By Edwin C. Bridges
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 bulider
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 there.
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 that was required before an attorney was
allowed 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.
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 fourteen or fifteen-year-old Savannah
girl 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 severly
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 Townshhip, 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. Walton was reported to have been severely shaken by this
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 ot 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 Archivist for the State of Alabama.
His doctoral dissertation (University of Chicago) was a
biographical study of George Walton.