Houstoun, John

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Houstoun, John

HOUSTOUN, JOHN. (1750?–1796). Lawyer, politician. Born in Georgia, he was the son of Sir Patrick Houstoun, baronet and royal official. John Houstoun set up a law practice in Savannah in 1771 and was involved in revolutionary activities by 1774. Although elected a delegate to the Continental Congress three times, Houstoun attended only once, from September to December 1775. In May 1777 he was elected a member of the Georgia executive council, and in January 1778 he was chosen governor. In April 1778 the executive council requested that Houstoun assume executive power over military matters, and he planned the third expedition against the British in East Florida.

On this three-month expedition, Houstoun was determined that the military be subordinate to the state government. Although he lacked military experience, he commanded the Georgia militia. Neither he nor Colonel Andrew Williamson, who commanded the South Carolina militia, recognized the senior officer present, General Robert Howe, who commanded the Georgia and South Carolina Continental troops. In July, Howe and Colonel Samuel Elbert abandoned the expedition and returned north with their Continental troops. Houstoun and Williamson soon followed. Houstoun asked the Continental Congress to pay for this failed expedition, possibly because of Georgia's depreciating currency.

When the British arrived in Savannah in late December 1778, Houstoun, Howe, and militia Colonel George Walton failed to create a unified defense, and the town was easily taken by superior forces. Houstoun ordered the seat of government established in Augusta, and he and other prominent rebels headed into the backcountry to escape capture. British forces came into the backcountry in January 1779, and Houstoun fled Augusta for South Carolina but returned when the British left the area in mid-February. He attempted to organize an assembly during July, and during September and October Houstoun served on Lachlan McIntosh's staff during the siege of Savannah, although Houstoun was not a member of the Continental army. He may also have served on McIntosh's staff at Charleston.

At some point, probably after the capture of the Continental army in Charleston during May 1780, Houstoun considered returning to British-held Georgia. The reestablished royal government applied to him the Disqualifying Act of July 1780, which limited his participation in government but allowed him to return to his property. He petitioned for protection, claiming he had been induced to join the rebellion without any intention of seeking separation from the empire and that he now feared for his safety if he returned to Georgia. On 20 December 1780 the attorney general determined that only the king's pardon would provide him with the legal protection he sought. Houstoun's brothers Sir Patrick, William, and James chose to align themselves with royal government during this period.

Whatever John Houstoun's motivation, Georgia rebels did not hold his petition against him. He was elected to the rebel assembly in 1782 and elected governor in 1784. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1789 and served as the first mayor of Savannah in 1790 and as a state superior court judge in 1791.


Campbell, Archibald. Journal of an Expedition against the Rebels of Georgia in North America. Edited by Colin Campbell. Darien, Ga.: Ashantilly Press, 1981.

Searcy, Martha Condray. The Georgia-Florida Contest in the American Revolution, 1776–1778. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1985.