George Galphin was an Indian trader and a diplomat of impressive influence and wealth who lived on the Savannah River at Silver Bluff, South Carolina, in the 1700s. He had substantial landholdings in both South Carolina and Georgia, where he played a critical role in Indian affairs during the Revolutionary era.
Galphin was born in County Armgah, Ireland, in the early 1700s to Barbara and Thomas Galphin, a linen weaver. Before leaving Ireland, he married Catherine Saunderson, whom he never saw again after he emigrated. He arrived in the American colonies in 1737 and found employment in Indian affairs with both the South Carolina and Georgia governments. In the 1740s, Galphin joined the Augusta-based trade firm of Brown, Rea, and Company, which had considerable influence among the Lower Creeks living around the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers. Still married to Catherine, he took Bridget Shaw of St. Phillips Parish, South Carolina, as his wife in 1741. Although both marriages were childless, Galphin fathered nine children, three of them with Metawney, the daughter of a Coweta warrior.
In the 1760s Galphin and partner John Rea sponsored two different resettlement projects to bring Irish immigrants into South Carolina and Georgia. The Georgia settlement consisted of a 50,000-acre tract named Queensborough. Land near the settlement site became part of the new capital, Louisville, after the American Revolution (1775-83).
During the war Galphin sided with the patriots, and the Continental Congress named him one of five Indian commissioners. Having learned enough of their language, he was able to interpret between Creek Indians and the colonial government of South Carolina. In that role he regularly clashed with John Stuart, the British superintendent of Indian affairs for the southern district, as the two men tried to enlist the Creeks on their respective sides. Galphin prevented the British from fully utilizing the Lower Creeks in their war effort. Continental Congress delegate Henry Laurens credited Galphin with securing both South Carolina and Georgia for the patriots.
Galphin helped foster what became Silver Bluff Baptist Church in South Carolina. Located on his plantation, it became the site of one of the first lack churches in America. In 1773 the church was formally established as a Baptist church with a Black congregation. David George, one of Galphin’s enslaved people, was ordained there as the first Black pastor in America. George, with help from Galphin’s children, learned to read and write using the Bible and ultimately helped the congregation grow from eight to more than thirty just before the American Revolution. In 1779 George and around ninety other of Galphin’s enslaved people joined the British side in the hopes of securing freedom.
Galphin died on December 1, 1780, at Silver Bluff, which he had named in honor of Hernando de Soto’s search for the precious metal. At his death Galphin owned 40,000 acres of land in South Carolina and Georgia, a large number of livestock, and 128 enslaved people, some of whom were his own children.
In 2001 the Kimberly-Clark Corporation donated $250,000 toward the restoration of Silver Bluff.