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George Mathews
Seal of Georgia
21st Governor of Georgia

In office
November 7, 1793 – January 15, 1796
Preceded by Edward Telfair
Succeeded by Jared Irwin
United States House of Representatives

In office
March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1791
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Francis Willis
20th Governor of Georgia

In office
January 9, 1787 – January 26, 1788
Preceded by Edward Telfair
Succeeded by George Handley
Delegate to the First Virginia Convention

In office
August 1, 1774
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
Virginia House of Burgesses

In office
Did not convene
Preceded by Charles Lewis
Succeeded by Position abolished
Personal details
Born August 30, 1739
Augusta County, Virginia
Died August 30, 1812
Augusta, Georgia
Resting place St. Paul's Episcopal Church Cemetery
Political party Federalist
Spouse(s) Polly Mathews
Relations Mathews family
Residence Goose Pond Plantation, Wilkes County, Georgia
Profession Planter, politician
Military service
Allegiance Kingdom of Great Britain Great Britain
United States United States
Service/branch Virginia provincial militia
Continental Army
United States Army
Years of service Militia: 1774
Continental Army: 1775–1783
U.S. Army: 1810–1812
Rank US-O7 insignia.svgBrigadier General
Battles/wars Dunmore's War
 • Battle of Point Pleasant
American Revolutionary War
 • Battle of Brandywine • Battle of Germantown • Battle of Guilford Court House
Seminole Wars
 • Patriot War of East Florida

George Mathews (August 30, 1739 [O.S. August 19, 1739] – August 30, 1812) was a Continental Army officer during the American Revolution and afterward a United States general officer; he was 20th and 21st governor of Georgia, and a U.S. Congressman. He was the main U.S. participant in the Patriot War of East Florida, an 1810-1812 filibuster expedition to capture Spanish Florida for the United States.

Born in Augusta County, Virginia, Mathews was in early life a merchant and planter. He quickly became a senior officer in the colonial forces, and was credited along with Colonel Andrew Lewis for the victory of the Virginia provincial militia against the Shawnee and Mingo Indian tribes in the Battle of Point Pleasant of Dunmore's War. He was afterward a member of the House of Burgesses from Augusta County. He attended the First Virginia Convention when the Virginia General Assembly was dissolved by Royal Governor Lord Dunmore.

On the outbreak of the American Revolution Mathews led the 9th Virginia Infantry of the Continental Army to the Battle of Brandywine. He has been called "the hero of Brandywine" for his efforts during the American defeat. Mathews and his entire regiment were captured in the Battle of Germantown the following month. He spent the next four years as a prison of war, including two years on the British prison ship HMS Jersey. After the war, he moved to the state of Georgia and was quickly elected to the Georgia General Assembly. The same year he was elected 20th governor of the state. He served two terms as governor, and one intermittent term in Congress, during which he voted to ratify the United States Constitution. During his second administration he quietly allowed the creation of the rogue state of the Trans-Oconee Republic, headed by General Elijah Clarke. He oversaw the removal of the state when public opinion, coupled with pressure from the Federal government, shifted. His administration was later tainted by the Yazoo Land Fraud, which ultimately led to his retiring from politics.

Mathews relocated to the Mississippi Territory and in 1810 was assigned a filibuster operation by President James Madison to incite an insurrection in East Florida and capture the territory for the United States. This initiative is now referred to as the Patriot War of East Florida. Mathews had successfully launched the insurrection, capturing Ferninanda Beach and Amelia Island, before the secret mission was recalled and disowned by President Madison, fearing war with Spain and its allies. On learning of the recall, Mathews set out to Washington DC to confront Madison on the decision. He died in Augusta, Georgia on his way to the capital. He is buried at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

Early life

George Mathews was born on August 30, 1739 in Augusta County, Virginia to Anne (née Archer) and John Mathews. His parents immigrated to America during the early years of the Scotch-Irish on 1717-1775.[1] His patrilineal ancestors were Anglo-Irish and Welsh, having been a leading family of Radyr, Wales in the 15th to 17th centuries and originating from Llandaff, Wales.[2] His ancestors moved from Radyr to Thurles, County Tippery, Ireland in 1625 and founded the Anglo-Irish branch of the family from which his father immigrated to the new world.[2] John Mathews, who had received a land grant in Augusta County from George II under patent of governor Robert Dinwiddie,[3] was prominent member of the early Augusta County community. He was elected to the vestry of the Anglican Church for Augusta Parish in the first election in county history, and held numerous other offices in the community.[4] He sent George and his siblings to the Augusta Academy, a local classical school founded in 1749.[5][5]

