[NOTE: This is the final installment in the long-running “historical problem” aimed at identifying the author of Cursory Remarks on Men and Measures in Georgia, by “A Citizen,” which was published in Savannah in 1784.
“A Citizen” first appeared on the scene even earlier, in 1783, publishing some letters in the Savannah Georgia Gazette. In addition, his major production, Cursory Remarks, “scattered about the streets of Savannah” in 1784, and subsequent contributions by “A Citizen,” his supporters, and his opponents stretched the controversy almost to the end of the 1780s.]
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Thus far, we have looked at the background and context for the appearance of “A Citizen” and his critics and have examined arguments advanced by both sides. Further, we have offered up a “portrait of ‘A Citizen of Georgia,'” based upon clues in his writings, as well as those of his opponents and his supporters. But the key issue remains, who was the author of the pieces signed “A Citizen”?
I’m now prepared to offer my answer to that question, both negatively and positively: early in my research, I thought “A Citizen” was a man I’d been studying for years, but, in the end, I went in a different direction.
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The One Who Got Away: John Wereat
One reason I pursued “A Citizen” with such determination was that initially I thought he might be John Wereat, who, I knew, had contributed to the pamphlet warfare surrounding his good friend General Lachlan McIntosh (and McIntosh’s brother, George) during the Revolution. I had been collecting information on Mr. Wereat before I encountered “A Citizen,” hoping to learn more about him; once I read the pieces by “A Citizen,” his supporters, and his opponents, I began to think (hope?) that Mr. Wereat might have carried his pamphleteering activities into the post-Revolutionary world.
Ultimately, however, I decided that there was insufficient evidence to support my hunch that John Wereat was “A Citizen.” Mr. Wereat certainly fit some of the characteristics revealed about “A Citizen” during the newspaper warfare of the early 1780s: he had been an opponent of George Walton during the Revolution; he had not been employed in a “fighting department” during the war but had “necessarily been employed in the publick [sic] service”; he had been taken prisoner by the British in Augusta and, with many of his fellow captives, had been sent to Charleston, South Carolina, for imprisonment; and, in the early 1780s, he was, as State Auditor, praised for doing a good job in a difficult position.
But there were problems: in his 1784 pamphlet, “A Citizen” praised the State Auditor, none other than John Wereat. I simply did not believe that Mr. Wereat would have lavished such fulsome praise on himself. Moreover, Cursory Remarks reeked of anti-Semitism in places, and I had seen absolutely no evidence of this in the letters of Wereat I had encountered during the course of my research.
So, I put my information on “A Citizen,” his newspaper essays and his pamphlet, along with contributions from his journalistic supporters and opponents, into a file cabinet in our basement. I only brought this material out again a few months ago, when I decided that it might be interesting to use those sources as the basis for this “historical problem.”
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The One in the Arena–Seth John Cuthbert ?
In the course of organizing material for inclusion in this series of blog posts, I finally arrived at an answer to the question I originally had asked, “Who Was ‘A Citizen’?” While I’ll admit that, forty years on, there’s still no smoking gun, the acrid smell of gunpowder remains in the air, as I nominate Seth John Cuthbert as author of the letters and pamphlet produced by “A Citizen.”
How Seth John Cuthbert (probably) wound up posing as “A Citizen” is a fairly complicated story:
On New Year’s Day, 1756, Sarah Threadcraft, stepdaughter of John Cuthbert (and, thus stepsister of Seth John Cuthbert) and daughter of Esther Cuthbert of Williamsburg, S.C., married Lachlan McIntosh. McIntosh had loaned his future father-in-law, John Cuthbert, seven hundred pounds prior to the marriage; just after the wedding, that note came due, and John Cuthbert would not pay it. Arbitrators eventually awarded the money to McIntosh, but his father-in-law continued to refuse to hand it over. McIntosh dropped the case, at least for the time being, apparently to avoid increasing financial pressure on his in-laws, but the issue would arise again after the Revolution.
John Cuthbert’s son–and Sarah McIntosh’s stepbrother–Seth John Cuthbert, briefly served as president of the Supreme Executive Council, and, thus, as de facto “governor” of the remaining Whig territory in Georgia, in the summer of 1779. His successor as president of the Supreme Executive Council was General McIntosh’s good friend, John Wereat, who served as Council president from 1779 to 1780.
It was this conservative Supreme Executive Council that was supplanted by the more “radical” combination of George Walton and Richard Howley, which, in turn, sparked the postwar vendetta between the McIntosh clan and George Walton. Obviously, these events would have inclined Wereat, McIntosh, and Seth John Cuthbert to seek revenge on Walton. This was the immediate context of the appearance in the Savannah Georgia Gazette of the provocative writings by “A Citizen,” and the responses by Walton, writing as “Brutus,” in 1784.
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William McIntosh, Jr., General Lachlan McIntosh’s third son, took offense when, at the end of the war, the Georgia legislature cleared General McIntosh from the charges contained in House Speaker William Glascock’s infamous “forged letter,” but took no action against George Walton and Richard Howley for their alleged roles in the forgery, and even elected Walton Chief Justice of Georgia.
William McIntosh, Jr., pledged to pull George Walton off the bench to which he’d been elevated by the legislature at the end of the war. Although his petition opposing Walton did little good, young McIntosh encountered his target in the streets of Savannah and horsewhipped him.
