Saturday, July 12, 2014


The Beginning of a Tradition

As you read one of the thirty thousand plus newspapers ever printed in Laurens County, have you ever wondered when the first periodical came off the press?  This is the story of the premiere edition of "The Student," a student newspaper published by the students and teachers of a Dublin Academy in the middle of the 1870s.

To get news from the outside world, a Laurens Countian used to have to subscribe by mail to newspapers from Milledgeville, Macon, Sandersville, or as far away as Augusta and Savannah.  Since there were no trains coming into the county until 1886, delivery of newspapers was expensive.  Papers were generally read by the elite business and professional men of the day.  Many of them came preprinted on one side with news of national and world events.  On the blank side publishers would print local news and advertisements.  The first traditional paper in Dublin was known to be the Dublin Gazette, which was published by Col. John M. Stubbs in 1876.  Issues of the Dublin Post hit the streets in 1878.  The Post evolved into the Dublin Courier Herald, which is in its ninety third year of operation.

But the first newspaper ever printed in Dublin was not your traditional daily or weekly paper.   It was published by the students of Lee Academy and its headmaster, Richard "Dick" Lowery Hicks.  Hicks was a son of James Hicks, who wrote a Geometry textbook and furnished the first academy in Wrightsville.  Richard Hicks was born in 1848 and came into manhood just as the Civil War ended.  He attended Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.  The president of the university during those years was none other than General Robert E. Lee.

Hicks returned to Georgia and moved to Dublin with his brothers, Henry and Charles, both of whom were doctors.    The Hicks were ingrained by their parents to believe that education and public service were paramount. In the early 1870s, Dick Hicks decided to open an academy in Dublin for boys.  Public schools were considered inadequate for the needs of the sons of the town's most prominent and erudite families.    The school, a meager two-room building, was known to have been located on Bellevue Avenue, about where the radio station offices are now located.  Hicks promoted his school where the courses were composed of thorough philosophical instruction.

Volume 1, Issue 1 of "The Student" was published in February 1875.  The monthly paper carried a subscription price of fifty cents per session, payable in advance.  The editors were C.J. Hicks and J.R. Fuqua.  All articles were solicited from the students and friends of the academy and could not be submitted under any anonymous or pen names. The smallest ad cost five dollars per inch per session, while an entire column cost the advertiser a healthy sum of fifty dollars.  Under the banner on the front page was the phrase "Excelsior" a reference to higher education.  Gymnastics and music were also an integral part of school day activities. 

The front page of the premier issue carried articles entitled "Desultory Reading" from The Saturday Review, "The Follies of Great Men," "Early Rising" from Hall's Journal of Health and "Reflections in Westminister Abbey," from Addison.

In greeting their readers for the first time, editors Hicks and Fuqua acknowledged their youthful faith and enthusiasm but promised to afford the students of Lee Academy  with pleasant and profitable recreation.  The editors saw the venture as a way of giving the students an opportunity to write a newspaper of their own.  They believed that writing a single article for the paper would encompass more thinking power than an entire session of regular school writing assignments.  The primary goal of the paper was to encourage the establishment of an adequate library.

The paper's editors realized that they were publishing the only newspaper in the county, but vowed to maintain the paper as a student paper, though items of local interest would be highlighted.    The first edition carried the news that the road in front of Captain Smith's (Gaines Street) had been put in good condition and requested that the same be done for the other streets in the city.  The river was up and the time for boating was right.  Rounding out the items of local interest was the tidbit that Col. Stubbs' ram was the only sheep in Dublin.

Advertising was and still is essential for the profitable operation of any newspaper. The editors praised their main advertisers.  L.C. Perry & Company was saluted as one of the best establishments outside of Georgia's main cities.  The same was said of dry goods merchant M.L. Burch.    Other advertisers were Dr. R.H. Hightower, Lawyer J.A. King, buggy dealer R.M. Arnau, liquor dealer O.J. Beale, and Richard A. Odom, the proprietor of the Troup House, the town's only hotel.

The paper carried the news that Dr. J.T. Chappel, Laurens County's representative in the Georgia legislature, had introduced a bill to abolish the County Court.  The editorial praised the act which would rid the county of a court which was established only in the interest of a few office seekers and pettifoggers. 

Of utmost importance to the county in the 1870s was the rejuvenation of steamboat traffic along the Oconee River.  With no railroads even in the planning stages, river transportation was essential to the future of the local economy.    It was reported that Capt. Day had raised his boat "The Clyde" from her watery grave along the coast line between Darien and Savannah and had her rebuilt so that she could continue to serve the needs of Dubliners.  

There were greetings to old students and news of their life after leaving the academy. J.G. Wright, Jr. had "gone west." Weaver, the medalist of the class of '73, was studying medicine, while Jack was shooting rabbits in Texas and Holmes was fiddling and farming. "Toob" was selling goods.  "Little Peacock" had no particular employment, but it was reported that he intended to return to school soon.  J.H. Hightower was teaching the "young ideas how to shoot," and W.J. Hightower was teaching "the shoots how to idea."

After the closing of Lee Academy, Richard Hicks joined the firm of H. Hicks & C0mpany, which operated a drug store on the southwest corner of the courthouse square and maintained a profitable river boat company.  Dick joined forces with J.W. Peacock & Company in 1878 to publish the Dublin Post, which in 1887 was absorbed by the Dublin Courier, which evolved into the Dublin Courier Herald and which is today published by Dubose Porter, Dick Hicks' great-great-great-nephew. And the stories, they go on and on.

Monday, June 30, 2014


         Back in the old days, when fires were put out by brigades of volunteers throwing buckets of water or by fireman hand pumping small streams of water, a fire in the downtown area was often quite cataclysmic. Dublin's first major fire occurred on  May 26, 1889.  One hundred and twenty five years ago today, Dublin's business district was one mass of charred timbers and smouldering ashes of once bustling businesses. There was no hope in sight. Gloom, despair and agony permeated the smoking ruins.

