John Talbot, Colonial Statesman, American Patriot, and Georgia Planter

John Williston Talbot
July 13, 1735 - August 25, 1798
Colonial Statesman, American Patriot, Georgia Planter
Farris W. Womack
October 1999
Revised 2004

        John Williston Talbot was born July 13, 1735 on the Virginia frontier in what is now Bedford County, Virginia, the fourth child and the fourth son of Matthew Talbot and his first wife, Mary Williston.  Very few records show his middle name to be Williston but the stone marker at his grave shows that name.  His mother died on October 1, 1736 while John was still an infant just a few months past his first birthday.  His father was remarried the next year to Jane Clayton and she became the mother to John and his three older brothers..  Jane and Matthew had two children of their own, Isham and Martha  and available evidence suggests that this was a close and loving family.  Some of the given names of the children of the four sons of Matthew by his first marriage honor their step-mother.

        John Talbot's youth was likely quite similar to that of other children in the Virginia Wilderness.  Schools were scarce, Indian uprisings presented a constant danger, merely staying alive on the frontier was a challenge, and there were limited opportunities for the pursuit of a livelihood.  Nevertheless, John Talbot grew to adulthood in the outback of Bedford County where, while still quite a young man, he distinguished himself among his countrymen.  On February 2, 1760, at the age of 25, he married Sarah Anthony, daughter of John Anthony.  Sarah died before 1768 and there were no children from that marriage.  John was remarried in 1768 to Mary Phoebe Moseley in Campbell County, Virginia.  Mary Phoebe Moseley was the daughter of Colonel William Moseley of Princess Anne County, Virginia.

       The dates of birth of the children of John Talbot and Mary Phoebe Moseley Talbot are, in some cases, educated guesses but quite close to the actual dates and in some instances were taken directly from cemetery records.  Indeed, the dates of the marriages may be in error but not by much.  Georgia did not require the recording of marriage information until well after 1806 and not everyone complied with the law after that date.  Nevertheless, all of the children were born in Virginia, probably Bedford County and all later moved with John and Phoebe to Georgia in 1783.  The children were quite young when they left their native Virginia and moved to Georgia.  Phoebe, the oldest, was only 15 and Elizabeth, the youngest, was seven.  But all would have grown to maturity, marry, and established families of their own before John Talbot died in 1798.
1768 -1806
Sp: David Creswell
abt 1769 - September 1, 1853
Sp: Elizabeth Conway Creswell
Md: August 22, 1790
March 3, 1767 - September 17, 1827
Sp (1): Anna Twinning
Md: 9/14/1799
Sp (2): Elizabeth Munger
Md: 6/18/1812
Mary Anne Williston
abt 1771 - aft 1826

Sp: William Triplett
October 15, 1776 - November 21, 1842
Sp: George Walker
Md: June 17, 1790

       John Talbot's children grew to be important and contributing members of the community.   Phoebe married David Creswell and that family became an important member of the east Georgia landed gentry.  Although David Creswell died before John's death in 1798, Phoebe was well provided for in the will of her father.  Thomas inherited his father's business skills and parlayed those into one of the largest fortunes in ante-bellum Georgia.  He died at age 84, the last of John's children to die.  Matthew was for many sessions a member of the Georgia Senate and was Governor in 1819 when the sitting Governor died.  Although Matthew accumulated a sizable estate, much of it was dissipated due to his having given his surety in so many uncollectible transactions.  Talbot County, Georgia was named for him as was the county seat of Talbotton.  Mary Anne Williston married Colonel William Triplett, a hero of the American Revolution and a successful Georgia planter.  Elizabeth married George Walker who became one of the most respected attorneys in Georgia.  His brother, Freeman, married Mary Garlington Creswell, a daughter of PhoebeTalbot and David Creswell and Freeman later became the first mayor of Augusta and still later a United States Senator.  Another brother, Valentine, married Zemula Creswell, another of Phoebe's daughters and the younger sister of Mary Garlington Creswell.

