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Sketch of Dr. G. W. Derenne.

ByCOLONEL C. C. Jones, Jr.
[We have alluded in previous numbers to the splendid gift by Dr. DeRenne, of the bronze statue of a Confederate soldier to the Memorial Association of Savannah, and to the presentation to our Society of his beautiful ‘Wormsloe Quartos,’ by Mrs. DeRenne. We are sure our readers will thank us for allowing them to see the following tribute of Colonel Jones, contained in his anniversary address before the Georgia Historical Society, delivered on the 14th of February, 1881:]

And here, my friends, permit me to pause in this narrative to place a memorial wreath upon the new-made grave of one who, since our last annual meeting, has left our companionship and fallen on sleep. He was at one time our President, and always the firm friend and generous patron of this Society His interest in the genuine welfare of this Institution will probably never be comprehended in all its scope and various manifestations,—an interest which induced him to institute exhaustive research among, and acquire privileged access to, the Public Records in London that they might give up their hidden treasures in illustration of the history of Georgia and in furtherance of the reputation of our Association,—an interest which led to munificent gifts in multiplying the collections and publications of this Society,— an intelligent interest which assisted in shaping its conduct and administration,—an interest most prevailing, which if I mistake not, had much to do with rounding into absolute symmetry and giving happy expression to the magnificent charities of those noble Sisters to whose liberality we are indebted for this spacious building and for that other foundation which, in due season, will develop into an Academy of [194] Arts and Sciences, the like of which has never existed within the limits of this State. Grievous indeed has been our loss, and sincerely do we lament the demise of such a friend, counselor, and patron.

Although born in the city of Philadelphia on the 19th of July, 1827, Mr. George Wymberley-Jones DeRenne was, in every thought and emotion, a Georgian most loyal. In the paternal line he was the direct descendant of Captain Noble Jones, the trusted Lieutenant of Oglethorpe, whose watchful eye and brave sword were ever instant for the protection of the infant colony against the enroachments of the jealous Spaniards and the incursions of the restless Indians. Our early records are rendered illustrious by the valor, circumspection, and cool daring which he exhibited on various occasions of doubt and danger.

Among the patriot names shedding lustre upon the period when our people were engaged in the effort to rid themselves of Kingly rule, none in Georgia was more conspicuous for purity of purpose, wisdom of counsel, and fearlessness in action than that of the honorable Noble Wymberley Jones, the grandfather of Mr. DeRenne. Speaker of the Provincial Legislature at a time when it was no light matter to incur the displeasure of a Royal Governor, arrested and confined because of his sympathy with the Revolutionists, and, upon the termination of the war, selected a Representative from Georgia in the Continental Congress, as physician, legislator, patriot, citizen, he won the confidence and esteem of all. Early in the present century he found rest in the bosom of the beautiful home where he had been so honored, admired and trusted.

Of Dr. George Jones—the father of our friend—I may not speak, for there are those within the compass of my voice who knew him in life and cherish his virtues now that he is gone.

Thus does it appear that Mr. DeRenne was the legitimate inheritor, in the fourth generation, of illustrious traditions and of memories personal and precious connected with the history and honor of Georgia. With him they were family legacies. He accepted them as such, and the allegiance which bound him to home and State was inseparable from the ties which united him to kindred and lineage. They were indissolubly interwoven, and whenever the name of Georgia was uttered, there came heart throbs of loyalty and pride most peculiar and pleasurable.

The first eleven years of his life—that tender period when impressions the most abiding are formed—when loves are cemented which the vicissitudes of subsequent age cannot impair,—that morning of existence [195] whose sunlight fades not from memory, were passed at Wormsloe, on the Isle of Hope, the abode of his ancestors. There in infancy were his loves of Georgia begotten. There was his knowledge of home and country localized. There were attachments born which remained ever part and parcel of his inner being.

