John A. Treutlen

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John Adam Treutlen (January 16, 1734 – March 1, 1782) arrived in colonial America as an indentured servant and rose to become a wealthy merchant and landowner. He was a leader in Georgia of the American Revolution and helped write Georgia's first constitution. In 1777, he was elected Georgia's first (post-British) governor. He was one of Georgia's few governors to die by violence, and much of his life has been surrounded by mystery and controversy. But in recent years, more details have emerged.

Family[edit]

He was born to Hans Michel Treutlen and Maria Clara Job in what is now the state of Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany. Hans Michel and Maria Clara were married in 1731 after having two illegitimate children. John Treutlen was the second child born after his parents married. This was Hans Michel's second marriage. His first marriage was to Maria Regina and they had seven children. Maria Regina died in 1727.

The Treutlens were Protestants. In parts of the German-speaking lands, Protestants were persecuted by Catholic authorities, and many left for America seeking religious freedom. Maria Clara, however, was a Catholic. Thus, the Treutlens were also very likely persecuted by the Protestant establishment for Maria Clara's religion and because the family had two children outside the marriage bond. This situation probably caused the 56-year-old Hans Michel to take, in late April 1744, his wife and four of their children on the arduous and dangerous voyage to seek a new life in America. The four children who went on this voyage were Friedrich, from Hans Michel's first marriage, Hans Philipp, one of the illegitimate children, and John Adam and Jonathan, the two youngest children.

The Treutlens traveled first to Gosport on the southern coast of Britain. In November 1745, Maria Clara and three of the children left Gosport for Georgia with a group of Lutheran Salzburgers who had been expelled from their Catholic-dominated homeland (see Salzburg#Religious conflict).

The mother and children embarked on the ill-fated "Judith". Hans Michel and one of the children, Hanß Philipp, remained in Britain. During the voyage across the Atlantic, there was an outbreak of typhus fever on the Judith. Thirteen individuals died, including the ship's captain. The first mate also became seriously ill. The Judith was in danger of not making the trip safely for death and illness left no one skilled at navigating a ship on the high seas. However, the Rev. Bartholomäus Zuberbühler, who had no prior experience sailing, used his knowledge of geometry to figure out how to navigate the Judith safely to Georgia.

Upon their arrival in Georgia, Maria Clara and the three Treutlen children were indentured to Michael Burckhalter of Vernonburg. Pastor Johann Martin Boltzius of the Salzburgers in Ebenezer took notice of the extraordinary talents of John Treutlen and endeavored to remove him to Ebenezer in order to enroll him at the school there. However, Boltzius found it difficult to arrange for permission for Treutlen's attendance at the school because of Maria Clara's history of abandoned husbands, illegitimate children, and Catholicism.

Treutlen's "wicked and worldly parents" were also probably the reason the true origins of John Adam Treutlen have remained hidden for so long. For 200 years it was believed that John Adam Treutlen was born in Berchtesgaden, Austria. According to this story, the Treutlen's, on their way to America, were attacked, and the father captured and imprisoned, by Spanish pirates. The father was supposed to have died in a Spanish prison in 1744. This story avoids many of the facts of Hanß Michel's and Maria Clara's life together that people of the eighteenth century would find disagreeable. For this reason, the story gained credence and then took on a life of its own over the next 200 years. However, marriage, birth, and other documents, recently discovered in Europe, have provided a more accurate picture of the Treutlens' European origins and voyage to America.

Career and rise[edit]

Overcoming the burden of his parents' past, Treutlen was enrolled in the school at Ebenezer. He did extremely well in his studies at Ebenezer and acquired a broad education in a wide variety of subjects in Latin, French, German, and English. He profited from growing up among the Salzburgers. As an adult, he was described as a man who possessed "an enlightened reason, Adam's natural intelligence and ability to give a name to every animal, knowledge of the laws of the land, and some discernment of practical religion."

In 1756, Treutlen married Marguerite Dupuis, an orphan who was also educated at Ebenezer. He soon began acquiring land and established for himself a large plantation and a successful merchant business. In 1768, he was appointed Justice of the Peace. He served as Commissioner and Surveyor of Roads, and several terms in the 1770s as Ebenezer's representative in the Georgia Commons House of Assembly.

Treutlen assumed an active role in the religious life at Ebenezer. He was a teacher at the school there. He was a leader of the Rabenhorst faction in the, sometimes, violent conflicts between the Ebenezer pastors, the Reverend Christoph Triebner and the Reverend Christian Rabenhorst. His association with Rev. Rabenhorst indicated Treutlen's religious sympathies. Ministers such as the Rev. Rabenhorst and the Rev. John Joachim Zubly of Savannah, found comfort in the writings of such German theologians as Rev. Johann Joachim Spalding. These ministers accepted the many differences among the people in the colonies as a result of the different countries and cultures those people came from. In their practical day-to-day activities of ministering to this diverse population these ministers found it most effective to employ various strategies in the gracious work of conversion. Treutlen's religious views, formed by his association with the Rev. Rabenhorst, undoubtedly helped him to develop his support for those democratic political institutions that seemed so agreeable with this diversity.

