On this page you will find stories of the first century of Laurens County, Georgia and East Central Georgia and of the Indians who occupied this area for more than 10,000 years.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
GENERAL DAVID BLACKSHEAR
The Early Years
If you were asked to list the ten most influential persons in the history of Laurens County, you would have to include the name of General David Blackshear. In many lists, he would be near the top, certainly first in chronological order. This is the story of a remarkable man, who as a child fought to defend his state from British invaders, as a young man braved the wilderness of the Georgia frontier, as a middle-aged adult, he led armies to protect the fledgling state of Georgia from the British and hostile Indians in the War of 1812 and as a wise old sage, the old general guided the state through some its greatest turmoils.
David Blackshear was born on January 31, 1764 in Craven County, later Jones County, North Carolina. The third of eight children of James and Catherine Franck Blackshear, young David was reared in a home, seven miles above Newton on the banks of Chinquapin Creek near Trenton. David's grandfather Alexander Blackshear came to North Carolina as early as 1732. Blackshear arrived in the colony in the company of John Martin Franck and Phillip Miller. They landed in New Haven. As soon as they were able to secure sufficient transportation, the families traveled up the Trent River about twenty miles before coming ashore. There they found a wilderness west of New Bern, which had been settled in 1710. They carried their sole possessions with them since there was no stock for food and no horses for transportation. These stalwart German immigrants immediately went to work building their homes. Blackshear applied for and was granted a patent to obtain his land from the Crown.
The Blackshears and their related matriarchal relatives were of German ancestry. Alexander Blackshear made out his last will and testament on October 3, 1785. In it, he named his wife Agnes and children, James, Eleanor Bailey, Elisha, Abraham, Sarah Clifton and a granddaughter Susanna Fordham, who apparently was a daughter of another daughter. Agnes Blackshear died sometime in or shortly after 1793. John Franck and his wife Civel had two daughters, Barbara and Catherine. Catherine first married a Mr. Bush and had two sons, John and William. Bush died in the late 1750s and his widow married James Blackshear. James and Catherine had James, Edward, David, Elizabeth, Susannah, Elijah, Penelope and Joseph. Barbara Franck married Daniel Shine. The Shines lived ten miles above Trenton. Mrs. Shine was given the honor of entertaining General George Washington on his tour of the South in 1791.
David and his siblings had a meager education at best. Periodically a traveling teacher might be hired to teach the children the fundamentals of writing and reading. Most days of spring and summer were spent learning the science and art of agriculture.
Edward, born on January 20, 1762, married Emily Mitchell. He lived for a time in Montgomery County before joining the mass migration to Thomas County, where he died in 1829. Elizabeth, born on September 16, 1765, married Blake Bryan. The daughter Mary, married the legendary Maj. Gen. Ezekiel Wimberly of Twiggs County, Georgia. Susannah, born on May 27, 1769, married Edward Bryan. Following his death in 1813, Susannah and her sons moved to Twiggs County to be closer to their family. Elijah, born on July 17, 1771, never married. He died in Laurens County in1821 and is buried in the old yard at Vallambrosa. Penelope, born on April 13, 1773, married Edward Bryan, and joined her sisters and their Bryan husbands in Twiggs County. Joseph, the youngest child, was born on September 7, 1775. He married Winifred, sister of Col. William A. Tennille, Secretary of State of Georgia. He died in Laurens County in 1830.
In the late spring of 1775, reports of the encounter between Massachusetts minute men and British Army regulars at Concord and Lexington reverberated throughout the backwoods of Jones County. Militia units in the area forced the British to abandon New Bern, then the capital of North Carolina. The British army under the command of General McDonald rendezvoused at Cross Creek on February 15, 1776. Present were a force of 1600 men composed of Highlanders, loyalists and eleven dozen ex-Regulators. The Blackshears and their neighbors did not take this threat lightly. Guns, tools and any weapon capable of inflicting deadly harm were grabbed up by men of fighting age.
On the morning of February 27, 1776, the loyalists were moving north across Moore's Creek some twenty miles north of Wilmington. There as they crossed a bridge, partially disassembled to retard their progress. They were met by a force of a thousand patriots who pounced upon them in utter surprise. Expecting only light opposition as their column moved through the countryside, the Scottish Highlanders were dazed and confused as the North Carolinians assaulted them with deadly effect. As the enemy chaotically left the field in retreat, they left valuable wagons, weapons and huge sums of silver coins. Thirty enemy soldiers were dead. Some 850 more were captured. The defeat at Moore's Creek effectively ended Tory activities in the area for years to come. Present that day, probably somewhere in the rear of the fighting, was a twelve-year-old David Blackshear, along with his older brothers James and Edward. The young warrior was also present at the Battle of Buford's (Beauford's) Bridge.
