Originally created 02/21/99

States' first governors are missing



North Carolina is missing a governor.

According to the Associated Press, historians are offering a $1,000 reward for help in finding Richard Caswell, the state's first post-Revolutionary War chief executive.

When he died in 1789, Caswell was deep in debt and his property and belongings were sold.

His body was buried somewhere near Kinston, N.C., but historians think a marker claiming to show the spot is in the wrong place.

"We had him and we lost him," said Ted Sampley, a Kinston businessman. "How can you lose the first governor of North Carolina?"

Mr. Sampley, an amateur historian, joined three others in putting up the reward.

It's kind of funny, if you think about it -- losing your state's first governor.

Unfortunately, North Carolina is not alone.

The last resting places of two of Georgia's first governors are not without mystery.

Take Button Gwinnett.

The early patriot of the American Revolution became president of the Council of Safety in 1777 -- the highest ranking executive in Georgia's Revolutionary government.

Like many revolutionaries, Gwinnett also had a temper.

An argument with a political rival -- Lachlan McIntosh -- escalated into a pistol duel, and Gwinnett was the poorer shot.

He died from his wound less than a year after signing the Declaration of Independence.

For almost two centuries, he was believed buried in Savannah. But when his bones were moved almost 50 years ago, an archaeologist asked to examine them.

Surprise.

He concluded the bones were those of a young woman, meaning either Gwinnett was buried somewhere else, or at least one of the Founding Fathers was no gentleman.

The man who followed Gwinnett into office, however, brings the bigger mystery.

John Adam Treutlen was Georgia's first "governor," serving from 1777 to 1778.

He had come to this country from Europe before the American Revolution, became a success and had a reputation for character. Treutlen County between Macon and Savannah is named for him.

In 1782, a few years after leaving office, historians say Treutlen went to visit some friends in South Carolina.

He rode away and vanished into history.

One legend maintains that Tories, those British sympathizers prevalent in the South at the time, ambushed Treutlen somewhere near Orangeburg, torturing then killing Georgia's first governor.

But no one really knows.

Some say Treutlen's body was brought back to his home in Effingham County and buried.

But if it was, we don't know where, showing, I guess, that Georgia, like North Carolina, understands what it's like to lose a first governor.

Bill Kirby can be reached at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 107, or bkirby@augustachronicle.com.