George Mathews (Georgia)
|Seal of Georgia|
|21st Governor of Georgia|
November 7, 1793 – January 15, 1796
|Preceded by||Edward Telfair|
|Succeeded by||Jared Irwin|
|Member of the U. S. House of Representatives from Georgia's 3rd district|
March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1791
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Francis Willis|
|20th Governor of Georgia|
January 9, 1787 – January 26, 1788
|Preceded by||Edward Telfair|
|Succeeded by||George Handley|
|Delegate to the First Virginia Convention|
August 1, 1774
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Position abolished|
|Virginia House of Burgesses|
Did not convene
|Preceded by||Charles Lewis|
|Succeeded by||Position abolished|
|Born||August 30, 1739
Augusta County, Virginia
|Died||August 30, 1812 (aged 73)
|Resting place||St. Paul's Episcopal Church Cemetery|
|Spouse(s)||Anne "Polly" Paul
Margaret Cunningham, Mary Carpenter Flowers
|Residence||Goose Pond Plantation, Wilkes County, Georgia|
|Allegiance|| Great Britain
|Service/branch||Virginia provincial militia
United States Army
|Years of service||Militia: 1774
Continental Army: 1775–1783
U.S. Army: 1810–1812
• Battle of Point Pleasant
American Revolutionary War
• Battle of Brandywine • Battle of Germantown • Battle of Guilford Court House
• Patriot War of East Florida
George Mathews (August 30, 1739 [O.S. August 19, 1739] – August 30, 1812) was a Continental Army officer during the American Revolution and rose to the rank of brevet brigadier general; he was 20th and 21st governor of Georgia, and a U.S. Congressman. He was the leading participant in the Patriot War of East Florida, an 1810-1812 filibuster expedition to capture Spanish Florida for the United States.
Born in Augusta County, Virginia, Mathews was in early life a merchant and planter. He quickly became a senior officer in the colonial forces, and was credited along with Colonel Andrew Lewis for the victory of the Virginia provincial militia against the Shawnee and Mingo Indian tribes in the Battle of Point Pleasant of Dunmore's War. He was afterward a member of the House of Burgesses from Augusta County. He attended the First Virginia Convention when the Virginia General Assembly was dissolved by royal governor Lord Dunmore.
On the outbreak of the American Revolution Mathews led the 9th Virginia Infantry of the Continental Army to the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777. He and his entire regiment were captured in the Battle of Germantown the following month. He spent the next four years as a prisoner of war, including two years on the British prison ship HMS Jersey. He was exchanged on December 5, 1781. He was breveted to the rank of brigadier general on September 30, 1783. He was an original member of the Virginia Society of the Cincinnati.
After the war, he moved to the state of Georgia and was quickly elected to the Georgia General Assembly. The same year he was elected 20th governor of the state. He served two terms as governor, and one intermittent term in Congress, during which he voted to ratify the United States Constitution. During his second administration he quietly allowed the creation of the rogue state of the Trans-Oconee Republic, headed by General Elijah Clarke. He oversaw the removal of the state when public opinion, coupled with pressure from the Federal government, shifted. His administration was later tainted by the Yazoo Land Fraud, which ultimately led to his retirement from politics.
Mathews relocated to the Mississippi Territory and in 1810 was assigned a filibuster operation by President James Madison to incite an insurrection in East Florida and capture the territory for the United States. This initiative is now referred to as the Patriot War of East Florida. Mathews had launched the insurrection, capturing Ferninanda Beach and Amelia Island, before the secret mission was recalled and disowned by President Madison, fearing war with Spain and its allies. On learning of the recall, Mathews set out to Washington to confront Madison on the decision. He died in Augusta, Georgia on his way to the capital. He is buried at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
George Mathews was born on August 30, 1739 in Augusta County, Virginia to Anne (née Archer) and John Mathews. His parents immigrated to America during the early years of the Scotch-Irish on 1717-1775. His father was a successful member of the early Augusta County community and sent George and his siblings to the Augusta Academy, a local classical school founded in 1749.
By the 1760s George and a brother, Sampson Mathews had acquired extensive property along the western frontier as far west as the Greenbrier district, and set up several outpost along this stretch. They sold both frontier necessities and specialty goods and their imports included Atlantic trade markets. He was active in civic affairs of his community, holding the offices of sheriff, vestryman, and justice of the peace for Augusta County, and he was regularly involved in skirmishes against local Native American tribes, who frequently conducted raids into the colonies. His father's farm was raided on at least one occasion.
