James Wright was the third and last royal governor of Georgia, serving from 1760 to 1782, with a brief interruption early in the American Revolution (1775-83). Almost alone among colonial governors, Wright was a popular and able administrator and servant of the crown. He played a key role in suppressing the flame of revolution in Georgia long after it had flared violently in every other colony.
Wright was born in London, England, on May 8, 1716, to Isabella and Robert Wright. He came to South Carolina in 1730 when his father was appointed chief justice of the colony. By 1740 Wright was a practicing attorney in South Carolina and had been appointed acting attorney general. On August 14, 1741, he entered Gray’s Inn in London and was called to the bar.
Returning to South Carolina, Wright practiced law and purchased plantations. He married Sarah Maidman in February 1742, and they had eight children before her death at sea in 1763. He became attorney general of South Carolina in 1747. He held that position until 1757, when he became colonial agent for South Carolina in London.
Wright’s ties with Georgia began when the crown appointed him the third royal governor of Georgia in 1760, after poor health forced Henry Ellis to leave the colony. His appointment coincided with a period of expansion in Georgia, and he encouraged settlement of Georgia’s frontier. Wright played an instrumental role in two large land cessions for the state from Georgia’s Native American neighbors, one in November 1763 at a conference in Augusta and another in 1773 while he was in London. He eventually purchased eleven plantations, encompassing more than 25,000 acres, and more than 500 enslaved people.
Wright never doubted his duty to enforce the 1765 Stamp Act, which ignited the Revolutionary crisis, and Georgia was the only colony in which stamps were actually sold. He returned to London in 1771 and was named a baronet in 1772. Despite his popularity and determined leadership, Sir James Wright proved powerless to stop the Revolutionary movement when armed conflict erupted in 1776. Georgia rebels arrested him in January 1776, but he fled to a British warship and returned to London. He lobbied heavily for a full-scale British invasion of Georgia, which finally occurred in December 1778.
Wright returned to British-occupied Savannah in July 1779 and served as royal governor for three more frustrating years. Despite capturing Savannah, the British lacked the resources and manpower to quell the Revolution in Georgia, and Wright was unable to govern effectively. Royal government finally ended in Georgia when the British evacuated Savannah on July 11, 1782. He sailed for London, never to return.
Wright spent his remaining years as head of a board of American Loyalists seeking compensation for losses as a result of the Revolution. Though he claimed losses of £33,000 and his office as governor, he received an annual pension of only £500 for his services. Wright died at his house in Westminster on November 20, 1785, at the age of sixty-nine and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Wrightsborough is named for him.