When reading the excellent JAR article “The Dark and Heroic Histories of Georgia’s Signers,” I happened to recall another Georgia delegate to the Second Continental Congress who I came across in trying to understand why it took so long for Congress to create the Continental Navy. Johan Joachim Zubly also had a “dark history.”
Georgia was an unusual colony and Zubly an unusual delegate. Georgia did not send any representatives to the First Continental Congress and did not join the Continental Association, continuing to maintain its triangular trade with Britain: cotton, indigo, sugar, tobacco; then cloth and rum to Africa; slaves to Georgia. During that period Zubly, a Swiss immigrant and Presbyterian minister, preached against the parliamentary trade laws and was seen as a radical. After Lexington and Concord, Georgia’s sentiment changed and the colony sent radical delegates to the Second Continental Congress. Because of his opposition to the trade laws, Zubly was elected as a radical.
The first session of the Second Continental Congress had responded to the events around Boston by establishing the Continental Army, appointing Gen. George Washington commander-in-chief, making arrangements to staff and support the army, telling the colonies to defend themselves from attack from the sea while also debating and dispatching the Olive Branch Petition. After recess, the second session began in mid-September. In describing the Georgia delegation to his wife Abigail, John Adams described Zubly as,“a Man of Learning and Ingenuity . . . Master of several Languages . . . and English. In the latter it is said, he writes tolerably. He is a Man of Zeal and Spirit, as We have already seen upon several occasions.” Later he told Abigail that “he speaks but broken English.”
The session started as one of waiting. Zubly attended regularly, but he devoted an equal amount of time giving sermons all around Philadelphia, frequently in German. During the session, the most persistent topic of debate was trade. The first decision might have been to maintain the commitment of the Continental Association to end all trade with Great Britain on September 11. Zubly, who arrived in Philadelphia on September 9, wrote in his journal, “This being the last day for Exportation . . . I hope . . . that we may expect a favorable turn of affairs.” Fortunately for him, the decision had become moot because of the ongoing fighting. No action was taken, which was good for Georgia, a colony that wanted to continue trade. After taking his seat as a delegate on September 13, Zubly wrote in his journal, “I made a point of it in every Company to contradict & oppose every hint of a desire of Independency or of breaking our Conexion with Great Britain.”
That same day Congress convened itself into a committee of the whole to “take up the state of trade of America.” On September 22, a committee was created to consider the debates and bring forth recommendations. When, usually, there were none, the delegates would continue their debate. The issues became whether to close all ports to trade or to open ports and with whom to trade for what. As a subset of those decisions would be the decision of whether or not to fund a Continental navy.
During these debates Zubly made the longest, most erudite and confusing speeches, highlighting both sides of the issues, apparently trying to gauge where the consensus of Congress was heading. In doing so he had several clashes with Samuel Chase of Maryland. Finally, it all came to ahead on October 12 when Zubly brought the issues of reconciliation or independence, trade and the navy, together in an extended speech.
Trade is important. We must have a Reconciliation with G.B. [to trade] or [trade to acquire] the Means of carrying on the War. An unhappy day when we shall. . . . A Republican Government is little better than a Government of Devils . . . .We must regulate our Trade so as that a Reconciliation be obtained or We [are] enable[d] to carry on the War. . . . Can’t say but I do hope for a Reconciliation. . . . Whether We can raise a Navy is an important Question. We may have a Navy—and to carry on the War We must have a Navy. Can We do this without Trade? Can we gain Intelligence without Trade. Can We get Powder without Trade?
The next day, congress took the first steps toward creating a navy. Soon debate turned back to whether or not to open ports and trade, and the issue of a navy kept coming up. On September 21, Zubly made an impassioned plea for open ports and trade but opposed spending millions on a navy to defend it.
After several other delegate had responded in favor of opening ports, trade, and a navy, Samuel Chase continued:
A Glove has been offered by the Gentleman from Georgia and I beg leave to discharge my Promise to that Gentleman to answer his Arguments. . . .The Gentleman’s position would end in the total destruction of American Liberty. . . . The present State of Things requires Reconciliation, or Means to carry on War . . . . You must have a Navy to carry on the War. You can’t have a Navy says the Gentleman. What is the Consequence? I say, that [he believes] We must submit.
Chase was right. On October 23, Zubly confided to his journal: “A separation from the Parent State I wd dread as one of the greatest evils & should it ever be proposed will pray & fight against it.” On November 3, he kept that promise to himself, stating in his journal that he “acclaimed for reconciliation . . . warmly opposed . . . appealed to protestors . . . . Said that if Breach of Peace and Separation was the Sense of Congress, it was time for himself to take himself away.”
Some time during this period, Zubly, apparently, wrote a letter to the Royalist governor of Georgia, James Wright, informing him of the secret discussions of Congress. Somehow a clerk discovered the letter and turned it over to Chase. On November 4, chase denounced Zubly to the assembled delegates as a traitor.Zubly left Philadelphia for Georgia on November 10, arriving on December 14. In July 1776 he was arrested, banished, and his property confiscated. He sought refuge with Loyalists in South Carolina but returned to Savannah when it was under British occupation. He died there in 1781.
John Adams to Abigail Adams, September 17, 1775, Founders Online, National Archives, founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-01-02-0181.
John Adams to Abigail Adams, October 1, 1775, Founders Online, National Archives, founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-01-02-0190.
Lilla Mills Hawes, ed., “The Journal of Johan Joachim Zubly, A.M., D.D. March 5, 1770 through June 22, 1781,” Georgia Historical Society Collections, Vol. XXI (Savannah, GA: Georgia Historical Society, 1989), 40, archive.org/stream/collectionsofgeo21zubl/collectionsofgeo21zubl_djvu.txt.
“Thursday, October 12, 1775,” Journals of the Continental Congress Vol. 3, 291. Also,John Adams, “[Notes of Debates, Continued] Oct. 12,” Founders Online, National Archives, founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/01-02-02-0005-0004-0006.
John Adams, “[Notes of Debates, Continued] Octr. 21,” Founders Online, National Archives, founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/01-02-02-0005-0004-0010.
There are many secondary sources giving that story. I have not found a primary source. For November 4, Zubly noted in his journal that he had attended congress. Then there is an entry in German from which the words “Chase” and “by some not friendly Motion” have been deciphered. That is likely Zubly’s record of the event. Hawes, “The Journal of Johan Joachim Zubly,” 44.
Walter E. Ziebarth, Jr. and John W. Zeibarth Direct Connections Ziebarth-McGill Ancestry (New York: Ziemag Publishing, Lexington Associates, Inc., 1997), 64-65, https://books.google.com.
Daniel, Marjorie, “John Joachim Zubly— Georgia Pamphleteer of the Revolution,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly Vol. 19, No. 1 (March, 1935), 1-16, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40576368.
Locke, Joseph, “Compelled to Dissent: The Politicization of Rev. John Joachim Zubly,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 94. No.4 (Winter 2010).
Schmidt, Jim, “John J. Zubly,” New Georgia Encyclopedia, www.georgiaencylopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/john-j-zubly-1724-1781.
Ziebarth, Walter E Jr. and John W. Zeibarth Direct Connections Ziebarth-McGill Ancestry (New York: Ziemag Publishing, Lexington Associates, Inc, 1997).
-_____“Georgia’s Traitor and the Patriots of Liberty,” Yesteryear Once More, yesteryearsnews.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/georgias-traitor-and-the-patriots-of-liberty.
-____-“John J. Zubly” Biographical/Historical Note. Georgia Historical Society, http://ghs.galileo.usg.edu/ghs/.