The Richest Man in Georgia
In his day Farish Carter was considered the richest man in Georgia. Primarily considered a resident of Baldwin County, Georgia, Carter's wealth was spread across the state, including Laurens County, in the form of land and personal property, including nearly two thousand slaves. In this month of February when we salute the history of Georgia, let's travel back in time more than a century and a half to get a view of what life was like for the state's richest man.
Farish Carter was born on November 20, 1780 in South Carolina during the darkest days of the American Revolution. His father, Major James Carter, was killed by British Redcoats during their siege of Augusta just two months before his birth. His mother, the former Letitia Martin, struggled to raise her children without their father. She sent Farish to the academy of Reverend Hope Hull in Washington, Georgia, where he obtained the rudimentary educational skills of the day.
As he matured into manhood, Carter set out to make his fortune by opening a mercantile store in Sandersville in Washington County. During the War of 1812, Carter served as a contractor for the State of Georgia, a position which resulted in a substantial income for this emerging entrepreneur. Life was nice for Carter, though he longed for paternal guidance.
In 1818, Farish Carter purchased the home of Col. John Scott of Baldwin County. Scott established a home and large plantation four miles south of Milledgeville. His home still stands today. It is located on Georgia Highway 243, just southwest of its intersection of U.S. Highway 441 in the community of Scottsboro, which was named for its earliest resident, Col. Scott. The elegant home was centered on a large farm which stretched all the way down to and into Wilkinson County. During the later decades of the 19th Century and the early decades of the 20th Century, much of his farm was used by the State of Georgia as the farm of the Georgia State Hospital. The land, with its rich soils - residues of the remnants of Georgia's ancient coastline, was unusually good for growing crops.
Carter relished the lavish life style of entertaining guests during the days when the state capital was located just to the north of his home in Milledgeville. It was a time when life among the wealthy was slow and relaxed. Carter enjoyed the company of his friends. He often gave life estates in land for his friends to build homes nearby. He went about expanding the porch, living room and library to accommodate cotillions and elegant parties.
Carter was considered one of the largest slave owners in the state. While at its peak in the 1830s, his Baldwin County plantation was home to roughly one hundred and twenty enslaved inhabitants. Some published articles report that he may have owned as many as 426 slaves which worked his 33,293 acres of land in Baldwin County alone. Not satisfied with two homes in Baldwin, Farish Carter established a second home, "Bonavista," on the Oconee River. Carter maintained 15,000 acres and a summer home he named, Rock Spring or Coosawattee, in North Georgia in Murray County. He acquired the lands not occupied by grantees under the division of the Cherokee lands. On the eve of the Civil War the 1860 census enumerated 370 slaves on his massive plantation in Murray County. As an investor, Farish Carter was a partner in many real estate ventures and owned lands across the South from Georgia to Arkansas and Louisiana, as well in the northern state of Indiana.
Farish Carter strongly believed in maintaining integrated business interests ranging from agriculture to mining to transportation. He owned grist mills, marble quarries and woolen mills, as well as the operation of river boats along the Oconee, Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers in Georgia and the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. Carter attempted a bold plan to operate river boats up the Oconee to Milledgeville in 1824. The plan failed due to low water levels and the obstacle of the fall line which is located just below the former capital city. The government of Georgia realized the importance of river transportation and frequently appropriated large sums of money to clear the river of obstructions. An act was passed in 1826 to clear the river below Milledgeville. Among those commissioners appointed to oversee the operation were Farish Carter of Baldwin County and David Blackshear of Laurens County.
Carter held huge deposits in state banks and was a financier of gold mining operations in North Georgia and North Carolina. Realizing that the future of Georgia and the South would depend upon the use of cotton mills powered by water, the foresighted investor established the first textile mill in Columbus, Georgia. He invested heavily in railroads which he considered to be the prime method of transportation of goods and people in the future. Deviating from the normal course of using slave labor in all enterprises, Carter used all available capital to increase his tremendous fortune. Though he was considered one of the state's largest slave owners, Farish Carter reportedly once considered selling all of his slaves, but was advised not to by his friends and colleagues.
Carter, well over six feet tall, carried a phobia of being buried in a coffin less than his gigantic height. He instructed a craftsman to construct a specially designed coffin replete with silver handles and made out of cherry wood. To ensure that he was buried in his custom crafted coffin, he stored it under his bed so if he died in bed, which most people of his time did, he would simply be removed from his mattress to his coffin.
Farish Carter married Eliza McDonald, sister of Governor Charles McDonald (1839-1843.) Their daughter Catherine married John H. Furman of South Carolina, for whom Furman University is named. Their son, Farish Carter Furman, won fame by inventing a high grade which dramatically increased the productivity of cotton in Georgia and the South.
The era of elite Southern planters was coming to an end following the election of Abraham Lincoln. On July 2, 1861, just eighteen days before the first major battle of the Civil War, Farish Carter died at his home in Milledgeville. He is buried in Memory Hill Cemetery. The longest lasting legacy of Farish Carter was the naming of Cartersville, Georgia in his memory in 1854.