When the business section of Dublin began to expand, stores and other places of business were expanded well beyond the original plan of four lots/buildings  per block.  The closeness of buildings to each other , coupled with the fact that brick buildings were somewhat scarce, even in the early 1890s, led to massive fires in the downtown area, some fueled by drought and wind, others fed by insidious incendiaries.

Dublin's first "great" fire (great fires are never great)  began early on a quiet Sunday morning.  A westerly wind was howling down the main street from the west.  It had not rained in weeks.  Water was scarce.  Napoleon Baum was only beginning to erect the town's first public well on the northeast side of the Courthouse Square. With the two requisite elements for a catastrophic conflagration present, the smallest spark would ignite a firestorm. 

Investigators focused on the source of the fire and determined that the flames emanated from the Post Office causing  the whipping winds to leap from one wooden structure to another.  For nearly nine hours, townsfolk futilely  sought t0 extinguish the rolling mass of flames.  The Dalton Hotel was sacrificed by dynamiting it to save the Tillery and Burch houses.

The fire burned everything from the corner of Lawrence Street around the block and down Jefferson Street stopping before reaching the Troup House.  Among the buildings suffering substantial losses were the Post Office, the old Hooks Hotel,  Roughton's store, B.F. Duggan's Grocery, C.W. Brantley's house, F.W. Shelton's general merchandise store J.W. Gilder's building, P. Hillman's restaurant, Peter Franklin's barber shop, Jesse Cowart's grocery, George Bang's Dublin Jewelry Store,  H.P. Smith's shoe store, Susan Tillery's store house, Nathan Burch's building, Willis Dasher's restaurant, L.C. Perry's stables and buggy shop, and M.L Jones' store, which was the highest valued loss at $4000.00.  Jones came out smelling like a rose because he had $3000.00 in insurance.  No other building owner did.  G.W. Maddox's furniture store suffered the most damage with $3000.00 in uninsured losses. 

Only the slightly damaged brick office of Dr. R.H. Hightower (where Deano's is now located) survived the fire in the entire block southwest of the courthouse square.    The final total of damages ranged from $25,000.00 to $50,000.00 with eleven business houses being totally engulfed in flames.  The total figure was most likely at least $40,000.00.  Two or three weeks later, the rains finally came and the town was safe, at least for a while.

One of the burned buildings belonged to H.C. Roughton of Sandersville.  Upon hearing of the fire, Roughton rushed to Dublin by train, arriving  just before the fire was finally under control.  He sought out L.A. Chapman, the owner of the brickyard.  The next morning before the ashes cooled Mr. Chapman began delivering bricks to the site.  What resulted may be the oldest building in downtown Dublin.  It is occupied in 2014 by New York Fashions.  

It was another Sunday and another fire. It was the evening of September 21, 1890, just before the autumnal equinox.  It had been relatively wet, a condition which had severely damaged the year's cotton crop.  Just about 9:00 in the evening, a wood stove caught on fire.  The flames spread across the street from the Troup House on the first block of South Jefferson Street consuming all of the houses in their path.  T.F. Newman's harness shop, J.S. Lewis' ice and soda saloon, the barbershop, the bottling works, and the newspaper offices of the Dublin gazette were totally destroyed. Much to the chagrin of the liquor and beer drinkers, both J.M. Rinehart's and W.J. Hightower's bar rooms were incinerated when the flames hit their flammable stock.    Luckily, hardly $50.00 of  Miss Susie Bearden's millenary was scorched.

New Year's Day 1894 was not a happy one, not at all.  

On the last day of 1893, the citizens of Dublin were looking forward to a better economic year following the economically disastrous Panic of 1893.    Just before midnight, flames began to fly out of the Whitehead-Watkins Building on the corner of West Jackson and South Jefferson Streets.   Thoughts immediately turned back to May 26, 1889, when the entire block was virtually burned to the ground.

The first story stores of G.W. Bishop, E.J. Tarpley, G.W. Maddox and Tarpley & Kellam were gutted.  Upstairs, the medical offices of Dr. A.F. Summerlin, and Dr. Charles Hicks, along with the legal offices of  Peyton Wade, Frank Corker, Joseph Walker, Joseph Chappel, and Mercer Haynes. were destroyed except for a few pieces of furniture and books of Dr. Summerlin and Attorney Wade, which were carried out before the flames totally engulfed the newly constructed brick building.  Amazingly, none of these erudite professionals carried insurance.

Dr. Hightower's building, which survived the Great Fire of 1889, was severely damaged when the adjoining burning building collapsed upon it.    The fire was so intense that the heat broke windows across the street in the bank.  The proprietors of Lord & Brooks covered the front of their building with wet blankets to keep the heat from damaging their store next to the bank.  

No clues were ever found to determine the origin of the New Year's fire, although preliminary investigators believed it to be of an incendiary nature.  

In today's world of high tech fire fighting equipment and highly trained firemen, we would like to hope that we are exempt from such infamous infernos.  But as you know, history has a way of repeating itself.  It is important to all of us to follow simple and basic fire prevention guidelines to protect our families, friends and our homes and buildings. 



Laurens County was without a river bridge for the first eight and half decades of its existence.   Just prior to the formation of Laurens County, the first ferries were established in what is now Laurens County. Other travelers had to cross on horseback or swim across in shallow spots.    The new lands west of the Oconee were just beginning to open up to settlers.  Ferry boats were nothing more than a floating platform.  In the days before the motor driven ferries, the ferryman and his helpers  would pull the boat across the river.  Ropes were tied to a series of pulleys.  Accidents did happen. Ropes broke and  often.  When the water was high and the currents swift, many ferries shut down.  Men and livestock fell into the river, some losing their lives.  One could not always rely upon the ferry as a means of crossing the river.  

