Continuing series on the Signers of the Declaration of Independence
Lyman Hall was born April 12, 1724, in Wallingford, Connecticut, son of Rev. John Hall and his wife Mary. As a boy, he studied with his father, and entered Yale. Following in his father’s steps, he graduated in 1747. Lyman was not, however, the picture of orthodoxy and propriety. Some opposed his ordination on moral and theological grounds. His first parish split over whether he should be retained. In the end he was ousted, and filled in as an itinerant preacher for a few years while studying medicine. When he finished his medical studies, he decided to try Georgia, moving there and hanging out his doctor shingle.
Georgia was a complex society – the Creek Indians at one time controlled the state, but through a series of wars and misadventures, they were eventually removed entirely. Much of the economy depended on agriculture, growing indigo, rice, cotton, and increasingly, negro slaves. The populace was largely Tory, favoring the British, but there was an enclave, St. John’s Parish, near Darien, that was made up primarily of Puritan New Englanders, immigrants to Georgia in search of land. Lyman attached himself to this group in St. John’s. Since the parish was surrounded by malarial swamps, he soon had a thriving medical practice. He was elected to the state legislature and became a firebrand voice for independence from Britain. Initially, no one listened.
In 1752, Lyman met and married Abigail Burr. Lyman was thirty, Abigail twenty-three. Abigail became ill shortly after their marriage, and died July 8, 1753. They were not married long enough to have children. Lyman mourned her for three years, and then began courting Mary Osborn, twelve years his junior. They married in 1759, and had a son, John. During this period, Lyman operated a rice plantation in addition to his medical practice.
“Doctor Hall in his person was tall and well proportioned. In manners he was easy, and in his deportment dignified and courteous. He was by nature characterized for a warm and enthusiastic disposition, which, however, was under the guidance of sound discretion. His mind was active and discriminating. Ardent in his own feelings, he possessed the power of exciting others to action; and though in congress he acted not so conspicuous a part as many others, yet his example and his exertions, especially in connection with those of the inhabitants of the circumscribed parish of St. John, powerfully contributed to the final decision of the whole colony of Georgia to join the struggle for independence; thus presenting in array against the mother country the whole number of her American colonies. “colonialhall.org
Georgia sent no delegates to the First Continental Congress. Lyman worked and spoke tirelessly, declaring the reasons why the planters and gentry should desire independence. He was sent as an observing delegate to the Second Continental Congress, and by 1775, granted a seat there with three others from Georgia. Still, the prevailing sentiment in the colony was to remain with Britain.
In the final hours before the vote, Lyman decided to risk the wrath of his constituents, and follow his conscience. He voted for independence, and then busied himself with trying to obtain provisions and supplies for the Continental Army. Georgia came around. Eventually, the British invaded Georgia, looting, and burning. Lyman escaped north with his wife and son, hidden by family. He lost his house and all his worldly goods, destroyed by the British.
Following the war, he was able to return south, and was elected chief magistrate of Georgia, followed by a term as governor, 1782-85. He then returned to medical practice, but sold his plantation, Hall’s Knoll. He helped found the University of Georgia that year. With Mary and John, he moved to Burke County, and started a new plantation, Shell Bluff (recently for sale for only $6 million!). He died at home, on October 19, 1790 at the age of 66. Mary survived him by three years.