MATHEWS, GEORGE. (1739–1812). Continental officer, postwar governor of Georgia. Virginia and Georgia. Born in Augusta County, Virginia, George Mathews was the son of an Irish immigrant. He led a volunteer company against the Indians when he was twenty-two, and took part in the battle at Point Pleasant (in what is now West Virginia) on 10 October 1774. He became a lieutenant colonel of the Ninth Virginia Regiment on 4 March 1776, and was promoted to colonel on 10 February 1777. With this unit he fought at the Brandywine, and led the regiment in a deep penetration at Germantown, Pennsylvania, on 4 October 1777, where he and most of the Ninth Virginians were surrounded and captured. Mathews is said to have received nine bayonet wounds. After spending several months on a prison ship in New York Harbor, he was exchanged on 5 December 1781. On his release he joined Nathanael Greene's army in the south as a colonel in the Third Virginia Regiment led by Abraham Buford. He was breveted as a brigadier general on 30 September 1782.
By 1785 Mathews had moved his family to Georgia. He became a brigadier general of the militia, was elected governor in 1787, represented the state in Congress from 1789 to 1791, and again served as governor from 1793 to 1796. During the latter period he opposed the trans-Oconee adventures of Elijah Clarke and signed the notorious Yazoo Act, which authorized the sale of millions of acres of Georgia land to land speculating companies for ridiculously low prices. In 1798 President Adams nominated him as the first governor of the Mississippi Territory, but within a month his name was withdrawn because of dubious new land speculations and for suspected complicity in the Blount conspiracy, which sought to help British interests gain a foothold in Spanish-held territory in what is now Louisiana.
Mathews then became involved in highly questionable activities whose aim was to draw the then Spanish-held territories of east and west Florida into the United States. His technique was ahead of the times—he sought first to stir up an insurrection of the English-speaking element, then to support these insurrectionists with recruits from Georgia, and finally to bring in "volunteers" from U.S. regular army units. Although the local military commander put a stop to that last part of the plan, the "insurgents" nonetheless rose up and, on 17 March 1812, they declared their independence of Spain. With the insurgents and Georgia volunteers, Mathews took formal possession of Fernandina on 18 March in the name of the United States, and by June was within sight of St. Augustine. Secretary of State James Monroe finally stepped in to repudiate Mathews and bring his adventure to a halt. Mathews was on his way to defend himself before the federal government when he died at Augusta, Georgia, in 1812.
Lamplugh, George R. Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783–1806. Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 1986.
Magrath, C. Peter. Yazoo: Law and Politics in the New Republic: Case of Fletcher v. Peck. Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press, 1966.
revised by Leslie Hall