Habersham Family – Encyclopedia of New Georgia

The Habershams – James and his sons, James Jr., Joseph and John – played an important role in the economic and political life of colonial, revolutionary and national Georgia.

Their connection to Georgian history began with the arrival of James Habersham (c. 1712-1775) in colonial Georgia in 1738. Although trained as a merchant in his uncle’s business in London, England, James Habersham developed a strong religious friendship with George Whitefield and, when asked, accompanied the evangelist to Georgia as a teacher. Over time, Habersham became superintendent and chief financial officer of Bethesda, the Whitefield orphanage established near Savannah. In 1740, while at Bethesda, Habersham married Mary Bolton.

In the early 1740s, Habersham formed a business association with Francis Harris of Savannah to begin shuttling between Charleston and Savannah and Bethesda. As the administrators’ grip on colonial Georgia loosened, Habersham and Harris set up a business in Savannah to begin making regular transatlantic trading trips to England. Their business is recognized as Colonial Georgia’s first successful business enterprise.

With his company’s resources, Habersham began to acquire land for planting rice along the rivers near Savannah. After the ban on slavery ended in Georgia, Habersham developed extensive rice plantations on holdings eventually totaling nearly 15,000 acres, worked by approximately 200 slaves. By the 1750s he had also begun to become politically important, serving as a senior adviser to the colony’s royal government. He also served as president of the council and served as acting governor of Georgia in the early 1770s.

Habersham’s three sons became actively involved in the revolutionary movement. Joseph Habersham, in particular, became a zealous revolutionary in 1774, although his aging father expressed his own loyalty to Britain. Father Habersham’s death in 1775 prevented the painful family division from continuing through the war years.

During these years, Joseph and his younger brother, John, pursued careers in the Continental Army that eclipsed the careers of their older brother, James Jr., who remained satisfied with his political and financial involvement in the Revolution. . Joseph rose to the rank of colonel but resigned from Continental military service during the war. His resignation stemmed in part from his involvement in the notorious McIntosh-Gwinnett duel and in part from his desire to enter state politics as a moderate opposed to the freedom faction of Midway and Sunbury. John continued his career in the Continental Army, rising to the rank of major. He was captured twice (at the fall of Savannah and the fall of Charleston, SC) and exchanged twice for active duty throughout the war.

Joseph Haberham

When the war ended, the Habersham brothers focused on restoring the family plantations at Dean Forrest, Silk Hope and Beverly. Although engaged in trade on the eve of the Revolution, they did not go into business. All three engaged in postwar politics as members of the Georgia assembly. Joseph and John were also appointed to the Congress of the Confederacy in the 1780s. The brothers actively supported the passage of the constitution in 1788.

As a reward for revolutionary service, during the 1790s, President George Washington appointed Joseph Habersham General Postmaster General of the United States and his brother John Collector for the Port of Savannah. In 1799, James Jr. and John died suddenly within months of each other. Joseph then became the second-generation family patriarch, helping third-generation descendants succeed as planters, merchants, lawyers, and doctors in the pre-war era.

Encouraged to resign as postmaster general by President Thomas Jefferson in 1801, Joseph Habersham, after serving under Presidents Washington and Adams, resumed a career as a planter-merchant in Georgia. With the help of Federalist political friends, he became the first president of the Savannah branch of the Bank of the United States, a position he held until the bank closed in 1815. Thereafter he retired in his career as a planter until his death in 1815. The county of Habersham was named in his honor when it was established in 1818.

Members of the third generation Habersham and their offspring remained outstanding economic, professional, and cultural figures in Savannah and beyond well into the antebellum years. A descendant, Josephine Clay Habersham, is particularly known for her journal of Savannah during the Civil War (1861-1865). The Habersham surname appears to have died out in the 20th century, although descendants are yet to be found.

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