John Joachim Zubly: PART 2, A Patriot Congressman Whose Cause Was Lost

Politics During the War (1775-1783)

November 7, 2022
by James M. Smith Also by this Author


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Georgia did not send a delegation to the first Continental Congress in 1774. The least populous colony of the thirteen British colonies in North America, Georgia was originally settled in 1663 by a group of men on land given to them by Charles I, King of England. They settled the land with the poorer people of Britain, offering free land, free passage and all the tools they would need. The proprietors ruled that no Catholics could settle in Georgia, there was to be no rum, and no slavery. In 1752 it became a royal colony, with a royally appointed governor and its own legislature. The prohibition of slavery was done away with and Georgia became a colony of plantations, using slave labor to grow rice as a primary food source for enslaved people in the Caribbean colonies.

Loyalism was popular in Georgia as the colony had a small white population that needed protection from the large tribes of Cherokee, Creek and other native Americans that surrounded it. The colony received an annual subsidy from Britain to pay for the cost of government.[1]

In the late summer of 1775 Georgia decided to send a delegation to the Continental Congress. They elected five delegates, but only three agreed to go: Archibald Bulloch, John Houstoun, and John Zubly. Zubly, a recent immigrant to Georgia, had written a number of articles published in America and Britain outlining and defending the American resistance movement. Before leaving Georgia he penned a letter to Lord Dartmouth, a member of the king’s Privy Council, which he published. He attached a copy of his sermon The Law of Liberty to the letter. In his letter, he outlined what he saw as the problem that existed between Britain and America, clearly staking out his position on the issues dividing them and what he felt should be done to make peace. His position contained two parts, which he held on to for the rest of his life: that Parliament must rescind its declaration that it could legislate for America “in all cases whatsoever,” and that Parliament must cease taxing Americans. He considered both to be unconstitutional. But he also believed that America must never seek independence from Great Britain.

The question, my Lord, which now agitates Great Britain and America . . . is whether the parliament of Great Britain has a right to lay taxes on the Americans, who are not, and cannot there be, represented and whether the parliament has a right to bind Americans in all cases whatsoever . . . Let a declaratory be passed . . . that America is entitled to all the common rights of mankind, and all the blessings of the British constitution, and the sword shall never be drawn to abridge, but to confirm her birthrights, and the storm instantly becomes a calm . . . to restore peace and harmony, nothing is necessary that to secure to America the known blessings of the British constitution.[2]

Arriving in Philadelphia on September 7, 1775, Zubly noted in his diary that this was the last day that Americans could export produce or crops; the embargo the congress had ordered earlier was going to go into effect the next day.[3] This embargo was to bedevil the congress for many weeks in the future. It was not universally popular as the British had not closed the harbors of New York, Delaware, North Carolina, and Georgia. Absent the embargo cargo from America could still go to sea from these ports.

John Adams made a number of notes about Zubly. Shortly after the Georgia delegation arrived, he noted in his diary that “Dr. Zubly, is a native of Switzerland and a clergyman . . . He speaks . . . several languages, English, Dutch, French, and Latin. [He] is reported to be a learned man. It is said he possesses considerable properties.”[4] A few days later wrote to his wife, “Dr. Zubly, a clergyman of the independent persuasion, who has a parish in that colony, and a good deal of property . . . He is a man of zeal and spirit, as we have already seen upon several occasions”.[5] A few weeks later he sent her a story about Zubly: “A few days ago, in company with Dr. Zubly, somebody said that there was nobody on the side of America except the almighty. The Doctor, who is a native of Switzerland and speaks but broken English replied, ‘Dat is enough! Dat is enough.’”[6]

All through September and October there was a constant debate in the Congress over trade. There was great disagreement as to whether it should be rigidly enforced, eliminated or only partially enforced. We can see from John Adams’ notes on October 3 just how the debate was going:

R.R. Livingston of New York – “We should go into a full discussion on the subject . . . The question is, how far shall we adhere to our association . . . I am for doing away with our non-exportation agreement entirely.”

The “association” Livingston referred to was the formal agreement by which all the colonies agreed to non-exportation. The agreement spelled out the dates, the enforcement mechanism, and that all who signed on were bound by it. The rules of the Association were the operating rules by which the Continental Congress governed itself, and by which the colonies governed themselves, even after independence was declared, until the Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1781. Returning to Adams’ notes:

Rutledge of South Carolina – “We ought to postpone it rather than come to a decisive resolution.

Lee of Virginia – “I am for opening our exportation to foreigners further than we have.”

