Habersham County History

Georgia Masonic Lodge

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Nacoochee Valley Early Settlers

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Historical Collections of Georgia - Habersham County by Rev. George White

 Interesting Bits Of Habersham County History
by Miss Addie Bass

Early Settlers of Habersham County

 

Habersham County in 1990: population 27,62; housing units 11,076; location: 3438'N 8332'W; total land area is 278.21 sq. miles, or 178,052 acres; total water area: 1.01 sq. miles, or 644 acres.

Modern Habersham County Place Names: Aerial, Baldwin, Batesville, Clarkesville, Cornelia, Demorest, Dicks Hill, Dixon Crossroads, Fairview, Habersham, Harvest, Hollywood, Midway, Mount Airy, Pardue Mill, Shirley Grove, Shorts Mill, Tallulah Falls, Tugaloo & Turnerville.

History: The 46th county of Georgia, Habersham County, was named in honor of Revolutionary War hero Colonel Joseph Habersham (1751 - 1815), and was established on December 15, 1818 by an act of the Georgia Assembly.  Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northeast Georgia, Habersham County was formed from land contained in the Cherokee Indian Cessions of July 8, 1817 in the Treaty of the Cherokee Agency, and February 27, 1819 in the Treaty of Washington.  Some of the remaining lands from the Cherokee Cessions that were not originally allocated to Habersham, were added to  Habersham County in 1828 & 1829.  A small portion of the Southeast corner of Habersham was originally a part of Franklin County.

First explored by the Europeans in 1540 by Hernando De Soto, the rich red-clay soil and the rivers & streams of Habersham had proved to be a welcoming home for both the Creek and Cherokee Indians for at least several thousand years prior to the arrival of De Soto (to be more precise, these earliest Indians were of differing civilizations, and indeed, differing levels of advancement; they would not have called themselves Cherokee).  A plaque commemorating the passage of De Soto through the area is located near the County Courthouse in Clarkesville.

Four major rivers lie within the county: the Chattahoochee, Soque, Tallulah and Tugaloo, and it was along the banks of these rivers, as well as the smaller sources of water, that the pioneer inhabitants made their homes.  The boundaries of Habersham County have been quite fluid over the years, and are a subject for discussion in their own right.  Some of the earliest white communities within the county were places such as Tugaloo, Soque, Nacoochee, and Batesville, but it must be remembered that the original size of the county was over 718 square miles, as compared to it's present size of just under 279 square miles.  The researcher of Habersham County genealogy will do well to become familiar with the adjacent county of Franklin, as well as with those counties which were split off from Habersham over the years: Rabun 1828, Lumpkin 1831, Banks 1857, White 1858, and Stephens in 1905.  Many early families moved on towards Atlanta, some 70 miles distant, and may now be found in both Hall and Fulton counties, as well as those counties further south in Georgia.  A great number of Habersham families migrated towards Alabama and Texas.

Early life within Habersham fits the profile of pioneer life in America, where self-sufficiency was paramount to survival.  Of the three main migration routes into the county: south from Pennsylvania, west from Virginia & the Carolina's, and north from Savannah, a large portion of the early settlers were the Scots-Irish who came down from Pennsylvania. Disputes over land precipitated a long, and often tragic, conflict with the local Indian population; however, this strife was often tempered by frequent intermarriage.

According to Mary Church & Sue Thompson:

Among the names of the [early] English inhabitants are Jarrett, Devereaux, Van Diverre, Wofford, Hill, Sutton, Williams, Free, Crow, Sisk, McClure, Burton, Dover, Cooley, Chastain, Fry, Trotter, Bowen, Tatum, Davis, Deal, Ivester, Stewart, Hames, Harshaw, Brookshire, Waldrep, Kimsey and Gabrels.
 

These folks were the early inhabitants of the northern reaches of the county around the Nacoochee Valley, and Batesville.  In the southern and easternmost areas of the county, much of which is now located in Stephens County, were the small communities of Nancytowne, Ayersville, Mountain Grove, Currahee and Leatherwood.  These areas were settled by the families of Brown, Payne, Farmer, Ayers, Whitfield, Thomason, Brady, Wilbanks, Andrews and many others.  Many of the home sites of this area were incorporated into the Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area when it was created in 1911, and now are designated as historical sites protected for archeological research.

These small communities were, without exception, centered around life within the church.  They were most often Baptist, but many Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, as well as other denominations existed.

Starting in 1828, and during the Administration of President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), the attitude of the Federal Government towards the American Indian changed for the worse. Late in 1828, the State of Georgia passed a law extending its jurisdiction over Cherokee County; thereby refusing to recognize the Indian right of self-government.  It was also during this period of time, 1828/29, that America's first gold-rush occurred in the Nacoochee Valley.  The culmination of these disputes was the removal of the Cherokee in the infamous Trail of Tears.

