Lyman Hall, Signer of the Declaration of Independence and Founder of the University of Georgia


Celebration for the signers | The Augusta Chronicle ~ bust of Lyman Hall

Lyman Hall was one of three Georgians to sign the Declaration of Independence. He served as a representative to the Continental Congress and as governor of Georgia (1783-84).

Hall was born April 12, 1724, in Wallingford, Connecticut, the fourth of eight children born to the Hon. John Hall (1692-1773) and his wife, Mary Street (1698 – 1778). He graduated from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1747, in a class of twenty-eight members.  Lyman Hall then studied theology under the guidance of his uncle, the Rev. Samuel Hall and became an ordained Congressional minister.
imgres-1“In 1749 he began to preach in Bridgeport, and was ordained by the Fairfield West Consociation. In 1751, however, he was dismissed by the Consociation following a hearing on charges of immoral conduct. Those charges were proven, and confessed by him; but the Consociation, confident in his sincere repentance, voted to restore him to good standing in the ministry. He continued to preach for two years, filling vacant pulpits.
“Hall then gave up his ministry, studied medicine, and received the degree of Doctor of Medicine. He had married Abigail Burr in 1752, but she died a year later, without children. Later in 1753, he married Mary Osborn of Fairfield, daughter of Samuel and Hannah Osborn, and they had one son, John, who died without issue in 1791. Hall settled in his native town of Wallingford, and began his practice of medicine.” (The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence)
By 1753 Hall had abandoned the ministry for medicine. About 1754-5, he and a group of fellow adventurers moved their families and possessions and joined the Dorchester Puritan dwellers near the Ashley River in Charleston, South Carolina. He was cordially welcomed, and appears at once to have secured the confidence of the community, a happy move and professionally successful.
“It was also about the time that certain leaders of the Dorchester settlers, worried about land sufficiency for their longer term future there after 50 plus years of growth and development, cast an eye south to the lands in Georgia, the youngest Colony, largely unsettled until James Ogelthorpe arrived in 1733 with 114 settlers in Savannah. There were still problems with the Indians, and the Spanish were a menace in nearby Florida, but the growth potential was exciting and undeveloped land was available. A grant was obtained for 22,400 acres of rich land and swamps in the Midway District of St. John’s Parish, what is now Liberty County. The emigration from Dorchester began in the 1750’s, and there were 350 whites and 1500 Negro slaves in Midway District by 1756. Dr. Hall, following the fortunes of his newly formed friends, accompanied them to the Midway settlement.”(DSDI) He was granted land in Georgia near the Midway Meeting House in St. John’s Parish in 1760. Dr. Hall bought two of the nicest lots and built a summer residence in Sunbury (on the Midway River), as did many members of the Midway congregation.
“In Georgia, more so than in sister colonies, there was great division in sentiment on the political questions within the community. Parliament had awarded great sums of money and other generous bounties in the colony’s recent settlement years, the royal party was active and strong, and the Governor was energetic in upholding the fortunes of his royal master. He was able to delay Georgia representation in the Continental Congress, so there were no Georgia delegates appointed to the1774 session in Philadelphia. This chafed particularly the Puritan citizens of St. John’s Parish, who had moral, social and political ties to the distressed Bostonians. Lyman Hall, as the leader and spokesman for them, attended meetings of the “Friends of Liberty” in Savannah where he soon became good personal friends, and closely allied with Button Gwinnett, a resident of nearby St. Catherine’s Island, in the movement for independence and the need for urgency of representation to the Continental Congress. When the colonial assembly voted for more delays and negotiations with the King and failed to get Georgia moving toward joining the other colonies, Hall and others from St. John’s next sought to contract with a group in South Carolina, whereby they could deal and trade and bypass Savannah’s officialdom control and increase the political pressure on the royalists. This was rejected by the Carolinians, and the people of St. John’s Parish then voted to send Dr. Hall as their independent delegate to the Continental Congress.” (DSDI)
imgresAn active and early leader in the Revolutionary movement,  he was elected to represent St. John’s Parish in the Second Continental Congress in 1775. He participated in debates in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that year but did not vote, as he did not represent the entire colony. A year later, as an official representative of Georgia, Hall signed the Declaration (along with Button Gwinnett and George Walton  of Georgia). He left Philadelphia in February 1777, though he continued to be elected to Congress until 1780.
“He continued in Congress until 1780, when the British troops occupied Savannah and overran Sunbury and Liberty County. On the advice of General Washington, he then took his wife and son and fled the state to Connecticut, not to return until the last British troops had withdrawn from Georgia. For nearly two years he remained absent, and suffered great financial loss from the British confiscation of his home, plantation and slaves. He quietly resumed the practice of medicine in Savannah upon his return in 1782.” (DSDI)

Lyman Hall

After the Revolution (1775-83), Hall resumed his medical practice in Savannah In January 1783 he was elected governor. During his administration he had to deal with a number of difficult issues, including confiscated estates, frontier problems with Loyalists and Indians, and a bankrupt and depleted treasury. One highlight, however, was the role he played in helping to establish the University of Georgia in 1785. That same year he sold his plantation, Hall’s Knoll, and in 1790 he moved to Burke County,  where he purchased Shell Bluff Plantation. He died there on October 19, 1790, at the age of sixty-six. Hall County is named for him.

From The History Junkie, we learn, “Charles Goodrich in his book, Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, said this about Lyman Hall:

Doctor Hall in his person, was tall and well proportioned. In his manners he was easy, and in his deportment dignified and courteous. He was by nature characterized for a warm and enthusiastic disposition, which, however, was under the guidance of a sound discretion. His mind was active and discriminating. Ardent in his own feelings, he possessed the power of exciting others to action; and though in congress he acted not so conspicuous a part as many others, yet his example and his exertions, especially in connection with those of the inhabitants of the circumscribed parish of St. John, powerfully contributed to the final accession of the whole colony of Georgia to the confederacy; thus presenting in array against the mother country the whole number of her American colonies.

 “Lyman Hall”  New Georgia Encyclopedia 
“Lyman Hall” The History Junkie

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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1 Response to Lyman Hall, Signer of the Declaration of Independence and Founder of the University of Georgia

  1. MaryAnn Nagy says:

    Thank you very much for the history lesson!

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