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The Story of Washington-Wilkes - part II - In the Revolution


With Indian strife temporarily calmed and with settlers thronging into the rich lands, the section seemed to be ready for prosperous development, but settlement was hardly under way before war broke out. The county came to life amid chaos. Perhaps because they had come from states where the issues of revolution had been much discussed, many of. the early settlers were Whig in sentiment. That others were strongly Tory is due to the partiality shown by GOVERNOR JAMES WRIGHT in granting lands and paying the traders. This royal governor, upon his own responsibility, had initiated a policy of making grants to loyalists and refusing land to those who opposed the oppressive measures of Great Britain. The same method was used in disbursing the money realized from the sale of the New Purchase lands. Men like GEORGE GALPHIN who sympathized with the colonists were refused payment of their legally just debts and were not paid until after Georgia had become a state. Wilkes County was therefore divided in sentiment, and each group opposed the other whenever occasion arose.

In 1776, more than a year before the British soldiers came into Georgia, a constitutional convention met in Savannah and on February 5, 1777, approved a constitution whereby Georgia became



a state. The entire portion of the ceded lands north of the Ogeechee River was incorporated, into one county and called Wilkes in honor of JOHN WILKES, who as a member of the British Parliament had opposed the severity meted out to the American Colonies. Therefore, Wilkes County history from 1777 to 1790 also depicts that of Elbert and Lincoln Counties as well as parts of the present Hart, Madison, Oglethorpe, Taliaferro, and Warren Counties.

The constitution authorized the establishment of a superior court in each county; on September 16, 1777, the legislature enacted a law empowering the Superior Court of Wilkes County to lay out and make roads "as may be thought convenient for the inhabitants . . ." The court was also permitted to nominate commissioners and surveyors and to appoint inhabitants along the proposed roads to keep them in good repair. ABSALOM BEDELL, BENJAMIN CATCHINGS, and ROBERT DAY were the commissioners appointed. Since this statute was in force only one year, no action was ever taken under its authority.

Many of the early Wilkes County colonists rendered inestimable service in the American struggle for independence. The handsome and fearless ELIJAH CLARKE, who came from North Carolina in 1774 and settled not far from Washington, became one of Georgia's greatest Revolutionary leaders. His first assignment (1776) was a captaincy in the quartermaster corps, with the responsibility of guarding the army's food supply. When Indians attacked the supply wagons in care of his company, he routed them in confusion. Although the British forces were sometimes double that of his own, it was the fiery charges of his soldiers that won for Wilkes County the name of Hornet's Nest. Fighting side by side with his men and showing no mercy to the enemy, he not only dealt out many a defeat to the British but kept up incessant warfare with the Indians and Tories.

Another of the early Wilkes County citizens whose military



skill made history was COLONEL JOHN DOOLY, who settled in what is now Lincoln County at the beginning of the Revolution. During the early months of the fighting in Georgia, he served with Clarke in many skirmishes in his own section and across the Savannah River in South Carolina. Having sworn vengeance upon the Indians for the murder of his brother THOMAS, he constantly spread terror among the tribes.

One of the most interesting characters of the Revolution was AUSTIN DABNEY, a free-born mulatto who fought with ELIJAH CLARKE. DABNEY had been enlisted as a substitute for his master, who was afraid to fight. After being seriously wounded at the Battle of Kettle Creek, he was cared for by one of the numerous HARRIS families of Wilkes County. In order to show his appreciation he lived frugally and saved enough money to send his benefactor's oldest son to the University of Georgia. Later acquiring money through a public land lottery and a Federal pension, he continued to serve his protege. GOVERNOR GEORGE GILMER in his book Sketches tells that on one of DABNEY's annual visits to Savannah to collect his pension, the Negro accompanied COLONEL WILEY POPE. Upon being warned of the prejudices that forbade a white man from associating with a Negro in urban society. DABNEY fell behind at the city limits. In Savannah, however, GOVERNOR JAMES JACKSON watched Pope ride past his house without recognition but ran into the street to welcome DABNEY with a warm handshake.