William Neel established Dublin's first ferry in what became the most extreme southeastern part of Dublin.  The ferry was established in 1804 or before, three years before the formation of Laurens County.  Neel's ferry is shown on the land grant maps of 1804 opposite Land Lot 235 of the 1st Land District.  This places the ferry at the mouth of Long Branch.  This may be the same spot where a ferry was established by Neil Munroe and Richard Ricks in the 1820's.  Neel and Jonathan Sawyer, were the first settlers of the community known as Sandbar, which later became East Dublin.  

In 1806 or 1807, George G. Gaines placed his ferry at the point where the Old Savannah Road crossed the Oconee River.  The ferry was put under the same rates as other county ferries in August 1810.  Gaines later purchased one thousand acres along the eastern side of the ferry.  The street which ran to the ferry was named in honor of Gaines who left this area around the time of the War of 1812.   Gaines sold his ferry possibly to Henry C. Fuqua.  Fuqua sold the ferry to wealthy landowner Jeremiah Yopp in 1831.  

In 1832, Yopp petitioned the Justices of the Inferior Court for the right to charge for passage over the river.  The county approved the rates of fifty  cents for loaded wagons, twenty-five cents for jersey wagons and carts, six and one-quarter cents for man and horse or footman and cattle, two cents for hogs, and one and one-half cents for sheep.  Yopp operated the ferry until his death in 1852.  His son-in-law sold the property to a Dublin lawyer, Young Anderson.   During Anderson's ownership, the most famous visitor to Dublin may have crossed at the ferry then known as Dublin Ferry.  On May 7, 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis crossed the Oconee River near Dublin, possibly at the ferry.  

In 1870 ,John Jones was hired to build a new boat for the Dublin Ferry. The flat boat was fifty feet long and twelve feet wide.  The main boat was constructed from 5" by 8" timbers with two inch planks along the bottom and one and one quarter inch plank flooring. The boat was to be ready by February.  William Madison, a former slave, was awarded the contract to keep the ferry in 1871.  Madison kept the ferry for fifteen consecutive years.  The end of the Dublin ferry was near when talk of a bridge began to surface.   

Passage on the ferry was made free to the public on June 26, 1878. Laurens County condemned the property in 1884.  The area around the ferry was soon developed.  The resurgent river boat companies tied their boats to docks on both sides of the ferry.  Rev. W.S. Ramsay of First Baptist conducted baptismal services there in the early eighties.  Dr. R.H. Hightower built warehouses and a steam mill near the ferry site.  Traffic became so heavy that in 1880 the ferryman Madison called for the hiring of an additional man to handle the increasing load.  Some citizens were irate when they had to wait six hours to cross the river following a meeting of the Baptist Association at Shady Grove in eastern Laurens County.  Bridge proponents used the inadequate ferry as the primary reason for a bridge.  

The Dublin Ferry would serve one last purpose.  For the five years following the completion of the Dublin and Wrightsville Railroad to the eastern banks of the river, the ferry was used to carry passengers and freight on into Dublin.  When the first permanent passenger bridge was completed in 1891, the ferry was discontinued.  

Bill Madison, the black ferryman, was a popular figure in the community.  Mrs. E.C. Campbell remembered that when she was a little girl all roads to the ferry were crowded on Sunday afternoons.  "Uncle Bill" was known as a masterful dancer and was loved by all the children whom he would give free rides.  

One incident on a cold December Saturday night in 1879 typified the skill and dedication of ferryman Madison.   John B. and Russell Holmes arrived at the ferry around 10:00 in the evening.  After a long day at his post, Bill was asleep in the ferryman’s quarters.  The gentlemen decided that they could make it across the river and not get ol’ Bill up from his slumber.   Russell grabbed the ferry chain and began pulling the ferry flat toward the opposite bank.  Suddenly, he lost his balance and fell into the frigid waters.  Without Russell holding the chain, the flat was set adrift.  Russell screamed at the top of his lungs awakening Madison, who dashed into the darkness.  Madison jumped into his bateau and rowed as hard as he could toward the rapidly moving craft and its blunderous operator.  About a mile down river, Bill caught up with Holmes and the boat.  He managed to jump from his bateau onto the ferry boat, bringing it under his control by wedging it against a cypress stump on the bank.   With the assistance of a couple of onlookers, Madison was able to thaw out the would be  ferryman.    

For a few months in 1921 the ferry returned to Dublin.  During the time while the river bridge was being refitted, Laurens County purchased the necessary boats and equipment and operated the ferry until the bridge was reopened to auto traffic.  Today when the river is shallow, you can see the remnants of the ferry at the northern end of the riverwalk park at the mouth of Town Branch. 

Ephraim Green was granted permission to establish a ferry in northern Laurens County on August 1, 1808.  His rates were to be the same as Blackshear's.   Another ferry was established in the same area by William Livingston.  William Diamond was granted permission to establish a ferry at the place known as Spear's Ferry on Aug. 7, 1810.  The area came to be known as Diamond Landing.  It was here near Wilkes Spring in southern Laurens County where a third county ferry was sought to be established by Laurens County.  Jacob Robinson was granted permission to establish a ferry on August 7, 1815.  Robinson was granted permission to double the rates when the river overflowed its banks.  While ferries were usually run across rivers, Maddox's Ferry was running across Big Creek before 1812.  

The most famous ferry in the annals of Laurens County History is Blackshear's Ferry.  Today the last remnants of the ferry are located at the end of Country Club Road three miles north of the city limits.  The area around Blackshear's Ferry may have encompassed a series of ferries.  A survey of Gen. David Blackshear's estate shows an old ferry about a half mile northwest of last ferry site.  

