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Signers of the Declaration
Biographical Sketches

Lyman Hall
Lyman Hall

Lyman Hall was one of the four signers originally trained as ministers. He eventually found his pulpit in politics, though he had to preach vigorously to inspire the "congregation" of Georgia. He enthusiastically sparked the slow-developing independence movement there with George Walton and recruited Button Gwinnett, the third Georgia signer. Somehow Hall also managed to pursue careers as doctor, planter, and Governor.

A native of Wallingford, Conn., Hall was born in 1724. He graduated from Yale College in 1747 at the age of 23, returned home, and heeded a family call to the Congregational ministry. An uncle, Rev. Samuel Hall, trained him in theology. In 1749 he began preaching in Bridgeport and adjacent towns. Young and immature, he probably entrapped himself in the middle of a liberal-conservative schism and in some way alienated his congregation, But repentance brought quick reinstatement from dismissal in 1751, and for a couple of years he temporarily filled vacant pulpits.

During this period, in 1752, Hall married, but his wife lived only a year; about 2 years later he remarried, a union that was to bring forth a son. Meantime, Hall had become disillusioned by his ministerial experiences. He studied medicine with a local doctor, partially supporting himself by teaching. When his medical training was completed, he moved back to Wallingford and hung out his shingle.

In 1757 the 33-year-old Hall, seeking brighter fields, emigrated to Dorchester, S.C., a settlement of New England Puritans not far from Charleston. Within a few months, he joined some of the residents in a relocation that had been underway since 1752. They were pushing southward to Georgia's coastal Midway District, in St. John's Parish (present Liberty County). This area provided more land and a healthier climate.

In 1758 the colonists finished their emigration and founded Sunbury. It evolved into the thriving seaport-hub of the surrounding slave-based, rice-indigo economy. Like many other planters, Hall maintained a home there, where it was healthier than inland, as well as at Hall's Knoll, the plantation just north of the present town of Midway that he had purchased shortly after arriving in the area. Because its plantations skirted malarial swamps, Hall kept busy providing medical treatment, as well as managing his estate.

St. John's Parish became the wealthiest in Georgia. This was not its only uniqueness, for the populace was steeped in the New England tradition of independence. When the trouble with Britain erupted in the mid-1760's the parish, guided by Hall, stood apart in its opposition from virtually all the rest of the colony except for another cluster of Revolutionaries at Savannah led by George Walton and others. Georgia, which was to be the last of the Colonies to join the Continental Association, was the youngest, most remote, and most sparsely settled. Also the poorest, it felt less the impact of British economic restrictions. The Loyalist ruling aristocracy of Georgia, regarding the tiny band of Revolutionaries with contempt, resisted their every move.

Hall was appalled by the poor representation of the parishes as a whole and the indecisiveness of Revolutionary conventions he attended at Savannah in the summer of 1774 and the next January, especially by their failure to send Delegates to the Continental Congress. He dejectedly returned to St. John's Parish. It was ready to secede from the colony, and proposed an alliance to South Carolina, which refused. Not to be denied, in March 1775 the parish held its own convention and sent Hall as its own "delegate" to the Continental Congress.

Two months later, Congress admitted Hall as a nonvoting member. In July, Georgia, finally coming into the fold, sanctioned Hall's presence in Congress and appointed four other Delegates. Hall served until 1780. Two years earlier, he had moved his family somewhere to the north just before British troops ravaged and conquered the Georgia coast. In the process, they destroyed Hall's Knoll and Hall's Sunbury residence and confiscated his property.

When the British evacuated Savannah in 1782, Hall settled there and resumed his medical practice to mend his fortune. The next January, St. John's Parish, where he had maintained ties, elected him to the State legislature. That body, in turn, awarded him the governorship (1783-84). His reconstruction-oriented administration, though marred by his purchase of and speculation in lands confiscated from Loyalists, rehabilitated the war-torn State and laid foundations for future growth.

In Hall's final years he acted for a time as a judge of the inferior court of Chatham County and as a trustee of a proposed State university (to be called first Franklin College and later the University of Georgia). But his duties as executor of Button Gwinnett's tangled estate required years of legal wrangling. In 1785 he sold his Hall's Knoll land. Five years later, he moved from Savannah to Burke County and purchased Shell Bluff Plantation, on the Savannah River about 25 miles below Augusta. A few months hence he died and was buried there. His remains are now interred at the Signers' Monument in Augusta.

Drawing: Detail from the lithograph "Signers of the Declaration of Independence," published in 1876 by Ole Erekson, Library of Congress.

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Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004