The “Brutus Letters” (1784)–and a Note on Purchasers of Confiscated Property: Historical Problem, 3

[NOTE:  Beginning in the summer of 1784, Chief Justice George Walton, apparently with aid from his Revolutionary associate, Richard Howley, launched a series of letters in the Georgia Gazette attacking the administration of Governor John Houstoun for being, essentially, “soft on Tories.”  Here I summarize the most important of the “Brutus” letters, along with a few responses to them.  It was these letters that led “A Citizen” to issue his pamphlet, Cursory Remarks on Men and Measures in Georgia, at the end of 1784.]

“Brutus” no. 1GG, 8 July 1784—attacks Governor Houstoun’s proclamation of 18 June as “an edict more formidable than any since the celebrated declaration of this day [July 4th] eight years [ago?].”  “Brutus” claims that Houstoun’s proclamation regarding Georgia’s boundary dispute with South Carolina and the presence in the area of Spanish subjects allied with Indians puts South Carolinians and Spaniards on a footing with savages, so Governor Houstoun is asking for trouble. [See GG, 1 July 1784, for the text of the Governor’s proclamation.]

“Brutus” no. 2GG, 15 July 1784—the author describes himself as “one of those who first espoused the cause of America, and went through all its vicissitudes of service, of suffering, of danger and expence.”  Next, he demonstrates what he sees as the influence of Tories in House of Assembly in the administration of Governor John Houston, who has decided to extend mercy to them through the amercement policy, by which they could be relieved of their burdens by paying a fine.

“Brutus” no. 3, GG, 22 July 1784—the author attacks British merchants who have been permitted to reside and trade in Georgia, aided by Governor Houstoun, to the distress of local merchants.  Yet, Chief Justice George Walton has decided in favor of local merchants, against the efforts of the Governor and his British merchant allies.  To circumvent the Chief Justice’s heroic efforts to block them, local “Tory” merchants have succeeded in having public real estate sold at auction to satisfy their debts!  Imagine, “Brutus” huffs, using public lands to pay off creditors rather than the poor but noble soldiers who carried the new nation through the Revolution!

“Brutus” no. 4, GG, 29 July 1784—in light of Georgia’s pressing problems, “Brutus” is appalled that Governor Houstoun has not yet called a meeting of the legislature.  The author is especially critical of Houstoun’s unwillingness to appeal the South Carolina boundary dispute to the Continental Congress, as allowed under the Articles of Confederation.

[This installment was probably written by Richard Howley—according to the Executive Council Minutes, 21 July 1784, a paper (“in the nature of a remonstrance”) against delay in calling the legislature into session was laid before the Council, signed by Richard Howley and Nathan Brownson (both “said to be” members-elect but neither has qualified nor taken his seat); Edward Telfair (elected to Congress but hasn’t yet accepted); John Hardy, member of the Georgia House of Assembly. The Executive Council rules that there are too few signatories on the “paper”; “a reputable part of the Legislature” had “lately met” in Augusta and made their own recommendation (not given here).  [Candler, comp., RRG, II, 672-73]

Executive Council Minutes, 25 Aug. 1784—the Governor and Council call the House of Assembly to meet in Savannah on the first Wednesday in October.  Apparently, the  “remonstrance” of 21 July (above) was from several members who wanted to meet in Augusta, where the Governor and part of the Executive Council were already sitting as a land court.  (Ibid., 691-92)  [BUT, “Brutus” #8, GG, 9 Sept. 1784, attacks this proclamation.]

“Brutus” no. 5, GG, 5 Aug. 1784—calls for change of men and measures.  Georgia Tories have bided their time since the Revolution and are now united and ready to make their move.  “Brutus” hopes to unite Whigs in order to forestall this dastardly Tory plot, despite the “malice” his letters have excited and “the calumny and threats they have produced.”

“Brutus” no. 6, GG, 12 Aug. 1784—”Brutus” had intended “to expose the danger of British influence in this country,” but instead he sends a letter from “A Centinel,” taken from the Virginia Gazette, 8 Nov. 1783, that says it all, railing against British creditors and Loyalists (“Tories”) and warning of the sad fate in store for Whigs if they do not oppose those groups steadfastly.

“Brutus” no. 7, GG, 19, 26 Aug. 1784—”Brutus” sends the proceedings of a recent meeting of New York City’s Sons of Liberty, again on dangers of Tories.  ALSO,  Governor Houstoun has issued a proclamation summoning the House of Assembly to meet prior to the next general election (perhaps as a result of the “Brutus” letters).

“Brutus” no. 8, GG, 9 Sept. 1784—”Brutus” attacks Governor Houstoun’s proclamation calling for the House of Assembly to meet in Savannah on October 6.  He asserts that the date was intended either to prevent the legislature from meeting or to allow the courts of justice to meet, because “on the first Tuesday in October begins the autumnal circuit of the Superior Court, which continues until some time [sic] in the succeeding month; and I will venture to assert, that there is scarce a Member of the Assembly in the whole state, who is not either an Assistant Judge, Grand Juror, an Attorney, or a Suitor.”  The meeting place selected by the Governor, Savannah, was contrary to law, since the House of Assembly last met in Augusta.  Therefore, the Assembly must first reconvene in Augusta, then decide whether to stay there.  [The tenor of this letter is another example of the coastal/upcountry struggle for power that emerged from the Revolution.]

