About two years before Oglethorpe's departure the Trustees had changed the plan of government and had divided Georgia into two counties, Savannah and Frederica. These were the first counties in Georgia, and each was to have a president with four assistants. Savannah County included all the territory north of Darien. Frederica County included Darien and all the territory south. William Stephens was appointed president of the county of Savannah. No appointments were made for Frederica County, because General Oglethorpe lived on St. Simon's Island, and he still retained his authority over the whole colony.
When Oglethorpe returned to England, in 1743, the plan of having a president in each county was abandoned, and Colonel Stephens was appointed by the Trustees president of Georgia. As president he had a grand title, a small salary, and little real power. The Trustees governed the colony, and he and his assistants merely represented them in enforcing their rules and regulations or in deciding controversies and disputes.
During the first six years of President Stephens' administration the colony did not prosper. No new settlers were sent over, because contributions to pay their expenses had ceased, and great dissatisfaction existed among the colonists. This dissatisfaction was due to the regulations of the Trustees prohibiting the use of Negro slaves, prohibiting the sale of rum, and restricting the right of a colonist to mortgage or sell his lands. In order to understand the feelings of the people, it must be remembered that just across the Savannah River was the colony of South Carolina, and further north on the Atlantic coast were eleven other English colonies where none of these restrictions existed. In Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and every other English colony, the people owned slaves, could purchase rum, and could dispose of their land as they pleased. These facts made the regulations of the Trustees appear all the more unreasonable to the Georgia colonists, and many abandoned their lands and crossed over into South Carolina, where they could enjoy the coveted privileges.
Although the Trustees prohibited the use of Negro slaves in Georgia, they permitted and encouraged the employment of white servants. These white servants were brought over under contracts, called indentures or articles, by which they bound themselves to work for their employers for several years, usually four. At the end of that time each received a portion of land for himself. These servants, because of the contracts which they signed, were called "articled" or "indented" servants. Their labor was very unsatisfactory. Many of them were idle and would not work; others could not stand the heat and the malaria of the swamps. Many ran away to Carolina and to the other colonies, where they could procure land for themselves on easy terms.
As early as June, 1735, a petition was sent to the Trustees asking that the use of Negro slaves be permitted, but the request was promptly refused. In December, 1738, another petition was sent to the Trustees for permission to use slaves with proper limitations, but counter-petitions were presented by the Salzburgers at Ebenezer and by the Highlanders of Darien, stating that they were content with the present laws and wished no change. This permission was also refused. The Trustees would not allow the colonists even to hire Negroes owned in South Carolina. Those who desired slaves, however, continued their petitions, and even sent Thomas Stephens, a son of President Stephens, to England, to secure a repeal of the regulation. Rev. George Whitefield, who had at first opposed slave labor, became convinced that it was necessary for the existence of the colony, and that it was really a Christian act to bring these Africans to America and convert and civilize them. His whole influence was exerted in favor of the petitions being granted. The Trustees continued firm in their refusal.
After nearly fifteen years, however, the Trustees became convinced that they must yield. Even the Rev. Mr. Bolzius, Pastor of the Salzburgers at Ebenezer, wrote to the Trustees in 1748: "Things being now in such a melancholy state, I must humbly beseech your Honors not to regard any or our friends' petitions against Negroes." They decided to petition his Majesty for a repeal of the objectionable act, under certain conditions. A letter was written to President Stephens and his assistants, submitting to them a copy of these conditions. A convention of the colonists was called to consider the matter, and Major Horton of Frederica, presided over its deliberations. The suggestions of the Trustees were approved, and a petition was signed by twenty-seven persons of the highest standing in the province; requesting that slavery be allowed at once under the proposed conditions.
These conditions briefly were: that the colonists should employ one white man-servant for every four male slaves; that they should teach slaves no trade that would interfere with white citizens; that inhuman treatment should be prevented; and that moral and religious instruction should be given them. A condition added by the convention was that a penalty of ten pounds should be paid by every master who forced or permitted a slave to work on the Lord's Day, and that if he failed to compel his slave to attend church at some time on Sunday he should be fined five pounds for each offence. Upon these conditions the petition was granted, and slaves were by law admitted into Georgia on the 26th of October, 1749.
The regulation against the sale of rum and other distilled liquors was soon repealed; and finally, on the 25th of May, 1750, the regulations concerning the holding of land were modified so that the owner had the power to mortgage or sell at his pleasure. Thus the Trustees were finally compelled, by circumstances, to abandon three of their most regulations for the colony of Georgia.
In 1749, the colony was for a time in constant dread of an attack from the Indians, and the story of the cause of the trouble is full of interest. Rev. Thomas Bosomworth, one of the ministers sent out to the colony, had married Mary Musgrove, the Creek woman who had acted as interpreter for Oglethorpe when he first met the Indians at Yamacraw. Before her marriage to Bosomworth she had been very friendly to the whites, and had been employed as interpreter. After her marriage to him, he persuaded her to present a bill against the colony for five thousand pounds for her services, and for the damages to the property of her first husband. He also induced her to claim to be an Indian princess and empress of the Creek Indians. She demanded a tract of land opposite Savannah, and three islands on the coast, St. Catherine's, Ossabaw, and Sapelo, which had been reserved by the Indians for bathing and fishing.
President Stephens would not recognize her as a princess, and refused to pay her claims or to surrender the land and islands. She then appealed to the Indians, and having collected a large band, marched at their head to Savannah and demanded her rights. By her side was the Rev. Thomas Bosomworth, clothed in his white robes as a priest of the Church of England. Immediately following her came the kings and chiefs of the lower Creeks in war-paint and feathers, and after them a large band of warriors, all fully armed.
The people were very much alarmed at the presence of this large body of savages, and a bloody battle was expected every moment. President Stephens called out the soldiers, and when the Indians arrived, he boldly demanded that they should give up their arms before they came into the town. To this the Indians agreed. Shortly after they entered the town, Mary and her husband were separated from them and locked up. President Stephens then addressed the Indians in a quiet, friendly way, showing them that Mary was no princess, and that the islands and land which she claimed as hers were the property of the Creek Nation. In this way the Indians were satisfied, and declared their friendship for the whites. Presents were then distributed, and they departed in peace.
Bosomworth and his wife went to England to prosecute their claim before the Trustees and the King. His case was carried into the courts, and was a source of trouble for many years. Finally, however, Mary was awarded nearly two thousand pounds in full payment of the damages to her property and for her services to the colony, and St. Catherine's Island was given to her. There they both died, and are buried side by side on the seashore, where their graves may be seen to-day. Their demands are known as the "Bosomworth Claim."
[William Stephens was the son of a baronet who was lieutenant-governor of the Isle of Wight, at which place he was born in 1671. He was remarkable for his gentle manners even when a boy. He studied law and was a member of Parliament. He was highly respected by his neighbors and was often called on to settle their disputes. When about forty years of age he came to South Carolina to survey a piece of land. Here he met General Oglethorpe, who was so pleased with him that he asked the Trustees to appoint him their secretary in Georgia. Accordingly he came to Savannah and took general charge of their affairs. When Oglethorpe left he became president of the colony, though he was over seventy years of age at the time.]
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