Prior to the discovery of gold, Habersham County had experienced a slow-steady increase in it's population and fortunes, but as would soon be repeated in California, change came rapidly to the county with the fever of the gold rush.  By 1830, more than 300 ounces of gold a day were being mined in Northeast Georgia, so much so, that the Federal Government established a mint in Dahlonega in 1838.  By that time, however, production had begun to decrease.  The upheaval of gold-fever continued until 1849, when many of the miners left for the newly discovered riches of California.  By 1858, most of the gold mining had ceased, but in that year the technique of hydraulic mining was introduced, which would produce a revival of the industry after the War of Rebellion, and indeed, gold continues to be produced to this day, albeit in greatly reduced amounts.  The use of hydraulic mining has had a terrible environmental impact on many sites in the area.

The following list of gold mines in Habersham County is taken from an 1849 text of Georgia statistics that I am searching for, it was possibly authored by a person named White:

Aside from the upheaval of the gold-rush, which really had a limited impact on many persons in the area, life continued  at a more normal pace during the 1840's & 50's.  This peacefulness would belie the coming tragedy of the Civil War.

It is often said by those who do not know, that it is revisionist history to claim that many, if not a majority of the men who fought and died in the Civil War, were fighting not for slavery, but for their very homes, and the lives of their loved ones.  Certainly, the men who fought from Habersham County were involved for many reasons beside slavery.  In the "Causes of the Civil War," by Randy Golden, the complexity of the issue is stated quite well:

Some say simplistically that the Civil War was fought over slavery. Unfortunately, there is no "simple" reason. The causes of the war were a complex series of events, including slavery, that began long before the first shot was fired. Competing nationalisms, political turmoil, the definition of freedom, the preservation of the Union, the fate of slavery and the structure of our society and economy could all be listed as significant contributing factors in America's bloodiest conflict.

As for the question of slavery in Habersham County, fewer than 7% of the families in Habersham were slave holders.  Aside from the rare scourge of pure racism, what possible reason would these men have for fighting in support of an evil institution that only served to depress the value of their own labor?  In retrospect, this issue is too important to not be discussed, but this is not the proper forum for its complexities.  As always, I welcome your comments.

During the war, almost 1,000 men from Habersham are said to have participated on the side of the Confederacy.  This number would include almost every able-bodied man between the ages of 16 to 55 or so.  A small, but unknown number are believed to have participated on the side of the Union.  To my knowledge, an exact reckoning of the devastation of the war has never been completed, but the number of casualties, both wounded & killed, as well as those felled by disease, is likely a significant number.

The only significant battle of the Civil War to take place in Habersham County was the "Battle Of Narrows" which was fought, Oct. 12, 1864, between Confederate troops and Union cavalry in a mountain pass. A Confederate victory saved Habersham County from pillaging by Union troops & camp followers, and also saved grain fields for Confederate troops. There was a Confederate drill field near the site of the battle. Some historians have called this the "Battle of Currahee" because it was fought in sight of Currahee mountain. Casualties were small and the wounded were cared for by neighbors. See Highway marker #006-3B Located - US 441 at the road to Leatherwood Baptist Church (S-0981) near Alto.

After the war, during the period of reconstruction, life continued to be difficult, but with the completion of the Southern Railway on July 17, 1873, it can be said that life began to return to normal.  During the 1880's a number of German & Swiss immigrants came to the area with the intention of growing grapes for a fledgling wine industry.  However, the county became dry before a profit was ever made, and many of the Germans and Swiss families moved away.  Of those who did chose to stay, their influence can still be seen in the area around the Nacoochee Valley, and in the town of Helen, which has been recast as a tourist destination with an alpine theme.

In the late 1890's, a rivalry between the towns of Clarkesville and Toccoa ensued, with each proclaiming its desire to become the county seat.  Evidently, this matter was of deep concern to some folks, as the Courthouse in Clarkesville was blown up with dynamite in 1898.  Clarkesville was destined to remain the county seat, and Toccoa was eventually made the seat of government for the newly formed Stephens County in 1905.

 - David Thomason 2003, may be reprinted and quoted as desired.


HABERSHAM, Joseph, 1751-1815 brother of John Habersham and uncle of Richard W. Habersham. A Delegate from Georgia; born in Savannah, Ga., July 28, 1751; attended preparatory schools and Princeton College; became successful merchant, planter, and, with his cousin Joseph Clay, engaged in the mercantile business; member of the council of safety and the Provincial Council in 1775; major of a battalion of Georgia militiamen and subsequently a colonel in the Continental Army; Delegate to the Continental Congress in 1785; member of the convention in 1788 which ratified the Federal Constitution; mayor of the city of Savannah 1792-1793; appointed Postmaster General of the United States by President Washington in 1795 and served until 1801; president of the branch bank of the United States at Savannah, Ga., from 1802 until his death on November 17, 1815.


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