One hundred and fifty years ago, the citizens of Laurens County were at a crossroads. The most cataclysmic political and social upheaval in the history of our county was simmering. Ten years later our whole world was thrown into a maelstrom. As we reach the true end of the 20th Century, let's look back to the way we were in the middle of the 19th Century.
Following the Clay Compromise of 1850, an election was held on the issue of slavery. The Constitutional Union Party of Georgia was led by Howell Cobb. Locally E.J. Blackshear led the Union Party. When Laurens County's votes were tabulated, 272 voted for the Union, while no one voted for the Resistance. The election of 1860 prompted South Carolina to leave the Union.
A Federal census was taken of Laurens County in the Spring of 1850. There were one thousand seven hundred and forty white males, one thousand seven hundred and nineteen white females, making a total of three thousand four hundred fifty nine white persons, or 53.7% of the total population. There were three free colored males and six free colored females. There were one thousand five hundred seventy five male slaves and one thousand three hundred and nine female slaves, for a total of two thousand nine hundred seventy four, or 46.3% of the total population of the total population. It is interesting to note that 57% of the white citizens and 60% of the slaves were under the age of twenty-one. The total population of 6,442 persons made Laurens County the 74th largest county in the state.
The adult illiteracy rate was forty eight percent among whites. Owing to the fact that most slaves were not taught to read and write, the rate among slaves approached one hundred percent. There were one hundred and seven persons who lived during the American Revolution. Druscilla Pilot, who lived in the David Wood household, was one hundred and eight years old. The vast majority of Laurens Countians in 1850 were natives of Georgia. Approximately five percent of county residents, or one hundred seventy seven people, were natives of North Carolina. Ninety county residents were natives of South Carolina. Of the rest, nine were natives of Virginia, three of Maryland, two of Florida, and one each from Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Alabama. The latter was Gov. George Troup, who was born in the portion of Georgia which later became the State of Alabama. Freeman Rowe, of Connecticut, and Nathan Tucker, of Rhode Island, would play important roles in Laurens County's involvement in the upcoming war. There were four foreign-born residents: a Mr. Christopher from Switzerland, Abraham Doll from Germany, and Ann McNeal and M.P. Simon from Ireland. Charity Branch had the largest family of children- an even dozen. The population density was one person for every fifty three acres, keeping in mind that at that time Laurens County was one of the largest counties in the state and included a portion of present-day western Johnson County. There were only six hundred and thirty four families in the county in 1850, a figure which does not include slave families.
Farming was the major economic activity of Laurens County in 1850. Cotton, corn, sweet potatoes, and wool were the main products. On sixty two thousand two hundred forty nine acres of land, Laurens County farmers produced enormous quantities of food stuffs. In the year before the census was taken, Laurens County farmers produced 8,902 bushels of wheat, 291 bushels of rye, 211,958 bushels of corn, 7535 bushels of oats, 8,885 bushels of rice, 6648 bushels of peas and beans, 118 bushels of Irish potatoes, 82,995 bushels of sweet potatoes, and 11 bushels of barley. Farmers produced slightly more than one and one half million pounds of cotton, 17, 119 pounds of butter, and 14,849 pounds of wool. Other minor farm products produced by county farmers included $100.00 worth of orchard products, 1000 pounds of sugar cane, 5205 gallons of molasses, and 1909 pounds of cheese.
Livestock farming was also a major part of agriculture in the county. Census takers counted 1416 horses, 351 mules, 5740 milk cows, 579 working oxen, 13,533 other types of cattle, 8027 sheep, and 24,038 swine, all valued at a little more than a quarter of a million dollars. Just over $50,000 worth of animals were slaughtered for food during the prior year. Farm equipment was valued at thirty one thousand dollars.
Census takers enumerated six schools, six Baptist Churches, and six Methodist Churches in the county. Historical records show that there were at least eight Baptist churches - Poplar Springs North, Dublin Baptist, Bethlehem, Bluewater, Bethseda, New Hope, Centerville, and Rock Springs. Darsey's Meeting House, which later evolved to become Buckhorn Methodist Church, is known to have been the only 1850 Methodist Church which is in present day Laurens County. Maple Springs Methodist Church, located on the banks of the Ohoopee River in Johnson County, was located in Laurens County in 1850. There may have been a Methodist Church in Dublin, but there are to extant records to prove this assumption. One Methodist Church, Gethsemane, was organized one hundred and fifty years ago this week by Kinman Jones, Edward Holmes, William Pope, Francis Drake, and William Brantley in a building located on Dewey Warnock Road about a mile south of East Laurens School.
There were only three post offices in the county: Dublin, Buckeye, and Laurens Hill. There were no newspapers, no banks, and no railroad. Gov. Troup and others had defeated the location of the Central of Georgia railroad through the county. In his 1855 book, the Rev. George White described Laurens County as "a rolling countryside, with a soil of sand and vegetable mold on top of a clay foundation. One third of the uncultivated lands were covered with oak and hickory, while the remainder contained pine trees and wire-grass pastures. The climate is considered as pleasant as any in the United States."
Nearly all county residents lived on a farm. Dublin was a very small hamlet near the center of the county. Most slaves lived on the plantations along the northern end of the county. In the northwestern sector were the O'Neal, Coats, Stanley, Yopp, Hampton, Harvard, Troup, and Vickers plantations. In the northeastern sector were the Guyton, Blackshear, Kellam, Hightower, Holmes, Linder, and Ballard plantations. In southeastern end of the county, were the Gov. Troup, the county's largest plantation owner, and Smith, McLendon, and Kinchen family plantations. The Burch and Noles plantations in the southwestern sector of the county were nestled among tens of thousand acres of virgin pine trees.