Signs of the Times (1774-1776)

John Jones of South Carolina married Mary Sharp, daughter of James and Mary Newton Sharp of Vandyke Plantation in Liberty County. They resided for a time in South Carolina, and migrated to Liberty County in 1774. They established a home at Sunbury, and a plantation on Bermuda Island. They were the progenitors of a family line which was still a part of coastal Georgia 200 years later.


Twenty years after it was founded, the Meeting House was still the only house of worship in Saint Johns Parish. It had about 125 white and black members, although the population of the parish in 1774 was at least 3,000 white and black persons.


Matthew Beard migrated from South Carolina to Saint Johns Parish in 1770, married Sarah Hurst of Saint Johns Parish, and on August 2, 1774, got a grant of 200 acres of land fronting the Altamaha River on the parish frontier. A stream ran through his property and emptied into the river. There was a low hill nearby overlooking the river. Stream and hill became known as Beards Creek and Beards Bluff. It was at that bluff that some of the earliest Indians in Geor­gia crossed the Altamaha River. James Edward Oglethorpe’s rangers used the same crossing when they opened a trading path to Darien as early as 1742.


Georgia was the most prosperous of all the American colonies by 1775. It is more than likely that Saint Johns Parish that same year controlled at least one-third of Georgia’s material wealth.


It was during this period of time that Georgia sent 579 barrels of rice to the suffering people of Boston, Massachu­setts. Two hundred barrels of that rice came from Saint Johns Parish. No parish in Georgia in 1775 was more patriotic, none more public spirited, or anxious to form a league against British oppression than Saint Johns Parish.


It was on August 10, 1774, that delegates from the parishes met at Savannah, Georgia, to discuss sending six delegates to a general congress of the American colonies at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, later that year. No delegate was elected, how­ever, most likely because of influence exerted by Governor Wright and leading royalists in Georgia.


It was at this time and point in history that the people of Saint Johns Parish took the lead in Georgia’s fight for independence of England. They called a convention of their own at the Meeting House on August 30, 1774. Representa­tives from Saint George and Saint David parishes joined them and it was resolved “that if a majority of the parishes would unite with us, we would send deputies to join the general congress and faithfully and religiously abide by and conform to such determination as should be entered into, and come from thence recommended.” Lyman Hall of Saint Johns Parish, the 32-year-old foremost advocate of independence in Georgia, was elected as their delegate to the general congress. A majority of the parishes, however, did not join in the effort and Hall did not attend the general congress.


The First Continental Congress met at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the autumn of 1774. Delegates at the meet­ing declared the Intolerable Acts unconstitutional. They issued a Declaration of Rights and Grievances to the crown and the English people. They agreed on a non-exportation and non-importation policy to compel England to discontinue her objectionable policies.


On December 3, 1774, a committee appointed during the August 1774 meeting of parish delegates at Savannah, Georgia, issued invitations to all the parishes to send delegates to a Provincial Congress at Savannah. Saint Johns Parish refused to do so until the Provincial Congress joined the Continental Association. The committee promised it would do so by March 15, 1775.


The Provincial Congress met at Savannah, Georgia, on January 17, 1775. No positive steps were taken to correct ills of the Intolerable Acts. Delegates at the meeting. however, did agree to forbid American ships from taking on boycotted goods at Savannah and Sunbury. Provisions were made for an inspection of custom houses at the two ports to assure that this was done. No delegates were elected to attend the Second Continental Congress at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, later that year.


Another meeting was held at the Meeting House in Saint Johns Parish in the spring of 1775 to elect an independent representative to the Second Continental Congress. Delegates from Saint Johns, Saint Andrews, and Saint David parishes attended the meeting and chose Lyman Hall as their repre­sentative to the Second Continental Congress.


When Hall departed by ship from Sunbury for Philadel­phia, Pennsylvania, he took with him 160 barrels of rice and 50 pounds sterling which the people of Saint Johns Parish had collected for the suffering people of Boston, Massachu­setts. He presented his credentials to the Continental Associa­tion on May 13, 1775. Officials of that organization unanimously admitted him to a seat in the Second Continental Congress, “as a delegate from the Parish of Saint Johns in the Colony of Georgia, subject to such regulations as the Congress should determine relative to his voting.”


