by Denise Weimer
Who were the Georgia Rangers? From my research, I knew scouts often manned forts along the Colonial Georgia frontier even when militia was not called up during times of active conflict. But only when I began digging into this history for my Scouts of the Georgia Frontier Series did I learn of the Georgia Rangers.
Before the American Revolution, Georgia was one of the thirteen original British colonies under royal governance. It was also the farthest south and most exposed to enemies. In September of 1756, prompted by disturbances with the Creek Indians, a group of men from the backcountry petitioned Governor Reynolds to provide a defense for the frontier. He formed the first Georgia Rangers with six officers (a captain, two lieutenants, a cornet, and two quartermasters) and seventy men. He then requested the Rangers become part of the British military.
The new royal governor, Henry Ellis, had to reduce the number to twenty men so he could afford to pay them himself. Finally, in May of 1759, the First Troop of Rangers joined the British military. The Second Troop was mustered in January of 1760. Both troops were comprised of seventy men and five officers. They were to “shoot on horseback and ride full speed thro’ the woods” and provide a barrier against French, Spanish, Creeks, and Cherokees.
|Type of blockhouse common in GA forts
By that year, the frontier forts of Georgia included Savannah (with Fort Halifax); Fort Augusta; Fort Argyle, nineteen miles from Savannah on the Great Ogeechee River; Fort Barrington on the Altamaha River; Fort William on Cumberland Island; and Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island. By the next year, Fort George at the mouth of the Savannah River was added.
After the Cherokee War, the troops in frontier forts dealt with runaway slaves, suspected spies, deserters, and whites on Indian land. They also joined the militia for ceremonial duties, escorted Indian parties and dignitaries, and imposed quarantines.
1763 marked the end of the French and Indian War and the removal of the Spanish and French from east of the Mississippi, and Georgia also received new lands from the Indians. In 1764, the colonies faced a series of increasingly repressive tax laws levied by Britain, culminating with the Stamp Act in March of 1765. This tax on almost all official and some nonofficial papers sparked a rebellion among the fledgling Sons of Liberty in Savannah. As the city waited to see whether Governor Wright would impose the Stamp Act and install a stamp master, a series of protests and threatening, anonymous letters printed in the newspaper ensued, as depicted in Book Four of my Georgia Scouts.
The governor did not know who to trust among the militia, so he called extra Rangers from the frontier forts to act as guards—and to face down their own countrymen threatening to riot. Captain James Powell of the Second Troop and John Milledge of the First Troop were loyal to him. Fort Argyle served as a base of Ranger operations. From there, Governor Wright disbanded the Georgia Rangers on orders from his English superiors in March of 1767.
In June of 1773, Governor Wright reformed a troop of Rangers under Captain Edward Barnard, with three lieutenants, a quartermaster, a surgeon, three sergeants, a drummer, and sixty-five privates “to keep good order, and for the protection of the Inhabitants of the new ceded Lands above Little River” above Augusta. The officers were also justices of the peace. Each private received two pounds a month and had to “victual” himself and provide a uniform of a blue coat faced with red, a red jacket, blue or buckskin breeches, cloth booths, a rifle, two dragoon pistols, a sword, a powder horn, a shot pouch, and a tomahawk. They constructed Fort James on the Broad and Savannah River.
The Rangers from Fort James took part in quelling a Creek Indian rebellion around Christmas of 1773. As late as March 1775, fifty Georgia Royal Rangers still manned Fort James. Many had married Creek women and had settled into local life, far from the call of the governor and ripe for the rebellion of the War for Independence.
Further reading: Militiamen, Rangers, and Redcoats: The Military in Georgia, 1754-1776 by James M. Johnson
Denise Weimer writes historical and contemporary romance from her home in North Georgia and also serves as a freelance editor and the Acquisitions & Editorial Liaison for Wild Heart Books. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses.
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Now available, A Cherished Betrothal, Book Three of the Scouts of the Georgia Frontier:
Patriot Ranger Alexander Morris vowed revenge on the warrior who killed his brother and father. Elspeth Lawrence, a survivor of the same massacre whose sister was taken captive, teaches Cherokee children at her father’s school. She’s never stopped longing for the boy who saved her, but when their paths are reunited on the eve of revolution in the South Carolina backcountry, more than her Loyalist suitor stands in the way. Alex can’t remember the massacre, or Elspeth, but his hatred for the Cherokees he’s been ordered to court as allies threatens to choke out the seeds of love and healing.