The first mention of a ferry in the records of Laurens County appeared on February 2, 1808.  The Justices of the Inferior Court ordered the establishment of a ferry at Blackshear's Landing.  The rates approved were 50 cents for loaded wagon, 37.5  cents for empty wagons, 25 cents for loaded carts, 18.75 cents for empty carts, 37.5 cents for pleasure carriages and horses, 6.25 cents for man and horse, led horse and footman, black cattle two cents per head, and all other stock was a penny per head.  The second and possibly the first site was located about a half mile southeast of the last ferry site.  That ferry, known as Trammel's Ferry, was established by Jared Trammel and James Beatty at the point where the ancient Lower Uchee Indian Trail crossed the Oconee River at Carr's Bluff.  It may have been established prior to the formation of the county.  In 1812 orders for new roads by the Inferior Court indicated that Beatty's and Trammel's Ferries were separate ferries in the area.   

The Georgia Legislature in 1819 authorized a public ferry across the Oconee River at the place formerly known as Trammel's Ferry with the same rates as previously charged, subject to modification by the Inferior Court.  The law provided that all of the profits from the ferry would go to the estate of Trammel for those passengers leaving from the northeast side of the ferry landing and to James Beatty for all those passengers leaving from the southwest side of the ferry landing. 

In 1823 after Beatty's death the ferry was purchased by General David Blackshear. Thereafter the third and last ferry was established by the General or his son Elijah in the 1820s.  It was at this point where the 4000 cavalrymen of Gen. Joseph Wheeler, C.S.A. crossed the river in November of 1864.  Wheeler's men were riding down the flanks of Gen. W.T. Sherman's right wing in an attempt to get in front of "The March to the Sea."

Laurens County purchased the ferry during the May Term of Ordinary Court in 1874.  At the ferry site a small house was constructed as a home for the ferryman.  The job called for long days from sunup to sundown.  A shelter was built to shield passengers during periods of heavy rain and a well dug to provide drinking water for the ferryman and thirsty passengers.  The Laurens County commissioners had a new problem to deal with around the turn of this century. On December 5, 1910, the commissioners voted to discontinue the practice of allowing automobiles to ride on the boat with livestock.  Those doing so would have to cross at their own risk.   

Laurens County's property taxes included a levy for ferry operations.  In 1887, the tax was seven cents for every hundred dollars of taxable property and represented 10 percent of the county's total budget.  During periods of high water, the county hired additional ferry men to help guide the boat across the raging waters.  Some of the ferry boats sunk on a regular basis.  At other times the boats broke away and floated down river. Frank Smith was rewarded with eleven dollars for bringing back a runaway ferry boat in 1887.  At times boats had to be rented until new ones could be constructed.

In their final meeting of 1931, the Laurens County Commissioners voted to close the ferry in January 15, 1932.  One week later responding to a large public outcry, the ferry was reopened.  Two lawyers, M.H. Blackshear, a descendant of the ferry's founder, and Joseph Chappell convinced the board of the ferry's historic value.   The effort to keep the ferry open was also led by Clerk of Courts, E.S. Baldwin, Ordinary Court Judge E.D. White, and dairy farmer, Duren I. Parker.  A new flat was placed in service later that spring.  

The ferry continued to operate even through the lean years of the depression. On January 8, 1937, the commissioners voted to sell the ferry.  Their decision again resulted in a public outcry and the matter was put on hold.  The issue came up for a vote in 1939 when the commission voted to continue the operation on a month to month basis as long as it was profitable.   

The ferry shut down on a Sunday in January 1940 for one day.    It was the first time in the known history of the county ferry that ice floes prevented its operation.  Rawls Watson, the ferry keeper, reported in the February 1, 1940 issue of “The Courier Herald” that the ice floes nearly filled the river.   Rawls made one attempt to cross the river, breaking and chopping ice with his poles.  The ice kept coming down the river for parts of three days.  Watson said that the chunks of ice were as big as 30 feet long and 15 feet wide and having a thickness of 1 ½ inches thick.  

The issue of the operation of the ferry came up for a final determination in May of 1947.  The ferry boat had been out of service for some time.  M.H. Blackshear, county attorney at the time, led the effort to keep the ferry open.  The commissioners found that the ferry was only necessary for the Route 2 postman.  The secretary was directed to work out an alternative route.  The commissioners never officially closed Blackshear's Ferry, choosing instead to not appropriate the funds to repair the damaged ferry boat.   

The coming of the automobile signaled the end of the ferry.  The old boats were slow and simply couldn't handle the weight of the cars.  When the river was up, one had to go down to Dublin to cross.  The ferry, the last vestige of 19th century transportation, was gone, never to return.

During the years in which the county operated the ferry ,the right to run the ferry was put up for public auction to the highest bidder.  Usually the residents of the area surrounding the ferry were the successful bidders.  Rawls A. Watson, the last ferry keeper,  kept the ferry longer than any other man.  Irwin Calhoun, known as the "singing ferryman,” was said to have sang all day without repeating a song.  Other ferry men at Blackshear's Ferry were S.L. Weaver, E.M. Lake, Joseph T. Watson, David M. Watson, J.C. Jones, J.L. Bostwick, and D.W. Skipper.  

FERRY KEEPERS 1871-1947: Dublin, William Madison, 1871-1891.  Blackshear’s Ferry,  Irwin Calhoun, 1875; Noah Anderson, 1876-7; Robert Hightower, 1878-9, Daniel Skipper, 1880, David M. Watson, 1881, 1890-2; D.W. Skipper, 1884, 1886; S.L. Weaver, 1885; David M. Watson and July Donaldson, 1887-1888; E.M. Lake, 1889; Joseph T. Watson, 1893-5, 1901, 1904-1908; John C. Jones, 1896-8; J.L. Bostick, 1899; E.F. Hagin and L.F. Hagin, 1902; Green Brantley, 1903; and Rawls A. Watson, 1911-1947.


