In 1774, the Liberty Boys in Savannah began meeting to express their
grievances against the British Crown. Early in 1775, they became more active,
and during the “Savannah Sugar Party” recaptured sugar and molasses seized by
customs officials. Next, they stole the gunpowder stored in the city magazine
and raised Georgia’s first Liberty Pole. In July, they seized off Tybee a ship
carrying gunpowder—the Patriots’ first naval capture in Southern waters.
To enforce a ban on British trade and to wrest civil control from Crown
officials, the Council of Safety organized in July 1775. Now, Georgia had two
competing governments—Loyalist, with allegiance to King George III, and Whig,
which favored independence.
British warships arrived in the Savannah River in January 1776, and the
Council of Safety arrested the Royal governor. The following month, the
British ships took possession of several rice-laden merchant ships, leading to
a heavy exchange of cannon fire with the Whigs as the
“Battle of the Rice boats.”
The British sailed away with the fugitive Royal governor. The Whigs countered
with the Tybee Raid to clear the river of Loyalist raiders.
In February 1777, a convention in Savannah adopted Georgia’s first
Constitution, thereby becoming a state with that city as its capital. This
document provided for a superior court in each county, a general assembly with
an executive committee, and an elected governor. It also created eight
counties from the provincial parishes, naming seven of them for British
political figures sympathetic to the cause of American liberty and the eighth
as Liberty County in honor of the early zeal by the Whigs of St. John’s
The Georgia Whigs soon divided into Radical and Conservative factions,
resulting in contention for civil and military dominance. This struggle led to
a duel between Lachlan McIntosh and Button Gwinnett in May of 1777. Both men
were wounded, and Gwinnett died of complications three days later.
By 1778, the American Revolution had reached a stalemate, so the British high
command decided to initiate a
“Southern Strategy.” They felt that Loyalists in
the Georgia backcountry would support the Crown. Sir Henry Clinton ordered Lt.Col. Archibald Campbell to invade Georgia, restore British rule, and set
the stage for the British capture of the Southern colonies.
On December 28, 1778, Campbell’s 3,500 troops landed below Savannah at
Brewton’s Hill, brushed away token resistance, and advanced on the Whig line,
commanded by Continental Gen. Robert Howe along the east side of the city.
Campbell sent a force of light infantry south to flank Howe’s line, and thence
north into Savannah in a move to trap the defenders. The British lost only
seven men killed and ten wounded, while the Whigs lost 83 men killed and 483
captured—and the capital of Georgia. Royal Governor James Wright returned to
Savannah in July of 1779, restored the parishes, and reorganized the Loyalist
government and militia. Georgia became the only state to have its institutions
returned to colonial status.
In September 1779, the French Mediterranean Squadron, commanded by
Charles Henri d’Estaing, arrived off the Georgia coast. Four thousand troops
disembarked at Beaulieu on the Vernon River.
Continental Maj. Gen. Benjamin
Lincoln joined them from Charleston with 600 Continentals, 200 men of the
Pulaski Legion, and 750 militiamen.
D’Estaing demanded the surrender of Savannah on September 16. However, British
Lt.Col. John Maitland led 800 Highlanders from Beaufort on a remarkable forced
march through the marsh and swamps, slipping through the blockade into
Savannah. Thus reinforced,
British Gen. Augustine Prevost refused to
surrender. D’Estaing’s delay allowed Prevost to complete his defensive
fortifications around the city.
The Franco-American attack began in the early morning of October 9, the
British redoubt at Spring Hill being its principal objective. British
artillery and musketry ripped the attackers as they advanced. Scottish
bagpipes responded to the French battle cry, “Vive le roi!” British, Loyalist,
and Hessian defenders cut down the French and Americans who reached the
parapet and planted their colors. None of the attackers were able to get
inside the redoubt.
The combined Allied attacks failed with the loss of about 1,094 killed, of
whom 650 were French.
General Casimir Pulaski, Polish-born commander of the
Pulaski Legion, received a mortal wound while conducting a reconnaissance in
search of a breach in the British lines. He died two days later. Sergeant
William Jasper, the hero of the British attack on Charleston, also received a
mortal wound as he defended the South Carolina standard on the parapet. The
British reported a loss of 16 killed and 39 wounded. Sir Henry Clinton in New
York stated that the British victory at Savannah was “the greatest event that
has happened in the whole war.”
In January 1782, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene ordered Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne
to enter Georgia with a detachment of dragoons and artillerymen. Wayne’s
mission was to restore Whig authority and conduct a war of attrition against
the British defenders of Savannah. Wayne established his headquarters at
Ebenezer, and after a series of brutal fights around Savannah, Wayne drove the
British outposts into the city and cut off their supplies. In a serious battle
at Gibbons’ plantation in June, Wayne defeated an attempt by Creek Chief Guristersigo and 300 warriors to break into Savannah.
On July 11, Gen. Alured Clarke, British commandant at Savannah, began the
evacuation of the city. The British garrison of 1,200 regulars and Loyalists,
along with Indian warriors and their families, and slaves, set sail for the
West Indies, St. Augustine, and New York. Only about 750 white inhabitants
remained in Savannah.
Lt.Col. James Jackson led his Georgia Legion into the city. Whig Governor John
Martin convened the Georgia Assembly on July 13, and symbolically reclaimed
Georgia. The last battle of the Revolution in Georgia took place on July 25,
1782 between Jackson’s Georgia Legion and British Marines at Delegal’s
Plantation on Skidaway Island.
Prepared by Norman J. Hoffman of the Edward Telfair Chapter, and edited by
Bill Ramsaur of the Marshes of Glynn Chapter, Georgia Society, Sons of the