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By: Mrs. Edward B. Claxton, Jr. Laurens County Historical Society
With the assistance of modern science we are able to ascertain that our area was settled at least ten thousand years ago. Using a process known as "carbon 14 dating", a by-product of atomic research, chemists have determined that the Mound Builders were here at the time. Nobody knows who they were, where they came from, where they went, or why they built the mounds. Historians think they were early Indians, but the Indians who were here when the first white men came knew no more about the Mound Builders than the white men did; in fact, the Musgeeans (called Creeks by the British because they usually lived near creeks) held them in superstitious awe and would not disturb them.
These mysterious builders evidently used the mounds for sentinel posts, burial grounds, council meetings, chief's residence, and religious worship. About four miles south of Dublin on the banks of the Oconee River are two mounds. The larger of the two commands a view of the river and the surrounding plains and is the type of mound that the Indians built for signal fires and watchout posts. The other is oval in shape and was either intended for the campsite of the Chief of the tribe or for the council of the tribes, maybe as a peace-treaty mound. The different types of flint arrows turned up by the plows in the area indicated that it was the site of a council ground, since much of the flint is foreign to the area.
Four miles north of Dublin on the Blackshear Ferry Road is a burial mound that is situated near what is now believed to have been the Indian village, Kitchee. Other mounds believed to be of Indian construction may be found near this location.
An interesting, though disputed, theory is that the first white men to come through this section were led by General Hernando DeSoto in April 1540. One Spanish historian tells of the General's meeting a powerful chief of a country called Ocute, which was inhabited by the Oconees, a tribe of Creek Indians. It is possible that the people of Laurens County are now occupying the section called Ocute and even that Dublin is built on or near the Indian village.
There are no authentic records that white men lived here during the Spanish period. It is believed that a Spanish mission was located below the junction of the Oconee and the Ocmulgee, which case priests could have visited here. For some unknown reason, the Indians in this section were unfriendly to the Spaniards, and this probably is the reason for no Spanish settlements.
The charter given to the Trustees of Georgia in 1732 included all lands between the Savannah and the Altamaha Rivers and their headwaters to the Atlantic Ocean. The treaty signed with the Indians by the immigrants in 1733 allowed the settlers to use the lands lying between the Oconee and the Ogeechee Rivers. Further, in Article VI is found, "any runaway slave is to be returned by the Indians and a reward is to be given to the Indians for his return, provided he was taken on the farther side of the Oconee River."
The fine hunting grounds and fertile soil made this land congenial to Indian tastes so there was in this Oconee region a rather heavy Indian population. They remained undisturbed after the Spanish menace had passed until the last quarter of the eighteenth century when white families began to push in. At first the Indians showed no objection; in fact, these Lower Creeks were generally friendly to whites, but when the number began to increase, their attitude changed. The colonial government then built a few rude blockade forts on the Oconee and Ocmulgee. These contained huts for the owners who could work in small clearings nearby, guns in hand.
During the Revolutionary period, many Tories fled from the eastern part of Georgia to the eastern side of the Oconee where the Indians were because the Creeks had sided with the English during the War. When peace came, Troy lands were confiscated; new treaties were made with the Indians; these pushed them farther from the settlers. Then there was a rush of settlers to the Oconee. When this land was surrendered by treaty to the State in 1783, immediately two counties were created from it - Washington and Franklin. A part of what is now Laurens - in fact, all of Laurens east of the Oconee, was included in the county of Washington. About the time of this treaty, Laurens County began to be settled.
To reward the brave patriots of the Revolution, a tract of land was given to each for a new home to be located in the new counties. This was the Head Right Land system, whereby every head of a family could have 200 acres of land, 50 additional acres for each member of his family, and 50 acres for each slave, not exceeding ten. He must settle within six months - later extended to nine, and the soldiers were to have 250 acres exempt from taxation for ten years.
As a result, in 1789, a number of settlers from North Carolina and Virginia came. Many of these new settlers, some them being of Scotch - Irish descent, some of Huguenot descent - took up residence on the east banks of the Oconee. This was the "frontier line" as the Treaty of 1783 had made the Oconee the boundary between the Whites and the Indians. From that time there was trouble between the two: the settlers on the east side and the Indians on the west side. The Indians would slip across the river and steal; the whites would retaliate. The whites would entice the Indians across the river, make them drunk and rob them; the Indians would in turn retaliate. Finally, in 1802, the government extinguished the Creeks' title to the lands lying west of the river. The land was then divided into Wayne, Wilkinson, and Baldwin Counties and distributed by land lottery. The part of Laurens County which is west of the River came from Wilkinson County. Generally, then, the portion of land east of the River was Head-Right Land Grant, and the portion west of the Oconee was of the Land Lottery System.
