Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

JUDGE GEORGE WALTON


Montgomery County Jurist Declares Our
Independence

Philadelphia, PA, July 2, 1776 - There was a meeting going on!  A revolution!  Freedom, the unalienable endowment of our Creator, was the solitary topic of discussion.  Over in the corner sat a young Savannah lawyer, the youngest in the congregation of the Colonial America’s most elite and erudite professionals, businessmen, and planters.  George Walton and fifty-five other freedom seeking members of the Continental Congress adopted a resolution declaring the thirteen colonies of King George’s colony of America be, then and forever independent and free to enjoy the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Walton, in the in the first year of nearly thirty years of public service, would later serve a  term as Judge of the Superior Court of Montgomery and Washington counties, some of whose citizens became Laurens Countians, when a portion of  those counties was annexed into Laurens County in 1811.

George Walton was born in Frederick County in the colony of Virginia in the middle of the 18th Century.  As an orphaned boy, George was sent by his uncle to apprentice under a local carpenter, who being somewhat of a fool and knowing nothing of the young man’s potential, denied the young man the use of a mere candle, which George yearned to have to satisfy his passion for reading and for learning all that he could.  Undaunted by the ignorance of the craftsman, George, in his spare moments when he could slip away, gathered sundry pieces of wood, which he burned in lieu of the forbidden stick of wax.

When he attained the age of majority, George removed himself from his native land and set out to study the law, a subject which then attracted the most intelligent men in the colonies. Walton, still a teenager by the calendar, began to study law under Henry Young, a prominent Savannah barrister. In four years or so, Walton had become proficient in the understanding the laws of the colony and was admitted to the practice of law in the general courts of the state.

Savannah, the southernmost port city of the American colonies, was rapidly becoming a “hot bed” of those who favored liberty from the tyrannical acts of King George.  In the summer of 1774, Walton allied himself with “The Liberty Boys,” a group of men who held a bitter, deep and unceasing  hatred for the King of England for his numerous and continuous acts of repression he had heaped among the colonists of America.   Some of the Liberty Boys gathered at Tondee’s Tavern in Savannah to discuss a plan of action to bring a halt to the oppression. A year later, on July 4, 1775, in a meeting held in Tondee’s Long Room, Walton was elected Secretary of the Provincial Congress of Georgia.  By December, Walton was elevated to the position of President of the Council of Safety, which governed the colony in the absence of and contrary to any British authority in the area.  Walton was the last President of the council before it became equated with being governor of the state - Archibald Bulloch would hold that distinction.

In the winter of 1776, Walton was honored by his colleagues with his election as a delegate to the Continental Congress to be held the following summer in Philadelphia.  Joining Walton as delegates were: Lyman Hall, Archibald Bulloch, John Houston, John J. Zubly, and Wimberly Jones.  Walton arrived near the end of June, just before the deliberation on a resolution, which would change the history of the World forever.  Walton took his seat in the hall on the 1st day of July, the day in which Thomas Jefferson presented his draft of the Declaration of Independence.  The following day, the delegates officially adopted a resolution sponsored by Richard Henry Lee and John Adams, which declared independence from the Crown.

       Technically, but not officially nor traditionally, July 2nd, was the date of our “Declaration of Independence.”  For the better part of two days, the delegates debated, discussed and edited Jefferson’s words, an act which Jefferson saw as a personal insult to his intellect and beliefs.  Late in the afternoon on the fourth day of July, twelve of the thirteen colonial delegations voted to adopt Jefferson’s document - the New Yorkers did note vote because of an unavoidable technicality.

     The following day, a cool day for July in Philadelphia, Jefferson and his committee  began the process of printing the declaration for signing by all of the delegates, Walton being the last of the Georgia delegates to sign. Lyman Hall and Button Gwinett subscribed their names first.

George Walton remained in Congress until the fall of 1777, when he returned to Georgia to a more active role in governing the affairs of the state and protecting the citizens from the British Army.  After receiving a commission as a Colonel, Walton took command of the First Regiment of the Georgia Militia.  Despite the best efforts of Walton, John Laurens, Count Casimir Pulaski and others under the overall command of General Robert Howe, the city of Savannah fell into the hands
of the British just after Christmas in 1778.  Col. Walton, seriously wounded but fortunately in the care of skilled British physicians, was taken south to Sunbury, where he was held as a prisoner of war until he was exchanged for a British naval officer in October of 1779.

Walton wasted very little time in returning to the rebel government.   Walton traveled to the isolated areas of Georgia north of Augusta encouraging the citizens to keep up the fight.   In November, he was elected Governor by the State Assembly.  He served only two months.  Walton found himself embroiled in a bitter battle between two factions in Georgia politics. He sided with Lachlan McIntosh, who eventually killed his opponent, Button Gwinett, Walton’s co-signer of the
Declaration of Independence, in the most celebrated duel in the history of Georgia. For his role in the affair, Walton was censured by the Georgia legislature.

Walton returned to Congress in the dark days of the Revolution in 1780.  Things were not going well.  The British had control of the South and defeat seemed eminent. With the aid of the French government, Washington’s forces were able to defeat Lord Cornwallis’s army at Yorktown, which inevitably led to the defeat of the British in the South.  Walton left the Congress in 1783 and returned to Georgia to spend the last twenty years of his life.  Walton, thought of as a highly superior lawyer, was appointed Chief Justice of the State.  He remained in the judicial branch of government until 1789, when he was elected Governor of Georgia, serving only a portion of year when Georgia’s government was re-organized.  In that same year, he was sent to capital city of New York as a delegate to the first Electoral College, which elected George Washington as our nation’s first president, under our current constitution that is.  John Hansen was technically our country’s first president, under the previous government based on the Articles of Confederation.  In 1795, Walton returned to New York to fill an unexpired term of James Jackson in the United States Senate.

Walton failed to win reelection to the Senate and returned to Augusta to engage in farming. But, Walton had one more duty of public service to perform.  On January 17, 1799, he was sworn in a Judge of the Middle Circuit of Georgia, which had jurisdiction of a wide area ranging from Warren, Richmond, and Columbia counties on the northeast and Washington and Montgomery counties on the
southwest.  Judge Walton remained in office until his death on February 2, 1804.

     In 1848, his remains were re-interred in Augusta as a part of the monument to the
signers of our “Declaration of Independence.”

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