Garnett Andrews was a jurist, writer, politician, and Know-Nothing candidate for governor, and the father of diarist Eliza Frances Andrews. He was born on October 30, 1798, to Ann Goode and John Andrews on the family plantation near Washington, Georgia, in Wilkes County. Andrews was one of sixteen children and, according to family records, the only child to live past middle age.
Andrews’s father was a Revolutionary War (1775-83) soldier who served with the Continental Army that accepted the surrender of Lord Cornwallis’s British forces at Yorktown, Virginia. After the Revolution, Andrews’s parents moved from Virginia to Georgia. The family’s fortune rested on Georgia’s cotton economy, and according to family accounts, although the Andrews were not considered wealthy, they were well positioned in Georgia society.
After graduating from Washington Academy, Andrews studied law and was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1822. He practiced law in Wilkes County with Duncan Green Campbell, the commissioner for the Creek Indian Treaty of 1824, and Isaiah Tucker Irvin, who later became speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives.
Shortly after his admission to the bar, Andrews met Annulet Ball during one of the Ball family’s summer trips to Washington. They were married in 1828. Andrews purchased Haywood, a small plantation house on the outskirts of Washington, and over the following years the couple had eight children, seven of whom reached adulthood. Andrews’s daughter Eliza became a journalist, novelist, educator, and internationally recognized botanist.
In 1834 Georgia governor Wilson Lumpkin appointed Andrews judge of the Northern Circuit of the Superior Court of Georgia. During his early years as judge, Andrews was responsible for several decisions related to claims resulting from the discovery of gold near Dahlonega. Also during this period Andrews purchased an interest in the then-fledgling community of Ross’s Landing on the Tennessee River just north of the Georgia-Tennessee border. Ross’s Landing became the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Andrews is considered to be one of its founders.
During the political unrest that followed the 1854 passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the collapse of the Whig Party, Andrews became involved with the American (or Know-Nothing) Party. In 1855, after resigning his seat on the Northern Circuit, he became the Know-Nothing candidate for the Georgia governorship. He campaigned against unrestricted immigration and against secession. Andrews lost the election to Herschel Johnson by more than 10,000 votes.
In 1859, after Andrews’s unsuccessful race for the governorship, his long-time law partner, Isaiah Irvin, was killed in a steamboat accident off the coast of Texas. Andrews ran for Irvin’s seat in the Georgia House of Representatives and was elected.
In 1861 Andrews led a futile effort to oppose Georgia’s secession from the Union. As reported in Andrews family documents, he believed that Georgia’s position on slavery was protected by the U.S. Constitution and that secession would surely destroy the way of life that secessionists claimed to be protecting. His daughter Eliza later wrote that on the night Georgia seceded, Andrews paced in his closed and darkened house as Wilkes County residents celebrated in the Washington town square. She quoted her father as saying, “Poor fools! They may ring their bells now, but they will wring their hands—yes, and their hearts, too—before they are done with it.”
The defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War (1861-65) and the subsequent Reconstruction policies of the federal government financially devastated the Andrews family. Andrews’s investment in enslaved people was wiped out, and that loss, coupled with at least one poor investment, financially prostrated the judge. In 1868 he was returned to the bench by Reconstruction governor Rufus Bullock and served the Northern Circuit until his death in 1873. Three years before his death, Andrews wrote and published what became a classic memoir of Georgia’s antebellum legal system, Reminiscences of an Old Georgia Lawyer.
In addition to his dedication to the law, Andrews was interested in the improvement of Georgia agriculture. He published many articles in agricultural publications, and he was the featured speaker at several state agricultural meetings.
Andrews died on August 14, 1873, in Washington. With the exception of his oldest daughter, all of the Andrews children were buried in the Andrews family plot in Washington’s Resthaven Cemetery.