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Elbert County History

Georgia Genealogy Trails

“Where your Journey Begins”

Stephen Heard – founder of Elbert County

Elbert County, Georgia History
The Story of Georgia and the Georgia People 1732 to 1860
by George Gillman Smith, D.D.
Originally published c. 1901

Submitted by K. Torp, ©2007


Elbert County was laid off from Wilkes in 1790, and named in honor of General and Governor Elbert. It was one of the first settled parts of Wilkes, and much that has been said of Wilkes refers to Elbert. When laid off it included a part of Hart and Madison. The land was of four sorts: Rich red hills covered with grand forests; beautiful valleys along the streams, and a wide area of what was regarded as almost wasteland, the flat woods; and the thin gray lands covered with post-oaks. These red lands and valleys were very fertile and attracted the Virginians, who were seeking homes in a new country, and who were seeking rich lands to grow tobacco.

There was a large area known as the flat woods, where wild grasses grew luxuriantly. The lands were suited for pasturage but not for culture, and for many years were not valued highly. Of late these lands have been among the best in the county, being rendered productive by the liberal use of kainit.
The first settlers, according to Mr. White and others, were:

Dr. Bibb, Wm. Brown, A. Brown, Wm. Barnett, Billy Allen, James Bell, P. M. Wyche, Jos. Deadwyler, David White, Dozier Thornton, Thos. Maxwell, R. Tyner, William Key, William Grimes, J. Watkins, Colonel Jack Howard, Nehemiah Howard, Peter Oliver, Wm. Rucker, N. Highsmith, P. Duncan, Wm. Haley, Wm. Ward, E. Shackleford, W. Woods, Middleton Woods, Stephen Heard, D. Oliver, J. Cason, W. Brown, W. Moss, Wm. Tait, Enos Tait, Zimri Tait, Robert L. Tait, James Alston, Wm. Alston, Ralph Banks, Wm. Hodges, S. Wilson, Thos. Carter, John A. Banks, Samuel Davis the father of Jefferson Davis, Absalom Davis, S. Nelson, Thos. Burton, Isham Thompson, Wm. Hodges, S. Nelson, J. A. Carter.

Some of these came just before the Revolution, some of them in the early years of it, and many more of them just after its close.

There were but few people of property who came with the first settlers, but there were not a few who had some slaves.

There was much rudeness in the frontier life of those trying days when the wild Cherokee and the Crueller Tory menaced the newcomers. During the Revolution, there was a bitter contest with the Tories, and among the more famous of the Whigs of those days was a woman, Nancy Hart. She is the only woman Georgia ever honored so far as to name a county after her. It must be admitted from all accounts that she was by no means comely in features, nor amiable in temper, nor choice in her language, and the report is that she was said by the frontier people to have been a “honey of a patriot but a devil of a wife.” This I think is a slander.

The old governor, in an amusing chapter devoted to her, from which most of the stories concerning her are drawn, may somewhat overstate things about her, and make her a ruder woman than she really was; but she certainly was an intrepid Whig, and possibly captured several Tories and had them safely hung. In her old age, the governor says she became a shouting Methodist and was recognized by all as a good woman. She married an uncle of Thomas Hart Benton, the famous senator, and the sterling old statesman was always proud of his connection with her. It is certain she was a woman of substance and family and integrity, and her family was among the best.

Land was very cheap and living very simple, and Governor Gilmer has not drawn on his fancy for the picture he has painted of the first years of the Wilkes and Elbert people.

There were few opportunities to secure an education. A large number of the wills and deeds are signed with a mark, and there were but few women whose signatures are attached to legal instruments before 1811 who could write their names.

After the coming of the Broad river people in 1785 there was a steady influx of people of wealth into Elbert, and while wills show much illiteracy and much poverty, they also show that Elbert was now being peopled with a class of substantial Virginians, who brought some culture and wealth with them into what was then regarded as the wilds of Georgia.