By the 1760s George and a brother, Sampson Mathews had acquired extensive property along the western frontier as far west as the Greenbrier district, and set up several outpost along this stretch. They sold both frontier necessities and specialty goods and their imports included Atlantic trade markets.[6] He was active in civic affairs of his community, holding the offices of sheriff, vestryman, and justice of the peace for Augusta County,[5] and he was regularly involved in skirmishes against local Native American tribes, who frequently conducted raids into the colonies. His father's farm was raided on at least one occasion.[3]

In the fall of 1774, Royal Governor Lord Dunmore assembled an invasion of Native American Virginia territory as a result of the rising tension between the two peoples, culling a thousand troops largely from the Virginia frontier. George Mathews was commissioned captain of Augusta County militia under Colonel Andrew Lewis, whom he accompanied to Point Pleasant, Virginia (now West Virginia). The October 1774 Battle of Point Pleasant of Dunmore's War was fought between Virginia militia and Native Americans from the Shawnee and Mingo tribes along the Ohio River. The Native Americans, under the Shawnee Chief Cornstalk, attacked Virginia militia under Col. Lewis, attempting to halt Lewis's advance into the Ohio Country.[7] Rembert Patrick described the battle as "a typical Indian battle where every man found a tree, and military discipline in the English sense was unknown."[5] Mathews was credited with a flanking maneuver late in the battle that initiated Cornstalk's retreat.[4][8] He gained statewide fame from the battle was elected to the House of Burgesses for the 1774 session, though Governor Dunmore dissolved the assembly before it convened. In May of 1774, he attended the First Virginia Convention.[9] The Burgesses, operating as the First Virginia Convention, met on August 1, 1774 and elected representatives to the Second Virginia Convention, banned commerce and payment of debts with Britain, and pledged aid and supplies to the American Revolution.

American Revolution

American forces lay siege during the Battle of Germantown

George Mathews was commissioned colonel of the 9th Virginia Regiment in the Continental Army on the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and led the regiment north to join the General George Washington and the Continental Army for the Battle of Brandywine of the Philadelphia campaign. The battle, fought between Washington's army and the British army of General Sir William Howe on September 11, 1777, consisted primarily of hand-to-hand bayonet combat. The British defeated the Americans and forced them to withdraw toward the rebel capital of Philadelphia. Mathews was credited for saving the American army from rout at the battle, during which he was said to have been stabbed 5-7 times.[5] Alexander Scott Withers declared him the "hero of Brandywine."[4] The following month, he and his entire regiment were killed, captured, or scattered at the Battle of Germantown, a second clash between generals Washington and Howe. Mathews led a charge early in the day that resulted in the capture up to 100 British soldiers; however, as the day progressed, his regiment had penetrated so deeply into British lines that it became isolated from Washington's army and was engulfed by opposing troops.[5] The given reasons for his capture vary; some claim he did not receive Washington's orders to retreat, while others claim his regiment became lost in the fog and smoke of battle.[4] He spent much of the remaining revolution as a prisoner of war, at first held at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When the British withdrew from there, he was moved to the HMS Jersey prison ship, anchored in New York harbor.[4][5]

Interior of the HMS Jersey

By 1779 he was granted a limited parole and permitted to live in New York City. He wrote to Governor Thomas Jefferson and to the Continental Congress urging a prisoner exchange. Jefferson wrote to Mathews to explain his decision to leave him in New York City as a parolee and instead exchange for others still suffering on the prison ships:

"Your situation indeed seems to have been better since you were sent to New York [City], but reflect on what you suffered before that and know others of your countrymen to suffer and what you know is now suffered by that more unhappy part of them who are still confined on board the prison ships of the enemy."

 — Thomas Jefferson letter to George Mathews, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. II (in 12 Volumes): Correspondence 1771 - 1779, the Summary View, and the Declaration of Independence. (2010) [10]

He was finally exchanged in 1781, at which point he went south with General Nathaniel Greene, campaigning in South Carolina and Georgia and fighting with Greene at the Battle of Guilford Court House.[4] He was named commander of the 12th Virginia Regiment, but this was only a nominal command, since his new regiment had been prisoners since the fall of Charleston in May 1780.

