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Lee County, GA

Early Lee County

Lee County is in the southwestern section of Georgia. It is roughly rectangular in shape, bounded on the east by Terrell County, the north by Sumter County, the west by the Flint River and on the south by Dougherty County.

Lee County is made up of gently rolling upland plains and low lying plains. Parts of the county are well-drained, while other parts are wet and swampy. One of the highest points in the county is in Smithville.

Many of the present counties surrounding Lee County were derived from the original area designated as Lee County; therefore, there is a widespread area and there are many families whose origins began in Lee County. Originally, Lee County comprised the subsequently created counties of Quitman, Randolph, Stewart, Sumter, Terrell, Webster and parts of Schley, Chattahoochee, Macon, Clay and Marion.'

Prior to 1825 when the land was procured from the Creek Indians by treaty, the territory known today as Lee County was almost unknown to white men. The Indians had villages there and made pottery and chipped flint long before the white men reached North America. There were villages near every large spring, and nearby were ridges yielding flint material.

Located about eight miles northwest of Albany was one of the most interesting village sites in southwest Georgia where ground stone implements of an earlier group of Indians than the Creeks were found. Later occupants of this site developed the art of pottery making from a local clay mixed with black mud from the swamps and a fine gravel from the creek bed. Flint collections of this tribe included arrow and spearheads in various color combinations, such as red with white and pink, pink with brown or yellow, cream with chocolate and gray, purple with red and yellow. Many of the flint points were translucent, a few transparent, and sometimes had three or four colors.

One of these towns, named Che-au-haw or Cheraw by the Indians, was considered as one of the six most important towns of the Confederacy of Creeks. This town, which was called Chehaw by the traders, is often referred to as Au-muc-cul-le (pour upon me)

Colonel Benjamin Hawkins, U. S. Indian Agent, described the Chehaws as having "villages on the waters of the Flint River; there they have fine stocks of cattle, horses, and hogs, and they raise corn, rice, and potatoes in great plenty."

Near the present site of Leesburg was located this once populous Chehaw Indian settlement which was formerly marked by an immense live-oak, nine feet in diameter and one hundred and twenty feet from tip to tip. This tree fell long ago, but a circle of oaks which sprang from its acorns marks the spot where it grew. Under this oak tree the Indians held their council meetings.

With the aid of a large body of friendly Lower Creek Indians, Andrew Jackson in 1814 defeated a large army of Upper Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River and forced the Treaty of Fort Jackson upon both the friendly and the hostile Indians. This treaty ceded without compensation all of Georgia south of a line extending from Fort Gaines to Jesup and large areas in Alabama, then part of the Territory of Mississippi. The friendly Lower Creeks tolerated this injustice, but many of the hostile Upper Creeks joined their Florida kinsmen, the Seminoles, and harassed the Georgia frontier.

When the first Seminole war broke out, Andrew Jackson, en route to Florida, stopped at the Chehaw village where he received some provisions for his half-starved troops The Chehaws also cared for the sick and wounded.  Forty of the Chehaw braves joined Jackson's army which continued to Florida leaving South Georgia settlers unprotected from scalping and thieving attacks by hostile Indians. The Chehaw village was left in charge of the women, children, and a few old men. Generally, the Lower Creeks were friendly; however, there were certain villages known to be engaging in these raids. Two of these hostile villages, taking their names from the chiefs who ruled them - Hopaunee (Hopauno, Hipounee) and Philemmee (Phelemmee, Felemma) - became bolder in their attacks after Jackson's army moved south to Florida."

In March of 1818, Governor William Rabun of Georgia requested that General Jackson send part of his military force on the frontier to protect "the most exposed parts against the incursion of the Indians" Jackson had gone too far to comply and never replied to Governor Rabun's letter. Because the governor felt that his first responsibility was to protect the frontier settlers, Rabun issued orders on April 14, 1818, for the militia under the command of Captain Obed Wright to gather at Hartford, later a dead town, across the Ocmulgee River from present day Hawkinsville is Captain Wright was specifically ordered to proceed against Felemma and Hopaunee because the inhabitants of these towns had committed many murders''

Captain Wright led his march from Hartford in Pulaski County, with "Captain Robinson and Rogers' companies of mounted gunmen, Captains Dean and Childs' Infantry, together with two detachments under Lieutenants Cooper and Jones - in all about 270 effective men". The contingent at Fort Early joined this group and their commander tried to persuade Wright not to attack the friendly village of Chehaw. Because Wright had received information that Hopaunee had taken up residence in this village and ruled it, he was determined to attack Chehaw rather than the two villages cited in Governor Rabun's orders. Years later it was stated that Wright was misled by false information.  The Fort Early commander refused to accompany Wright, but did allow part of his troops to join the expedition.

