Georgia’s noble beginnings
Early in his career, Eugene of Savoy, under the command of Polish King Jan Sobieski, helped defeat 200,000 Muslim Turks on Sept. 11, 1683, thus saving the city of Vienna, Austria.
Savoy helped drive the Turks from Budapest in 1686, and in 1687, gallantly commanded a cavalry brigade defeating the Turks at the Second Battle of Mohács in Hungary – a victory so significant that the Ottoman army mutinied, the Grand Vizier, Sari Süleyman Pasha, was executed, and Sultan Mehmed IV was deposed.
Austrian Prince Eugene of Savoy was most renowned for his victory over 100,000 Muslim Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Zenta, Serbia, Sept. 11, 1697.
Then Muslim Turks invaded Russia. The new Grand Vizier, Baltaci Mehmet defeated Peter the Great’s Russian Army in the Russo-Turkish War (1710-1711).
Muslim Turks then invaded Greece and Venetian territories, led by Turkish Grand Vizier Damat Ali in the Turkish-Venetian War (1714-1718). Once again, Europe looked to Austrian Prince Eugene of Savoy to defeat the Ottoman Muslim army in the Austro-Turkish War 1716-1718. In 1716, Savoy defeated the Turks at Petrovaradin, captured the Banat (areas of Romania, Serbia and Hungary) and the capital city of Timisoara.
In 1717, Savoy recaptured Belgrade, Serbia, whose Christian population had been brutally crushed and enslaved by numerous Muslim campaigns dating back to 1521. Savoy halted the Muslim Ottoman Empire’s invasion into Europe and the Turks sued for peace in 1718 with the Treaty of Passarowitz – in accordance with the Islamic practice that when you are strong fight without mercy, but when you are weak make treaties till you can become strong again.
Beginning in 1714, fighting under Savoy was a 17-year-old English soldier named James Oglethorpe. At age 22, Oglethorpe returned to England. He unintentionally killed a man in a brawl and went to prison for five months. Upon release, Oglethorpe followed his father’s footsteps and began to serve in Parliament in 1722, opposing slavery.
In 1728, one of James Oglethorpe’s friends, Robert Castell, was unable to pay his debts and was thrown into London’s Fleet Prison. At the time, in English prisons, prisoners had to pay the guards to get food and a decent room. As Castell was unable to pay, he was put in a cell with someone dying of smallpox. Castell caught the disease and died too.
Shocked by the news, James Oglethorpe began a national campaign for prison reform, and headed a parliamentary committee to investigate prisons. Steps were made to correct the unsanitary conditions, abuses, and extortion of prisoners.
James Oglethorpe conceived an idea for a colony in America where poor debtors and religious refugees could get a second chance. He named it “Georgia” after Britain’s King George II.
Georgia’s Colonial Charter, 1732, stated regarding religious freedom: “There shall be a liberty of conscience allowed in the worship of God … and that all such persons, except papists, shall have a free exercise of their religion.” Sailing on the ship “Ann,” the 115 settlers landed on Jan. 13, 1733.
A year later, Protestant refugees from Salzburg, Austria, called “Salzburgers,” settled the town of Ebenezer, Georgia. In 1735, Moravian immigrants from Bohemia arrived through Fort Argyle. Scotch Presbyterians arrived from New Inverness in 1736. Huguenot Protestant refugees had arrived from France.
James Oglethorpe’s secretary was Charles Wesley, who later became a hymn writer, composing the carol, “Hark, the Herald Angel Sings.” Charles Wesley’s brother, John Wesley, served in 1735 as the colony’s Anglican minister. He later began the Methodist movement. The Wesleys’ friend, Rev. George Whitefield, preached to enthusiastic crowds in Georgia in 1738.
On July 11, 1733, 34 Portuguese Sephardic Jews and eight German Ashkenazic Jews arrived in Savannah, Georgia. This was the largest group of Jews to land in North America prior to the Revolutionary War. They began the Holy Congregation Hope of Israel – “Kahal Kodesh Mickve Israel,” the third oldest Jewish congregation in the United States.
In 1742, during the War of Jenkin’s Ear, some 3,000 Spanish soldiers landed on Georgia’s St. Simon’s Island. Oglethorpe repelled them in the Battle of Bloody Marsh.
In 1758, the British government issued an act: “for establishing Religious Worship therein, according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Church of England.”
This act established the Anglican Church as the colony of Georgia’s official denomination, with a £25 per annum salary for every Anglican clergyman. Catholics were specifically excluded from the colony.
When British expelled all French Catholics from Acadia, Canada, 400 French Catholics arrived in Savannah, Georgia. They were only allowed to stay the winter before being ordered to leave. Some Catholics traveled to South Carolina, some St. Dominique Island, and some to Louisiana in 1765, where the pronunciation of “Acadian” evolved to “Cajun.”
Other Protestants arrived in Georgia. In 1772, Daniel Marshall established the first Baptist Church in Georgia.
Georgia had many Revolutionary War heroes, such as Nancy Hart. While her husband was away, six British soldiers converged on their frontier home. They shot her prize gobbler and ordered her to cook it. After feeding and serving them lots of wine, she grabbed one of their guns, promising to shoot the first one that moved. After shooting two, her husband showed up and they hung the rest.
