William Scarbrough collection
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William Scarbrough collection

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Georgia Historical Society
Creator: Georgia. Department of Archives and History.
Title: William Scarbrough collection
Dates: 1800s
Extent: 0.02 cubic feet (1 microfilm roll)
Identification: MS 1400

Biographical/Historical Note

William Scarbrough (1776-1838), planter and business promoter, was born in Pasquotank County, North Carolina, on February 18, 1776. He was the son of William and Lucy Sawyer Scarbrough, a North Carolina shipbuilder and trader who settled in Charleston, South Carolina. William married Julia Bernard on April 18, 1805 and had 10 children: Charlotte deBernier, William, William G., Julia Henrietta, Lucy, Mary T., Joseph, Eliza, Emily, and William Isaac.

After serving a commercial apprenticeship under Severin Erichson in Denmark, England, Germany, and Spain during 1796-1798, Scarbrough moved to Savannah, Georgia, where he built a prosperous commercial and shipping business. Scarbrough was also the Danish vice-consul "for the ports of the state of Georgia," 1802-1820. He was a Savannah landowner and business and society leader with partners in Augusta, Georgia; New York City; and Liverpool, England. He also continued a working interest in his family's Belfast plantation in North Carolina. In the early 1800s, Scarbrough hired William Jay, architect, to build a massive Regency-style house on West Broad Street in Savannah; the house was completed in time for President James Monroe's visit to Savannah in May of 1819. In May, 1818, Scarbrough was instrumental in the formation of the Savannah Steam ship Company. The company bought a 320-ton sailing vessel and outfitted it with a steam engine, bent smokestack, and a side paddle wheel in New Jersey and New York. The vessel arrived in Savannah from New York by sail and steam in April of 1819 and was available for President Monroe to steam down the Savannah River to Tybee Island and back. On May 22, 1819, the S.S. Savannah steamed from Savannah and reached Liverpool on June 20, and arrived in St. Petersburg on September 15; it returned to the Savannah River on November 30. The S.S. Savannah made history as the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. It did not, however, prove prosperous for Scarbrough.

Financial problems began to plague Scarbrough, and after the government refused to buy the steamship, he was forced to have the engines removed. He turned the ship into a sailing packet. On November 5, 1821, the S.S. Savannah wrecked off the coast of Fire Island, New York, a loss from which Scarbrough never recovered financially. He eventually sold the Belfast plantation and the West Broad Street house. By the age of 44, Scarbrough was a pauper.

In the late 1820s and into the 1830s, Scarbrough recovered enough to hold a job as an agent for the Upper Darien Steam Rice and Saw Mill in Darien, Georgia. During this time, he wrote papers on the mechanism of the steam pump and causes of explosions in steam boilers. He also received a patent on April 8, 1835 for an invention improving the steam engine for use on boats with paddle wheels. In late 1835, Scarbrough returned to Savannah and held several minor elected positions. On June 1, 1838, after leaving Savannah with his son-in-law, Godfrey Barnsley, on a business trip to Liverpool, William Scarbrough died in New York City.

Scope and Content Note

This collection consists of a microfilm copy of the Georgia State Archives' collection on William Scarbrough. Included are correspondence and other materials written by, about, or to William Scarbrough. Also included is correspondence with the Georgia Archives concerning the acquisition of this collection in 1946.

Index Terms

Letters (correspondence)
Savannah (Ga.)--History.
Scarborough, William, 1776-1838.

Location of Originals

Original collection in the Georgia State Archives.

Physical and Technical Access Restrictions

A microfilm reader is required to access this collection.

Administrative Information

Custodial History

Material was acquired from the Georgia Department of Archives and History, to whom it was given by the Atlanta Town Committee, Colonial Dames of America, in 1946. The Colonial Dames of America purchased the collection from Leslie Taylor Cummins of Reform, Alabama.

Preferred Citation

[item identification], William Scarbrough collection, MS 1400, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Georgia.

Acquisition Information

Gift of the Georgia Department of Archives and History, date unknown.


Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

Copyright has not been assigned to the Georgia Historical Society. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Division of Library and Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Georgia Historical Society as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.


Encoding funded by a 2012 Documenting Democracy grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Container List



1X-1400-01. William Scarbrough collection