PATRICK HOUSTOUN’S PREDICAMENTS
NOT far from Rosdue was Bewlie, the Vernon River plantation of Colonel William Stephens, the Trustees’ secretary in Georgia. Stephens looked upon Patrick Houstoun as a “good neighbor.” Bewlie was easily accessible to Rosdue by water, and by means of their plantation boats there must have been frequent exchange of visits between the two places. Colonel Stephens was twenty-seven years the senior, but in spite of the great difference in their ages, apparently there existed between the two men a congenial friendship.
On Thursday, August 31, 1738, Patrick Houstoun was invited to dine with Colonel Stephens at his home in Savannah, and that friendly gesture brought forth direful consequences to the former who paid dearly for what appeared to Thomas Causton, recorder and store-keeper, as the partiality of Stephens for Houstoun. Causton was concerned with his own evil deeds and had no connection with the “Nightly Club,” often mentioned in Stephens’s Journal.1
In August of that year Patrick Houstoun was in debt to Thomas Christie, a bailiff who owned a plantation “about two miles out of town.” The incident that followed the dinner at Colonel Stephens’s home was particularly distasteful to Patrick Houstoun, who probably had his own reasons for not having discharged sooner the debt to Christie. After he was taken into custody by Causton and released, Houstoun expressed himself in free and vitriolic language which undoubtedly relieved his pent-up anger.
Colonel Stephens’s version of the affair which he sent to the Trustees tells them that on Saturday morning, September 6, Causton called on him taking “Bailiff Parker” with him, who Stephens thought from what followed, was there as an observer. Stephens related that on Thursday
. . . having a Bit of fresh Beef for my Dinner, I had engaged Mr. Pat Houston, and Mr. William Sterling, to take Part of it with me, in return to a Compliment of the like Nature made me by them: Mess. Causton and Christie chanced to come voluntarily, and take a share with us; which I esteemed a Favour, and bade them heartily welcome: After a little easy and agreeable Conversation when we had dined, the Recorder pulled out a pretty large Bundle of Warrants which had been served, and were supposed to be the Subject Matter of the Court which was intended per Adjournment to sit tomorrow. . . .
While Causton was “perusing” some of the papers, Stephens’s son “accidentally looking” into one of the warrants noted that it ordered the “Body of the Party charged” brought before one of the magistrates. Stephens explained to his son that it was the usual form of warrants “where the Matter was of such Consequence to need it,” but “he presumed it was not general, so as to make no Distinction between offences of high Nature and Trifles of Dangerous Debts and petty Controversies.” To which Causton replied “with a little unexpected Warmth,” that they made “no Distinction nor did he think any such ought to be made, let the Warrant be against the best Man in the Province.” Stephens’s answer was he supposed that it was a form prescribed by the Trustees, from which Causton “ought not to swerve,” and if that were so he “humbly asked Pardon for the Freedom I have used.” Causton’s retort was plain. He said, “No, it is a Form of my own, which I have thought necessary upon finding an ordinary Summons often set at nought.” Whereupon Stephens replied, “that wherever such Contempt appeared, undoubtedly they ought to vindicate their own Authority, and let such Persons feel their resentment.” After a few more words of “little import,” and finding that Causton “grew warm,” Stephens thought it best to drop the “Discourse,” diverting it to some other “Topick”; but after a short while Causton “fell into his usual Talk of late, complaining of the Magistrates Want of sufficient power &c,” which Stephens wrote he did not understand, but said nothing, and that he was “not conscious of the least Offence which should occasion his parting so much out of Humor.”
When Causton arrived at Stephens’s home on Saturday morning he “no longer contained himself from giving Vent to his Passion of Thursday.” In “plain Words” he told Stephens that he could not get over what had happened and that Stephens “had given the greatest Wound to his Honor that ever he felt in his life.”
Nonplused and astonished, Stephens was undecided “whether it was most eligible to be serious or endeavor to bring him into better Temper by being a little more jocular.” He tried both, he wrote, and then insisted that Causton should explain how he had been wounded. In response Causton unfolded his story:
A short while before the Thursday incident Christie had taken out a warrant against “Mr. Houston” for seven or eight pounds sterling, Causton granting the warrant; and the tything man who executed it, after taking Houstoun into custody, carried him as a prisoner to Parker, and on finding Parker out, then to Causton where the “Affair” was ended “to the Satisfaction of the Complainant.” But not so to “Mr. Houston,” who as related by him to Stephens
. . . took the Freedom to expostulate with them upon the severe Treatment (as he called it) which he had found; to be carried around the Town in the Custody of an Officer, Malefactor-like, for such a Sum, to his great Disgrace, as a Spectacle to all his Acquaintances; when it was well known from his large Plantation, and other visible Circumstances that he was not running away, &c. . . .
