Fellow columnist Dick Yarbrough loves to brag about our many Rhodes Scholars and our highly rated schools. Thanks, Dick.
A friend in Woodstock told me recently about a relative of hers from a state that I won’t name, but which you would readily recognize as supposedly top-notch in education. The lady had moved to Woodstock and soon discovered that her child would need tutoring to catch up. (Think Common Core here.)
All this to say: Today is Feb. 12, Georgia Day, a time to brag a little and help newcomers to “catch up” on our state’s history.
Folks in my generation got big doses of the state’s early history. We knew that on every Georgia History test we would need to know that Georgia is the largest state east of the Mississippi, that Georgia was the 13th and final state to make up the Thirteen Original Colonies, and that Gen. James Oglethorpe, representing the king of England, landed at Savannah on Feb. 12, 1733. But those facts hardly begin to tell the story.
When our daughters were in school, the eighth-grade Georgia history textbook that they used was by Bernice McCullar. It was in the early years of the technology using TV in the classroom.
Georgia Public Broadcasting offered Georgia History instruction taught by the author. We took that for granted at the time, but years later when I happened up on a copy of the book at a book sale, I came to realize what a real treasure this was.
The textbook, while filled with facts and sometimes yawn-producing statistics, contains dozens, even hundreds, of true stories of ordinary people, and also insights into the lives of those whose names were in the headlines. McCullar literally brings history to life.
She traces the state’s beginnings back to an idea born in England that another colony was needed in the New World across the pond. She takes the reader through the maze of bureaucracy, the trials of the trustees, and the choice of 114 colonists (35 families) who would settle this colony which would be the only one established in the 18th century.
Oglethorpe and the colonists set sail at high noon on Nov. 17, 1732, on the ship Queen Anne, named for England’s late queen. Two months and one week later they arrived, landing first at Charleston harbor.
Two babies died on the way, buried at sea. Four babies were born during the voyage.
Oglethorpe was met at the bluff at Savannah by friendly Indian Chief Tomochichi, and soon thereafter the newcomers pitched four white tents to be used for shelter until houses could be built.
By March of the next year, 91 houses had been built and the population had grown to 2,092 as more and more ships made their way to Georgia. (Sound familiar? While some today consider Georgia to be less than desirable, others can hardly wait to move here. We must be doing something right.)
My favorite Tomochichi story from McCullar’s book is about his trip to England with Oglethorpe in 1734. The Indian chief was more than 90 years old. He was accompanied by some of his own people, and his visit was a treat for the English commoners and royalty as well as a learning experience for the Indians.
Tomochichi had one question for the English. “Why do men, who are on earth so short a time, build houses that last so long?” That one question is perhaps the defining statement of the difference in our cultures at the time.
The visit had interesting repercussions. Tomochichi returned to Georgia before Oglethorpe, and when Oglethorpe came back in 1736, “so many people came with him that the voyage was known as the Great Embarkation.”
Although the names Oglethorpe and King George II are most often associated with Georgia’s beginnings, the manuscript called Georgia’s Birth Certificate is taken from the “Journal of the Transaction of the Trustees,” kept by Lord Percival, the first Earl of Egmont.
It was in his diary entry dated Feb. 13, 1730, that “the colony of Georgia” was first mentioned.
Georgia purchased this manuscript in 1946 for $16,000. Nice bit of trivia, perfect for a Jeopardy! answer.
Happy Georgia Day.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.