Family History: Major John Berrien

Major John Berrien (courtesy of Jan Burroughs/Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Georgia)

The Revolutionary War

John Berrien (1760-1815) was the son of Judge John Berrien. Born in Rocky Hill, New Jersey, he moved to Georgia after his father's death to live with his LeConte cousins in Liberty County. On January 30, 1776, the young 16 year old John joined the Continental Army, receiving his commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the Georgia Continental Brigade, under General Lachlan McIntosh, for whom Berrien served as aide-de-camp. Berrien was a supporter of General McIntosh during the controversy following his slaying of Button Gwinnett in a duel. Berrien remained with McIntosh, and served under him in 1777 as a brigade major of the North Carolina troops at Washington's headquarters at Valley Forge. Berrien's last battle was the Battle of Monmouth, where he was severly wounded. 

Mount Pleasant, the Macpherson Home in Philadelphia (WikiCommons)

The Macphersons

After his retirement from the war, Berrien engaged in privateering expeditions. This profession introduced him to Captain John Macpherson (1725-1792), a Scottish born privateer who amassed a fortune in the French and Indian Wars. Macpherson lavished his fortune on his home in Philadelphia, Mount Pleasant, considered one of the finest Georgian houses in the colonies. 

Berrien fell in love with the captain's daughter Margaret Macpherson (1763-1785) and married her in 1780 in Philadelphia. After their marriage, Berrien and his new wife moved to Rockingham, where their son John Macpherson Berrien was born in 1781. In 1783, Berrien returned to Georgia with his wife and his infant son. Margaret died in McIntosh County, Georgia in 1785.

Major John Berrien's Tomb and Historic Marker, Colonial Cemetery Savannah (image: Andrew Berrien Jones)

After the Revolution

After returning to Georgia in 1783, Berrien served as justice of the peace and captain of the militia in Liberty County. He also acquired plantations through land lotteries from former Tory owners in Liberty and Franklin Counties. In 1786, the Georgia legislature appointed him Collector of Customs of the Port of Savannah; however, he lost re-election to this post in 1788. 

After the death of his first wife in 1785,  Berrien remarried. His second wife, Williamina Moore (1771-1838), came from an old Philadelphia family. In 1791, Berrien constructed his house on Broughton Street. While in Savannah, he served once again as Collector of Customs for the Port of Savannah, as well as alderman from 1791 to 1795. 

Berrien was a member of Christ Church in Savannah and an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati, serving as a president of the Georgia Society. He was also a member of Solomon's Lodge, the masonic lodge founded in 1733 by James Oglethorpe. It is likely that the ballroom of the Berrien House hosted both groups. 

In 1797, Berrien sold the Savannah house and became State Treasurer in the new state capital at Louisville.  John Berrien died on November 6, 1815 in Savannah and now lies in Savannah's Colonial Cemetery, just a few short blocks from the Berrien House.