Willing of Pennsylvania – “The gentleman’s plan is to induce foreigners to come here. Shall we act like the dog in the manger, not suffer New York and the lower counties [Delaware] and North Carolina to open because we can’t? We must get salt and ammunition by these ports. [We] can’t be for insisting foreigners to become our carriers. Carriage is an amazing revenue.”[7]

A few days later they were still at it:

Zubly – Pointed out that the British “navy can stop our harbors and destroy our trade. Therefor it is impracticable to open our ports. The question is whether we must have trade or not. We cannot be without trade . . . Has any merchant received a letter from abroad that they will come? Very doubtful and precarious whether any French or Spanish vessel would come to America . . . I am clearly against any proposition to open our ports to all the world.”

James Duane of New York – “All must be subject to seizure and confiscation. What will be the state of trade between the present time and the period fixed by the resolution? Between the period fixed and he time of the foreigners arrival will take further time. When they arrive, they will be subject to seizure. Then they will sell dear and by cheap. It is the nature of a threat by which we gain nothing.”[8]

On October 6, the Congress switched gears for a new issue. The day before, a motion had been made to have American forces arrest a royal governor. On the sixth the issue had been broadened to consider ordering the arrest of “every person in the respective colonies, whose going at large may . . . endanger the safety of the colony or the liberty of America.” Zubly took notice of the sudden switch:

This is a sudden motion. The motion yesterday was to apprehend Governor Tyron, whom we have not yet captured . . . There are persons in America who wish to break off with Great Britain. A proposal has been made to apply to France and Spain – before I agree to it I will inform my constituents. I apprehend the man who should propose it would be torn to pieces.[9]

On the 7th the debate on trade began again. It was dawning on some that, totrade and send ships out to sea, America was going to need a navy to protect its coastal waters and trading ships. Samuel Chase—who Adams described as “violent and boisterous . . . tedious upon frivolous points”[10]—proposed that America build a navy, to which Zubly replied, “if the plans of some gentlemen are to take place,” referring to world trade and possible independence, “an American fleet must be a part of it, extravagant as it is.” Zubly was not trying to be a negative influence in the congress, he was simply trying to point out the obvious, that if those who kept pushing for one thing after another, things that slowly but surely were going to position America to independence, then there were certain consequences and a navy would have to be a part of that—and navies are very expensive. He even followed up his remarks with the positive suggestion that “as Rhode Island has taken the lead” on this issue, “the delegates from Rhode Island propose a plan and give us their opinion.”

Later on that same day it was proposed by Lee of Virginia that the Royal Mails be stopped in America as there had already been established “a continental post from New Hampshire to Georgia.” It was argued back and forth by several members, until Zubly finally spoke on the issue. He said that he felt the Congress was moving further away from the congressionally stated goal of returning to the status quo of 1763, before Britain had started trying to tax Americans. He reminded them that he supportedthe invasion of Canadaas a defensive measure, but he was opposed to constantly passing resolutions that were, he felt, dragging America further into the ideas of independence. “Some gentlemen think all merit lies in violent and unnecessary measures.”[11]

On October 12 the Congress was still going at it on trade. Zubly spoke up early, saying “the measure we are now to take up is extremely interesting . . . I hope we shall establish our cause – if improperly – we shall overthrow it altogether . . . we must have reconciliation with Great Britain or the means to carry on the war.”

Zubly was simply stating what should have been obvious. The current situation could end in only one of two ways. Either America and Britain would resolve their differences and work out a respectful plan in which American liberties were respected by Britain and America remained in the Empire, or America would be independent. But independence could only happen at the end of a long war which forced Britain to concede. In late 1775, very few foresaw a long war, certainly not one of eight years. The British were bottled up in Boston and Americans were counting on the people of Britain not wishing to engage in a costly war of attrition. The people in Britain were sure that one good blow to destroy the American army would force Americans to accede to British demands. Only Zubly was talking about a long war of great difficulty.

For Zubly it was an either/or situation. Either there was reconciliation, or there was a long and costly war. By reconciliation he did not mean surrender, he meant a negotiated settlement in which American liberties were respected and yet America remained inside the British Empire. “I do hope for reconciliation, and that this winter . . . I may enjoy my hopes for reconciliation, others may enjoy theirs that none shall ever take place.” He then pointed out that if the war went on America was short of “powder and shot . . . money . . . we must keep up a notion that the paper is good for something . . . we must have a navy.” He then asked, “Can we do this without trade . . . without trade our people must starve . . . we need to feed and clothe our people . . . If we must trade, we must trade with somebody that will trade with us.”

