George Mathews – Continental Army Officer – Virginia


George Mathews ({OldStyleDateDY|August 30, |1739|August 19, 1739} – August 30, 1812) was a Continental Army officer during the American Revolution and afterward a United States general officer; he was 20th and 21st governor of Georgia, and a U.S. Congressman. He was the main U.S. participant in the Patriot War of East Florida, an 1810-1812 filibuster expedition to capture Spanish Florida for the United States.

Born in Augusta County, Virginia, Mathews was in early life a merchant and planter. He quickly became a senior officer in the colonial forces, and was credited along with Colonel Andrew Lewis for the victory of the Virginia provincial militia against the Shawnee and Mingo Indian tribes in the Battle of Point Pleasant of Dunmore’s War. He was afterward a member of the House of Burgesses from Augusta County. He attended the First Virginia Convention when the Virginia General Assembly was dissolved by Royal Governor Lord Dunmore.

On the outbreak of the American Revolution Mathews led the 9th Virginia Infantry of the Continental Army to the Battle of Brandywine. He has been called “the hero of Brandywine” for his efforts during the American defeat. Mathews and his entire regiment were captured in the Battle of Germantown the following month. He spent the next four years as a prison of war, including two years on the British prison ship HMS Jersey. After the war, he moved to the state of Georgia and was quickly elected to the Georgia General Assembly. The same year he was elected 20th governor of the state. He served two terms as governor, and one intermittent term in Congress, during which he voted to ratify the United States Constitution. During his second administration he quietly allowed the creation of the rogue state of the Trans-Oconee Republic, headed by General Elijah Clarke. He oversaw the removal of the state when public opinion, coupled with pressure from the Federal government, shifted. His administration was later tainted by the Yazoo Land Fraud, which ultimately led to his retiring from politics.

Mathews relocated to the Mississippi Territory and in 1810 was assigned a filibuster operation by President James Madison to incite an insurrection in East Florida and capture the territory for the United States. This initiative is now referred to as the Patriot War of East Florida. Mathews had successfully launched the insurrection, capturing Ferninanda Beach and Amelia Island, before the secret mission was recalled and disowned by President Madison, fearing war with Spain and its allies. On learning of the recall, Mathews set out to Washington DC to confront Madison on the decision. He died in Augusta, Georgia on his way to the capital. He is buried at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

== Early life ==

George Mathews was born on August 30, 1739 in Augusta County, Virginia to Anne (née Archer) and John Mathews. His parents immigrated to America during the early years of the Scotch-Irish on 1717-1775. His patrilineal ancestors were Anglo-Irish and Welsh, having been a leading family of Radyr, Wales in the 15th to 17th centuries and originating from Llandaff, Wales. His ancestors moved from Radyr to Thurles, County Tippery, Ireland in 1625 and founded the Anglo-Irish branch of the family from which his father immigrated to the new world. John Mathews, who had received a land grant in Augusta County from George II under patent of governor Robert Dinwiddie, was prominent member of the early Augusta County community. He was elected to the vestry of the Anglican Church for Augusta Parish in the first election in county history, and held numerous other offices in the community. He sent George and his siblings to the Augusta Academy, a local classical school founded in 1749.

By the 1760s George and a brother, Sampson Mathews had acquired extensive property along the western frontier as far west as the Greenbrier district, and set up several outpost along this stretch. They sold both frontier necessities and specialty goods and their imports included Atlantic trade markets. He was active in civic affairs of his community, holding the offices of sheriff, vestryman, and justice of the peace for Augusta County, and he was regularly involved in skirmishes against local Native American tribes, who frequently conducted raids into the colonies. His father’s farm was raided on at least one occasion.

In the fall of 1774, Royal Governor Lord Dunmore assembled an invasion of Native American Virginia territory as a result of the rising tension between the two peoples, culling a thousand troops largely from the Virginia frontier. George Mathews was commissioned captain of Augusta County militia under Colonel Andrew Lewis, whom he accompanied to Point Pleasant, Virginia (now West Virginia). The October 1774 Battle of Point Pleasant of Dunmore’s War was fought between Virginia militia and Native Americans from the Shawnee and Mingo tribes along the Ohio River. The Native Americans, under the Shawnee Chief Cornstalk, attacked Virginia militia under Col. Lewis, attempting to halt Lewis’s advance into the Ohio Country. Rembert Patrick described the battle as “a typical Indian battle where every man found a tree, and military discipline in the English sense was unknown.” Mathews was credited with a flanking maneuver late in the battle that initiated Cornstalk’s retreat. He gained statewide fame from the battle was elected to the House of Burgesses for the 1774 session, though Governor Dunmore dissolved the assembly before it convened. In May of 1774, he attended the First Virginia Convention. The Burgesses, operating as the First Virginia Convention, met on August 1, 1774 and elected representatives to the Second Virginia Convention, banned commerce and payment of debts with Britain, and pledged aid and supplies to the American Revolution.

== American Revolution ==

George Mathews was commissioned colonel of the 9th Virginia Regiment in the Continental Army on the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and led the regiment north to join the General George Washington and the Continental Army for the Battle of Brandywine of the Philadelphia campaign. The battle, fought between Washington’s army and the British army of General Sir William Howe on September 11, 1777, consisted primarily of hand-to-hand bayonet combat. The British defeated the Americans and forced them to withdraw toward the rebel capital of Philadelphia. Mathews was credited for saving the American army from rout at the battle, during which he was said to have been stabbed 5-7 times. Alexander Scott Withers declared him the “hero of Brandywine.” The following month, he and his entire regiment were killed, captured, or scattered at the Battle of Germantown, a second clash between generals Washington and Howe. Mathews led a charge early in the day that resulted in the capture up to 100 British soldiers; however, as the day progressed, his regiment had penetrated so deeply into British lines that it became isolated from Washington’s army and was engulfed by opposing troops. The given reasons for his capture vary; some claim he did not receive Washington’s orders to retreat, while others claim his regiment became lost in the fog and smoke of battle. He spent much of the remaining revolution as a prisoner of war, at first held at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When the British withdrew from there, he was moved to the HMS Jersey prison ship, anchored in New York harbor.

By 1779 he was granted a limited parole and permitted to live in New York City. He wrote to Governor Thomas Jefferson and to the Continental Congress urging a prisoner exchange. Jefferson wrote to Mathews to explain his decision to leave him in New York City as a parolee and instead exchange for others still suffering on the prison ships:

He was finally exchanged in 1781, at which point he went south with General Nathaniel Greene, campaigning in South Carolina and Georgia and fighting with Greene at the Battle of Guilford Court House. He was named commander of the 12th Virginia Regiment, but this was only a nominal command, since his new regiment had been prisoners since the fall of Charleston in May 1780.

== Political career in Georgia==

Mathews was impressed with the opportunities for political and financial gain on the Georgia frontier during his campaign with Gen. Greene. When he was released from service in 1783, he bought land in Wilkes County, augmenting that with land grants given for Revolutionary War service. He liquidated his Virginia property, and moved his family to a log cabin there. He and his wife, Polly, would raise their children there and i n their later, larger house. In all, they had eight: John, Charles Lewis, George, William, Ann, Jane, Margaret, and Rebecca.