Political career in Georgia

Mathews was impressed with the opportunities for political and financial gain on the Georgia frontier during his campaign with Gen. Greene. When he was released from service in 1783, he bought land in Wilkes County, augmenting that with land grants given for Revolutionary War service. He liquidated his Virginia property, and moved his family to a log cabin there. He and his wife, Polly, would raise their children there and i n their later, larger house. In all, they had eight: John, Charles Lewis, George, William, Ann, Jane, Margaret, and Rebecca.

General Elijah Clarke organized the Trans-Oconee Republic in 1794

He became a judge in Wilkes County, and a town commissioner for Washington, Georgia. In 1787 he was a successful candidate for the $3. His bearing and military experience gained the respect of the other members, and they named him 20th Governor of Georgia that same year. Following his term in the governor's office he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1789 for one term, during which he attended the state convention to ratify the United States Constitution. His identification as a Federalist and his involvement in land speculation caused him to lose the election for the U.S. Senate in 1792. But, by 1793 he had regained enough support to again be chosen governor.


The cite from which a report by a member of Gov. Mathews' staff led to the downfall of Clarke's Republic. Photo by Ed Jackson.

His second administration was more tumultuous than his first. In February 1794, General Elijah Clarke, a popular veteran of the American Revolutionary War, lead an expedition to establish an independent state west of the Oconee River—on hunting grounds reserved by the federal Treaty of New York (1790) exclusively for the Creek Indians. Georgia had not been consulted on the original treaty and many Georgians viewed it unfavorably because they saw it as limiting the possibilities for the future expansion of their state.[11]

Clarke's frontiersmen made settlements on lands in present-day Greene, Morgan, Putnam, and Baldwin counties of Georgia. The settlers built several towns and forts over the next few months. They also wrote and ratified their own constitution, indicating the permanent intention of their endeavor. With little overt opposition from the Creek, they were taking control of the lands before the state or federal governments could react.[12]

The United States government viewed Clarke's actions as a violation of the Treaty of New York, which provided recognition of Creek lands in an effort to maintain peace and guarantee their neutrality. President George Washington pressured Governor Mathews to remove the illegal settlers from the Creek lands. Mathews initially ignored the "unauthorized military expedition," because he shared the state's resentment of the treaty[11] and was aware of Clarke's popularity as a hero of the Revolution. He took only token measures to stop Clarke and his party, such as issuing a proclamation in July 1794 that went unenforced. It is unlikely that Mathews had enough public support to move against Clarke at that juncture, but the tide of public opinion eventually changed and he took actions to remove the rogue general from power.[12] In September, 1200 Georgia militiamen, acting in conjunction with federal troops stationed on the Oconee, surrounded and isolated General Clarke's fortifications. After some negotiation, Clarke agreed to surrender, provided that he and his men would not face prosecution for their actions. Clarke and his followers departed, and the militia burned down the new settlements and fortifications.[12]

The three areas that constituted the 1789 Yazoo land scandal. The fraud led to Mathews' political downfall.

As Mathews' popularity waned, in 1794 turned turned to land speculation in an effort to maintain his popularity. He, along with other high-ranking Georgia officials, issued several grants of land for the same parcels, at times granting up to three times more land than existed. Four new companies: the Georgia Company, the Georgia-Mississippi Company, the Upper Mississippi Company, and the new Tennessee Company, persuaded the Georgia state assembly to sell more than 40,000,000 acres (160,000 km2) of land for $500,000. Many Georgia officials and legislators were to be stockholders in these companies. On January 7, 1795, Governor Mathews signed into law a bill authorizing the sale of the 40,000,000 acres (160,000 km2), known as the Yazoo Act.

When the details were revealed, public outrage was widespread, and people protested to federal officials and Congressmen. Jared Irwin and U.S. Senator James Jackson led the reform efforts: Irwin was elected Governor of Georgia and, less than two months after taking office, signed a bill on February 13, 1796 nullifying the Yazoo Act. The state burned all copies of the bill except for one that had been sent to President George Washington. Jackson resigned as Senator to run for office as next Governor of Georgia. He was elected and took office two years later.[13]

Mathews started afresh in the Mississippi Territory. Polly had died, so he married a widow, Mary (Fairchild) (Lewis) Carpenter (widow of Richard Carpenter, 1729-1788.[14]), who owned property there. He again returned to land speculation, buying stock in a land company the claimant of extensive acreage in the territory. A few years later he would also return to politics

In 1798 he was appointed governor of the newly formed territory of Mississippi by President John Adams. Secretary of War James McHenry objected to the appointment, citing Mathews' financial stake in territory. When Adams withdrew the nomination, Mathews was reported to have responded: "Sir,if you had known me, you wouldn't have taken the nomination back; if you didn't know me, you should not have nominated me to such an important office."[5]

Patriot War of East Florida

West Florida, the original target of Gen. Mathews' mission to annex the Floridas for the United States.

