3. James Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia as a haven for debtors
The last of the original 13 English colonies in America, Georgia was established in 1732. By then, several colonies hungry for labor had passed laws providing protection from creditors for established periods. In the case of Virginia and North Carolina, debtors were sheltered for five years, much to the outrage of those to whom they were indebted. In the case of Georgia, the colony’s founder, James Oglethorpe, became interested in debtor’s prisons when a long-time friend, Robert Castell, died while incarcerated for indebtedness. As a member of Parliament, Oglethorpe led a committee in 1729 to investigate the conditions in London’s prisons, called “gaols”, and what he found appalled him.
Despite his recommendations to reform the system and the prisons themselves, and the endorsement of several powerful members of London society, little was done. The jailers and their benefactors had powerful friends too. Oglethorpe and others sought permission to establish a new English colony, situated between Spanish Florida and the Carolina colony, for the benefit of Britain’s “unemployed and unemployable”. He banned both slavery and alcohol from his new colony, attempted to establish good relations with the natives he found there, and enacted laws designed to prevent his settlers from irritating the Spanish to the south. Founded as a haven for debtors, Georgia evolved into a slave colony and state, and debtor prisons existed there before the American Revolution erupted 4 decades later.