When the Second Continental Congress met at Philadel­phia, Pennsylvania, in the autumn of 1775 fighting had already begun between the American colonies and England. Delegates to the meeting were more rebellious and radical. Another petition was sent to the crown. A Declaration of Causes for Taking Up Arms was drafted. Hall declined to vote on matters to be decided by a vote of all the American colonies. But he did participate in the debates and recorded his opinions in all cases where an expression of sentiment by the colonial delegates was not required. He declared his earnest conviction that the example shown by Saint Johns Parish would be speedily followed, and that the representa­tion of Georgia would soon be complete.


Sir James Wright during this period of time advised the Earl of Dartmouth that the head of rebellion in Georgia was in Saint Johns Parish, Sir James wrote: “The rebel measures there inaugurated were to be mainly referred to the influence of New England people of the Puritan Independent sect who , retaining a strong tincture of Republican or Oliverian princi­ples, have entered upon an agreement amongst themselves to adopt the resolutions and association of the Continental Congress.” Sir James referred to, of course, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1653 to 1658, and a champion of early puritans in England.


Bermuda Island by 1775 was known as Colonels Island because so many colonels resided there. Colonels Island, Sun­bury and the Meeting House that year were focal points of all religious, social, military, and economic matters in Saint Johns Parish.


Georgia patriots in July and August 1775 seized control of the militia establishment of the colony by enforcing the acceptance by the officers of the “Articles of Association,” the oath of allegiance to the Committee of Safety created by the Provincial Congress which in another year would evolve into a government of the State of Georgia.


By 1775 volunteer military organizations known as the uniformed militia had been created in Georgia in addition to the general militia. The companies grew out of the indepen­dent or special companies of light infantry, grenadiers, rifle­men, fusiliers, horse, and artillery formed by the voluntary association of men who provided their own distinctive uniforms, and because of such membership were issued certificates of exemption from service in the general militia.


John Baker was commissioned captain of the Saint Johns Riflemen in Saint Johns Parish on January 8, 1776. James Screven was commissioned captain of the Saint Johns Rangers in Saint Johns Parish on January 9, 1776. In less than three months both of the units saw combat with British troops at Savannah and Tybee Island, Georgia.


Violence occurred at Savannah and Sunbury when ships arrived at the two ports with cargoes of goods on which no taxes had been paid. Citizens of the two towns actively opposed tax collectors when they tried to seize the vessels.


Archibald Bulloch was elected first president of the Council of Safety on January 22, 1776. The Continental Congress created the Southern Military Department, com­posed of military forces in South Carolina and Georgia. and named Major General Charles Lee as its commander. The Georgia Brigade, composed of troops from South Carolina and Georgia was formed early in 1776, with Colonel Lachlan Mclntosh as its commander, to meet the British naval threat to Savannah, Georgia.


During a session of the Provincial Congress on April 15, 1776, “Rules and Regulations of 1776” were established and comprised the first temporary constitution for an in­dependent government of Georgia. The measure specified that provincial laws would continue in effect, and that the new government would continue to operate its armed forces under terms of the Militia Act of 1773. It was also at this time that a legal system for the state was devised. It was composed of a general court, a chief justice and two assist­ant judges, an attorney general, a provost marshal, and a clerk of the court of sessions. It was very much like the general court establishment by the royal government in 1754. It was scheduled to hold sessions the first Tuesdays in June and December in Savannah, Georgia.


The Continental Congress authorized an army and ap­pointed George Washington its commander-in-chief in early 1776. A committee of five was appointed to draw up a Declaration of Independence.


Georgia named Lyman Hall and Button Gwinnett of Saint Johns Parish, and George Walton of Augusta, Georgia, as its representatives to the Third Continental Congress. All three were present in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1776 when delegates of the American colonies ratified the Declara­tion of Independence. The document then went to a printer. It was ready for signatures by August 2, 1776. It was probably on that date that the three Georgia delegates signed the Declaration of Independence.


Thomas Jefferson was the principal writer of the Declara­tion of Independence. The preamble contained the philoso­phy of human rights. The second part stated a severe indict­ment of British policies in America, listing grievances. The concluding part stated a decisive break with England, which was a formal declaration of war.