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Union County, Georgia                                                              The GAGenWeb Project


Early Settlers of
Union County, Georgia

Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By:  Ethelene Dyer Jones


Our heritage –the story of Tillman Gooch


For this column today I give precedence to one of my writing students. I have personally invited Anthony Hunter to share the story he wrote about his ancestors, early settlers in Union County, Georgia.

It has been my privilege to give some instruction in creative writing to Tony over a period of several years.  He learned of me by reading one of my articles in the paper, a correspondence developed, and “by mail” creative writing instruction began.

I have seen him develop in perception and skill as a writer.  He is facile in poetry, essays, short stories and family history.  I didn’t have to instruct him very much; he already had the inherent talent for positioning words creatively.  My contribution, perhaps, has been to encourage him and to give him pointers in grammatical structure and punctuation.

          I hope you enjoy Anthony Hunter’s family account.  If you find ancestral links to the people he writes about, know that he has researched thoroughly to bring to the public this article.


The Story of Tillman Gooch by: Anthony Hunter, Guest Writer


       Lying within the Chattahoochee National Forest along the southern arm of the Appalachian Trail, just a few miles south of Blood Mountain in Union County, Georgia is a once well-used mountain pass whose name is now all but forgotten.

          Gooch’s Gap with its southern exposure is unusually rich with lush green flora.  The deciduous hardwoods with a scattering of stately eastern white pines tower over a forest floor covered nearly knee-high in an abundance of native plant life.

          As the gap is only accessible by foot, the quiet hiker might expect to see all manner of wildlife from chipmunks to squirrels, deer and turkey, or the rare spotted elf newt and perhaps even a fleeting glimpse of the shy black bear.  But if you ever do make the journey to this serene, remote place, bear in mind that it is also a doorway into time, and therein lies part of its treasure.

          Many of our landmarks such as Gooch’s Gap are so named as a dedication and memorial to the hardy, brave pioneers who ventured forth into unknown lands as settlers.  Tillman D. Gooch was but one among the ranks.  He was a family man, a farmer, a prospector and an adventurer.  The son of a farmer, he was born in Greenville County, South Carolina in the year 1800.  It was there he lived his youth.  Although young for a man of his era to marry, at the age of 19 Tillman wed Mary Elizabeth Justice who was born in Franklin County, North Carolina.  She was 19 as well.

          Their first child, Samuel, was born in South Carolina in 1824.  Before the birth of their second child, Caroline, in 1926, the young family ventured forth into the then-Cherokee nation in the area of Georgia that became Rabun County.

          No documents or journals have been found that record Tillman Gooch’s life.  But living through oral family history, two things have been passed on about the man.  First is the fact that he and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, did not get along well.  Their marriage was an on-again—off-again affair. This probably contributed to the second known fact about Tillman: that he was an adventurous man.

          In his wanderings or by conversing with the native Cherokee, Tillman learned of a certain mountain pass that led to the headwaters of the Toccoa River.  By crossing the gap, traversing down along the Toccoa River as far as the present town of Blue Ridge, then veering southwest through the connecting valleys, he found a route through the mountains that led to the Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee County.  It was a week-long trip by horse, deep in the heart of Cherokee County.  To travel the distance was just part of the everyday life of men such as he.

          Whether planning to move his family or to leave them, Tillman purchased land in Cherokee County.  Then for reasons unknown, he lost that land in 1834 in a sheriff’s land sale to a man named Andrew Miller.

          Between 1826 and 1838, Tillman and Mary Elizabeth had five more children: Elizabeth Ann, James Madison, Adaline, Mary and Margaret.  Their children numbered five daughters and two sons.

          About the time the Cherokee were removed on the infamous Trail of Tears (1838-39), Tillman left his wife and children never to return.  Some say he left to help drive the Cherokee out.  If this be true, why did his own daughter, Mary Jane, apply for enrollment with the Eastern Band of Cherokee in 1907?  Wouldn’t one of her parents had to have been Indian?  Her mother Mary Elizabeth was not removed.  Could it be that Tillman was part Cherokee and ordered to leave?  Or could there have been another reason for his disappearance—like love?

          Two years before the famous gold strike at Sutter’s Mill, California in 1850, Tillman arrived in Sutter County.  There he married a lady named Nancy Miller (without divorcing his first wife, Mary Elizabeth).  Was she kin to the man Andrew Miller to whom Tillman lost his land in Cherokee County in 1834?  We may never know.  But in the days when divorce was almost unheard of, how could a man be with his new love without running away with her?  Regardless, Tillman and Nancy stayed married for the reminder of their lives.  Perhaps Tillman found the happiness denied him with his first wife, Mary Elizabeth.

          All of Tillman Gooch’s children married and had children of their own.  Both of his sons, Sam and Jim, settled at the very foot of the gap named after their father.  Sam settled on the southern side in the Nimblewell District of Lumpkin County.  His brother Jim settled on the northern side of the gap in the area known as Sarah at the very headwaters of the Toccoa River in the greater area called Suches in Union County.  The two Gooch brothers married sisters, Betsy and Elvira Grizzle.

          The legacy from Tillman D. Gooch is not the high mountain pass named after him.  Like many of our pioneer forefathers, his legacy is the children he left behind—children who became men and women that love their mountain home so that it has become the very fiber of their being.  These children and their descendants went on to become farmers, teachers, soldiers, business owners, craftpersons, moonshiners, homemakers, artists, timber cutters, successful politicians, church leaders—the sons and daughters of the American dream.

          And if by chance you wish to attend a Gooch Reunion where there might be 500 present, you will be sure to learn the real meaning of the words “southern hospitality.”  I’ll see y’all there—or maybe on the mountain.


(Note: Anthony Hunter is a great, great, great grandson of Tillman D. Gooch.)


c2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 31, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA.  Reprinted by permission.  All rights reserved.


[Ethelene Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.  She may be reached at e-mail; phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708 Cedarwood Road, Milledgeville, GA 31061-2411.]

Updated August 5, 2008

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