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George Mathews (August 30, 1739 [O.S. August 19, 1739] – August 30, 1812) was a Continental Army officer during the American Revolutionary War and rose to the rank of brevet brigadier general; he was Governor of Georgia, and a U.S. Congressman. He was the leading participant in the Patriot War of East Florida, an 1810–1812 filibuster expedition to capture Spanish Florida for the United States.

George Mathews
George Mathews from The Nation Makers by Howard Pyle.jpg
20th-Century painting of George Mathews at the Battle of the Brandywine, by Howard Pyle (1902)
Governor of Georgia
In office
November 7, 1793 – January 15, 1796
Preceded byEdward Telfair
Succeeded byJared Irwin
Member of the U. S. House of Representatives from Georgia's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1791
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byFrancis Willis
Governor of Georgia
In office
January 9, 1787 – January 26, 1788
Preceded byEdward Telfair
Succeeded byGeorge Handley
Delegate to the First Virginia Convention
In office
August 1, 1774
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Virginia House of Burgesses
In office
Did not convene
Preceded byCharles Lewis
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Personal details
BornAugust 30, 1739
Augusta County, Virginia
DiedAugust 30, 1812 (aged 73)
Augusta, Georgia
Resting placeSt. Paul's Episcopal Church Cemetery
Political partyFederalist
Spouse(s)Anne "Polly" Paul

Margaret Cunningham[citation needed],

Mary (Fairchild) (Lewis) Carpenter[1]
RelationsMathews family
ResidenceGoose Pond Plantation, Wilkes County, Georgia
ProfessionPlanter, politician
Military service
AllegianceKingdom of Great Britain Great Britain
United States United States
Branch/serviceVirginia provincial militia
Continental Army
United States Army
Years of serviceMilitia: 1774
Continental Army: 1775–1783
U.S. Army: 1810–1812
RankUS-O7 insignia.svgBrigadier General
Battles/warsDunmore'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

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 Revolutionary War Mathews led the 9th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army to the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777. He and his entire regiment were captured in the Battle of Germantown the following month. He spent the next four years as a prisoner of war, including two years on the British prison ship HMS Jersey. He was exchanged on December 5, 1781. He was breveted to the rank of brigadier general on September 30, 1783. He was an original member of the Virginia Society of the Cincinnati.

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 retirement 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 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 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 lifeEdit

George Mathews was born on August 30, 1739 in Augusta County, Virginia to Anne (née Archer) and John Mathews.[2] His parents immigrated to America during the early years of the Scotch-Irish on 1717–1775.[3] His father was a successful member of the early Augusta County community and sent George and his siblings to the Augusta Academy, a local classical school founded in 1749.[4][4]

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.[5] He was active in civic affairs of his community, holding the offices of sheriff, vestryman, and justice of the peace for Augusta County,[4] 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.[6]

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."[4] Mathews was credited with a flanking maneuver late in the battle that initiated Cornstalk's retreat.[8][9] 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 1774, he attended the First Virginia Convention.[10] 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 Revolutionary WarEdit

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.[4] Alexander Scott Withers declared him the "hero of Brandywine."[8] 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.[4] 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.[8] He spent much of the remaining revolution as a prisoner of war, at first held at Philadelphia. When the British withdrew from there, he was moved to the prison ship HMS Jersey, anchored in New York harbor.[4][8]

Interior of 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) [11]

He was finally exchanged on December 5, 1781, at which point he went south with Major General Nathaniel Greene, campaigning in South Carolina and Georgia and fighting with Greene at the Battle of Guilford Court House.[8] 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. He was brevetted to the rank of brigadier general on September 30, 1781.

Political career in GeorgiaEdit

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 in 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 Georgia Assembly.

His bearing and military experience gained the respect of the other members, and they named him 20th Governor of Georgia in 1787. 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.

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.[12]

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.[13]

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 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[12] 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.[13] 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.[13]

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

Mathews' popularity waned, in 1794 he 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, 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.[14]

Mathews started afresh in the Mississippi Territory. His wife Polly had died, so he married a widow, Mary (Fairchild) (Lewis) Carpenter (widow of Richard Carpenter, 1729–1788.[15]), 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 the 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."[4]

Patriot War of East FloridaEdit

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

"The East Florida revolution of 1812 was an embarrassing and shameful moment in the history of early American foreign policy." [16]

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. Fearing the collapse of Spanish rule, President Madison sent Mathews to meet with Spanish governor of West Florida, Don Vicente Folch, in November, 1810, to inform the residents of East Florida that if they were to separate from Spain they would be welcomed into the United States.[17] 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."[18]

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."[18]

East Florida Patriot Flag, raised by the Patriot Army at Fernandina

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 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."[18]

On March 13, 1812, Mathews, with a force of Georgians, launched his revolution at Fernandina on Amelia Island. 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.[19] He then turned his focus inland, writing to the President[20] to convey the success and to request additional United States military personnel.[18]

As the insurrection grew, Congress became alarmed at the possibility of being drawn into war with Spain and their allies, the British. (However, a few months later the U.S. declared war on Britain, setting off the War of 1812). Mathews' operation had grown large enough and quickly enough that the United States could no longer deny involvement.[21] 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.[18]


Historians 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"[18] 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) [22]

Others believe Mathews had followed Madison's intentions, and that Madison had disowned the filibuster for political reasons, sacrificing Mathews' reputation in the process.[4] 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.[8]

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) [8]

Death and honorsEdit

George Mathews later in life

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.[4][18]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Herndon, G. Melvin (1969). "George Mathews, Frontier Patriot". Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 77 (3): 307. JSTOR 4247487.
  3. ^ "... 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.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Patrick, Rembert W. (2010). Florida Fiasco: Rampant Rebels on the Georgia-Florida Border, 1810–1815. University of Georgia Press, 2010. ISBN 0820335495, 9780820335490
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ 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).
  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. ^ a b c d e f g Herndon, G. Melvin (1969). George Mathews, Frontier Patriot. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 77, No. 3 (Jul., 1969) pp. 307-328
  9. ^ Stuart, Charles (1845). Charles A. Stuart to Lyman C. Draper, Greenbrier, January 8, 1845 in Draper Collection, Kentucky Papers, VIII, 40.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ a b 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
  13. ^ a b c Christopher J. Floyd, "Trans-Oconee Republic", New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2004–2010, accessed 19 Nov 2010
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Stagg, J. C. A. (2006). "James Madison and George Mathews: The East Florida Revolution of 1812 Reconsidered". Diplomatic History. 30 (1): 23. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.2006.00536.x. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  17. ^ Herring, George C. (2008). From Colony To Superpower : U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 111. ISBN 9780199743773. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Stephen F. Knott (1996). Secret and Sanctioned: Covert Operations and the American Presidency. Oxford University Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-19-510098-3.
  19. ^ 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. p. 32. ISBN 978-0820329215.
  20. ^ The Papers of James Madison, Presidential Series, vol. 4, 5 November 1811-9 July 1812 and supplement 5 March 1809-19 October 1811. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. 1999. p. 326. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  21. ^ Monroe, James. "[Letter] 1812 Oct. 13, Department of State, [Washington, D.C. to] David B. Mitchell / Ja[me]s Monroe". Southeastern Native American Documents, 1730–1842. Digital Library of Georgia. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  22. ^ 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
  23. ^ "The Jonesville Community Historical Marker".
  24. ^ "Governor Mathews' Homesite Historical Marker".
  25. ^ "Fort Mathews Historical Marker".

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Edward Telfair
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
George Handley
U.S. 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