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In Their Own Words

January 06, 1739

Stephens Saw Malcontent Letter

The previous day, William Stephens had heard rumors of a letter supposedly left for James Oglethorpe, expressing the concerns of the Malcontents - the group of colonists opposed to the Trustees’ policies in colonial Georgia. Today, he found the person who had it, and who he suspected wrote it:

“….Having a strong Inclination to get a Sight of this anonymous Letter (if possible) which was so much talked of ; I thought the likeliest Place to come at any Knowledge about it, would be among our Gentry at the Nightly Club; to which therefore my Curiosity led me ; and as I was apprehensive, that from my seldom coming among them, they might have a Jealousy that I had some private View in hand; I told them I came to make an End of Christmas this Twelve-Tide; when I found some diverting themselves with Cards, and some at Backgammon. I had not sat long, before I was made sensible, that one who had the Custody of the Letter, was as ready to shew it me, as I was to see it: Wherefore calling me aside into another Room in Privacy, he pulled it out of his Pocket, told me what he had got, and asked me to hear him read it; which he did: It was very long, and filled two or three Sheets of Paper in a loose Hand: The Stile was copious and flowing, attempting a sort of Panegyrick on the General, for the many great Things he had done,, and the indefatigable Pains he had taken in establishing this Colony: This took up the first Part of it. From thence he proceeded to set forth, that as it was scarcely to be expe<5led within the Reach of human Wisdom, any great Work of such a Kind could be formed perfect at first, but it was Experience only that must be the Test,, whether or not any Amendment was wanting; he therefore asserted, that no Founders of Colonies in old Times were ever ashamed to rectify what they found themselves mistaken in: And since it was very evident now, that the Plan in which the Colony was formed, was defective in many Instances (whereupon he expatiated very much) it would redound to the General’s Honour, that he himself should be the first that attempted to make it better: After much Haranguing on that Part, and a great deal of Tautology in setting forth the Miserable Disappointment of the Landholders here; he concludes with telling him, that forasmuch as there were too many Examples of
Men, who by cultivating Land on the present Terms, had so expended what little Substance they had, that they were equally incapable of either going or staying; it would be no more than Justice due to them, in case there was no Relief here to be found, that the Trustees should be at the Expence of sending them to Britain and setting them down at the Place from whence they came. Th ese, as far as I can remember, were the principal Parts of it; and it was very easy from many Circumstances to discover, that he who read it was the Author (viz. Mr. H ugh Anderson.) …”

Source: Allen D. Candler, ed. The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, Vol. IV, Stephens’ Journal 1737-1740, Atlanta, GA, 1906, pp. 257-258.