        The love of freedom and the willingness to fight for it were deeply ingrained in John Talbot's life.  He was among those Virginia "firebrands" who early on began to raise questions about the continuation of the American Colonials as subjects of England.  His nephew, Edmund, said of him in 1849 that; " He was a great Whig during the Revolutionary War."  That term applied to his political persuasion rather than to a political party.  While he was not the quoted speaker that Patrick Henry was, it is clear that he was of the same political philosophy as Henry.  His election to the Virginia House of Burgesses came when he was just 26 years of age and his membership in that body continued until it was succeeded by State government with the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  William Wirt Henry, who wrote extensively about his kinsman, Patrick Henry, explained to the editor of the Virginia Historical Magazine in the June 1897 issue that:

            "While preparing my life of Patrick Henry, I became intensely interested in the personnel of the House of  Burgesses during the troublous times between 1765 and 1776, when it was succeeded by the State government.  I wished to know the names of the patriots who so stoutly resisted the encroachments of British power during that memorable ten years.  The journals of that period do not give lists of members, and I was forced to search old almanacs and other sources for my information.  I prepared a list with as much accuracy as possible, and being unwilling that my labor should be lost, I send you the result for publication.

            "The list of members for 1765 is published in my work, Volume II, Appendix II, and is not repeated here.  A new House met May 11, 1769, and was dissolved May 17, 1769, and another House met November 7, 1769.  The almanac for 1770 gives the names of the members who met in November, but not those who met in May, and I have found no list of that House.  There was probably but little change, however, from the House dissolved in 1768."

House of Burgesses
Met November 6, 1766, prorogued to March 31, 1768
(Mr. Henry's article lists each county and the House members from that County.  The list below shows only selected Counties.

Bedford -- Jno. Talbot, Jas Callaway
Louisa -- Patrick Henry, Jr., Rich'd Anderson
Fairfax -- Geo. Washington, Jno. West

Met November 7, 1769, May 1, 1770, and July 11, 1771

Bedford -- Jno Talbot, Chas. Lynch
Fairfax -- Geo. Washington, Jno. West
Louisa -- Thomas Johnson, Rich'd Anderson

Met Feb 10, 1772, March 4, 1773, and May 5, 1774.  Dissolved May 26, 1774.

Bedford -- Jno. Talbot, Chas. Lynch
Fairfax -- Geo. Washington, Jno. West
Louisa -- Dabney Carr, Rich'd Anderson

Met August 11, 1774, and June 1, 1775, and never afterwards.

Bedford -- Jno. Talbot, Chas. Lynch
Fairfax -- Geo. Washington, Chas. Broadwater
Louis -- Thos. Johnson, Thos. Walker

        The Virginia Colonial Register shows that John Talbot was a member of the House of Burgesses from Bedford County from 1761 to 1775 (pp. a54-a98), and was a members of the Conventions of 1775 and 1776 (pp. 201-208).  John Talbot was also a member of the Legislature from Bedford County, Virginia, from 1776 to 1782.  Register of the General Assembly 1776-1918, p. 434.

        The reader will recall that the British Government passed a number of acts which the colonists considered to be unjust.  John Talbot, along with others whose names are more familiar, signed the agreements against the importation or purchase of British manufactures.  After the repeal of The Stamp Act, the British could not leave well enough alone and soon afterward passed The Townsend Act, a scheme to tax indirectly rather than allowing tax rates to be set by the local assembly.  The Burgesses protested these acts so vigorously that the Governor dissolved the meeting.  The Burgesses adjourned across the road at the Raleigh Tavern where they issued resolutions in defiance of the King's representatives.  These actions are famous in American history for they lay the foundations for our independence.  They are commemorated by a bronze plaque erected on a monument at the old capitol grounds at Williamsburg.  Among the names on the plaque are those of George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, John Talbot, and others.

        The assaults on their personal liberty continued;  they eventually declared themselves to be independent states and took up arms against the British.  Listed below are some of the actions that the colonist  considered the most egregious.