In the fall of 1774, Royal Governor Lord Dunmore assembled an invasion of Native American Virginia territory as a result of the rising tension between the two peoples, culling a thousand troops largely from the Virginia frontier. George Mathews was commissioned captain of Augusta County militia under Colonel Andrew Lewis, whom he accompanied to Point Pleasant, Virginia (now West Virginia). The October 1774 Battle of Point Pleasant of Dunmore's War was fought between Virginia militia and Native Americans from the Shawnee and Mingo tribes along the Ohio River. The Native Americans, under the Shawnee Chief Cornstalk, attacked Virginia militia under Col. Lewis, attempting to halt Lewis's advance into the Ohio Country. Rembert Patrick described the battle as "a typical Indian battle where every man found a tree, and military discipline in the English sense was unknown." Mathews was credited with a flanking maneuver late in the battle that initiated Cornstalk's retreat. He gained statewide fame from the battle was elected to the House of Burgesses for the 1774 session, though Governor Dunmore dissolved the assembly before it convened. In May of 1774, he attended the First Virginia Convention. The Burgesses, operating as the First Virginia Convention, met on August 1, 1774 and elected representatives to the Second Virginia Convention, banned commerce and payment of debts with Britain, and pledged aid and supplies to the American Revolution.
George Mathews was commissioned colonel of the 9th Virginia Regiment in the Continental Army on the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and led the regiment north to join the General George Washington and the Continental Army for the Battle of Brandywine of the Philadelphia campaign. The battle, fought between Washington's army and the British army of General Sir William Howe on September 11, 1777, consisted primarily of hand-to-hand bayonet combat. The British defeated the Americans and forced them to withdraw toward the rebel capital of Philadelphia. Mathews was credited for saving the American army from rout at the battle, during which he was said to have been stabbed 5-7 times. Alexander Scott Withers declared him the "hero of Brandywine." The following month, he and his entire regiment were killed, captured, or scattered at the Battle of Germantown, a second clash between generals Washington and Howe. Mathews led a charge early in the day that resulted in the capture up to 100 British soldiers; however, as the day progressed, his regiment had penetrated so deeply into British lines that it became isolated from Washington's army and was engulfed by opposing troops. The given reasons for his capture vary; some claim he did not receive Washington's orders to retreat, while others claim his regiment became lost in the fog and smoke of battle. He spent much of the remaining revolution as a prisoner of war, at first held at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When the British withdrew from there, he was moved to the HMS Jersey prison ship, anchored in New York harbor.
By 1779 he was granted a limited parole and permitted to live in New York City. He wrote to Governor Thomas Jefferson and to the Continental Congress urging a prisoner exchange. Jefferson wrote to Mathews to explain his decision to leave him in New York City as a parolee and instead exchange for others still suffering on the prison ships:
He was finally exchanged on December 5, 1781, at which point he went south with Major General Nathaniel Greene, campaigning in South Carolina and Georgia and fighting with Greene at the Battle of Guilford Court House. He was named commander of the 12th Virginia Regiment, but this was only a nominal command, since his new regiment had been prisoners since the fall of Charleston in May 1780. He was brevetted to the rank of brigadier general on September 30, 1781.
Political career in Georgia
Mathews was impressed with the opportunities for political and financial gain on the Georgia frontier during his campaign with Gen. Greene. When he was released from service in 1783, he bought land in Wilkes County, augmenting that with land grants given for Revolutionary War service. He liquidated his Virginia property, and moved his family to a log cabin there. He and his wife, Polly, would raise their children there and in their later, larger house. In all, they had eight: John, Charles Lewis, George, William, Ann, Jane, Margaret, and Rebecca.
His bearing and military experience gained the respect of the other members, and they named him 20th Governor of Georgia in 1787. Following his term in the governor's office he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1789 for one term, during which he attended the state convention to ratify the United States Constitution. His identification as a Federalist and his involvement in land speculation caused him to lose the election for the U.S. Senate in 1792. But, by 1793 he had regained enough support to again be chosen governor.
His second administration was more tumultuous than his first. In February 1794, General Elijah Clarke, a popular veteran of the American Revolutionary War, lead an expedition to establish an independent state west of the Oconee River—on hunting grounds reserved by the federal Treaty of New York (1790) exclusively for the Creek Indians. Georgia had not been consulted on the original treaty and many Georgians viewed it unfavorably because they saw it as limiting the possibilities for the future expansion of their state.
Clarke's frontiersmen made settlements on lands in present-day Greene, Morgan, Putnam, and Baldwin counties of Georgia. The settlers built several towns and forts over the next few months. They also wrote and ratified their own constitution, indicating the permanent intention of their endeavor. With little overt opposition from the Creek, they were taking control of the lands before the state or federal governments could react.
