The village of Cranham, near Upminster was once within the county of Essex. It is associated with General James Edward Oglethorpe (1696-1785) who founded Georgia, the last of the thirteen pre-independence British colonies in America.
As the son of Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe, the Member of Parliament for Haslemere in Surrey, the young Oglethorpe enjoyed an upper-class education at Eton, later entering Corpus Christi College, Oxford University in 1714, but in the same year he was commissioned into the British Army, becoming aide-de-camp to Prince Eugene of Savoy upon a recommendation by the Duke of Marlborough. He succeeded his father as MP for Haslemere in 1722.
Horrified by the untimely death of his architect friend, Robert Castell, in a terrible debtors' prison, Oglethorpe became chairman of the House of Commons Committee to study "the State of England's Gaols". In 1730 his suggestion that undischarged debtors be released from prison for transportation to America as colonists, was successful.
In June 1732 George II granted to a board of 20 trustees all the land between the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers "for establishing the colony of Georgia in America". Oglethorpe's name headed the list; others were Sir John Perceval MP and Recorder for Harwich and the lawyer Thomas Tower MP who subsequently became Sheriff after purchasing the Weald Hall estate near Brentwood.
Under the command of Oglethorpe, the first 114 newly released prisoners from several debtors' prisons sailed on the ship Anne and arrived in America in January 1733. This particular unoccupied territory, south of the Carolinas was a buffer against Spanish expansion from Florida. Here the former prisoners and the 'worthy poor' could make life anew.
Oglethorpe befriended Chief Tomochichi and his wife Scenawki who reigned over the Creek Indians. They became his lifelong friends. Unlike most colonists, Oglethorpe did not consider the Royal Grant sufficient and as a matter of prudence, sought a grant from the Indians whose land he hoped to colonise. Chief Tomochichi granted a large tract of land for the new colony, the formal treaty of which was signed on 21st May 1733. Oglethorpe selected a place called Yamacraw Bluff, 16 miles up the Savannah River which he named Savannah.
In 1737 Oglethorpe returned to England to raise troops for the war he anticipated with the Spanish in Florida. A year later he was back in Georgia with a regiment of British soldiers, the 42nd Regiment of Foot which he garrisoned on St Simons Island. Rivalry between England and Spain erupted into war in 1739 and Oglethorpe was engaged in military action. He led an expedition to capture the Spanish fort of St Augustine. Taking almost one thousand troop and 1,100 Indian allies, he laid siege but could not breach the Spanish defences and was forced to return to Fort Frederica. Following the famous Battle of Bloody Marsh, the British took control of the southern colonies and Spain never attempted another invasion.
Oglethorpe returned to England in 1743 for his marriage to Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir Nathan Wright. Her huge fortune included Cranham Hall in Essex and the lordships of the Essex manors of Canewdon, Cranham and Fairstead.
After a lifetime of immense activity, Oglethorpe who had done so much for others both in England and the New World, was defeated in the Parliamentary elections to represent Haslemere, having held the seat for 32 years. He retired from public life but in his later years became a well-known figure in London literary circles mixing with luminaries such as Samuel Johnson, Horace Walpole, James Boswell, Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith among other literati of the day. He died at Cranham Hall on 30th June 1785 and was buried at All Saints Church Cranham beside his wife Elizabeth.