Captain Wright moved against the Chehaw town with caution on April 30, 1818, and ordered his men not to injure women or children. Within two hours the town was in flames. Wright's report to Governor Rabun exaggerated the number of deaths, perhaps to add to the glory of the victory.

General Thomas Glascock, of the Georgia Militia, reported to General Jackson on April 30, 1818, concerning the destruction of the Chehaw town:...When arrived there, an Indian was discovered grazing some cattle; he was made a prisoner. I am informed by Sergeant Jones that the Indian immediately proposed to go with the interpreter, and bring any of the chiefs for the captain to talk with. It was not attended to. An advance was ordered, the cavalry pushed forward and commenced the massacre. Even after the firing and murder commenced. Major Howard, an old chief who furnished you with corn, came out of his house with a white flag in front of the line. It was not respected. An order was given for a general fire, and nearly four hundred guns were discharged at him before one took effect. He fell, and was bayoneted; his son was also killed. These are the circumstances relative to the transaction. Seven men were killed, one woman, and two children."

A month after the destruction of Chehaw village, Governor Rabun said that the reports given by Wright and Robinson, the second in command, were essentially correct except for the number of those killed, "which was fortunately incorrect"

Many inaccurate accounts were circulated by newspapers and by individuals. Timothy L. Rogers, commander of the Jones County militia in the expedition, denied the Glascock account, but said that an Indian displaying a white flag did come out of one of the houses from which guns were being fired at the troops and was killed. Probably no one who was present at the Chehaw massacre or who heard about it at the time was physically or mentally able to give an objective account of what happened.

The Chehaw affair became a national controversy when Andrew Jackson reacted strongly to the account of the incident he received from Glascock a week after the attack. Glascock and his Georgia troops, who had served under Jackson in Florida, visited the Chehaw ruins on their return and sent Jackson a lurid account.

General Jackson sparked a controversy with Governor Rabun by ordering the arrest of Wright and his trial by military court, and by charging that Rabun had no right to give a military order when Jackson was in the field. In a letter to Calhoun, Secretary of War Jackson charged that Rabun's claim of frontier danger had been exaggerated, and that this incident could destroy the effects of his campaign. Rabun countered by writing Calhoun, enclosing a copy of Jackson's threatening letter. Rabun's warning to Jackson alluded to his overstepping his orders when he went into Florida, seized St. Marks and Pensacola, and executed Ambrister and Arbuthnot.

When Congress met in November of 1818, spirited debates were held concerning the actions of Jackson in Florida and the correspondence between Rabun and Jackson as well as theirs to the Executive Department. Finally Congress asked for and received all the papers relating to the Chehaw incident.

Even though they appeared to be friendly, the forty Chehaw warriors who had returned from the Florida expedition could not be ignored9 Chief William Mcintosh, nephew of the old slain chief Howard and the leader of 2,000 Lower Creeks, wrote Jackson on May 5th from Fort Mitchell and asked him to find out who "has done this murder, and let me know what those Indians have done that made the white men kill our people"

Jackson immediately met with the Chehaw chiefs and other Indians and begged them to remain friendly and not retaliate. A copy of the "talk" was sent to the Chehaws who had served with him'

David Brydie Mitchell, the U. S. Indian Agent in charge of Creek affairs who succeeded Benjamin Hawkins, received a letter from Little Prince (Tustunnuggie Hopoie) telling about the disaster and urging that he find the ones responsible After receiving a letter on April 30th from Timothy Barnard, long a resident of the Creek Nation, warning that the Indians might retaliate if they do not receive some friendly treatment for the damages done them "Mitchell urged Governor Rabun to take steps to render satisfaction and enclosed letters from Barnard and Little Prince''

On May 20th, Rabun answered Mitchell in a letter which explained the expedition but was not apologetic. He declared: "This unfortunate affair has been shamefully represented by many of our citizens whose delicate feelings seem to have forgotten the many wanton outrages which have been committed on our frontier by the Indians, and would ever cover the whole state with disgrace, merely because this small detachment has in this instance, mistaken their orders and carried their resentment to an improper extent."

Mitchell was given $8,000 by the U. S. Government to compensate the Chehaws, but the records show that $10,000 was divided among them This did not settle the question of Captain Wright's responsibility.

