Page images
PDF
EPUB

streets of Savannah, and several effigies of obnoxious persons, after being paraded through them, were publicly burnt. These transactions drew from Governor Wright a condem natory proclamation, but it formed no barrier to the irrepressible excitement; it was but placing an obstruction in the stream of popular indignation, which only deepened its channel, and added impetuosity to its current. The Act was to take effect from the 1st of November, 1765, yet, as neither the papers nor the distributing officer had arrived, the Governor, by advice of his Council, on the 31st of October, stopped the issue of all warrants and grants for land, and gave let-passes to the vessels, with a clause certifying the non-arrival of any stamped papers, or officer, in the Province. On the 5th of December, His Majesty's ship of war Speedwell, Capt. Fanshaw, with the stamps, arrived in the River, and the papers were secretly transferred to Fort Halifax, and placed under the care of the Commissary; for the “ Liberty Boys,” as they were then termed, had entered into an association to prevent the distribution of the papers, and to compel the officer to resign as soon as he arrived. To oppose these measures, Governor Wright summoned all his energies, and labored day and night, in public and in private, and by his commanding influence, ably seconded by his Council, was temporarily successful. Secret meetings, however, were often held, all business was stopped, and the Province remained in a state of anxious agitation.

On the 2d of July, about 3 P. M., Captains Milledge and Powell, informed the Governor that nearly two hundred Liberty Boys had assembled together, threatening to break open the Fort, and destroy the papers. The Governor, arming himself, immediately ordered the two companies of Rangers, numbering fifty-four men, to attend him, marched with them to the Fort, took out the stamps, placed them in a cart, and escorted by the military, conveyed them to his mansion. The people looked on in sullen silence, but it was a silence that gave the Governor so much alarm, that for many days he kept a guard of forty men over his house, and for four nights was in such anxiety and fear that he never removed his clothes. The next day, about 1 o'clock, the Governor, by preconcerted signals, was made acquainted with the arrival of Mr. Agnus, the stamp distributor, at Tybee, and fearing the rage of the citizens, imme

diately despatched an armed scout-boat with two or three friends of the government, who, with much secrecy, and a charge to allow him to speak to no one, brought him to the city on the 4th, where he was received by the Governor at his house, and that afternoon took the required oaths. But a few days residence at the Governor's, even with a guard mounted night and day, convinced him of his insecurity, and in a fortnight he left the city. Nor were these feelings confined to Savannah; the mountains echoed back the voice of the sea-board, and every stream, as it rolled to the ocean, bore a tribute of patriotism on its bosom. The whole Province was aroused ; parties of armed men assembled in various places; society was convulsed, and its tumultuous heavings threatened general ruin and desolation. Then was exhibited, in an eminent degree, the zeal and energy of the Governor, and such was his resolution and weight of character, that for a time, all rebellious proceedings ceased, and he could write, on the 15th of January, 1766, “every thing at present is easy and quiet, and I hope peace and confidence will be restored in general.” A few days served to dissipate this hope. About the 20th, menacing letters were sent to Governor Wright; President Habersham was waylaid at night, his new and well-stored house threatened with destruction, and he was obliged to take refuge in the garrisoned mansion of the Governor. .

Towards the close of January, a body of six hundred men assembled within a few miles of the city, and intimated to the Governor that unless the papers were removed from the place, they would march thither, raze his dwelling to the ground, attack the Fort, and destroy the Stamps. The Governor immediately sent the papers down to Fort George, at Cockspur, and placed them in charge of a Cap

tain, two subalterns and fifty privates of the Rangers. But I even this was not deemed a sufficient security, and on the

3d of February, they were once more removed, and finally deposited on board the man-of-war which had brought them to the colony.

On the 4th of February, the town was again alarmed by the appearance on the common of between two and three hundred men, with arms and colors, clamorous for the redress of their grievances. The company of Rangers was ordered up from Cockspur, and all the regulars and volun

VOL. II.

9

teers, (for the Governor dared not call out the militia, lest, as he said, “he should arm more against than for him,") together with a party of marines and seamen from the Speedwell, under Captain Fanshaw, were marshaled for its defence. The force of the assailants was larger, but their numerical strength was more than counterbalanced, by the superior discipline and equipments of the governor's party. For several hours the aspect of affairs was critical, and lowering, and suspense added its harrowing influences to the trepidation of alarm. To the Provincials, the moment was pregnant with the most solemn consequences. Should they advance! it would be rebellion. Should they retire! it would consummate their subjugation. The more daring and impetuous, urged them onward, but the cautious and discerning, counseled prudence, and after a few hours' parley with the Governor, in which nothing material was gained, they differed so much among themselves that, by evening, nearly all had dispersed, though a few at night burned an effigy of the Governor, holding in his hand the offensive circular of secretary Conway, of October 24th, 1765.