Except for skirmishes with Indians incited by the British, Wilkes County was undisturbed by actual warfare until after the fall of Augusta in January, 1779, a year after royal forces had entered the state. As soon as the rebels of Wilkes learned that the British had captured Augusta, they began to move their families into South Carolina. A few remained to till their farms, and others sought refuge in pioneer forts. Since there was then no important post in Georgia held by Americans, the enemy considered themselves in possession of the state. COLONEL HAMILTON, appointed to administer



the British oath of allegiance to the inhabitants remaining in Wilkes County, burned many of the houses of those who had left.

Many Georgia and Wilkes County patriots rallied around COLONEL JOHN DOOLY on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River and soon, attempted to come back into Georgia. Trying to cross the river just below Dartmouth, they were so closely pressed by COLONEL HAMILTON that they fled back into the adjacent state. Having been joined by 250 men under COLONEL ANDREW PICKENS, they again planned to attack Hamilton, who was encamped on CAPTAIN THOMAS WATER's plantation near the mouth of the Broad River. On February 10 the combined forces of DOOLY and PICKENS came into Wilkes prepared for an attack but found that HAMILTON hud gone on an expedition to administer oaths of allegiance.

HAMILTON's goal was Carr's Fort, one of the numerous blockhouses of Wilkes County. PICKENS, foreseeing HAMILTON's line of march, sent a subordinate ahead to arrange for defense of this fort, a refuge of women and children, Finding it protected by a few old patriots, the officer deemed defense impracticable and allowed the British to take possession; but the enemy were so closely pushed by the American forces under DOOLY and PICKENS that they were forced to leave their horses and baggage outside the stockade. Although there was little shooting during this encounter because of the women and children inside the fort, nine British and five Americans were killed while three loyalists and seven patriots were wounded. PICKENS hurriedly sent men to take possession of a log house, from which the patriots could command the only effective, source of water, and planned to starve the British into surrender. Soon, however, he received news that COLONEL JOHN BOYD, a notorious Tory, with eight hundred loyalists was moving toward Georgia from South Carolina. The American patriots hastened across the Savannah to meet BOYD, and COLONEL HAMILTON retreated to Wrightsboro, in a neighboring county.

Before leaving for South Carolina, PICKENS and DOOLY called for



reinforcements under CAPTAIN ANDERSON to patrol the Savannah in order to hold back the loyalist forces whenever they should attempt a crossing. BOYD changed his course of march, failed to encounter PICKENS, and attempted to cross into Wilkes at Cherokee Ford, which he found protected by a blockhouse. He consequently went five miles up the river and effected a crossing by dividing his men into small groups and sending them across on rafts. Passage was hotly contested by a small force of a hundred Americans, and BOYD lost a hundred men, killed, wounded, and missing. Sixteen Americans were killed and wounded and an equal number were taken prisoners.

PICKENS and DOOLY, hastening back into Georgia, were reinforced by CAPTAIN ANDERSON with his remaining troops and by COLONEL ELIJAH CLARKE with a hundred dragoons. After assembling on the Broad River, the combined forces, informed by couriers as to the movements of the enemy, hastened southward after BOYD, who was seeking to join COLONEL DANIEL MCGIRTH and his five hundred men on the Little River about six miles from Kettle Creek. Although the skirmishes had cost him men and horses, BOYD still had seven hundred soldiers and was confident of supremacy. Near Kettle Creek at a spot twelve miles from Washington he halted his men for a breakfast of parched corn and fresh beef. But, unknown to him, CLARKE, DOOLY, and PICKENS, were close on his trail. On the night before, the five hundred Americans had encamped on a creek within four miles of the enemy. Among the soldiers was CLARKE's son JOHN, a lad of thirteen.