Acts of Parliament concerning the American Colonies

     The Royal Proclamation of 1763 Forbid colonists from crossing the Appalachians.
     The Currency Act, 1764
     The Sugar Act, 1764
     The Quartering Act, 1765
     The Stamp Act, 1765 Precipitated the "Stamp Act Crisis" which fomented rebellion throughout the colonies
     The Declaratory Act, 1766 The English Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, but couldn't leave well enough alone, and
        adopted this statement of parliamentary supremacy over the British colonies.
     The Townshend Act, 1767
     The Tea Act, 1773
     The Administration of Justice Act, 1774
     The Boston Port Act, 1774
     The Massachusetts Government Act, 1774
     The Quebec Act, 1774
     The Quartering Act, 1774

The reader may view the actual wording in these acts by setting the browser to:

        The resolution shown below is illustrative of the frustrations borne by the Colonists in their vain attempts to work with the British in resolving their differences.  It is reproduced in its entirety here in order for the reader to see the company of gentlemen who took such enormous risks to insure our freedom to govern ourselves.

           WE his Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the late representatives of the good people of this country, having been deprived by the sudden interposition of the executive part of this government from giving our countrymen the advice we wished to convey to them in a legislative capacity, find ourselves under the hard necessity of adopting this, the only method we have left, of pointing out to our countrymen such measures as in our opinion are best fitted to secure our dearest rights and liberty from destruction, by the heavy hand of power now lifted against North America: With much grief we find that our dutiful applications to Great Britain for security of our just, antient, and constitutional rights, have been not only disregarded, but that a determined system is formed and pressed for reducing the inhabitants of British America to slavery, by subjecting them to the payment of taxes, imposed without the consent of the people or  their representatives; and that in pursuit of this system, we find an act of the British parliament, lately passed, for stopping the harbour and commerce of the town of Boston, in our sister colony of Massachusetts Bay, until the people there submit to the payment of such unconstitutional taxes, and which act most violently and arbitrarily deprives them of their property, in wharfs erected by private persons, at their own great and proper expence, which act is, in our opinion, a most dangerous attempt to destroy the constitutional liberty and rights of all North America. It is further our opinion, that as   TEA, on its importation into America, is charged with a duty, imposed by parliament for the purpose of raising a revenue, without the consent of the people, it ought not to be used by any person who wishes well to the constitutional rights and liberty of British America. And whereas the India company have ungenerously attempted the ruin of     America, by sending many ships loaded with tea into the colonies, thereby intending to fix a precedent in favour of arbitrary taxation, we deem it highly proper and do accordingly recommend it strongly to our countrymen, not to purchase or use any kind of East India commodity whatsoever, except saltpetre and spices, until the grievances of  America are redressed. We are further clearly of opinion, that an attack, made on one of our sister colonies, to compel submission to arbitrary taxes, is an attack made on all British America, and threatens ruin to the rights of all, unless the united wisdom of the whole be applied. And for this purpose it is recommended to the committee of correspondence, that they communicate, with their several corresponding committees, on the expediency of appointing deputies from the several colonies of British America, to meet in general congress, at such place annually as shall be thought most convenient;  there to deliberate on those general measures which the united interests of America may from time to time require. A tender regard for the interest of our fellow subjects, the merchants, and manufacturers of Great Britain, prevents us from going further at this time; most earnestly hoping, that the unconstitutional principle of taxing the colonies without their consent will not be persisted in, thereby to compel us against our will, to avoid all commercial intercourse with Britain. Wishing them and our people free and  happy, we are their affectionate friends, the late representatives of Virginia.

