Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Ruling Force of Time

“I am the second son of Joel Early, who was the youngest of a numerous family of brothers and sisters, children of Jeremiah Early, of Culpepper, now Madison County, Va.,” wrote Eleazer in 1831. “My father emigrated to Georgia in 1791 when I was a lad of twelve years.”

“To my son Eleazer I give nothing. My reasons are habits of extravagance on his part so deep as to leave no ground to hope for reformation, & repeated acts of pointed disrespect to myself.” This from Joel Early, Sr. (1738-1806), who “styled himself as a British lord at Early's Manor, constructed of imported English bricks.” Who mandated his children “dress elegantly for dinner at six,” according to Harbury. “On his fertile acres, Joel Early lived the life of an English gentleman, surrounded by everything which could minister to his ease or contribute to his enjoyment,” observed Knight. Joel, in historic appraisal, appears as “an eccentric old man, full of queer whimsicalities.” He was undoubtedly capricious. And suspect as to judgment on others' extravagance.

Image of 1875 survey, "Scull Shoals: An Extinct Georgia Manufacturing and Farming Community," The Georgia Historical Quarterly 48, no. 1, by E. Merton Coulter (1964), pg. 50.
Joel Early had been a Culpepper delegate to Virginia's 1788 Ratifying Convention. (To James Madison's great displeasure, Early – for years insisting on a Bill of Rights – had voted 'No' on the U.S. Constitution). His 1806 will parceled out forty-three slaves by name. Forced labor had brought wealth from land taken at amorphous Georgia … proximate to autonomous Creek Peoples. “His plantation of 5,000 acres started at the town limit of Greensboro” found the Andersons. From Scull Shoals (right) his domain sprawled across both banks of Oconee River sixteen miles from the seat of Greene County. He bequeathed another four parcels and claims on tens of thousands more acres in what would become Mississippi.

Two daughters and five sons survived Joel and Lucy (Smith) Early, who both died in 1806. The parents had preference for first-born son Peter Early (1773-1815). He'd graduated the College of New Jersey at Princeton; read law with Pennsylvania's Attorney General, and – unable to convince Thomas Jefferson to proffer him as U.S. Attorney General when not yet thirty – was in his third term at the U.S. House of Representatives when his father died.

Eleazer (pronounced "EL ih zur"), born in the first half of 1779, appeared as an Augusta, Georgia merchant at the close of 1799. Joel was to some degree complicit in any extravagance Eleazer manifest at this point. Not yet twenty-one, the son required emancipation in order to contract and hold right to earnings. Tax on an impressive $10,000 worth of “stock in trade” in 1800 indicates to me that our subject had been capitalized.

Competition was plentiful at Georgia's second-most abundant settlement. Notice “carefully selected” consignment of books, in front-page advertising (left), where "the young beginner" sought "liberal encouragement of public favor." Print matter and endorsement became themes in surviving records' portrayal of Eleazer Early.

I don't know whether he declined the full extent of what Joel described as “an English education,” or wasn't offered it, but very public bankruptcy in 1802 might have earned Eleazer his father's “pointed disrespect.”

Eleazer was perhaps unbridled in the manner by which an Early was expected to negotiate relationships. He would grow shrewd over time. Peter in the Year of the Will introduced an Act to close America to foreign slave trade by the end of 1807. (It failed, apparently for lack of loopholes.) Eleazer was more apt to follow the money: when father Joel gave his testament, the errant son had parlayed stock-taking skills to serve Georgia as it's second Comptroller General.

Joel's scion remained bankable. Three men guaranteed good conduct by posting $10,000 bond required for taking office in 1805: William Alexander Melton, Sr. (1761-1836) then a Lieutenant Colonel in Georgia Militia; Abraham Heard (1769-1822), a Planter and family friend co-located with Joel at Greene County; and – from Jackson County, Georgia – Judge Buckner Harris (1761-1814), who had married Eleazer's first cousin Nancy Early (c1768-1841) c1785.1 They all exposed themselves to cash outlay if the Comptroller proved negligent: they'd have to go after Eleazer's assets in order to be made whole.

Fiscal rebound was no doubt a function of Eleazer's 1803 marriage to teen Jane Meriwether Patterson (c1784-c1827). According to family lore, Jane's father had been “killed by the fall of a tree” at Lincoln County, Virginia shortly after her birth. Her mother promptly remarried on that Kentucky frontier. Jane had in April 1803 inherited handsomely from never-married maternal uncle Thomas Meriwether (1752-1803), who brought her from Louisa County, Virginia holdings when settling at Georgia c1794. It may be instructive that Jane had a Deed of Marriage drawn up: her estate would be separate from her spouse, her own to dispose of. Her land and slaves would be “no ways liable or subject to him, or to the payment of his debts.”2

Jane's older sister Susannah Patterson (c1782-c1811) had months earlier become third wife to Daniel Sturges, Jr. (1768-1823), who was by then long into a tenure as Georgia State Surveyor. Jane and 'Susan' co-located at Milledgeville, then the seat of state government. Subsequent to giving birth to Jane Louisa Sturges (c1805-1834) – almost assuredly named for her aunt – Susan died. Jane and Eleazer fostered the child. And gave her the surname Early.

No discernable scandal settled on our subject, or his financial backers, while he doled out receiver's and collector's commissions as Comptroller. With election of David Brydie Mitchell (1766-1837) as Governor, Early left the Comptroller's office in 1809, sliding over to serve as Secretary in his Executive Department. Early worked Georgia's General Assembly for appointment as Secretary of State through two election cycles. Frustrated in political aspiration, he contracted land deals in the interim, generally partnering with other speculators. I anticipate he attended closely to wife Jane's wealth. Impatient with annual settlement at harvest, he guided her to more frequent receipt via commercial investment.

Legislators had narrowly voted Dan Sturges from the Surveyor General's office when calamity befell him in 1810. Unusual for the times, for men of his station, he was jailed for debt. The following year creditors put up for auction at Milledgeville “An original Map of the State of Georgia … painted, and correctly and elegantly executed and nearly ready for the Engraver.” Early bought it. He and Sturges had, in a foursome, defended an 1805 suit for equity in District Court: I leave it to the reader to imagine whether the disowned son acted out of familial affinity for a beleaguered brother-in-law … or whether he intuitively recognized a hot property. Sturges had worked fourteen years to produce credibly detailed, 5' x 3' representation of swamp, enigmatic tribal land and contested state boundaries.3

With flair (right), Early had a District Court Clerk announce it had given copyright to the title of his new acquisition. Intending to once again merchandise print materials, legal language quaintly begins “Be it remembered …” Apropos of his emergent character, the expectant vendor was aware of Federal legislation “... for the encourage­ment of learning, by securing copies of maps, charts and books …” I suspect he anticipated subsidy or governmental collusion in distribution.

The project stalled.

By 1810 the Earlys had adjourned to Augusta. Familiar with accounts and financial ledgers, our civil administrator turned to banking. Responsibilities as Cashier were more akin to modern-day Bank Manager. He apparently bore them well at the Bank of Augusta. In addition to salary, some compensation arrived from commission received as neighbors took on debt.

Eleazer's brother Clementine Early (c1779-1813) had obtained a Master of Arts degree from the College of New Jersey. He was childless when drafting his 1812 will. And named brothers Peter and Jeremiah Early (c1777-1816) as Executors, to assure children of their sister Mary (Early) Watkins (c1775-1839) were educated by his bequests. 'Clement' did not include Eleazer in long-term financial oversight for his heirs.4

Brother Peter was elected Governor of Georgia in 1813. He galvanized military readiness in the War of 1812, personally guaranteeing a $20,000 loan to equip militia. A folksy note from Cashier Eleazer to his brother's Executive Department might be taken as intent to broker Kentucky gunpowder in 1814.

1817 note dated 28 Jan 1817, Bank of the State of Georgia, signed by 'Eleazar' Early (c1779-1840) and former U.S. Sen. William Bellinger Bulloch (1777-1852). Retrieved from Heritage Auctions, 2021.
After some six years at the Bank of Augusta, Jane and Eleazer in 1816 removed to upscale Savannah. The Bank of the State of Georgia took him on as Cashier. (Bank note signed by 'Eleazar' Early, right.) It was a short stint. In less than a year, when the Federal Government's Second Bank of the United States opened a branch at the trading hub and port city, Early was brought in as their Cashier.

Joel Early, Sr.'s will decreed Eleazer's siblings attain age forty-five before taking title to property. Peter had been forty-four when dying in 1817 … while a newly elected State Senator and summering at Scull Shoals. Peter's sons, the oldest age eleven, if that, became candidates for quite considerable wealth. More on that in another post. Peter had discounted his next-youngest surviving brother: he named Joel Early, Jr. (c1791-1851) – a dozen years Eleazer's junior – as the boys' guardian. Declaring no taxable assets, plebian Eleazer paid a modest $3.88 poll tax that year.

Advertisement, 28 April 1814 - The Republican; and Savannah Evening Ledger (Savannah, Ga.), pg. 3, col. 3.
John Melish (1771–1822) represented Scottish interests when trading cotton at Savannah in 1806. He returned to Europe the following year, seeking the prospect of establishing his own consortium. After 61 days at sea and sailing back into Savannah in the summer of 1811, Melish might have crossed paths with Early. Travelogue published in 1812 details arduous, overland journey to Augusta. Imagine our subject, taking notice of Melish advertisements appearing in Georgia papers in 1814: the broker-turned-author had finally found calling as mapmaker.5 Perhaps taking his cue, Eleazer solicited local subscribers to finance production of his own map that year. He reported (above) Sturges' map was in the hands of an eminent Philadelphia engraver and would “certainly be published with the least possible delay.” (Italics in the original.)

