Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

THE FOUNDING OF LAURENS COUNTY


 
Laurens County was created on December 10, 1807 by an act of the Georgia Legislature. The enacting law, in taking the middle portion of Wilkinson County, defined its boundaries as " all that part of Wilkinson County lying between the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers, beginning at the mouth of Big Sandy Creek on the Oconee River running thence sixty degrees west to the Ocmulgee River, thence down the course of the same to the upper corner of the Fourteenth Land District on said river, thence along the upper line of the Fourteenth District to the Oconee River, thence up the same to the point of beginning. The original Laurens County, stretching from the old frontier line of Georgia to the new frontier line on the Ocmulgee, was bounded on the south by the new county of Telfair - created on the same day as Laurens County was formed - and included all of present day Wheeler, Dodge, and Bleckley Counties and a portion of Pulaski County. Georgia honored Col. John Laurens of South Carolina by naming its newest county, Laurens County, in his honor.

The first order of business for the new county was to form a county government. Under the laws prevailing at the time, counties were governed by five justices of the Inferior Court, who were elected by the male citizenry. There was no tri parte form of government as we know today. The Justices of the Court acted as a legislative, executive, and judicial body, sharing jurisdiction of civil and criminal cases with the Superior Court and retaining sole jurisdiction of decedent's estates, guardianships, and marriages, now handled by the Probate Court. The court was given the authority by the Georgia legislature in 1810 to oversee the drawing of petit or trial juries and grand juries for matters pending in the Superior Court, this being due to the fact that the judge of the Superior Court was usually unavailable for the process. The first justices chosen to sit on the Inferior Court of Laurens County were: Thomas Davis, Thomas Gilbert, Edmund Hogan, William O'Neal, and Peter Thomas. William O'Neal had served in that capacity in Wilkinson County from the inception of that county.

Peter Thomas, owing to the fact that as he was a member of the court and that as there had been no county government formed until that time with the authority to build a courthouse, graciously offered the court the use of an outbuilding near his home for holding its sessions until a courthouse could be built. It is reasonable to assume that Thomas had moved to that location prior to the formation of the county. While it is impossible to determine the exact location of Thomas's home, deed records seem to indicate that it may have been near the east side of Turkey Creek in Land Lot 21 of the 2nd Land District, just above the Lower Uchee Trail. The area, although not centrally located geographically, was located near the intersection of the Uchee Trail and an Indian trail leading from Indian Springs through Macon toward Savannah and in the most populated area of the county in the first and second land districts, which had been granted to citizens two and one half years earlier.

The intersection is still known today as Thomas's Crossroads. Major Peter Thomas came to Laurens County in 1808 from Montgomery County where he had been a State Representative and Tax Receiver in 1806. Peter Thomas assembled a large plantation in the area. Maj. Thomas bought Land Lot 21 from Frederick G. Thomas of Hancock County in 1806 and Land Lot 28 from Clement Lanier for $500.00 on October 15, 1808. The sale price of the second land lot, located south of the crossroads seems to indicate improvements to the land, which may have been a small house. On August 10, 1809, Maj. Thomas paid $800.00 for the fractional Land Lot 6, which he bought in partnership with Abner Davis. Again the high price suggests some type of improvements, possibly a grist mill. It appeared that Maj. Thomas had disposed of his land by 1809 and moved away from the area. Then again, he is shown as living in Laurens County as late as February 17, 1819.

The first session of the Inferior Court was held on the fourth day of January, in 1808. The first order of the business, presumably after an opening prayer and preliminary remarks, was an adjournment until ten o'clock the next morning. The first matter heard by the justices was a petition by Andrew Hampton and David McDaniel, who held temporary letters of administration of the estate of William Darsey, who may have died while living in what was then Wilkinson County.