When not yet twelve years old, upon the death of his father, he accompanied his mother to Philadelphia. There he pursued his academic studies, and was, in due course, admitted as a member of the Collegiate Department of the University of Pennsylvania. His proficiency in the acquisition of knowledge, and his intellectual capabilities attracted the notice and evoked the commendation of his teachers. It was natural that he should seek an education in that city and from that institution, for both were allied to him by ties of no ordinary significance. His maternal grandfather, Justice Thomas Smith, had been for many years a prominent lawyer and a distinguished judge in Philadelphia, and his maternal great uncle, the Reverend William Smith, D. D., was the first provost of the institution now known as the University of Pennsylvania. He was a noted teacher, an accomplished writer, and an eloquent divine. A native of Scotland and a graduate of the University of Aberdeen, shortly after his removal to America, he identified himself with all that was progressive and of high repute in the City of Brotherly Love. After a long life spent in rendering important service to the literary, educational, and religious interests of this country, he died in the city of his adoption on the 14th of May, 1803. His scholarly works and the institution he founded are living monuments to his memory.

In his maternal home, and upon the benches whence had gone forth many who had been instructed by his distinguished relative, Mr. DeRenne found opportunity for earnest study. Graduating with honor, and selecting medicine as the profession best suited to his tastes, he became a private pupil of the famous Dr. Samuel Jackson, and entered the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania. This college was, at that time, probably the most noted in the United States, and the facilities there afforded for mastering the mysteries of the Healing Art were unsurpassed this side the Atlantic. Mr. De-Renne's graduating thesis was entitled a ‘Theory concerning the Nature of Insanity.’ In was, in 1847, privately printed, to the number of forty-eight copies, for special distribution. Striking in thought and composition is this production, indicating an amount of careful research, delicate analysis, and philosophical deduction quite uncommon in one who had barely attained unto his majority. It elicited [196] the praise of his perceptors who earnestly hoped that his talents and acquirements would be consecrated to the practice of a calling which sweeps in its high scope the whole range of physical and moral science. But with Mr. DeRenne there was no intention of applying himself to the active pursuit of the profession to the privileges of which he had just been admitted as a Doctor of Medicine. His affections turned to his island home beneath the Georgia magnolias, and his thoughts were of a quiet, independent life, devoted to the exhibition of hospitality, the pursuit of literature, and the enjoyment of dignified repose.

Shortly after graduation he repaired to Wormsloe, and there fixed his residence. With all its wealth of magnificent live-oaks, palmet-toes, pines, cedars, and magnolias, with its quiet, gentle views, balmy airs, soft sunlight, swelling tides, inviting prospects, and cherished traditions, this attractive spot had uninterruptedly continued to be the home of his ancestors from the date of its original cession from the Crown to his great grandfather, Captain Noble Jones. Here were the remains of the tabby fortification which he had constructed for the protection of his plantation, then an outpost to the town of Savannah, and there vine-covered and overshadowed by oaks and cedars, they will endure for unnumbered years, constituting one of the most unique and interesting historical ruins on the Georgia coast. During his residence at this charming abode, which continued, with occasional absences, until the late war between the States, Mr. De-Renne guarded this ancestral domain with the tender care and devotion of a loyal son, adding to the recollections of the past literary and cultivated associations in the present which imparted new delights to the name of Wormsloe

In this youthful country so careless of and indifferent to the memories of former days, so ignorant of the value of monuments and the impressive lessons of antiquity, where no law of primogeniture encourages in the son the conservation of the abode and the heirlooms of his father, where new fields, cheap lands, and novel enterprises at remote points are luring the loves of succeeding generations from the gardens which delighted, the hoary oaks which sheltered, and the fertile fields which nourished their ancestors, where paternal estates, exposed at public and private sale, are placed at the mercy of speculative strangers, where ancestral graves too often lie neglected, and residences, once noted for refinement, intelligence, virtue and hospitality, lose their identity in the ownership of aliens,—it was a beautiful sight—this preservation of the old homestead, this filial devotion to [197] tree and ruin and tradition, this maintenance around the ancient hearth-stone of cultured memories and inherited civilization. Love of home and kindred and State lay at the root of it all, and this sentiment, than which none more potent resides in the human breast, none more efficient for the honorable perpetuation of family and nation, found fullest lodgment in the heart of our friend.

His carefully selected library contained works of high repute and of great rarity in certain departments. His reading was varied and accurate. Communing often with his favorite authors, he maintained an active acquaintance with the ever expending domain of scientific and philosophical inquiry. His liberal education, enriched by study, travel and observation, enabled him to appreciate and cultivate those standards in literature and art which give birth to the accurate scholar and the capable critic.