The United States government viewed Clarke's actions as a violation of the Treaty of New York, which provided recognition of Creek lands in an effort to maintain peace and guarantee their neutrality. President George Washington pressured Mathews to remove the illegal settlers from the Creek lands. Mathews initially ignored the "unauthorized military expedition," because he shared the state's resentment of the treaty and was aware of Clarke's popularity as a hero of the Revolution. He took only token measures to stop Clarke and his party, such as issuing a proclamation in July 1794 that went unenforced. It is unlikely that Mathews had enough public support to move against Clarke at that juncture, but the tide of public opinion eventually changed and he took actions to remove the rogue general from power. In September, 1200 Georgia militiamen, acting in conjunction with federal troops stationed on the Oconee, surrounded and isolated General Clarke's fortifications. After some negotiation, Clarke agreed to surrender, provided that he and his men would not face prosecution for their actions. Clarke and his followers departed, and the militia burned down the new settlements and fortifications.
Mathews' popularity waned, in 1794 he turned to land speculation in an effort to maintain his popularity. He, along with other high-ranking Georgia officials, issued several grants of land for the same parcels, at times granting up to three times more land than existed. Four new companies: the Georgia Company, the Georgia-Mississippi Company, the Upper Mississippi Company, and the new Tennessee Company, persuaded the Georgia state assembly to sell more than 40,000,000 acres (160,000 km2) of land for $500,000. Many Georgia officials and legislators were to be stockholders in these companies. On January 7, 1795, Mathews signed into law a bill authorizing the sale of the 40,000,000 acres (160,000 km2), known as the Yazoo Act.
When the details were revealed, public outrage was widespread, and people protested to federal officials and Congressmen. Jared Irwin and U.S. Senator James Jackson led the reform efforts: Irwin was elected Governor of Georgia and, less than two months after taking office, signed a bill on February 13, 1796 nullifying the Yazoo Act. The state burned all copies of the bill except for one that had been sent to President George Washington. Jackson resigned as Senator to run for office as next Governor of Georgia. He was elected and took office two years later.
Mathews started afresh in the Mississippi Territory. His wife Polly had died, so he married a widow, Mary (Fairchild) (Lewis) Carpenter (widow of Richard Carpenter, 1729-1788.), who owned property there. He again returned to land speculation, buying stock in a land company the claimant of extensive acreage in the territory. A few years later he would also return to politics
In 1798 he was appointed governor of the newly formed territory of Mississippi by President John Adams. Secretary of War James McHenry objected to the appointment, citing Mathews' financial stake in territory. When Adams withdrew the nomination, Mathews was reported to have responded: "Sir,if you had known me, you wouldn't have taken the nomination back; if you didn't know me, you should not have nominated me to such an important office."
Patriot War of East Florida
In 1810, Mathews was recommended to President James Madison by Georgia Senator William Harris Crawford as a confidential agent to report on conditions in the Spanish Floridas, as Crawford believed an annexation of the territory to the United States was possible. President Madison sent Mathews to meet with Spanish governor of West Florida, Don Vicente Folch, in November, 1810. Folch indicated to Mathews that he was willing to transfer West Florida to the United States peacefully. Madison, on receiving this information, decided to try to annex both East and West Florida all at once, seeking to take West Florida peacefully and giving Mathews “official instructions to assist a revolutionary movement in East Florida.” Mathews was assigned an Indian agent, John McKee. The president, seeking to keep the United States seemingly removed from the plan, gave them instructions that were "remarkably vague and general."
Mathews, then at 72 years of age, returned to the Spanish state with a commission of brigadier general and again met with Governor Folch. Folch had gone cold on the trade and told Mathews that he did not intend to negotiate with Madison for the West. Mathews delivered the message to the White House, at which point Secretary of State James Monroe instructed Mathews to focus on forceful annexation of East Florida, “if he thought he could accomplish anything there.”
Mathews and McKee proceeded in the subsequent months to create an intelligence network throughout East Florida to ascertain the political attitudes of the East Floridians towards the United States, determining that an insurrection against Spanish rule was achievable. Mathews became infected with malaria during the campaign, delaying the operation several months. Isaac Cox wrote that Mathews “spent the summer of 1811 alternately fighting malaria and encouraging insurrection."
On March 13, 1812, Mathews, with a force of Georgians, launched his revolution on the island of Fernandina. With Mathews, the local insurgents known as the "Patriots of Amelia Island" seized the island and declared their independence. They hoisted a new flag of East Florida, designed by a member of Mathews’ staff. He then turned his focus inland, writing to the President to convey the success and to request additional United States military personnel.
As the insurrection grew, Congress became alarmed at the possibility of being drawn into war with Spain and their allies, the British. [However, a few months later the U.S. declared war on Britain, setting off the War of 1812]. Mathews' operation had grown large enough and quickly enough that the United States could no longer deny involvement. Madison was forced to repudiate the mission, and the effort fell apart. He and his cabinet would deny all involvement in the matter. Mathews decided to go to Washington to appeal his case personally. But, on the trip he became ill and was forced to stop in Augusta, Georgia. He died without reaching Washington.