On the 2nd of February, the justices took up the division of Laurens County into districts. Laurens, like all other Georgia counties, were divided into militia districts. The use of militia districts dates back to the earliest decades of Georgia's existence as a colony. Each militia district was numbered beginning in 1804 and was known for many years primarily by the name of the district's captain - a practice which is exceedingly confusing to researchers since the captain was elected on an annual basis by the members of the district company. Every man in the district between the ages of sixteen and fifty were automatically enlisted in the militia. Each district's militia company was the lowest part of a chain of command under the overall command of the Governor of Georgia. In addition to their use for military defense, districts were also used for determining jurisdiction of the Justice of the Peace Courts, boundaries of election districts, values of property subject to taxation, identifying locations of lands in head right counties, and any other purpose provided by law.

The Justice of the Peace or Magistrate Courts were the third level of courts in Georgia. The Justice of the Peace had the power to try minor criminal offenses and civil cases, along with the power to marry individuals. The first Justices of the Peace, appointed by the Justices of the Inferior Court during the their February session, were James Bracewell and Alexander Blackshear in the first district, John Fullwood and Andrew Hampton in the second district, Elisha Farnall and Joseph Denson, Sr. in the third district, Needham Stevens and Samuel Jones in the fourth district, and William Hall and Robert Duett in the fifth district. Each militia district had two constables, whose main duty was to aid the sheriff in keeping the peace in the district and during court sessions as well. The first Laurens County constables were John McBane and John Pollock in the first district, Gideon Mayo and John Williams in the second district, James Moore and Joseph Denson in the third district, John Jion and Henry Duett in the fourth district, and John Grinstead and William Morris in the fifth district. James Yarborough, selected by a majority of the justices, was named Clerk of the Court of Ordinary.

The cutting of new roads and the widening and improvement of old Indian trails were a top priority for the justices. On February 2, 1808 the justices ordered that a road, the first of three converging at the home of a Peter Thomas and the first seat of the county government, be established from Blackshear's Ferry on the Oconee River to Fishing Bluff on the Ocmulgee River. This road followed the Uchee Trail for the most part, crossing Turkey Creek at the home of Peter Thomas, Rocky Creek at the Indian camp above where the path crosses, Little Ocmulgee River at the path, and ending at Fishing Bluff near the future site of Hartford on the Ocmulgee River. Peter Thomas, Samuel Sparks, Charles Higdon, and William Morris were appointed overseers of the road while Amos Love, Edmond Hogan, and Thomas Davis were appointed as commissioners of the road. The second road ran from Jeremiah Loftin's home to the home of Maj. Peter Thomas. During that first session of the court, the third road opened ran from Green's Ferry on the Oconee River to the home of Peter Thomas. This road ran from the ferry located in Land Lot 292 of the 2nd District in a westerly direction, possibly along Evergreen Road and turning southwest toward the home of Major Thomas.

More roads were ordered to be opened during the second session of the court in August of 1808. A short road from Beatty's Ferry to Trammel's Ferry was cut along the western banks of the Oconee. A major road running from the Oconee River at the future site of Dublin and opposite the community of Sandbar, to the Uchee Trail was cut under the supervision of George Gaines, Benjamin Darsey, and Charles Higdon. This road ran from Gaines's Ferry along or near East Jackson Street through present downtown Dublin and thence along Bellevue Avenue to the point where it turns into Bellevue Road. From that point the road, continuing in a southwesterly direction, ran to the beginning of Moore's Station Road. From that point the road ran across Turkey Creek through the lower edge of Palmetto Lakes Subdivision and striking Little Rocky Creek and then Rocky Creek just below the Kewanee community. From that point the road ran in a southwesterly direction along a road which is now called the Chicken Road through the current day communities of Rowland and Empire where, upon reaching the latter, it followed Highway 257 to the Uchee Trail crossing at the Ocmulgee. This road, known as the Chicken Road, is said to have followed an Indian trail.

An examination of the surveys of area along the road from 1805 to 1807 failed to reveal the presence of any road or trail. During the August 1809 session of the Inferior Court, Jesse Green, Jesse Stephens, Terrel Higdon, Elijah Thompson, and John Underwood were appointed commissioners of a road running the length of the county "from the upper line down the river or the nearest and best way" crossing Turkey Creek at Whitehead's Mill. Thomas Fulghum and Reuben Harrelson were appointed commissioners of the road from Flat Creek to the lower county line. This road appears to have followed the Old Toombsoro Road through present day Dublin and down the Glenwood Road crossing Turkey Creek at what is today still called "Robinson's Bridges." The road may have turned more to the east or continued down the Glenwood Road to the lower county line.