To familiarize himself with the history of Georgia and rescue her traditions from forgetfulness were ever his pleasure and pride. During his sojourns in London he obtained favored access to the records in the various public offices and to the treasures of the British Museum. Thence did he procure copies of all papers throwing light upon the early life of the Colony. We have no hesitation in expressing the opinion that in a thorough acquaintance with the history of Savannah and of Georgia, both as a Colony and a State, he was excelled by none. Often have we hoped that he would have undertaken a general history of our State; and more than once did we commend the suggestion to his favorable consideration. Such a work, from his capable pen, composed in that spirit of truth and characterized by that patient research and philosophical analysis of men and events which distinguished all his investigations, would have proved a standard authority. Unfortunately, however, he has been called hence in the vigor of his matured manhood, and in this anticipation we may no longer indulge.

During his residence on the Isle of Hope the literary tastes of Mr. DeRenne found expression in the following publications, with one exception bearing the imprint of Wormsloe, and executed in the highest style of the printer's art.

In 1847 he reprinted the rare and valuable political tract by George Walton, William Few and Richard Howley, entitled ‘Observations upon the effects of certain late political suggestions, by the Delegates of Georgia.’

Two years afterward appeared his caustic ‘Observations on Dr. Stevens's History of Georgia.’ [198]

In 1849 was issued the second of the Wormsloe Quartos, entitled, ‘History of the Province of Georgia, with Maps of Original Surveys, by John Gerar William DeBrahm, His Majesty's Surveyor General for the Southern District of North America.’ This was a most valuable publication. DeBrahm's manuscript, from which the portion relating to Georgia was thus printed, exists in the Library of Harvard University, at Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mr. DeRenne did for Georgia what Mr. Weston had accomplished for South Carolina.

The following year, in the third of the Wormsloe Quartos, were presented the interesting ‘Journal and Letters of Eliza Lucas,’ the the mother of Generals Charles Cotesworth and Thomas Pinckney.

So charmed was Mr. DeRenne with ‘A Bachelor's Reverie, in three parts. I. Smoke, signifying Doubt; II. Blaze, signifying Cheer; III. Ashes, signfying Desolation: by Ik. Marvel,’ that in 1850, by permission of and as a compliment to the gentle author, he had a beautiful edition of twelve copies privately printed.

In 1851 Mr. DeRenne published, as his fourth Wormsloe Quarto, the Diary of Colonel Winthrop Sargent, Adjutant-General of the United States Army during the Campaign of 1791. Only such portion of the diary was printed as related to St. Clair's expedition.

Of these Quartos but a very limited edition was printed, and the copies were donated to famous libraries and placed in the hands of favored friends. Of the first quarto, there are only twenty-one copies of the second, forty-nine; of the third, nineteen, and of the fourth, forty-six. They are all admirable specimens of typography and literary taste; and, in addition to the historical value they possess, are highly esteemed because of their rarity.

Soon after the inception of the late war, Mr. DeRenne transferred his residence from Wormsloe to the city of Savannah. The desolations consequent upon the failure of the Confederate Cause pressed sorely upon the coast region of our State, sadly altering the conveniences of life, changing the whole theory of our patriarchal civilization, and begetting isolation and solitude where formerly existed inviting mansions, the centres of sympathies and social life, which, in their essential characteristics, can, I fear me, never be revived.

His residence in Savannah, the abode of the choicest hospitality, within whose walls dwelt comfort, refinement, and elegance most attractive, could never, in his affections, supplant the loves he cherished for the old homestead on the Isle of Hope. During the winter and spring, one day in each week did he dedicate to the sweet influences [199] of Wormsloe, where, secluded from the turmoil of busy life, he surrendered himself to the contemplation of scenes and the revivification of memories upon which time had placed its seal of consecration.

In further illustration of the liberality of our deceased friend toward this Society, it should be mentioned that he bore the entire charge of the publication of the fourth volume of its collections.

That volume printed in 1878, embraces a History of the Dead Towns of Georgia: villages and plantations once vital and influential within our borders, but now covered with the mantle of decay, without succession, and silent amid the voices of the present. That work I had dedicated to Mr. DeRenne. I was on the eve of placing the manuscript in the printer's hands when he proposed that I should present it to the Georgia Historical Society, and that he would defray the expense of the publication. The suggestion met with the gracious assent of the Society, and the volume was enlarged by the ‘Itinerant Observations in America,’ reprinted from the pages of the London Magazine.