In the fall of 1816 Early assembled funds. He sold “a pair of young, well matched, northern horses,” and rented what was likely wife Jane's “large dry cellar, on the Bay, near the Market, and a commodious Room, for a store, both nearly adjoining.” The Analectic Magazine and Naval Chronicle reported Early issued proposals for publishing Sturges' map. A price point of ten dollars was floated.

The project stalled.

“I own unlocated claims to land of kinds & to an amount which I consider of great importance,” declared Joel, Sr. in his 1806 will. “To these I exhort my executors to pay the utmost attention, directing [them] to prefer the lands, if to be had, to any substitutes. – These claims are in part upon the State of Georgia … derived originally under an act of the Legislature of Georgia commonly called the Yazou Law, passed in January, One Thousand and seven hundred & Ninety five …”

“The Yazoo Fraud was one of the most spectacular and significant acts of land speculation in American history,” declared McGrath in brief account. 'Scurrilous' is the most succinct means I have of describing bribery, artifice and legitimization on a national scale. Lamplugh wrote a thesis on the chicanery. Democracy is ill-equipped to deal with this degree of fraud in the superstructure: capitalists' agitation went on for so long it broke a political party, allowed The Doctrine of State Rights to root as grievance … and gave cover to forced displacement of sovereign tribal people.

Joel Early had twice invested. The 9th U.S. Congress figured his estate was entitled to cash settlement on 151,763 acres. I don't know precisely on what merit, but by 1818 Eleazer was awarded $23,209 “in his own right” from the spew of a Federal settlement fund.

It's an astonishing amount: I've seen farm rent at a dollar per acre of arable land in this period. A Planter's life apparently held little allure for Eleazer, personally.

It transpires that our one-time merchant had made himself Proprietor of something valued. Melish, at Philadelphia, was in constant revision of a national map: no one had geographical representation of Georgia superior to Sturges. Melish incorpo­ra­ted the work. And in 1818 also printed the “Map Of The State of Georgia, Prepared from actual Surveys and other Documents for Eleazer Early, by Daniel Sturges.”

“Map of the State of Georgia, Prepared from actual Surveys and other Documents, for Eleazer Early, By Daniel Sturges.” Published & Sold By Eleazer Early, Savannah, Georgia . . . Engraved by Saml. Harrison, 1818.,” Columbus State University Archives and Special Collections, accessed February 21, 2021.
It was noteworthy undertaking. With fifty cloth-backed panels assembled, the final product spanned more than 3.5' x 4.5'. Likely with Sturges' ongoing refinements, the lithograph and bright, hand-painted watercolors (left) offered meticulous and gratifyingly accurate depiction of land initially conveyed by headright.

Demand had pent up. It had been forty years since any Georgia map conveyed such detail. Newberry Library ascribed delay to "uncertainty of Georgia’s boundaries and its claims to western lands, not settled until the end of the Yazoo land controversies … and the series of Georgia-Indian wars that bled into the War of 1812.”

Detail, 1819 Map of the State of Georgia, prepared … for Eleazer Early by Daniel Sturges.
Open-armed cartouche (right) seems almost testament to Early's liberation from formulaic bank documents. Broader aspect would give fuller effect of linear waterways drawing the eye to his name. Inserted was a Statistical Table, declaring each county's population. With innovation a storekeep or townsite booster might employ to stimulate interest, Early's wall map was interactive: it prompted holders to associate with Georgia's growing populace. In cells provided, they were to annotate increase following 1820 census.6

The disowned son had attained substantial class standing by 1819: he paid $23.25 tax on three slaves, a carriage, and buildings on two Savannah lots valued at $7,000. Young Jane Louisa went to a Philadelphia boarding school.

The Darien Bank, “reportedly the strongest bank south of Philadelphia,” according to Scott, organized with $1,000,000 capital in 1819. Eleazer, as inaugural Cashier, was brought on … lending familiarity to its fresh face at McIntosh County, Georgia. It too was short-lived association. Economic expansion following the War of 1812 reversed suddenly in The Panic of 1819. European investors in bonds financing the Louisiana Purchase were due payment in precious metal. In response, Federal monetary policy exposed fault lines in the actual worth of private banknotes that fueled “very speculative ventures, of which there was an abundance available,” wrote Scott, attending to antebellum banking in Georgia. Giving retrospect on dubious bank charters, McGrane found “On … unsafe, fraudulent, and unsubstantial foundations rested many Georgia corporations.”
(See the Addendum for more on the wild world of banking.)

Jane and Eleazer turned to other prospects. They returned to Savannah … where an $82.50 judgment had been levied upon Eleazer. For neglected debt. In favor of Frenchman Pierre Noyeau. Let's call 1819 reappearance 'fiscal foreshadowing.'

On a bayfront lot Jane held, Eleazer Early bucked economic headwind to launch into commercial property development. Plan for a City Hotel wonderfully evokes “habits of extravagance” his father found distasteful. Hampden McIntosh (1776-1825) was disposing of vast tracts inherited in 1806 from his father. According to Cobb, Early borrowed $9,000 from McIntosh.

‘Plan of the City of Savannah, Ga. in 1818, from ‘The Fire-Brand of Discord": The North, the South, and the Savannah Fire of 1820’ by Matthew Mason, The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 92, No. 4 (2008), pg. 445.  Boundary depiction attributed to Charles Snyder, Georgia Historical Society, based on map from Historical Records of City of Savannah, by Frederick David Lee, and J. L. Agnew (1869), pg. 75.
Wealthy Savannahians had, since his 1817 arrival, employed English architect William Jay to draw up neoclassical-style mansions. If Early relied on Jay's talent, his property's squarish exterior did not indicate it. Catastrophic fire engulfed the building site and neighboring blocks in January 1820. (Fire perimeter in orange, City Hotel site in red, left.) Laudably resolute, work by sought-after builders resumed. Yellow Fever broke out in August. At least one in ten residents died before November frost. “The scene of sickness, misery, and ruin was awful, shocking, …” testified a surviving doctor. As if conflagration had not, “The “fevers of 1820” did fearful damage to the growing town of Savannah” wrote Waring.

Major General Andrew Jackson – with no army around him – entered Greene County at the end of May 1820. He guided a sulky from his Tennessee plantation to settle a family matter in which he'd acted as enforcer. Locals hastily organized a public dinner at Greensboro. In the first 'Volunteer Toast' following, men lifted glasses to "The Memory of Peter Early," according to Rice. (The Governor had corresponded with Jackson since at least 1813.) If Eleazer was present, he'd have certainly made himself known to the wildly popular leader.

The Earlys rose further in circumstance. Savannah taxed Eleazer $50 on buildings and three city lots it valued at $25,000. August 1820 census had him "engaged in commerce." He in July had secured the office of Savannah's Postmaster. Our subject sidled up to (clientele and) a Federal income stream by moving postal services to City Hotel when it opened. Out of his $3,000 contract, by which he paid two clerks, the Post Office authorized $600 rent. In all, Early kept about two-thirds of money allocated him annually. Further, he competently convinced his former employer, the Second Bank of the United States, to locate as a tenant.

Jane and Eleazer held eight in slavery, five not yet fourteen years old. Perhaps Eleazer inherited his father's “whimsicalities.” By 1821, for reasons unknown to me, he had manumitted adult Ned Tucker. To be legitimate, the public gesture required legislative assent.

In constituting City Hotel, Eleazer Early's character became tangible.

Lerski found that, in October 1820, Jane transferred ownership of the lot and unfinished structure to her husband. In order to complete the building, Early solicited Jane to mortgage improved city lots to the Bank of Darien. Perhaps he repaid McIntosh, but $20,000 from his nearest relation went into the project.

The four-story property, stripped of its portico, still stands. “It is a structure which literally had its beginnings in terror, flames, and death nearly two hundred years ago,” offered Caskey, in his engaging style. “Nearly every historical account involving 21 West Bay Street also includes murder, dueling, violence, human bondage, or other forms of heartbreak.” Caskey provides ghost tours of what was, at launch, Savannah's premier accommodation.

Talbot enchants with her aesthetics. Apparently Savannahs' first hotel, Early's construct offered a reading room. Let that sink in. Thirty-three bedchambers were served by a dining room; a sitting room featured four “superb mantlepieces and grates.” Bell populates the renowned barroom with “sporting types” and escapades venting into violence. His depiction of curved doors and “rather grand staircase entrapped within the building’s curved walls, graced with delicate mahogany railings and distinctive ornamental motif at the end of each stair tread” bolsters contention that Jay served as architect. 1822 initiative, to project second-story iron bridges outward … one extending an aerial portal to wealth arriving on the river … proclaimed soaring imagination.

Apparently disinterested in day-to-day operations, Early in January 1821 leased City Hotel to Oran Byrd for $1,000 quarterly payment. Surviving accounts indicate the Proprietor was a superior victualer. Even more apparent remains notion that his well-stocked bar was constantly resupplied by arriving boats. He furnished two billiard tables. Byrd's card (above), suitably touting his “Elegant Establishment,” announced “all the Stages start from the door.”

Not content to wait four or five years to reach his break-even point on investment in City Hotel, Early launched into subsequent imaginative ventures.

Banking no doubt prepared our subject for proficiency in complex transactions. In late 1821 he obtained from the South Carolina legislature “exclusive right and privilege of running a line of stages for the conveyance of travellers, from Hamburgh directly down the north side of Savannah river, to some point adjacent to the town of Savannah, in the State of Georgia … provided the said Early and his associates shall not demand for such conveyance [fare] exceeding the sum of ten cents per mile for each passenger and his customary baggage.” I've italicized 'north' to accent ingenuity: overland itinerary into South Carolina shaved twenty-four hours from a Savannah-Augusta route confined within Georgia state lines. Carolina investors, no doubt legislators among them, had that year established New Hamburg, intentionally designed to compete with Augusta across the Savannah River. Early's plan would have been an easy sell to those boosting the extraordinarily well-designed townsite.7

18th-century, Swiss-initiated settlers had long since dissipated, but in February 1822 a post office was introduced at Purrysburg. On the Charleston, South Carolina mail route. I suspect Early induced the decision. He bought a steamboat in 1822. Contrary to hands-off management style at City Hotel, that summer his pilot and captain demonstrated for him the feasibility of getting the Carolina, at low water, to the Purrysburg landing on the South Carolina bank of Savannah River.

