The letters between Governor Wright and the Secretaries of State for America between 1774 and February 1789 detail the goings on of the Georgia colony from the perspective of its Royal Governor. The letters written leading up to and during the American Revolution are particularly interesting for understanding the tensions between the British government and revolutionaries.
Abraham Baldwin was one of four delegates to attend the constitutional convention of 1787, and one of only two men from Georgia to sign the Constitution. Baldwin’s decision to change his vote on the issue of equal representation of states in the senate was instrumental in guaranteeing the “Great Compromise. Abraham Baldwin’s draft copy of the United States Constitution is one of the Georgia Historical Society’s most valuable treasures.
United States Constitution draft annotated by Abraham Baldwin, 1787. MS 1703. Georgia Historical Society.
Elizabeth Lichtenstein Johnston’s book Recollections of a Georgia Loyalist also offers a female perspective on the American Revolution in Georgia. Similar to Abigail Minis, Elizabeth Johnston also hailed from Savannah, Georgia. Unlike Abigail Minis, Johnston was a loyalist. When British forces evacuated Savannah in 1782, Johnston’s family left never to return. After fleeing Savannah, Johnston’s family lived in South Carolina, Florida, Scotland, Jamaica and finally Nova Scotia. With the help of her grandson, Elizabeth Johnston wrote down her memories of Georgia during the Revolution at the age of 72.
On May 4, 1782, the Georgia legislature passed the Confiscation and Banishment Act. This act declared 277 loyalists guilty of treason and allowed for the confiscation of their property. Loyalists who left the state had their property seized. The statement of Georgia loyalists and accompanying list of persons whose property was confiscated was transcribed and published from a handwritten document in the GHS collection. The transcription can be found starting on page 17 of Collections of the Georgia Historical Society, Volume XX:Selected Eighteenth Century Manuscripts.
Loyalist Papers, MS 506. Published in Collections of the Georgia Historical Society, Volume XX:Selected Eighteenth Century Manuscripts.
In 1775, partially in reaction to the news of Lexington and Concord, leaders of the patriot supporters in Georgia took action by establishing a provisional congress, Council of Safety, and electing delegates to the Continental Congress. The Georgia colony was slow to commit to the cause of the Revolution, but their full commitment was signaled in July of 1776 when George Walton, Button Gwinnett, and Lyman Hall signed the Declaration of Independence. On January 18, 1777, Congress, sitting in Baltimore, ordered that copies of the Declaration of Independence printed by Mary Katherine Goddard of Baltimore be sent to the states to be recorded in the states’ official records. This was the first published version of the document to include the names of all the signers. This is significant because the signers were announcing publicly that they supported the treasonous act of declaring independence from Great Britain.
The November 21, 1765, issue of the Georgia Gazette is particularly interesting because it was the last edition to be published until the repeal of the Stamp Act. This fact is noted in the margins of the paper. The opening article is a reprint of a speech given in the Massachusetts General Assembly in response to a speech given by Governor Bernard, the royal governor of Massachusetts. The speech is a wonderful introduction to the general grievances of the colonists against the British crown in the years leading up to the American Revolution. You can read Governor Bernard’s speech on the Internet Archive.
First two pages from The Georgia Gazette, Thursday, November 21, 1765. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
Anti-British sentiments began to rise in Georgia after the passing of the Stamp Act in 1765. Articles from the Georgia Gazette offer a unique window into Savannah during the Stamp Act troubles. The issue published on November 14, 1765, includes reports of reactions to the Stamp Act in other colonies and includes two proclamations by Gov. James Wright. The first proclamation includes examples of letters from Whigs threatening whoever takes office as stamp act master for Georgia. The second proclamation warns against rioting and protests in the colony.
First two pages from The Georgia Gazette, Thursday, November 14, 1765. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
On January 14, 1780, Abigail Minis wrote to her friend Mordecai Sheftall, who was then in Philadelphia, requesting his help in gaining reimbursement for the assistance she provided the Continental Army during the Siege of Savannah a few months earlier. Abigail Minis (c.1701-1794) was one of the earliest settlers of the Georgia colony having landed in the new colony with her husband and children in July 1733. Her husband, Abraham Minis, became a successful merchant and landowner in Savannah.
After his death in 1757, Abigail took over the management of the family’s mercantile firm and tavern and oversaw more than 1,000 acres of land in and around the city of Savannah. During the American Revolution, the Minis family supported the Patriots. During the October 1779 Siege of Savannah, Abigail provided the American and French forces trying to capture the city from the British with provisions.
Abigail Minis to Mordecai Sheftall. Charlestown, Jan. 14, 1780. From the Jacob Minis Colonial Papers, MS 568. Georgia Historical Society.
Enclosed I have sent you a copy of certificates given me for sundry articles provisions etc. etc., delivered the Allied Army which before the lines of Savannah in September 1779 immediately after the surrender of this town to the British. I gave the original certificates to General Lincoln who promised to have settled and paid, but the communication between Philadelphia and this place being totally stopped have not heard from him.
I have since made application to Col. Wylly the then Acting Quarter Master General for a settlement of the same, he informs me he cannot do anything in the matter unless the original certificates were here.
I have to request that you will make particular enquiry of General Lincoln or any officer who may have the papers belonging to this department in their possession for them, and use every method to obtain the money, in case you should obtain it I must request you to lay it out or do with it as will turn out best for my interest.
– in case nothing can be done to the northward with them please to find or keep them until I can receive them without risque.
Myself and daughter present our compliments
I am your obed. Serv.
Georgia did not see any major military events until 1778. In December 1778, the British army recaptured Savannah and by 1779 Sunbury and Augusta were both in British hands as well. Fighting moved to the back country. “The Plan of the Siege of Savannah” map shows the attempt of French Naval General Henri d’Estaing and American forces to recapture Savannah in 1779. The map, created by the British, depicts the failed siege.
Georgia has a complex and interesting story in the American Revolution. Georgia had experienced growth and prosperity as a royal colony and its citizens were deeply divided over issues of independence. Even the Whigs who supported independence from Great Britain had an internal struggle between the radical and conservative leaders. Relations with the Creek and Cherokee population on the Western frontiers added another layer of complexity to Revolutionary War Georgia. Letters, official documents, journals, newspaper articles, and other primary sources offer an opportunity to gain a richer more varied understanding of this volatile time in Georgia’s history.