Monday, January 25, 2016

Land Swindle in Georgia

Drumbo, county Down in Ireland.  "The Tower"
While James Edward Oglethorpe was planting settlers in the Colony of Georgia, advertisements were being distributed in England encouraging settlement of so fair a land.  Meanwhile, Joe Rae of Maghrenock near Ballnahigh in County Down, Nova Scotia, emigrated to South Carolina ca 1729 or 1730 and applied for extensive land grants in Georgia because of his connections in North Ireland. Initially, he was granted 50,000 acres on the Ogeechee River in Queensborough (now Burke County, Georgia), 40 miles from Augusta, for his countrymen or friends. Then he started publishing letters in Belfast to acquire purchasers.  Two of his letters asking for settlers appeared in the Belfast News Letter in 1765. At this time, he was sending 100 pounds to educate the children of his dead brother and invited his countrymen to share in great fortune, guaranteeing the free use of cattle and horses for five years. But it was hiis brother, Matthew Rea, who financed the arrangements for the voyage, on the Prince of Wales to sail in 1765 from Belfast to Charleston with passengers, thence to Savannah. The ship sailed in February. Matthew Rea was a land promotor for America, and lived in the Village of Drumbo in County Down, and was either a small landowner or farmer. He had the means to undertake two tours of the surrounding countryside in furtherance of his emigration plans, acting as middleman in the emigration trade, and agent, working with his brother, John Rea, in Georgia to obtain emigrants to the Colony. 

As far as this land business was concerned, John Rea was described as a scoundrel in a letter published in 1770 describing georgia as "a woeful place...a poor hole...accursed place...inhabited by a few Irish and some run-aways from all parts of America...that John Rea was more concerned with erecting a hedge between himself and the indians than with promoting the happiness of his settlers". As the ship "Waddell" sailed in November of 1773, Mathew's activities on behalf of Georgia and his brother came to an end. 

John Rae was a resident of Georgia in August of 1741, where he was appointed Conservator of the Peace ten years later. In 1752, he petitioned the Georgia Trustees for 300 acres on Argyle Island on the Savannah River and 100 acres on Pipemaker's Creek. In 1755, he was elected Representative to sit in the Assembly for Georgia at Augusta, and a lot was granted to him at Hardwick, in Chatham County.  In behalf of his settlement efforts, he petitioned for relief for building a Church at Augusta in 1756, and received it. In February of 1768, he petitioned for lands on the Ogeechee River to be reserved for three years, in hopes of getting Irish settlers there. He printed ccopies of law and sent this to friends in Ireland, but the encouragement was much less than what was being given to South Carolina settlers, for in that State, free passage was provided, as well as other advantages. His friends wrote they would come to Georgia only if their passage was paid and they had use of lands free of expense and were exempted from taxes for ten years. The Georgia Trustees granted this wish to the Irish potentials, calling it "An Act for Encouraging Settlers to Come into the Province." 

John Rea, however, was very active in His Majesty's affairs, trying to obtain settlers for the Augusta area. He was Commissioner at Augusta, Collector and Assessor, in charge of erecting forts, printed the laws, built churches, and was in charge of building barracks for the soldiers. John Rea lived on 200 acres on Stony Creek, three miles above Augusta, adjoining the lands of George Galphin, where he had a grist mill. In April of 1765, he petitioned for land originally surveyed for Isaac Barksdale to his widow, but the lands were passed in the name of John Rae, Jr.  Rea had a negro slave, Nero, who was convicted in 1772 of felony, for breaking open a store of rice and taking several barrels. Ten other slaves were also discovered in the records, however there were probably a good deal more slaves who cultivated his lands. 

In 1771, John Rae, the first brother to come to the Colony,  was convicted of the manslaughter of Mrs. Ann Simpson, at Savannah, but was later pardoned. All his friends petitioned in his behalf, stating that he had been in the province for nearly forty years and had an unblemished character and had filled many offices of public trust. He has also been a Member of the Georgia Assembly, which was a very highly respected position in the province.  John Rae finally died in Augusta in 1784.  

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