BOOK REVIEW: Samuel Elbert and the Age of Revolution in Georgia: 1740-1788 by Clay Outzts (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2022)
Professor Clay Ouzts has given Revolutionary War scholars a lengthy but valuable chronicle of the war in the southern department in his book Samuel Elbert and the Age of Revolution in Georgia: 1740-1788. A figure generally unknown to most historians, Samuel Elbert’s life was set against the violent background of the nation’s beginning, spanning the period from when trustees ruled Georgia through the entirety of the Revolution and the Confederation periods in the late eighteenth century. Ouzt makes clear throughout the book Elbert’s importance: “No man in Georgia made a greater contribution to the early movement for independence both in the civil and the military aspects than did Samuel Elbert” (page 397).
The author begins his history of Georgia with a look at Elbert’s family background. Elbert’s mother had a connection to James Oglethorpe, the founder of the colony. Although there is scant historical record of Elbert’s early life, the reader learns that he at least married well and worked briefly as a clerk. During the time of the Imperial Crisis, Elbert was serving in the Georgia Assembly and was on several committees. Just before the war began, Elbert had started a family, served as a justice of the peace, joined a grenadier regiment, and became a Mason (a central part of his life).
Although Samuel Elbert was late joining the Patriot cause, once he did, he became a devoted supporter of the independence movement. He soon commanded Continental forces in Georgia, serving in almost every battle in the state until he was captured at Brier Creek in 1779. Chapter 12 of the book, “’A Day of Reckoning Is Hastening On’: The Ordeal of Samuel Elbert, 1779-1781,” includes descriptions of Elbert’s brief captivity and the horrible conditions of the British prison ships in Savannah Harbor. Later, Elbert was involved with several naval engagements and participated in some Georgia’s campaigns into Florida. Battles were with not only the British and Loyalists, but also with the Indian nations. Dealing with the Indians would be a constant throughout Elbert’s life. Elbert later joined the Continental forces gathering on the Yorktown peninsula in 1781, where he served General Washington as a junior officer and witnessed the surrender of Cornwallis. His activities in the cause of American independence brought him into contact with some of the more famous figures: Washington, Hamilton, Lincoln, and Lafayette.
After the war, Elbert served his state as its governor for a brief period, which was about a year. During his tenure, he focused most of his attention on border conflicts, but he continued to be actively involved with the Masons and even helped to charter what would become the University of Georgia. His death came before his hero Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the new nation. Ouzts’s chapter about Elbert’s death and burial, “Rest in Pieces,” was very interesting because he included information of how Elbert’s grave was moved several times due to the changing landscapes brought on by the push of American/Georgian progress. It is clear that Ouzts considered that what happened to Elbert’s remains, and the public memory of him, was a travesty. Elbert’s final resting place in Savannah and the memorial listing his achievements guarantee that Georgians finally showed their appreciation.
The book includes an excellent collection of portraits of all the major characters in Elbert’s life and service during the Revolution. A timeline at the end of the book is a valuable reference. Samuel Elbert and the Age of Revolution in Georgia: 1740-1788 is strongly recommended for anyone who wants to focus on the Patriot’s southern campaigns.
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