John Twiggs was born in the state of Maryland on June 5, 1750. Very little is known of his early life, other than he came to Burke County, Georgia with his family shortly thereafter. A child of a poor family, John took up the trade of being a carpenter. Twiggs caught the eye of Miss Ruth Emanuel, a firm lady of character and sister of the Hon. David Emanuel. Following their marriage John and Ruth moved to Richmond County, where they established a modest plantation.
As tensions began to mount between the American colonies and the King of England, more local difficulties began to arise. Twiggs joined the army as a lieutenant and as a captain, a position to which he was appointed on June 1, 1774, led a company of men of St. George's Parish in a successful operation against a band of Cherokee Indians who had been making raids along the settlements along the Georgia frontier. In 1779, Twiggs, in support of Col. William Few, defeated a contingent of British troops seeking to attack the jail in Burke County. In the months which followed the epic battle at nearby Kettle Creek, Twiggs kept British regulars at bay by skirmishing them at every opportunity and attacking their supply lines in the rear of their lines. John Twiggs found himself and thirty men under attack at Butler's plantation on the Ogeechee River in June, 1779. Outnumbered by more than two to one, Twiggs inspired his men to rout the British force causing a bit of consternation among the British officers in Savannah.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Twiggs encountered and conquered a band of British marauders at Buckhead Creek. On September 12, 1779, Twiggs and his company of soldiers joined General Benjamin Lincoln in preparation for an all out siege upon the British held Savannah. In one valiant and eventually futile attempt after another, the Continental army and local militia failed to liberate Georgia's ancient capital and most important city. In the retreat under cover of a flag signifying mutual respect for his status as an officer, Twiggs and his family were fired upon by British riflemen.
Following the fall of Charleston, the southeast's most important port, in May, 1780, Twigg's force joined General Horatio Gates' army in an attack at Camden, South Carolina. The colonial army, composed primarily of untested local militia, were trounced by Lord Cornwallis' battle-hardened veterans. Twiggs was nearly impaled by a saber, and left for dead on the battlefield. With the fire of freedom still in his soul, Twiggs returned to the Georgia backwoods to thwart his old enemies as they continued to pillage and terrorize the western regions of the colony.
Twiggs led American victories at Fish Dam ford and at Blackstock's house, where he personally led the attack against the fierce charge of the calvary of the villainous Banastre Tarleton. Though not given adequate credit for his actions by contemporary historians, it was indeed Col. Twiggs, who at the end of the day, was in command of the victorious colonists. During what was truly America's first civil war, a plot by an infamous Tory by the name of Gunn was uncovered and circumvented. When it was insisted that the poltroon be hung by the neck, Twiggs, in his usual forbearance, vetoed the execution of his assassin.
For his gallantry in action, the Georgia legislature, in its meeting in Augusta on August 18, 1781, named John Twiggs a brigadier general in the Georgia militia. Though the Revolutionary War was technically about to come to close in the early fall, British loyalists and discontented Indians were rumored to be mustering along the western frontiers in preparation for an attack on Augusta. For the remainder of the conflict, Twiggs organized for the impending attack, which never materialized.
After the close of the war, Twiggs retired to the solitude and enjoyment of his home, which he dubbed "Good Hope." He served a term as Justice of the Peace of Burke County in 1782. But the contentment was fleeting. On May 31, 1783, Twiggs along Georgia's most illustrious statesmen Lyman Hall, Elijah Clarke, William Few, Edward Telfair and Samuel Elbert met with a council of Cherokee chiefs in Augusta. The result of the negotiations was the purchase of a large tract of land in northeast Georgia. Nearly six months later, Twiggs helped to negotiate a treaty with the Creek Indians. Under the agreement the State of Georgia acquired all of the lands between the Ogechee and the Oconee rivers under a treaty, which precipitated a new war, a conflict which would evolve into a fifteen-year series of skirmishes and raids along both sides of the Oconee.
Treaty negotiations continued at Galphinton in 1785 and at Shoulderbone Creek. On September 8, 1791, Twiggs was again promoted by the Georgia legislature, this time to the position of Major General. It was during that year when Twiggs made his only engagement into politics by being elected to represent Richmond County in the Georgia legislature.
One of his most difficult assignments came in 1794, when Major General Twiggs was ordered to assemble a force of six hundred men to eject Twiggs' old comrade, General Elijah Clarke, who had, in the eyes of President George Washington and Georgia authorities, usurped his authority by establishing his own country along the western banks of the Oconee River in what would become Wilkinson, Baldwin and Laurens counties. Before the attack was launched, Clarke conceded and violence was averted.
In 1800, the State of Georgia honored General Twiggs by appointing him to the initial Board of Trustees of Franklin College, which evolved into the University of Georgia. Throughout his final years, this five-foot ten-inch stout man, with his florid complexion and gray eyes, remained active in civic affairs.
John Twiggs rarely sought any glory for his actions, only the satisfaction that he was serving his fellow man and protecting them from harm. In compliance with his wishes, no extravagant memorial would be placed on his grave. He died on March 29, 1816 at the relatively old age of sixty five. His body was laid to rest in the Twiggs family cemetery ten miles south of Augusta, off Georgia Hwy 56, on Goshen Industrial Blvd.
John and Ruth Twiggs had six children. One of them, David Emanuel Twiggs, served in the War of 1812, the various Indian conflicts of the era, and because of his heroic actions during the Mexican wars, was breveted a major general in command of the Department of Texas. When the Civil War erupted, Gen. David Twiggs surrendered his command to the Confederate army. For the act of treason and his acceptance of an appointment in the army of his homeland, Twiggs was dismissed from the Federal army. Another son, Levi Twiggs, was a field officer of the Marine Corps from the War of 1812 until his death during an assault on Mexico City in 1847. Two U.S. naval ships were named in his honor. A great grandson, Lt. Gen. John Twiggs Myers, earned high recognition in Marine Corps history for his valiant actions as commander of the American Legation guard in China during the Boxer Rebellion. His wife's brother, David Emanuel, served under Twiggs during the American Revolution and in 1801 was elected Governor of Georgia. On November 14, 1809, the State of Georgia immortalized the name of Twiggs by naming its newest county, Twiggs County, in his honor.