Edward Telfair

Edward Telfair (1735 – September 17, 1807) was a Scottish-born American politician who served as the Governor of the state of Georgia between 1786 and 1787, and again from 1790 through 1793. He was a member of the Continental Congress, and one of the signers of the Articles of Confederation.[1]

Edward Telfair
Edward Telfair.jpg
Governor of Georgia
In office
January 9, 1786 – January 9, 1787
Preceded bySamuel Elbert
Succeeded byGeorge Mathews
In office
November 11, 1789 – November 7, 1793
Preceded byGeorge Walton
Succeeded byGeorge Mathews
Personal details
Born1735 (1735)
Died (aged 71–72)
Savannah, Georgia, U.S.

Early lifeEdit

Telfair was born in 1735 on his family's ancestral estate in western Scotland.[2] He graduated from the Kirkcudbright Grammar School, before acquiring commercial training. He immigrated to America in 1758 as an agent of a commission house, settling in Virginia. Telfair subsequently moved to Halifax, North Carolina, and finally to Savannah, Georgia, where he established his own commission house.[3] He arrived in Georgia in 1766, joining his brother, William, who had emigrated earlier.[4] Together with Basil Cowper, Telfair built the commission house, and it was an overnight success.[5]

Slave ownerEdit

Telfair was a slave owner and a consultant on issues related to slavery. His mercantile firm dealt in slaves, among other things, and contemporary correspondence of his included discussions of such topics as: the management of slaves; the purchase and sale of slaves; runaway slaves; the mortality rate of slaves born on plantations; the difficulty of selling closely related slaves; and the relations between whites and freedmen.[6]

Revolutionary periodEdit

Telfair was a member of a Committee of Safety (1775–1776), and was a delegate to the Georgia Provincial Congress meeting at Savannah in 1776. He was also a member of the Georgia Committee of Intelligence in 1776.[7]

Telfair was elected to the Continental Congress for 1778, 1780, 1781, and 1782. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation. In 1783, during the Cherokee–American wars, Telfair was commissioned to treat with the Chickamauga Cherokee Indians. Telfair was the designated agent (on behalf of Georgia) in talks aimed at settling the northern boundary dispute with North Carolina in February 1783. The land in question was generally regarded as Creek land, so the Cherokees readily signed the treaty. The Creeks refused.[8] Although the citizens of Franklin County begged him to retaliate,[9] Secretary of War, Henry Knox, instructed Governor Telfair not to retaliate against the Creek Indians.[10]

He served three terms as Governor of the state of Georgia. During his second term as governor, he illegally granted thousands of acres of land to speculators as part of the Yazoo land fraud.

Later lifeEdit

Telfair was one of only 12 men who received electoral votes during the first election for President and Vice President of the United States,[11] receiving the vote of one unrecorded elector from his home state of Georgia.

Telfair died in Savannah in 1807, interred initially in the family vault at Sharon plantation. Later in the 19th century, his remains were moved to Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah.[12]


One of Telfair's sons, Thomas Telfair, represented Georgia in the U.S. Congress.[13]

Telfair Academy, 1818, family mansion of Mary Telfair

The eldest of the Telfair daughters, Mary Telfair, outlived her siblings and became the benefactor of the first public art museum in the American South, now a complex of three buildings called the Telfair Museums. After her death in 1875, her will also provided for the founding of the Telfair Hospital for Females. Today it is known as Mary Telfair Women's Hospital and is part of Savannah's St. Joseph's/Candler health system.[14][15]


Three months after Edward Telfair died, Georgia named Telfair County after the former governor.[16]

Later in the 19th century, Savannah's St. James Square was renamed Telfair Square to honor the family.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Georgia Governor Edward Telfair". National Governors Association. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  2. ^ Johnson, Charles J. "Edward Telfair (1735-1807)." New Georgia Encyclopedia. May 26, 2015. Web. August 30, 2015.
  3. ^ "TELFAIR, Edward, (1735–1807)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  4. ^ Jackson, Harvey H. "Edward Telfair". American National Biography. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  5. ^ Pressly, Paul M. (2007). "Scottish Merchants and the Shaping of Colonial Georgia". Georgia Historical Quarterly. 91 (2). Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  6. ^ Edward Telfair Papers, 1764–1831; 906 Items & 5 Volumes; Savannah, Georgia; "Papers of a merchant, governor of Georgia, and delegate to the Continental Congress".
  7. ^ Jackson, Harvey H. "Edward Telfair". American National Biography. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  8. ^ Cashin, Edward J. (1999). The King's Ranger : Thomas Brown and the American Revolution on the Southern Frontier. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780820310930. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  9. ^ "1793 Jan. 1, Franklin County, [Georgia to] Edward Telfare [i.e., Telfair], Governor of Georgia / [citizens of] Franklin County". Southeastern Native American Documents, 1730-1842. Digital Library of Georgia. Retrieved February 13, 2018.
  10. ^ Knox, Henry. "Henry Knox, Secretary of War, to Edward Telfair, Governor of Georgia". Northwest Territory Collection, 1721-1825. Indiana Historical Society. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  11. ^ Journal of the Senate; Vol. 1; 1789; p8.
  12. ^ Johnson, Charles J. "Edward Telfair (1735-1807)." New Georgia Encyclopedia. May 26, 2015. Web. August 30, 2015.
  13. ^ Johnson, Charles J. "Telfair Family." New Georgia Encyclopedia. May 26, 2015. Web. August 30, 2015.
  14. ^ Johnson, Charles J. "Mary Telfair (1791-1875)." New Georgia Encyclopedia. May 26, 2015. Web. August 30, 2015.
  15. ^ History of St. Joseph's/Candler at hospital website.
  16. ^ Krakow, Kenneth K. (1975). Georgia Place-Names: Their History and Origins (PDF). Macon, GA: Winship Press. p. 223. ISBN 0-915430-00-2.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Samuel Elbert
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
George Mathews
Political offices
Preceded by
George Walton
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
George Mathews