A powerful and conspicuous Scotch-Irish family in the great commonwealth of Georgia has been that of Speer, furnishing a Supreme Court Justice, a Congressman, a Federal Court Judge, a State Treasurer, and accomplished divines and educators.
The Speers came originally from the Orkney Islands. Col. John Speer, the ancestor of the Georgia family, went from there to Strabane, County Tyrone, Ireland, about the middle of the fifteenth century, and married the rich Miss Maxwell, and led the “Caledon,” or Scotch horse regiment, under William III. William Speer came from Strabane to South Carolina in 1775, and was a revolutionary soldier and patriot the entire struggle, fighting at Ninety-six and Cowpens, S. C, and at the siege of Augusta and the battle of Kettles Creek, in Wilkes County, Ga., as a member of Gen. Pickens’s military family. After the war the state of South Carolina gave him a valuable body of land near the Cherokee Ford, on the Savannah River, in the Abbeville District, where he lived to a great and honored old age, dying about the year 1833.
This old hero was a Presbyterian, with a broad Scotch accent, and a strong mind and character. At the old Presbyterian church on ” Rocky River,” he was leading the singing, and the pastor, who was lining the hymn, followed with the text, which he promptly sang, and then, seeing his mistake, he exclaimed: “Gracious, I sung the text.”
His war career was romantic. Gen. Pickens was exceedingly fond of the young foreigner, and made him his chief scout, and he had some thrilling escapes from the Tories, at one time swimming the Savannah River in midwinter to avoid capture and to save his dispatches. His farm was at the junction of Rocky River and the Savannah. above Augusta. He married in that section, and in addition to his farm he ran a store. His father seems to have been a merchant, and the son took naturally to the calling. His grandson, Alexander M. Speer, ex-Associate Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, now living, remembers him well, and conversed with him often about the revolution, and on one occasion was shown by the old soldier the scars on his ankles, left by manacles worn while a prisoner in the British hulks in Charleston harbor.