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Welcome to Georgia!  From blue mountains, to rolling hills and lakes, to great cities, to the golden coast, Georgia is a place of great diversity and rich history.   This is just a brief overview of Georgia's early history...

Indian Days

        The first people to live in what is now Georgia were prehistoric Indians called Mound Builders.  Before white men came to the region, the Creek Indians had settled in the south and the Cherokee in the north.


        Hernando de Soto of Spain was probably the first white man to visit the Georgia region.  He crossed the area in 1540, on his way from Florida to the Mississippi River.  In 1564, French settlers established a colony in Florida.  This action angered King Philip II of Spain, who claimed all of what is now the southeastern United States.  In 1565, he sent Pedro Menendez de Aviles to drive out the French.  Menendez defeated them, and then built forts along the Atlantic coast.  In 1566, Menendez built a fort on St. Catherines Island in present-day Georgia.

        England also claimed the Georgia region.  In 1629, the region became part of a colonial land grant made by King Charles I.  The English built a fort on the Altamaha River in 1721.  They abandoned the fort in 1727 because of its expense.

The Colonial Period

        In 1730, a few Englishmen made plans to establish a separate colony in the region, which was to be named Georgia for King George II.  The group included James Oglethorpe, who planned to send imprisoned or released debtors to the colony.  But this plan was abandoned, and few debtors went to Georgia.

        In 1732, King George granted a 21-year charter for the new colony to a corporation called Trustees for Establishing the Colony of Georgia in America.  Spain, which had claimed the area, protested to England.  Nevertheless, Oglethorpe and the first band of about 120 colonists sailed from England on November 17, 1732.  They arrived at Yamacraw Bluff, the site of presentday Savannah, on February 12, 1733.  Tomochichi, a Creek chief whose tribe lived nearby, aided the colonists.  He helped persuade other Creek tribes to allow the colonists to settle in the area.  In the 21 years that the trustees controlled Georgia, more than 4,000 settlers arrived.  About half came at the trustees' expense.

        During this period, many English ships smuggled merchandise to Spanish colonies in the West Indies.  The illegal trading, plus disagreement over the Georgia-Florida boundary, led to war between England and Spain in 1739.  Oglethorpe tried to capture Florida, but failed.  In 1742, his troops crushed a Spanish landing in the Battle of Bloody Marsh on St. Simons Island.  This victory ended the war in America, but it continued in Europe without settling the original disputes.


The Revolutionary War

        The Georgia trustees gave up their 21-year charter in 1752, and King George reorganized the
the colony as a royal province in 1754.  Georgia's farmers prospered, and the colony might have continued quietly under this rule if left to itself.  But a desire for independence that was growing in the other Atlantic colonies spread to Georgia.  Many of the colonists wanted to be free of British rule.  After the Revolutionary War began in Massachusetts in 1775, many Georgians who had been neutral joined the movement for freedom.  The patriots seized power, and James Wright, the royal governor, fled to a British warship off the Georgia coast.

        The first fighting between Georgians and the British occurred in March, 1776.  A British warship tried to seize 11 rice boats in the harbor of Savannah, but got only 2 of them.  On July 24, 1778, Georgia ratified the Articles of Confederation, which was the forerunner of the United States Constitution.

        Georgia did not become a major battleground until December, 1778, when British troops captured Savannah.  An American army supported by a French naval force laid siege to the city in September, 1779.  After three weeks, the Americans and their allies attached the city.  They were driven back with a loss of more than a thousand lives.  By the end of 1779, British troops had seized all Georgia except Wilkes County.  They were driven out of Savannah and the rest of Georgia in 1782.

Early Statehood

        The Revolutionary War ended in 1783.  On January 2, 1788, Georgia became the fourth state in the Union to ratify the United States Constitution.

        Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin near Savannah in 1793.  This machine, which separated the seed from the fiber, saved much work and led to a great expansion in cotton farming.