Less than one hour after hearing about the attack on Chehaw, General Jackson ordered the arrest of Captain Wright by Major John M. Davis who captured him in Dublin on May 24th, fifty miles south of Fort Hawkins. Civil authorities interfered and discharged Wright when Davis reached the state capital, Milledgeville, with him. It is not clear why Davis did not take his prisoner directly to Fort Hawkins.

Almost a month after Wright returned from Chehaw, Governor Rabun ordered his arrest in Savannah, but was unable to locate him. Wright had left Hartford for Dublin.

Jackson was furious that Governor Rabun's civil authority had interfered with his military authority because:

"It was not Georgia's Supreme Court that had turned Wright loose (the state had no such court then); it was not even a state superior court or judge; it was the lowest court in the land, and was called the Inferior Court. There was one for every county and it was made up of five men generally unlearned in the law, any three of whom might come together and form a legal court. If this was not Georgia's studied insult to Jackson, it had the appearance of one."

Governor Rabun had Wright arrested the next day on May 29th for "violation of orders, in the commission of an outrage on the friendly Indians of the Chehaw village." The issues of states rights and of military versus civil authority were deferred by Rabun to President Monroe. Rabun was pleased to learn that the President, upon the advice of certain cabinet members, decided that Wright should be tried by the U. S. Circuit Court.

Wright became alarmed and escaped from Milledgeville on July 27th. Even though the Governor offered a $500 reward for the arrest of Wright, he was not found and nothing further was done by the U. S. to prosecute him.

The loyal friendly Chehaws who perished have been memorialized by a granite boulder, erected on the site of the old village. The monument, which measures six feet tall and four feet wide, stands on a plot of ground donated by the owner, Mrs. O. M. Heath.

The inscription on the monument reads as follows:

CHEHAW MONUMENT This monument erected on June 14,1912, by the Council of Safety Chapter, D.A.R., in memory of the Chehaws, a friendly agricultural people of the Creek tribe, stands today in an oak grove, slightly off the Leesburg-Leslie Highway, just beyond the Muckalee Creek Bridge


Large Indian town, home of the Chehaws, a friendly agricultural people of the Creek tribe, who aided early settlers. They contributed men, food and horses to subdue the hostile Seminoles. Here Andrew Jackson rested with his starving army and was given help in 1818. Here also, in 1818, through misunderstanding, were massacred seven of this tribe by Georgia troops, for which all possible amends were made. Erected in 1912 by Council cf Safety Chapter, D.A.R.

The exercises to unveil the monument began at noon on June 14, 1912, after music by a band from Bronwood led by Henry Witt. A brief invocation was given by Rev. J. M. Stokes, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Americus. Miss Annie May Bell of Americus introduced Mrs. W. L. Peel of Atlanta, Vice-President General of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who made an appropriate speech. Mrs. Peel was the daughter of General Philip Cook and sister of Secretary of State Phil Cook, two prominent citizens of Lee County.

Others who made short addresses were Miss Anne C. Benning, ex-State Regent and Mrs. Joseph S. Harrison, State Editor. Judge J.E.D. Shipp of Americus, distinguished scholar and historian, delivered the main address after being introduced by the chapter regent, Mrs. Charles A. Fricker.

Mary Dudley, Lucy Simmons, and Frank Harrold, Jr., three little children from Americus, unveiled the monument. At the conclusion of the ceremonies, those attending enjoyed a "sumptuous dinner among the trees of the forest".

An earlier Indian settlement known as Kennard's Settlement, an important Creek town of the late Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, was located five miles northwest of the present city of Leesburg. The settlement, which drew its name from John (Jack) Kennard and his brother, William, half-breed sons of a Scottish trader, was a center for trading and frequently served as a meeting place for the whites and Indians of the area. John Kennard was generally treated as a chieftain of most of the sub-Creek villages of the area by the whites who found him to be a useful intermediary in settling disputes between them and the Creeks.

Archaeologically, the site is interesting because it shows the changes in the Creek culture caused by the continual contact with the whites through trading and warfare to a certain extent. Generally, Kennard's was considered a friendly town like the Chehaw Town, as opposed to the other villages in the immediate area such as Hopaunee and Philemmee located only five to ten miles to the east.

In addition to what is apparently the Kennard site, there is also evidence of a pre-Creek, possibly Lamar site, a small village or camp just to the south some 500 yards from the Creek-Kennard site. Evidence of a post-Indian shack or tenant house was located in this area.

The Kennard's Settlement site is located roughly in the middle of land lot number 5, district 2, Lee County, Georgia. This lot is divided down the middle, north to south by the Kinchafoonee Creek, the village site being primarily located on a low ridge overlooking the bottom land on the east side of the creek.

