Edward Telfair

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Edward Telfair
Governor of Georgia
In office
January 9, 1786 – January 9, 1787
Preceded bySamuel Elbert
Succeeded byGeorge Mathews
In office
November 11, 1789 – November 7, 1793
Preceded byGeorge Walton
Succeeded byGeorge Mathews
Personal details
Born1735 (1735)
Died (aged 71–72)
Savannah, Georgia, U.S.
Sarah Gibbons
(m. 1774)

Edward Telfair (1735 – September 17, 1807) was a Scottish-born American Founding Father, politician and slave trader who served as the governor of Georgia from 1786 to 1787 and again from 1790 to 1793. He was a member of the Continental Congress and one of the signers of the Articles of Confederation.[1]

Early life[edit]

Telfair was born in 1735 at Townhead,[2] his family's farm near Kirkcudbright in Galloway, Scotland.[3] He graduated from the Kirkcudbright Grammar School before acquiring commercial training. He immigrated to America in 1758 as an agent of a commission house, settling in Virginia. Telfair subsequently moved to Halifax, North Carolina, and finally to Savannah, Georgia, where he established his own commission house.[4] He arrived in Georgia in 1766, joining his brother, William, who had emigrated earlier.[5] Together with Basil Cowper, Telfair built the commission house, and it was an overnight success.[6] Telfair married 16-year-old Sarah Gibbons in 1774 at her mother's Sharon Plantation just west of Savannah.[7]

Telfair was an enslaver and a consultant on issues related to slavery. His mercantile firm dealt in enslaved people, among other things, and contemporary correspondence of his included discussions of such topics as the management of enslaved people, the purchase and sale of enslaved people, runaway slaves, the mortality rate of enslaved people born on plantations, the difficulty of selling closely related enslaved people, and the relations between whites and freedmen.[8]

Revolutionary period[edit]

Telfair was a member of a Committee of Safety (1775–1776) and was a delegate to the Georgia Provincial Congress meeting at Savannah in 1776. He was also a member of the Georgia Committee of Intelligence in 1776.[9] Telfair was elected to the Continental Congress for 1778, 1780, 1781, and 1782. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation.

In 1783, during the Cherokee–American wars, Telfair was commissioned to treat with the Chickamauga Cherokee Indians. Telfair was the designated agent (on behalf of Georgia) in talks aimed at settling the northern boundary dispute with North Carolina in February 1783. The land in question was generally regarded as Creek land, so the Cherokees readily signed the treaty. The Creeks refused.[10] Although the citizens of Franklin County begged him to retaliate,[11] Secretary of War Henry Knox instructed Governor Telfair not to retaliate against the Creek Indians.[12]

He served three terms as governor of Georgia. During his second term as governor, he illegally granted thousands of acres of land to speculators as part of the Yazoo land scandal. Telfair was one of only 12 men who received electoral votes during the first election for President and Vice President of the United States,[13] receiving the vote of one unrecorded elector from his home state of Georgia.

Death and legacy[edit]

Telfair died in Savannah in 1807, interred initially in the family vault at Sharon Plantation. Later in the 19th century, his remains were moved to Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah.[14] Three months after Telfair died, Georgia named Telfair County after the former governor.[15] Later in the 19th century, Savannah's St. James Square was renamed Telfair Square to honor the family.

Telfair Academy, 1818, family mansion of Mary Telfair

One of Telfair's sons, Thomas Telfair, represented Georgia in the U.S. Congress.[16] The eldest of the Telfair daughters, Mary Telfair, outlived her siblings and became the benefactor of the first public art museum in the American South, now a complex of three buildings called the Telfair Museums. After she died in 1875, her will also provided for the founding of the Telfair Hospital for Females. Today, it is known as Mary Telfair Women's Hospital.[17][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Georgia Governor Edward Telfair". National Governors Association. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  2. ^ Historical Collections of the Joseph Habersham Chapter, Daughters American Revolution, Volume 2 (1902), p. 64
  3. ^ "Edward Telfair of Kirkcudbright and Georgia". www.kirkcudbright.co. Retrieved January 20, 2024.
  4. ^ "TELFAIR, Edward, (1735–1807)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  5. ^ Jackson, Harvey H. "Edward Telfair". American National Biography. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  6. ^ Pressly, Paul M. (2007). "Scottish Merchants and the Shaping of Colonial Georgia". Georgia Historical Quarterly. 91 (2). Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  7. ^ Telfair Museum of Art: Collection Highlights – Telfair Museum of Art, Hollis Koons McCullough (2005), p. 10 ISBN 9780933075047
  8. ^ Edward Telfair Papers, 1764–1831; 906 Items & 5 Volumes; Savannah, Georgia; "Papers of a merchant, governor of Georgia, and delegate to the Continental Congress".
  9. ^ Jackson, Harvey H. "Edward Telfair". American National Biography. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  10. ^ Cashin, Edward J. (1999). The King's Ranger : Thomas Brown and the American Revolution on the Southern Frontier. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780820310930. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  11. ^ "1793 Jan. 1, Franklin County, [Georgia to] Edward Telfare [i.e., Telfair], Governor of Georgia / [citizens of] Franklin County". Southeastern Native American Documents, 1730-1842. Digital Library of Georgia. Retrieved February 13, 2018.
  12. ^ Knox, Henry. "Henry Knox, Secretary of War, to Edward Telfair, Governor of Georgia". Northwest Territory Collection, 1721-1825. Indiana Historical Society. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  13. ^ Journal of the Senate; Vol. 1; 1789; p8.
  14. ^ Johnson, Charles J. "Edward Telfair (1735-1807)." New Georgia Encyclopedia. May 26, 2015. Web. August 30, 2015.
  15. ^ Krakow, Kenneth K. (1975). Georgia Place-Names: Their History and Origins (PDF). Macon, GA: Winship Press. p. 223. ISBN 0-915430-00-2.
  16. ^ Johnson, Charles J. "Telfair Family." New Georgia Encyclopedia. May 26, 2015. Web. August 30, 2015.
  17. ^ Johnson, Charles J. "Mary Telfair (1791-1875)." New Georgia Encyclopedia. May 26, 2015. Web. August 30, 2015.
  18. ^ History of St. Joseph's/Candler at hospital website.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by