A Centennial History

A century ago today, Mullis, Georgia was officially put on the map.  One of Laurens County's most obscure towns, Mullis enjoyed a brief, but successful, life before it was enveloped by her neighbor and chief rival, Cadwell.

The community of Mullis evolved around the lands of J.M. Mullis.  Mullis was also the  home of William Henry Mullis.  Mullis, one the county's most prolific men, was the father of twenty-two children.  Eighteen of his offspring lived until adulthood.  His brother Eli was the father of twenty.  Mullis, a leading citizen of the Reedy Springs Militia District, served a one of the county's commissioners of Roads and Revenue.  He amassed a relatively large fortune of twenty thousand dollars, which obviously  was diminished by the number of mouths he fed.

The community of Mullis was located at the northern end of a region virtually covered by virgin pine trees.  The Williams Lumber Company built a tram road from Eastman through Mullis to Rentz where the mill of the Georgia Shingle Company was located.  Local entrepreneurs sought to establish a permanent railroad from Dublin to Eastman.


Grading of the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad began on March 2, 1904 near the cotton mills in Dublin under the supervision of E.P. Rentz and superintendent, Frank S. Battle. Battle's crews began laying rails.  Construction was delayed by legal actions by some Eastman citizens.  Conductor B.W. Hightower guided the first freight train out of Eastman on May 5, 1905.   Within in a week the first load of freight was received in Eastman.  President E.P. Rentz arranged the inaugural passenger service to coincide with the May term of Dodge County Superior Court.    A stop was established at Mullis where passengers could board the train for either of the terminal cities and beyond.

A post office at Mullis was established on June 17, 1905.  Hiram Mullis,  one of W.H. Mullis's nineteen-year-old twins, launched an all out effort to get a post office for the community and was named its first postmaster.  He was succeeded by his cousin Arthur W. Mullis on July 14, 1908.  The town began to grow rapidly.  J.J. Mullis began erecting a handsome home and a commodious storehouse.  J.M. Mullis erected a mercantile store.  Henry Tate operated a third store, one which housed the town's barber shop.  Any town needed a cotton gin to capitalize on the county's main cash crop.  W.H. Mullis and his sons erected a sufficient gin in short order.  A fourth store was operated by W.H. Mullis, first with D.E. Mullis, and then with his twin sons, Hiram and Homer under the banner of W.H. Mullis & Sons.  Later Buchan & Smith and W.F. Jackson would go into the mercantile business in Mullis.  The Bedingfield Mercantile Company was forced into bankruptcy after less than six months of business.

The town of Mullis was officially chartered as a town on August 1, 1906.  The law provided that J.P. Barrs would be the first mayor.  W.H. Tate, W.H. Mullis and D.E. Mullis were named the first councilmen to serve in office until a regular election could be held on the first Monday in January 1908. A.R. Barrs was named to the board in 1907.  Hiram Mullis served as the city clerk and W.F. Jackson was the town's first policeman.   Mullis was a very small town, encompassing 275 acres and  extending six hundred and fifty yards in each direction from the town well.

The council were given the standard powers and duties which Georgia's laws provided.  Liquor sales were banned.  The mayor presided over the police court with the authority to try offenders for ordinance violations and levy fines of up to fifty dollars or thirty days in jail.

Among the early residents of Mullis were J.J. Mullis, D.E. Mullis, J.P. Barrs, A.R. Barrs, J.W. Bass, W.H. Mullis, W.H. Mullis,Jr., W.H. Tate, A.W. Smith and A. McCook.  In 1907, the town boasted not one, but two, boarding houses for travelers.  These homes away from home were operated by J.J. Mullis and J.W. Bass.  While not tending to guests, Bass operated a barber shop.  J.P. Barrs maintained the town's livery stable.   Hutton and Barrs were the town blacksmiths.  Doctor Buhan moved his practice from Eastman and established the first drug store.

There was a town, or more aptly a community, school in Mullis.  The school, attended by more than 180 pupils, thrived under the direction of Principal J.B. McMahan, who was assisted by his wife and Professor Heard S. Lowery.

Just down the railroad, Rebecca Lowery Burch Cadwell was rapidly attempting to establish her own town of Cadwell, named after her second husband, the name of her first husband already being taken by another town in Georgia.  For three years, the towns of Mullis and Cadwell competed with each other.  The first salvo in the war came in the fall of 1906.  Mrs. Burch sought and was granted an injunction against the mayor and council of Mullis.  Mrs. Cadwell owned the land between the two towns and had no desire to allow Mullis to expand through her lands toward Cadwell.

A year after Mullis was created, the Georgia legislature amended its charter to allow the mayor and council the power of eminent domain to enlarge the boundaries of the town, but in no event could any lands lying in land lots 11 and 20 of the 17th Land District of Laurens County could be included, apparently a result of a prominent citizens desire to be excluded from the town.  The new law appeared to be a compromise between the competing towns.

The great prize in the battle for supremacy in lower Laurens County was the establishment of a railroad depot.  Each size promised railroad officials with incentives to locate in their towns.  Mrs. Burch promised just a little more and Cadwell eventually won the battle.  Mullis was eventually absorbed by the victorious Cadwell.  Actually the battling did not end until a major skirmish occurred between the leaders of both towns engaged in a "shoot 'em up" street gunfight, an affray which resulted in the death of Mayor H.L. Jenkins of Cadwell in 1920.

If you want to visit the town of Mullis, travel on Georgia Highway 117 South toward Eastman.  Just as you are about to enter Cadwell, Georgia Highway 338 will enter from the right.  Then, you are in downtown Mullis.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


The Ghost Town of Laurens

Two centuries ago, Sumpterville became our first ghost town.  Laurens County, Georgia was established by the Georgia Legislature on December 10, 1807.  It was a county without a county seat.  The first court sessions were held in 1808 in the home of Major Peter Thomas on the Lower Uchee Trail in northwestern Laurens County.  As the county government began to organize, a more central location for the county seat became a prime goal. A committee chose a site, well centered in the county, but a site which, within two years, would be mostly abandoned and forgotten.

