Saturday, July 12, 2014
ROBERT AUGUSTUS BEALL, JR.
"The Prentiss of Georgia"
Considered a genius by everyone who heard him speak, Robert Augustus Beall, Jr. a former Twiggs County lawyer, was enumerated among the most celebrated members of the Georgia bar during the first half of the 19th Century. He was described by W.H. Sparks as "a genius of a higher nature," ambitious and partisan his beliefs.
Robert Beall was born in Prince George County, Maryland on November 16, 1800. His parents removed to Georgia in 1808 and settled in Warren County during one of numerous migratory waves of which characterized the early decades of the 1800s. When Robert was fifteen years old, his father sent him to North Carolina to attend a more challenging elementary school in Raleigh. Upon reaching the end of his primary education, Beall returned to Georgia to study law under Judges Montgomery and Reid in Augusta. Just after attaining the age of majority, Beall took the oath and was admitted to the bar of Superior Court and set out to practice law.
The enterprising Beall chose the burgeoning county of seat of Marion, Georgia to establish a meager law office. Situated in the geographical center of the state in Twiggs County, Marion was an ideal location for the base of his practice in the surrounding courthouses in Central Georgia. Beall formed a successful law partnership with Thaddeus Goode Holt. When Holt accepted an appointment as Judge of the Southern Circuit in 1824, Beall was appointed by Governor George M. Troup, of Laurens County, to the position Solicitor General of the circuit, which included the counties of Laurens, Montgomery, Pulaski, Telfair, Twiggs and Houston. Beall served in that position for a short time, from December 23, 1824 until the first of the following summer.
A challenge, a common occurrence when political opinions clashed in those days, arose between Beall and Thomas D. Mitchell, who had succeeded Beall's successor James Bethune in November 1825 as Solicitor General. The affair arose when disparaging comments were made at the dinner table of Martin Hardin, Esquire. The combatants, through their duly appointed agents, arranged a duel on the Carolina side of the Savannah River, opposite the city of Augusta, where such duels were allowed. Dr. Ambrose Baber, a former Laurens County physician and a resident of the new town of Macon, was standing by to tend to any wounds Beall might suffer. Two shots were fired. Neither struck their intended targets. Major Pace mediated the dispute and the men went home, much to the delight of their friends and family. Thomas Mitchell's volatile temper led to another duel. A year after his abruptly ended gunfight with Beall, Mitchell lay dying on the dueling ground, the result of a well-placed pistol ball in his abdomen.
Though dueling was frowned upon as a means of settling disputes, Beall enjoyed a renewed admiration for standing up for his beliefs. Supporters of the Troup party encouraged the twenty five-year-old Beall to offer himself as a candidate for a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. The Clark party candidate managed to win the election over Beall, though only by a small margin of votes. When Moses Fort resigned his seat in the House, Beall, a Major in the Georgia Militia, once again competed for the post. He won the election, defeating Robert Glenn, the county's most ardent Clark party member. Beall's eloquent orations drew the admiration of the members of the House and the audience of the gallery. He was modest and self respecting, courteous in debate and extremely affable in his manner. A larger majority of the voters of Twiggs County reelected him in the election of the fall of 1826 in his last House election contest.
Rep. Beall represented his friend Judge Moses Fort before a committee hearing in the House of Representatives. Col. Joseph Blackshear, of Laurens County, had charged the judge with irregularities in the handling of his case against Archibald Ridley and his wife byt the estate of his brother, Joseph Blackshear. The Blackshear vs. Ridley case was one of Laurens County's most celebrated cases ever, drawing the most prominent and highly paid squads of attorneys as could be employed with the fruits of the Blackshear's fortunes. Though a rebuke was passed by the house, it failed for the lack of a necessary majority in the Senate.
Beall developed a friendship and working relationship with Stephen F. Miller, another prominent attorney of the county. He was the author of "Bench and Bar of Georgia," a landmark biographical work on the early lawyers of Georgia. In 1828 Beall lost his passionately sought after election for Brigadier General of the Georgia Militia, to Lott Warren, of Laurens County. Beall married Caroline Smith, daughter of the wealthy Richard Smith of Twiggs County. After the marriage, Beall entered into a partnership with Miller and returned to the private practice.
Governor George Gilmer appointed Beall to his staff of aides-de-camp in 1830 and continued his service as a Lt. Colonel in the Georgia Militia, which continued to train in defense of the state. In the winter of 1832, Col. Beall moved to Macon, which had become the commercial center of the western regions of Georgia. He purchased an interest in the local newspaper, The Georgia Messenger, and began proclaiming his staunch opinions of the national issues of the day as the paper's chief editor. His beliefs were warmly accepted by members of the State Rights party, who encouraged him to run against Gen. Glascock for a vacancy in the national House of Representatives. Beall lost by a slim margin in a bitterly contested vote. Beall continued to represent the voters of his district in the Anti-Tariff Convention of 1832 and the State Rights Convention of 1833. When Macon's Wesleyan College became the world's first chartered university for women in 1835, Beall was named one of its first trustees.
Though hailed as a brilliant orator and a man without fear, Beall never enjoyed perfect health. Prone to debilitating and often severe attacks of colic, Beall frequently was prevented from his attendance in court and military functions. Near the end of his all too short life, Beall joined the Methodist Episcopal Church in Macon. He was dying. By the spring of 1836, when his friends and fellow citizens of Bibb and Twiggs County were off to war with the Indians and southwestern Georgia and the pernicious Mexicans in the Republic of Texas, his will to life succumbed to his mortal illness.
Robert Beall lingered for months and died in his sleep on July 16, 1836 at the age of thirty-five. His dedicated life of public service had come to an end. Honors were bestowed upon the memory of this man, possessing gifts of extraordinary talent and marked character. In summing up Beall's character, Sparks wrote, "he was man of rare genius, ardent in his temperament and fearlessly brave, and of course had positive friends and implacable enemies."