Georgia is also known for Polish General Casmir Pulaski, who died fighting the British at Savannah. Mordecai Sheftall of Georgia became the Continental Army’s highest ranking Jewish officer.
In 1777, Georgia passed its first state Constitution, stating: “We the people of Georgia, relying upon the protection and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”
Georgia’s Constitution, 1777, Article 6 stated: “Representatives shall be chosen out of the residents in each county … and they shall be of the Protestant religion.”
In 1788, Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
In 1789, Georgia’s population was over 82,000 and the state adopted a second Constitution which removed the Protestant requirement, simply stating: “All persons shall have the free exercise of religion.” A third Georgia Constitution was adopted in 1798, establishing religious toleration.
In the first 34 years of Georgia’s statehood, conflicts arose between settlers and Indians, especially after gold was discovered on Cherokee land. An Indian Removal Act was hurriedly rushed through a Democrat-controlled Congress in 1830. This resulted in the tragic “Trail of Tears” where over 4,000 Indian men, women, and children died in the bitter winter of 1838 as the federal government forcibly marched them from Georgia and southeastern United States to the Oklahoma Territory.
Georgia’s religious history included the Jewish Mickve Israel Congregation, which in 1786 had an attendance of 73. In 1790, Georgia’s governor granted the Jewish congregation a state charter.
President Washington wrote to them: “May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, planted them in the promised land, whose Providential Agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation, still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven, and make the inhabitants of every denomination partake in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people, whose God is Jehovah.”
The first Catholics moved into Georgia from Maryland around 1793. They had no priest until the French Revolution sparked a slave revolt on the Island of St. Dominique/Haiti causing a few priests to flee to Georgia. In 1810, the state legislature incorporated the Catholic Church of Augusta. In 1820, Irish Bishop John England was appointed over the state’s one hundred Catholics in Savannah and fewer in Augusta.
Bishop John England founded America’s first Catholic newspaper, “The United States Catholic Miscellany.” Bishop John England delivered the first Catholic sermon in the U.S. Capital at the Sunday morning church service held in the House of Representatives, Jan. 8, 1826.
The overflow audience included President John Quincy Adams, who had previously stated, July 4, 1821, that Catholicism and Republicanism were incompatible.
Bishop John England reassured the predominately Protestant audience: “We do not believe that God gave to the Church any power to interfere with our civil rights, or our civil concerns. … I would not allow to the Pope, or to any bishop of our Church … the smallest interference with the humblest vote at our most insignificant balloting box.”
By 1839, Bishop John England listed 11 priests in Georgia. The population of Georgia in 1830 was 516,823.
In 1836, Methodists founded Emory College at Oxford and Wesleyan Female College at Macon – the first institution of learning founded specifically for women in America.
Georgia supported the State’s Right doctrine before the outbreak of the War Between the States, and when Lincoln was elected, politicians moved for secession from the Union. Georgia was devastated as the Civil War progressed, especially in the fall of Atlanta and General Sherman’s march to the sea. In 1865, Atlanta University was founded by the Protestant American Missionary Association to help freed slaves, as was Clark University, founded in 1869 by the Methodist Episcopal Church.
The population of Georgia in 1870 was 1,184,109.
In 1877, Georgia’s Constitution stated: “Relying upon the protection and guidance of Almighty God … All men have the natural and inalienable right to worship God, each according to the dictates of his own conscience.”
In 1877, Baptists founded Shorter College at Rome, and in 1881, Methodists founded Morris Brown College.
In 1895, history was made at the International Exposition in Atlanta when the Black President of the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington, was invited to give a keynote address.
In 1900, the population of Georgia was 2,216,331.
As of 1910, the state of Georgia gave full liberty of conscience in matters of religious opinion and worship, but did not legalize willful or profane scoffing. It was unlawful to conduct any secular business on Sunday.
Georgia’s oath of office was administered with one hand upon the Bible and the other uplifted, with the affirmation: “You do solemnly swear in the presence of the ever living God” or “You do sincerely and truly affirm, etc.” Legislative sessions opened with prayer.
The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2007, published in the USA Today, listed Georgia as:
- 83 percent Christian, consisting of:
Evangelical Protestant – 38 percent
Mainline Protestant – 16 percent
Black Protestant – 16 percent
Catholic – 12 percent
Orthodox – <0.5 percent
Other Christian – <0.5 percent
- 1 percent – Jewish
- <0.5 percent – Mormon
- <0.5 percent – Jehovah’s Witnesses
- <0.5 percent – Muslim
- <0.5 percent – Buddhist
- <0.5 percent – Hindu
- <0.5 percent – Other World Religions
- <0.5 percent – Other Faiths
- <0.5 percent – Did not answer
- 12 percent – Unaffiliated
As James Oglethorpe and the first settlers touched Georgia’s shore, Jan. 13, 1733, settlers knelt and Rev. Herbert Henry offered prayer. They declared: “Our end in leaving our native country is not to gain riches and honor, but singly this: to live wholly to the glory of God.”
Their object was: “To make Georgia a religious colony.”
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