When Laurens County was  created, it stretched from its present location on the west side of the Oconee River southwest to Hartford on  the Ocmulgee River, and  included parts of present day Dodge, Bleckley, Pulaski and Wheeler counties.

The justices of the Inferior Court,  analogous to a mixture of today’s Probate Court and the County Commissioners, appointed a committee, which included John Fullwood,  to seek out and find a suitable location for the county courthouse.   The main goal of the committee was to choose a location on level ground near an abundant water source.  It was imperative that the site be situated near the center of the county and on an existing thoroughfare.  

The committee settled on a flat area along or near what later became “The Chicken Road.” This road was actually a major trail leading from Hartford on the Ocmulgee in a more or less direct line to present day Dublin.  The other dominant trail, the Lower Uchee Trail, traversed the western and northwestern limits of the county crossing the river at Blackshear’s Ferry.  The chosen site was not far from the old Indian trading path which ran from Indian Springs through Macon and onto Savannah. (Left photo by Don Johnston).

The spot chosen was Land Lot 39 of the First Land District of Laurens County.  Interestingly the 202.5 acre land lot had just been purchased by John Fullwood in November 1808 for the  sum of $1000.00 or approximately $5.00 per acre.  The fertile oak and pine lands along Turkey and Rocky Creeks were highly coveted by early settlers who swarmed to the western part of Laurens County.  

Following  the tradition of the day, the new county seat was named in honor of a hero of the American Revolution.  Laurens County was named for Col. John Laurens, a top aide to Gen. George Washington and a native of South Carolina.  General Thomas Sumter (LEFT)  was the chosen honoree for the name of the first county seat.  Sumter preferred to leave the “p” out of his name.  The justices chose to leave the letter in. And, the town of Sumpterville, Georgia was born.  Gen. Sumter, known as “The Carolina Gamecock,” was admired for his fierceness in the battles  in upstate South Carolina.  Described by Gen. Cornwallis as his “greatest plague,” Sumter was  one of the models for Benjamin Martin, the protagonist of the movie, “The Patriot.” 

For a year or so, public sales and court sessions were held at Sumpterville, possibly in the home of John Fullwood.  Presiding over the court during that time was Judge Peter Early, who would later become Governor of Georgia.  Bids were taken in the spring for the building of a courthouse and a jail. Lots were sold to the public on May 26, 1811, but no  deeds were delivered to the purchasers.   When plans changed, those who bought lots were issued refunds. Fullwood, himself a justice of the Inferior Court,  was finally  paid $36.00 for building the courthouse on his own land by the  Court in August 1811.   

After losing a good part of their county in 1808 to Pulaski County, many Laurens Countians fixed their eyes on acquiring replacement lands on the east side of the Oconee River.   In 1811, a bill was finally passed annexing portions of Washington and Montgomery counties.  At that point, Sumpterville was no longer in the center of the county.  In anticipation of acquiring new lands for a new county seat, county officials had already focused their sights on a broad ridge overlooking the Oconee River at a place formerly called Sand Bar and called Dublin by its founder, Jonathan Sawyer, who operated a store and post office there.     The courthouse in Sumpterville was abandoned.  

The town of Sumpterville became an abysmal failure.  By Christmas 1811, public sales were being held in Dublin.  In 1824, Fullwood was reimbursed for building another courthouse in Dublin.   Fullwood, Laurens County’s state seantor from 1812-1814,  never transferred the lots at Sumpterville to the county, but he did hedge his bets by investing in several hundred acres of land just north of Dublin, where he erected a large and successful grist mill on the waters of Hunger and Hardship Creek.

John Fullwood, a teen-age soldier of the American Revolution,  erected his plantation plain home at Sumpterville along a road lined with  live oaks, reminiscent of the coastal regions of Georgia.   Eventually, Fullwood’s home would become a stage coach stop when stages were the predominate method of long range transportation from the 1820s to the Civil War.  

In the 1820 Census, there were thirty persons in the Fullwood household engaged in agriculture on the two-thousand acre plus plantation.  Forty-nine of the fifty- six persons living at Sumpterville were slaves.  By 1850, more than seventy slaves called Sumpterville home.   Fullwood, one of the founders of the Laurens County Academy, the county’s first school,  died at sixty-four in  1828.  He is buried in the cemetery to the rear of his home. His estate went to his widow Mary, who married Andrew Hampton, a wealthy landowner who lived a short distance to the west.  After Andrew Hampton died, Mary married the super wealthy Henry P. Jones, of Burke County.  

All the while, both Mary Fullwood Hampton Jones and her third husband Henry Jones continued to buy more and more land, amassing a plantation of more than five thousand acres. When Mary and Henry died, the Sumpterville plantation passed to the Shewmake family, including John T. Shemake, of Augusta, who was serving as Attorney General of Georgia. Although the Shewmake family established a factory on their plantation which they called the Sumpterville Factory, the area  became more popularly dubbed “Shewmake,” When the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad was cut through the area in the early 1890s, a depot was established on the road at the point where it crosses the present I-16 highway.  

In 1894,  the Sumpterville site was acquired by J.B. Tyre, one of Laurens County’s first farm agents.  It is believed that Tyre added the western wing of the Fullwood house, which still stands today.   Tyre also established an inn in his house about a century ago.   Wallace W. Walke acquired the farm in 1930 and established Walke’s Dairy, giving the adjoining road its current name. 

Today, the Fullwood home and some of the  magnificent live oaks which lined the old stage road still remains.  Just west of a historical marker placed on the site by the John Laurens Chapter of the N.S.D.A.R. is a small wooden building which has fallen to the hallowed ground and  thought by some to have been the first Laurens County Courthouse.  To this point, no one has come forward with any definitive proof that this decaying structure was our first courthouse.  Nor have they completed discounted that it was not.   For now I’ll print the legend. 