Early in the morning of February 14 they began a march to overtake BOYD's forces. Soon they heard drums in the enemy's camp, halted, and sent a young officer to reconnoiter and ascertain the position of the British. Upon learning that the time was propitious, the Americans advanced, with PICKENS commanding the center, DOOLY the right wing, and CLARKE the left. BOYD's pickets, catching sight of the advance guard, fired and thus gave alarm. Though taken by surprise, BOYD went into immediate



action. Deploying his men into battle formation, he advanced with a hundred soldiers, using fallen timber and an old fence to break the range of flying bullets.

Soon the American charges drove them back from the valley and across the creek, causing them to abandon their horses and equipment. BOYD fell, mortally wounded. CLARKE shrewdly surmised that the retreat was a strategic maneuver to gain the vantage point of the hill beyond. To frustrate this plan, he decided to plunge ahead. As he gave the command to charge, his horse was shot from under him, but quickly mounting another he led his men forward. At the foot of the elevation, now known as War Hill, the noise of a sharp encounter soon drew the forces of PICKENS and DOOLY to his aid. In less than two hours the patriots had won a great victory, losing only nine men to BOYD's seventy. Twenty American soldiers were wounded and ninety-five British. After the battle, CLARKE pushed on after the retreating enemy, leaving two soldiers with the dying BOYD to attend his last needs.

One of the decisive battles of the Revolution, the encounter of Kettle Creek was important not only to the citizens of Wilkes County but also to those of the state. From this engagement and the preliminary skirmishes the Americans gained a quantity of much-needed munitions and six hundred horses. BOYD's forces were scattered, some to the British in Augusta, where MCGIRTH's reinforcements had already retreated. These men never again assembled as a fighting unit, and except for pillaging by raiders Wilkes County was not again invaded. This victory broke the hold of the British in Georgia and led to COLONEL ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL's decision, to abandon Augusta for a while. Although there was much fighting in the state throughout the following year, Georgia was no longer completely in the hands of the British.

The citizens who had fled into South Carolina returned to their cabin homes and made preparations for their spring crops. It was not long, however, before they needed protection from the Indians, incited by the half-breed ALEXANDER MCGILLIVRAY and a



British agent named TATE. In March, CLARKE and PICKENS called to arms all the remaining male citizens over sixteen, routed a band of eight hundred Creeks, and again restored peace to Wilkes County.

Defeat of the enemy enheartened the stricken people to undertake again the formation of their government. Obeying an order of the state executive council, they held their first session of court on August 25, 1779, in the house of JACOB MCLENDON about ten miles north of Fort Heard. ABSALOM BEDELL, BENJAMIN CATCHINGS, and WILLIAM DOWNS were the justices, and COLONEL JOHN DOOLY was attorney for the state. HENRY MONADUE was appointed, clerk and JOSEPH SCOTT RIDEN sheriff. Embittered by the cruelty of the enemy and their sympathizers, this bar of justice showed little mercy to Wilkes County Tories. The grand jury, which assembled at the same time, made presentments against twenty-six Tories and recommended that they be arrested and tried for assisting "the British troops and the avowed enemies of the United States of America." No further records remain to show what happened to these, but it is known that the court tried nine others and found them guilty, recommending five to mercy. But clemency was not in the hearts of the jurors, for all nine were sentenced to be hanged. JOSHUA RIALS, one of them, was tried for treason against the state and of acting "in conjunction with TATE and the Creek Indians." In order to insure evidence sufficient for conviction, the court tried another, JAMES MOBLEY, not only for high treason but for "horse stealing, hogg stealing, and other misdemeanors,"

This first session of the court was called a "court of Oyer and Terminer and General Gaol Delivery," but the following year the tribunal came to he known simply as the Superior Court, In the absence of a courthouse the first sessions were held in private residences, and the jury sat outside on a log for consultation. Since there was no jail, prisoners were confined in pens, frequently bound with hickory twigs, and often put into stocks that were merely two heavy rails of a wooden fence.



Throughout the period of British occupation of Georgia the state capital had been shifted between Savannah and Augusta. When Savannah was occupied by the British and Augusta was considered unsafe, the members of the General Assembly who met in Augusta on January 4, 1780, designated Heard's Fort as a meeting place in the event of attacks. On February 5 the assembly adjourned in order to reconvene at Heard's Fort, which thus became the temporary capital of Georgia. GOVERNOR RICHARD HOWLEY, who was attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, had left the affairs of the state in the hands of GEORGE WELLS, president of the council. Upon the death of WELLS on February 18, STEPHEN HEARD was elected president of the council and thereby became the acting governor of Georgia. HEARD received this recognition while occupying the fort that bore his name, and this post remained the seat of government for the greater part of the year.

On January 23, 1780, seven years after the coming of the first settlers, the legislature appointed WILLIAM DOWNS, BARNARD HEARD, JOHN GRAHAM, DAVID COLEMAN, and JOHN DOOLY, or any three, to form a board of commissioners. These men were empowered to lay out a hundred acres into a common and town, "which shall be called Washington," the site to be that appointed for holding court. The money derived from the sale of acre lots was to be used for building a jail, a school, and a cemetery. Although the latter conditions were not carried into effect, a town was soon begun at Fort Heard. Evidence of this is found in a legislative act of 1783 which states that a town had been ordered and "actually laid out in the County of Wilkes at a place called Washington ..." Thus Washington was the first of many towns to be named in honor of the great American general. The site probably bore the name before it was officially recognized, for certain unauthentic sources indicate that Fort Heard previously was called Fort Washington.

The new legislature, wishing to invite immigration, continued



the policy of granting unapportioned Wilkes County lands. It established a headright system whereby every free white person was entitled to two hundred acres of land, fifty for each member of his family, and fifty for each slave up to ten. He was required to settle on his grant within six months, to pay a quit rent of two shillings, and to take care of the expense of surveying. But men were too busy with Revolutionary matters to take advantage of the moderate terms. Another effort to bring in colonists was made in 1780, when the requirements were made still more lenient. By this provision any citizen of Georgia or any other state was entided Co a grant of land, two hundred acres for the head of the household and fifty acres for each additional member, white or black, provided the total was not more than a thousand acres. In return the applicant was required to move his entire family onto the land and take an oath of allegiance to the state government. He also was required to give assurance that the land would be settled within nine months, a period later extended to twelve. The fee charged for this land was only one shilling (about 24 cents) an acre for the first hundred acres and 6 pence (ahout 12 cents) an acre for the rest. In order that immigration might be hastened, men coming from other states were exempted from military duty for two years. But even the military duty of the older citizens was likely to be fitful and uncertain. With battles occurring intermittently, a man had to keep his farm or store going and at the same time be ready to fight.

Since many of the Indian traders or their heirs had not been paid by the province of Georgia, the state in 1780 also assumed the old claims against the Indian debts. Claimants were asked to submit proof of their rights of compensation to the legislature, which subsequently authorized payment in treasury certificates bearing 6 per cent interest.

After the British recaptured Augusta in the spring of 1780, they made no attempt to occupy Wilkes County. They were satisfied



by sending raiders to subdue the rebel Whigs and to warn them that submission was expected. One of these bands forced itself into the house of the patriot JOHN DOOLY and brutally killed him in the presence of his family. Part of this same band, pillaging and stealing, made their way to the log cabin of NANCY HART and accused her of hiding a rebel from the King's men. This redheaded giantess boasted that she had aided an American soldier to escape into the swamp behind her house by directing his pursuers in the opposite direction. The angry Tories thereupon shot her one remaining gobbler and ordered her to cook it for them. While preparing the meal, she bustled about the house, uttering an occasional oath, and managed to slip a pinewood chink from between two logs. As she passed back and forth between the men and their muskets, she began to slip their guns through the hole she had made. When the soldiers detected her in putting out the third, they quickly rose to their feet, but NANCY brought the piece to her shoulder and declared she would kill the first man who approached. When one started toward her, NANCY shot him and hastily seized another musket. Meanwhile NANCY's daughter SUKEY, who had been sent to the spring for water, had summoned her father by blowing a conch shell. When SUKEY returned to the cabin, saying "Daddy and them will soon be here," the soldiers made a rush toward NANCY, who fired and killed another. At the point of a gun NANCY held the others until her husband and some neighbors came from the fields. When they were about to shoot, NANCY protested that shooting was too good for Tories, whereupon the survivors were bound and hanged to a tree.

