George Walton Biography
George Walton, the last of the Georgia delegation, who signed the declaration of independence, and with an account of whom we shall conclude these biographical notices, was born in the county of Frederick, Virginia, about the year 1740. He was early apprenticed to a carpenter, who being a man of selfish and contracted views, not only kept him closely at labor during the day, but refused him the privilege of a candle, by which to read at night.
Young Walton possessed a mind by nature strong in its powers, and though uncultivated, not having enjoyed even the advantages of a good scholastic education, he was ardently bent on the acquisition of knowledge; so bent, that during the day, at his leisure moments, he would collect light wood, which served him at night instead of a candle. His application was close and indefatigable; his acquisitions rapid and valuable.
At the expiration of his apprenticeship, he removed to the province of Georgia, and entered the office of a Mr. Young, with whom he pursued the preparatory studies of the profession of law, and in 1774, he entered upon its duties.
At this time the British government was in the exercise of full power in Georgia. Both the governor and his council were firm supporters of the British ministry. It was at this period that George Walton, and other kindred spirits, assembled a meeting of the friends of liberty, at the liberty pole, at Tondee's tavern in Savannah, to take into consideration the means of preserving the constitutional rights and liberties of the people of Georgia, which were endangered by the then recent acts of the British parliament.
At this meeting, Mr. Walton took a distinguished part. Others, also, entered with great warmth and animation into the debate. It was, at length, determined, to invite the different parishes of the province, to come into a general union and co-operation with the other provinces of America to secure their constitutional rights and liberties.
In opposition to this plan, the royal governor and his council immediately and strongly enlisted themselves, and so far succeeded by their influence, as to induce another meeting, which was held in January, 1775, to content itself with preparing a petition to be presented to the king. Of the committee appointed for this purpose, Mr. Walton was a member. The petition, however, shared the fate of its numerous predecessors.
In February, 1775, the committee of safety met at Savannah. But notwithstanding that several of the members advocated strong and decisive measures, a majority were for, pursuing, for the present, a temporizing policy. Accordingly, the committee adjourned without concerting any plan for the appointment of delegates to the continental congress. This induced the people of the parish of St. John, as noticed in the preceding memoir, to separate, in a degree, from the provincial government, and to appoint Mr. Hall a delegate to represent them in the national legislature.
In the month of July, 1775, the convention of Georgia acceded to the general confederacy, and five delegates, Lyman Hall, Archibald Bullock, John Houston, John J. Zubly, and Noble W. Jones, were elected to represent the state in congress.
In the month of February, 1776, Mr. Walton was elected, to the same honorable station, and in the following month of October, was re-elected. From this time, until October, 1781, he continued to represent the state of Georgia at the seat of government, where he displayed much zeal and intelligence, in the discharge of the various duties which were assigned him. He was particularly useful on a committee, of which Robert Morris and George Clymer were his associates, appointed to transact important continental business in Philadelphia, during the time that congress was obliged to retire from that city.
In December, 1778, Mr. Walton received a colonel's commission in the militia, and was present at the surrender of Savannah to the British arms. During the obstinate defense of that place, Colonel Walton was wounded in the thigh, in consequence of which he fell from his horse, and was made a prisoner by the British troops. A brigadier-general was demanded in exchange for him; but in September, 1779, he was exchange for a captain of the navy.
In the following month, Colonel Walton was appointed governor of the state; and in the succeeding January, was elected a member of congress for two years.
The subsequent life of Mr. Walton was filled up in the discharge of the most respectable offices within the gift of the state. In what manner he was appreciated by the people of Georgia, may be learnt from the fact that he was at six different times elected a representative to congress; twice appointed governor of the state; once a senator of the United States; and at four different periods a judge of the superior courts, which last office he held for fifteen years, and until the time of his death.
It may be gathered from the preceding pages, respecting Mr. Walton, that he was no ordinary man. He rose into distinction by the force of his native powers. In his temperament he was ardent, and by means of his enthusiasm in the great cause of liberty, rose to higher eminence, and secured a greater share of public favor and confidence, than he would otherwise have done.
Mr. Walton was not without his faults and weaknesses. He was accused of a degree of pedantry, and sometimes indulged his satirical powers beyond the strict rules of propriety. He was perhaps, also, too contemptuous of public opinion, especially when that opinion varied from his own.
The death of Mr. Walton occurred on the second day of February, 1804. During the latter years of his life, he suffered intensely from frequent and long continued attacks of the gout, which probably tended to undermine his constitution, and to hasten the event of his dissolution. He had attained however to a good age, and closed his life, happy in having contributed his full share towards the measure of his country's glory.
SOURCE: Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, 1829
by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich