Born sometime in the 1740's near Farmville, Va., Walton was orphaned early and reared by an uncle, who apprenticed him to a carpenter. Walton supplemented extensive independent study with some formal schooling. In 1769 he moved to Savannah, Ga., read law under a local attorney, and 5 years later joined the bar.
That same year, Walton plunged into politics. Rallying Revolutionaries at Savannah as did Lyman Hall in St. John's Parishthe two Whig hotbeds in a lukewarm colonyWalton helped organize and played a key part in meetings at Savannah in July and August 1774 and the first provincial congress the next January. But these meetings, to which only a few parishes sent representatives, hardly set the dissent in motion. The divided delegates, aware of their limited constituency, failed to send Delegates to the Continental Congress, as had all the other Colonies, and thus alienated St. John's Parish. Except for creation of a committee of correspondence, to which Walton was appointed, the conferees for the most part substituted patriotic talk for action. During this period, Walton, blending political activism with romance, took a bride. She later gave birth to two sons.
By July 1775, when the second provincial congress convened and designated Walton as secretary, apathy in the Revolutionary ranks had given way to aggressiveness. The congress dispatched four Delegates to the Continental Congress to join Hall, already an unofficial "delegate" from St. John's Parish. The next year, the third provincial congress elected Walton, by this time chairman of the council of safety, as a Delegate (1776-81). In this capacity, he sat on committees dealing with western lands, national finance, and Indian affairs. His only lapse in attendance occurred in 1778-79, when the military defense of his own State took precedence over his congressional obligations. As a colonel in the Georgia militia, he was wounded and captured during the siege of Savannah in November-December 1778the beginning of the British invasion of the South. He was imprisoned until the following September, when he was exchanged for a navy captain.
Right after his release, at Augusta Walton became involved in a factional dispute between two groups of Revolutionaries. Walton's group, irritated because their conservative opponents had taken advantage of the confusion generated by the British occupation of Savannah by putting their own "governor" into office without benefit of a general election, countered by selecting Walton as its "governor" (November 1779-January 1780). In January the new legally elected legislature picked a Governor, another anti-conservative. Walton returned to the Continental Congress in 1780-81, after which he headed back to Georgia.
Walton's subsequent career suffered no diminution. His offices included those of chief justice (1783-89) and justice (1790-95 and 1799-1804) of the State Superior Court; delegate to the State constitutional convention (1788); presidential elector (1789); Governor (1789-90); and U.S. Senator (1795-96), filling out an unexpired term. Meantime, he had been elected as a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention (1787), but did not attend. An advocate of higher education, he was also a trustee and founder of Richmond Academy, in Augusta, and Franklin College (later the University of Georgia), in Athens.
About 1790 while Governor, changing his residence from Savannah to the capital of Augusta, Walton built "Meadow Garden" cottage on the northern edge of the city on confiscated Loyalist lands he had acquired. He lived in the cottage for 5 years, when he moved to College Hill, a country estate he erected on the western outskirts. He died there in 1804. Assigned first to the Rosney Cemetery in Augusta, his remains now rest at the Signers' Monument in that city.
Drawing: Oil, 1874, by Samuel B. Waugh, after Charles Willson Peale, Independence National Historical Park.
Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004