After the battle, David returned home and for three months of school before being tutored by James Alexander Campbell Hunter Peter Douglass, an eccentric Scotsman. In his latter years Blackshear related a tale about a time when the professor instructed the class to spell the word "corn," which his pronounced "korrun." Each student spelled the word just as they had heard it. Upon an examination of their papers, the Scotsman became so infuriated that he flogged every single member of the class and sent them home.
David's oldest brother, James Blackshear, Jr., and his cousin, Martin Franck were appointed to raise a company of militia to defend their local area. A scouting party composed of James, Edward and David, along with Martin Franck, Peter Callaway and several others, was sent out under the command of Captain Yates to locate, capture and kill, if necessary, a band of Tories. The party stopped to rest for the night at the home of Col. White. James, Martin and Peter continued on to James's home some five or six miles further away.
Just as the men were sitting down for a well-desired supper, the house was surrounded by Tories. James and Martin were taken out of the house, carried to the end of the lane, tied to stakes and executed without mercy. Somehow Peter Callaway escaped. A Negro man ran as fast as he could to Col. White's house. Following closely on his trail, a band of Tories set out to destroy the remaining Whigs. With only seven horses for fourteen men, Yates set out toward the Blackshear home. Just as they left the gate outside the White house, they were ambushed by the Tories, hidden on both sides of the road, killing one patriot and wounding several others, including Edward Blackshear, who was shot in both hands as he was riding double with another man. The Whigs scrambled for the nearest cover. Captain Yates, his collar bone broken, fired and killed the Tory captain. After the skirmish ended, the Loyalist leader was promptly, and without a moment's hesitation, tied to a stake. A flurry of gunshots inflicted sweet revenge on the murder of their compatriots.
Those who have not studied the history of the American Revolution in the South do not realize the barbarous acts inflicted by Tories on the Patriots and vice versa. It was the country's first Civil War, and unlike the conflict which would follow nine decades later, neighbors killed neighbors.
With the end of the American Revolution in 1783, the State of Georgia signed the treaty of Washington. The agreement with the Indian tribes who owned the lands provided a cession of all the lands from present day Athens down the Oconee and Altamaha Rivers to present day Tattnall County. The new county was named Washington in honor of the most prominent founding father of the country.
David Blackshear, though lacking in any substantial mathematical training, developed an interest in surveying. He taught himself how to use a transit, compass and protractor to survey land. Services of trained surveyors were at a premium and the mapping and division of the new county of Washington drew the young man to Georgia. He made several trips to Georgia, first in Wilkes County and then into Washington County. Life for a 18th Century surveyor wasn't easy. With no comforts of home, surveyors trampled through swamps, creeks, briar patches and were constantly in fear of attack by Indians, who still possessed lands west of the Oconee River.
David Blackshear settled along the banks of the Oconee River about the year 1790. He chose the perfect spot for a home, one just above the point where the ancient Lower Uchee Indian Trail crossed the Oconee River at Carr's Bluff. Then in Washington County, Blackshear chose a tract of land with fine river bottom lands and a prime spot for his home on an elevated ridge. The only trouble was that he chose a place which was subject to numerous depredations by some Creek Indian hunters who had been displaced from the lands some seven years prior. Blackshear's grants of land totaled more than twenty one hundred acres, the largest being 1084 acres in 1793. Grants of the latter's size usually indicated that the grantee had performed some public service to the state beyond the standard 287.5 acre grants given to soldiers of the Continental Line.
Many of the conflicts along the lower Oconee River centered around Carr's Bluff on the eastern banks of the Oconee River in north central Laurens County. Carr's Bluff is relatively small in comparison with higher bluffs up river. Its importance was derived from its location. The bluff is located at the point where the Lower Uchee Trail crossed the Oconee River. The trail was used by Indians in their travels between the Augusta area and lower portions of Georgia and Alabama. The trail seems to have been used throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and may have been in use long before then. According to some early Georgia historians, it was the path taken by the Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, while on his expedition in May of 1540.
