Finding Jane Austen in the Most Unlikely Places: Savannah, Georgia

How to annoy friends and loved ones: offering daily proof that all things come back to Jane Austen, no matter the context. There have been a good number of very funny and unexpected results to support this theory – I always surprised and delighted in these “sightings” of Austen in the strangest places – my friends? – they merely roll their eyes. But a discovery a few weeks ago while on an architectural walking tour of Savannah Georgia might be the most bizarre yet… As we trekked around the beautiful and history-laden downtown, the whole of it a National Historic Landmark, our guide was asked how James Oglethorpe was able to communicate with the Native Americans he encountered when he chose Savannah for his settlement.

James Oglethorpe -

James Oglethorpe –

This was in 1733 and much later than the earlier colonies in South Carolina, Virginia, and those in the north, when Oglethorpe, under a charter granted by King George II, founded Georgia on the spot of this small river town. He started out with the best of intentions – he designed one of the most interesting towns likely ever planned and only thankfully for the machinations of a group of women in the 1950s, this city of twenty-two squares remains largely intact today (there were originally 24 squares). But Oglethorpe saw perfection not only in his architectural plan of Savannah – he expected it of his fellow colonists: no slavery, no Catholics (due to the proximity to the Spanish-controlled area of Florida just south), and no liquor…all of these prohibitions were eventually lifted.  [There is an old-wives tale that lawyers were banned as well, but I shall leave that to the history writers to separate fact from fiction!]


Savannah City Plan 1734

[The original caption of this print by Paul Fourdrinier reads: “A View of Savannah as it stood on the 29th of March 1734. To the Hon[orable] Trustees for establishing the Colony of Georgia in America. This View of the Town of Savannah is humbly dedicated by their Honours Obliged and most Obedient Servant, Peter Gordon.” – Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries]


Savannah Historic District map: see this link for a description of the 22 squares.


My intention here is not to give you a full-blown accounting of the founding of Savannah, fascinating subject though it be – but merely to share this tidbit. Back to our walking guide: it seems that there was a Creek woman, married to an English trader, who lived comfortably in both her worlds and served as interpreter, translator, and facilitator to Oglethorpe and his band of colonists, and therefore was largely responsible for the peaceful establishment and development of Savannah. Her name? Mary Musgrove. Now I know the guide was in a quandary when I yelped aloud and burst out laughing (I did explain the outburst after the walk – but when I said that Mary Musgrove was the name of one of Jane Austen’s most infamous characters, I am quite sure he was even more baffled…)

But there you have it – Mary Musgrove in America and Jane Austen once again rears her brilliant head!

Oglethorpe, Mary Musgrove, and Chief Tomochichi

Oglethorpe, Mary Musgrove, and Chief Tomochichi – Courtesy of Ed Jackson*

Now I am not saying that Jane Austen knew of this Mary Musgrove of course – there is nothing in her hypochondriac self-absorbed character to link her to a Creek woman living in the colonies nearly a century before. But it gave me a start nonetheless – and there is always the slight chance that Jane Austen may have seen something in her history books. Oglethorpe returned to England in 1734 with the chief of the Yamacraw Tomochichi and others from the Creek tribe to meet the King, and Mary’s husband John Musgrove went along to serve as interpreter. Mary remained in the Georgia colony and ran the trading post – but she too traveled to England in 1754 with her third husband Thomas Bosomworth [now there’s a name…] to settle the twenty year-long dispute over her ownership of several of the Georgia sea islands. In the end, she was granted title only to St Catherines Island, where after several more years as interpreter between the colonists and the Creeks, she died around 1765. Could any of this very interesting history have been part of the Austen family dinner conversation?

[*Image above from Ed Jackson’s website with thanks: ]

There is another important aside with respect to Oglethorpe and slavery. He was one of the earliest to speak out against it, his founding of the Georgia colony prohibiting slaves proof of his humanistic beliefs. It was he who brought Granville Sharp and Hannah More into the argument – and they, after Oglethorpe’s death in 1785, joined with William Wilberforce and others in fighting slavery in England, on the seas, and in the colonies. For those of us who see the subtext of the slavery issue in Mansfield Park, it is certainly a possibility that Jane Austen knew of Oglethorpe, his history in settling Georgia, and his anti-slavery sentiments – and maybe something perhaps about Mary Musgrove?


Mary Musgrove (pictured with her third husband, the Reverend Thomas Bosomworth) –
From First Lessons in Georgia History, by L. B. Evans

She was known as Coosaponakeesa among the Creek Indians, the daughter of an English trader Edward Griffin and a Creek Indian mother (the Creeks were a matrilineal society and children took the clan identities of their mothers). Living among both cultures she learned to speak both English and Muskogee (the language of the Creeks), and learned from her father the trading post business. Her marriage to John Musgrove, the son of a South Carolina trader and planter and a Creek mother, was settled to reinforce the peace treaty between the Native Americans and the English. They lived within the Creek culture until they established a trading post near the Savannah River, and where Oglethorpe found them in 1733. We know that Oglethorpe was appreciative of her efforts on the colonists’ behalf because in his will he left her £100 and a diamond ring from his finger … And Musgrove was important enough to the history of Georgia that in 1993 she was inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement.


