This chapter is taken from the book "Biographical Sketches of the Delegates from Georgia to the Continental Congress. Published in 1891. 

Edward Telfair of Kirkcudbright and Georgia

This gentleman, distinguished alike for his attractive social qualities, admirable business methods, integrity, financial ability, and statesmanlike conduct, was a native of Scotland. He was born in 1735 on the farm of Town Head, the ancestral estate of the Telfairs, which has since passed into the ownership of the Earl of Selkirk. Having received his English education at the grammar school of Kirkcudbright, he subsequently applied himself to the acquisition of a thorough commercial training, and at the age of twenty-three coming to America as the representative of a business house, resided for some time in Virginia. He afterwards removed to Halifax, North Carolina, and subsequently, in 1766, settled in Savannah, Georgia. By energy, thrift, fair dealing, and enterprise, he soon established a lucrative business in what was then the commercial metropolis of the Province. Deeply immersed in trade was he when the disagreements between the American Colonies and the mother country began to assume decided and alarming proportions. That he did not long hesitate in choosing sides upon the momentous questions which then agitated the public mind may be fairly inferred, because, as early as the 27th of July, 1774, we find him a member of two committees raised by the Republican party in Georgia, one to assure the other American Colonies of the rebel sentiments of the Province, and of its determination to share the common lot in the effort to win independence from British rule; and the other to solicit and forward supplies for the relief of the suffering patriots in Boston.

As a Delegate elected by the liberty-seeking citizens of Savannah on the 8th of December in the same year, he participated in the deliberations of the Provincial Congress which assembled on the 18th of the following January.

In association with Dr. Noble W. Jones, Joseph Habersham, and others,- most of them members of the Council of Safety and all zealous in the cause of American freedom, he personally assisted in breaking open the public magazine in Savannah, and in removing therefrom a goodly quantity of the King’s powder with which to supply the urgent needs of the Revolutionists.

On the 21st of June, 1775, he was elected a member of the Council of Safety; and, in the Provincial Congress which assembled in Savannah on the 4th of the following July, he appeared and took his seat as a Delegate from the "Town and District of Savannah." He was of the committee then selected to frame an address to his Excellency Governor Wright; was placed upon the "Committee of Intelligence;" ad was constituted a member of another committee to present to the inhabitants of the town and district of Savannah the “Article of Association" adopted by the Congress. Before adjourning, this body, on the 11th of December, elected a new Council of Safety, and Mr. Telfair was named as one of its members.

Early in 1778 he was chosen a Delegate from Georgia to the Continental Congress. In the following July, together with George Walton and Edward Langworthy, he affixed his signature to the "Articles of Confederation." One leave of absence excepted, he remained a member of the Continental Congress until January, 1783. In May, 1785, he was complimented by another election to the old Congress, but it is believed that he did not resume his seat in obedience to this summons. While in Congress his services were specially valuable in the domain of finances. On the 15th of February, 1783, he was designated as an agent on the part of Georgia to settle the northern boundary of the Commonwealth. He also represented the State in consummating, at Augusta, during the same year, important treaties with the Cherokee and Creek Indians.

Three years afterwards he was honored with the Chief Magistracy of Georgia. His conduct in the discharge of this exalted trust was characterized by wisdom, dignity, and firmness. It required no little skill and discretion to avoid a threatened war with the Cherokees. In compelling the removal of the public records from Savannah to the seat of government, he encountered not only the protest but also the active opposition of many prominent parties. The measures, however, which he adopted to compass this proper transfer were so prompt and decisive that both the dignity of the Commonwealth and the majesty of the law were maintained. Much of his time and thought was bestowed upon the public finances, and in devising the best scheme for liberating Georgia from the annoying indebtedness which then oppressed her. It was during his administration that Georgia was called upon to mourn the demise of her adopted son, who, next to Washington, challenged the public confidence and esteem, the great and good General Nathanael Greene. In obedience to his orders, reckless bands of runaway slaves, who, defying the laws, with arms in their hands, were plundering the plantations on the Lower Savannah, were thoroughly dispersed by the militia.