In 1792, the clouds of war once again came into this area. While negotiations were pending at Rock Landing, attacks continued along the eastern banks of the Oconee. Indian agent Seagrove went from village to village asking for the return of stolen animals. In July, Captain Benjamin Harrison had six horses stolen from him by Uchee Indians. Harrison lived at Carr's Bluff, across from the present day Country Club. Settlers in what would become eastern Laurens County stepped up their defenses. An old Indian trail leading along the eastern edge of the river was used for border patrols. This may have been the Milledgeville-Darien Road. The settlers petitioned the Georgia governor for ammunition and forts. The State built an outpost called Fort Telfair at Carr's Bluff on the Oconee River in 1793. The people built their own forts arming their families and even their slaves. On April 18, 1793, the Indians raided the home of William Pugh near Carr's Bluff. Pugh was the son of Col. Francis Pugh for whom Pugh's Creek in eastern Laurens County is named. Pugh was killed and scalped in the attack. Four horses were taken and one slave was captured. The situation eased when the Oconee's waters rose, creating a natural barrier to an attack.
In the summer of 1793, armies were being raised all over Georgia to protect against further raids. Benjamin Harrison, a resident of the Carr's Bluff area, bore the brunt of these constant attacks of horse taking and killing of livestock. Captain Benjamin Harrison simply hated Indians. Harrison once said "that there should never be a peace with the Indians whilst his name was Ben Harrison for he was able to raise men enough to kill half the Indians that might come to any treaty." Benjamin Harrison is said to have been a frontier character with a patch over an eye and piece of his nose missing. Harrison, a captain of the local militia, called his men together for a mission to retrieve some of his stolen horses. The company moved along the Lower Uchee Trail until they reached the home of the Uchee King who promised him that the horses would be returned. At another time, Harrison's men overtook a group of Indians taking three of their guns. Timothy Barnard, the husband of a Uchee woman, convinced Harrison to return the guns and the matter was temporarily resolved.
By October of 1793, Harrison's ire had once again been raised by the Indians. Captain Harrison's company and other companies under the command of Major Brenton set out from Carr's Bluff in defiance of General Jared Irwin. Their destination was a Chehaw village on the Flint River. Their objective was to capture any runaway slaves and stolen property. They found the village defended by sixteen males and four slaves. The rest of the men were in Florida hunting for game. A battle ensued with two Georgians and three Indians being killed.
In early May of 1794, Indian agent Seagrove invited the Lower Creeks and Uchees to return to their hunting grounds along the Oconee River while treaty negotiations continued. That same month Georgia's war hero, General Elijah Clarke, was about to embark upon an attack on the Spanish at St. Augustine. Clarke and his men were supported by the French government. The expedition left from the upper Oconee area down an old Indian trail along the western side of the Oconee River. The men camped at Carr's Bluff on their route to Florida. Before he could invade, Clarke was convinced by the federal government to call off the attack.
On October 28, 1795, Georgia and the United States were drawn into an incident which nearly precipitated a war with the Creek Nation. A small group of Indians had crossed the Oconee River and were visiting friends in a home near Carr's Bluff. Benjamin Harrison, along with Mr. Vessels and their men, attacked the Indians, killing seventeen of them. The dead, which included five Creek and twelve Uchee, were thrown into the river. The next morning the Uchee rode along the Uchee Trail leading to the bluff. They planned a retaliatory strike at dawn. The Uchee surrounded Harrison's home. To their dismay Capt. Harrison was gone. They moved east attacking Bush's Fort with all haste. Bush was a stepbrother of future General David Blackshear and lived in the area south of Ben Hall Lake along the newly created Washington/ Montgomery County line. They captured the fort and killed one man. The horses were taken and the cattle were killed. The Creek chiefs protested the killings to the Georgia government. The legislature passed a resolution regretting the incident. Harrison and his men were arrested for murder, but were never tried.