The site can be reached by proceeding 2.3 miles north of Leesburg on US Highway 19, turning west on Prison Branch Road, going 4.2 miles along this road and finally upon reaching the east bank of the Kinchafoonee Creek, proceeding on foot along the ridge along and over the east bank for approximately 200 yards. At this point, one is standing in what was apparently the center of occupation of Kennard's Settlement.

John Kennard first appears in history in a letter which he wrote to James Seagrove, Creek Indian Agent for the United States. At the time this letter was written (from Chickhaws, later Kennard's) in late August of 1792, there was much friction between the Indians of the area, that is, the Hitchiti's and the Chickhaws or Chehaws, two Creek sub-tribes, and the whites. Incited and armed by the Spanish in Florida at Saint Mark's on the Appalachicola River and perhaps further incited by boasting parties of Shawnees from the Ohio country, the Creeks had been raiding the isolated farms and settlements along the central Georgia frontier, killing settlers and driving away valuable cattle. Following such raids, the Creeks would melt back into their sanctuaries in southwest Georgia. Usually the raiders were pursued by hastily raised companies of Georgia militia who more often than not would open battle on sight with the first party of Indians encountered, guilty or not. This led to a constant and spreading frontier war.

Kennard's letter to Seagrove reported that a party of his Indians was returning twelve stolen horses which they had recovered from some of their hostile brethren. Apparently Seagrove had written to Kennard asking for aid in their recovery and Kennard complied. Kennard asked for eight kegs of rum as a reward and assured Seagrove that his people wished to live in peace and friendship.

Later Kennard was appointed to be a sub-Indian Agent for the U. S., reporting to Seagrove. His duties in this position were to supply Seagrove with information on Indian affairs and politics and to aid Seagrove in maintaining the peace, two jobs at which he was already quite adept and experienced''

When not involved with his duties as Indian Agent, John and his brother William were usually involved with their cattle business. Squabbles over debts resulting in court actions are alluded to in other correspondence and records.

Like many of his contemporary half-breed chiefs, Kennard began to adopt many white customs and practices. One practice which he adopted was slaveholding. Another was to live in a house similar to that of the whites. The original land lot maps for Lee County show what seems to be a two story house 1 lA miles east of the supposed site of the settlement.

Since the map was made in 1826 and the last Indians did not leave the settlement until 1827, there exist two possibilities. Either the house was erected by a wealthy, civilized Indian, John Kennard being the only one in the vicinity as William lived on the west side of the creek, or the house was erected prior to the cession of 1826 and naturally then prior to the lottery. It would seem illogical for this house to have been erected in such dangerous proximity to the Indians, even to such a village as Kennard's. Claims in the Creek Indian Depredations for Lee County, credit quite a few incidents to Indians from the village, perhaps indicating that the villagers were not as friendly as Kennard himself. Furthermore, it seems improbable that a white would erect a home where he knew that his claim would be worthless following the land lottery that usually followed an Indian cession. Kennard made frequent references to his "house" as early as 1792.

From time to time Kennard's settlement was used as a meeting place for the various Creek chiefs as well as for whites interested in working for peaceful settlements of differences. Kennard remained friendly to the Americans during the "Red Stick" War, the First Creek wars, or the southern end of the War of 1812, depending upon which term is preferred. Perhaps this is why the treaty did not affect his holdings. Perhaps his influence may be seen in the fact that the boundary for the Creek cession was located about 12 miles south of his village, leaving his sphere of influence as Indian territory until the later cession of 1826.

Today this boundary is the present Lee County-Dougherty County line. Those lands north of the line were not ceded until 1826; those south of this line were ceded to the United States in 1814 although they were not safe enough to settle for some 10 years after this date.

In 1818, Kennard, referred to as "Major" Kennard, led some 600 braves on March 6th to aid Jackson's army which was waiting at Fort Scott, located near today's Bainbridge. They served until April when they were mustered out. During the course of the campaign, Kennard was given the rank of colonel.

This may have been the last historical appearance by John Kennard. There was one reference made in late 1819 by Robert Jackson, a surveyor for the state, who mentions that he had been aided by "old Mr. Kanard, a friendly Indian". This could possibly have been a reference to William Kennard, of whom very little is known.

Today, aside from these few historical references in old letters, the only evidence that Kennard or his settlement ever existed, is that which can be discovered archaeologically. While not historically specific, this evidence reveals much about the life which must have been led by Kennard and his contemporaries.