Historians and have been divided over the legacy of the Patriot War of East Florida. Some agree that Mathews overstepped his authority and deliberately departed from Madison's intentions. Historian J.C.A. Stagg, in George Mathews and John McKee, Revolutionizing East Florida, Mobile, and Pensacola in 1812 (2007), found sufficient evidence in correspondence between Mathews and Madison to determine that Mathews exaggerated his "remarkably vague" instructions and acted well beyond Madison's intent.
Others believe Mathews had followed Madison's intentions, and that Madison had disowned the filibuster for political reasons, sacrificing Mathews' reputation in the process. Historian G. Melvin Herndon, in George Mathews, Frontier Patriot (1969), offered a vindicating perspective for Mathews and places blame for the failure of the expedition on Madison for repudiating the assignment.
Mathews died on his 73rd birthday, August 30, 1812, in Augusta, Georgia, while on his way to Washington to confront President Madison over the repudiation of his filibuster expedition. He is buried in St. Paul's Churchyard there. G. Melvin Herndon went on to say:
Legacy and honors
- Mathews, Alabama, is named for him.
- Mathews, Louisiana, is named for his son, George Mathews Jr.
- Several historical markers in Georgia are dedicated to him.
- "...summer of 1717...", Fischer, David Hackett, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, Oxford University Press, USA (March 14, 1989), pg. 606; "...early immigration was small,...but it began to surge in 1717.", Blethen, H.T. & Wood, C.W., From Ulster to Carolina, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 2005, pg. 22; "Between 1718 and 1775", Griffin, Patrick, The People with No Name, Princeton University Press, 2001, pg 1; etc.
- Patrick, Rembert W. (2010). Florida Fiasco: Rampant Rebels on the Georgia-Florida Border, 1810-1815. University of Georgia Press, 2010. ISBN 0820335495, 9780820335490
- Handley, Harry E. (1963), "The Mathews Trading Post", published in The Journal of the Greenbrier Historical Society: Volume 1, Number 1 (Lewisburg, West Virginia: Greenbrier Historical Society, August 1963) http://www.gillilandtrails.org/pages/MathewsTradingPost.asp Retrieved October 28, 2012
- Chalkley, Lyman (1912) Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia, Extracted from the Original Court Records of Augusta County, 1745-1800 (Washington, D.C.: Daughters of the American Revolution, 1912).
- Atkinson, George W., History of Kanawha County: from its organization in 1789 until the present time; Printed at the Office of the West Virginia Journal, 1876, 345 pgs.
- Herndon, G. Melvin (1969). George Mathews, Frontier Patriot. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 77, No. 3 (Jul., 1969) pp. 307-328
- Stuart, Charles (1845). Charles A. Stuart to Lyman C. Draper, Greenbrier, January 8, 1845 in Draper Collection, Kentucky Papers, VIII, 40.
- Leonard, Cynthia Miller 1978. The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619-January 11, 1978: a bicentennial register of members. Virginia State Library., pp 105, 109.
- Ford, Paul L. The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. II (in 12 Volumes): Correspondence 1771 - 1779, the Summary View, and the Declaration of Independence. Cosimo classics history Volume 2 of The Works of Thomas Jefferson. p467. http://books.google.com/books?id=Iry86J8v01AC&pg=PA467&dq=%22george+mathews%22+%22governor%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=FsKVUNWLOIn30gHPkIDwCg&ved=0CEcQ6AEwCTgK#v=onepage&q=%22george%20mathews%22%20%22governor%22&f=false Retrieved November 3, 2012
- George R. Lamplugh, Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 1986, pp. 64-68, accessed 19 Nov 2010
- Christopher J. Floyd, "Trans-Oconee Republic", New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2004-2010, accessed 19 Nov 2010
- Magrath, C. Peter. (1966)Yazoo: Law and Politics in the New Republic. The Case of 'Fletcher v. Peck'. (1966). Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press
- Terry L. Carpenter: "Richard Carpenter, Pioneer Merchant of British West Florida and the Natchez District of Spanish West Florida", in The National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 72, No. 1, March 1984, pp. 51-62.
- Knott, Stephen F. (1996) “Secret and Sanctioned: Covert Operations and the American Presidency.” Oxford University Press, 1996. p 93 http://books.google.com/books?id=DgYxLklV7UwC&dq=%22george+mathews%22+%22governor%22&source=gbs_navlinks_s Retrieved November 3, 2012
- Cusick, James G. (2007). The other war of 1812 : the Patriot War and the American invasion of Spanish East Florida. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-0820329215.
- Stagg, J.C.A. (2007). George Mathews and John McKee: Revolutionizing East Florida, Mobile, and Pensacola in 1812. The Florida Historical Quarterly Vol. 85, No. 3 (Winter, 2007). pp. 269-296
|Governor of Georgia
|United States House of Representatives|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 3rd congressional district
March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1791
|Governor of Georgia