“From four to six new, comfortably constructed, four-wheel vehicles, drawn by four horses each, and driven by sober and careful drivers, will set out from Trenton in New-Jersey to Savannah via Augusta in Georgia, on or about the 15th of September …” gave June 1822 notice (right). Without identifying himself outright, Early sought sojourners, and revenue, in conveyance of coaches to bases of operations: those “disposed to engage seats … can do so by applying to the Post-master at Savannah.”

It was a unique pitch. “Route through Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas … will be leisurely taken, so as to consume from four to five or even six weeks …” We can assume intent to visit daughter Jane Louisa and mapmakers at Philadelphia. His father's generation had died off, but a considerable number of Early's cousins, those who hadn't migrated to Kentucky, remained at Virginia. Wife Jane had family there. Colonel David Bullock (1759-1838), a compatriot of Jane's uncle Thomas Meriwether, noted the pair's visit to his Virginia home: they "staid several days."

In addition to all other irons he had in the fire, we must add another dimension to Early's wanderlust. His Baltimore Sun obituary reported “In the year 1822, he made a tour of the United States, advocating the election of Mr. Crawford to the presidency.” Add the nation's capital to the caravan's proposed itinerary. William Harris Crawford (1772-1834), then at Washington City in the District of Columbia, had been another Virginian who'd moved to Georgia in his youth. He remained (a Georgia power-broker and) the nation's 7th Treasurer, a post he'd held since Early administered the Bank of Augusta. The banker had been deferential and particularly attentive to Crawford's policy expectations in correspondence when cashiering at Savannah's branch of the Second Bank of the United States.

Woodcut, ‘Blodget's Hotel, Washington, D.C.’ c1820, housing the U.S. Patent Office and General Headquarters, Post Office Department.
Imagine new coaches, sober drivers and northern horses in cavalcade at Post Office Department Headquarters (right). Or Early's showmanship when soliciting the interestingly named U.S. Postmaster General, Return Jonathan Meigs, Jr. (1764-1823). From his perch as Savannah Postmaster, the former banker embarked upon mail delivery. As with land grants to veterans of revolution; once bestowed, multi-year mail contracts functioned in a ready market. With little governmental action beyond re-registration, the commitments were bought, sold, traded and collateralized. Early would busy himself in all these acts.

Our subject rode away with verbal commitment to a contract to convey mail along the Carolina route. Impressively, he could plan to add $4,500 per annum to ten cents a mile he was permitted to charge overland passengers.

After electioneering for Crawford, the caravan leader reappeared to face rude awakening at Savannah. He faced an absolute raft of legal action. Dates are vague in remaining records; for all I know, suits for debt precipitated departure for Trenton. At some point, U.S. Bank inspectors found almost $4,000 “Due and unpaid after Aug. 30, 1822.” Iron merchants Blackwell & McFarlane of New York probably sought payment on aerial bridges from City Hotel, they and the New York Sugar Refinery Company brought actions. A John Barnett named Early first, among a trio of estate administrators. Early, solely administering another estate, was defendant in suit for debt brought by Joseph Rotch.

Oddly, the burgeoning impresario remained a sound investment: speculating Savannahians stood his bond in October. Vouchsafing $6,000 in annual mail contracts returning initial quarterly payment 1 January 1823.

Advertisement, 13 December 1822 - Savannah Daily Republican (Savannah, Ga.), front page, top of right column.
Recall Joel Early, Sr.'s admonition about his son's deep extravagance. With bold vision, Eleazer contrived steamboat-to-coach conveyance. “The new line in Carolina is gotten up on a different principle,” he announced in late December (left). “Passengers are taken from Bolton's wharf adjoining [Savannah's Cotton] Exchange at 12 o'clock every day, on board the steam boat Carolina, and are landed at Purysburg (dining in the boat) … they are then placed immediately in a commodious Post Chaise, and taken (by rapid drivers, in the hands of sober, experienced Coachmen, and able and gentle horse, the way being lighted with a large lamp or lanthorn on the top of the carriage) through to Hamburg and Augusta, so as to arrive at those places by, from 9 to 10 o'clock the following morning; changing horses on the way … supping at Matthew's Bluff (the half way house) and breakfasting, on change of Calvary horses, short of Augusta.” (Parenthetic clauses in the original.) A Stage Office was of course “established at the City Hotel in Savannah.”

It's challenging to grasp the initiative's complexity. The enterprise required obligation by a myriad of entities. Hostlers, drivers, innkeepers, operatives at Augusta and perhaps Hamburg. Not to mention whatever is required to keep a steamboat in operation. Early took on South Carolinian Daniel James McKenzie, Sr. (1797-1872). Later a known Wheelwright, McKenzie was likely responsible for harness and carriage upkeep. He'd have required a workshop and tools.

Alarmingly – on the very same page of the December, 1822 Republican article in which Early and McKenzie trumpeted the steamboat-and-stage line – Hotelier Byrd announced “he had been induced to retire back to Charleston, on account of the unwillingness his family manifests at leaving that place for this.” In October, the mortgage-holder on Byrd's “negro woman named Daphey” had foreclosed. Early's leasee no doubt defaulted. The City Hotel owner put his nearly two-year-old property in the hands of John Miller, “late of Planter's Hotel, Augusta.”

Sorely in need of capital, Early plunged ahead. It seemed to be a race against time. Or abject positivism while clouds of crimination glowered.

The U.S. Bank extended Early's loan … to January 1823. He made no payment. The Savannah Court of Common Pleas and Oyer and Terminer (left) ordered Daphney, William and Sarah to the auction block in February. City Hotel furnishings, Oran Byrd's four-wheel carriage and harness, his wagon and two well-broke horses, and his elegant saddle horse, were also sold to satisfy “house rent” due Eleazer Early … who was ordered to share restitution with grocer J. B. Herbert.

The Earlys had sufficient means in February to purchase the contract to carry mail between Savannah and Augusta on the Georgia route. Consigning $1000 profit to the seller, he shrewdly eliminated competition in upland delivery on both Savannah River flanks. May fore­closure, on mortgage of “the negro lad named Augustus … well known in Savannah by many who frequented the Hotel,” went to further satisfy Byrd's debt to Early. Dislocated slaves bore the most intimate brunt of Early's misplaced reliance on Byrd.8

“Post Coaches were introduced in South Carolina and Georgia by Eleazer Early” recalled Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (1790-1870) in delightful memoir. After May 1823 front-page notice (right), inaugural clientele suggests fanfare at promulgation of the innovative Carolina route. “We know that the first passengers in one of them were General Thomas Glascock, Major Freeman Walker and Col. Christian Breithaupt, of South Carolina,” wrote 'Gus,' as the Early family knew him. Debut patrons had logical reasons for travel, but this cohort certainly brought élan to an enterprise seeking fares. Brigadier General Thomas Glascock, Jr. (1790-1841), then an Augusta lawyer with a seat in Georgia's lower house, had obtained his rank serving Jackson in the First Seminole War, 1817. Former U.S. Senator Freeman Walker (1780-1827) sought to regain Augusta's Mayoralty and certainly welcomed publicity. The very well-connected and innovative Breithaupt (1781-1835) may have yet kept the post office at his Mount Vintage Plantation, fifteen miles beyond nascent Hamburg. Longstreet – himself a passenger – had represented Greene County in the state legislature and just been made a District Court Judge. These men inhabited Early's milieu, perhaps succumbed to his inducement.9

It's evident our subject did inherit from his father … who had campaigned rancorously in Virginia for James Monroe over James Madison in the nation's first election for congressional representation. (Joel backed the wrong horse.) Eleazer, while back at Washington City on 9 February 1824, sought out Monroe, then U.S. President. Coddling power, Early recalled how his father “attempted to sustain” Monroe “about 35 winters past.” Though excommunicated, Early remained heir to family lore: “My father continued to relate the circumstances of that eventual struggle,” of “giving you the [1789 Culpeper] vote …” When Early was about ten years old. Joel Sr.'s retelling resonated with “family and friends, often after his removal to Georgia.” In three pages Early proposed himself for U.S. Minister to Mexico. I found no reply in Monroe's papers.10

Scandal broke in the Savannah Daily Republican a week later. "Sir, I think perhaps you never saw as hard electioneering as was here for Governor …” wrote Georgia Senator Stephen Swain, Jr. (c1771-1852) from Emanuel County. Crawford's man, George McIntosh Troup (1780-1856) was in 1823 elected to his first term as Georgia Governor. In undated communique made public, concerning a Roger McKinney, Swain divulged to a 'Colonel Blackman' of Screven County, “… there is very little doubt with a great number of us but what he got well paid for his vote by Eleazer Early [who] drew one thousand dollars from the bank while here. I hardly think he wanted all that to bear his expenses to Savannah, but be it as it may."11 McKinney stood accused of selling his gubernatorial vote while in the Georgia House. From his newly acquired Georgia Senate seat, McKinney emphatically denied "Mr. EARLY BRIBED ME TO VOTE FOR COL. TROUP!" Daily Republican editors may have countered the notion when employing capital letters.