In 1810, Mathews was recommended to President James Madison by Georgia Senator William Harris Crawford as a confidential agent to report on conditions in the Spanish Floridas, as Crawford believed an annexation of the territory to the United States was possible. President Madison sent Mathews to meet with Spanish governor of West Florida, Don Vicente Folch, in November, 1810. Folch indicated to Mathews that he was willing to transfer West Florida to the United States peacefully. Madison, on receiving this information, decided to try to annex both East and West Florida all at once, seeking to take West Florida peacefully and giving Mathews “official instructions to assist a revolutionary movement in East Florida.” Mathews was assigned an Indian agent, John McKee. The president, seeking to keep the United States seemingly removed from the plan, gave them instructions that were "remarkably vague and general."[5][15]

Mathews, then at 72 years of age, returned to the Spanish state with a commission of brigadier general and again met with Governor Folch. Folch had gone cold on the trade and told Mathews that he did not intend to negotiate with Madison for the West. Mathews delivered the message to the White House, at which point Secretary of State James Monroe instructed Mathews to focus on forceful annexation of East Florida, “if he thought he could accomplish anything there.”[15]

East Florida Patriot Flag, designed by a member of Mathews' staff.

Mathews and McKee proceeded in the subsequent months to create an intelligence network throughout East Florida to ascertain the political attitudes of the East Floridians citizens towards the United States, determining that an insurrection against Spanish rule was achievable. Mathews became infected with malaria during the campaign, delaying the operation several months. Isaac Cox wrote that Mathews “spent the summer of 1811 alternately fighting malaria and encouraging insurrection."[15]

On March 13, 1812, Mathews, with a force of Georgians, and launched his revolution on the island of Fernandina. With Mathews, the local insurgents known as the "Patriots of Amelia Island" seized the island and declared their independence. They hoisted a new flag of East Florida, designed by a member of Mathews’ staff.[16] He then turned his focus inland, writing to the President to convey the success and to request additional United States military personnel.[15]

As the insurrection grew, Congress became alarmed at the possibility of being drawn into war with Spain and their allies, the British, as Mathews' operation had grown large enough and quickly enough that the United States could no longer deny involvement. Madison was forced to repudiate the mission, and the effort fell apart. He and his cabinet would deny all involvement in the matter. Mathews decided to go to Washington to appeal his case personally. But, on the trip he became ill and was forced to stop in Augusta, Georgia. He died without reaching Washington.[15]


Historians and have been divided over the legacy of the Patriot War of East Florida. Some agree that Mathews overstepped his authority and deliberately departed from Madison's intentions. Historian J.C.A. Stagg, in George Mathews and John McKee, Revolutionizing East Florida, Mobile, and Pensacola in 1812 (2007), found sufficient evidence in correspondence between Mathews and Madison to determine that Mathews exaggerated his "remarkably vague"[15] instructions and acted well beyond Madison's intent.

"It has become conventional to regard the East Florida revolution of 1812 as a singularly colorful and controversial episode in the history of the early republic. Its colorful aspects have lent themselves to the writing of fast-paced narratives that make for good reading because its organizers -- United States government agents George Mathews and John McKee -- brought to the performance of their duties roughly equal proportions of outright illegality, low intrigue, and not a little incompetence. "It is now reasonably clear that the actions of Mathews and McKee in Florida and on the Gulf Coast between 1810 and 1812 departed far more from the policies of the [Madison] administration than they fairly reflected them."

 — J. C. A. Scagg, George Mathews and John McKee, Revolutionizing East Florida, Mobile, and Pensacola in 1812 (2007) [17]

Others believe Mathews had followed Madison's intentions, and that Madison had disowned the filibuster for political reasons, sacrificing Mathews' reputation in the process.[5] Historian G. Melvin Herndon, in George Mathews, Frontier Patriot (1969), offered a vindicating perspective for Mathews and places blame for the failure of the expedition on Madison for repudiating the assignment.[4]

"It is generally agreed that Mathews was the victim of a vacillating administration whose dictates he had served faithfully according to his own lights. He succeeded too well; and, under pressure from several sources, President Madison and Secretary Monroe deemed it necessary to sacrifice Mathews to quell the criticism of their Florida policy."