[N.B.  Chief Justice Walton reprises this argument regarding the necessity for legislature to convene first in Augusta in his charge before the Liberty County Grand Jury, GG, 25 Nov. 1784.]

* * * *

Broadside, “The Modern Brutus sends greetings to all who are capable of feeling for the Distresses of an unfortunate Man.”  This is an all-out assault on Chief Justice George Walton in the form of a recantation of his defiling the name of “Brutus.”  The author mentions the forged letter incident twice.  After giving eight proofs of his “political insanity” [i.e., the number of “Brutus” letters published so far] the ghost of Caesar appeared before “Brutus” and “Brutus” asked:

“Art thou some god, some angel, or some devil,

That mak’st my blood run cold, and my hair to stare?

Speak to me what thou art.”

To which the ghost replied:

“I am thy evil spirit—Brutus,

Thou shalt see me again, in passing

From the protecting seat of justice

To thine own house.”

“These last words drew to my mind the recollection of a certain adventure, which instantly transformed the ghost into a figure a thousand times more horrible to me. I shall not trouble the reader with a description either of his shape or my fears, further than to observe he was in all respects, when pleased, a mild elegant man, but if under the influence of passion, and armed with a horse whip, as I had once the misfortune to meet him, worse than Chevy Chase Douglas himself.”  This reference to George Walton’s horsewhipping at the hands of General Lachlan McIntosh’s son William has led “Brutus” to see the errors of his ways and to recant, according to the author, who is undoubtedly William McIntosh. [See also, Hawes, ed., McIntosh Papers in the UGa Libraries, pp. 58-63.]

This source also attributes the Chief Justice’s crusade against Georgia’s remaining “British merchants” to their pressing him to repay his loans from the Revolutionary years.

“A Fellow Citizen,” GG, 23 Sept. 1784—submits letter of Frenchman, Mr. Target, to a friend in Philadelphia, as a source of some principles that would be more beneficial in revising Georgia’s constitution than “all the cabal against governor or government” represented in the inflammatory letters from “Brutus.”

GG, 30 Sept. 1784—conclusion of “Target” letter.  THEN, “Brutus” no. 9, dealing with contents of “Target” letter.

“Philo Brutus,” GG, 7 Oct. 1784—addresses a lengthy epistle “To Brutus.”  Sarcastically says that he admires his disinterested efforts for the good of the public, and says that he, too, wants to do likewise.  “Philo Brutus” discusses, with tongue firmly in cheek, what might happen if a mere mortal were to succeed the present august personage as head of the state judiciary.

* * * * *

Addendum on Purchasers of Confiscated Property: 

This and the next post focus on the debate over purchasers of confiscated property from the Revolutionary Era and whether they could meet their payments.  As an example of the available public information that underlay those charges, consider an article from an Augusta newspaper in the summer of 1787, which carries the story of purchases of property confiscated from Georgia Loyalists back to 1781 and highlights several prominent players in post-Revolutionary Georgia politics:

From GSGIR, 4 Aug. 1787—“A List of the persons who gave Bonds for Confiscated Property in this State, and of those who are security for the yearly payment of interest arising thereon; specifying the date, original amount, where the principal becomes due, payments that have been made, interest due the 1st of January 1787, and balance of the principal.

John Wereat (New Georgia Encyclopedia}

John Wereat, on 17 Dec. 1781, with James Jackson as his security, gave bond for L750, has paid L413.5.7

George Walton gave several bonds:

18 Nov. 1783—L662.10.0, with Francis Willis as security, has made no payments.  1 Jan. 1787—interest due in amount of L144.11.10.

19 Nov. 1783—L652.18.4, with John Walton as security, has paid L645 +.

17 Dec. 1783–bond for L3955.0.0, with Thomas Stone as security—has made payment of L702.5.2.

29 Dec. 1783–John Milledge as security, gave bond for L222.5.0.  Thus far, has made no payments.  As of 1 Jan. 1787, interest due for L46.15.1.

Richard Howley also in for quite a bundle, but, in fairness, it must be noted that Howly died in December 1784:

June 1783—Howley gave bond for L1486.0.0.  Paid so far L860.7.5.  1 Jan. 1787—interest due in amount of L419.17.3.

17 Dec. 1783—L666.0.0; no payments.

30 Dec. 1783—L584.3.4; no payments.

31 Dec. 1783—L1530; no payments.

[End of Part 3]

 For those interested in reading more about Georgia History, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)


About georgelamplugh

I retired in 2010 after nearly four decades of teaching History at the "prep school" level with a PhD. My new "job" was to finish the book manuscript I'd been working on, in summers only, since 1996. As things turned out, not only did I complete that book, but I also put together a collection of my essays--published and unpublished--on Georgia history. Both volumes were published in the summer of 2015. I continue to work on other writing projects, including a collection of essays on the Blues and, of course, my blog.
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