Whenever I do my road cleanup, I see a monument dedicated to James Oglethorpe. The monument, hidden in the weeds and moss along Frederica Road, states that James Oglethorpe’s only house in the colonies was located here at the monument. In other words, James Oglethorpe, founder of the colony of Georgia, slept here.
Only the monument isn’t quite accurate. The only house owned by James Oglethorpe in the colonies was located about a mile away. Archaeological research in the 1980’s established that his house was a little to the northeast of the the town of Frederica. The monument is located to the southeast of town. The monument, erected by Glynn County in the 1930’s, is based on the research of historian Margaret Davis Cate. Although Cate was the first to write down many stories of Frederica and St. Simons Island, her research wasn’t always accurate.
Last summer, a team of 10 students from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga excavated the foundation of James Oglethorpe’s home and outbuildings. The house was located just where the archaeologists of the 1980’s placed it – about half a mile from the entrance to Fort Frederica National Monument. The bill approved two years ago by Congress gave the land on which the foundation is situated to the National Monument. The archaeological team cleared the foundations and found several outbuildings.
James Oglethorpe’s house is small and the foundations are made of tabby. It is not a mansion, as you might expect for such an important man. The downstairs looks like three small rooms and it probably had the same number upstairs. This would make it a couple of rooms larger than most of the original settlers’ homes, but not large by any standard. According to Oglethorpe’s letters, he built the house outside the fortifications of the town for two reasons. First, to have a little privacy from the constant cares of the town. Second, to prove that it was safe to live outside the fortified walls of the town.
Oglethorpe didn’t spend a lot of time in the house. He lived in Georgia for 11 years but returned frequently to England. In 1743 he returned to England and stayed there.
At the National Monument we are excited about the foundations for Oglethorpe’s house being uncovered. We plan to begin leading tours there next year. Showing people the foundations of the house where James Oglethorpe slept will be one more way we can make history come alive. Will the Glynn County monument be moved to the more accurate site? Only time will tell.