Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Meeting Notes: September 17, 2008

"The Black Sheep of the American Colonies: Georgia Fights for Survival and Respect During the Revolution," Jim Jordan

Our speaker this month, Jim Jordan from New York, has a BA and a Masters degree from Pace College. Although he was originally from New York, he is now living in South Carolina and has just published his first novel beginning with the early 1800’s - called Savannah Grey.
Mr. Jordan posited the question: Why did it take so long for Georgia to enter into the revolutionary spirit? For example, even though Virginia was founded in 1607, the twelfth colony, Pennsylvania, was not formed until 1682 and then Georgia, the thirteenth, finally came in as a colony fifty years later in 1733.

The problem was that Spain had founded Florida and thus two countries, England and Spain, were claiming some of the same land. Oglethorpe went to King George and let him know that he wanted to found a colony in the Americas for hard working poor and thus got permission from King George to set this up. Oglethorpe traded with the Indians and came up with what is known as Oglethorpe’s Utopia in 1734. Savannah was laid out in wards but this private charter from King George was only for twenty-one years. Oglethorpe’s dream died around 1754, because the colony couldn’t make it and thus became a royal colony.

The Spanish attacked Oglethorpe and Oglethorpe even tried to attack Florida but he lost when he attempted to attack St. Augustine. Oglethorpe even wanted the trustees to ban slavery but the trustees decided against this and in any event the charter was forfeited and Georgia became a royal colony.

Over the years after that and during the French and Indian war and the prelude to the American Revolution, Georgia reluctantly participated from time to time in the various issues that were affecting the other colonies. However, for example, only one colony accepted the “Stamp Act” - Georgia!

After the battles of Lexington and Concord, the Second Continental Congress met in May of 1775 but only twelve of the thirteen colonies were represented because Georgia did not send anyone. There was a small section or county of Georgia that was represented but Georgia itself was not represented in this early congress. However, several months later after the Battle of Breed’s (Bunker) Hill, Georgia sent five delegates to its “Council of Safety” in July, 1775.

About this time there really were two powers in Georgia, that of the Royal Governor represented by Governor James Wright and the Council of Safety. The Council of Safety closed the Savannah Harbor and there is their famous comment to the Governor “Sir James - you are my prisoner” - in January of 1776. The Governor was allowed to remain at his home under “house arrest” upon the promise that he would not escape. He agreed to that but one month later he did escape with loyalists and left on a ship for England.

One of the main patriots in Georgia was Button Gwinnett who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (declared on July 4, 1776 but not signed until August 2, 1776). This was, of course, some turn around because Georgia had reluctantly gone along but was now fully patriotic.

The problem was, however, that Florida had been given to Spain under the Treaty of Paris and that had always been a thorn in the side of the Georgians. There were lots of loyalists down there and most of those loyalists then went to Florida and became known as the Florida Rangers.

Florida even attacked Georgia and the Georgians wanted to attack Florida but the weather was always just too hot. Actually Georgia did attack Florida or at least tried to three times but they failed on each of those occasions and thus, as Mr. Jordan mentioned, this was “three strikes and they were out.”

The first attack, albeit unsuccessful, was under General Lee in August and September of 1776. He was in charge of what was known as the Southern Department composed of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Then in February of 1777 Button Gwinnett with the state militia and Lachlan MacIntosh, who was in charge of the Continentals, tried to attack Florida but this also failed mainly because Gwinnett and MacIntosh just could not get along. These two finally fought a duel in May of 1777. They both took just two paces, turned around and fired. Both of them were shot in the leg but Gwinnett’s wound was worse, he bled terribly and then died three days later. MacIntosh was prosecuted for this (not the duel but the fact that he shot Gwinnett) but was acquitted. However MacIntosh was always despised by the Georgians and so he transferred to Pennsylvania.

The third attempt was when Governor Houstoun tried in April of 1778. He also tried to go down to Florida with the militia but was undermanned.

After the Americans were successful at the Battle of Saratoga in October of 1777, the British tried a new strategy in sailing south in attempting to conquer Georgia and then going northward from there. The British were successful in Savannah and in fact in the battle there, the Americans were basically slaughtered and totally wiped out. There were a number of other battles as the British tried to move north and even French Admiral D’Estaing attempted to help but there were coordination problems and lots of concerns especially when D’Estaing “treated” with the British right before the Battle of . Because D’Estaing waited so long, there were lots of casualties there and the famous Pulaski was killed at that battle.

In conclusion, the reason that Georgia was a black sheep, so to speak, and the reason there were so many loyalists down there is that they were the last colony to be formed and were right next to Spain’s interest in Florida and so far away from the action. However, as mentioned, there was this great turnaround and Georgia finally took up the cause with great gusto!