The sale of spiritous liquor, regulated by the Inferior Court, was authorized during the August, 1809 session. Peter Thomas was granted a license to sell liquor at his store on the Uchee Trail near Turkey Creek, while Jonathan Sawyer, who would found the town of Dublin twenty two months later, was granted permission to sell spiritous liquor at the Sandbar. The court then authorized the clerk to approve any liquor license applications, without further order of the court.

Laurens County's white male voters selected Peter Thomas to represent the county in the Georgia House of Representatives in the first state election held in 1808. Thomas was re-elected the following year. Edmund Hogan, another of the first five justices of the Inferior Court, was elected as the county's first state senator. Jethro B. Spivey replaced Hogan in 1809, coinciding with Hogan's move to Pulaski County. Charles Stringer and Elisha Farnell succeeded Peter Thomas in the House in 1810 and 1811, while Henry Sheppard followed Spivey in the Senate.

Laurens County was assigned to the Ocmulgee Superior Court Circuit of Georgia, both created the same day. The first court session was held in an outbuilding near the home of Peter Thomas, presumably the same building in which sessions of the Inferior Court were held. Presiding over the session was Judge Peter Early of Greene County. John Clarke, the circuit's Solicitor General, known today as the District Attorney, tried the first case in the Superior Court. At the first session no case were tried, only six true bills of indictment were found. Charles Higdon, a member of that first grand jury, was himself indicted for bigamy by that same grand jury. Other members of the jury were Benjamin Adams, Benjamin Brown, William Boykin, Robert Daniel, Joseph Denson, Benjamin Dorsey (Darsey), Simon Fowler, Henry Fulgham, John Gilbert, Thomas Gilbert, Leonard Green, Edward Hagan, Andrew Hampton, Mark Mayo, Gideon Mayo, George Martin, William McCall, Charles Stringer, John Speight, James Sartin, Jesse Stephens, Samuel Stanley, Samuel Sparks, George Tarvin, Joseph Vickers, Jesse Wiggins, Nathan Weaver, David Watson, Joseph Yarborough, and William Yarborough. Unfortunately only one of the major court record books of Laurens County is missing, that one being Minute Book A, the first one kept by Amos Love, Clerk of the Superior Court. There is some evidence to indicate that the book was used in the compilation of "History of Laurens County, Georgia, 1807-1841." However, diligent searches of the vaults of the office of the Clerk of the Superior Court of Laurens County have revealed no evidence of its presence.

Court sessions seemed to bring out the fighting spirit in several Laurens Countians. One of the first indictments was made against Amos Forehand, who in the presence of Alexander Blackshear, a member of the grand jury, wished "that Hell might be his Heaven, if he did not kill the Judge at the flash of a gun if the prisoner then in jail was a brother or relative of his. While this statement was by a legal technicality an assault, the judge, Peter Early, wasn't too pleased. Following the Forehand indictment, the grand jury indicted Samuel Riggins for insulting Clerk Amos Love by kicking him as he was leaving the home of Maj. Thomas. The third indictment handed down by the the October, 1808 grand jury was made against Michael Horne and the same Samuel Riggins for fighting in the courthouse yard, while the court was in session. Four years later William Monroe made the mistake of cursing the grand jury while standing in the door of the jury room and failing to leave when ordered to do so. Christopher Edwards mocked the baliff and cursed in the presence of the jury. James Drake made the same mistake as William Monroe and found himself indicted. Drury Roberts and Benjamin Faircloth were indicted for fighting in the courthouse yard during a session of the Ordinary Court.

The Georgia Legislature of Georgia enacted a law on December 1, 1809, fixing the site of the public buildings of Laurens County in the town of Sumpterville on a lot of land to be purchased by the justices of the Inferior Court. The justices were empowered to be the commissioners of the courthouse and jail with all the powers necessary to maintain them.

