In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Georgia in the Atlantic World

  • Introduction
  • General Works
  • Primary Sources
  • Trusteeship Period, 1733–1750
  • Economy
  • Slavery
  • Native Americans
  • Caribbean Influences
  • Cultural and Ethnic Life
  • Environment and Landscape
  • Politics
  • The American Revolution
  • Early National Period, 1783–c. 1820

Atlantic History Georgia in the Atlantic World
Paul M. Pressly
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0008


Scholarly interest in comparative and interdisciplinary approaches to studying the past has produced a deep and rich understanding of the role of the Carolina low country within the British Atlantic economy. Considerably less attention has been paid to placing Georgia within that same context, in part because the coastal area seemed a simple extension of the Carolina low country. As the last British colony in North America to be created by settlers coming directly from England, Georgia seemed to contemporaries and historians alike to be a peripheral region, a struggling province, more acted upon than an active participant in colonial affairs. An earlier generation of scholars focused on the trusteeship period, from 1733 to 1750, when James Oglethorpe and his fellow trustees created a colony to resettle the “worthy poor” of England, forbade slavery in an effort to ensure the viability of subsistence agriculture, and promoted the cultivation of silk and other exotic crops. The narrow focus of these efforts lacked the larger context that awareness of the British Atlantic world has given. In bringing this larger context to the story of colonial Georgia, recent scholarship has rediscovered the importance of the royal period. The rapid pace at which the royal colony (1751–1775) imported a plantation economy is all the more significant due to the chaotic, hurried way that Georgia borrowed models from both the Caribbean and Carolina. At a moment when South Carolina was fully integrated into a transatlantic economy with considerable commerce in the northern colonies, Georgia’s trade with the Caribbean remained as an essential primer of its economy and culture. That relationship helped explain why the colony was slow in embracing a revolution that imposed a new identity on a province facing southward. In the early national period, the state’s proximity to two colonial societies, Spanish East Florida and the Creek world, posed many of the same questions about identity.

General Works

The articles that appear in the Georgia Historical Quarterly from 1917 onward provide a wealth of information and perspectives about the colonial and revolutionary periods. Older studies on colonial Georgia, such as Coleman 1989, still have much to offer in terms of the political and institutional evolution of the colony. The best general work is Fraser 2003 on Savannah, which, despite its seemingly narrow focus, illuminates much of the history of the colony and of the state until the Civil War. An important study of slavery, Wood 1984 offers an analysis of the principal debate that tore the colony apart during the trusteeship period. Jennison 2012 ranges widely in considering slavery after the Revolution in the context of territorial expansion. An analysis of the economic development of the colony, Pressly 2013 explores the many ties that linked Georgia to the British Atlantic. Given the lack of solid general histories, Jackson and Spalding 1984 offers essays that provide a valuable overview.

  • Coleman, Kenneth. Colonial Georgia: A History. Millwood, NY: KTO, 1989.

    A traditional history that emphasizes the political and institutional development of the fledgling colony but offers a valuable framework for understanding how a colony that initially prohibited slavery and was composed of the “worthy poor” of England transformed itself into a plantation economy within a short space of time.

  • Fraser, Walter J., Jr. Savannah in the Old South. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2003.

    An experienced historian synthesizes research on the history of Savannah from its founding in 1733 to the eve of the Civil War. The emphasis is on the interaction of whites and blacks as the town evolved from a small frontier settlement to a major hub for railways. Exhaustive bibliography.

  • The Georgia Historical Quarterly. Savannah: Georgia Historical Society, 1917–.

    A rich source of articles on the history of the colony and the state with a strong emphasis on the colonial and revolutionary periods. Scholarly articles range broadly over cultural, social, political, and economic topics, with an increasing emphasis on those that have to do with race, class, and gender.

  • Jackson, Harvey H., and Phinizy Spalding, eds. Forty Years of Diversity: Essays on Colonial Georgia. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1984.

    Essays that deal with the social, political, religious, and ethnic diversity of colonial Georgia, from women landholders in the low country to the state of the backcountry on the eve of the Revolution. Especially valuable is a seminal essay by Jack Greene on the search for identity in colonial Georgia.

  • Jennison, Watson W. Cultivating Race: The Expansion of Slavery in Georgia, 1750–1860. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

    DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813134260.001.0001

    A synthesis of how the expansion of slavery in Georgia transformed the institution from its earliest years, when an openness in race relations typically associated with the Caribbean gave way to a racially bifurcated society. Has the merit of bringing Native Americans into the discussion.

  • Pressly, Paul M. On the Rim of the Caribbean: Colonial Georgia and the British Atlantic World. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2013.

    A demonstration of the many ways that colonial Georgia acquired the characteristics of the plantation complex in the British Caribbean and was, in turn, transformed by those connections over a forty-year period. Argues that Georgia was not South Carolina and must be understood on its own terms.

  • Wood, Betty. Slavery in Colonial Georgia, 1730–1775. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1984.

    In this excellent analysis of slavery in colonial Georgia, the author provides a history of the period that touches on virtually every phase of the political, economic, and social life of the colony. Serves as a benchmark for much of the current scholarship on 18th-century Georgia.

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