Early contended it was Democratic-Republican Party member John McLean (1785-1861) who broke him. Monroe proposed McLean as U.S. Postmaster General: he superseded Meigs 9 December 1823. Early's 1836 account contended he on that date – while keeping the Federal contract – conveyed day-to-day operations (steamboat excepted) to a Joseph J. Thompson. Who was to pay for coaches, livestock, etc. over time. Early had not foreseen regulatory change would make Purrysburg a node in the Charleston-Savannah mail route, obligating him to get Charleston mail one last leg into Savannah. With frequency he'd not contracted for. Describing “multiple occasions” of Carolina riders spurring away with the steamboat in sight, Early asserted Thompson and Charleston-Purrysburg contractors subverted operations. (Each missed mailbag brought $50 fine; mail delay at Savannah eventually brought umbrage and, convenient for McLean, report to Congress.) On 31 December 1824, with Thompson in situ, McLean judged Early's contracts forfeit. Then, meeting all conditions Early had sought, awarded revised contracts to Thompson and the South Carolina party.

But there was the matter of $7,736.64 declared to be in arrears and unpaid by the Office of Postmaster at Savannah. With annual mailbox rent bringing in $400, it's impressive indictment. John Scudder took over 1 October 1824. He was promptly accused of purchasing Early's resignation. By Scudder's admission, the parties agreed he would pay City Hotel rent “greatly disproportional to its estimated value.” I assume he intended to cool public fervor with idea that Early benevolently wished these savings would defray Scudder's operational costs. "There was not a scratch of a pen between them on the subject,” Scudder admitted. He asked readers to consider “sagacity which is is usually attributed” to Mr. Early … introducing doubt that such a prudent financier would enter into underhanded and unenforceable covenant. (Perhaps written arrangement with architect William Jay was consumed by fire. Surviving mortgage and mail-handling contracts indeed reflect dense and exacting language apparent since Early's stint as Comptroller General.)

“Mr. Early is not in Savannah; nor can I say where he is …” Scudder wrote the Postmaster General in November. McClean, in the midst of reorganization intended to elevate his office into the President’s cabinet, gave surprisingly close attention to Savannah affairs. At times writing every other day. “No person here knows what has become of him,” Scudder relayed a week later. In continuing correspondence where the pair felt their way through actual mail-handling costs, and Scudder prompted McLean for concurrence that “it will be proper for me to charge the department in my contingent account.”

Early would testify he “had been from home the whole of [1824].” In “the far west,” which, for our Georgian, included Ohio and Indiana. I doubt he was sightseeing. "Between the years 1824 and 1829, he advocated Gen. Jackson,” said the Sun. Crawford remained a candidate, but had suffered a stroke in 1823. McClean's animosity may have been founded on political insecurity. Several times in later life Early lamented “Mr. Crawford’s failure, thru’ the state of his health, to come to the Presidency as, in that case, the place of Post Master Genl. would have been offered to me.”

Georgia District Court levied Early's assets by 1824. And those who'd been Postmaster Early's sureties. Savannahians Sheldon Clark Dunning (1776-1858), a founding Director of the Savannah Steamship Company, and merchant Francis Harvey Welman (1780-1861) were thus imperiled. The Bank of the United States instituted nearly simultaneous legal action against Early and Guarantors Dunning, Wellman and import broker Samuel Nicholas.

‘View of Savannah, 1837,’ by Joseph Louis Firmin Cerveau (1806-1896); City Hotel, in white at front, right, opened in 1821 by Eleazer Early (1744-1850). Retrieved from the Georgia Historical Society.
“All the Household and Kitchen Furniture, contained in the City Hotel … [as] property of Orran Bird” was sold to satisfy debt to Early in June 1824. One wonders what fixtures Miller employed at the premier establishment. (White structure, lower right.)

Savannah assessed $94 due from Early in 1824: tax on four slaves, three improved lots, and buildings valued at $21,000. Amidst “heartbreak” Caskey associated with City Hotel, we might observe “Sally and her three children, Mary, David and Eliza; and Delia and her three children, Lucinder, Maria and Anthony … as property of Eleazar Early.” They were auctioned – individually, like as not – in October. To satisfy the Bank of the United States.

Cryptic note left in probate records by Greene County historian Thaddeus Brockett Rice (1865–1950) contended Eleazer offered there on 1 Nov 1824 to administer his brother Peter's estate. Peter had been dead since 1817: I leave it to the reader to discern whether our subject (was consistently "from home" and) had altruistic concern for profligate nephews who yet remained minors.

On 31 December 1824 a quantity of Scudder's kitchen furniture was ordered sold, to satisfy enforceable debt to Early. Under new management, Savannah Post Office exited City Hotel sometime in 1825.

Crawford had prevailed in four states in November 1824 elections: Jackson won a plurality of both the popular vote and Electoral College. The U.S. House of Representatives on 9 February 1825 elected John Quincy Adams as U.S. President on the first ballot. A triumph for the National Republican Party, but certainly not for our vote-getter.

One might assume Early was present at 19 March 1825 arrival of Marquis de Lafayette at Savannah. Bell described City Hotel entertaining dignitaries at the Cotton Exchange, “with dinners prepared at the hotel and delivered down the block and across the street to the spacious ball room.” Brunk Auctions, preparing to sell one of Early's 1818 Georgia maps in 2010, alleged “It is said to have been the map that guided the Marquis De Lafayette on his 1825 tour of the state.”12 André-Nicolas Levasseur (1795-1878), who was in the cortège, avowed Governor Troup's aides-de-camp “with a skillful foresight, had previously arranged every thing, so that the general should experience the inconveniences inevitably to be encountered, as little as possible, in a journey across a country without roads, towns, and almost without inhabitants …” Arduous travel through the Creek Nation for Alabama almost shattered their carriage, but – long dispatched by their escort – the French writer did not relay being lost in roadless forest or when crossing trackless open ground.13

On 1 April 1825 the Bank of Darien foreclosed. They took title to City Hotel.

Enclosing envlope, 1825 will by Jane Meriwether (Patterson) Early (c1780-c1829).
More heartbreak. Jane Early wrote her will in November. (Covering envelope, left.) It's from this document we learn of prenuptial agreement. She referred to “my present husband, Eleazer Early.” And bequeathed her entire estate, what remained of inheritance from her uncle, to “beloved niece” Jane Louisa.

Having been taxed on a single slave at Savannah in 1827, Jane died not long afterward. I found no grave marker for her. When Jane's estate entered probate in 1829, the widower, again dispossessed by a family member, was described as being at Brunswick, in Glynn County, Georgia. Virginian Bullock later and innocently enough allowed "Mr. Early has been at my house since the death of his wife, and spoke of his said adopted daughter and his wish to befriend her in obtaining what she was entitled to from the estate of the said Thomas Meriwether.”

Eleazer had perhaps been amidst Marshes of Glynn at the coast since the summer of 1827. In July that year he'd served Brunswick Canal Company stockholders as Secretary. A newly constituted Board of Commissioners wrested control from Proprietor William Brunswick Davis (1787-1862). “In December, 1826, a group of promoters, already controlling the tract on the harbor eligible for wharves and the town, secured incorporation as a canal company, empowered to connect Brunswick with the Altamaha River,” Phillips observed, of the venture's beginnings. Brunswick's natural, deep-water port lacked access to goods descending a major inland waterway. Early might have particularly appreciated speculators' plans to draw trade from Savannah and Darien.

Phillips in 1908 cited 1827 edition of A Gazetteer of the State of Georgia when declaiming “Brunswick was at that time not a town but an aspir­ation.” (Plat, right, mimics Savannah’s City Plan.) His source for depicting Georgian navigation was compiled by Reverend Thomas Adiel Sherwood (1791-1879) … who had in 1821 married (and since survived) the widow of Eleazer Early's brother Peter.

Davis' response to ouster from the Brunswick Canal scheme predominates in source documents I was able to retrieve. We know our subject was not a killer by the fact that he did not murder this man. Early was less troubled by “acts of pointed disrespect” than his father.

Thwarted Davis did not call out wearied investors who'd “clandestinely” sold their stake, or the new Board President: he savaged the “notorious character and principles of Eleazer Early, intermeddling secretary.” Davis paid newspapers to carry a series of essays, continuing through 1828. “Dressing up vice and palming it off for virtue … he has effected a schism, to the destruction of the fair and honorable prospects of success” came tirade directed at Early. Delicious parody of the "Sole Proprietor of Brunswick, &c.” appeared in the 2 April 1831 Macon Telegraph.14 Though Davis had bought out the capitalist interlopers: he fired back immediately. In third-person form, he maintained “... the hope of gain became so strong and the prospect so specious, when the Brunswick bubble was revived by Mr. Davis' dark talisman, that several men of wealth, and among them Colonel Jones, invested, through the agency of Mr. Eleazer Early, money to a considerable amount in the purchase of lots in Brunswick.”

Defendants, likely the bondsmen, appealed 'Postmaster General v. Early' (on jurisdictional grounds) to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1827. Where they lost in opinion written by Chief Justice John Marshall.15

Andrew Jackson took office as U.S. President in March 1829.

“Early has left Chatham County,” proclaimed the Savannah Republican, customarily reproducing county court notice in June. The Marine & Fire Insurance Bank of the State of Georgia may have bought Early's debt to a foundering Bank of Darien. Plaintiffs obtained summons. Ignobly, “It is further ordered that this [order] be published once a month in one of the Public Gazettes of Savannah until the expiration thereof.” Scandalous notice was still running in December. Having exited Savannah five years earlier, Samuel Nicholas – Early's erstwhile surety – could not be summonsed either: he was dropped from contested U.S. Bank action, simultaneously wending through District Court.

“Of all the situations I have seen in a Southern Latitude, there is none to compare … with the fine Sea Coast Situation I am enjoying,” Early, the one-time aspirant to Mexican officialdom, confided from Brunswick 8 June 1829. To William Grant Gilbert (1770-1831), likely at his Savannah home. “The sweet orange is our common shade tree; and there is Fish in all their varieties in the Bay throughout the year, costing the smallest trouble imaginable to catch them in incredible numbers.”