The legislature directed the justices to set aside at least four acres of land for the seat of public buildings and other county purposes and gave them the right to sell any of the county's land adjoining the public lands. During the February session of the Inferior Court, the justices appointed Amos Love, Alexander Blackshear, Andrew Hampton, John Fullwood, Jethro B. Spivey, Simon Smith, Elisha Farnall, William Yarborough, Leonard Stringer and Stephen Vickers to assist the justices in the location of the county courthouse. The lands were evidently laid out or at least some plans were made to lay out the town. For some unknown reason the Georgia Legislature passed laws in 1812, and again in 1813, authorizing the Justices of the Inferior Court to reimburse purchasers of lots in Sumpterville. The act of 1812 mentions that lots were purchased and that the town of Sumpterville was square in shape.

Contrary to what is found in Laurens County History, 1807-1941, the town of Sumpterville was not located where the home of Peter Thomas was situated, or was it? The town of Sumpterville, according to tradition, was located on the site of the John Fullwood Place in Land Lot 39 of the First Land District, just west of the old Josiah Stringer Place. Fullwood purchased the 202.5 acre land lot on November 24, 1808. The one thousand dollar purchase price indicates that some type of building, or buildings, was located on the land. During the August session of the court in 1811, the justices ordered that Fullwood be paid the sum of thirty six dollars for building the courthouse at Sumpterville. Since there is no evidence of any purchase of any land by the Justices of the Inferior Court either in the deed records or in the minutes of the court, it is virtually impossible to determine exactly where the town of Sumpterville was located. One might determine that Sumpterville was indeed located near the home of Major Peter Thomas at the intersection of Turkey Creek and the Uchee Trail - also at the point where the first three Laurens County roads converged. The Uchee Trail was the best and most traveled road in Laurens County. Thomas's home was located in the 2nd Land District, the most heavily populated in the county. On August 6, 1811 the justices of the Inferior Court ordered that a road be cut from the intersection of the Sumpterville Road and the Gallimore Trail to run in an easterly direction. A year later the court ordered all hands above the Uchee Trail between Turkey Creek and the ridge which divides the tributaries of Turkey and Rocky Creeks to work on the road. This Sumpterville Road may have been the current day Wayne Road or a road which takes a similar path to the Old Macon Road, running parallel to the western bank of Turkey Creek.

The first census of Laurens County was taken in 1810 by Hugh Thomas, who was appointed by the Justices of the Inferior Court. While no names were enumerated, the total population of the county was 2,210. Laurens was third in population among the newest counties in Georgia, behind Baldwin County, the seat of the state government, and Twiggs County, which was rapidly becoming an economic and judicial center in Central Georgia.

With the loss of lands to Pulaski County a year earlier, county residents clamored for more land on the east side of the river. When it became apparent that the legislature would cut off a portion of Montgomery and Washington Counties east of the Oconee and place it in Laurens, local officials began to look for a new county seat. On December 13, 1810, the Legislature appointed John G. Underwood, Jethro Spivey, Benjamin Adams, John Thomas, and William H. Mathers as commissioners to purchase or acquire by donation any quantity of land, not to exceed one full land lot of two hundred two and one-half acres, at or within two miles of the place known by the name of Sandbar on the Oconee River as a site for the public buildings of Laurens County. The commissioners were directed to lay out the town into lots and sell the lots at a public sale, following an advertisement in "The Georgia Journal" and one Augusta newspaper. The commissioners were authorized to use the proceeds of the lot sales to erect a courthouse and jail, with any excess being used for county purposes. As a consequence of the removal of the county seat from Sumpterville, the justices were directed to issue refunds to any purchasers of lots at the old county seat, to cancel any contracts to purchase the same, and to sell all remaining lands at Sumpterville "as they think most expedient," with any proceeds being applied to the building of a new courthouse and jail. It is difficult to determine exactly when the decision was reached. It was most likely the commissioners who made their decision in short order.