At the close of the war, Georgia had only eight counties, but soon protests were effective in having more counties in order to centralize business. On December 10, 1807, the General Assembly passed out an act to lay out and identify new counties out of the counties of Baldwin and Wilkinson. One of these new counties was to be called Laurens in honor of John Laurens of Revolutionary War fame. The new county was to consist of "all that part of Wilkinson County lying between the Oconee and the Ocmulgee Rivers, beginning at the mouth of Big Sandy Creek on the Oconee River…"
The population of the county was 1,795, of which 485 were slaves. The next year, on December 13, by an act of the General Assembly, about one-half of the territory of Laurens was taken to form Pulaski County. This left Laurens comparatively small, and the people were dissatisfied; so in 1811, portions of Washington and Montgomery Counties on the west side of the Oconee were taken and given to Laurens. In this form It remained until 1858 when an Act was approved giving a strip of the eastern portion of Laurens County to Johnson County - two miles wide and nine miles long, extending from the Dublin - Wrightsville road to the Emanuel County line and to the original eastern boundary of Laurens. A minor change was made in 4 1906 to correct a matter of disputed territory - the only alteration from this to the present form.
The first county seat, Sumpterville, was located on the west side of the Oconee River on Turkey Creek. It was the home of Major Peter Thomas and eight miles west of the present city of Dublin. The General Assembly of 1807 passed an act that "the side for the public buildings in and for the county of Laurens shall be in the town called and known by the name of Sumpterville." Since the forests and the soil portions of Washington and Montgomery Counties were added to Laurens on the east side of the Oconee River, it was necessary to change the seat to a location nearer the center of the county. As a result, the county purchased from Joseph L. Hill the present site for the city of Dublin - west of the river adjacent to the Sand Bar on the east. The consideration was "one hundred dollars cash in hand paid for one hundred acres." The next December, the General Assembly authorized public buildings for the new county on the tract.
The town of Dublin was incorporated by the Assembly on December 9, 1812. It may have been the smallest town ever created by the legislature: "The incorporation shall extend to and include all the inhabitants living within 250 yards of Broad Street and within 400 yards of the Court House." Legend has it that Jonathan Sawyer, a pioneer citizen of the county was granted the privilege of naming the new county seat, and he named it Dublin in honor of the capital of his native land, Ireland. The site chosen has been proved to be a good location with many advantages for growth and development.
When the War of 1812 was being fought, the settlers along the Oconee were just making good headway in building homes and clearing the farmland. They became most anxious about the threat of Indian attacks, but actually they had little involvement in the War. Indian troubles continued after the War from time to time until after 1828 when Andrew Jackson became President with the avowed intention of moving the Indians across the Mississippi.
After the War of 1812, there were years of prosperity; Florida had been purchased by the U.S. Government, so there was no more Spanish menace. The wave of population swept from the east and southeast to northwest.
In 1821, Dublin was larger than Macon and contained "a courthouse, a jail, an academy, thirty-five houses and stores." Trails had become roads; instead of paying road tax, the "able bodied effective white male inhabitants, mulattoes, free negroes and slaves from the age of sixteen to fifty" worked the roads. Corn was the universal crop throughout the county. Much corn was used to make whiskey since the small farmer had no slaves to produce cotton and had to use his extra corn in this way to secure some cash.
A large production of cotton in the northern part of the county by the men owning slaves led to the building of comfortable homes and sizeable estates. In the southern part of the county, the settlers were few and far between and made a living with cattle, sheep cows and hogs.
In the latter thirties, the state was giving its thoughts to the construction of railroads. A company proposed a line through Laurens and Dublin, but some of the citizens feared an invasion of rights and refused to give the right of way. So the Oconee River continued its importance in the commerce of the area.
Slavery was a national institution, and although most of the people in Laurens County did not own slaves, they were loyal to the principle of slavery and resented any disrupting influences of the Abolitionists. In 1845, there were 3,258 whites and 2,760 slaves in the county. Dublin at this time had "a good courthouse, several stores, 65 houses and 180 inhabitants."
By the fourth decade, lumbering was the principal industry with a half dozen sawmills operating in the county. By 1850, Dublin was the market of a splendid agricultural section with cotton the main article of sale. Sheep raising was also important as a part of the economy and wool was a staple of commerce.
By: Mrs. Edward B. Claxton, Jr.
Laurens County Historical Society