The men shared a heritage. Gilbert’s father Felix, a frugal merchant, “amassed a sizeable fortune,” according to Willingham. Upon Felix' 1801 death, as Early tried his luck and father's patience as Augusta shopkeeper and consigner, Gilbert brothers partnered. (See right.) Siblings had further enriched themselves by speculation and raising the market town of Washington at Wilkes County, Georgia.

Early portrayed himself as a man at liberty. He had been to Savannah and Charleston. And intended return to Washington City on the 4th of July “to see Mr. Crawford” who had failed to round up sufficient Democratic support for election as U.S. Vice President.

Early devoted the majority of lengthy and well-organized communication with his “Most Respected Friend” to seeking an ally in courtship. “I have now entered the third year of my widowered state: The pangs of bitter grief have given way over ruling force of time; my mind is again balanced by resignation, and supported by fortitude – and, thus it is that, that high purpose which is enthroned in the laws of our Existence, points my destiny to another matrimonial union.” He was quite pointed, in pursuit of widowed heiress Margaret (Long) Telfair (1789-1859) “… altho’ personally I know her not.” In six paragraphs he required detailed “intelligence” on his intended’s manner, habits (including precise inquiry into propensity for reading), beliefs, health, “figure and stature” and even her age. In the sixth question set he asked, “Does she rise late or early; if late, I shall desire to understand whether she would consent to rise Early.”

I sensed resolve stiffening, after an uneasy Early dismissed imputation of a Gentleman's character in rejection by a well-born woman. “I am now full 50 years of age … altho’ I have been the victim of adversity to an extent which have had few parallel cases, I am still blessed with a sound and vigorous constitution and have come out of the fiery trial with my morale and principles of rectitude uncontam­inated.” The former Comptroller General had lost some adherence to fiscal exactitude: “It is true that I am very poor, poor I say when compared with those days of prosperity when you were on my Bond for one hundred thousand Dollars, and I in possession of Millions. Those were the days when I was rich in money and friends! But I yet live like a Gentleman and, by the blessings of my principles and my Education, I intend to die one.”

The writer introduced tender imperative. “I am in possession of moderate means, such as answer to satisfy all moderate and rational wants. I take care to regulate mine by this Standard: [that] this course of life leaves me something to dispense to the Comfort of my Daughter … who is pledged to live again with me when I supply the place of her Dear Departed foster mother (if I ever do) with another who fills as well the character of a Lady, and will be as kind to her, My Jane the younger!”

Early decided against signing his overture. Fascinating to me, he slipped into third person rhetoric: “The writer thought he had closed his letter, but after a little pause inclines to write on.” He revisited his intended, presuming that “united to her accomplishments, there is also an extensive Estate attached.” He pled for Gilbert to convey to Telfair “the disinterested character of the writer.” And dispel "misinterpreted motives" he could unveil when adapting this writing style.

“You know that your friend sprang from a proud, high-minded Father who was always rich; and that altho’ he was disinherited by him, with the denunciation in his will that his son’s acts of disobedience were beyond forgiveness, and his habits of prodigal extravagance forbid the belief that he would ever be restored to sound reflection, such as should cause him to take care of property and Money – Yet afterwards, and for a course of twelve or fifteen years, this same Son of this Father did arrive, by a Settled State of prudent conduct, to that high condition; in the possession of Money, reputation and friends; as to become a kind of model for others to imitate, for he was rich in every thing which could render this life desirable.” It feels offensive to interject on such personal revealment, but Early's fifteen-year course of "prudent conduct" described a period between 1803 marriage, c1817 Yazoo settlement when truly "high condition" returned, and crushing debt he acquired 1820-1821. For most of that span, Early can be imagined a wage-earning, able co-custodian of wife Jane's estate. (With Sharon Plantation being one of at least three holdings, Telfair's wealth was an order of magnitude greater than Jane's had ever been.)

Commitment to Crawford proved injurious. “At this pinnacle of pre-eminence in the possession of reputation, happiness & money, a President of the U. States came on to be elected; then it was that this same disinherited Son forsook his own affairs and journied the Union over to aid in the Election. It resulted adverse to the Georgia Candidate, & this great political Campaign hastened the ruin of him who writes you. His undertakings at this period required all his attention, and he gave them none, altho’ he had $30,000 at the mercy of several agents: Out of all this he was cheated and became reduced to insolvency; so that at the age of 45 he seemed to verify his Father’s prediction that his Son would never take care of money.”

Age forty-five was laden with poignancy for Eleazer. Had he not been cut out, terms in his father's will would have conveyed complete financial independence at that birthday. I am tempted to set drastic financial parlay of 1823 in this light. The Son was perhaps inwardly compelled to materialize grand self-achievement the following year, when crossing the threshold on his own merits.

Early had remarkable knack for allowing counterparts to discover their interests accorded with his vision. Near conclusion he allowed “If the lady should consent, her property will be subjected to such a disposition as her inclination, aided by the judgment her friends may point out.” Gilbert, included presumably. “It is the Lady herself that I want, and not her property.”

The disinherited son plucked dynastic heartstrings. He foretold, if “pious intention” met success, he would then be able to visit “the Grave of him who was my greatly venerated Preceptor.” Whom I assume to be Gilbert’s merchant father.16

(Detail) “Map of the State of Georgia, Prepared from actual Surveys and other Documents, for Eleazer Early,” (1818).
Returning to his trade, Early improved Lot 44 at Brunswick. There was talk at Augusta that summer of making Brunswick “a great Commercial Emporium.” It is evident our subject had circled back to mercantilism, or perhaps innkeeping: his “dry goods, groceries, hardware and cutlery” were auctioned there in May 1830. Relentless, the U.S. Bank in October also obtained order that Early's “convenient” dwelling house and outbuildings go to Sheriff's Sale. With a hundred acres of “prime Hammock land.” (Dense, hardwood forest contriving a low island in the marsh.)

At execution of the sale, Early was no longer in Georgia.

Undated one-dollar note, Bank of West Florida.
“Eleazer Early, formerly of this City, has been appointed Cashier of the Bank of West Florida,” trumpeted the Constitutionalist from Augusta at the end of August 1830. “Bills of that Bank have been for some time in circulation, and the Savannah Georgian gives notice that its Editors have seen several of them.” (See above.) “For our own part, we see few Bills of any description, except those which are presented to us, and should have no objection to the enjoyment of the “beatific vision” of Florida Bank Bills countersigned by our old acquaintance.”

1830 census enumerates Early living alone at Jackson County, Florida Territory. Jane the Younger was taxed on five slaves at Savannah. As "Jane Louisa Early" she married well on 5 May 1832 at Richmond County, Georgia: New Yorker George Sydney Hawkins (1808-1878) was a Columbia Law School graduate with ambition. In what must have been a balm for Eleazer, the Hawkinses were at Apalachicola, on the panhandle coast of the U.S. Territory of Florida, by 1833.

The Bank of West Florida was in 1829 only the second house of finance to receive charter in the province. It's office was situated at Marianna, Jackson's County Seat. (Notice Andrew Jackson on the above banknote.) A hundred miles due north of Apalachicola. “I am now (after a residence of twenty-five years in Georgia) resident in West Florida," Early disclosed from New York. "I came through by stages from Augusta, Ga., to Philadelphia in August, to procure the necessary apparatus for a bank.” No doubt leaving "beatific" currency in his wake.

Early had for a dozen years kept relationship with Philadelphia horologist Thomas Voigt (1787-1844): he had procured scales and weights from the instrument maker when outfitting U.S. Bank at Savannah. “I leave this place tomorrow for Philadelphia, where this apparatus is promised me on the twelfth instant. I shall then immediately proceed to Washington, where I have business that will detain me about three days,” he loftily informed first cousin Reverend John Early (1786-1873). While trying to arrange introductory audience with the well-connected Methodist cleric and aspiring book agent.17

Correspondence between these grandsons of Jeremiah Early (c1705-1787) exemplifies our subject's enduring character traits. Not always forced by circumstance, Eleazer – like a circuit-riding Methodist parson – accommodated itinerant lifestyle. As his father may have alluded to, Eleazer also demonstrated tendency to work family connections for his own advantage.

John Early, originally of Bedford, Virginia, presents a complex personality. With more than a dozen siblings, he hadn't inherited substantially from parents Joshua (1738-1812) and Mary (Leftwich) Early (1746-1818). He broke from their Baptist practice, and was very publicly granted permission to preach when the entire Virginia Conference of Methodists convened in 1806. John (left) had climbed steadily into church politics. From 1815 (and from 1822 perpetually) he had been Secretary to that Conference. In early 1833, when Eleazer again solicited him – this time from the Florida Territorial Capital at Pensacola – the Parson was actively courting clergy for appointment as Bishop. Biographers claim the churchman repeatedly refused political appointment, even nomination to U.S. Congress. Perhaps that disinclination had already begun. Likely it had origins in proposition Eleazer had for him.

The cousins did share common ground. Eleazer mistakenly attributed bank presidency to his counterpart. In addition to organizing a school for the poor, John Early had dabbled in a turnpike venture and led intermediate attempts to establish Lynchburg Water Works. With the project under more effective leadership he secured $2,000 from the City. Selling 'Black's Lot,' a parcel that had been used for circuses and hot air balloon launches. With civic pomp, the tract became the town's new reservoir.

