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Burke 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


BURKE.

Burke county was formed from St. George's parish, and was named Burke in honor of Edmund Burke, the great statesman who stood so firmly for the colonies.

There were doubtless a few whites in this section before Oglethorpe came, for the Indians who lived in this county complained to Governor Glen of South Carolina, that the whites, among whom were John Jones and John Whitehead, were making inroads on their hunting-grounds. It is certain that George Galphin had a trading-station at Gaiphinton, on the Ogeechee, when Fort Augusta took the place of Fort Moore in 1733. The settlements in South Carolina reached to the Savannah river, and it is hardly probable they stopped there. Before the parish of St. George was laid out the borough of Halifax sent two representatives to the Assembly of Governor Reynolds, and in the grants made by Governor Reynolds are sundry grants to persons who were found in Burke, Jefferson and Screven counties. After St. George s parish was made Burke county, it gave off Jefferson and Screven, leaving it still a large county. It was at its first settlement a county of wonderful fertility and sufficiently undulating to secure good drainage, except where there were deep depressions and ponds. It had in it no very lofty hills, and being possessed of a tenacious limestone soil, the rains and floods left it uninjured.

The Savannah was on the east, the Ogeechee on the west, and the great Briar creek traversed the whole county. Bark, Camp, Buckhead, Rocky, McIntosh, Beaverdam, and Walnut creeks were all considerable streams. Along the banks of each was a large strip of oak and hickory land. The great pine forests, valued only for pasturage, filled up the area unoccupied by the oak and hickory forests. There was beneath the surface an inexhaustible deposit of rotten limestone which now and then cropped out on the surface. The land was very productive, and there came into it as soon as it was opened for settlement great crowds of immigrants.

On the Ogeechee river, and on the various creeks flowing into it, as well as on the Savannah and its tributaries, there were many settlers before the Revolution. There was in 1774 six justices of the peace in the parish, and where Waynesboro now is there was a prison known as Burke jail.

In 1774, when the Liberty Boys began their rebellion, as it was regarded by Governor Wright, he received a very decided protest against their course from this parish, among others, and we find the names of:
George Wells, afterward lieutenant-governor; Peter Shand, James Doyle, S. Barrow, Dan l Thomas, Gideon Thomas, John Thomas, Robert Henderson, F. L. Frier, John Red, James Warren, Jas. Williams, Sam l Red, Alex. Berryhill, Ed. Hill, Charles Williams, Thos. Pennington, John Rogers, John Anderson, John Catlett, David Green, Jno. Pettigrew, Wm. Catlett, Jno. Rotten, Jno. Frier, James Davis, Wm. Milner, Elijah Dix, Sam I Berryhill, Thos. Red, John Bledsoe, James Rae, Jos. Gresham, Wm. Doyle, Jos. Tilley, Job Thomas, Drury Roberts, Joel Walker, Jas. Red, W. McNorrell, Jno. Kennedy, F. Stringer, P. McCormick, H. Williams, J. Greenway, R. Blaishard, H. Irwin, T. Carter, J. Brantley, W. Weathers, W. Moore, W. Godbe, R Cureton, W. Cureton, P. Helvestien, Elias Daniel, E. Odom, B. Brantley, T. Gray, J. Brantley, John Greene, John Burnside, S. Jordan, P. Dickey, Zach Wimberly, S. Lamb. B. Warren, Sol. Davis, Jno. Gray, Frank Hancock, Pleast Goodall, Wade Kitts, Dan l Logan, Myrick Davies, John Roberts, R. Douglas, Jesse Scruggs, Henry Mills, Jos. Moore, Amos Whitehead, John Robinson, John Thomas, Sr., Wm. Younge, E. Benniefield, Jacob Sharp, C. Yarborough, J. Hunt, B. Lamb. S. Slockcumb, L. Hobbs, Jno. Forth, N. Williams, Ed. Walters, Jno. Stephens, F. Francis, M. Davis, Arthur Walker, A. Davis, Allen Brown, Joseph Allday, Jas. Douglas, L. Ashberry, C. Golightly, John Howell, Bud Cade, J. Moore, John Whitehead, John Sharpe, T. Odom, W. Hobbs, R. Cade, John Tillman, C. Whitehead.

Many of these names belong to Virginia and North Carolina, and some are evidently Scotch-Irish in their origin. These constituted a small part of the heads of families in the at present three counties, but serve to give us a little insight as to whence the Burke people came and who they were. White gives another list at a later day (1792) of the officers of the first battalion of Georgia militia.

During the Revolution the patriots of Burke had considerable trouble with the Tories, who made repeated raids into the county. While many of the people were not in the army, they were patriots, and were in danger all the time. The first settlers of Burke were not large slaveholders, nor was there a large influx of slaves until after the invention of the cotton-gin. It is likely that among the first cotton-gins ever put into operation in the world was the one set up in Burke county. Before Whitney secured his patent he put up one of his machines, as they were called, in Burke county, and ginned what cotton was brought him from all quarters. The wonderful value of the cotton lands in this county, low price of negroes, and the depression of the tobacco and indigo culture caused cotton plantations to spring up as soon as the gin was invented. The oak and hickory section of the county when opened soon became quite unhealthy, and the white people were forced to the pine woods in the malarious seasons, and many of the smaller landholders sold their holdings in Burke and went farther west, and large plantations became the rule.

