The Patriots Regained the Lost State of Georgia
The surrender of Cornwallis in 1781, followed by the fall of Lord North’s government a few months later, spelled the doom of Britain’s attempt to retain control of the thirteen colonies. However, the Patriots still had to consolidate their victory, and nowhere was the need for that more urgent than in the south, which had become the focus of British military efforts starting in 1779.
When British efforts in the northern colonies stalemated following their defeat at Saratoga in 1777, their high command attempted to turn things around with a southern strategy. Particularly as the many viewed the southern colonies as more loyalist than the northern ones. So in late 1778, a British army landed near Savannah, Georgia, swiftly overwhelmed that city’s defenders, and seized it.
The southern strategy got off to a good start, and its assumption that there were plenty of loyalist sympathies in the southern colonies was borne out as the British advanced into Georgia’s interior, and were joined by Loyalist volunteers in droves. Within months, the British had regained control of much of Georgia, and reestablished a colonial civil government, with an elected loyalist Assembly. Georgia thus became the first, and as it turned out only, state of the thirteen rebellious colonies to get restored to royal allegiance.
However, Britain’s southern strategy collapsed when its main army in the region, under the command of Lord Cornwallis, was trapped, besieged, and forced to surrender at Yorktown in October of 1781. Soon thereafter, the rebels dispatched general Anthony Wayne to bring Georgia back to the Patriot cause, and he began a campaign of attrition against the British, who were forced to hunker down in Savannah.
In the meantime, pro independence lawmakers assembled and formed an alternate Patriot legislature in Augusta, in competition with the loyalist one in Savannah. The Patriot Georgia legislature appointed a Patriot governor, who issued a proclamation pardoning Loyalists if they jumped ship and joined the independence cause. In May of 1782, the Patriot legislature passed a Confiscation and Banishment Act, declaring hundreds of Loyalists guilty of treason. True to the legislation’s name, it confiscated their property and banished them from Georgia.
With the royal cause going down the tubes in Georgia, the British evacuated Savannah in July of 1782. The Patriots entered the city, and on July 13th, 1782, the pro independence Georgia Assembly convened in that city. An exodus of Loyalists ensued, with thousands of pro British Georgians, both white and black, migrating to Jamaica or crossing the border to British East Florida. However, the Loyalists’ stay in East Florida proved short, as that territory was restored to Spain under the terms of the 1783 peace treaty. The Loyalists were forced to decamp once again in another mass migration to the British Caribbean colonies, or all the way back to the British Isles.