Today’s guest poster is Greg Brooking (PhD, Georgia State University). His dissertation on Sir James Wright, royal governor of Georgia, is entitled, “‘My zeal for the real happiness of both Great Britain and the colonies’: The Conflicting Imperial Career of Sir James Wright.” He is the recipient of two fellowships from the David Library of the American Revolution and authored a chapter in General Nathanael Greene and the American Revolution in the South (University of South Carolina Press, 2012). He currently teaches at Kennesaw State University and Southern New Hampshire University. This is his first guest post for The Junto.
I’ve just begun the arduous task of transforming my recently completed dissertation about colonial and revolutionary Georgia into a work worthy of an academic press. Part of this process, for me at least, has been to re-examine my notecards (actually an enormous Excel spreadsheet), seeking new gems, ideas, and angles. In so doing, I’ve rediscovered a tidbit that I want to further develop during the manuscript process and I humbly submit this post as a solicitation to the blog’s readers, seeking their varied and expert insights. Specifically, this tidbit relates to a caveat in the final will and testament of Sir James Wright (1716-1785), which calls for an annuity for his free “black servant,” Jenny.
This caveat is especially interesting because Wright owned more than 500 slaves and Jenny must have been counted among this number at some point. If this was the case, how was she manumitted? Why? When? Moreover, Wright’s wife died at sea some twenty years prior, and this stipulation, coupled with that fact, immediately brought to mind Thomas and Martha Jefferson and, consequently, Sally Hemings. Were their stories at all similar, or has my imagination led me astray? In order to better understand this vignette, a brief biographical sketch of Wright is required.
Sir James Wright was Georgia’s longest-tenured and final colonial governor, playing a critical role in the colony’s economic, political, and social ascent from a barely sustainable “fledgling province” to one that was, in his own words, “making a very rapid progress towards being an opulent and considerable province.” Wright enjoyed his own “very rapid progress” during his two decades in Georgia, becoming the colony’s largest landholder and wealthiest citizen. In the mid-1780s, the Loyalist Claims Commission accepted his petition valued at £100,260 and awarded him £35,347 plus £1,000 per annum as a pension for his service as governor.
At the outbreak of the American Revolution, the governor owned 526 slaves, dispersed among a dozen rice plantations and the governor’s mansion. He valued these slaves at approximately £53 each, totaling £27,787 in human property. Lamentably, the historical record is virtually silent regarding his personal sentiments concerning slavery. His dear friend James Habersham, however, provides a tantalizing view into his mindset. “You must understand,” Habersham wrote, “that the Governor … [is] desirous if it can be conveniently done, to clothe [his] Negroes a little better than common.”
There is much to untangle in this sentence, but for our purposes, it seems plausible, then, that Wright fit nicely into Eugene Genovese’s mold of the “paternalist planter”—an owner who highly valued “family and status” and adhered to a “strong code of honor.” Such owners, he insisted, could defend their peculiar institution because, unlike wage employers in the North, they could offer their “employees” kindness and intimacy because they were “bound under many sacred obligations to treat [these “family” members] with humanity at all times.” Of course, however, this is merely supposition and may or may not bear on the relationship between James and Jenny.
Governor Wright died at his home on Fludyer Street in southeast London on Sunday, November 20, 1785, and was interred in the North transcept at Westminster Abbey the following week. His death was reported on both sides of the Atlantic, but the most thorough appeared in the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser:
On Sunday last died Sir James Wright, Baronet, late Governor of Georgia, in the 71st year of his age. As he presided in that province for two and twenty years with distinguished ability and integrity, it seems to be a tribute justly due to his merit as a faithful servant of his king and Country. Before the commotions in America, his example of industry and skill in the cultivation and improvement of Georgia was of eminent advantage; and the faithful discharge of his executive and judicial commission was universally acknowledged, by the people over whom he presided, none of his decrees as Chancellor having ever been reversed. Under all the difficulties which attended the latter period of his government, his spirited conduct in defence of that province was singularly manifested. His loss is deeply felt and sincerely lamented by his family and friends, as well, as by his unfortunate fellow-sufferers from America, whose cause he most assiduously laboured to support and solicit; and the success which attended his active exertions in their behalf afforded him real comfort under his languishing state of health for some time before his death.
Wright’s four-page final will and testament was written in a mixed cursive hand using both secretary and italic forms and, although he penned the original, the extant document is the court official’s handwritten copy. Toward the end of this ecclesiastical text, Wright directed his executors to provide an annual stipend of fifteen guineas (roughly £15 sterling) to his “black servant Jenny who is free” for the remainder of her life “in consideration of her faithful services.” Furthermore, he desired that “some of [his executors or family] will employ her as a servant or endeavor to get her a place if she chooses to go.” This gift likely amounted to Jenny’s annual wage as Wright’s housekeeper and likely allowed her the greatest degree of financial independence and flexibility she had ever enjoyed.
What then was the nature of the relationship between Sir James Wright, colonial Georgia’s largest slaveowner, and his free black servant, Jenny? At this point, one can only speculate as to the specifics. Did he free her upon his return to London at the conclusion of the war? Or before? Why did he free her? Why did he attempt to ensure her financial security? Was it a similar situation to that of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings or was it merely Wright’s paternalistic instinct?
 For a full treatment of Wright’s life see, Greg Brooking, “‘My zeal for the real happiness of both Great Britain and the colonies’: The Conflicting Imperial Career of Sir James Wright,” PhD diss., Georgia State University, 2013.
 James Wright to the Board of Trade, 8 June 1768, in The National Archives, Kew, England, Colonial Office Papers 5/650 (hereafter, TNA, CO).
 Robert Mitchell, “The Losses and Compensation of Georgia Loyalists,” The Georgia Historical Society 68.2 (Summer 1984), 239-240. Mitchell has determined that Wright’s claim amounted to 11% of all Georgia claims and his reward accounted for 15% of the total awards dispersed to Georgians.
 James Wright Loyalist Claim. TNA, CO 5/657.
 James Habersham to William Knox, March 9, 1764, in James Habersham Papers, MS 337, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah.
 Eugene Genovese, The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and Society of the Slave South (New York: Pantheon Books, 1965), 28. See also, Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Honor and Violence in the Old South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). Not everyone, however, agreed that paternalism existed during this period. See James Oakes, The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders (New York: Norton, 1998).
 Eugene Genovese, Roll, Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974), 602.
 Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, November 24, 1785.
 Sandy Boling, of the Georgia Genealogical Society, provided the transcription of Sir James Wright’s will.
 James Wright, Final Will and Testament, April 22, 1786, in TNA, Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers, PROB 11/1141/229.
 Clive Emsley, Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker, “London History—Currency, Coinage and the Cost of Living”, Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 21 January 2014).