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In Their Own Words

January 06, 1741

Egmont Diary Entry on Malcontent Thomas Stephens

Thomas Stephens came to Georgia in Dec. 1737 with his father William Stephens, the Trustees’ new secretary. Although William eventually would become president of the entire colony, his son soon became a spokesman for the Malcontents – colonists who opposed the Trustees’ policies on slaves and land ownership. On two occasions, Thomas went to England to lobby the Trustees to change their policies. On this day, the younger Stephens concentrated on changing the mind of the Earl of Egmont. Although Egmont remained convinced that the Trustees were acting in the best interests of Georgia, Stephens argued at length – and even threatened to take the issue to Parliament – as recorded in Egmont’s diary:

“… I had this day a long conversation with Mr. Thomas Stephens concerning Georgia, and find him still to push at the Trustees in Parliament, in case he can prevail for a public enquiry into our conduct. He told me: –

“1. That all the people of Savannah were gone away except about 50. I reply’d, his father writes otherwise … .

“3. He said, the Scots were gone away undone by not being allow’d negroes… .

“4. He said, they had been great improvers of land at first, and quitted it when they found the expence of white servants was not answer’d by their produce… .

“5. He said it ever surprised him why we laid the people under so many hard restrictive clauses. I reply’d, it was reasonable at first to secure a number of inhabitants’ residence in the colony, being a frontier: however, that we had excused all their forfeitures, given them leave to lease, their daughters to inherit, and they might succeed to lands as far as 2,000 acres. Nay, they may even bequeath their lands to whom they would, if without heirs; so that they might do everything but sell or mortgage their lands… .

“6. He then said the colony would come to nothing without negroes, and it was impossible for the people to maintain themselves without them… .

“… At length I told him, that there was no talking with a man who allow’d nothing to be true that I could say, but expected to be believed in everything he advanced, and had always an evasion for the answer made thereto, or some positive assertion of facts contradictory, whereto no answer could immediately be made for want of knowing those facts… .”

Source: U.K. Historical Manuscripts Commission, Diary of the First Earl of Egmont (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1923), Vol. II, pp. 174-176