Waynesboro was laid off in 1783 and was named in honor of Mad Anthony Wayne, who was a great favorite in Georgia. The Legislature incorporated an academy and granted two thousand acres of land as an endowment, and incorporated the village with Thomas Lewis, Sr., Thomas Lewis, Jr., Jas. Duhart, Edward Telfair, and John Jones as commissioners. Two hundred lots were to be sold and the proceeds were to be devoted to paying for the public building. The academy was among the first houses built and the court-house was soon erected. The town grew and there was a race-course near by, and the famous comedy, The Wax Works of Georgia Scenes, was acted in this village. There was no church, however, for many years, and the only preaching was an occasional sermon in the court-house; but in the early part of the century two Presbyterian churches, one of which had been organized at Walnut Branch and the other at Old Church, united and built a small Presbyterian church in Waynesboro, which was served by a pastor who in winter preached in Burke, and in summer to the same people who went to the village of Bath, in the pine woods of Richmond.

A Methodist church was built near where the cemetery is now soon after the Presbyterian church was built. The building was very inferior and the congregation very small. It has long since given way to what is now an elegant building with a large congregation. Six miles from Waynesboro was an old church which was built before the Revolution, and long used as a Methodist church, and in the east of the county is Bottsford Baptist church, one of the first Baptist churches in Georgia. The Baptist churches at Rocky Creek and Bark Camp and Buckhead were famous churches in the beginning of the century and for fifty years afterward.

The county of Burke became early in the century a county of large plantations and wealthy planters. Some of these lived in beautiful homes on their places during the winter and in summer went to the pine woods. Habersham, Alexander, Summerville, Bath and Brothersville were each piny wood villages, to which the planters repaired before the sickly season set in. There was much comfort and fine taste in these antebellum winter homes, and the hospitality of the planters was boundless. The villages to which they repaired during the summer time afforded a delightful social circle, and the commodious winter homes were filled with guests from the cities and the neighboring plantations. Nowhere was old Virginia life of a century gone by so reproduced as in Burke sixty years since. The large plantation was under the management of the overseer. The factor in Augusta or Savannah cashed the drafts of the planter and supplied his larder with such luxuries as he might desire from the city. His carriages and his horses were of the best order, and he supplied his library with the best books and periodicals. The wealth he enjoyed he had inherited, and he was often dependent upon the sagacity of others to keep it from leaving him. This was one kind, and the number was not large, of Burke county planters, and there were a few in all the neighboring counties of the same class. Then there were others much more numerous who had made their fortunes by hard work, and who, while they gave their children all that wealth could secure in the way of luxury, were themselves hard-working, close-trading men, who read no books and put on no style, but who knew how to manage negroes and make cotton. Then there was a class of poor plain people who lived in the pine woods, few of whom had any slaves. They lived in log cabins on small bodies of land, and lived by their own labor. They rafted ranging timber down the Savannah river, made shingles in the cypress swamps, and raised some cattle and sheep. They had little to do with the wealthy people of the oak woods, and knew but little of them. There was no county in the State before the war began in which there was a worthier, more contented or more prosperous people than the people of Burke county.

The wonderful cotton-producing quality of the land turned the county into one great plantation, except in the pine woods. Negroes increased in numbers, and men who began life with a few found themselves the owners of scores. They put a high estimate on negro property and did all they could to increase the number of their slaves. They neglected their lands, incurred large debts, and when the slaves were freed many were bankrupt.

Burke sent forth a large emigration, and the descendants of the people who came from Virginia and North Carolina, and from the north of Ireland, and settled in St. George s parish, have been scattered over all western and southern and southwestern Georgia. The smaller landholders from the oak and hickory country gave way at an early time to large landholders, and great bodies of negroes under the charge of an overseer were the sole inhabitants of some parts of the county during the summer and fall. When the rich cotton lands of the newer part of Georgia were opened the Burke planter removed a part of his force to them and opened a new plantation there. Much of the land was turned out and grew up in old field pines. A planter owned sometimes what had once been the separate homes of twenty sturdy frontiersmen. When the war ended and the negro was a freeman, the negroes were found in far greater numbers than the white people, and the few whites who lived on their estates came to the county town, and Waynesboro, from being a deserted village, became a flourishing little city. The plantations were left in the hands of negro tenants. The old field pines were cut down, and while the white people in Burke are no longer distributed over the county, but are concentrated in the villages, they are in larger number than in the older day. Where there was for many years a mere railroad station, the junction of the Augusta & Savannah railroad with the Central, Millen is now a prosperous little city. Midville, Herndon, Munnerlyn, and Perkins are all villages of some importance, and there are sundry hamlets in other parts of the county.

