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The life and times of John Adam Treutlen
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John Adam Treutlen, Georgias first Constitutional governor

Highway 119 is known in Effingham County as John Adam Treutlen Highway. Much of his private life is less known than of his political life. The story of his life was published in 1998 by Historic Effingham Society in a book, “John Adam Treutlen, Georgia’s First Constitutional Governor, his Life Real and Rumored,” by Edna Q. Morgan.

The exact place and date of birth is unknown, but a bust of him in the rotunda of the State Capitol is engraved, “John Adam Treutlen 1726-1782 Salzburg Patriot.” It states that he was born in Berchtesgaten, Austria, and was a member of the Salzburger settlement at Ebenezer.

Other sources, including Ruth Suddeth, give an accepted date of his birth as 1733 in Austria or the town of Gosport, England, where Treutlen was born and where they say he stayed en route to America. Supposedly, pirates attacked their ship Two Brothers on the way to America and Treutlen’s father died imprisoned. The Treutlens were stranded in England; one son apprenticed to John Carver and that son Christian’s earnings helped support his mother and siblings.

Some of the ill-fated ship’s passengers set sail on the Judith. That ship also had difficulties in reaching Georgia with the illness and death of the captain.

Arriving in 1746, John Adam Treutlen and his mother went to Vernonberg to settle. His mother remarried and sent him to Ebenezer to be educated and at age 14, he was confirmed.  He excelled in his teachers’ hands, gaining a broad education, mastering English composition and having a strong work ethic.

His career was varied from teacher at Ebenezer to surveyor, store clerk for two years in Savannah and farmer. He is listed on a plaque in the Georgia Hall of Fame as a colonel of the Effingham Militia. He married Marguerite Dupuis, of Purysburg, S.C., around 1756. She had been educated at Ebenezer, too.

He settled on his own land in the Sister’s Ferry area near Clyo, and became a planter and raised cattle. He and his wife had eight children. His holdings were extensive, with varying amounts listed among the historians. Some say 12,000 to 13,000 acres with 23 or more slaves. His holdings extended into South Carolina. He bought and traded many tracts.

Although prosperous and busy, he was still very active in Jerusalem Lutheran Church at Ebenezer. From 1765 until his death, he was a deacon there. He was the leading officer of the congregation when Heinrich Muhlenberg, the leading patriarch of Lutheranism, visited Ebenezer in 1774 and left a favorable impression upon Muhlenberg and corresponded with him.

While serving as magistrate, he was sent by St. Matthews Parish to the Provincial Assembly under British Governor Wright. He served three terms in the Common House Assembly. He was one of 36 men who served in both the royal and Revolutionary legislatures.  He was appointed a member of the Council of Safety created by the assembly to serve during the intermission. The British governor was arrested and imprisoned according to order of this council.

Treutlen participated in meetings debating the political philosophy of the Revolution at Tondee’s Tavern in Savannah. When the Revolutionary War began, the congregation of Jerusalem Church became divided. There were many Tories, but Treutlen remained loyal to his adopted country.

In 1776, a temporary constitution for Georgia was adopted with Button Gwinnett as provisional governor.  On Feb. 5, 1777, a formal constitution was adopted dividing Georgia into eight counties, thus disestablishing the old parishes and Church of England. St. Matthew’s Parish became Effingham County.

The constitution did not go into full effect until May when John Adam Treutlen was elected as the first constitutional governor of the Assembly of Georgia. He had served on the committee, along with Gwinnett and five others, writing the constitution in 1777. Gwinnett expected he would be governor.

Political strife and troubles led to duels between Button Gwinnett and Gen. Lachlan McIntosh. Treutlen informed John Hancock of Gen. McIntosh’s impending arrest and McIntosh’s attempt to deploy the arrest. On Oct. 4, 1777, Congress decided to send McIntosh to Valley Forge for trial. Earlier, McIntosh had refused to attend Councils of War with the Georgia Militia.

