Date of Award

Fall 12-18-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Charles Steffen

Second Advisor

Dr. Wendy Venet

Third Advisor

Dr. Jeff Young

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Jim Piecuch


This dissertation examines the life and conflicted career of Sir James Wright (1716-1785), in an effort to better understand the complex struggle for power in both colonial Georgia and eighteenth-century British Empire. 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. Young James served South Carolina in a number of capacities, public and ecclesiastical, prior to his admittance to London’s Gray’s Inn in London. Most notably, he was selected as their attorney general and colonial agent prior to his appointment as governor of Georgia in 1761.

Wright collected more than public offices in his endless quest for respect and social advancement. He also possessed 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, he guided Georgia through a period of intense and steady economic and territorial growth. By the time of the American Revolution, Georgia had become fully integrated into the greater 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 North American 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 and managed to stay a step or two ahead of Georgia’s Sons of Liberty until the winter of 1775-1776.

In short, Sir James Wright lived a transatlantic life, taking advantage of every imperial opportunity afforded him. He earned numerous important government positions and amassed an incredible fortune, totaling over £100,000 sterling. His long imperial career delicately balanced dual loyalties to Crown and colony and offers important and unique insights into a number of important historiographic fields.