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Hall helped lead colonies’ break from England

POSTED: October 12, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Thank the Lord for people like the late Sybil McRay and Ruth Waters, local historians and educators, who researched our past, leaving a legacy of less to do for those who followed them.

Those who've lived here a while know a considerable amount about local history, though there always is a hunger for more. Many of those who've moved into the area by the thousands the last few years are interested, too, in how we got to be and who helped us get where we are. Some have requested information about people significant in our history such as Lyman Hall, for whom the county is named.

Lyman Hall's claim to fame is being one of the three Georgia signers of the Declaration of Independence. He never lived in this area, but obviously as governor of the state for a while must have visited here at times.

Hall's life actually got off to a rocky start. He was born in Connecticut in 1724, graduated from Yale with a double major in theology and medicine at age 16. He became a Congregational minister after college, but the church defrocked him on charges of immoral conduct, to which he confessed.

While a fire burned his church and all its records, the powers that be later restored him to good standing because they said he had sincerely repented. However, Hall was relegated to preaching the next two years only in churches with pulpit vacancies.

That didn't sit well with him, and he opted to go into medicine. Heading south to help malaria victims, he left with this notable quote: "Goodbye, I feel that I can do more for men's bodies than I can for men's souls."

Troubles seemed to follow him. His first wife died a year after they were married, and a son from his second marriage died young.

Hall moved to South Carolina in 1756, still practicing medicine, but moved to Georgia when he received a land grant near Midway. He farmed and became a church leader, built a home in Sunbury and became active in politics.

As talk of the colonies breaking away from England intensified, many Georgians weren't too keen about it. But Hall was among a small group that fervently plotted for independence. The group of Puritans got so antsy they voted to secede their settlement from Georgia and be annexed by South Carolina, which was more supportive of a revolution. That didn't happen, of course.

But Georgia's colonial governor refused to send anybody to a Continental Congress in Philadelphia, and Hall decided to attend as a nonvoting participant on his own. He brought with him barrels of rice from his plantation and money to help the needy in the north.

Hall never fought in the Revolutionary War, but because of his leadership among the rebels, the British burned his two homes and destroyed his rice plantation.

When he, his wife and son returned to Georgia after fleeing from the British, the colony had become the 13th state. Dr. Hall became its governor, and was the one who arranged land grants for Revolutionary War veterans, some of it coming from those who had remained loyal to England and some from a treaty with Indians. He set aside 20,000 acres in Clarke County for the first state-chartered school, named it Franklin College in honor of Ben. It was the forerunner of the University of Georgia.

Hall served as a judge in Chatham County before retiring to his Shellman's Bluff plantation in Burke County. He lived only a short time thereafter, dying at age 67 in 1790. His grave on the plantation overlooked the Savannah River, but his body was exhumed in 1848 to be reburied under Signers Monument in Augusta with the other two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Button Gwinnett and George Walton.

Twenty-eight years after he died, Hall County formed and was named after him.

As governor, Hall promoted education. Lyman Hall High School, now an elementary school, was named for him. In his place of birth, Wallingford, Conn., another school is named for him, and a second Georgia elementary school in Hinesville in Liberty County also honors him with his name.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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