It turned out that when Houstoun and Causton met at Stephens’s home and began conversing, “Mr. Causton conceived a Jealousy,” and thought that what Stephens said was in vindication of Houstoun, and “to throw a blot on him.” Stephens was not aware that there was any “Difference” between the two men, and it was not until Causton left the house that Houstoun told him “the Whole.” Houstoun informed him that his “Discourse” undoubtedly would be construed by Causton as a “Thing” concerted between them. And that is exactly what happened.
After hearing Causton’s story when he called on Stephens on Saturday, the latter tried to convince him that he and Houstoun had had no “previous Talk.” Colonel Stephens then asked Causton if he believed he had at any time conspired to “lessen his Character as a Magistrate,” and whether or not he knew that on all occasions he had done all in his power to “espouse the Magistrates, and do what in me lay to support their Authority.” The Recorder and Parker frankly acknowledged that Stephens was correct, whereupon they departed for Causton’s plantation, thus ending an unpleasant incident.2
Causton’s standing in the Colony, his farcical trial of the Reverend John Wesley, and the complaints against him are known to all familiar with the early history of Georgia, and Patrick Houstoun’s indignation at the treatment accorded him by a man of such ill repute can be understood easily; likewise his “expostulations” when he regained his freedom. By October of that year, Colonel Stephens, by order of Oglethorpe, wrote a letter dismissing Causton from the office of keeper of the stores, at the same time requiring him to deliver all books, papers, and accounts to the inspector of the accounts. He was brought to justice and sent to England to appear before the Trustees. As he had failed to carry his vouchers with him, he was returned to Georgia to procure them, but he died on the voyage back and was buried at sea in the year 1746.3
Reference has already been made to Patrick Houstoun’s disappointment after he reached Georgia, and in writing to one of the Trustees he said, in substance, that the accounts given of the colony did not come up to specifications. Other colonists had the same sentiments; a group of them banded together in what Colonel Stephens called the “Nightly Club,” composed of the gentry of the town. The club met frequently to discuss the affairs of the colony generally, and Mr. Oglethorpe particularly. Its activities began as early as 1737, and the organization, which in Stephens’s opinion was “the greatest remaining Root of Discontent,” met at the Tavern, and its members were mostly Scotsmen, “but promiscuous also open to any that would come in the Manner of a Coffee-House, where every one called for what he liked; And usually once or twice a week I made it my Choice to go and sit an Hour among them: thinking it right to mix now and then with all sorts indifferently.” The affairs of that club were evidently a live topic of conversation with the upper classes, and no doubt with the masses as well.
Colonel Stephens kept his eye on the malcontents and continued to inform the Trustees, by caustic comment, of their deeds. If Patrick Houstoun had any association with the members it did him no lasting harm, and later he informed the Trustees he had no connection with them.4 He was reported to the Trustees as “one of the best of the inhabitants,” and “a quiet, modest landholder.”5 His standing in the colony twenty years later, when he held two Crown offices, certainly leaves no room for doubt as to the manner in which his conduct was construed in the early period.
The leader of the agitators, Dr. Patrick Tailfer, “was a thorn in the side of General Oglethorpe.”6 Histories and Colonial records recite the subsequent career of Dr. Tailfer, whose conduct became so notorious that he, with others, was forced in September, 1740, to leave the province and take refuge in South Carolina.
No evidence has been found to show that Patrick Houstoun belonged to the “Nightly Club,” but if he did he must have dissociated himself from his fellow-countrymen when matters grew too hot, for he continued his quiet residence in Georgia while the leaders took up their abode in the neighboring colony. Certainly Patrick Houstoun was dissatisfied when he first came to Georgia. When the Trustees made grants of land to freeholders of the colony for a small money consideration, certain requirements were made by them which admitted of forfeiture of the land if the grantees were unable to fulfill them. One of the demands was that a certain number of acres must be cultivated and planted within a certain time.
In May, 1740, one of the colonists, Lieutenant Horton, visited London and on the twenty-first of that month dined with the Trustees and acquainted them with the affairs of the colony. The Earl of Egmont, President, recorded in his Journal of that date that Lieutenant Horton in commenting on the civil affairs of the colony remarked that the Trustees should abolish the use of forfeitures. It was, he continued, “impossible . . . to fulfill them, and every one is now forfeited if the Trustees should rigorously insist upon it.” All of this, concluded Lord Percival’s informant, was discouraging to the people, “the best of them were determining to quit the Colony, Mr. Houston for one, who is now killing off his cattel.”7
Lord Percival has recorded that the forfeitures of the landholders were forgiven with the result that Georgia landholders were given permission to lease and bequeath their property in whatever manner pleased them, except that a daughter could inherit no more than 2000 acres. Entries in Percival’s diary warrant the inference that the Trustees, acting on data supplied by the magistrates, adopted a generous plan in dealing with the problem of forfeitures.8
Patrick Houstoun became involved to some extent in an intrigue—although apparently not to his detriment—a plot of Thomas Stephens, son of Colonel William Stephens, to redress the alleged wrongs of some of the malcontents by appealing to the King and Parliament in their behalf. Thomas Stephens was their self-appointed manager in England, and upon his return to Savannah, in 1742, (with much assiduity) stirred the inhabitants to great excitement. The whole story, related in a letter from Thomas Jones to Harmon Verelst dated Frederica, 26 April 1742,9 in which the latter was asked to inform the Trustees what was happening in Savannah, is too long to narrate here. Briefly, Thomas Stephens began his intrigue by telling the inhabitants of Savannah that they had been unfairly treated by the Trustees who had kept them from their rights. The hardships to which they had been subjected consisted of the lack of rum, the prohibition of Negro slavery, free tenures of land, and the liability of repaying the Trustees the sums of money advanced to them. It was enough to incite any group of persons led and brought together by an unscrupulous man—“A Stephanian Scheme,” Thomas Jones called it. The whole matter caused great sorrow to the young man’s father, and it led to antagonism and their separation.
