When Georgia officially became a colony in 1732, there were only 8 counties, one of which was known as the Halifax District. It was located along the Savanah River, bordering South Carolina. Twenty-six years later in 1758, Georgia’s leaders established parishes and the Halifax District became St. George Parish, named after the infamous King George III. In 1777, parishes were changed into counties and St. George Parish was renamed Burke County in honor of Edmund Burke, a member of Britain’s Parliament. Burke was a sympathizer with many of the grievances being made by the American colonists.
The early settlers of Burke County were mostly famers who were granted acreage based on the size of their families. By the time many of the settlers moved into the area, the local Cherokee, Creek and Catawba Indians had been moved off the land by the English.
When the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, many of the residents of Burke County remained loyal to the British crown. As the war waged on, colonists found themselves taking sides with either the British or the American Patriots. In the later part of 1778, the British were trying to persuade colonists to be loyal to the crown by offering immunity to anyone swearing loyalty to them.
On January 26, 1779, a group of revolutionaries led by John Twiggs and William Few met at the Burke County Jail to figure out a way to prevent colonists defecting to the British. They knew who some of these people were and decided to set off to detain some of the British Loyalists in an effort to demonstrate their power and resolve.
As the Patriots began rounding up British Loyalists, they were confronted by a group of 400 British troops and Loyalists along the banks of the McIntosh Creek. A battle ensued and when it was done, the smaller band of Patriots defeated the large forces of the British. The incident, known now as the Engagement at Burke County Jail, helped to rally other Patriots in the area to engage the British and anyone who remained loyal to the crown.
Twigg joined the militia in the middle of 1775 as a member of Captain John Lamar’s militia company out of Augusta, Georgia. In 1776, he commanded a company of militia in the Cherokee War where he displayed his leadership abilities. Twigg and his small band of Georgia militia helped Colonel Thomas Sumter at Blackstocks, South Carolina where they defeated British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton in November 1780. It wasn’t until August 1781 that Twigg was promoted to Brigadier General. After that time, he helped drive the British out of Georgia.
After the Revolutionary War, Twigg moved to Richmond County where he established a sizeable 1,500 acre plantation and tobacco business. His enterprises included owning a warehouse, tobacco inspection station, and a dock locally and a wharf in Savannah where he shipped not only his tobacco to, but the tobacco from other farmers in his area.
In 1783 he was appointed as an Indian Commissioner. In 1791, he was one of the selected members to greet President George Washington upon his arrival is Augusta. Twigg also served on a commission to select the site and establish a state university which is known today as the University of Georgia. In 1792, Twigg was promoted to Major General of the Georgia Militia.
In 1794-95, Twigg along with William Few and several others formed the Georgia Union Company and tried to purchase 35 million acres of land, however the deal fell through and became a scandal known as the Yazoo Land Fraud of 1802.
John Twigg died in 1816 at the age of 66 and was buried in the family cemetery which still exists today.
Lieutenant Colonel Few moved to Georgia in the mid-1770s where began his military career, after leaving the political turmoil happening in North Carolina. In 1777, Few was a member of the Georgia Constitutional Convention and was elected to the Continental Congress in 1780.
As a member of the state legislature, Few was appointed to Congress in 1786 and then asked to represent Georgia at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia where he was one of the signers to the US Constitution. Afterwards Few serve a four term as a US Senator from Georgia, one term as a State Representative and three more years as the judge of the Second Judicial District of Georgia.
In 1799, Few left Georgia for the big city life of New York City where he served in the state legislature, followed by a stint as an officer in the Manhattan Bank and ending up as President of City Bank.
William Few died on July 16, 1828 at the age of 80. He was buried in New York City, however in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial year, his remains were moved to St. Paul’s Cemetery in Augusta, Georgia.
Who would have suspected that two military leaders who fought a relatively obscure battle on this day in 1779 would go on to have such an impact on Georgia, New York City and the nation. History is full of such men and women who served and died for the service of others and the for the freedoms we all take for granted.