Founding Fathers Friday: Lyman Hall

by Derrick G. Jeter

Lyman Hall was the only delegate to the Continental Congress who was qualified to practice two professions. A son of Connecticut, Hall attended Yale and studied for the ministry. Upon graduation, he secured a pastorate and began his preaching career in 1749. However, the ministry didn’t suit him. He and his congregation locked horns and Hall was sent packing. He filled in as an iterate preacher in local Connecticut churches as pulpits became vacant, but after a few years Hall decided to change careers. He’d become a physician 

Studying for medicine, as many before him did, Hall apprenticed himself to a local physician until he could pass the required exams and be admitted to practice. As soon as he was awarded his MD, he married Abigail Burr. Unfortunately, she died a year after their marriage. A couple of years later, Hall fell in love with Mary Osborn. They married and started a family.

Sometime in 1752, the Hall family decided to move from Connecticut to South Carolina. They settled in Dorchester, but didn’t say there for long. In 1758, Hall and other transplanted New Englanders moved further south to the remote colony of Georgia. They planted roots in St. John’s Parish in the Midway District, along the Georgian coast—about forty miles from the South Carolina border.

There, these Yankee founded the seaport village of Sunbury. To make Sunbury habitable and productive for rice and indigo the transplants had to drain a swamp. And like most swamps, the one at Sunbury was filled with disease-carrying mosquitoes. Malaria ran high among the good folks of Sunbury . . . and kept good Doctor Hall hopping. Soon, he had amassed a tidy sum and established his own plantation just outside of Sunbury, Hall’s Knoll.

The New Englanders of Sunbury were an independent lot. In fact, Sunbury became the hotbed of patriotic fervor in the midst of an ice cube of tory loyalties, which eventually led St. John’s Parish to be called the “southern cradle of liberty.”

As the furthest removed of the American colonies and the least populated, Georgia never suffered under the heavy hand of Parliament and the Crown the same weight the New England and Middle Colonies did. So the growing fever of patriotism in St. John’s Parish wasn’t felt by the majority of Georgians. In early 1774, Hall and other kindred spirits began calling for public meetings in an attempt to arouse the people outside of St. John’s Perish to join in solidarity with the colonies of the north. Their calls fell on deaf ears. In July of that year, Hall traveled to Savannah to discuss a possible union with the northern colonies to stand united against British tyranny. He left Savannah frustrated and angry. The Georgia legislature was passive and inactive, making no plans to send delegates to the First Continental Congress later that year. The following January (1775), the provincial convention in Savannah opted not to adopt the congressional proposal for a Continental Association—a voluntary embargo, or economic boycott, of British goods until the Crown and the colonies could come to some reasonable resolution.

Hall had had enough. Under his leadership, as an old biography stated:

The people of the parish of St. John’s, convinced that the rest of the province was too apathetic to act, appealed to the Committee of Safety of South Carolina, to allow them to join with them in their non-importation agreements, and other commercial regulations. Owing to some difference of opinion they were not successful in their application. They therefore united among themselves, established a non-importation association, and proceeded to elect a delegate to Congress.

That delegate? Lyman Hall, of course.

When Hall arrived in Philadelphia in May 1775, as the representative of a single county in the colony of Georgia, Congress didn’t know what to do with him. But he was a true blue patriot and Congress needed a voice in Georgia (if Georgia ever came around), so they accept Hall as a nonvoting member.

It didn’t take long for Georgia to come around. In July 1775—very likely motivated by the battles of Lexington, Concord, Fort Ticonderoga, and Bunker Hill—Georgia decided it should join in on the goings on in Philadelphia. The colony officially dubbed Hall as its representative and sent four other delegate to join him.

In February 1776, Hall returned to Philadelphia with George Walton and Button Gwinnett. The Georgia delegation wasn’t given specific instructions, except that they should vote their conscience in light of what was best for the common good. Hall and Walton immediately took a shine to John and Samuel Adams—the radicals for independence—and when the vote came on July 2 the Georgia delegation voted for what they thought was for the common good . . . they voted for revolution. All three delegates signed the engrossed Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776.

Two years later, British troops were marching through Georgia. Hall rushed home and spirited his family away to safety, probably to Connecticut. However, he left Hall’s Knoll unprotected and it was destroyed in ensuing engagements.

Hall returned to Georgia in 1782, just before British troops evacuated Savannah. According to Hall’s early biographer:

After the capture of Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown, in 1781, the war virtually ceased. Armies were still on duty, and arrangements were made for regular campaigns the ensuing season; but unimportant skirmishes in the Southern States made up the bulk of actual hostilities from that time until the proclamation of peace. Georgia was the only rendezvous of the remnant of the British at the South, in the beginning of the years 1782. In June of that year, General Wayne arrived there with a portion of the Pennsylvania line, and the enemy retreated from all their outposts into Savannah. The State was thus evacuated, and republican authority was re-established. Wayne was attacked within five miles of Savannah, on the twenty-fourth of June, by a party of British and Indians, and in that skirmish Colonel John Laurens was killed. This was the last battle of the Revolution. Cessation of hostilities was proclaimed, and in July the British force evacuated Savannah, and the last hostile foot left the soil of Georgia.

The following year, in 1783, Hall was elected as Georgia’s governor. He held the office one year—and what a busy year it was: repairing the state’s tottering economy, making treaties with the Cherokee Indians, and approving a land grant for the creation of Franklin College and the University of Georgia, America’s first state-chartered university. In 1790, Hall sold Hall’s Knoll and moved to Burke County, where he purchased Shell Bluff Plantation. He enjoyed his retirement for only a short time—he died later in the year.

Hall was buried on the grounds of Shell Bluff, but in the mid-1800s his remains were moved to Augusta and now rest beneath a monument honoring the Georgian signers.