William McIntosh Jr.’s assault on Chief Justice Walton was followed by the refusal of John Wereat, Lachlan McIntosh, and their supporters on the Chatham County Grand Jury to serve under Chief Justice Walton. Walton dissolved the grand jury, but Governor Lyman Hall suspended him, only to have the next session of the legislature return Walton to his judicial office.
And, thus, this ugly dispute disappeared for a few years.
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From William McIntosh, Jr.’s letter to the Georgia Gazette attacking Seth John Cuthbert (April 17, 1788), we learn that McIntosh’s father, General Lachlan McIntosh, was still involved in a law suit with John Cuthbert (General McIntosh’s father-in-law, and Seth John Cuthbert’s father). William McIntosh, Jr., insisted that the younger Cuthbert must meet him, and not his father the General, to settle the dispute. Yet, young McIntosh claimed that Seth John Cuthbert, a veteran of newspaper warfare allegedly given to character assassination behind a cloak of anonymity, refused to meet him on the “field of honor.”
On April 24, 1788, Georgia Gazette editor James Johnston’s summary of a letter from another “Correspondent” [almost certainly Seth John Cuthbert], obliquely commented on William McIntosh, Jr’s, missive in the previous issue. “A Correspondent” praised the importance of freedom of the press to the maintenance of free government, but he also asserted that the press should not descend from its lofty responsibilities to “the impertinent frivolity of private quarrels and the indecent language of Billingsgate abuse.”
“A Correspondent” argued that aspersions cast upon a character through the press often failed of their purpose “by the insignificance of the detractor [i.e., William McIntosh, Jr.]—for who will regard the clamours [sic] and abuse of one who is himself a reproach to society—whose daily practices are daily violations of government, law, decency, and decorum, and whose situation in society is perhaps so contemptible and desperate as to make life itself burthensome to him. . . .”
William McIntosh, Jr., attacked “A Correspondent” on May 1, basing his response on editor James Johnston’s April 24 summary. Internal evidence suggests that the younger McIntosh believed that “A Correspondent” was none other than Seth John Cuthbert, and, he seemed to imply, so was the author of “Cursory Remarks.”
- According to McIntosh, “A Correspondent” was accustomed to giving “the stabs [of slander] in the dark.”
- McIntosh charged that “A Correspondent” shrank from direct confrontations, allowing others to fight his battles for him.
- McIntosh also asserted, in language similar to that used by “A Citizen’s” attackers in 1785, that “A Correspondent” had sacrificed his reputation and honor by betraying the trust placed in him by his country during the Revolution “for the little property he possesses, and afterwards securing that property, and his own dear person, by a criminal neutrality, if not worse, and a connivance with the bitterest and cruelest enemy this country ever had during its greatest distress. . . .”
- It should also be noted that, if Seth John Cuthbert did in fact try to preserve his property during the Revolution by “conniving” with the British, that might explain the anger directed at him by the Sheftall family in 1785, one of whose members also had been accused of the same crime and had been punished for it, unlike Cuthbert, who at the end of the Revolution was elected State Treasurer, in which office he would work closely with State Auditor John Wereat.
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At this point, Seth John Cuthbert emerged as a likely candidate for “A Citizen.” Then, six months later, Cuthbert died. A poetical newspaper obituary both commemorated Cuthbert’s passing and revealed additional hints that he might well have written the items signed by “A Citizen.”
In the obituary, Georgia Gazette, November 13, 1788, which was obviously prepared by someone who admired Seth John Cuthbert, the author spoke of
[Cuthbert’s] pen severe, where glaring vice appear’d,
Gall’d the struck culprit when her head she rear’d.
With him the innocent could fondly stray,
And mark the faults and follies of the day.
But ah! too true! no more shall Cuthbert write,
No more bring vices of the age to light. . . .
The writer of this obituary mentioned that, during the Revolution, Seth John Cuthbert was a major in the 2nd Georgia Continental Battalion and served as Treasurer of Georgia after the war, in which post “he acted with reputation to himself and advantage to the publick [sic].”
And, although the younger Cuthbert evidently held a commission in the Continental Army, it’s not certain how long he served on active duty. If Cuthbert had found himself trapped behind enemy lines, he might have tried to preserve his property by aligning with the British, just as at least one member of the Sheftall family, and numerous other Georgians, did. This also, by the way, would help explain the simmering anger of the Sheftalls towards the author of Cursory Remarks, especially if that person was Seth John Cuthbert, because while Cuthbert did not suffer in postwar Georgia for taking protection under the British, and was even elected State Treasurer at war’s end, Levi Sheftall certainly did, losing his civil rights for a time.
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So, there you have it: my modest attempt to identify the author of a series of post-Revolutionary publications that throws a sometimes garish light on politics in Georgia. Am I certain that Seth John Cuthbert was “A Citizen”? No, but I am reasonably confident that is the case. I encourage readers to offer their own solutions to this question.
[NOTE: Just to stir the pot a bit, let me suggest that it is entirely possible that William McIntosh, Jr., might have been “A Citizen,” if one readjusts his/her perspective on Cursory Remarks!]
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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:
Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities: Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)
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)