OGLETHORPE, James Edward (1696-1785), of Westbrook, nr. Haslemere, Surr.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 22 Dec. 1696, 3rd surv. s. of Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe, M.P. Haslemere 1698-1701, brig-gen. and gent. of the horse to James II, by Eleanor, maid to the Duchess of Portsmouth and laundress to Charles II, da. of Richard Wall of Tipperary. educ. Eton; C.C.C. Oxf. 1714; travelled France, Austria (serving under Prince Eugene at the siege of Belgrade) and Italy 1716-18. m. 15 Sept. 1744, Elizabeth, da. of Sir Nathan Wright, 2nd Bt., of Cranham Hall, Essex, s.p. suc. bro. to Westbrook c.1728.1
Ensign 1 Ft. Gds. bef. 1709, lt. and capt. 1713, res. 23 Nov. 1715; assistant R. African Co. 1731, dep. gov. 1732; trustee for Georgia 1732-52; c.-in-c. S. Carolina and Georgia, and col. of a regt. of Ft. 1737-48; brig.-gen. 1743; maj.-gen. 1745; lt.-gen. 1747; gen. 1765.
Oglethorpe was born into a strong Jacobite family. His father took an active part in Jacobite conspiracies against William III. His sisters, one of whom was created a countess by the Pretender in 1722, were brought up in the Stuart court at St. Germain. His only surviving elder brother, after inheriting the family property, went into voluntary expatriation, entered the Pretender’s service, was made a Jacobite baron in 1717, and is said to have died at St. Germain. He himself resigned his army commission during the Fifteen rebellion and went abroad, paying his duty to the Pretender at Urbino in 1718. Returning to England at the end of that year to look after his expatriated brother’s affairs, he was elected in 1722 on his family’s interest for Haslemere, which he represented for the next 32 years. On the eve of the poll he became involved in a fight, wounding Captain Richard Onslow. A month later he killed a linkman in a drunken brawl in a London brothel, apparently in self-defence.2 His first recorded speech, 8 Apr. 1723, shows why, to the end of his career, people were ‘uncertain whether he was a Whig or a Jacobite’.3 Speaking against the bill for banishing Atterbury, he said:
The Pretender has none but a company of silly fellows about him; and it was to be feared that if the Bishop, who was allowed to be a man of great parts, should be banished, he might be solicited and tempted to go to Rome, and there be in a capacity to do more mischief by his advice, than if he were suffered to stay in England under the watchful eye of those in power.4
On 17 Apr. 1725 he spoke against the payment of the civil list arrears.
In the next Parliament Oglethorpe became a frequent speaker, acting with the Opposition up to the beginning of 1732, except in the debate of 28 Jan. 1730 on the army, when, though ‘a very obstinate Tory’, he spoke and voted with the Government. At the opening of the 1732 session he spoke for the Address; on 23 Mar. he disagreed with Pulteney on the question whether Members should be required to swear to their qualifications; and in May he again clashed with the leaders of the Opposition by opposing their motion for the punishment of his relation, Sir Robert Sutton, for complicity in the frauds on the Charitable Corporation.5 On the first of these occasions Henry Pelham, defending Lord Tyrconnel for leaving his party, observed that he believed his example would be followed, a prediction verified by Oglethorpe, who after consulting his friend, Lord Ilay, wrote to Walpole:
Though it never was in my power to do you any service, yet my only shewing that I had an inclination towards it, has had an ill effect upon the interest in the borough of Haslemere for which I serve.
The majority of the people signed an address, approved my manner of acting in Parliament, and desired Mr. Burrell and me to be candidates at the next election.
Some of the warmest of the Tories were of another opinion and angry at my manner of voting of late, and at my not joining with one whom they proposed, they set up Sir Harry Peachey and Mr. Foulks, resolving to be revenged on me. Though I have a great majority, yet this division of my friends occasions an opposition and expense where there otherwise would have been none. Therefore, Sir, as I have lost some friends, I hope you will assist me in gaining of others.
After specifying his requirements for supporting his interest at Haslemere, he concluded:
Were these things done it would save us a great deal of expense, secure our election and put Mr. Burrell and me in a capacity of expressing how much he as well as I am, Sir, Your most obedient humble servant.6
Oglethorpe’s change of party was cloaked by his impending departure on the great enterprise of his life. In 1729, moved by the death of a friend in a debtors’ prison, he had secured the appointment of a House of Commons committee, of which he was chairman, to inquire into the state of the gaols. The reports of the committee led to the release of a considerable number of debtors with no means of subsistence. To meet this situation Oglethorpe, in association with the 1st Lord Egmont, persuaded the Government to grant a royal charter and financial assistance to a body of trustees, who were empowered to settle poor persons from this country in a new colony carved out of South Carolina, to be called Georgia. In November 1732 he sailed with a party of migrants to Georgia, where he remained, except for short visits to England on the colony’s business, till he came home for good in the autumn of 1743. Now a government supporter, he voted with the Hanoverians and was classed by Newcastle in 1746 as ‘Old Whig.’ Having been made colonel in 1737 of a regiment raised for the defence of Georgia, he was commissioned in March 1744 to raise a regiment of Hussars to defend the coast against a prospective French invasion.7 At the same time his great friend and housemate, Colonel Cecil, the Pretender’s chief agent in England, was sent to the Tower on a charge of high treason. When during the rebellion next year Oglethorpe, in command of a cavalry force, allowed the rearguard of the retreating rebel army to escape, his failure was alternatively attributed to Jacobitism or cowardice. ‘He is an unfortunate man’, his friend, the 1st Lord Egmont, wrote,
his vanity and quarrelsomeness rendering him incapable to preserve the friendship of his acquaintance or make new friends, and every mouth is now open against him with a kind of satisfaction.8
Court martialled on a charge of having disobeyed or neglected his orders, he was honourably acquitted, but when his regiment was disbanded in 1748 he was not given a new one. Classed as a government supporter on his return in 1747, he is described in 1751 by Horace Walpole as a ‘troublesome and tiresome speaker’, voting with ‘the sad refuse of all the last Oppositions’ against a 3s. land tax.9 At the general election of 1754 he stood for Westminster as well as for Haslemere, but was defeated at both. Except for an unsuccessful attempt to recover his Haslemere seat in 1768, he spent the last thirty years of his long life in retirement, dying 1 July 1785, aged 88.