        Settlers and land companies began developing Georgia rapidly during the 1790's.  In 1795, land companies bribed state legislators to sell them Georgia land for about a cent and a half per acre (four cents per hectare).  The companies planned to sell the land, which covered much of present-day Alabama and Mississippi, at great profit.  This scheme came to be know as the Yazoo Fraud, because the Yazoo River flowed through part of the land.  Later in 1795, angry Georgians elected a new legislature that repealed the sale the next year.  But many buyers refused to give up their purchases.

        In 1802 Georgia sold its lands west of the Chattachoochee River to the federal government.  The United States promised to settle the land claims of the Yazoo companies.  In 1810 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the sales were legal.  Congress voted in 1814 to pay more than $4,200,000 to settle the Yazoo claims.

        The federal government also promised to remove the Indians from Georgia.  By 1827, the Creek Indians had sold all their land in Georgia to the United States and moved to the Arkansas Territory.  In 1838, federal troops rounded up the last of the Cherokee Indians in Georgia and forced them to move to the Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma.  As the Indians left, settlers quickly cleared the former Indian land and planted cotton.  By 1840 Georgia had begun developing an extensive railway system.

The Civil War

        Georgia's economy was based on raising cotton, and many Georgians depended on slave labor.  After Abraham Lincoln waS elected President in 1860, Governor Joseph E. Brown led the movement for Georgia's secession from the Union.  Opposition to the movement was led by U.S. Representative Alexander H. Stephens, who later became Vice-President of the Confederate States.  On Jan. 19, 1861, Georgia became the fifth southern state to secede.

        Early in the Civil War (1861-1865), the Union navy raided the Georgia coast and closed the port of Savannah.  confederate troops won the first great battle in Georgia- at Chickamauga in September, 1863.  The following May, General William T. Sherman's Union forces advanced on Atlanta from Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Sherman captured the city in September.  In November, he burned Atlanta and began his famous march to the sea.  As Sherman's troops marched almost unopposed across Georgia to Savannah, they destroyed about $100 million worth of property.  The Union soldiers cut a path 60 miles (97 kilometers) wide, destroying all factories, mills, public buildings and railroads.  The troops carried few supplies, and lived off the land.  They looted the countryside, stealing food and other property from the plantations and towns.   Sherman captured Savannah in December, 1864.

Reconstruction and Recovery

        Hart times followed the Civil War.  Congress set up military rule in Georgia.  SOme Northerners called Carpetbaggers became powerful in the state government.  Georgia suffered less thievery and other political abuses of the Reconstruction period than many other southern states.

        Georgia was readmitted to the Union in 1868.  But it was expelled in 1869 because it refused to ratify Amendment 15 of the U. S. Constitution.  This amendment made it illegal to deny the right to vote not he basis of race.  Georgia ratified the amendment in 1870 and was permanently readmitted to the Union on July 15.

        Manufacturing and trade began expanding in Georgia during the 1870's.  Railway construction resumed, banking activities increased, and cities grew.  During the 1890's the state legislature increased funds for schools and social services, and established programs to help farmers.

The Early 1900's

        Industry continued to grow after 1900, and farmers began depending less on cotton.  the production of corn, fruits, livestock and tobacco gained in importance.  After the United States entered World War I in 1917, Georgia's factory and farm production expanded still further.

        In 1922, Rebecca L. Felton became the first woman U.S. senator.  She was appointed by Governor Thomas W. Hardwick after Senator Thomas E. Watson died.  Mrs. Felton served only one day while Congress was in session.  Walter F George, who had been elected to complete Watson's term, took her place.

        Beetles called boll weevils caused great damage to Georgia's cotton crops during the early 1920's.  As a result, many farmers lost their crops and could not afford to keep their farms.  In 1929, the Great Depression hit the state.  Many factories had to close down.  Federal programs began to create jobs in 1933.  The programs included construction of highways, public buildings and sewerage and drainage systems.

Source:   World Book Encyclopedia


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