Formations of County

Lee County was created on December 11, 1826, as "all that part of the territory lately acquired from the Creek Indians, lying between the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, immediately above the old line of Early County and known as the first section shall form one county to be called Lee". This was an act of the General Assembly of Georgia in Milledgeville, Georgia at their annual November and December session in 1826.

The place designated by the act for elections to be held was at Pond's Town, or William's Store. Specific days for electing specific officers were designated in the act.

There are different opinions about for whom Lee County was named. Some believe it was named for Richard Henry Lee who first proposed a Declaration of Independence of the American Colonies, but who, so far as anyone knows never set foot on Georgia soil.'' Others believe it was named to honor Major General Henry Lee, 1756-1818, universally known as "Light Horse Harry" and the author of the famous characterization of Washington, "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen", who died on Cumberland Island, Georgia. His body remained in Dungeness, Georgia until reinterment in 1913 in the Lee Mausoleum at Lexington, Virginia. It seems plausible that it was named in honor of this Henry Lee, 1756-1818, rather than Richard Henry Lee.

Walter T. Colquitt served as the first judge in Lee County, 1826-1832, and Samuel A. Bailey, 1826, as the first solicitor general. Five Justices of the Inferior Court elected in 1827 were: Levi W. Moore, James R. Lyons, E. H. Hall, Elbert Milton and Axum Webb. Nathan Powell was named sheriff and Joseph White as a clerk of the Inferior and Superior Courts. The first sessions of the Superior Courts were said to have been held under a giant oak tree in Chehaw.

Land grants were issued in 1827 in Lee County to the following: Nathaniel H. Nowlan of Chatham County, Felix Hurst and William P. Ulmer of Effinghan, John Eagin, R. S. of Richmond, Hugh Edgar of Walton, Balaam Palmer of Laurens, James H. Mizell of Irwin, Moses Herbert of Taliaferro, John Hardin of Washington, James Wilson, Sr., R.S. of Jackson, James Stevens of Hancock, and Everlyn D. Nichols of Jones. Many of these sold their lands to other parties and never settled in Lee County. Among the first settlers were William Howard, Aaron Jones, Lewis Bond, and John Bullright (or Woolright) Subsequent early settlers are said to have included a Mr. Woolright, Dr. Mercer, John McClendon, William Spencer, Joshua Clark, J. O. Edwards, John Lawhorn, John Cook, Abraham Dyson, Lewis Bond, William Janes, E. Janes, D. Janes, and D. Sneed. They were native-born Americans of principally Anglo-Saxon stock, coming from the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Virginia.' Many were descended from the Virginia Cavaliers, the North Carolina Scotch Puritans, and the Huguenots of South Carolina.

Most of these early settlers engaged in stock-raising. Later they discovered how fertile the land was and established large plantations.

Offices were created and filled as needs arose in the newly formed county. In 1828, Abner Holliday was named surveyor and Gabriel Parker, coroner. Five new Justices of the Peace were commissioned: Alexander Mares (or Mars), Abraham Lord, James Gay, Philip Pitman, and Luke H. Smith.

The population of Lee County in 1830 was 1,680 white and colored. In 1831, Lee County was diminished to approximately one-half its size by the yielding of 589 square miles in the northern part of the county to form Sumter County. Lee County retained an area of over 500 square miles for 25 years In 1842, it lost the portion that had been acquired from Dooly County. In 1856, Terrell County was created from Lee and Randolph Counties, leaving Lee at its approximate present form and area.

The organization of Lee County may be considered as completed by an act of December 20, 1832, which declared that "The public site in the county of Lee shall be permanently fixed and located on lot of land number 241 in the thirteenth district of said county, and shall be called and known by the name of Starkville, in honor of General John Stark". This site was a half mile west of Muckalee Creek, and seven miles east of the Kinchafoonee.*'

After the first session of Court under the giant live oak tree at Chehaw, both before and after fixing of Starkville as the county site, early sessions of the Superior Court were held in homes, stores or other rented quarters. By 1837 a courthouse seems to have been erected and a primitive jail must have been built in 1840.

An Act of 1839 made permanent the site of the public buildings and the seat of justice for the county at Starkville, but dissatisfaction with Starkville seems to have arisen. An Act of 1847 repealed the Act of 1832, and provided for an election to determine whether the Grand Jury in the Spring of 1848 should select "some eligible place in the centre of the county". The election was evidently lost since George White, in 1849, described the county courthouse and jail at Starkville as "inferior buildings, constructed of wood". An Act of 1851 definitely made Starkville the permanent public site of Lee, and authorized, if the Grand Jury would recommend it, that the Inferior Court let out by contract or otherwise the building of a courthouse and jail there, with authority to levy an extra tax not exceeding 100 percent on the state tax for that purpose. The Inferior Court, in July of 1858, recalled that the Court of 1854 provided a sufficient amount of money to pay an indebtedness to Wm. Love "for the building of the courthouse".