In a small tranche of surviving letters, it seems John and Elizabeth Brown (Rives) Early (1790-1857) avoided contact. In a March 1833 letter, written from Lynchburg upon discovery that his cousin was not at home, Eleazer attempted to inveigle his emotionally distant relation in a scheme to court a new dame: his “Lady of Greensville.”18 Inducement involved a lot of name-dropping. In contrast with beachcomber theme he'd directed at Gilbert, the writer parlayed nomenclature likely to resonate with a man of the cloth. He referenced “divine Providence,” “good fate” and striving “to live out a life of more usefulness” in self-report. Haste was imperative. “I now look upon myself pledged to go speedily and offer my poor self for the refusal or the acceptance of this Lady.” The suitor required letters of introduction to those circumjacent and in her tobacco-planter class. “I must ask you to be prompt in sending them,” he tasked a relative stranger.

Importantly, Eleazer introduced a conspiratorial tenor: “If you write such letters, I leave it to your own good judgment, whether you will omit therein to hint any thing about the object of my visit there.” Perhaps Early's agenda among elites went beyond courtship. “My own mere opinion is that it would be best to omit …”

Writing from Boydton, Virginia 6 June 1833, Eleazer opened with “It would seem as tho' it were destined that we should not meet in this life, I have been thrice in your place intending to see you each time, but you were always from home.” He intimated failure to win his Lady's affections was due to lack of reply. And divulged “I have disposed of my half of a heavy mail contract in Florida & brought it to a close very lately at Washington with the Post Office Dept. By this disposition I receive $500 per quarter for six quarters which gives me $3,000 for retiring therefrom, and I have effected this measure most happily for my comfort, leisure & contentment of mind.” He presented himself as a devout gentleman of leisure, casting about for noble undertaking to keep himself dutifully occupied.

Early asked that this missive be held by Boydton's Postmaster “until called for.” Reverend John was likely to be at Boydton: he had in 1830 been instrumental in founding Methodist's Randolph-Macon College there. He gave up the pulpit in 1833 to serve as the school's agent.

Eleazer Early set the bait. He concluded “I will probably go North again this Summer. Should this take place, and your influence could be thrown into a certain scale in politics … I think it not extravagant to assert that a good many thousands can be collected for your Colledge. Think of this till we meet.”

My mind wanders to Davis' 1827 reprimand, about Early “dressing up vice and palming it off for virtue.”

Eleazer was off to the University of North Carolina, where he affiliated himself as a 'Transient Member' of the Dialectic Society. Given his refined language, it seems a good fit: the student body honed oratorical skills. They also acquired books and had accumulated an extensive library. I'm unsure of our subject's role. The Sun obit contended Early “spent the better portion of a long life in the capacity of a political lecturer and writer.” I suspect, under the Society's auspices, Early – with no fixed abode – booked speaking engagements as he roamed in search of more lucrative opportunity. While speechmaking for Jackson Democracy.

Less than two weeks later Eleazer was back at Boydton, having not heard from John. “If you will unite with me in a political move, I can, I fancy, put $5,000 into the Randolph Macon Colledge fund,” he confided.

The cousins had been in face-to-face conversation by mid-July. The “exact political move” was to "discomfit Mr. Van Buren's enemies in Va. and result in giving him the vote not only of Va. but of N. C. also. The interest of Randolph Macon Colledge has been selected as the vehicle of this operation, and you my Cousin John as the only individual who can make this chord respond in sympathy to this effectual end.” Notoriously, Eleazer disclosed an expected result: "... bringing me in as the Post Master Genl. with Mr. Van Buren, whereby I shall wield a patronage of the most extensive of any department of the government.” The stakes grew exorbitant: for his cousin to add New York to his busy and high-profile itinerary – and there play his part – Early thought parties would put Trustees "in immediate possession of a sum certainly not below ten, but most probably twenty-five thousand dollars.”

Repeatedly insinuating himself in Elizabeth Early's household when unable to track his quarry to his lair, Eleazer directed dynastic theme to the generation Lynchburg Earlys venerated most highly. To ameliorate crass intrigue, he commended the family make "a short & most pleasant trip to the North … matching off some several Girls most eligibly."

Eleazer had not closed the deal. He modulated his style, to align with his cousin's life choices: “Answer me as you may have been touched by the spirit of God,” he cajoled. Swain's correspondence may have yet resonated in the writer: "If however at last you are immovable in determining to take no part or lot in this matter … and in any case, you will take good care of this letter, if you do not destroy it promptly.” Thank goodness the officious cleric chose the former, but the admonishment tainted the proffer as consciously clandestine.

Failed Presidential aspirant William Crawford expired September 1834. More devastating, Early's adopted daughter Jane Louisa died at Florida a month later. She was likely not yet thirty, and I do not think any children survived her. Widower Early must have sensed "good fate" evaporating. Final quarterly payment for Florida postal contract fast approached.

It seems Reverend John capitulated to more than a year of persistent harrying when Eleazer mourned significant loss. In rank act that October, Eleazer sent John the cover letter U.S. Senator William Cabell Rives (1793-1868) had written … but not letters of introduction Rives had prepared for his fellow Virginian. To President Jackson, Vice-President Van Buren, the Secretary of the Navy and three members of Congress from the North “... which letters I shall take care of for you, and [have] ready at Washington,” wrote Eleazer … expecting to circulate at the capitol and personally deliver Cousin John to Democrats.

Before taking leave of church leader John Early, I refer back to Childs: “College records show that in 1837 [when Van Buren succeeded to the U.S. Presidency] the Reverend John Early reported eighty-seven subscribers of two hundred dollars each or a total of $17,400 for the endowment of a professorship.”

Almost immediately, by December 1834, Eleazer Early secured ($1,500 salary and) appointment as a Clerk, in the Office of the Clerk for the U.S. House of Representa­tives. Two years after running water was introduced to the slave-tended Capitol. I'm reminded of Early's 1810 map announcement, encouraging learning “by securing copies of maps, charts and books.” One of his first acts on new letterhead was to exercise the legislation and bestow Randolph-Macon College with eight, substantial volumes; a "full and complete copy of American state papers." At public expense.

John Forsyth (1780-1841), as a young attorney just setting out at Augusta, had stood surety in Early's 1803 marriage bond. It should be noted that Forsyth left the U.S. Senate in 1834 to serve as Jackson's Secretary of State.

Otis related that Henry Clay of Kentucky introduced a Senate resolution in 1835, authorizing Jackson to appoint a commissioner to “visit the different routes on the Continent of America best adapted for inter oceanic communication, and to report thereon with reference to their value to the commercial interests of the United States.” Capitalists sought a rail or water route across the Isthmus of Panama. The resolution prevailed and, according to Belohlavek, "Jackson selected for this difficult mission Charles Biddle … a former Philadelphia merchant who had failed in 1826.” (Italics mine.) Biddle "had shown political judgment in working for Jackson's election.” (It is time to interject that Jackson manifest long and intense animus toward Crawford; Early's judgment, exchange of overt allegiance, might not have been complete. It certainly faced skepticism in the Jackson camp until Crawford exited the scene.)

Detail, ‘Mapa de las Costas de Tierra-Firme,’ hand-colored lithograph, Physical and Political Atlas of the Republic of Venezuela by Agostino Codazzi (1840).
Forsyth attended to Early's diplomatic aspiration. As part of Biddle's mission, he tasked his fellow Georgian to convey State Department dispatches to the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires at Bogotá. At the Republic of New Granada (today Columbia).

Any itinerary must have appeared wildly daunting. Reservedly, Otis allowed “there existed few conveniences for an approach to the Isthmus of Panama.” He suggested an occasional packet boat, passing between Spanish Cuba and Britain's Island of Jamaica. And left no proposed overland route to reach Bogotá. (Circled in red, above; notice the scant shipping lanes.)

U.S. House debate grew heated when reviewing the initiative two years later: Whigs were skeptical that Early had been shipwrecked. All they knew was that State Depart­ment communications went undelivered, and that Forsyth had compensated Early $311.35 for expenses and $527.37 for clothing, bedding … and books … lost or abandoned by him. In addition to one hundred and nineteen days’ compensation as a Clerk in the U.S. House. News accounts, of accusations by U.S. Representative William Key Bond (1792-1864), traveled widely in anti-Jackson circles: he decried a “convenient mode of sending favorites abroad, out of the public coffers.”

In December 1836 former Savannah Mayor and recently elected U.S. Representa­tive George Welshman Owens (1786-1856) put a personal bill before the U.S. House. In thirty-two pages, Eleazer Early set out a very cogent petition. He testified that he had, after twelve years, paid off his default to the Post Office Department. It is apparent that, as custodian, he had deftly combed Federal records, providing affidavits for each contention made … in asserting McClean had unfairly abrogated mail contracts at the close of 1824. A $13,000 forfeiture. Jackson's appointee, Amos Kendall (1789-1869) was U.S. Postmaster General; the House resolved to send the legislation to the Committee on Claims. Where it died. Twice.19

The House Library staff office (undated). Image courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol, retrieved 2021 from Office of Art & Archives,  U. S. House of Representatives.
Martin Van Buren entered the President's office 4 March 1837. Our subject that year became the second to hold the office of Librarian for the U.S. House of Representatives. Watterson revealed “On the left of the eastern lobby” of House chambers in the U.S. Capitol, “are the Speaker's room and that of the Sergeant-at-Arms, and above the latter an apartment for bound documents and State papers called the library of the House.”

Shelved volumes (above) call Early's Manor to mind. And Eleazer's very first venture, at Augusta. I suspect the young merchant had lost in bankruptcy a personal library his father had provided.

“He was rarely seen in the Hall of the House of Representatives, and was generally found in his office, leading a life of seclusion,” reported the Sun, of Early … finding him “a man of some talent.” Johnston conveyed no bump in pay: “The House Librarian was appointed by the Clerk of the House of Representatives. His salary was $1,500, the same as that of the Librarian of Congress.” Hugh Alfred Garland (1805-1854), was elected Clerk in September 1837. Garland was originally of Boydton … where brother Landon had in 1836 become the second to preside over Randolph-Macon College. I suspect he made Early's appointment.

