Volumes XXIX, XXX, and XXXI consist of the Letter Books of the Trustees for Establishing the Colony of Georgia in America. These letters, mainly to officials and people in Georgia, make clear that the Trustees first and foremost wanted to know everything that happened in the Colony. They asked about people (individually and collectively), land (how much had been surveyed, granted, cultivated, and abandoned), officials (loyalty to the Trustees was the main criteria for approval or promotion), silk worms and production, the Trustees’ Garden at Savannah, agriculture, colony accounts, descriptions of conditions in Georgia, and anything else they knew was happening in Georgia.
Originally the Trustees asked James Oglethorpe to give them the information they wanted. But they soon found that Oglethorpe would not take the time to answer their numerous queries. William Stephens proved to be the answer to the Trustees’ desire. In 1737 Stephens was appointed “Secretary for the Affairs of the Trust within the Province of Georgia,” and began to keep a journal for the Trustees on October 20, 1737, the day he arrived in Charles Town on his way to Georgia to take up his duties there. He kept his journal and corresponded with the Trustees until 1749, but no journal beyond 1745 is known to exist today. His last letter, dated July l, 1750, informed the Trustees of his infirmities and inability to serve them further. He died at his plantation of Bewlie in August 1753 and was buried there.
The Trustees’ correspondence makes it clear that they wanted very much to impose their image of what Georgia should be upon the colony. We know a great deal more about Trustee Georgia because of the Trustees’ insistence that they be told everything and because of Stephens’ attempts to satisfy them. We should thank the Trustees for their curiosity.
The letters of these volumes were written by Benjamin Martyn, the Secretary to the Trustees, and Harman Verelst, Accountant to the Trustees, apparently the only office force the Trustees ever had. Usually general matters were handled by Martyn and fiscal ones by Verelst. But both wrote about almost any subject when the other was not available to handle his usual correspondence.
Martyn wrote clearer and better composed letters. His knowledge of other languages besides English was better than Verelst’s, and his spelling--not nearly so standardized in the eighteenth century as in the twentieth--was much better and easier to understand. Verelst was frequently concerned with the minutia of accounting and how officials in Georgia did not do what they had been instructed to do.
Little is known about Martyn and Verelst. There is a brief sketch of Martyn in the Dictionary of National Biography, XII, 1199-1200. Trevor R. Reese wrote “Benjamin Martyn, Secretary to the Trustees of Georgia,” Ga. Hist. Quarterly, XXXVIII, 142-147, and “Harman Verelst, Accountant to the Trustees,” ibid., XXXIX, 348-352.
Vol. XXXI (August 19, 1745-April 7, 1752) the final volume of the Trustees’ letter book, with the Trustees’ and their Common Council’s minutes in Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, Vols. I and II, make the decline of the interest of the Trustees in Georgia clear. There were long intervals when there were no Trustee meetings nor letters from Martyn or Verelst to Georgia. Martyn and Verelst apparently acted on many items in the absence of Trustee meetings or consulted what Trustees were available.
In their last several years, the Trustees seemed more concerned with formal actions (appointing and removing officials, granting land, etc.) and less with the substance of what was happening in Georgia. When in late 1749 the Italian states which produced most of Europe’s silk forbad the export of raw silk, the Trustees intensified their urging for Georgians to produce more silk.
In his last few years of service as Trustees’ Secretary and President of Georgia, William Stephens seemed to have declined in efficiency, probably because of increasing age and infirmities. In 1750 Stephens was replaced by James Habersham as Secretary and by Henry Parker first as Vice President and then as President. Neither Parker nor Habersham seem to have operated as efficiently or as regularly as Stephens had done over his years in these offices. Undoubtedly they saw the decline of Trustee interest and were more concerned with their own affairs in the growing Georgia.
The Common Council of the Trustees held its last meeting on April 29, 1752. The Trustees held their last meeting on June 23, 1752. At this meeting the trustees ordered the Secretary to write at least one letter to the President and Assistants in Georgia. If this letter was written, it was not recorded in the letter book. After this meeting the seal of the Trustees was defaced, and they officially ended their life. Unfinished business of the Trustees was to be carried on by a committee appointed at this last meeting and by Benjamin Martyn, who became Board of Trade Agent for Georgia.
The volume divisions created by Allen D. Candler and Lucian Lamar Knight, the original compilers of this series, have been retained. This will facilitate references in works already published which used these volumes in manuscript.
Original spellings are retained unless the meaning is not clear. (Note. The Old English thorn “th” was usually written and printed as “y” in the early eighteenth century. This has been kept throughout this text. Thus “ye” is “the,” “yt” is “that,” and “ym” is “them.”) All raised letters have been lowered, abbreviations that are not clear have been expanded, and slips of the pen have been corrected silently. A single word may be explained in brackets immediately after its appearance in the text. More lengthy explanations will be given in footnotes. Punctuation, often scarce in eighteenth century manuscripts, has been supplied sometimes for the sake of clarity, though many sentences are long by modern standards. No attempt at uniform spelling, even of proper names, has been attempted; rather the original text has been followed. For proper names, a single most common spelling has been used in the index.
In the manuscript there is no consistency in the system of money notation. Thus£ 1.7.10 might be written that way, £ 1:7:10, or 1..7..10. Colons, fairly frequent, have been left as written, but the .. has been changed to a single period. When the pound sign is given after the figure it is often written as a lower case l with a line through it (l). These have been changed to £ for the sake of clarity.
Many, probably a majority, of the enclosures referred to in these letters are not filed with the letters. Some of them have been located, but many have not.
When letters, petitions, etc. from Georgia are acknowledged in the Trustee letters, an effort has been made to locate these. Most of them are in their correct chronological place in the letters from Georgia published in Vols. XX-XXVI of this series, and no editorial notation is made. If the letters have been located elsewhere or not located, this fact is noted in the footnotes.
Each document is given a short introduction which consists of the name of the writer and recipient, date written, place written, Public Record Office location, topic or topics treated, and method of transmission (vessel, captain, etc.) where given.