But no sooner was this courthouse built than dissatisfaction with Starkville as the county seat arose again. The Legislature of 1854 repealed the Act of 1851 and provided a commission composed of James Rouse, Griffin Smith, Robert Reeves, William J. Parker, and Robert T. Bradley to select an "eligible site as near the centre of the county as possible", the new site to be used from the 15th day of October, 1854. The Lee County site was evidently removed to Webster during the period of 1854-56, since the Act of February 16, 1856, organizing the county of Terrell, provided for making permanent the public site of Lee at Starkville and for reimbursing the owners of town lots in the town of Webster in Lee County in consequence of the removal of the county site. A courthouse was built in Webster by Charles P. Kelley.

The place of Webster was called Pondtown or Williams' Store and was located about 4 miles northwest of Leesburg. In 1944, J. M. McBride, Deputy Sheriff in Lee County, was operating a farm at what was known as Webster. To substantiate the belief that this is Pondtown or Williams' Store, he said he demolished an old brick storehouse here and from the style and condition of the building, it was over 100 years old. Judge Ragan Long also stated that he had attended court here and it was the first courthouse in Lee County.

Two years after the return to the Starkville site the courthouse there, containing the early records of the county, burned. The first session of the Superior Court, after the burning, met on March 22, 1858. In December of 1858, a contract was let for a new courthouse to cost $3,900.0097 and a committee was appointed to superintend the building which was completed February 21, 1861."

The legislature, on August 20, 1872, appointed the commissioners Isaac P. Tison, Henry L. Long, Fred H. West, William T. Sadler, and Virginius G. Hill to select an eligible spot for the county site at, or near, Wooten Station (now Leesburg) or Adam Station (presently Neyami) on the Southwestern Railroad. The name of the new county site was to be Leesburg.'

In an interview with Honorable Ragan Long of Leesburg and his mother, Mrs. H. L. Long, 94 years old, the Lee County Journal, in 1944, quoted them as saying that Leesburg was originally known as Snead's Post Office in the stagecoach days. Later, in 1857 or 1858, when the railroad came, it was changed to Wooten's Station."

On August 23, 1872, the Legislature incorporated the town of Wooten with Isacc P. Tison, L. A. Stokes, T. J. Mason, John M. Martin, and Henry H. Coleman as commissioners. The corporate limit extended 3 miles in every direction from the Baptist Church in said town.'02 Wooten Station was chosen as the county seat and its name was changed to Leesburg in 1874.

A temporary courthouse in Leesburg burned in 1872. In May 1873, $10,000 in bonds were issued for the erection of a courthouse and jail at Leesburg. The Grand Jury of November, 1874, recommended that the partially built brick courthouse be discontinued and sold along with all inventories of material. The new jail was completed in June, 1875. Various buildings, including the Baptist Church of Leesburg, were rented to be used by the courts and county officials until December of 1880 when the new courthouse was completed. In later years, this courthouse was used as a school house until razed about 1921.

Life in Early Lee

The early settlers in the county soon discovered that the hammock lands near the Kinchafoonee and Muckalee Creeks were rich and fertile for farming. The prospects of transportation by railroad through Macon and by steamboat from Albany to the cotton markets of the world caused rapid growth in the cotton planting interests in Lee County. The history of farming in Lee County was similar to the entire area of southwest Georgia. Many farmers came here who chanced upon rich land, others whose land was poor; some who were good, far-sighted individuals who were good managers and did well; others were poor money managers and maybe unlucky too. Some profited and bought slaves and neighboring lands. There were far more farmers who ranked less than the planters. There was little record of poverty among the white people in Lee County prior to the Civil War.'05 The swampy land and the drinking water caused fevers among the white people, motivating many to sell their land to those who consolidated the land into plantations. The colored people were immune to the fevers.' By 1860, the white population had dwindled to 2,242 with the colored population at 4,954

Transportation, Roads and Bridges

Transportation on the Flint River in this era was hampered by the rough shoals, known as Hell's Gate Shoal. Dr. L. E. Mercer of Palmyra experimented with the shoal and widened it to 80 feet with a depth of four feet at low stage, making it perfectly safe for navigation. The coming of the railroad, however, caused people to center their interest there rather than on the navigational development of the Flint.'