Meritorious novelist, travel writer and, by 1831, brazen editor of a self-published, corruption-busting newsletter at the capital city, Anne (Newport) Royall (1769-1854), pronounced Early's office “a sinecure,” according to Johnston.

It must have been interesting to curate record of his own affairs. Early may have been conflicted by responsibility to make accessible reports on his conduct by the Bank of the United States and Postmaster General. Ledgers documented earlier proficiency. He no doubt vehemently contended other assessments.

Decrying “the suicidal policy of democrats keeping federalists in office,” a Vermont paper in February 1840, misidentified Early as such in a list of officeholders. Perhaps his service was not sufficiently partisan for him to be recognized as Van Buren's man. Under the banner “Woodbridge and Reform” William Woodbridge (1780-1861) had been swept into Michigan Governorship in 1839. The popular Whig in May 1840 proposed abolishing the Office of Librarian.

Early brought to that office skills he had exercised as Georgia's Comptroller General. Representatives debated refurbishing the President's House. Early's testimonial that month – brought before the body – permits a sense of his new milieu: “The furniture in the President's House having been seven years or upwards in use, is, of necessity, more or less injured or defaced, notwithstanding the utmost care and attention have evidently been paid to its preservation. A portion of it, hastily collected for Mr. Madison in 1814, at auction, &c. [after British troops incinerated the White House], never was suited to the house in which it is placed and where it has been altogether useless.” He apparently attached an 1825 inventory culled from records. I'm sure Early would rather have abided in his own mansion, but intimacy in corridors of power had to suffice.

Early's name circulated as a sort of "fact-checker.” At the end of May, U.S. Representative Edward Stanly (1810-1872) sought confirmation that The Globe had not published an anti-slavery tract. (Editors had claimed they'd already done so, when declining it.) Early combed through newspapers and it was North Carolinia Whig Stanly no doubt who made sure news circulated: the House Librarian found Boston newspapermen having misinformed a Member of Congress.

Photograph, eastward view from U.S. Capitol dome, early 1880s, showing Carroll Row, foreground, right. John DeFerrari collection, original retrieved from ‘Streets of Washington’ 2021.
His commute to work was extraordinary. Early lodged with widow Ann Sprigg (c1800-1870). Her boarding house in Carroll Row (foreground, right, in East view from Capitol dome) was across First Street, and then a flat lawn, to entry at the U.S. House of Representatives' east lobby. The bureaucrat domiciled in sought-after locale. Much is made of the fact that U.S. Representative Abraham Lincoln entertained at mealtime there, while boarding as a freshman legislator in 1847.

'Cotton Whig' George Nixon Briggs (1796-1861) was a Massachusetts Quaker and anti-Jackson member of the Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads. He introduced a resolution to the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday, 29 June 1840: “That the clerk be directed to pay the funeral expenses of Eleazer Early, late a clerk in the office of this house and keeper of its library, who died at his residence in this city this morning.” It was unanimously agreed.

Events moved quickly. “The friends of the deceased are respectfully invited to attend his funeral from the house of Mrs. Sprigg, Capitol Hill, this morning, 30th instant at 8 o clock a.m.” The unattributed obituary appears at Congressional Cemetery, where Early was interred without marker; sect. 1, range 28, site 135. As Librarian, he might might find it consternating that he's filed under 'Eliazer.'20 As a speculator, he could appreciate his 3’ x 8’ plot, slightly larger than his 1818 map, would bring $8000 in current money. Solely for real estate, just inland and near the river port.

“This morning, the death of Mr. Eleazer Early, Librarian of the House of Represen­tatives, was announced” … in 29 June correspondence reported a day later by the Baltimore Sun. “Mr. Eleazer Early was a native of Georgia, and was a brother of the Governor of that State.” The obituary noted support of Crawford for U.S. President, and that Early “was suffered to go unrewarded.” “He advocated Gen. Jackson, and, for his labors, was regarded with the place he has just vacated by death.”21

A single-line entry circulated in 1 July necrology published by Philadelphia's National Gazette and Literary Register. The Sentinel and Herald at Columbus seemingly broke the news in Georgia ten days later. Misidentifying Eleazer Early, "Esquire's" role as Clerk in the U.S. House, editors appended the northern record: “He had successively been Cashier for the Bank of the State of Georgia and of the Bank of Darien.” Courtesy title and career highlight were excised from other terse, surviving Georgia obituaries. Savannah papers apparently did not report the passing at all.

Eleazer Early had, I figure, just turned sixty-one years old. Writing Gilbert in 1829, he glimpsed into “this transitory State of existence” when broaching life without Jane. Idea that “the fiat of the great Eternal who dissolved this … most interesting of earthly contracts,” was, I think, our subject's way of grappling with mortality. As might a Comptroller General or Schemer of Big Things. He confided “There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature.”

I find a certain harmony in dénouement: the estate of a man fiscally rejected by his father was probated in Orphan's Court. Jane the Younger was dead, and "this course of life" probably left him little to dispense with in any case. Absent a will, his only surviving sibling, childless Joel Early, Jr. on Dover Plantation would have likely been his legal heir; but I expect beneficiaries of those who'd last stood surety for Eleazer had superseding claim to non-existent assets.

NOTES:

Images enlarge when clicked. Many thanks to Jerald Hersey, and his uncanny ability to retrieve source documents. [I particularly appreciated the Surveyor General's handiwork, on personal indenture conveying land he held with wife Susan (Patterson) Sturges.] Caroline Hopkinson at Georgia Southern University tendered Early's letter to Gilbert, vital to conveying our subject's most intimate self-reflection. Joe M. Oglesby proffered well-organized Meriwether Society notes. As usual, much appreciation for (news writers and) all those preserving family correspondence. For centuries.

I wrassle with subjects who leave no survivors at Finding Everett. Profiles in online trees tend to be scant: I figure, in many cases, I'm among the first in a century to give their lives studious consideration.

1 An interesting triumvirate of monied backers. Only a legislator is missing: with financiers, warrant and militia, land conquest becomes eminently viable. With title to thousands of Georgia acres, 'Buck' Harris would soon hanker after Spanish forests in East Florida. Indigenous contestants killed Heard and Harris in separate rejoinders. Exploits of Robert Early Harris (1790-1821) – son of larger-than-life Buck and Eleazer's first cousin Nancy (Early) Harris – would make good fodder for a subsequent post: while Cousin Eleazer was at the capital, Georgia Governor Jared Irwin pardoned Early Harris … for manslaughter. It was Harris' second homicide. BACK

2 Jane's maternal uncle James Meriwether (1755-1817) served as Georgia's first Comptroller General, 1779-1804; perhaps her mother's people supported Early's 1805 election to the position by the Georgia House of Representatives. The extended family was invested: Jane's benefactor Thomas Meriwether (brother of James) had bequeathed "negro woman slave named Rhody" and daughters Sarah, Mary and Maria, to Jane's sister Susannah in 1803.

Early's interests in the 1803 Deed of Marriage were represented by George Watkins (1769-1829), who had in 1801 wed Eleazer's eldest sibling, Mary 'Polly' Early. Presbyterian Watkins was officiant at the Early-Patterson marriage. BACK

3 With others, James Meriwether (See fn. 2.) owned Sturges' 1810 debt, forcing auction of the Georgia map. Some family historians place the death of James' niece (Jane's sister) Susannah (Patterson) Sturges in this time frame. Settling the 1805 suit in which 'Dan' Sturges and Eleazer Early were Equity Court co-defendants, Susan Sturges signed away Dower Rights to a land parcel her husband returned to an aggrieved party. James Meriwether held contiguous property. It is disconcerting but thematic to think Sturges maladministered Susannah's inheritance … and that she died in poverty not long after Sturges was jailed. BACK

4 Clementine Early was also disinherited by his father: “My reasons are, a course of undutiful disobedience on his part, followed by deliberate exertion to impair the peace of my declining years.” By codicil, Joel Early, Sr. reinstated the schoolmaster two weeks before his own death. As Clement died without issue, his relatively meager 230-acre parcel reverted to remaining heirs. Who sold it in 1816. Four of Joel, Sr.'s inheritors died in short order: Clement in 1813, both Lucy (Early) Mathews (b 1784) and Jeremiah in 1816, and Peter in 1817. Only Eleazer, Mary (Early) Watkins and Joel Early, Jr. would reach the benchmark. Eleazer and Joel, Jr. passed on without progeny.

