KIRBY: Naming the road most traveled

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

 

– L.P. Hartley

 

Reynolds Street is one of Augusta’s oldest thoroughfares and today one of its most important.

It faces the fast-growing cyber center. It leads to the city’s finest hotels and a convention center. It harbors our history with St. Paul’s Church, old Springfield Baptist and even the Cotton Exchange.

There is little doubt that much of our town’s success in the years ahead will take place among its blocks.

But do you know who “Reynolds” was?

He was John Reynolds, first royal governor of Georgia, who arrived in 1754. Unfortunately, his 3-year tenure was so problem plagued he was called back to England to answer numerous complaints and did not return.

Reynolds was not a popular governor. No surprise. He was a captain in the royal navy, which meant he was used to issuing orders and expecting them to be followed quickly. He got the Georgia job as a political favor, and played favorites as soon as he landed. He delegated his secretary – William Little – to carry out many management tasks. Little was less popular than Reynolds and Georgians didn’t like it.

That fit because it appears Reynolds didn’t like Georgia. He thought Savannah too shabby for colonial governance. He might have had a point. One local structure did collapse upon him.

He tried to move things to a new location, hoping to create a new town and name it for one of his political pals back in England. But back in England, they told him that cost too much. That was also the response when he proposed to build seven forts around Georgia to defend the colony.

Defense would not have been so important if Reynolds had gotten along better with the Creek Indians, but he bungled a treaty conference he had called up in Augusta, leaving before his guests arrived.

The Creeks did not appreciate this lack of respect, and back in England they didn’t appreciate Reynolds’ lack of achievement. He was ordered home to explain his failures and answer allegations in letters from Georgia colonists to friends in power.

It took a year before a hearing and Reynolds asked for mercy. He admitted he might have been “guilty of mistakes, but never of crimes.”

The lords seem to agree and sent him back to the royal navy, which was apparently in need of autocratic delegators.

The colony celebrated. As the New Georgia Encyclopedia puts it so bluntly: “Reynolds’ administration created great distress for Georgians, initiated a loss of revenue and gave the colony a negative image for potential immigrants.”

Despite that, Augustans put his name on one of the city’s first streets. Why?

Perhaps as a reminder to the mistakes of the past.

 

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