The commissioners chose a site in Land Lot 232 of the First Land District about one half mile west of the Oconee River at a point directly opposite the Sandbar, the site of George Gaines's ferry and the traditional crossing of an old road leading from Macon to Savannah. Jonathan Sawyer, a former resident of the capital city of Louisville in Jefferson County, was appointed as Postmaster of Dublin on or before July 1, 1811. The origin of the name of the new town had nothing to do with the ethnic origin of Sawyer, who is sometimes incorrectly referred to as Peter Sawyer. Sawyer's wife, Elizabeth McCormick, died circa 1809 while bearing a child. Sawyer, being the postmaster, made an application to the Post Office Department in Washington for the name of his choosing. He chose the name Dublin, in honor of Dublin, Ireland, the hometown of his wife. Mrs. Sawyer's sister, Ann St. Clair McCormick Troup, was the first wife of George M. Troup, the up and coming Congressman from Coastal Georgia. Mrs. Troup, like her sister, Mrs. Sawyer, met an untimely death early in her young life.
 
Before there was a post office and before the town was officially incorporated, Jethro B. Spivey, John G. Underwood, Benjamin Adams, and W.H. Mathers conducted the first sale of town lots on May 23, 1811. Purchasers were expected to pay for the lots in four equal installments with the first payment coming due on January 1, 1812. On December 13, 1811, the legislature appointed Jonathan Sawyer, Jethro B. Spivey, John G. Underwood, Benjamin Adams, and Henry Shepherd to act as commissioners of the courthouse and other public buildings granting unto them the power "to lay out and sell such a number of lots as may be sufficient to defray the expenses of such public buildings as they may think necessary."

The choice of a county seat on the eastern edge of the county was predicated on the accession of new lands on the east side of the Oconee River. Three days before the town of Dublin was authorized as the county seat, the legislature approved an act to incorporate a part of Washington and Montgomery counties into Laurens County. The new lands, which had been already been inhabited for more than twenty five years, was described as beginning on the east side of the Oconee River, opposite the Laurens County line, and thence in a direct line to the mouth of Forts Creek; thence up the meanders of the same to the limestone rocks; thence in a direct line to Wood's Bridge on the Big Ohoopee River; thence down the Ohoopee River to Pugh's Trail at the Mt. Pleasant Ford; thence in a direct line to the head of Mercer's (sic Messer's) Creek; thence down said creek to the Oconee River.

With the accession of the land on the east side of the Oconee River in 1811, three new districts were added to Laurens County. They were the 52nd, today known as Smith's District, the 86th, today known as the Buckeye District, and the 87th, which is no longer in existence. The 52nd District included all that portion of the county which was formerly Montgomery County and which was south and east of the Uchee Trail leading northeast from Carr's Bluff and today includes all of Smith's, Carter's, Oconee, Jackson, and Rockledge Districts. The 86th G.M. District included all of the land above the Uchee Trail in what was Washington County until 1811. The 87th District, probably abolished with the cession of the lands along the western banks of the Ohoopee River in 1857 to Johnson County, may have included portions of both the 52nd and 86th districts in northeastern Laurens County.

The practice of naming militia districts ended in the 19th century when permanent names were given to each of the districts. From that point on the 52nd District was known as "Smith's" District, named in honor of the Smith family in general or Hardy Smith, Jr. in particular. The 86th was named the "Buckeye" District for the main community in the district, which was located on the new Buckeye Road, which was formerly the old Buckeye Road, about a mile north of its intersection with the Ben Hall Lake Road. The 341st District became known as the "Burgamy" District, in honor of John Burgamy, who may have been a captain of the district. The 342nd became known as the "Dublin" District for the county seat which lay within its bounds. The 343rd district was dubbed "Pinetucky," probably in recognition of the thousands of pine trees covering this district, the largest district of original Laurens County. The 344th was known as the Hampton Mills District in honor of Andrew Hampton, a prominent resident of the district. The 345th District was named in honor of David Harvard, a prominent resident of the district. The 391st Bailey District was named for Henry Bailey, a large landowner who lived on the Old Toomsboro Road.

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