Few of the signers had a rags to riches life. Not so Walton who, In God’s good providence, did not settle into his state as an orphan and carpenter’s apprentice, but through relentless reading as an autodidact, hard physical labor, and a deep thirst for knowledge overcame his early handicaps to play a key role in leading Georgia to independence.
Born in Farmville, Virginia, George was soon orphaned and raised by an aunt and uncle. One account has him gathering wood chips to burn for enough light to read by after work hours. Upon completion of his apprenticeship, he moved on his own to Georgia to read law in the office of a Mr. Young, passing the bar in 1774. Although his wife’s family were firmly in the Tory camp and most of his Savannah neighbors were neutral or antagonistic to the cause of independence, George sought out men who had his convictions for constitutional liberties that he believed were being lost in other colonies.
George Walton signed his name to a newspaper notice calling upon the citizens of Savannah to join him at the Liberty Pole at Tondee’s tavern to discuss how to help the Bostonians. A committee of correspondence was organized with Walton as one of chief leaders. As secretary of the new Provincial Congress, he was selected to join the two fellow Georgians at the Second Continental Congress, taking his seat in time to vote for independence and sign the Declaration. When the Congress fled Philadelphia in expectation of British capture, Walton stayed behind with Robert Clymer and Robert Morris to carry out the executive functions of the Congress. The former apprentice-boy had become one of the most respected members of Congress and entrusted with high responsibility in a dangerous time.
Walton returned to Georgia in 1778 to serve as a militia colonel in the state forces. In the Battle of Savannah, he was shot off his horse and captured by the redcoats. They permitted private treatment of his wound while in captivity, which lasted a year before he was exchanged for a captured naval captain. Only a few of the signers actually fought in the war and George Walton was the only one wounded in battle.
Upon his release from prison, Walton was elected Governor of Georgia, a post he would hold more than once in his life. He served two more years in the Continental Congress before appointment as Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, having served only two years as a lawyer. A man noted for his wisdom, perseverance, and honesty, and who was not afraid to lead men to battle, Walton served a term in the United States Senate and when he died in 1804 was serving as Judge of the Superior Court of Georgia.
Upon his death a contemporary wrote that “Judge Walton was universally beloved by those who knew him intimately. And the carpenter’s apprentice became the most exalted citizen of the Commonwealth in which he resided. Even at this late day the remembrance of his services and exalted character, is fresh in the hearts of the people.”
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