Born in Godolphin House, St. James’ Park, London on 22 December 1696, he was educated at Eton and Oxford. He joined the army and rose from Captain Lieutenant to General despite being court-martialled (and acquitted) twice. From 1722 to 1754 he was Tory MP for Haslemere, Surrey. He chaired the “Committee to Enquire into the State of the Gaols of this Kingdom” which reported in 1729. One result of this was the establishment in 1733 of the slave-free and liquor-free colony of Georgia (of which he became Superintendent). Primarily a settlement for freed debtors, who in the main were professional artisans, Georgia was also a sanctuary for Protestant refugees from Salzburg, France, Moravia and Italy and for persecuted European Jews.
He obtained the trust of the Creek Native Americans, which was crucial to counteract the threat of French and Spanish invasion. His bringing the maco (chief) Tomachichi and his entourage to London, to meet George II and William Wake the Archbishop of Canterbury, contributed to the peaceful extension of British political interests in North America. The constant lobbying (supported by George Whitefield) of the Georgia plantation owners to permit slavery to enable them to compete with their Spanish and French rivals, was successful in 1751. With this principle breached, Oglethorpe severed his interests in Georgia. He married into wealth and lived at Cranham Hall, Essex and became a friend of Dr. Johnson. Though the freeing of debtors is his greatest legacy, he was also an abolitionist and brought about a free Navy by ending press gangs.
On his second voyage to Georgia, in 1735, Oglethorpe was accompanied by John Wesley (as Rector of Savannah) and Charles Wesley (as Secretary of Indian Affairs and secretary to Oglethorpe). The Wesleys fell out with the colonists and with Oglethorpe. They were subject to vilification as a consequence of applying the letter of canon law. Their close ties with the pacifist Moravians gave consternation. The legal consequences of John’s rapport with Sophy Hopkey reverberated round the colony. Both brothers were back in England by 1738.
There is no further recorded contact between the Wesleys and Oglethorpe for 43 years. Reconciliation took place when Oglethorpe attended the soirees held by Charles Wesley at his London home, where his sons performed. Oglethorpe kissed John Wesley’s hand in token of respect on 25 January 1781.