Our Georgia History

A Leader Dies

By Randy Golden
Exclusively for Our Georgia History

1776 had been a pivotal year for the United States of America, from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to early success on the battlefield. Toward the end of the year, however, the British were threatening Philadelphia to the point that the Continental Congress removed to Baltimore. By the end of the year they would occupy Philadelphia and create severe economic problems for the fledgling country.

In the South, Georgia Whigs split along conservative and moderate lines. Lachlan McIntosh served as the defacto head of the conservative faction (called the city or merchant party) while Button Gwinnett led the radical county party. The struggle between these two politicians would define the first six months of 1777, at least in the state of Georgia. Moderating the differences between Gwinnett and McIntosh was Archibald Bulloch, who, as President of the Council of Safety, was the leader of the Executive branch of the Georgia government.

Archibald Bulloch called for a congress to deal with Georgia's political affairs. One major issue on the table was the creation of a state constitution as recommended by the Continental Congress. By December, 1776 this provincial congress had been seated, work had begun on a document, and the congress was preparing to begin debate on the constitution. On February 5, 1777 a new state constitution replaced the "Rules and Regulations" by which the state had been governed for nine months.

The first order of business would be to elect a leader of the state's executive branch. Before that could happen an incident occurred on the southern frontier. Fort McIntosh, built on the Satilla River as a staging point for the land-based attack on East Florida, was surrendered to British Regulars on February 18 by Captain Richard Winn, along with its contingent of 50 or so men of the Georgia Militia. When news of the incident reached Savannah four days later, Bulloch was given executive power over the state by the Committee of Safety for a period of one month. This action was taken because the committee did not feel they could effectively manage the situation if an emergency arose, since its members would have to be called to order.

Had an election been held in February, it was fairly obvious that the choice would be Bulloch. After all, he had successfully steered the state to join the Revolution, and ably led led it through the initial encounters with the British. Of course, the recent Florida Expedition had been a disaster, but Bulloch could hardly be blamed for the failure of men who were not under his command. Then, on the day he was appointed executive leader Archibald Bulloch died under "unusual circumstances."

Bulloch's death left a vacuum in the leadership of Georgia and could not have come at a worse time politically. The county and city parties had become more factional and holding an election for the executive of the state was going to be a divisive issue.

Button Gwinnett, who had become very powerful as a leader of the radical arm of the Whig party, was chosen as Bulloch's replacement. Likewise, Lachlan McIntosh became powerful, not as the leader of the conservative Whigs, but as Brigadier General of the Continental Army. No longer was McIntosh under Gwinnett's control. He, and the men under him, where part of the command of Robert Howe, who had replaced Charles Lee, in command of the Southern forces.

General Howe journeyed to Savannah in March, 1777, to discuss the war effort with Button Gwinnett. The new chief executive did not impress the seasoned soldier at all. Gwinnett, whom Howe found to be headstrong and domineering, wanted to take a hands-on approach in managing the Continental Army in Georgia. Once Howe determined that there was no negotiating Gwinnett's stance, he left. Gwinnett would have to manage his own military plans with his own military.

Next:The Second Florida Expedition

Acts Of War
Georgia in 1763
Sugar Act; Stamp Act
Townshend Acts
The House dissolved
Radicals Gain Power
Georgia joins the Continental Congress
A Colony at War
A State and Union Formed
The First Florida Expedition
A Leader Dies
The Second Florida Expedition
The Third Florida Expedition
Britain Attacks Georgia
Georgia Fight Backs
The Siege and Battle of Savannah
There Comes a Reaper
The Liberation of Georgia

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