Incidentally, Eleazer's 1831 claim to be the "second son of Joel Early" is problematic. First-born Peter was dead; the statement overlooks Eleazer's elder brother Jeremiah, also dead, but who had children living at the time of the declaration. Eleazer had not long forgotten this brother: a decade after his death and desperate for cash in the fall of 1826, Eleazer sued Jeremiah's estate. BACK

5 Melish based his 1814 'Map of the Seat of War among the Creek Indians' on U.S. War Department surveys. Depiction of Georgia was exceedingly vague. I doubt he had seen Sturges' work product. BACK

6 Every map is open to political analysis. Coulter referenced the “Famous Early Map” of 1818 in thesis describing Georgia boundary disputes that, as late as 1990, required U.S. Supreme Court decision. Some contemporary cartographers simply omitted depiction of dividing lines. Goff credits Sturges' work for using Native placenames, and even interpolating Cherokee-Creek consensus on national borders inset within what is now The State of Georgia. BACK

7 Postal service was a selling point when boosting Hamburg. Mail arrived quicker than at Augusta: turnaround there allowed same-day reply from Hamburg. Proprietor Henry Schultz (1776-1851) evoked Savannah conflagration by offering a warehouse defended against contagious fire. A film based on Schultz could be compelling. The Holsteiner (Klaus Hinrich Klahn) fled Napoleonic depredation, presenting himself at Augusta as laborer 1806. He faced down armed blockade of his toll bridge. Georgia operatives subverted his independent bank. Poignantly, Schultz blinded himself in failed suicide attempt. BACK

8 According to the Davenport House Museum, Augustus, or August, stole himself the following month. Authorities surveilled his mother at Charleston … and the neighborhood there of his former mistress, Mrs. Oran Byrd. BACK

9 Glascock's father Thomas, Sr. (1756-1810) had been a principal of The Georgia Mississippi Company. James Meriwether (See fn. 2.) had been Treasurer. In 1796 correspondence James urged brother Thomas (Jane Early's benefactor) to assist Glascock, Sr. in obtaining a Warrant for Land, based on intrepid Revolutionary service as Brigadier General. On principals' purported $155,000 initial outlay, Georgia Mississippi investors eventually filed more than $1.5 million in Federal claims. Early appeared in Crawford's 1818 Treasury Report: among Yazoo Fraud recipients, he collected more than $14,000 "for administrators of Thomas Glascock." (All told, Crawford reported more than $50,000 awarded Early, in roles as trustee, administrator and "in his own right." I did not find those estates correlating with 1820 suits for debt.) BACK

10 Monroe was at Savannah 8-13 May 1819. I found barely any source document referencing the visit in his 'Tour of the South.' None associated him with our subject. Thomas Glascock, Jr. (See fn. 9.) toured Monroe though the newly completed U.S. Arsenal at Augusta during the visit. BACK

11 Recipient of Swain's incrimination was likely John Polk Blackmon (1785-1831). Macon Telegraph editors in 1827 intimated (then) Muscogee County Judge Blackmon was "heartily opposed to Troup and Treason!" (Italics in the original.) BACK

12 “The map, which last sold in 1967 at Sotheby's Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York, is expected to bring $15,000-$25,000,” Brunks predicted. It returned $63,250. In 2018 Arader Galleries auctioned one of Early's 1818 maps: the buyer spent $97,600. BACK

13 Perhaps on seasonal high-water, Levasseur described three steamboats going sixty miles upriver from Savannah, all the way to Augusta. It seems contrary to Early's boat-to-stagecoach scheme, limiting itself to a Purrysburg run. Customers would have been better satisfied staying aboard the Carolina, than being jolted along in a coach. The newly organized town of Hamburg delighted Levasseur, in its execution and intention. His bracing analysis of Georgia slavery is worth a read. As are personal encounters with Native “sons of nature” like Hamley. BACK

14 Augusta Chronicle and Georgia Advertisers (at Augusta) editors were contemptuous of Davis, 18 August 1830. Perhaps the essayist had not offered to entirely offset expense of devoting newsprint to his “sad tale of woe.” Davis, whose complaints veered into exorbitance, “... has just published some two or three hundred bushels of [Elegy on his political dissolution], fifty-six and three quarter yards in length; which we intend to read the first moment we can get six months leisure time.” Thank you, dear reader, for your investment. BACK

15 Early and co-obligators were defended by famed jurist Daniel Webster (1782-1852), then the newly elected U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, with (Savannahian and) U.S. Senator John Macpherson Berrien (1781-1856). Berrien would serve Jackson as U.S. Attorney General in 1829. Incidentally, a biography states Dunning, who helped finance the first Atlantic crossing assisted by steam power, “earned much money from his maritime interests, but lost heavily and left the business.”

As footnote to a footnote: Jane (Patterson) Early's benefactor Thomas Meriwether (See fn. 3.) named “friend John Berrien” Executor to his 1803 will. John Berrien (1760-1815) was father to the above John Macpherson Berrien. And to Julia Maria (1801-1857) ... to whom, age two, Meriwether bequeathed “negro boy William." As was Thomas Moore Berrien (1789-1860), who in 1814 married Louisa Jarrett Hatcher Meriwether (1797–1830), daughter of Thomas' brother James. BACK

16 By 1813 Codicil and shortly before his death, Gilbert's brother Felix Haywood Gilbert (1778-1813) added Early as a Trustee for his estate. Felix and Eleazer were close contemporaries. I suspect Early venerated the recipient's father Felix Gilbert (c1735 - 1801) as Preceptor: Felix the Elder went to his grave not long after Early opened up shop at Augusta. BACK

Detail, Bank of Florida Note c1830.
17 I will admit confusion. The date accorded this letter is suspect. Childs relied on Early for this cousinly correspondence (which included the declaration this post opens with). Chronicled as 3 October 1831, it would have made our subject, by his own admission, a 40-year resident at Georgia. Florida Territory bank records are contradictory, but seem to concur that the Bank of West Florida was organized 1829. Early was certainly Marianna Cashier by 1830. He did not boast of that appointment, instead divulging the bank was “about to go into operation in Pensacola, of which it is intended to make me the cashier.” Pensacola branch operations align: they began c1832. Miss Early in 1920 styled our kinsman 'Eliezer.' Forgoing disinheritance, she misassociated him with Memphis and the Library of Congress in otherwise scant profile. BACK

Detail from a Bank of Florida banknote (above) implies importance of weights and scales to a farmer's bank. Early described travelling "by stages." Some reflection might be given, on how time-consuming and arduous would have been overland journey from New York to Pensacola, particularly when convoying bank apparatus between stage lines. BACK

18 I'll venture identifying the Lady of Greensville as twice-widowed and extremely well-situated Lucy Cargill (Jones Walker) Maclin (c1795-1867). In 1830 census for Brunswick County, Virginia, Mrs. Walker held 27 in slavery. Early pursued her at a North Carolina property and claimed to have journeyed with her to “say, Philadel­phia” in 1833. Over time, he would inform John Early his suit had failed, and then return to The Lady as if, by their utmost collusion, Eleazer could yet win her over. BACK

19 I did not discover at whose prompting, but the U.S. House Committee on the State of the Republic at the end of 1823 resolved Georgia's Governor should convey to the U.S. Postmaster General the cause for delay in Savannah mail. The body suspected “express violation of the contract.” Early's 1836 Petition offered nefarious causation. It was only one of four submissions contesting abrogation. Recompense remained important to Early's estate administrators (and those on the hook for his bond): they twice petitioned the Twenty-Seventh Congress for remedy after his death. To no avail. BACK

20 Gratifyingly, a Historic Congressional Cemetery Archivist did update Early's symbolic Find A Grave memorial. And then, without comment, transferred management to me … responsibility I promptly conferred on the Meriwether Society. Honoring what I suspect was that family's support following Early's marriage to Jane, a Meriwether descendant. BACK

21 Early's 1840 Sun obit continued on with “... in "less than a pig's whisper,” or the “twinkling of a bed post,” some fifty high-minded and pious gentlemen started on the full run, for the office that the defunct had occupied.” BACK
ADDENDUM
Early put himself into nomination for Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1833. (He received two votes – likely the Georgia delegation – out of 231 cast.) He was well out of Florida banking when news broke of thrilling 1838 escapades there. “Hugh Stephenson, a financier and speculator … secured control of the Bank of West Florida,” wrote Owens. With banknotes he found specious among his new assets, Stephenson promptly bought out shareholders of Apalachicola's Commercial Bank in June. The new Bank President was absent a few days later when “Circumstances of a suspicious character induced certain gentleman at Apalachicola to interrogate the cashier left in charge of the Bank.” No currency or coin were found in the vault.

Town fathers formed a posse, which boarded the Commerce and steamed upriver in pursuit of Stephenson. And their assets. In a bold move, Stephenson disembarked his transport and hailed the Ion coming downriver. He bought it outright. “Under a full head of steam,” the vessel, and all passengers and cargo aboard, passed Apalachicola to enter the Gulf of Mexico. “Fortunately the U.S. Steamer Florence was in our Bay, ready to proceed to Mobile,” reported correspondents. Without obtaining orders, a Major Jones “assumed the responsibility of placing her at the disposal of our citizens.” Initiating what I imagine as The Great Steamboat Chase, the Florence and a new posse launched into open water. The Commerce put up at a remote coastal wharf before daylight failed. A Collector of Customs seized the vessel, Stephenson was arrested for embezzlement. "About seven thousand dollars in silver, and a small amount in gold, was found in his possession, together with the remaining bills and post-notes of the Commercial Bank, which he had been unable to throw into circulation.” His steamer trunk contained about $125,000 in West Florida Bank notes, some of which I suspect carried Early's signature.

Stephenson was jailed at Pensacola. Where he was joined by his wife. The scoundrel convinced authorities he'd be secure if the couple awaited trial while lodged at the hotel. “Stephenson presented his jailer with a sufficient quantity of liquor and the guard dutifully went to sleep.” He stole from the hotel, engaged a horse, and broke for Mobile. “Rumors suggested that Stephenson reached Texas.” I do not know what became of his wife.

Branson offered no attribution for her accusation: “Three times [Early] was the victim of mail robbery in which his bank notes were being transferred …” “The first occurrence was in 1818, the second was in 1820, and the third was in 1823.” Early was at the Bank of the United States at Savannah until the close of 1818, and out of the Bank of Darien – and Georgia banking – a year later. Perhaps she associated our subject with his term as Savannah Postmaster, 1820-1824. But they wouldn't have been “his” banknotes.

That said, Early, near to closing an 1834 letter to Cousin John, reported “The bank note enclosed in your letter was not in it when I broke the seal & opened it.” Eleazer, then drawing salary at the U.S. House of Representatives, was transacting sale of books destined for Randolph-Macon College. I leave it to the reader to decide whether a Preacher would stiff him, or had so many irons in the fire that he could neglect including payment. Or whether Early had become a Confidence Man.

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