Friday, February 28, 2014


       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 trials and tribulations.

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.

Known to many as “The Second American Revolution,” the War of 1812 began with a declaration of war by President James Madison on June 18, 1812 following a ten-year series of skirmishes at frontier outposts, impressment of sailors on the seas, and blockades of shipping.  It was on the 4th of July in 1812, some three dozen years after America first declared its independence from the King of England that soldiers of the Georgia militia rendezvoused in Dublin to launch an attack on British fortifications in Florida, which would not become part of the United States until six years later.

During its regular session, the Georgia legislature on December 9, 1812, appointed David Blackshear to command the 2nd Brigade of the 5th Division of the state’s militia.  Dr. William Lee commanded the first division.  

Blackshear’s first known call to duty came in early August 1813, when Georgia governor David Mitchell wrote the general to move his brigade to the frontier and adopt measures to afford some security for the fearing inhabitants.  Gen. Blackshear ordered Lt. Col. Ezekiel Wimberly to immediately man three forts: Twiggs, Telfair, and Jackson along the line of the frontier, then the Ocmulgee River.  Blackshear ordered Col. Allen Tooke of Pulaski County and Major Cawthorn of Telfair to immediately do the same.

The General set out on a patrol to inspect the forts and reported back to the Governor,  “I found the inhabitants in a high state of alarm - an immense number of whom had left and fled to the interior.”  Blackshear immediately began preparations to lay out an additional ten forts along the frontier, each manned by one subaltern, a sergeant, a corporal and fifteen privates and each approximately ten miles equidistant.

My mid-September, Gen. Blackshear reported that all threats of an eminent invasion had subsided, at least for the present.  By mid-November, tensions along the Ocmulgee once again began to rise.  Major General David Adams ordered Blackshear to send some of his best men to join a force of 157 men and  to go out to the frontier to make improvements to existing fortifications and erect new ones and to report his activities to Major James Patton at Fort Hawkins.

On January 4, 1814, the newly elected Georgia governor Peter Early, a former judge of Laurens County Superior Court, replaced the ailing General John Floyd with his old friend, David Blackshear to command the army from Georgia in the lower Flint River region.  Blackshear reported that a great number of his men were sick and that he needed substantial reinforcements to aid his 700-man force in guarding his forts and supplies, not to mention the effort to drive away the hostile Indians, all the Negroes, and the British forces at the mouth of Flint River.

Two years after the war began, Gov. Early reappointed Gen. Blackshear to command a brigade of first class militia along with Gen. Floyd.  Blackshear responded, “Sir, I am at all times ready promptly to accept that or any other appointment you may think proper to confer on me in which it is in my power to serve my country.”  

Just as was the case in previous Septembers, tensions along the Georgia frontier began to explode.  Blackshear ordered several units to move out from Hartford, opposite present day Hawkinsville.   Adjutant General Daniel Newnan informed Blackshear that 2500 men would be needed to support General Andrew Jackson, then in the vicinity of Mobile.  Several units from Blackshear’s command were detached for that purpose. 

Ten days before Christmas, Blackshear and his brigade received orders to move from their encampment at Camp Hope,  two miles  north of Fort Hawkins on the Milledgeville Road  in present day Macon,  to Hartford and then to open a road to the Flint River, where he was ordered to erect fortifications.    No one in Georgia even realized that the war with Great Britain officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve while Blackshear and his men were camping on the banks of the Ocmulgee.

Blackshear’s men spent Christmas at Camp Blakely, two miles from present day Hawkinsville before moving west toward his objective on the Flint River.  Blackshear reported that he arrived on January 6 “without forage and not many rations on hand.” Blackshear continued his march, oblivious to the fact that two days later, General Andrew Jackson’s command defeated the British at the war ending Battle of New Orleans.

With no instant communications informing him that hostilities had officially ended, Blackshear marched his men, many of whom were sick, south and west from their Flint River base.  On January 14, Blackshear received orders to return to Fort Hawkins.  Within a week, Blackshear was back at Fort Hawkins, where he begged Farrish Carter, of Baldwin County, to furnish him with 30,000 badly needed rations. Blackshear implored, “Our country is invaded; and I hope in God you will use every exertion in your power to facilitate the movement of the troops to check the insurrection and depredation that will ensue should we delay for want of provisions.”

Once resupplied, at least in part, Blackshear began cutting a road down the northeastern line of the Ocmulgee and Altamaha.  His destination was Fort Barrington on the Altamaha in McIntosh County.  Along his line of march, Blackshear’s men cut the legendary “Blackshear Road.”  

Reports of British activity around St. Mary’s were coming in from many sources. One of those sources was J. Sawyer, possibly Jonathan Sawyer the founding father of Dublin, who reported that the British were landing on Cumberland Island.  Sawyer wrote Blackshear concerning British atrocities  and their movement toward Darien.  

By February 4, 1815, Blackshear reported that he was some 132 miles from Hartford  or just a few miles from Fort Barrington.  Upon his arrival in Darien, David Blackshear reported, “We have been in a constant state of alarm, and the principal inhabitants, remonstrating against my leaving this station.”
Just as he was making plans to move toward the enemy, General Floyd wrote to Blackshear, “The official accounts of a peace having been concluded between our country and Great Britain appear to have filled the hearts of the populace here (Savannah) with joy.”  And, just like that it was over.  After formally winding up their affairs, Blackshear’s men were discharged and went back their homes in East Central Georgia.

As the military chapter of Blackshear’s life came to a close after the Indian Wars of the early 19th Century, a new chapter, his return to government service, reopened.  Blackshear’s power and influence led directly to dramatic changes in the history of the State during the first third of the 19th Century. 