Meanwhile, William H. Drayton was in favor of joining the states of Georgia and South Carolina. Bitterly opposed by Treutlen, Gwinnett and Noble W. Jones, the idea had been rejected at the Georgia Convention meeting in Savannah in January 1777. Drayton and others proposed to build a city opposite Savannah in order to ruin it if his idea of joint statehood was rejected.

Treutlen, angered by this, ordered the arrest of Drayton, who had proclaimed that Treutlen and others were Tories in disguise. However, Drayton fled across the river before the arrest on the proclamation issued by Treutlen.  Treutlen had to contend with the “Combiners,” Indians, the British and Tories. During two episodes of military danger, the Executive Council of Georgia requested Governor Treutlen take the whole executive power until danger had passed.

Treutlen dealt with financial problems in the state. Although the state at first could pay for its defense, the expenses of the government and the Revolution became too much.  Gov. Treutlen mortgaged personal property to defray state expenses. Years later, one of his sons paid off that mortgage.

In reporting of Treutlen’s service to Georgia, historian Finck states: “They (the British) were foiled in their attempt to hold the port of Savannah by the gallant services of men like Governor John Adam Treutlen, the greatest Lutheran layman produced by the Salzburgers in Georgia. His term of service was marked by bravery and brilliancy. He issued eleven masterful proclamations with telling effect.”

When he completed his term as governor, as one term was all allowed under the constitution, he settled back on his plantation and remarried to Mrs. Annie Unselt. Knowing he was under ban of death as a “rebel governor,” they fled to the Orangeburg District of South Carolina when the British recaptured Savannah and began devastating the state as far north as Augusta.  During this devastation, the British camped on his property. The British troops reportedly burned all of Treutlen’s barns and houses to the ground, confiscating his personal property.

He lived in South Carolina and became involved in political activity there, enrolled as a soldier on the continental line and a legislator of the state of South Carolina in 1781.  He was reported deceased in a called meeting and another person took his place on the committee.

There are several accounts of Treutlen’s death. No one knows the exact date, but all agree it took place between January 12 and April 18, 1782. Finck writes that it was reported to Muhlenberg that Treutlen was lured from his home in South Carolina by some Tories and “barbarously murdered.”  Quick doubts that he would have been lured away by anyone that he did not know and questions, “Did a revengeful McIntosh have something to do with Treutlen’s death?” Suddeth suggests the culprits may not have been Tories and may have been linked to Drayton’s followers. George Fenwick Jones suggests he may have been murdered by a personal enemy; perhaps a jilted suitor, as he had recently married a third wife after his second wife had died. Local rumors suggest he was killed and buried at his Georgia home site.

Accounts vary from being lured out of his home and murdered with a sword or shot to being dragged by a horse. Speculation abounds and rumors are quite varied. How and where did he die? Descendants of Treutlen, including the former Rebah Mallory, did extensive research. Morgan, who compiled the history for Treutlen’s book, still says it is a mystery.

The former property of Treutlen is now owned by many. The site of his former home belongs to Al Allen and family. The late Dr. Darnell Brawner owned some of his land along the Savannah River at the area of a crossing known as Sisters Ferry near Clyo.

The former statesman Treutlen who served our state faithfully and aided us to overcome the British died clothed in rumors apparently at the hands of his enemy.

• On Monday, Richard Loper, past president of Historic Effingham Society, clothed as John Adam Treutlen, will be the guest speaker for the annual Salzburger Festival at Jerusalem Lutheran Church speaking about Treutlen’s life. Exhibits, the old lemonade barrel, Market Platz, Old Parsonage, Salzburger Museum, Fail House, food and lots of activities will be available for the public during the day.

• Historic Effingham Society is hosting a fundraiser Sept. 14 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. to keep our Museum open at the Effingham Museum and Living History Site. Cost is $8, including salad, spaghetti and dessert. Tickets are available at the museum and we will deliver paid tickets locally. Call 754-2170 for further information.

• A correction from Aug. 17:  Carson Shearouse was incorrectly identified as Wendell.

Information came from “John Adam Treutlen” by Edna Q. Morgan. This article was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society.  If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: