GEORGE WALTON, SR.

By Edwin C. BridgesAugusta-room1-e1441379997154

George Walton was born in Virginia in late 1749 (possibly early 1750). His father died within a few months of his birth, and his mother died before he was seven. He was reared by his uncle, also named George Walton, of Prince Edward County, Virginia. At the age of fifteen, young Walton apprenticed himself to a builder Christopher Ford, with whom he worked for several years. At the age of nineteen, after having terminated his apprenticeship, Walton traveled to Savannah to begin a new career.

Walton’s older brother John had already come to Georgia and had established himself in Augusta. George Walton was able to obtain a position in the office of Henry Yonge, Jr., a Savannah attorney, and studied law under Yonge’s tutelage. In 1773, Walton took the oath of allegiance to the king which was required for an attorney to practice law in the colony. In two years be built for himself one of the most successful legal practices in Georgia.

As friction between America and Britain grew more intense, George Walton became one of the leading activists in Georgia. He was on the colony’s first Council of Safety and soon became its secretary; then president. In February 1776, Walton was appointed to the Continental Congress. Because of his position in the state militia, he was delayed in leaving Georgia, but finally arrived in Philadelphia in late June 1776, only a few days before the formal approval of the Declaration of Independence on July 4. At the age of twenty-six Walton was the youngest man to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Walton continued to serve in the Continental Congress for another sixteen months before returning to Georgia in late 1777. Upon his return to Savannah, Walton resumed his position in the state militia and an active role in state government. In September 1778, at the age of twenty-eight, he married a young woman named Dorothy Camber.

In November of that year, only two months after Walton’s marriage, the British launched a new invasion of Georgia. Because Walton was the senior colonel in the state’s militia, he became the acting commander of the state militia forces. When the British assault on Savannah began in late December 1778, Walton’s men were located at the critical point of attack. The raw militiamen were overwhelmed by the vastly superior British forces, and Walton was severely wounded in the action. The conquering British took Walton captive as they swept through Savannah, but fortunately for Walton he received humane and skilled care for his wound from the British surgeons. He was later sent on to Sunbury where he was held prisoner with other captured Americans.

When Walton was finally exchanged in October 1779, Savannah which had been the seat of state government, was still in the hands of the British. Walton traveled to Augusta where he joined a small group of Whigs who were trying to reorganize a state government in order to continue to resist the British. The new assembly elected Walton governor and then later reappointed him to the Continental Congress. Walton’s role in this government involved him in a bitter controversy with Lachlan McIntosh that became one of the important points of Walton’s public career.

When the British were finally driven from Georgia in 1782, Walton returned to Savannah to try to rebuild his personal financial position, which had been deeply eroded by the demands and the destruction of the war. The economy of Georgia and of all American states continued to be severely depressed during the 1780s, and Walton, even though he was elected Chief Justice of Georgia by the General Assembly, was not able to reestablish a secure financial footing in Savannah. By the mid-1780s, he began gradually to divest himself of his property there and to prepare to relocate his family in Richmond County. Augusta was then the capital of the state, and Walton moved to a farm to the south of town at “New Savannah.” Walton was elected Governor again in 1789.

In June 1791, Walton acquired two adjacent lots of approximately fifty acres each in Augusta Township, and it appears that he was living on the property by early 1792. By 1793, he was identifying himself by the name of his new home, “George Walton of Meadow Garden.” Because his financial troubles never fully abated and because he needed to insure that his family would not be deprived of their home, Walton never listed the property in his own name. Instead he had it listed first in the name of his nephew, Thomas Watkins, and then later held in trust by John Habersham and Anderson Watkins for his son, George Walton.

Despite the fact that the property was never formally listed in his own name, there is no doubt that “Meadow Garden” was the home of George Walton. His letters throughout the 1790s and until his death in 1804 are continually headed “Meadow Garden.” When Walton was appointed to the Unites States Senate in 1795-6, he wrote back home to his wife with advice to her about how to manage Meadow Garden. When he died, his funeral procession began at Meadow Garden.

Most of Walton’s public service during the 1790s and early 1800s was consumed by his duties as a judge of one of the state’s three superior court circuits. George and Dorothy Walton also reared two sons, one of whom, Thomas Camber Walton, died in December 1803- only a short while after he had been admitted to the practice of law in Georgia. George Walton was reported to have been severely shaken by the tragedy, and his own death followed that of his son only two months later, on February 2, 1804.

The Augusta Chronicle carried a full account at the death and of the funeral. Walton’s body was carried from Meadow Garden to a family cemetery on the plantation of one of his nephews. His body was later disinterred and taken to be buried at the Signers’ Monument in Augusta. Meadow Garden passed from the ownership of Walton’s surviving son, George, in 1812.

Dr. Edwin C. Bridges is a former Archivist for the State of Alabama. His doctoral dissertation (University of Chicago) was a biographical study of George Walton.