In July 1775, Treutlen represented Ebenezer at the Provincial Congress. He took an active role in the revolution. He quickly became a leader, along with Button Gwinnett and George Wells[disambiguation needed], of the radical faction. In February 1777, Treutlen, Gwinnett, and Wells were on the committee that drafted Georgia's first constitution. As a result, this constitution included such democratic provisions as virtual universal suffrage and annual elections of office holders. On May 8, 1777, the immensely popular Treutlen was elected by a wide margin as Georgia's first governor under this new constitution. With the selection of Treutlen, Georgia chose a man who "possesses native intelligence" and could, under pressure, reply "coolly and laconically" to his political opponents and was thus well suited for the difficult task of leading the new state.

Fall and murder[edit]

Treutlen's term as governor was marked by political conflicts between the radical and conservative factions of the patriots. The conservatives opposed those democratic provisions of the new constitution, which allowed many of those from the lower classes with backgrounds like the former indentured servant Treutlen, to be elected to positions of power in the government. The radicals referred to the conservatives as Tories and in some cases treated them accordingly. The radicals and conservatives clashed over the issues of civil control of the military, the conduct of the war, and the conservatives' initiative to merge Georgia with South Carolina. The radicals were defeated in their attempts to remove the conservative General Lachlan McIntosh from his position of leadership in the continental army in Georgia when national leaders such as George Washington sided with McIntosh.

Throughout the war, these political conflicts erupted into violent and tragic confrontations. In February 1777, the conservative Joseph Habersham slew the radical Lieutenant Nathaniel Hughes in a dispute at the opening of the convention called to write Georgia's first constitution. On May 16, 1777, the conservative Gen. McIntosh mortally wounded the radical Gwinnett. On February 16, 1780, the conservative James Jackson slew the radical Wells. Treutlen and the radicals lost many of their battles with the conservatives.

The Revolutionary War was particularly hard on the Salzburgers at Ebenezer. During the war, "when the English left, the Americans came, when the Americans went, the English came back," but one thing remained the same: No matter who was there, the Salzburgers were plundered. Some were plundered as many as ten times during the years of war. On December 30, 1776, the Rev. Rabenhorst died, leaving Ebenezer with no spiritual guidance. Thus, when John Houstoun was elected governor in January 1778, Treutlen dropped out of statewide politics and returned to Ebenezer to see what he could do to help the community and people that had provided him with so much during his three decades in America. While at Savannah, John Adam Treutlen became a Freemason by joining the first Masonic Lodge established in Georgia, named Solomon's Lodge, No. 1. Solomon's Lodge, No. 1,[citation needed] constituted in 1735 by the Grand Lodge of England, was founded in the Georgia Colony by the English Freemason James Oglethorpe on February 21, 1734. Treutlen's name is listed on the Lodge's Masonic membership roles in 1779 along with Archibald Bulloch, George Walton, General Samuel Elbert and many other Georgia leaders of the Revolution.

Late in 1781, Treutlen re-entered statewide politics as Ebenezer's elected representative to the Georgia Assembly. He served in the January 1782 session. In 1782, the conservatives that Treutlen had opposed five years earlier controlled the government of Georgia. Treutlen was one of the few radical democrats in the government that year. The imbalance in power between the radicals and the conservatives helped to create an atmosphere where the conservatives felt free to seek revenge for old scores and wounds.

On a night in March 1782, by some accounts, five men rode up to the Treutlen home. They demanded that Treutlen come outside, but he refused. The men then set fire to the home, forcing Treutlen, his wife and children to come outside. The men seized Treutlen and killed him in full view of his family. Other accounts of Treutlen's death are considerably different, but there is no dispute that he died by violence.

Historians continue to speculate about what person or group was behind the killing, and what was the motive. Some contemporary accounts claimed Treutlen was killed by Tories angry about the American victory in the Revolutionary War. Others blamed the killing on South Carolinians who resented his opposition to merging Georgia into South Carolina during the war. There was also speculation at the time that the motive was a purely personal grudge. The multiplicity of accounts and theories of his death indicates there was never a consensus about the cause of the event.

See also[edit]

  • Edward J. Cashin, "'The Famous Colonel Wells': Factionalism in Revolutionary Georgia," Georgia Historical Quarterly 58 (supplement, 1974).
  • Harvey H. Jackson, "Lachlan McIntosh and the Politics of Revolutionary Georgia"; (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1979).
  • Edna Q. Morgan, "John Adam Treutlen: Georgia's First Constitutional Governor, His Life, Real and Rumored"; (Springfield, Ga.: Historic Effingham Society, 1998).
  • Helene M. Kastinger Riley, "John Adam Treutlen: The European Heritage of Georgia's First Governor"; (Greenville, S.C.: Sagas Publishing, 2000).

Political offices
Preceded by
Button Gwinnett
Governor of Georgia
1777–1778
Succeeded by
John Houstoun