Georgia

Significance: Georgia was originally settled by immigrants from various parts of Europe. Later, slaves were brought in from Africa and the Caribbean. During the century following the CivilWar, Georgia’s population declined, but during the late twentieth century, Asian immigrants arrived in the state, followed by large numbers of Mexicans.

The original inhabitants of Georgia were several Native American tribes: the Apalache in the south, the Yamasee along the coast, and Cherokees and Creeks throughout the entire region. In 1526, Spain made its first attempt to plant a colony on the eastern seaboard; it is now believed that the Spanish settlement was not located in South Carolina, as had been thought, but on the Georgia mainland. However, many of the early Spanish settlers fell ill and died, and the survivors abandoned the colony, leaving few permanent traces of their presence behind. During the first half of the seventeenth century, the Spanish built forts and established missions in Georgia, but they were not able to maintain their ascendancy against the British, who soon laid claim to the Carolinas, Georgia, and part of Spanish Florida.

In 1731, the British crown granted a charter to a group of men led by General James Edward Oglethorpe, whose purpose was to establish a new colony called Georgia, in which there would be no slavery, no hard liquor, and no Roman Catholics. Oglethorpe offered land and supplies to poor laborers fromEngland. Georgia was also a safe haven for those fleeing persecution by the Roman Catholic Church, among them German Lutherans and Moravians and French Huguenots. In 1733, fortytwo Jews arrived in Savannah, most of them Sephardic Jews driven out of Portugal. In 1736, the colonists were joined by Scottish Highlanders, many of them Jacobites whose property had been confiscated after the rebellion of 1715. Lutherans from Salzburg, Germany, established the town of Ebenezer, upriver from Savannah, and Moravians also settled there, though they later moved north. Scots founded New Inverness (now Darien) on the Altamaha River.

Because of frequent attacks by the Spaniards and Indians, along with restrictions that made trade difficult and the establishment of large plantations impossible, most of the original colonists had left Georgia by 1743. However, after the original prohibition against slavery was rescinded in 1750, the colony attracted prosperous settlers, many of whom became planters and merchants. During the next few years, large numbers of slaves were brought into Georgia from Africa and from the Caribbean. By the 1830’s, however, the once wealthy planters were in economic trouble, in large part because their intensive cotton cultivation had ruined the soil. Many of them uprooted their households and moved west to Alabama and Mississippi, taking their slaves with them.

Profile of Georgia

Profile of Georgia
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract for 2006.
Notes: The U.S. population in 2006 was 299,399,000, of whom 37,548,000 (12.5%) were foreign born. Rankings in last column reflect total numbers, not percentages.

Meanwhile, after 1815, Irish colonists fleeing poverty and oppression had been coming to Georgia. Though at first their lack of education held them to menial jobs, they developed strong communities and became a political force. Savannah later became known for its annual Irish festival.

After the CivilWar (1861-1865), the hard-pressed planters made their land available for sharecropping, but tenants could barely survive on what they made, and the whites who went to work in the new cotton mills fared no better. As one of the poorest states in the Union, Georgia attracted few immigrants. Only metropolitan Atlanta offered some opportunities, at least for whites; the rest of the state remained in the grips of poverty, which was only intensified during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. After World War II, many black and some white Georgians fled to the North, where they could earn better wages as factory workers.

During the 1970’s, immigrants from Korea and Vietnam began settling in Georgia, where many of them opened shops. Well-educated Asian Indians arrived to fill vacancies in medical and professional fields. During the 1980’s, a new wave of Latin American immigrants flooded into Georgia. By 2006, according to the Migration Policy Institute, 32.2 percent of the foreign-born population of Georgia came from Mexico. About half of them were undocumented immigrants. Their lack of education forced them into low-paying jobs with no health benefits, and they had to rely on government welfare programs. They often faced resentment from native-born Americans, and they became easy targets for criminals.

Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman

Further Reading

  • Cobb, James C. Georgia Odyssey. 2d ed. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008. 
  • Coleman, Kenneth, ed. A History of Georgia. 2d ed. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991. 
  • Mohl, Raymond A. “Globalization, Latinization, and the Nuevo New South.” In Other Souths: Diversity and Difference in the U.S. South, Reconstruction to Present, edited by Pippa Holloway. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008. 
  • Murphy, Arthur D., Colleen Blanchard, and Jennifer A. Hill, eds. Latino Workers in the Contemporary South. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001. 

See also: African Americans and immigrants; Asian immigrants; Austrian immigrants; British immigrants; Crime; Florida; French immigrants; German immigrants; Irish immigrants; Jewish immigrants; Mexican immigrants; South Carolina.

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