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This Day in Georgia History

January 28, 1671

William Stephens Born

William Stephens, first president of Georgia, was born in England. There, he was elected to the House of Commons in 1702 and served until 1727 (the last five years joined by James Oglethorpe). In 1736, Stephens’ was hired to go to South Carolina and survey a grant on the Savannah River. There, he traveled down river to Savannah, where he met Oglethorpe. He accompanied Georgia’s founder back to England that year. In London, the Trustees had a chance to read Stephens’ journal of his trip to America. Impressed, they hired him in April 1737 to serve as their secretary for Georgia and keep them informed on military, civil, and other concerns in the colony. The Trustees became disturbed at how Georgia was being administered–and in particular at how Oglethorpe was overspending his instructions. Therefore, in 1740, the Trustees divided Georgia into two parts with the Ogeechee River serving as the boundary. The northern portion was known as the County of Savannah, and Stephens was named as its president. The southern portion was designated the County of Frederica, with the office of president temporarily left vacant (though the Trustees intended James Oglethorpe to serve as its president). In 1742, with Oglethorpe occupied by the war with Spain, Stephens was elevated to president of the entire colony – a post he held until he resigned in 1750. Spending his last days at his Bewlie plantation near Savannah, Stephens died at age 81 in August 1753.