Religious Convictions of America's Founders: George Walton
"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
George Walton, an Episcopalian, was born near Farmville, Virginia, in about 1741. His parents were poor, and both died when George was only 12 years old. He was apprenticed to a carpenter, a man of limited education, who worked him hard during the day and refused to provide him with a candle to read at night.
But George Walton wasn't an ordinary boy. He possessed a thirst for knowledge and was gifted with a strong intellect and determined spirit. He did not enjoy any special advantages, except for his own strong desire to expand his mind and develop his skills of carpentry. During the day, he would find moments to collect lightwood, which served to allow him to read at night.
After the expiration of his apprenticeship, he moved to the province of Georgia in 1769 and entered the office of Henry Young, a barrister in Savannah, with whom he pursued preparatory studies of the profession of law. In 1774 at the age of 33, he was admitted to the bar and began a practice of law. He also became a Master Mason in 1774, and a member of Solomon’s F and AM, Savannah. Among the relics of Solomon's Lodge there still remains a 1733 John Baskett Bible, long venerated as the "Oglethorpe Bible."
Georgia was the newest and the last of the British colonies. Settlement had begun in 1733 with the arrival of James Oglethorpe from England, under charter from King George II. The original idea was to give the “worthy poor” in English debtor prisons a chance to be converted into farmers, merchants and artisans, but economic considerations voided this idea and only free men with the skills necessary for the colony’s success were chosen. To discourage the English class society, strict rules required every man to work his own land: no slavery, no large grants of land, no rum. They picked the high bluffs upstream on the river and he laid out his unique design of streets, blocks and public squares for Savannah, which are largely intact today in the historic “old town” of the city. See The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Persevering for Independence
Both the Royal Governor James Wright and his council were firm supporters of the British ministry. It was during this time that George Walton and other like-minded patriots assembled a meeting of the friends of liberty, at the Liberty Pole at Tondee's Tavern in Savannah. Their goal was to preserve constitutional rights and liberties of the people of Georgia, which were threatened by recent acts of the British parliament.
The people of Georgia at first did not approve the call to send delegates to the 1st Continental Congress in Philadelphia. It was the only colony not to be represented.
Soon, George Walton became acquainted with some of the leading patriots in that Province, among whom was Dr. Lyman Hall who lived in the nearby Parish of St. John.
Finally, after much tireless work, in the winter of 1776, the Georgia Assembly declared for the patriot cause, and in February appointed delegates, including George Walton, to the 2nd Continental Congress. The royal governor was incensed at this treasonable act of the Assembly, and threatened the use of military force against them.
Walton left Savannah to attend the Congress, and he voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence. He, like the other 56 signers, pledged his "life, fortune, and sacred honor" in the cause of independence.
George Walton married Dorothy Camber in Savannah in September 1778. In December 1778, George Walton received a colonel's commission in the militia. He was wounded while defending Savannah from the British. He was captured, but exchanged for a British navy captain. A brigadier-general had originally been demanded in exchange for Walton. See George Walton Biography.
After the war, George Walton took an active part in building and improving Georgia, helping to set up a constitutional government in Augusta. He was elected a representative to Congress six times. He was appointed Governor twice, and also served as a senator of the United States. He served as a judge of the superior court and its chief justice, an office he held for fifteen years, and until the time of his death.
The state of Georgia has honored him in many ways, but perhaps the most fitting tribute today of the penniless orphan who, through his ardent thirst for knowledge, rose to become one of 56 men to sign the Declaration of Independence, is the schools named after him.
George Walton Academy, located in Monroe, Georgia, is a coeducational, independent, non-profit, college-preparatory day school founded in 1969 by parents and community leaders looking for rigorous academics and strong Judeo-Christian values. In Marietta there is George Walton Comprehensive High School, a large charter public school producing students with some of the highest academic records in the state.