He was a member of the convention which ratified the Constitution of the United States.

On the 9th of November, 1789, Mr. Telfair was again called to the gubernatorial chair. He was the first chief magistrate elected and qualified under the new Constitution. It was his pleasure and privilege to welcome to his home in Augusta, which was then the capital of the State, President Washington, in May, 1791, and to extend every honor and courtesy which place and circumstance could contribute. On the departure of the General, he addressed to Governor Telfair the following courteous communication

AUGUSTA, 20th May, 1791.
Governor of Georgia:

"Sir, Obeying the impulse of a heartfelt gratitude, I express with particular pleasure my sense of obligations which your Excellency s goodness and the kind regard of your citizens have conferred upon me. I shall always retain a most pleasing remembrance of the polite and hospitable attentions which I have received in my tour through the State of Georgia, and during my stay at the residence of your government.

The manner in which you are pleased to recognize my public services, and to regard my private felicity, excites my sensibility and claims my grateful acknowledgments. Your Excellency will do justice to the sentiments which influence my wishes by believing that they are sincerely offered for your personal happiness and the prosperity of the State over which you preside.


The hospitality extended by Governor Telfair, on this occasion, to his distinguished guest at his home on the outskirts of Augusta, called The Grove, was generous and refined to the last degree.

Without specifying the particular duties which claimed Governor Telfair’s attention as the chief magistrate of Georgia, it may be stated that to the performance of his public duties he brought broad experience, business capacity of a high order, a singleness of purpose, and a devotion to duty which made his administration of the affairs of state prompt, direct, and effective.

Upon the expiration of his gubernatorial labors he returned to his home in Savannah, where the last years of his life were given to the careful conduct of his extensive private business, to dispensing hospitality, and to participating in, and presiding over, convocations of his fellow-citizens on important occasions.

In this city he died on the 19th of September, 1807, and was buried with every honor which public esteem and private friendship could extend.

Among the members from Georgia of the Continental Congress Governor Telfair was perhaps possessed of the greatest wealth. Although during the war of the Revolution he encountered considerable mutation in fortune, and at one time with his family sought refuge in Fredericktown, Maryland, upon the return of peace he quickly recovered his losses and added largely to his former possessions.

Considering the place and the period, Governor Telfair’s commercial operations were very successful and extensive. He maintained good credit in, and important business connections with, the West Indies, Charlestown, Philadelphia, New York, Newport, Liverpool, London, etc. Dealing largely in rice, lumber, cotton, indigo, and other staple commodities, he operated on his own account and sold upon commission. As the owner of sawmills judiciously located, and of several valuable plantations well equipped with negroes, animals, and agricultural implements, his income aside from that derived from his commercial business was generous. A capital financier, he became one of the richest men of his day and generation in Georgia; and the estate which he accumulated properly husbanded and judiciously administered by his daughters has recently been dispensed in public charities of the most useful and abundant character. Prominent among them may be mentioned Hodgson Hall the home of the Georgia Historical Society and the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences. In passing upon and sustaining the charitable bequests contained in the will of Miss Telfair, when their validity was questioned in the courts, Mr. Justice Bradley observed: “It is a laudable ambition to wish to transmit one’s name to posterity by deeds of beneficence. The millionaire who leaves the world without doing anything for the benefit of society, or for the advancement of science, morality, or civilization, turns to dust and is forgotten; but he who employs a princely fortune in founding institutions for the alleviation of suffering or the elevation of his race erects a monument more noble, and generally more effective to preserve his name, than the Pyramids. Thousands of the wealthy and the noble in the early days of English civilization are deservedly forgotten; but the founders of colleges in Oxford and Cambridge will be borne on the grateful memories of Englishmen as long as their empire lasts. Harvard and Yale in our own country are pertinent examples of this truth."

In the history of testaments Georgia has never known charitable bequests of such magnitude and liberal scope as those passing under the wills of the daughters of Governor Telfair, distributing the large estate which in great measure was accumulated and transmitted by him. Not only by these prominent charities, but also in the records of the period, and by a county named in his honor, is his memory worthily perpetuated.