James Habersham: Loyalty, Politics, and Commerce in Colonial Georgia
James Habersham was an early American success story. After arriving in Savannah in 1738, he failed in his efforts to wrest a living from the Georgia wilderness and lived his first year at public expense. Then, by dint of his own efforts and through the connections he forged, Habersham emerged as one of the colony's most influential and prosperous citizens, making his name as a planter, merchant, evangelist, and political leader. The third wealthiest person in the colony at the time of his death in 1775, Habersham had a public career that included service as the secretary of Georgia, president of the King's council, and acting Governor.
But Habersham's story is more than biography. It also provides a window into colonial Georgia and its transformation from a struggling colony on the brink of collapse in the 1740s to a prosperous province in the 1770s, confident enough to defy the Crown. Ranging over such topics as the rise of Methodist missionary fervor, the development of transatlantic trade, the introduction of slavery, and the escalating debate over American independence, Frank Lambert tells how Habersham's success is inextricably tied to Georgia's fortunes and how he played a major role in helping the colony exploit its abundant resources. Habersham's economic development plan provided a blueprint for attracting new settlers, supplying an abundance of cheap labor, and opening new markets.
Habersham's achievements, however, are obscured by his unpopular stance on American independence. While his three sons distinguished themselves as Patriots, Habersham remained loyal to the Crown, though he had opposed Britain's new imperial policies in the 1760's. Nevertheless, it was Habersham's loyal service to colonial Georgia that enabled the colony to separate successfully from the mother country and assume its place in the new republic as a prosperous, vigorous state.
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