The situation of Governor Wright was one of singular trial and difficulty ; the Province was on the verge of civil war, and one act of indiscretion would have plunged it into its most ensanguined horrors. The whole military force of the colony, consisted of two troops of Rangers, of sixty men each, and thirty of the Royal American Regiment, in all, one hundred and fifty men, officers and privates, who were distributed in five forts, widely separated, with no possibility of concerted action, and totally inadequate to sustain bis executive authority. With this handful of soldiers, he had to contend with faction and disloyalty; and so inefficient did he deem them, that he was on the point of writing to General Gage, and Lord Colville for further support. On the arrival of the stamps, there were between sixty and seventy sail in port waiting for clearance. The whole exporting produce of the province was shipped on board these vessels, and the necessities of the case seemed so urgent, that though the people refused to use stamps for any other purpose, they consented to employ them to clear out their ships, by which means the port was opened, though the courts remained closed, and every species of

judicial business was suspended. Such a course, gave much umbrage to the other colonies, and particularly to South Carolina. Governor Wright was termed by the Carolinians “a parricide,” and Georgia “a pensioned government,” which had “ sold her birthright for a mess of pottage, and whose inhabitants should be treated as slaves, without ceremony.” Nor did they stop at invectives, and denunciations; they resolved, “ that no provisions should be shipped to that infamous colony, Georgia ;" “ that every vessel trading there should be burnt;" and “that whosoever should traffic with them should be put to death ;" and these were not idle threats, for two vessels, about sailing for Savannah, were captured before they had cleared the Charleston bar, were taken back to the city, condemned, and, with their cargoes, destroyed. But the injustice of these measures towards Georgia, will be evident, when it is remembered, that, through the irresolution of Governor Bull, the port of Charleston itself was opened, under pretence that no stamped papers were to be had, when, in fact, they were lodged by his authority, in Fort Johnson ; whence, overawed by the populace, he dared not remove, or use them. Charleston, also, was a city of many thousand inbabitants, and its Governor, hesitating and timorous, while Savannah had hardly as many hundreds, controlled by a chief magistrate, whose energy and decision could neither be wearied by importunity, nor daunted by danger. Georgia did not deserve this reproach, for everything which a province similarly situated could do, was done, and she rested not from her efforts, till the repeal of the act, and a change of ministry brought with them a temporary quiet and repose. In the great contest for popular rights, which began in 1765, and continued until the formation of the confederated government, every variety of character, interest, and passion, was enlisted. The cause was just and holy, but the instruments whereby it was achieved, too often, like the sword of Turnus, were forged in the fires of angry passion; and not, like the heaven-made weapon of Æneas, tempered with virtue and patriotism. It is not necessary, because we have secured our independence, that we should sanction all the intemperate measures, which, under the name of freedom, were enacted by the factious turbulance of the populace. The principles, and the deeds,

which a provint from her enought with

of many of the sons of liberty, were far from harmonizing with the spirit they professed, or the cause they espoused, and they degraded that cause, when they made it a screen for political licentiousness, for incendiary revenge, and for exemption from every law, human and divine. Especially was it to be deplored, when, as in the instance just recited, neighboring colonies were arrayed against each other, though both were struggling for the same end. While, in the ardor of impassioned feeling, they exclaimed with St. Paul, “I would they were even cut off, which trouble you,” they forgot the injunction of the same Apostle, “Brethren, use not liberty for an occasion of the flesh, but by love, serve one another.” Their malign anathemas and their restrictive edicts, only evinced the tyranny of irresponsible power, and were not the products of a liberal principle.

We love liberty, true, and righteous liberty ; we love her, as she sits enthroned on mind ; dispelling its prejudices, illuming its darkness, and enlarging its borders. We love her, as she hovers over the press, unfettering its power, enhancing its influence, and causing it, like the tree of life planted in Eden, to “scatter its leaves for the healing of the nations.” We love her, as she stands by the altar of religion, where, with one hand upon the scriptures of our common faith, and the other upon the head of charity, she lifts her eyes of hope to heaven, her bosom, unsullied by bigotry, heaving only to the pulsations of a catholic benevolence. We love her, as she presides, our guardian genius, in the capitol of our nation ; a temple more glorious than that erected to her by the Roman Gracchus, on the summit of Aventine; her shield, the charter of our rights, her cap and staff, the insignia of our independence. We love thee, Liberty! We venerate thy glorious name! Our fathers sealed themselves as thine by a covenant of blood, and we, their children, eschewing a saturnalian freedom, would each, like another Hannibal, place his hand upon thy altar, and swear eternal hate to despotism and tyranny

The restoration of order by the repeal of the Stamp Act, was, as Governor Wright well expressed it, “but a temporary calm.” On the 6th of January, 1767, Capt. Philips, commanding the Royal Americans in South Carolina and Georgia, wrote to the Governor, stating the barrack-necessaries he required, and desiring to know where he could

« PreviousContinue »