              The 27th day of May, 1774
                                                                       [27 May, 1774]

     Peyton Randolph, Ro. C. Nicholas, Richard Bland, Edmund Pendleton, Richard Henry Lee, Archibald Cary, Benjamin Harrison, George Washington, William Harwood, Robert Wormeley Carter, Robert Munford, Thomas Jefferson, John West, Mann Page, junior, John Syme, Peter Le Grand, Joseph Hutchings, Francis Peyton, Richard  Adams, B. Dandridge, Henry Pendleton, Patrick Henry, junior, Richard Mitchell, James Holt, Charles Carter, James Scott, Burwell Bassett, Henry Lee, John Burton, Thomas Whiting, Peter Poythress, John Winn, James Wood, William Cabell, David Mason, Joseph Cabell, John Bowyer, Charles Linch, William Aylett, Isaac Zane, Francis Slaughter, William Langhorne, Henry Taylor, James Montague, William Fleming, Rodham Kenner, William Acril, Charles  Carter, of Stafford, John Woodson, Nathaniel Terry, Richard Lee, Henry Field, Matthew Marable, Thomas Pettus, Robert Rutherford, Samuel M'Dowell, John Bowdoin, James Edmondson, Southy Simpson, John Walker, Hugh  Innes, Henry Bell, Nicholas Faulcon, junior, James Taylor, junior, Lewis Burwell, of Gloucester, W. Roane, Joseph Nevil, Richard Hardy, Edwin Gray. H. King, Samuel Du Val, John Hite, junior, John Banister, Worlich Westwood, John Donelson, Thomas Newton, junior, P. Carrington, James Speed, James Henry, Champion Travis, Isaac Coles, Edmund Berkeley, Charles May, Thomas Johnson, Benjamin Watkins, Francis Lightfoot Lee, John Talbot, Thomas Nelson, junior, Lewis Burwell.

     We the subscribers, clergymen and other inhabitants of the colony and dominion of Virginia, having maturely considered the contents of the above association, do most cordially approve and accede thereto.  William Harrison, William Hubard, Benjamin Blagrove, William Bland, H. J. Burges, Samuel Smith M'Croskey, Joseph Davenport, Thomas Price, David Griffith, William Leigh, Robert Andrews, Samuel Klug, Ichabod Camp, William Clayton, Richard Cary, Thomas Adams, Hinde Russell, William Holt, Arthur Dickenson, Thomas Stuart, James Innes.

        He was  41 years of age when the American Revolution began in 1776 but he rose quickly to the rank of Colonel and commanding officer of the Bedford Militia.  Colonial records are replete with entries showing his requests for reimbursements for supplies for his Company.  John's legislative service continued for he was elected to the Assembly and served in that body until 1782.  John Talbot distinguished himself as a leader of men during this tumultuous time.   And his entire family fought valiantly for the cause of freedom.  His four brothers, Charles, Matthew (II), James, and Isham all served with distinction as did Barnabus Arthur who had married John's half sister, Martha.  Charles, James,  and Isham were officers as was Charles' son, Williston.  Matthew (II) Talbot established Fort Watauga in what is now eastern Tennessee and while living there served as commissary for the American troops.  His mill worked day and night to keep the militia in provisions.  It was at his mill that the American troops camped before beginning the search for Ferguson's army that culminated with the battle of King's Mountain.  James, who died in 1777,  was a wagon master.   Every child of Matthew (I) Talbot contributed significantly to the cause of independence and freedom.

        The American Revolution ended with the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781.  Although skirmishes continued for several months, the Treaty of Paris in 1783 brought formal recognition by the British of the independence of the North American States.   For the next six years, the 13 colonies tried to govern themselves under the Articles of Confederation but very soon they recognized that a loose confederation of states could not resolve the needs of a growing country.  Thus, in 1789, the Constitution had been adopted and George Washington had begun his term as the new country's first President.

        In 1783,  John left his native Virginia for the opportunities to gain new lands in eastern Georgia.  Although we do not know the route he used to make the trip from Virginia to Georgia, it was likely the Great Wagon Road which ran from Pennsylvania south through Virginia, the Carolinas and ended at Augusta.  The interested reader can learn more about the Great Wagon Road from a search of the internet.  A quick reading will dispel any notions that this trip was an easy one.  John Talbot acquired considerable acreage, in fact, may have acquired the lands several years earlier, perhaps as early as 1769,  and began the life of a southern planter.  His wealth, already substantial, enabled him to become a successful planter almost from the beginning.  At least one source claims that he brought with him,  in addition to his family, more than 100 slaves.  Some sources assert that his friend George Walton accompanied him to survey the vast acreage he held.  Walton would later become Governor of Georgia and have a county named for him.  But he is better known for having been a signer of The Declaration of Independence as a representative of Georgia.  George Walton's son would later marry a granddaughter of John Talbot, Sarah Minge Walker, and their child, Octavia, would become one of the most accomplished women in the United States.  Quite likely, Matthew Talbot, John's second son, learned from Walton the surveying skills he would later use in his own career.  Interestingly, many Talbots have been surveyors and, indeed, Matthew (I) was asked by his county to layout the boundaries and records in Tennessee report the survey work of Matthew (II) in various land transactions.

