Telling Georgia’s Story for Nearly 200 Years
In the spring of 1839, three Savannahians—Episcopal divine William Bacon Stevens, renowned autograph collector Israel K. Tefft, and educator, scientist, and American Medical Association founder Dr. Richard D. Arnold—hatched the idea of an organization whose mission would be to “collect, preserve, and diffuse the history of the State of Georgia in particular, and of America generally.”
In May of that year they held the first meeting of what was christened the “Georgia Historical Society,” the tenth state society founded in America (Massachusetts was first) and today the oldest continuously operated historical institution in the South.
Within a few months membership had spread down the coast and as far west and north as Macon. The 85 charter members, who in December 1839 petitioned the Georgia General Assembly for articles of incorporation, read like a “who’s who” of Georgia society and included some of the most distinguished and progressive (for that time) leaders in the state. In addition to the original triumvirate of Stevens, Tefft, and Arnold, there were politicians like Congressman Eugene A. Nesbit and future U. S. Supreme Court Justice James Moore Wayne; Sea Island planters Thomas Butler King and James Hamilton Couper; and intellectuals like Augustus A. Smets, George White, and William A. Caruthers. The first president was John Macpherson Berrien, U.S. Senator and Attorney General of the United States under President Andrew Jackson.
To forge a link between themselves and the earliest days of the state, the founders adopted as the Society’s logo the old colonial seal used by Georgia’s founding trustees. And to demonstrate their commitment to public service, they took as a motto the Latin phrase employed by the trustees more than a century earlier: “Non Sibi, Sed Aliis” – not for self, but for others.
Since the founding of GHS in 1839, the Georgia Historical Society has collected, preserved, and shared some of the most important documents, rare books, maps, photographs, and artifacts that tell the story of our state’s journey through time.
For nearly 200 years, GHS has been the oldest continuously operated historical society in the South and one of the most prestigious in the nation.
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