At this point Chase got up and immediately attacked:

I will undertake to prove that if the Reverend Gentleman’s positions are true and his advice followed, we shall all be made slaves. If he speaks the opinion of Georgia I sincerely lament that they ever appeared in congress. They cannot, they will not comply! Why did they come here? Sir, we are abused. Why do they come here? I want to know why their provincial congress came to such resolutions. Did they come here to ruin America?
That gentleman’s advice will bring destruction to all North America. I am for the resolution on the table. There will be jealousies if New York and other excepted colonies are not put on [an equal] footing.[12]

Note that Chase did not “prove” Zubly wrong as he promised, but simply verbally abused Zubly, the Georgia delegation and Georgians. From this point forward Zubly and the Georgians faced a constant onslaught from Chase. And it wasn’t just Chase—he was merely the outward symptom of a phenomenon that was, by late in 1775, growing. The King had recently appeared in Parliament and labeled Americans as rebels. They did not see themselves as such. Ostensibly many, if not most, Americans were either pro-reconciliation or were neutral and waiting to see how things were to turn out. But as 1775 turned to fall and winter, the idea of independence was growing and Zubly was facing that wind. Based on the notes of Adams and others, it appears that Zubly was the main spokesman for the Georgia delegation; rarely did another Georgian speak in the debates. It would appear that they were quite willing to let Zubly take the lead for Georgia. On the 16th Zubly noted in his diary that the Georgia delegation sent a report to Georgia, ostensibly reporting on the issues and sentiment they found in the Continental Congress.

On the 20th the Congress was again debating trade and, according to Adams’ notes, Chase spoke first. He started by stating that the French and Spanish colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe had written to merchants in America offering to trade gunpowder for tobacco. He added that he “would restrain the merchant from importing anything but powder. I am not for permitting vessels to go in ballast and fetch cash.”

Silas Deane of Connecticut felt that importation of gunpowder “cannot be done with secrecy or dispatch. I rather think it would be well to leave it to the traders.” Zubly agreed, and emphasized that “there should be no favorites.” John Jay of New York said, referring to imported fabrics and other goods, “We want French woolens, Dutch worsteds, duck for tents, German steel . . . public virtue is not so active as private gain. Shall we shut the door against private enterprise?”

At that point in the debate, it got a little weird. It seems the Congress was considering passing a resolution in public forbidding anyone from exporting goods, then at the same time passing a resolution in secret allowing some merchants to export in exchange for gunpowder and other things needed for the army. Payton Randolph of Virginia stated that “We are making laws that are contradictory in terms. We say nobody shall trade and yet somebody shall.”

Chase agreed that Randolph was right: “Both are right, and it arises from this, that one proposition is to be made public and the other kept secret.” Zubly questioned, “If one half the law is to be made public and the other half secret, will not half the people be governed by one half and the other half the other? Will they not clash?” Chase responded, “I hold it clearly we can do without trade.” And here he threw the gauntlet directly at Zubly: “Let the door of reconciliation be once shut, I would trade with foreign powers and apply to them for protection.”[13]

The very next day they were at it again, according to Adams’ notes. Zubly reminded the Congress that America could not produce all that was needed for war by itself: “We cannot do without powder and drugs.” He spoke of the need for real money as the Congress was just printing more and more paper currency, hoping to redeem the dollar with specie after the war. “Eighteen millions of dollars” is an enormous sum of money, “whenever your money fails, you fail too.”

Chase then took on Zubly and the Georgians again. He restated Zubly’s list of items that the country needed to carry on the war and then put words into Zubly’s mouth by equating reconciliation with submission, which is not what Zubly was saying. Chase outlined his ideas:

I say that the best instrument we have is our opposition to commerce. Great Britain, in all her glory . . . her strength is all artificial – [it] is from her trade alone . . . a thousand British vessels are employed in the American trade. Twelve Thousand sailors – all out of employ. What a stroke.