Sophie Thompson as Mary Musgrove (1995)

Sophie Thompson as Mary Musgrove (1995)


As for Austen’s own Mary Musgrove – here are a few of the priceless quotes:

“My sore-throats, you know, are always worse than anybody’s.” 

“If there is anything disagreeable going on, men are always sure to get out of it.” 

“So, you are come at last! I began to think I should never see you. I am so ill I can hardly speak.” 

“Yes, I made the best of it; I always do: but I was very far from well at the time; and I do not think I ever was so ill in my life as I have been all this morning: very unfit to be left alone, I am sure. Suppose I were to be seized of a sudden in some dreadful way, and not able to ring the bell!” 

“…. as long as I could bear their noise; but they are so unmanageable that they do me more harm than good. Little Charles does not mind a word I say, and Walter is growing quite as bad.” 

“… and it is so very uncomfortable, not having a carriage of one’s own.” 


book-cover-barchas-mattersJanine Barchas in her book Matters of Fact in Jane Austen offers the possibility that Austen took the name from a small village in Somersetshire called Charlton-Musgrove and that this served as a real world setting for her imaginary Uppercross. In her geographical mapping of Persuasion, Barchas notes that this village as well as Lyme and Bath would be within the travel distances Austen lays out from her fictional “Uppercross” and “Kellynch Hall” [p. 235-6].

And this has nothing to do with any of this naming of characters, but I have always wondered why ever did Austen have Mary Elliot marry Charles Musgrove on December 16th, her very own birthday? Any thoughts?


Further reading: [there is a great deal on Mary Musgrove – I take some of this bibliography from the online Georgia Encyclopedia] 

  1. Baine, Rodney M. “Myths of Mary Musgrove,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 76 (summer 1992).
  2. Fisher, Doris. “Mary Musgrove: Creek Englishwoman,” (Ph.D. diss., Emory University, 1990). 
  3. Frank, Andrew K. “Mary Musgrove (ca. 1700-ca. 1763).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 
  4. Georgia Women of Achievement:
  5. Gillespie, Michele Gillespie. “The Sexual Politics of Race and Gender: Mary Musgrove and the Georgia Trustees.” The Devil’s Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South. Ed. Catherine Clinton and Michele Gillespie. New York: Oxford UP, 1997.
  6. Green, Michael D. “Mary Musgrove: Creating a New World.” Sifters: Native American Women’s Lives. Ed. Theda Perdue. New York: Oxford UP, 2001.
  7. Hahn, Steven C. The Life and Times of Mary Musgrove. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2012.
  8. Irby, Richard E., Jr. “Mary Musgrove, Queen of the Creeks.” On the About North Georgia website:,_Queen_of_the_Creeks
  9. Perdue, Theda. “Native Women in the Early Republic: Old World Perceptions, New World Realities.” Native Americans in the Early Republic. Ed. Ronald Hoffman and Frederick Hoxie. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1999.
  10. Sweet, Julie Anne. “Mary Musgrove: Maligned Mediator or Mischievous Malefactor.” Georgia Women: Their Lives and Times, Vol. 1. Ed. Ann Short Chirhart and Betty Wood. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2009.
  11. Wikipedia on Mary Musgrove:
  12. And even a YouTube! “Mary Musgrove: Georgia’s Own Pocahontas”-
  13. [Legal] indenture executed by Henry Ellis and Thomas [and] Mary Bosomworth [with sworn statements and opinion], 1760 Apr. 19 – Thomas and Mary Bosomworth (a.k.a. Mary Musgrove or Coosaponakeesa) and Henry Ellis (Royal Governor of Georgia, 1757-1760). The Bosomworths herein agree to cede the two islands of Ossabaw and Sapelo to the Crown in exchange for a sum of money and title to St. Catherine’s Island. Sworn statements given by Mary Bosomworth and her husband, Thomas, follow the indenture as does criticism, offered by an unknown author, relative to the negotiations between the Governor and Bosomworths. [WorldCat]

There is also a book for young people: published in 1997 with the title Call the River Home, a 2nd edition was published in 2011 as Mary Musgrove, Queen of Savannah:


And here we find Mary Musgrove very present in present-day Savannah:


c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont

2 thoughts on “Finding Jane Austen in the Most Unlikely Places: Savannah, Georgia

  1. I like your thinking Deb. The name, Mary Musgrove, doesn’t exactly bring to mind a Creek Indian. I wonder, often, how Austen decided on the names she chose. Names can be connected with a locality.Some originate from medieval occupations such as a Reeve. One of my grandfather’s surname was Reeves. It might be worth researching the Musgrove name. Where did it originate from? It may give you and us a better understanding about how Jane might have decided on it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s