GEORGE WALTON, JR

From Madame LeVert – by Frances Gibson Satterfield
With Memories from his Daughter Octavia Walton La Vert

George Walton, Jr. and Sally Minge Walker Walton lived the first of their married years at “Meadow Garden” in Augusta, Georgia. Their daughter Octavia was born at nearby ‘Bellevue’ – the home of her maternal grandmother Elizabeth Talbot Walker on August 22, 1811.

George Walton, Jr. had served several terms in the Georgia General Assembly and was practicing law in Augusta in 1821 when Sally’s uncle Freeman Walker, a senator from Georgia, recommended to the Secretary of State that Walton be appointed secretary of the West Florida Territory. He received his commission from President Monroe on June 27, and was to serve under General Andrew Jackson, the appointed commissioner to receive the Florida from Spain, and to serve as Governor of East and West Florida until a civil government could be established.

George Walton, Jr. arrived in Pensacola August 5, 1821. The Pensacola of 1823 consisted of 200 dilapidated houses and less than a thousand persons (this number did not include the soldiers and government officials). There were no schools, one doctor, one innkeeper, and inexplicably – 22 shoemakers. Walton sent for his family, no doubt aware their presence would help him maintain the image of acting head and secretary of Territorial Florida. He must have known the sacrifices such a move would mean: giving up “Meadow Garden” with all its memories and comforts would be especially hard for his mother, Dorothy Walton.

“Meadow Garden” was a diminishing property. One of the times when George Walton (Sr.) was in financial difficulties, apparently from poor investments and unsecured loans, he sold part of the land. Later, he was about to lose “Meadow Garden” when his brother-in-law, Thomas Watkins, bought the property and deeded it to Thomas and George Walton, Jr. with the stipulation that their father could live there the rest of his life, if he desired. Later George Jr. (the official owner) in difficulties had sold still more of the land. He inherited his father’s lack of financial acumen along with his political ambition.”

In 1835, George and his family moved to Mobile. “George Walton had charmed his fellow townsmen into electing him Mayor of Mobile in 1839, and he and Sally moved to a house on St. Anthony at the corner of North Conception.”

In 1849, Sally and George Walton separated. George moved to Washington, perhaps still hoping for an opportunity to receive some type of political recognition. Sally died in Mobile in 1861. George Walton was in Petersburg, Virginia at the time, as he wrote Octavia a letter from there on February 22nd.

In 1857 Colonel Walton was living in Virginia with his companion, Andrew [never identified, and no last name was ever mentioned]. He was very proud of Octavia, and wrote several letters to her about the publication of her book ‘Souvenirs..’ Colonel Walton was extremely proud of her achievement, and never failed to pass on things acquaintances remarked about the book. About this time he wrote that he was going to Washington, saying: “If I cannot get board, fire, and candles for $60 a month for Andrew and myself I will at once leave Washington and go where we can live on $60 comfortably. We can get along with the clothes we have this winter. Andrew has become absolutely necessary to me. I cannot part from him. I have had no occasion to ask the smallest favor. Consequently all with whom I have had any intercourse respect me. Should I be fortunately enough to make money the coming session of Congress I shall certainly take better care of it than I have ever done. My sojourn in these mountains has proved to me that I can do without a thousand things which I have heretofore considered absolutely necessary. Since Andrew has been with me I have not been outside my room a single night. His company is all that I require.”

Octavia mentioned her father’s death in a letter to her brother-in-law, John LeVert, in early 1863. She wrote: “My beloved Papa died at Petersburg of congestion of the brain on the 3rd of January. It is a bitter, bitter anguish to me that I was not near him in his last moments. But his disease only lasted 48 hours. Thus am I left more desolate still, the being remaining on earth who loved me best, appreciated me most, has passed away from my love and my care.”

There are frequent mentions of a “Mrs. Robinson” who was an aunt of Octavia Walton LeVert. On February 2, 1867, Octavia wrote Brother John LeVert that they had been at “Belle Vue” six weeks with her aunt Mrs. Robinson, and she further wrote: “My Aunt lives very near the spot where she was born, and she is the only person I have met in America who still resides where they first saw the light. This is also my birth place. A portion of the city of Augusta, with fine dwellings, and great manufactories, now occupies the lands owned by my dear Papa when I was born. When my darling Mama married Papa he was a millionaire, and she was also very rich. Papa was young and generous, and noble, and pretended friends induced him to become their security, and they failed, and his splendid fortune melted away like snow in the sunshine, and only Mama’s property remained to us.”

I (Frances Gibson Satterfield) believe Octavia was looking back fondly, but not at reality. Our Walton family – while influential and well-thought-of, was never truly one of great wealth. Her grandfather, George Walton, lost a great deal of money, and left very little for his son George, Jr. Their home “Meadow Garden,” was only saved through the devices of his Watkins’ nephews. Numerous writers mention the lack of business acumen for both George Walton and George Walton, Jr. •