Western Laurens County's Oldest Town
You may have never heard of Hartford, Georgia. If you have, you may have never thought of it as being in Laurens County. But from December 10, 1807 to December 10, 1808, this ancient and dead town of Central Georgia lied within the bounds of Laurens County. Located at an important crossing spot on the Ocmulgee River, Hartford became the first county seat in Georgia named for a woman. By the slimmest of margins, Hartford failed to become one of the most important cities in Georgia history.
The area which became Hartford, Georgia was located on the eastern banks of the Ocmulgee River, opposite Hawkinsville. The State of Georgia acquired all of the land between the Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers from the Creek Nation under the treaty of Ft. Wilkinson in 1801. Hartford, located at the extreme southwestern limits of the state at a point where the Lower Uchee Trail crossed the Ocmulgee River, became an important and strategic location for the location of a trading post and frontier defense outposts. Many historians believe that the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto came to the Hartford area. Early authorities believed the Spaniard's expedition traveled along the Lower Uchee Trail crossing the Oconee River in northern Laurens County. Recently, historians have theorized that DeSoto traveled north from Hartford to Macon, where he turned northeast and crossed the Oconee below Milledgeville. An 1806 survey shows the confluence of two trails just east of the town.
With the opening of the new lands to the Ocmulgee and in anticipation of the acquisition of additional lands beyond the river, the Georgia Legislature contemplated the relocation of the capital at Louisville. Forward-looking legislators realized that a new capital should be located on a navigable river. The finalist locations were Milledgeville on the Oconee and Hartford on the Ocmulgee.
Milledgeville was selected by a mere one vote. Supporters of Hartford, which was located on navigable waters, had the last laugh, when after the location of the capital at Milledgeville, it was discovered that the new city was several miles above the limits of the navigable portion of the Oconee River.
Laurens County was created by an act of the legislature on December 10, 1807. The original limits of the county extended to the upper line of Telfair County near the mouth of Crooked Creek on the southwest and just above the mouth of Shellstone Creek the lower line of what would become Twiggs County.
Just one year after the creation of Laurens County, a new county, Pulaski, was carved from the western portion of Laurens on December 13, 1808. Named for Count Casimir Pulaski, a Polish soldier who gave his life in support of the American independence, Pulaski County originally included all of present day Bleckley and Dodge Counties and all of present day Pulaski east of the Ocmulgee.
Counties weren't organized overnight. A legislative act of December 13, 1809 fixed the site of the public buildings of the new county in Land Lot 394 of the 21st Land District. A year later, George Walker, Jacob Snell, Allen Tooke, William S. Lancaster and Josiah Everett were chosen as commissioners of the town of Hartford.
The commissioners were given the authority to sell lots for the building of a courthouse and jail. The new town was named in honor of Nancy Hart, Georgia's heroine of the American Revolution. Hart County, also named in honor of Hart in 1853, is the only county in Georgia named for a woman. In 1811, Thomas A. Hill, Solomon Hopkins, Elijah Wallace, Malbourn Lyon and Henry Simmons were named town commissioners until an election could be held in 1813.
Hartford, it was believed, was going to be a thriving port city. Physicians and lawyers moved there in hopes of building their practices, and consequently, their fortunes.
During its first six years of the county's existence, residents of Hartford and Pulaski County found themselves in constant perils from Indian tribes living across the river. Four forts were constructed. Fort Mitchell was located near Hartford. Fort Greene was located six miles to the south. Many Laurens Countians volunteered for and were called upon to do his share of frontier duty. General David Blackshear, of Laurens County, was placed in command of the troops along the Pulaski front.
It was once said that all roads led to Hartford. The Lower Uchee Trail ran through present day Cochran and followed Georgia Highway 26 west of Dublin and crossed the Oconee River between the Dublin Country Club and Blackshear's Ferry on a northeasterly course to the Augusta area. A Federal Road was constructed from Milledgeville through Longstreet down to Hartford. The Chicken Road ran from Hartford to what became Empire. After running a few miles south of present day Dudley, the Chicken Road (still in existence) entered Dublin along Moore Station Road.
In addition to old Indian trails, four military roads were constructed during the War of 1812. The first road was built by Major Elijah Blackshear of Laurens County. This road ran northeasterly along the Chicken Road to Empire. From that point, the road generally followed U.S. Hwy. 23 to the Georgia coast near Darien.
A second road was used by General David Blackshear to transport troops along the eastern banks of the Ocmulgee northward to Camp Hope near Macon. The General also constructed a road running southeast along the Ocmulgee through Jacksonville, the ancient capital of Telfair County, and down the Altamaha to the coast. The fourth, and most famous Blackshear Road, ran westerly from Hartford through Indian territory to Fort Early. This road provided a vital way of passage during the
Indian troubles of 1818.
It was during 1818, when Hartford became the center of military operations against the Seminoles in Florida and southern Georgia and Alabama. General Andrew Jackson and his army spent a week in Hartford in preparation for military actions.
By 1836, the need to move the county seat across the river became apparent. With most of the county lying on the west side of the river and the land around Hartford not being suitable for expansion, the legislature voted to establish Hawkinsville as the new capital of Pulaski County.
Today, there are few, if any, remnants of Old Hartford. Though the area is still known as the Hartford District, the ancient cedars which once surrounded the courthouse are gone as well. The next time you travel to Hawkinsville, think back two hundred years ago to a time when this tiny hamlet of Hartford nearly became the capital of Georgia.