Jekyll Island History by Tyler E. Bagwell
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Jekyll Island, Georgia
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Sir Joseph Jekyll: Master of the Rolls

By Tyler E. Bagwell

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Sir Joseph Jekyll
In the 1600s Jekyll Island was under control of Spain and considered part of the colony La Florida. According to John E. Worth, author of the book The Struggle for the Georgia Coast, the island was called Isla de Ballenas or the "Island of Whales." The Spanish retreated in the late 1600s and the English soon advanced into the region. In 1734, thirty-eight-year-old General James Edward Oglethorpe re-named the island in tribute to his friend Sir Joseph Jekyll, a 75-year-old politician.

Sir Joseph Jekyll was a financial supporter of the Georgia colony and a member of the British Parliament from 1697 to 1738. An attorney by trade, Sir Jekyll married Lady Elizabeth Somers in the 1600s. He was knighted in the early 1700s and selected around 1717 to be a judge or the "Master of the Rolls" on England's Supreme Court of Judicature. The Master of the Rolls duties included presiding over the Court of Appeals and maintaining the court's legal records. The Master of the Rolls could also serve, if elected, in parliament's House of Commons. This practice of having judicial and legislative power simultaneously became illegal in 1873.

In 1736 Sir Joseph Jekyll introduced a controversial act in parliament calling for the excessive taxation of gin. The tax, an effort to eliminate poverty, made purchasing gin very expensive. Since the middle and wealthy classes typically drank beer and wine, the tax primarily affected the underprivileged, which tended to consume low-priced gin over other alcoholic drinks. Citizens from the poor and working classes of England became outraged. Riots occurred and on one occasion Sir Jekyll had to be protected from an angry mob of people. The 1700s taxation of gin, as some have argued, simply attacked a discernable symptom of poverty and not the root causes.

Sir Joseph Jekyll died in 1738 and Lady Elizabeth Jekyll in 1745. Their relatives, since they had no children of their own, would inherit their property and other possessions. However, a large amount of assets in East India stock were willed to the commissioners in charge of England's national debt. Interesting to note, Sir Jekyll's great-nephew named Joseph Jekyll became recognized for his anti-slavery book The Life of Ignatius Sancho. His great-great-great niece was the eminent landscape architect Gertrude Jekyll and one of his great-great-great nephews befriended author Robert Louis Stevenson, prompting the writer to use the family's surname in the book The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.


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