In the pine woods, where for many years the chief resource was ranging timber and cattle, there are now many small well-cultivated farms, where there are good substantial prosperous farmers. There are good schools and churches and a contented, well-to-do people.

I have devoted some care to this account of Burke, since it was one of the oldest counties, and its history is found largely reproduced in the other large cotton-producing counties of Middle Georgia. The people of Burke have always been noted for their hospitality and generosity. They have been, as a rule, plain, unpretentious, religious people. The population of this county in 1790 was 9,467, of whom only 2,392 were slaves. It then included Screven and Jefferson counties. In 1810, 6,166 whites and 4,691 slaves; in 1850, 5,268 free and 10,832 slaves. The population of whites is greater now than it has ever been, and the negro population is not diminished.

This county has had its share of distinguished men. Lyman Hall, David Emanuel, Edward Telfair, Herschel V. Johnson, John Martin, all governors, lived in Burke. The Hon. J. J. Jones, S. A. Corker, R. E. Lester, congressmen, were from this county. The Shewmakes, legislators and jurists, and Judge Lawson, a prominent democratic politician, were from this county. Colonel T. M. Berrien long lived here. Edward Byne and the Kilpatricks, famous as Baptist preachers; Professor James Elmore Palmer, noted as an educator and long a professor in Emory College, and many others have cast luster on this good old county; but the county has been chiefly famed for its great planters, who have been noted for their intelligence and enterprise.


History of the Towns and Villages

Girard, a village of Burke county, is located about nineteen miles southeast of Waynesboro, and seven from the Savannah river.  It has a money order post office and several stores, and does a good local business.  The population in 1900 was 327.  The nearest railroad station is Robbins, S.C.
(Georgia: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form. VOL III Publ. 1906. Transcribed by Marilyn Clore)

Girth, a post-hamlet of Burke county, is located a little west of Brier Creek, in the southern part of the county.  Thomas, on the Central of Georgia railroad, is the nearest station.
(Georgia: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form. VOL III Publ. 1906. Transcribed by Marilyn Clore)

Gough, a post-village in the western part of Burke county, with a population of 44 in 1900, is near the headwaters of Buckhead creek and about fifteen miles from Waynesboro.  Wrens, on the Augusta Southern railway, is the most convenient station.
(Georgia: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form. VOL III Publ. 1906. Transcribed by Marilyn Clore)

Keysville, a town in the northwestern part of Burke county, was incorporated by act of the legislature on Dec. 29, 1890. In 1900 the population was 101. It is on the line of the Augusta Southern railway, has a money order postoffice, express and telegraph service, and is the chief trading center and shipping point for that section.
(Source: Georgia Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, VOL II, by Candler & Evans, Publ. 1906. Transcribed by Tracy McAllister)

Hillis, a village of Burke county, is located near the Screven county line and in 1900 reported a population of 104. It has a money order postoffice, schools, churches and mercantile houses. Waynesboro is the most convenient railroad station. 
(Georgia: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form. VOL III Publ. 1906. Transcribed by Angelia Carpenter)

Munnerlyn, a village of Burke county, is on the Central of Georgia railroad, twelve miles south of Waynesboro. It has a money order postoffice, express and telegraph offices, stores, schools, etc., and in 1900 had a population of 87.
(Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, publ. 1906. Transcribed by Tammy Rudder)

Oatts, a post-hamlet of Burke county, is fifteen miles southwest of Waynesboro and almost on the Jefferson county line. Louisville is the nearest railroad station.
[Source: Georgia Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons,  Vol 2, Publ 1906. Transcribed by Kristen Bisanz]

Rosier, a post-hamlet of Burke county, is sixteen miles south­ west of Waynesboro and not far from the Jefferson county line. Louisville is the nearest railroad station.
Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form Transcribed by Kristen Bisanz

Sardis, a post-village in the southeastern part of Burke county, is near the Screven county line. The population in 1900 was 51. The nearest railroad station is Munnerylyn.
Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form Transcribed by Kristen Bisanz

Saint Clair, a post-town on the western part of Burke County, reported a population of 154 in 1900. It is the principal trading center for a large agricultural district. Matthews and Keysville, on the Augusta Southern, are the nearest railroad towns.
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Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form Transcribed by Kristen Bisanz

Shell Bluff, a post-village of Burke county, is about ten miles northeast of Waynesboro, and in 1900 had a population of 61. Green's Cut is the nearest railroad station.
Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form Transcribed by Kristen Bisanz

Telfairville, a little village of Burke county, is fifteen miles east of Waynesboro, on the ridge between Brier creek and the Savannah river. It has a money order postoffice and some local trade. The nearest railroad station is Robbins, S.C.
Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form Transcribed by Kristen Bisanz

Thomas, a post-village of Burke county, is a station on the Augusta branch of the Central of Georgia railroad, about six miles south of Waynesboro. During the war it was known as Thomas Station. Here there was some sharp fighting between the cavalry forces of Wheeler and Kilpatrick on Nov. 27 and Dec. 3, 1864, Kilpatrick being supported in the latter engagement by Baird's division of infantry.
Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form Transcribed by Kristen Bisanz




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