"....Where is the man of gentleness, lowliness... and, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, or sometimes of as sad a gravity, a man for all seasons?"
-- Robert Whittinton,
of Sir Thomas More,
16th-century English statesman
He wasn't born in Columbia County, and he would live here less than 20 years. But few events in early county, state or national history escaped the influence of part-time native son and, many say, her most famous citizen, William Harris Crawford.
To date, no other Columbia County resident has served in the Cabinet of two American presidents, or been nominated for the presidency itself. Also, as far as we know, no one else with even a temporary Columbia Coun-ty address ever met or so elegantly impressed then-president of France Napo-leon Bonaparte.
The more I learn about this area's famous ancestor -- and personal ancestor for a number of local residents -- the more justified I feel in borrowing the description of another famous statesman, "a man for all seasons." England's Sir Thomas More had no greater resume than our Sir William, whose specifics included: attorney, Georgia legislator, U.S. senator and president pro tempore of the Senate, minister to France and secretary of war under President James Madison, secretary of the Treasury under presidents Madison and James Monroe, and presidential nominee.
There's much more to tell about William Crawford than the 30-second sound-bite airing today about the man, "who nearly beat Jimmy Carter to Pennsylvania Avenue as the first president from Georgia." It should also be obvious that the complete story cannot be contained in the few short paragraphs of a newspaper column. However, because of another, well-known Crawford story -- his audience with Napoleon -- I'm using this space to fill in the details of that famous event.
It was 1813 and America was at war with England again, this time over territorial matters including shipping rights on the high seas. England was seizing our ships and, since there were tensions between England and France at the same time, American ships were also being confiscated by the French.
Thus, President Madison needed someone to go to France and accomplish two things: Recover compensation for our lost ships; and, obtain a treaty between our two countries that didn't compromise the U.S. position. Other men, including Henry Clay, had already failed at this task, but Madison believed Crawford would succeed.
Crawford managed to retrieve compensation for some of the ships, but the treaty would elude him -- not because of his lack of skill, but because the French were too busy solving problems in their own government. Napoleon was, indeed, impressed with the visiting American. However, his comment that, "William Crawford was the only person to whom I ever felt constrained to bow," may have had more to do with Crawford's size -- well over 6 feet tall compared to the Frenchman's legendary small stature -- than their limited, shared diplomacy.
Although Napoleon assured Craw-ford he looked forward to "a friendly and beneficial relationship between our two countries," at the time the little Emperor wasn't considered "friendly and beneficial" by either his European counterparts or his own people.
Crawford was more then willing to go to France, but he couldn't wait to get home to Georgia. Historian Lucien Lamar Knight may have discovered one of the reasons why.
At some point during his stay, Crawford became very sick with gastric distress. Impatient with his lengthy recovery, and without consulting a doctor, he asked his French servant if there were such things in Paris as turnip salad (presumably the vegetable with its leafy top left on) and hog jowl.
"Oh, yes," replied the servant, "but in Paris we feed turnip salad to the cows."
"Never mind," said Crawford. "You get me a peck of turnip salad, a hog's jowl and a pot big enough to hold them both, and I'll show you how a gentleman can enjoy himself."
The shocked servant complied. Crawford then prepared the meal unassisted, ate to the last bite and, Knight concludes, "proceeded at once to get well." He said it was the first substantial meal he had eaten since he left Georgia, and he blamed his illness on the fact that, since he had been in France, he had nearly starved to death.
Crawford arrived back in Georgia in August 1815, two months after Napoleon arrived in Waterloo, Belgium. Neither man ever returned to France.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. The preceding is an excerpt from As Long As The Rivers Run, her work in progress on the history of Columbia County. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.