In February of 1796, John Watts and his company of 17 men were at Hickory Bluff, two miles above Carr's Bluff on the Oconee. The men received information on the 6th that Indians had been committing depredations along the frontier. Some of the men started down the river in two canoes. The first canoe was fired upon. Joseph Blackshear, George Muse, and James Leonard in the second canoe heard the gunfire and quickly moved ashore. The firing continued for fifteen minutes. The next day Watts led a party to the scene of the incident. There he found a decapitated William Foster who had his intestines and private parts cut out. Israel Smith's bullet-riddled body was found skinned like an animal. Isham Carr testified that he was a member of the party sent to investigate the theft of horses and sundry articles on February 8th. He stated that the men on the land ran to the crossing point on the river. The militia fired on the forty to fifty Indians, who retreated and fired from the high ground. After a short time, the militia retreated when they feared they might be surrounded. He went with Major Blackshear, Captain Blackshear, and others on the 10th to look for the missing men. The men found a small cache of three guns, a pistol, powder, and some clothing which they believed to belong to the Indians. Carr found one dead man on the east bank of the river. His scalp had been taken and it was presumed he had tried to swim to the east side of the river to safety. Two men, Sparks and Leonard, were missing after the action and were presumed to have drowned in the attack.
While the negotiations for the Treaty of Colerain were pending, many of the hostilities ceased. By the spring of 1797, the Indians were becoming impatient with the failure to bring Harrison and his men to trial. They attacked Long Bluff a few miles above Carr's Bluff. Isaac Brown (Vansant?) had his brains blown away and was scalped at Bush's Fort in present day Laurens County in 1797. Jeremiah Oates of Washington County testified that the dozen or so Indians carried off most of Brown’s belongings. Brown’s wife was shot. The Indians set the Brown’s house on fire. Mrs. Brown managed to fire a shot which scared the Indians. Despite her wound, Mrs. Brown was able to extinguish the fire. The Indian leading the party had a son killed by Harrison at the massacre at Carr's Bluff. In one of the last attacks in this area in February of 1798, William Allen was killed near Long Bluff.
As early as the fall of 1797, David Blackshear was serving as a major of a brigade of militia. By the end of the century, most of the hostilities had ceased. Gen. David Blackshear complained of the small thefts being committed by Indians in the late spring of 1799. No harm was done, but he thought the Indians were too insulant and mischievous. He found the remains of a bar-be-qued pig at a camp site. Blackshear was aggravated that the Indians were killing any animal they could find on his side of the river and that he had done all in his power to stop them without laying his hands upon them. In one of the final clashes with the Indian people, two white citizens of Montgomery County crossed the Oconee River and took two horses belonging to Indians. Gov. James Jackson wrote to Gen. David Blackshear who had command of this area. One of these may have been ol' Benjamin Harrison. Jackson gave orders to Blackshear directing him to arrest the offenders and not to resort to violence in the absence of any provocation. Jackson reiterated the law against any Indians remaining on Georgia soil without permission. The governor promised to back General Blackshear in any actions he might take.
Pursuant to the approval of the Georgia Legislature on February 22, 1796, Jared Irwin, a fellow Washington Countian and Governor of Georgia, appointed Blackshear as Justice of the Peace for Blackshear’s Militia District on June 4, 1796. Militia districts were formed primarily as a means of local defense against Indian attacks. Each district was named for its captain, presumably either David Blackshear or his brothers Joseph or Elijah. Three years later the Justices of the Inferior Court of Washington County renominated Blackshear to the position, which he served at least until 1808 and presumably until the boundaries of Laurens County were expanded to encompass all of his holdings in 1811.
Blackshear represented Washington County in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1797 to 1798 and again in 1804. Nearly all of the records of General David Blackshear’s activities while he was residing in Washington County went up in flames in a disastrous fire which destroyed the county courthouse in the 1850s. The early years of the 19th Century were relatively quiet in the number of so called Indian depredations. This lull was not so much caused by a cessation of hostilities but primarily because the state of Georgia acquired all of the land east of the Ocmulgee River in the early years of the century. Blackshear remained active in local affairs. With the creation of Laurens County in 1807, new lands were opened across the Oconee River from his plantation. Blackshear and his brothers, though not land lottery winners, promptly expanded their family’s holdings by purchasing fractional land lots along the river at a public sale held in the capital in Milledgeville. In 1811, the Georgia legislature authorized the ceding of portions of Washington and Montgomery counties to Laurens County. This simple act to compensate Laurens County for its loss of lands to Pulaski County was directly responsible for David Blackshear becoming a resident of Laurens County. David Blackshear’s early years as a local patriot and warrior was soon to change. In his last twenty five years of life, Blackshear would make outstanding contributions to his state that would make him one of the county’s most influential and important citizens in the 200-year history of Laurens County.