“MY ZEAL FOR THE REAL HAPPINESS OF BOTH GREAT BRITAIN AND THE COLO-NIES”: THE CONFLICTING IMPERIAL CAREER OF SIR JAMES WRIGHT
This dissertation examines the life and complicated career of Sir James Wright (1716-1785), in an effort to better understand the complex struggle for power in colonial Georgia. Specifically, this project will highlight the contest for autonomy between four groups: Britains and Georgians (core-periphery), lowcountry and backcountry residents, whites and Natives, and Rebels and Loyalists.
An English-born grandson of Chief Justice Sir Robert Wright, James Wright was raised in Charleston, South Carolina following his father’s appointment as that colony’s chief justice. The younger Wright attended Gray’s Inn in London and served South Carolina in a variety of capacities, most notably as their attorney general and colonial agent prior to his appointment as governor of Georgia in 1761.
Additionally, he had a voracious appetite for land and became colonial Georgia’s largest landowner, accumulating nearly 26,000 acres, worked by no less than 525 slaves. As governor, Wright guided Georgia through a period of intense and steady economic growth and within a decade of his arrival, no one could still claim Georgia to be a “fledgling province” as it had become intricately engaged in a transatlantic mercantilist economy resembling South Carolina and any number of Britain’s Caribbean colonies.
Moreover, Governor Wright maintained royal authority in Georgia longer and more effectively than any of his counterparts. Although several factors contributed to his success in delaying the seemingly inexorable revolutionary tide, his patience and keen political mind proved the deciding factor. He was the only of Britain’s thirteen colonies to enforce the Stamp Act of 1765. He also managed to stay a step or two ahead of Georgia’s Sons of Liberty until the spring of 1776.
In short, Sir James Wright lived a transatlantic life, taking advantage of every imperial opportunity which presented itself. He earned numerous important government positions and amassed an incredible fortune, totaling over £100,000 sterling. His long imperial career, which delicately balanced dual loyalties to Crown and colony, offers important insights into a number of important historiographic fields.