 — G. Melvin Herndon, George Mathews, Frontier Patriot (1969) [4]


Mathews died on his 73rd birthday, August 30, 1812, in Augusta, Georgia, while on his way to Washington to confront President Madison over the repudiation of his filibuster expedition. He is buried in St. Paul's Churchyard there.[5][15] G. Melvin Herndon went on to commemorate Mathews:

"Four times Mathews was robbed of greater recognition and fame. The capture of the Colonel and his regiment removed some of the glitter of his heroic efforts during the Revolution. He gave the people of Georgia two terms of capable government, which were soon forgotten following the Yazoo Act. Had he received the governorship of the Mississippi Territory, he would have been a brighter figure in American history. The Florida venture, if successful, would have made him a national hero. But worst of all he had been repudiated by the President of the United States who had assigned him the task. Then death deprived him of the opportunity to vindicate himself. Few public servants ever gave more and received less recognition than this native from Augusta County."

 — G. Melvin Herndon, George Mathews, Frontier Patriot (1969) [4]

See also

  • Mathews (Augusta) political family


  1. "...summer of 1717...", Fischer, David Hackett, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, Oxford University Press, USA (March 14, 1989), pg. 606; "...early immigration was small,...but it began to surge in 1717.", Blethen, H.T. & Wood, C.W., From Ulster to Carolina, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 2005, pg. 22; "Between 1718 and 1775", Griffin, Patrick, The People with No Name, Princeton University Press, 2001, pg 1; etc.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Boots, John R. (1970). The Mat(t)hews family: an anthology of Mathews lineages. The University of Wisconsin - Madison
  3. 3.0 3.1 Chalkley, Lyman (1912) Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia, Extracted from the Original Court Records of Augusta County, 1745-1800 (Washington, D.C.: Daughters of the American Revolution, 1912).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Herndon, G. Melvin (1969). George Mathews, Frontier Patriot. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 77, No. 3 (Jul., 1969) pp. 307-328
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 Patrick, Rembert W. (2010). Florida Fiasco: Rampant Rebels on the Georgia-Florida Border, 1810-1815. University of Georgia Press, 2010. ISBN 0820335495, 9780820335490
  6. Handley, Harry E. (1963), "The Mathews Trading Post", published in The Journal of the Greenbrier Historical Society: Volume 1, Number 1 (Lewisburg, West Virginia: Greenbrier Historical Society, August 1963) Retrieved October 28, 2012
  7. Atkinson, George W., History of Kanawha County: from its organization in 1789 until the present time; Printed at the Office of the West Virginia Journal, 1876, 345 pgs.
  8. Stuart, Charles (1845). Charles A. Stuart to Lyman C. Draper, Greenbrier, January 8, 1845 in Draper Collection, Kentucky Papers, VIII, 40.
  9. Leonard, Cynthia Miller 1978. The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619-January 11, 1978: a bicentennial register of members. Virginia State Library., pp 105, 109.
  10. Ford, Paul L. The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. II (in 12 Volumes): Correspondence 1771 - 1779, the Summary View, and the Declaration of Independence. Cosimo classics history Volume 2 of The Works of Thomas Jefferson. p467. Retrieved November 3, 2012
  11. 11.0 11.1 George R. Lamplugh, Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 1986, pp. 64-68, accessed 19 Nov 2010
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Christopher J. Floyd, "Trans-Oconee Republic", New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2004-2010, accessed 19 Nov 2010
  13. Magrath, C. Peter. (1966)Yazoo: Law and Politics in the New Republic. The Case of 'Fletcher v. Peck'. (1966). Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press
  14. Terry L. Carpenter: "Richard Carpenter, Pioneer Merchant of British West Florida and the Natchez District of Spanish West Florida", in The National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 72, No. 1, March 1984, pp. 51-62.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 15.6 Knott, Stephen F. (1996) “Secret and Sanctioned: Covert Operations and the American Presidency.” Oxford University Press, 1996. p 93 Retrieved November 3, 2012
  16. Cusick, James G. (2007). The other war of 1812 : the Patriot War and the American invasion of Spanish East Florida. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press. pp. 32. ISBN 978-0820329215. 
  17. Stagg, J.C.A. (2007). George Mathews and John McKee: Revolutionizing East Florida, Mobile, and Pensacola in 1812. The Florida Historical Quarterly Vol. 85, No. 3 (Winter, 2007). pp. 269-296

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Edward Telfair
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
George Handley
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
New seat
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 3rd congressional district

March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1791
Succeeded by
Francis Willis
Political offices
Preceded by
Edward Telfair
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Jared Irwin

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