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In Their Own Words

March 19, 1841

Letter on Writing First History of Georgia

William Bacon Stevens’ 1847 work, A History of Georgia, is generally considered the first scholarly history of this state. It came about after a committee of the Georgia Historical Society wrote the University of Georgia professor on March 11, 1841 asking if he would write a new and complete history of Georgia. On March 19, Stevens wrote back indicating his acceptance of the task but pointing out some of the difficulties that he would face:

“… I feel that the task which they would assign me, is one involving much labour, and a responsibility from which I would fain be excused, were I not sustained by the assurances of the Society to aid me in the undertaking. Confiding in these encouragements, I have been induced, after long and anxious deliberation, to comply with your request; and I shall bestow upon the work all the attention consistent with the strict performance of paramount professional duties… .

“In whatever light we view it, the preparation of a History of Georgia is a great and arduous work. In the volumes of Hewitt [a Presbyterian minister in Charleston whose 1779 work, A History of South Carolina and Georgia, was published in London], the annals of this Province occupy but a subordinate place, and are merely subsidiary to his greater design, the History of South Carolina; and M’Call [Hugh McCall, whose History of Georgia was published in Savannah in 1811], the annals of this Province occupy but a subordinate place, and are merely subsidiary to his greater design, the History of South Carolina; and M’Call, the victim of infirmities, demanding our sympathy for his sufferings, and our admiration of his zeal in prosecuting such a labour on a bed of anguish and disease, though he has rescued many important events from oblivion, has yet failed in producing a work at all adequate to our wants, in consequence of his not having those materials which now enrich our archives. The ground, therefore, must all be gone over anew, and that too, not by the secondary helps of former histories, but by the careful study of original, contemporary, and official documents.

“To collect these papers, will be both tedious and expensive; to arrange and digest them, will require much time and consideration; and the completion of a work at all commensurate with our necessities, must necessarily involve the labour of industrious years… .”

Source: William Bacon Stevens, A History of Georgia (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1847), Vol. I, p. xi.