Living in that part of Wilkes County that has since become Hart [County], NANCY HART is said to have acted as a spy for CLARKE and to have taken part in several pitched battles, including the Battle of Kettle Creek. During the British occupation of Augusta, she volunteered to obtain some much desired information for CLARKE. Entering the British lines disguised as a backwoodsman with



eggs to sell, she spent several days there unmolested and discovered all their secret plans.

COLONEL CLARKE, who meanwhile was fighting in South Carolina, returned to Georgia to help in an unsuccessful attempt to recapture Augusta. Planning to return to the neighboring state he ordered his Wilkes County volunteers to assemble at Dennis Mills on the Little River. There in September, 1780, he found four hundred women and children, who, unable to cultivate their fields and persecuted by the enemy, asked to he allowed Co follow the army to safety. Escorted by CLARKE and his three hundred men, this group bravely tramped for eleven days to the security of the Watauga Valley in North Carolina. While in that state the Wilkes County men fought in the Battle of King's Mountain.

Although there was little fighting at home during the following year, Wilkes County men distinguished themselves in battles in other states. They fought not only at King's Mountain but at several sites in South Carolina, including Blackstock's Plantation, Cowpens, and Long Cane Creek, where CLARKE was critically wounded. CLARKE's intrepid wife Hannah followed him to the army camp and nursed him, as she did whenever he was sick or wounded.

In 1781 CLARKE, now a brigadier general, felt that a return to Georgia was necessary. With permission from his commander, GENERAL NATHANAEL GREENE, he divided his men into small groups and dispersed them throughout Wilkes County to care for the women and children and to ascertain the situation in the Hornet's Nest. In no other Georgia section had the pioneer families suffered more brutalities at the hands of the Tories than in Wilkes County. Many older men had been killed or put into foul prisons to the of disease. Many women and children had been robbed and so insulted that they had sought refuge in temporary huts more resembling a savage camp than a civilized abode.

Among those who had been tortured by the loyalists during the



Revolution was Stephen Heard's wife and child, who were driven out into a snowstorm. Their cabin was burned, and both died of exposure. HANNAH CLARKE, with her children, was also driven from her home, and while she was making her way to relatives in North Carolina, her horse was stolen and she was forced to walk through the mud arid rain, carrying one child and leading another. SARAH GILLIAM WILLIAMSON, wife of the gallant soldier MICAIJAH WILLIAMSON, was forced to look on at the hanging of her eldest son.

Little aid could be given to this ravaged land, for it was soon necessary for CLARKE to aid in a second siege of Augusta. When his men again assembled at Dennis Mill, in April, 1781, he had smallpox. LIEUTENANT MICAIJAH WILLIAMSON led the soldiers to Augusta, and CLARKE, as soon as he was well, joined him with a hundred more Wilkes County men. After a hard fight in July Augusta was again in possession of the Americans. CAPTAIN SAMUEL ALEXANDER and STEPHEN HEARD found their old fathers in Augusta prisons where they had been held tor ransom by the Tory COLONELS BROWNE and GRIERSON. Except for Indian raids which were quickly quelled under PICKENS and CLARKE, this was the last time that Wilkes County troops assembled for action. On July 11, 1782, the British evacuated Savannah and in November of that year peace was declared.



Workers of the Writers' Program of the WPA of GA, The Story of Washington-Wilkes
(Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1941) pgs. 15-26

Transcribed by Keith Giddeon. All text is as found in the book, except the deletion of most hyphens
on line breaks, and several instances of italics being deleted.

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