      John Talbot's plantation, call Mt. Pleasant, was located near the plantation of the widow of General Nathaniel Greene and, indeed, serious questions exist as to whether Eli Whitney was working on the Widow Green's plantation or John Talbot's when he invented the Cotton Gin.  Conventional wisdom holds that Whitney was teaching school at the Greene plantation but Robert Willingham, a prolific writer about early Wilkes County asserts the following:


                                                            Copyright by Robert Willingham
Used with permission
            An event that occurred in 1793 profoundly influenced the development of Washington and Wilkes County. In that year  Eli Whitney received a patent for his cotton gin. Whitney had spent some time perfecting his gin and tutoring children a few miles east of Washington at John Talbot's plantation, Mount Pleasant. The acreage of Wilkes County which had seen fields of tobacco so like the lands from which the pioneers had come would soon be transformed into clay hills covered with row after row of cotton plants. Forest land was denuded to provide the open spaces needed for the money crop. The strong movement of the 1790s to abandon slavery was quickly forgotten as the need for manpower to operate cotton plantations began to far outweigh social consciousness. It became a simple matter of economics. Slave labor was considered a necessity. The black-white ratio in Wilkes County was transformed between 1790 and 1810 from over 76% white to approximately 50-50.

        For more than a dozen years, John Talbot lived the life of a Georgia planter.  He was soon involved in Georgia politics and served several terms in the Georgia legislature.  His plantation was a thriving one and his wealth expanded dramatically.  Active in the establishment of the Smyrna Presbyterian Church and its principal benefactor, he gave the land for the Church and the adjoining Cemetery  and it appears that he was the first person buried in that cemetery.  Among his wife's legacies were three stills and about 100 gallons of whiskey - a surprising legacy considering that John was an elder and the leading benefactor of his congregation.

               John Talbot died August 25, 1798 at the age of 63.  His will has been transcribed and can be read at one of the links on the Talbot home page.  Thomas and Matthew were named executors of his estate.  They, his wife Phebe, his daughters, and various grandchildren were named beneficiaries of an immense estate, including large tracts of land and about 100 slaves.  His will divided his large library collection between his two sons and charged the two of them with properly dividing it. A careful reading of his will provides a small glimpse into his life and its economic accomplishments.  It is clear that most of his children had settled near him.  Indeed, one writer has asserted that he had "settled" each of them on a place near him.  His wife, Phebe, lived for almost a decade after John died.  Her will, like his, can be read at one of the links on the Talbot home page.  She continued the tradition that John had begun of giving property to the older children of their sons and daughters.  Although the land had been bequeath by her husband, she had a considerable amount of property in her own right.  Her careful enumeration of each of the grandchildren provided useful details about the composition of the family.   She bequeathed $100.00 to Mrs. Martha Arthur, presumably the half sister of John who had married Barnabus Arthur, and $50.00 to a Miss Martha Arthur who probably was the daughter of the senior Mrs. Arthur.

            Few men, either in his time or now, have had the string of successes that marked his life from his earliest years and continued  throughout his lifetime.  Despite all of his accomplishments and successes,  little has been written about him and even the marker at his grave is a modest one.  In his wife's last will and testament, she asked to be buried as near her "beloved husband" as possible.   But perhaps the most fitting epitaph was written by his nephew, Edmund, son of his brother Matthew (II),  fifty years later when he said, "He was the pleasantest man I ever knew.  I loved him dearly."
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