The first section of the railroad from Americus to Albany was opened to Sumter City, in Sumter County, just above what was later Smithville, on December 1, 1855.m From Smithville, it branched with one line going to Fort Gaines and the other to Albany, through what is now Leesburg." Starkville residents offered to subscribe money for the track to go through Starkville, but it followed the high land and missed Starkville. It was completed to Albany on September 5, 1857."

Early bridges in the county included the Starkville, Palmyra, Jackson's, Exum's, and bridges across the Chokefichicka Creek near James S. Green's, Nine Bridges, Middle Creek Bridge, Tiller's Bridge, Wright's Bridge and other minor bridges across the Muckalee and Muscaloochee Creeks. The Starkville Bridge, one mile east of town across Muckalee Creek, and Palmyra Bridge across the Kinchafoonee were probably built at the time the towns were established in 1832 and 1836, respectively.

Early records of road development in Lee County were destroyed in the courthouse fire about 1857," but later records indicate that because of the county's five creeks and adjacent swampy lands, building bridges and turnpikes across this difficult terrain had for some years been the major activity of the county in its road construction."'' Bermuda grass was sometimes planted on the turnpikes to prevent erosion and wooden culverts were built to drain stagnant water."

Prior to 1849, there are indications of a road from the stagecoach line above present Hawkins' Branch to a point above the big bend in the Flint River. In 1849, a road led from this point in Starkville. The only other roads indicated on the 1849 map were one from this point on the stagecoach line to Sumterville and roads leading south from Starkville to Palmyra and Albany.

Construction on the present road between Leesburg and Smithville was commenced in July of 1910. County chain gang prisoners provided labor for this road, while R. P. Johnson was the County Commissioner." The road to Albany was completed in September of 1857

Industry and Trade

Industry, manufacture, and trade in Lee County was incidental to the growth and development of agriculture. The turpentine and lumbering industries, the clearing of land for farming and the building of farm houses were the primary activities. Grain mills for meal and flour were needed and erected. In the 1840's, there were eight sawmills, eight grist mills, and one merchant mill. In the 1850's, J. B. Watson made headlines in the Albany Patriot with his water powered cotton gin in Palmyra. Along with the gin were the giant cotton presses scattered over southwest Georgia. The press at Palmyra survived until the early twentieth century. Gins were not situated too close to the presses because of the fire hazards. Lint cotton was brought by wagon from the gin to the press. It was packed into the cotton box by the bare feet of laborers. Then a mule at each end of the long sweeps would rotate a giant screw which turned the upper shelter of the cotton press until the bale could be packed no tighter. The sides of the box were then sprung and the bale rolled out. The bales were bound and carried on 10-bale, 6-mule-team plantation wagons to the warehouse to be weighed and stored.'

In 1850, there were seven manufacturing establishments in Lee County.' In 1860, there were six, with an annual payroll of $14,988. One of these plants was the grist mill of William Wells near Smithville, where he settled in 1856.

Schools, Religion and Social Culture

During the early years, pioneers of Lee County, being widely scattered, were too busy clearing land for houses and for farming and at the same time guarding themselves against danger from the Indians who still roamed the county to take care of anything except the most primitive educational, religious and cultural needs. Religious and educational life consisted mainly of family prayers and Bible reading, with a little family instruction of the children. A few had tutors or sent their children abroad for education. Advertisements of the county's lands and news items appeared in the Macon newspapers which were brought down weekly by stagecoach to Pinderton, just across the Flint River in Dooly County where the stagecoach stopped overnight. The papers were picked up there and brought to the settlers over the county.' The social life centered around meeting the stage, the newspapers, court sessions, elections, herding and locating stray cattle, Indian visitors and other pioneer conditions.

As Starkville was settled in 1832, thoughts turned toward organizing an academy. The Starkville Academy, with Asmuel Hiceler, John Ritcherson, Dudley Sneed and Joshua Clark as trustees, was incorporated on December 21, 1833. Appointed as additional trustees that same year were Dr. James L. Manning, Daniel J. Thomas, William Smith, John R. Cane, and Mordecai Alexander. Various subjects were taught to 32 students, 18 male and 14 female. This was just five years before the first female college in the world to give women degrees was incorporated in Macon now known as Wesleyan College.

Palmyra Academy was incorporated in December of 1837, with Reverend Jonathan Davis, George Oglesby, Needham W. Cotton, William Janes, and Leonidas B. Mercer as trustees.'30 Level Green Academy was incorporated on December 28, 1842, with Turner Hunt, Josey Stanford, Deril Hunt, Thomas Martin and Joseph Jourdin as trustees.

