While cotton was a major cash crop of our area, wool production continued to grow until the beginning of the Civil War. Most of the uniforms of Georgia's Confederate soldiers were made from wool and not cotton.
In 1850, the United States began taking a census of agricultural activities for the first time. During that year there were 7606 head of sheep. Forty one farmers had over fifty head. Sixteen of those owned more than one hundred. The largest sheep farmers were those men who owned the largest plantations. Samuel Yopp had five hundred sheep on his plantation between Dublin and Dudley. That year, the sheep produced a half ton of wool. Nathan Tucker, a large plantation owner in the extreme northeastern corner of the county had 366. Freeman H. Rowe and Gov. George M. Troup had over two hundred head each. Other farmers who had over hundred head were David Harvard, James Stewart, E.H. Blackshear, Reuben Warren, A.C. Hampton, Henry C. Fuqua, Samuel Miller, James Barlow, James Stanley, James White, and Josiah Gay.
In 1860, there were slightly over one-half million sheep in Georgia. In Laurens County the number had declined to just over six thousand. The number of men who had one hundred head remain about the same. While large sheep herds were scattered all over the county in 1850, a shift had already occurred by 1860. The largest sheep owners were Nathan Tucker, James Stewart, Freeman Rowe, and Samuel Yopp. The major sheep herds were located in three areas. The first area was located along the northeastern line of the county from the current day Highway 80 northwest to the Buckeye Road. Large sheep farmers in this area were A.J. Hilburn, Dougal Stewart, Alexander Graham, Aaron Odom, C.S. Guyton, Nathan Tucker, and E.H. Blackshear. These seven men owned twenty seven percent of the sheep in the county. Another concentrated area was along the southwestern line of the county from the Cadwell area northeast toward Montrose. Large sheep farmers in this area were John White, Benjamin Burch, Robert Faircloth, Alcy Faulk, Allen Thompson, Hayden Hughes, Samuel Yopp, and John W. Yopp. These men owned twenty percent of the county's sheep. One other large sheep farmer was Freeman H. Rowe, whose farm was located at the southern tip of Dublin from the Oconee River west to Telfair Street.
During the Civil War and its aftermath, the number of sheep in Georgia plummeted to sixty percent of its pre-war level. On the other hand, the number in Laurens County rose to 8502 in the 1870 Census. Slightly more than eleven tons of wool was clipped in the year preceding the census. The number of sheep was only slightly less than the number of cattle and swine.
Nineteen men and one woman, Mrs. Nathan Tucker, owned over a hundred head of sheep in 1870. The largest farmers in the county were James Stewart and John White who each owned five hundred. James Stewart clipped fifteen hundred pounds of wool, while John White reported that he had not clipped any. Aaron Odom was the third largest farmer with 450. Sheep farmers who were increasing their herds were Vaughn Hilbun, Josiah Gay, J.T. Rogers, U.G.B. Hogan, Samuel Roach, David Alligood, J.G.F. Clark, John Wynn, Benjamin Burch, Wright Nobles, Rachel Robinson, and James Herndon.
In 1880, another dramatic shift began to occur in sheep farming in Laurens County. Only Warren Carter, Duncan Graham, and John Holmes had more than seventy five sheep in the northeastern part of the county. Production in northwestern and southeastern Laurens County was minimal. Hardy Alligood of Hampton Mills District had thirteen hundred head with nearly four hundred lambs being born during the year. Most of the large sheep farms were then located in the Pinetuckey District which encompassed the southern quadrant of the county. Alfred Burch had slightly over one thousand head while William Burch had seven hundred head. Other large farmers were Benjamin Burch, Ben Burch, Hardy Gay, James B. Gay, Wm. B.F. Daniel, John McLendon, John White, John G.F. Clark, John Grinstead, and Jasper Gay.
Sheep herding became more profitable than cotton farming, despite the ravages of dogs who killed many of them. Sheep thrived on the grasses in the open ranges of southeastern Central Georgia, known as "The Wiregrass." The prime range stretched westerly from Bulloch County toward Telfair and Laurens and thence southwest toward Worth and Berrien Counties. In 1890, there were four hundred and forty thousand sheep in Georgia. Thirteen thousand one hundred of them were in Laurens County. The number of sheep outnumbered the total number of cattle, including milk cows. It may have been a poor year since the wool clip had dropped to nine thousand pounds. Within ten years, the numbers of Georgia sheep decreased by forty percent.
Laurens County finished a close seventh in the number of sheep in Georgia in 1890 coming within seven hundred of fifth place. Laurens County's position was mainly due to its tremendous size. The leader was Emanuel County which had nearly twenty thousand and clipped over two and one half pounds per sheep compared to the three quarters of a pound produced by Laurens County's sheep. Other counties ahead of Laurens were Bulloch, Berrien, Tattnall, Worth, and Telfair. The forty two hundred sheep of Johnson County produced over two pounds of wool each.
The number of sheep began to steadily decline in the 1890s. With the clearing of timber lands in southern Laurens County and the improved use of fertilizers, farmers turned to cotton which became more profitable than wool. The practice of sheep herding disappeared in our area. Although long forgotten, it was a major part of the agricultural activity in our county for nearly six decades.