Of the public spirit which characterized Mr. DeRenne as a citizen of Savannah,—the public spirit of a high-toned, independent gentleman solicitous for the general welfare, yet courting neither personal advantage nor political preferment,—of the sterling qualities which he exhibited in the business affairs of life and in the administration of his ample fortune,—of the active and intelligent interest he manifested in everything promotive of the material and intellectual progress, the ornamentation and the civilization of this city,—of his many charities, unheralded at the times of their dispensation, I may not speak. They are fresh in the recollection of us all. Were he here, he would tolerate no eulogium, and now that he is dead, as his friend I will do no violence to his known wishes.

I cannot refrain, however, from reminding you of two princely gifts which will identify his memory with Savannah so long as human structures endure. I refer to his munificent donation of a commodious and substantial building on west Broad street, to be used as a public school for the education of the children of citizens of African descent, and to his presentation to the Ladies' Memorial Association, of that admirable bronze statue of a Confederate soldier which surmounts the monument erected by fair hands in the military parade of Savannah, in honor of our Confederate dead.

Listen to the offer and the acceptance of that noble gift:

A meeting of the Ladies' Memorial Association was held June 3rd, [200] 1879, at 6 o'clock, at the lecture room of the Independent Presbyterian Church, when, after the transaction of the usual routine business, the following communication from Mr. G. W. J. DeRenne was submitted by the President and ordered to be read:

Savannah, May 21, 1879.
The President of the Ladies' Memorial Association, Savannah.
Madam,—In pursuance of the proposition made and accepted in April of last year, I now present to the Ladies' Memorial Association a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier.

It represents him as he was, marked with the marks of service in features, form and raiment; a man who chose rather to be than to seem, to bear hardship than to complain of it; a man who met with unflinching firmness the fate decreed him, to suffer, to fight, and to die in vain.

I offer the statue as a tribute to the ‘men’ of the Confederate army. Without name or fame, or hope of gain, they did the duty appointed them to do. Now, their last fight fought, their suffering over, they lie in scattered graves throughout our wide Southern land, at rest at last, returned to the bosom of the loved Mother they valiantly strove to defend.

According to your faith, believe that they may receive their reward in the world to come; they had none on earth.

With the expression of my profound respect for those women of the South, who, true to the dead, have sought to save their memory from perishing, I am, madam,

Very respectfully, etc.,

The following resolutions were then offered and unanimously adopted by a rising vote:

Whereas our fellow-citizen, G. W. J. DeRenne, has presented to this Association the bronze statue of a Confederate soldier, now crowning the monument erected in the military parade of this city to the memory of the soldiers who perished for the cause they held more precious than life; therefore,

Resolved, That we, the members of this Association, individually and as a body, do hereby unanimously express our grateful appreciation of this noble gift; recognizing its great merit not only as a work of art, but as a signal ornament to our beloved city, and as a valued [201] contribution to the public sentiment worthy of the munificent and solemn purpose of the donor.

Resolved, That we do hereby accept this tribute with profound gratitude, and, in the name of all who are true to these heroic dead, we reverently consecrate it to the memory of the soldiers of the Confederate army who ‘who went down in silence.’

Resolved, That two copies of these proceedings be signed by each of the officers of this Association; one copy to be presented to G. W. J. DeRenne, Esq., the other to the Georgia Historical Society, with the request that it may be placed for preservation in the Archives of the Society.

Henrietta Cohen, President. S. C. Williamson, Treasurer. S. C. Mann, Secretary.

Thus are the name, the generosity, and the patriotism of our departed friend indissolubly linked with the holiest monument erected within the confines of this monumental city; a monument redolent of the prayers, the loves, and the tears of mother, wife, sister, daughter; a monument crystalizing in towering and symmetrical form the memories of the Confederate struggle for independence; a monument standing as a spotless, imperishable, just tribute to our Confederate dead. To the cause which it symbolizes and the heroes who perished in its support, time can bring no shadow, nor envious years oblivion.

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