The Virginians who largely settled Elbert believed tobacco was the only crop which could be raised to profit, and chose these lands with an eye to its culture, but the first comers were compelled to wrestle with the question of securing subsistence in these remote quarters. They were obliged to have some ammunition and some tools, and they bought them from the traders who had their supplies at Fort James, or perhaps in Augusta, but they had nothing but peltry to rely on for barter. During the war, the people of Elbert were reduced to great straits, and after it was over for some years there were few slaves and but little raised for market. The nearest market was Augusta and their visits to it were few. There was little tobacco and no cotton made for market till after 1805. The wealth of the county was in cattle and hogs.

The great rush of immigrants who sought the rich county of Wilkes when the Virginians came in such numbers rapidly peopled that part of it which was afterwards Elbert. The land was granted by headright, and the better sections of the county were soon taken. There was for ten years after peace was declared a constant peril from the Cherokees, who were not fifty miles from the Elbert frontier, but there was nothing that could deter the eager land-hunter, and the country became quite populous.

Petersburg, or old Fort James, was now selected as an inspecting place for the tobacco which was to find a market in Europe. Slave-owners came to the promising country in numbers before the century began. Virginians of wealth settled on Broad river and bought up the valuable lands in the valley of the Savannah. Petersburg became an important and bustling town. The tobacco, which was packed in large hogsheads, was shipped by flatboats to Savannah, where it was sent direct to England. Petersburg merchants were exporters and importers, and goods were sold more cheaply there than in Augusta. Tobacco gave way in the first decade of the new century to cotton, and Petersburg began to decline. With the coming of the steamboats and the growth of Augusta and the abandonment of tobacco planting, its decay was rapid, and now not a house remains.

Elberton was laid out as soon as the county was organized. It had no special advantages as a commercial town, and was overshadowed by the more vigorous Petersburg and Ruckersville, but it was healthy and well located; and while it never before the war between the States became a town of importance, it was the county site and a school center, and had a small and choice population. An academy was established as soon as the county was laid out. It was incorporated and chartered, and the second female academy chartered in Georgia was in Elberton.

With the decline of Petersburg Elberton was still over shadowed by Ruckersville, nearer the river, where there was a bank and large warehouses, and it did a comparatively small business.

The goods sold in the county were brought up the river in flatboats or in wagons from Augusta. The cotton made in the county was sent down the river in boats or carried to Augusta in wagons. The small farmer, as in other sections, gave way in the early part of the century to the large planter who had many slaves, and who could ship his scores of bales of cotton to the Augusta market. By 1830 Elbert had become a county of great Plantations, and the richer parts of the county were owned by a few large slave-owners. Some of these men of wealth lived in the village, but most of them in Wilkes on their plantations. It is the same story — negroes increased, lands grew poorer, and the Elbert county planter, finding he could not support his large family of blacks on the red hills of Elbert, removed his negroes to better lands on the rich bottoms of Mississippi, or the black lands of Alabama, or to southwest Georgia. The poorer people went to the flat woods, or the black-jack ridges of what was afterward Hart, or else to the cheap lands of the Cherokee counties. In 1810 there were 7,582 whites and 4,574 slaves in Elbert; in 1830 there were 6,589 whites and 5,765 slaves, nearly as many slaves as white people in the county, and in 1850 the whites were 6,692 and slaves 6,269.

After the war, however, Elbert began, as all the older counties to take on new life. The old planter who had bought but little and who had aimed to make everything at home, gave way to the new planter who traded near home and whose negro employees bought their goods from the country store, and trade began to be brisk. A railroad was a necessity, and largely through the enterprise of the Elbert people, a branch road was built from Elberton to Toccoa. Afterward, the Seaboard Air Line railroad passed through the village, and Elberton was transformed from a country village into a city.

The Virginia people who came into Elbert at its first settlement were many of them Baptists, and some of them Methodists, and the first Methodist missionaries came into this county, then known as Wilkes, and began their work. Beverly Allen, a scion of a prominent family in Virginia, who was a Methodist preacher, and long but incorrectly regarded the first Methodist preacher in Georgia, had his home in this county. He was a man of rare gifts and of great influence, but become involved in trouble in South Carolina and was expelled from the church. He then became a merchant in Elbert, and incurred heavy debts to eastern creditors. He was sued in the United States court, and when Marshall Forsyth in Augusta, where he was at the time, made an effort to arrest him, Allen killed him and fled to Kentucky. Here he became a prominent physician and a wealthy man.

