The history of Georgia’s colonial records has been a varied one. Her customs records were destroyed in early 1776 when the vessel upon which they had been stored for safekeeping was burned during the “Battle of the Rice Boats” at Savannah. During the Revolutionary War, Georgia sent many of her records as far north as Maryland to protect them, and some of these never found their way back to Georgia. Many old records were left at Milledgeville when the state’s capital was moved to Atlanta in 1868. As late as the twentieth century colonial records were destroyed in Savannah to make room for current records. Normal loss and destruction through improper use and storage over the years have taken their toll as well.
With all this loss and destruction, it is not surprising that most of the colonial records which survived are the letters, reports, and other documents sent to London by colonial officials and now deposited in the Public Record Office. Georgia first had these records copied in the 1830s and 1840s and they were used by several historians before being burned accidentally in the late nineteenth century. Early in the twentieth century the Georgia volumes (mainly P.R.O., C.O. 5/636-712) were copied a second time by the state.
Between 1904 and 1916 twenty-five volumes of these transcripts were published as The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia (volumes 1-19, 21-26). Allen D. Candler began compiling and printing these volumes, and William J. Northen and Lucian Lamar Knight assumed the work after Candler’s death in 1910. Essentially Candler, Northen, and Knight arranged the transcripts and printed the volumes with no further editorial apparatus.
Immediately the published volumes had an influence upon the writing of Georgia’s colonial history. The unpublished transcripts, arranged in fourteen volumes in the state archives, have been used considerably less. Some of these unpublished volumes contain very valuable materials such as the letters of Georgia’s three royal governors, the record of Georgia’s hesitant entry into revolt from 1765 through 1775, and other topics.
Many scholars, including the present editors, have long hoped that the remaining volumes could be published. This project is now undertaken by the Georgia Commission for the National Bicentennial Celebration and the Georgia Department of Archives and History and is being published by the University of Georgia Press as a part of their contribution to the national bicentennial and to making Georgia’s historical sources more available to scholars and students.