The Reverend Jonathan Davis, in 1836, founded the first white Baptist church in southwest Georgia.'32 This was in the Palmyra community. Methodist and Baptist preachers were said to have had churches and members among the slaves before the white settlements were numerous enough to support churches.'33 One of these probably was the Baptist house of worship called Hebron, which the Reverend Jessie M. Davis built on his own land and at his own expense in 1835. By 1840, there was also a Baptist church in Palmyra for black people.

Though the Baptists were first in Palmyra, the Methodists seem to have been first in religious interests near Starkville. A Methodist church was incorporated in December of 1842, near the residence of Green Knowles in the 13th district, under the name and style of Caney Head Methodist Church with Isaac O. Edwards, Edward Moreland, Leroy Stanford, Almerena Brunson, John W. Jordan, George C. Ticnor, Thomas High and their successors as trustees. The minister was probably the Reverend Thomas Godwin, who had a daughter, Mrs. Janie Godwin Mayo, born near Starkville in 1847.

There were, at this time, also some Presbyterians and Episcopalians in the county who worshipped in Albany.

Leesburg Presbyterian Church was said to have been formally organized on March 3, 1873, with Reverend J. S. White as pastor  but records indicate that there was a church on the same site in January of 1864.

In 1866, there was a Union Church located near the north county line. Thundering Springs Baptist Church in the Red Bone District'" and a Methodist church at Smithville.

In 1871, Wooten Baptist Church was organized on the later site of Leesburg. In April 1881, there was a Wesley Methodist Church somewhere in the county, but the exact location is unknown. In 1888, the commissioners donated a lot of land (no. 160) south of Hillyer Academy to the Methodist Church at Leesburg'' and a building was dedicated in 1894.

In 1926, there were 581 Southern Baptist, 37 Primitive Baptists, 240 Methodists, 43 members of the Church of Christ, and 33 Presbyterians in Lee County."

Among the churches for colored people, Antioch Baptist Church, about 11 miles northeast of Leesburg, was in existence in 1863. Hebron Baptist Church established by the Reverend Jessie M. Davis in 1835, on his own land, was most likely for slaves." The New Hope Methodist Church, two miles west of Smithville, was founded in 1853.

Macedonia Baptist Church was organized in 1865 with Ephraim Bass as pastor. Jordan Grove Baptist Church was organized before the Civil War and was reorganized in 1867. From 1867 to 1938 it had only three pastors, all former slaves: Austin Whitaker, 1867-70; William Warren, 1870-79; and Tillman Sims, 1899-1938. At one time, Jordan Grove's roll contained over 3,000 names of members living all over the United States.

Other information concerning both colored and white churches can be found in the chapter of Church histories. More specifics and details of each church are available there.

During the 1840's, life in Lee County was more social. Although the population of Starkville was only about 100, it had the reputation of being a "rip-roaring town". The white population was increasing, plantations were well-furnished, and hospitality flourished. There was an abundance of wild game to hunt such as bears, catamounts, deer, and turkeys. Bears were killed throughout the year, deer and turkeys in season. During the 1850's, and most likely throughout the early history of the county, some planters hired private tutors for their children, some sent them abroad and a few of them lived outside the country. With the county's system of large plantations, it is doubtful if there were ever any ante-bellum "poor schools". There were none mentioned in the 1838 state report. However, in 1859, there was a brief reference in the Grand Jury presentments to a poor school fund. They voted to give $157 to those who were unable to educate themselves.
Source: Lee County Georgia A History Lee County Historical Society 1983 FHL 6049360

Towns, Villages and Hamlets

Smithville, a town in the northwest corner of Lee county, is at the junction of two branches of the Central of Georgia railway system. It was incorporated by act of the legislature in 1863. In 1900 it had within its corporate limits a population of 597 and in its entire district 1,954. Near by are two large sawmills, a blacksmith and a woodworking shop, a turpentine distillery, while just across the line in Sumter county is a large grist mill owned in the main by Smithville people, with a daily capacity of 600 bushels of corn. In the town are express and telegraph offices, a money order postoffice with rural free delivery, a bank, a public cotton gin and several prosperous business houses. Large quantities of pears are shipped every season and about 3,000 bales of cotton are handled annually.
Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form Transcribed by Kristen Bisanz

Rift, a post-hamlet of Lee county, almost on the Sumter county line. It is five miles southwest of DeSoto, which is the nearest railroad station.
Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form Transcribed by Kristen Bisanz


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