Chase went on to talk about how a war with America would play havoc with trade elsewhere and greatly expand Britain’s national debt which was already at £140,000,000. He then concluded that Britain simply could not afford a war with America. America’s best weapon, according to Chase, was the trade embargo.[14]

By now Zubly appeared to be coming to a real understanding of just how deeply the desire for independence was affecting Americans and the Continental Congress. On the 27th he noted in his diary that “a separation from the parent state I would dread as one of he greatest evils . . . I would pray and fight against it. Some good men may desire it, but good men do not always know what they are about.”[15]

That same day as the debate on trade continued Zubly tried to make the Congress understand what he was trying to say. He never spoke directly at Chase, but always to the Congress as a whole, addressing them in a give-and-take debate. He concluded by saying that “every argument which shows that our Association will materially affect the trade of Great Britain will show that we must be affected too, by the stoppage of trade.” He further pointed out that by the end of 1776, the American debt would be between twenty and thirty million dollars, a huge sum of money in 1775.[16]

By November things were coming to a head for Zubly. On November 2 his diary indicates he had dinner with John Dickenson of Pennsylvania, a fellow conservative. Dickinson would resign from the Congress in 1776 after independence was declared. Zubly’s noted that he “showed” Dickinson “my plan.” We do not know what that plan was, but there are indications that Zubly was thinking of asking the Congress to try one more time to send a petition to the king. Dickinson had already tried that before Zubly arrived and presumably now talked him out of it. There is no record of a plan being presented to the Congress.  His diary entry for that date indicates the Georgia delegation was sending another report to the authorities in Georgia.[17]

The next day it appears Zubly was worn out. His diary entry for that day is full of incomplete sentences, many abbreviations and blank spaces. But it is clear from what can be read that he was about done. He wrote, “If breach of peace and separation was the sense of congress – it was time for himself to take himself away.”[18]

The next day’s diary entry notes that he attended Congress and some committee meetings. Then he learned that Congress was going to raise a battalion of soldiers and station it in Georgia. This battalion would be under the control of the continental army and not the authorities of Georgia. Zubly requested that the motion be sent to Georgia for their input, but Chase immediately objected. Some friends of Zubly argued that his request was not out of order, but they were overruled and the motion passed.[19] It is obvious that the radicals in Congress thought that by placing a continental battalion in Georgia, it would strengthen the hands of those who were open to independence.

A few days later Zubly decided he had enough. He was going home. He was ill as well and it was probable that he was just worn out. He was always going to be in the minority in the Congress. He left for home on November 10. He wrote a letter to his two fellow Georgia delegates, who were also going home a few weeks later. He told them that he had left his case of spirits in his lodgings and that they were welcome to take it with them and enjoy it on their journey home. He said that he would hold off making a report to the Georgia Committee of Safety until they arrived and they could make the report together. He also promised that if he arrived before they did, even though he was planning on traveling slowly because of his illness, he would let their friends know they were on their way. Zubly’s last official act was appearing before the Georgia Committee of Safety with Archibald Bulloch on December 19, 1775, reporting their efforts in the Continental Congress.[20]

With that Zubly returned to his private life and did not involve himself in politics again. But the American Revolution was not finished with John Zubly.


[1]Randall Miller, Zubly, A Warm and Zealous Spirit: John J. Zubly and the American Revolution, A Selection of his Writings (Macon, GA, Mercer University Press, 1982), 1-2.

[2]Letters of Delegates to Congress, Vol., 2 (Washington, Library of Congress, 1977), 21n1.

[3]John Zubly’s Diary, September 9, 1775, ibid., 3

[4]John Adams’ Diary, September 15, 1775, ibid., 12.

[5]John Adams to Abigail Adams, September 17, 1775, ibid., 23.

[6]John Adams to Abigail Adams, October 1, 1775, ibid., 88-89.

[7]John Adams’ Notes on Debates, October 3, 1775, ibid., 106-110.

[8]John Adams’ Notes on Debates, October 5, `1775, ibid., 115-116.

[9]John Adams’ Notes on Debates, October 6, 1775, ibid., 124-127

[10]John Adams’ Diary, September 15, 1775, ibid., 23.

[11]John Adams’ Notes on Debates, October 7, 1775, ibid., 130-133

[12]John Adams’ Notes on Debates, October 12, 1775, ibid., 165-169

[13]John Adams’ Notes on Debates, October 20, 1775, ibid., 211-215

[14]John Adams’ Notes on Debates, October 24, 1775, ibid., 220-224.

[15]Zubly’s Diary, October 27, 1775, ibid.,.

[16]John Adams’ Notes on Debates, October 27, 1775, ibid., 248.

[17]Zubly’s Diary, November 2, 1775, ibid., 292.

[18]Zubly’s Diary, November 3, 1775, ibid., 295.

[19]Zubly’s Diary, November 4, 1775, ibid., 302.

[20]Zubly’s Diary, November 10, 1775, ibid., 328.


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