Some of the oldest Methodist churches in Georgia are still found in Elbert, and the first Methodist conference met at the forks of Broad river, then in Elbert now in Madison county.

The Baptists, the only other denomination of any size in Elbert, have had large success among its people, and the church has sent out not a few prominent preachers to other sections.

There are handsome churches of both of these denominations in Elberton now, and quite a number of each scattered throughout the county.

The Rev. John Andrew, the father of Bishop Andrew, lived in this county. He was a soldier in the Revolution, and the first native Georgian who became a traveling Methodist preacher. He was a nephew of Benjamin Andrew, the staunch patriot of Liberty county and speaker of the Assembly. Mr. Andrew was a country schoolmaster when he lived in Elbert.

Wm. Wyatt Bibb, who after having been a senator from Georgia was governor of Alabama, lived at Petersburg.

Charles Tait, also a senator, was from a leading family in this county.

Samuel Davis, the father of President Davis, came to this county, and removed from it to Kentucky. He was a soldier in the Revolution.

When Hart county was cut off from Elbert a large number of the smaller landholders were taken from the old counties, leaving the bulk of the negroes in it.

The first court held in Elbert was held in 1791 at the house of Thomas Carter. George Walton was the presiding justice. This house was about six miles from Elberton, and like most of the larger houses of that day had a cellar. This cellar was used as a prison, and a man named Mc Bride, charged with murder, was confined in it. He was convicted on Wednesday and hung on Friday.

The first grand jury was: Stephen Heard, Moses Haynes, Richard Easter, Isham Thompson, Wm. Aycock, William Hatcher, Richard Gatewood, Ed McGay, James Crow, Angus Johnson, Archer Walker, Edward Ware, James Shepherd, James Patten, John Davis, Cornelius Sale, Oliver White, Wm. Hodge.

At the present time, there are few better counties in Georgia than Elbert. The magnificent forests which once crowned its hills have long since been destroyed, and even the forests of a second growth have been cut away, and men cultivate as new ground in cotton land their grand fathers planted in tobacco.
There is in Elbert an inexhaustible supply of the finest monumental granite in America, and the most beautiful granite monuments in Georgia are prepared in Elberton.

The court-house is a very handsome and convenient building, the churches unusually elegant, and the residences and storehouses attractive and tasty.

There is a large cotton factory in the city, and other enterprises of value.

The city is well supplied with water furnished by a bold spring in the city itself.

Villages, Hamlets, and Towns

Goss, a post-village of Elbert county, is a station on the Southern railway, about five miles northwest of Elberton.  It has a good local trade and does some shipping.  The population in 1900 was 58.
(Georgia: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form. VOL III Publ. 1906. Transcribed by Marilyn Clore)

Heardmont, a village of Elbert county, is a station on the Seaboard Air Line railroad, about eleven miles east of Elberton. It has a money order postoffice, express and telegraph offices, some stores and is a shipping point for the surrounding plantations. The population in 190 was 70.
(Georgia: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form. VOL III Publ. 1906. Transcribed by Angelia Carpenter)

Huguenot, a village of Elbert county, is on the Broad river, about five miles from its mouth. It has an international money order postoffice, some mercantile interests, etc., and in 1900 reported a population of 74. Heardmont is the nearest railroad station.
(Source: Georgia Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, VOL II, by Candler & Evans, Publ. 1906. Transcribed by Kim Mohler)

Middleton, a post-village of Elbert county, is on the Seaboard Air Line railroad, about six miles east of Elberton. It has a money order postoffice, with free delivery to the adjacent rural districts, express and telegraph offices, schools, stores, churches, etc.
[Source: Georgia Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons,  Vol 2, Publ 1906. Transcribed by Tracy McAllister]

Oglesby, a post-hamlet of Elbert county, is on the Seaboard Air Line railway, about five miles west of Elberton. It has a telegraph office, and express office, some mercantile concerns, and is a trading center for the adjacent district.
[Source: Georgia Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons,  Vol 2, Publ 1906. Transcribed by Kristen Bisanz]

Overton, a post-village in the southeastern part of Elbert county, is not far from the Savannah river. Heardmont is the nearest railroad station.
Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form- Transcribed by Kristen Bisanz

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