Henry Parker, later President of the Colony, played an important part in forming a “new alliance,” and in some way, “acted in conspiracy,” so says Thomas Jones, “wth the Baronet, Mr. Norris, Fallowfield & a constable and Associates.” The baronet referred to was a gentleman from South Carolina.10
How far Patrick Houstoun was implicated it is impossible to say, but there is evidence in Jones’s letter that “Henry Parker in July last (lodging one night at Tisdale’s in the same room with Mr Patrick Houston) came in drunk (at which time he is usually very talkative and free) and related to Mr Houston the Substance of what is contain’d in his Affidavit. Mr Houston came (next morning) and acquainted me wth what Parker had said.”11 From that occurance it would seem that Patrick Houstoun was not in sympathy with the guilty inhabitants.
Stephens devotes considerable space to some information conveyed to him by Patrick Houstoun: On Wednesday, February 20, 1740, “Mr. Patrick Houston coming to Town from his Plantation near Vernon River, whom I look on as a good Neighbor there, and who made good Improvements, by cultivating a considerable Tract of Land, &c. called on me this Morning; and knowing that he had been lately at Frederica, we naturally fell into some Talk about what was doing there, and how great Things the General had in view; Among other Matters, telling him that I had heard from several, there was a Box directed to me from the honorouble Trustees, wherein were said to be many Papers, which I had no Advice of by any letter. . . . He readily told me, that there was such a Box directed to me which he saw lying in the Stores at Frederica. . . .”12
The narrative of the box, called by Stephens a “Dark Work,” throws some light on what Patrick Houstoun was doing at that time. In March, Houstoun was again in Frederica because Stephens recorded that he had received a letter from him there telling Colonel Stephens he had inquired of Mr. Hawkins about the box. That appears to be the end of Patrick’s connection with the mysterious package, but it also adds a little mystery to Houstoun’s frequent visits to Frederica.
In July, 1740, the Common Council of the Trustees appointed “Patrick Houston in Georgia a conservator of the Peace within the Province” but on November 21, 1741, it was resolved in the session of the Council: “That the Order of the Common Council of July 21, 1740, appointing Patrick Houston a conservator of the Peace in the Province of Georgia be revoked the commission for the same having never been made out.”13 The Earl of Egmont clears up the trouble when he writes in his Journal the above resolution and then puts at the bottom of the citation: “N.B. This was an error as to the Person for it should have been Patrick Grant.”14 No doubt Patrick Houstoun never even heard of that mistake of the Common Council.
Thomas Christie had his revenge on Patrick Houstoun, for when he was in London in July, 1740, he appeared before the Trustees to render a report on his accounts. Patrick Houstoun’s peccadillo found him out then, as Christie acted the part of talebearer when he told the Trustees that Houstoun was a seller of rum and doubtless he was also one of the delinquents. The consequence for Houstoun was that he was fined forty shillings along with John Penrose for “selling spirituous liquors.”15 After paying for that offense Patrick Houstoun does not seem to have been guilty of any more misdemeanors.
1. Colonial Records of Georgia, IV, Pt. I, 257.
2. Ibid., 193-196.
3. Coulter, History of Georgia, 71; also Jones, History of Georgia, I, 266, 274, 288, 300.
4. Historical Manuscripts Commission, ed., Diary of the First Earl of Egmont, Viscount Percival (London, 1923), III, 214. (Hereinafter cited Earl of Egmont’s Diary).
5. Colonial Records of Georgia, VII, 500.
6. Jones, History of Georgia, I, 309.
7. Colonial Records of Georgia, V, 356, Journal of the Earl of Egmont.
8. Earl of Egmont’s Diary, III, 362.
9. Colonial Records of Georgia, XXIII, 288-304.
10. Ibid., 322. Sir Richard Everard.
11. Ibid., 298, 299.
12. Ibid., IV, Pt. 1, 516, 517, 525, 533, 549, 611.
13. Ibid., V, 569.
14. Ibid., 390.
15. Ibid., II, 345.