I think it is unfair to judge Patrick Henry by 21st century standards. He was an 18th century man. He was a slave owner, who measured his wealth largely by how many other human beings he owned. But the hypocrisy of speaking for freedom while holding humans in bondage, was not completely lost on him. But it was lost on the pugnacious and ambitious and very un-humble Senator James Gunn. Which may be why American history books rarely mention him.
Born in Virginia, the “arrogant (and) ambitious” Gunn had risen to the rank of Captain during the revolution, but his career had faltered after he stole a horse from a South Carolina widow, and used it to “fix” a race. After the end of the war Captain Gunn moved to Savannah, Georgia, where people didn't know him so well. He became a lawyer. In the spring of 1786 Captain Gunn lead a handful of local militia in putting down a slave “revolt”. In fact they had just run away, and were hiding in the Black Creek Swamp. Gunn's brave militia proceeded to butcher most of them. And from that day forward, Gunn was known derisively as “General Gunn”.
The next year James Gunn was appointed to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. However he could not be bothered to actually show up. And after being appointed a United States Senator in 1789, the now 36 year old bully's only legislative achievement was to be the first Senator to block a presidential appointment. It seems a certain naval officer, Bennamin Fishbourn, had refused to kick back Charleston tariff duties to Gunn. That may have been the political highlight for the rapacious and arrogant James Gunn, had not the French revolution expanded his horizons.
When the mob stormed the Bastille in July of 1789, it set set off a seemingly endless series of wars, as the royal houses of Europe sought to suppress the revolutionaries, and failed. This chaos inspired all the spare cash in Europe to start looking for safer pockets. Senator Gunn figured American land speculation, like that old forgotten Yazoo swamp-land scheme, would look safe by comparison.
Remember the Bank of North America, the financial institution which had saved the revolution? It had been the invention of Robert Morris, the “Mozart of American finance”, a Philadelphia land and stock speculator, and a friend of Senator James Gunn. Another like minded friend and business partner was the trusted Comptroller for the state of Pennsylvania, John Nicholson. He was responsible for collecting that state's taxes, and liquidating the estates of absentee loyalists. He and Morris quietly got rich doing that, and they shared many of these opportunities with Senator Gunn. These three vultures now combined to resurrect the Yazoo land fraud. Their first hire was the young James Greenleaf, the U.S. Counsel to the Netherlands, who boasted he could snap his fingers and produce a million dollars of gold and silver from his dutch banker friends.
To discourage any legal challenges Gunn hired James Wilson, a Supreme Court Justice who oversaw the Federal courts in Georgia. And as a silent partner they chose Nathaniel Pendleton, another Federal judge. Now all Senator Gunn needed was to get his hands on the old Virginia Yazoo company.
Remember Patrick Henry's partner, David Ross? Back in 1787, Ross had been one of the wealthiest men in Virginia. But when Georgia rejected his payment on the Virginia Yazoo lands, his empire fell apart like a row of dominoes. Creditors were now nipping at his heels. In 1791, Ross sold most of his shares in the Virginia Company to the rapacious Senator from Georgia, James Gunn.
Now, remember, the Federal Government had been trying to take the Yazoo lands off Georgia's hands for a decade and more. But the Peach State's politicians had refused every offer. They were convinced there was money in 'them-there' swamps – somehow. The problem was, if they were going to find a profit in the place, they were going to have to defend it. In 1793 the arrogant red faced fire-plug, Governor George Mathews had been elected to his second non-consecutive term, partly on a platform of defending Georgia's western border against all challengers. But Georgia didn't have the money for soldiers or forts. The only choice was for the legislature to resurrect the Yazoo land deal. Suddenly everything was coming together rather nicely.