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This Day in Georgia History

August 30, 1739

George Mathews Born

Georgia politician and governor George Mathews was born in Augusta County, Va. Mathews served with Virginia troops in the Revolutionary War until captured at Germantown in 1777. After spending four years as a prisoner of war, he was exchanged in 1781. Mathews then served one year in the southern army of General Nathanael Greene. Soon after the war Mathews moved to Georgia, where as a war veteran he was granted thousands of acres of land in Wilkes County. He served four terms in the assembly as a delegate from Wilkes County before being elected governor in 1787. During his term, the Georgia-South Carolina boundary dispute was settled but problems with the Creek Indians increased. Upon completion of his term, Mathews was a delegate to the convention in Augusta that ratified the U.S. Constitution, worked as an Indian commissioner (1788-89), served in Georgia’s 1789 state constitutional convention, and was elected in 1789 to the first U.S. Congress. Afterwards, Mathews served as an inferior court judge (1792-93) before being elected to a second term as governor in 1793. During this term Mathews was forced to deal with Elijah Clarke’s attempts to capture East Florida and to set up an independent republic across the Oconee River. More importantly, Mathews signed the infamous Yazoo Land Act, leading to the illegal granting and selling of large tracts of Georgia’s western lands. This left him unpopular in Georgia, and in 1797 Mathews moved permanently to the Mississippi Territory. Subsequently, Pres. James Madison appointed Mathews to try to acquire Florida from the Spain. Toward this end, Mathews attempted to stir up revolt among the Indians in Florida, which led Madison to repudiate his activities. Upon hearing of this, Mathews angrily left for Washington to confront Madison, but in route he died on Aug. 30, 1812, in Augusta, Georgia, where he was buried in St. Paul’s churchyard.