Blackshear was elected in 1816 to represent Laurens County in the Senate of the State of Georgia.  He would serve ten consecutive one-year terms in the Senate before voluntarily retiring in 1826.  

Among David Blackshear’s closest friends was his neighbor to the south, George M. Troup.  Troup, who had served in the Congress of the United States for nearly a decade, moved to Laurens County at the end of the War of 1812.  Shortly thereafter Troup was appointed to serve the remainder of a vacancy in the Senate of the United States.  

Troup, an ardent supporter of State Rights, lost a narrow election to John Clark, his bitter political enemy, in the election of 1821.  At that time, the office of the Governor was filled by a vote of the members of the Senate.  Blackshear supported his good friend and protege  in all three of his gubernatorial campaigns.  The election of 1823 in the Senate was one of the most interesting and tide-turning elections in the history of the State of Georgia.

The election of 1823 would be the last time the legislature regularly elected the governor. The contest was bitter, divisive and fierce to say the least.  As the Secretary of the Senate called for the vote, each member rose, walked to the speaker’s desk and deposited their ballots in a hat.  The atmosphere inside the chamber was tense.  Passions peaked.  Betters placed their wagers.   Blackshear, the Chairman of the Committee on the State of the Republic who was frequently asked to act as President Pro Tempore, sat silently in his seat, emotionless on the outside, his heart throbbing on the inside. 

A deafening silence came over the clamoring chamber as the 166 paper ballots, one by one, were taken from the one hat and put in another.  To win the election, either Troup or Clark had to be named on 84 ballots.  With two ballots left, the votes were even at 82 for each candidate.

The clerk paused.  Everyone in the chamber rose forward in fervent anticipation of victory for their candidate.  The next ballot was for George Troup.  Only one ballot remained.  It lay face down in the bottom of the hat.  The President of the Senate picked up the hat by its rim, turned it over and exclaimed, “Senator Troup!”  

Historian William H. Sparks wrote, “The scene that followed this announcement in indescribable.  the smothered emotion of the multitude burst forth as the eruption of a volcano.  All order and dignity was lost.  Shrieks, yells, tears, and laughter all mingled in the wild commotion.  Men rushed into each other's arms, desks were kicked over; men rolled upon the carpet, whilst deep and bitter curses came from the opposition.  This turmoil defied the power of the speaker, and continued for twenty minutes.  When excitement had exhausted itself, and silence and order restored General Blackshear, who had remained silent and standing amidst the turmoil lifted his eyes toward heaven, and stretching forth his hands, said in a loud but trembling voice, ‘Now Lord, I am ready to die.’  This was the signal for the renewal of the extravagances of joy in cheers and shouts from all around.   The crowd surrounded the venerable general, blessing and caressing him until, overcome with emotion, with tears streaming down his withered cheeks, he sank into his chair, still saying ‘Yes, I am now ready to die.’"  

Blackshear continued to consult and advise Troup during his four years as Governor, often working with the Governor’s Secretary Mirabeau Lamar.  Lamar, who lived in Troup’s home down river from Blackshear, went on to become the second President of the Republic of Texas. 

  After his retirement from the Senate, the venerable statesman withdrew from the political scene.  He did return briefly to politics during  the presidential elections of 1828 and 1832 when he served as an Elector to the Electoral College committed to Andrew Jackson.  At the turn  of the 19th Century, Blackshear had served as an elector in favor of Thomas Jefferson.   In one of his last political actions, Blackshear was named Chairman of a Committee to fight prospective tariffs in 1832. 

Among the General’s most passionate interests came in the field of agriculture, particularly in the science of viticulture.  Blackshear consulted with his friend, Thomas McCall, in cultivating the finest wines made from a mixture of local wild grapes and traditional European ones.  Known as one who always offered his frequent and numerous guests a hospitable glass of wine, Blackshear planted acres of apple and peach trees to produce cider and brandy.  For those of his friends who did not partake of the alcoholic fruit of the vine, Blackshear developed a sweet tasting, non-alcoholic apple cider.

As one of the state’s most prominent men, Blackshear was often called upon to serve on various committees formed for the betterment of the state.  In 1815, the General was appointed by the governor as a commissioner for The Improvement of the Oconee River.  Blackshear had a personal, pecuniary interest in the project.   Blackshear put a lot of unpaid time and labor into the committee, whose goals were stymied because of the fact that capital of Milledgeville was established too far to the north to allow river boat traffic to the capital city.   River transport was critical to the shipment of the General’s plantation produce.  Blackshear, along with his brother, established several ferries across the Oconee River.  The longest of lasting impact was the  last ferry, which closed in the latter part of the 1940s.  

A friend to all, Blackshear played host to the executive, legislative and judicial officials of the state, entertaining them when there travels brought them to Laurens County.  Days were filled with feasts of wild game, toasts with the finest wines, and afternoon fishing in  the General’s bountiful fish ponds and lakes.

Among his close friends were fellow veterans of the Revolutionary War, John Shine and Peter Calloway, both of whom died while visiting the Blackshear home and whose bodies lie among those interred in the family cemetery.  

In his private life, General Blackshear, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Benjamin Franklin by those who knew him,  married Fanny Hamilton, daughter of John Hamilton of Hancock County, in 1802.  The Blackshears had eleven children, eight sons and three daughters.  Sadly all three of their girls died as infants.  Fanny Blackshear’s brother, Everard Hamilton, served as the Secretary of the State of Georgia under the administrations of Governor George Troup and John Forsythe.  

On July 4, 1837 on the 61st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the 73-year-old statesman died at his home , which he named Springfield.  He was laid to rest in the family cemetery near his house next to his Virginia born wife, who died on February 28, 1827. 

In describing Blackshear, his biographer, Stephen F. Miller wrpte. “David Blackshear was a man of quiet chivalry, never compromising with danger when duty called.  

Scott B. Thompson, Sr.
January 2014