workers and he was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony of his motel there. (James Earl Ray would plead guilty to the murder, although he would later insist that he was innocent--a claim eventually backed by King's family.) With his oratorical style that drew directly on the force of the Bible, with his serene confidence derived from his non-violent philosophy, he had advocated a program of moderation and inclusion, and although later generations would question some of his message, few could deny that he had been the guiding light for 15 of the most crucial years in America's civil rights struggle.

James E. Carter
1924- Present: Thirty-ninth U.S. president; born in Plains, Ga. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy (1946) and served in the navy until 1953; part of that time he worked under Admiral Hyman Rickover on the naval nuclear reactor project. Carter left the navy to take over the family's peanut business, which he built up. He served two terms as a Democrat in the Georgia legislature (1963-67). After serving as a liberal governor of Georgia (1970-74), he began campaigning for the presidency and won the Democratic nomination of 1976, narrowly beating Gerald Ford in the election. In contrast to recent administrations, he had promised an open and progressive government responsive to the public; despite a Democratic Congress, however, his presidency was notable more for good intentions than achievements. He did effect the Panama Treaty and the historic Camp David agreements between Israel and Egypt (1979), but his initial popularity waned during 1979-80 as a result of mounting economic difficulties and the seizure of U.S. hostages in Iran. He lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan. Back in private life he was active in national and international social concerns, taking a hands-on approach to everything from building homes for poor Americans to mediating between hostile parties (as in Haiti).

Juliette Gordon Low
1860-1927: Founder of the Girl Scouts; born in Chicago, Ill. From a prominent Savannah, Ga., family, she was educated at private schools and traveled widely. Inspired by the Girl Guides of England, she established the Girl Scouts of America in 1912. Her charm, conviction, and hard work ensured the Girl Scouts' early success.

Carson McCullers
1917-67: Writer, born in Columbus, GA. She studied at Columbia and New York universities. She married and divorced Reeves McCullers twice (1937-41, 1945-8). From the age of 29, paralysis of one side confined her to a wheelchair. Her work reflects the sadness of lonely people, and her first book, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), about a deaf mute, distinguished her immediately as a novelist of note. She wrote the best and the bulk of her work in a six-year burst through World War 2, including the novella The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1951), which was dramatized by Edward Albee.