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Columbia County, Georgia

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History

Columbia County, the 12th county formed in Georgia, was created by an act of the Legislature of Georgia on December 10, 1790 from Richmond County.

During the American Revolution, two small battles occurred in what would become Columbia County between Patriot Militia and Tories; the area was then primarily frontier and loyalties were badly divided. Legend has it that a small band of Patriots sought refuge from marauding Tories at the County's most dramatic geological feature, Heggie's Rock. One of these fights occurred on September 11, 1781, between the forces of Elijah Clarke and a band of Tories and British Regular soldiers.

George Walton, the Virginia-born statesman who signed the Declaration of Independence, resided in what would become Columbia County, as did William Few and Abraham Baldwin. They were delegates to the Federal Convention that framed the United States Constitution.

Just before and immediately after the Revolution, numerous Virginians and North Carolinians migrated to the frontier of Georgia above Augusta, including the area around Brownsborough. After the Revolution, residents disagreed as to whether Augusta or Brownsborough should be the county seat of Richmond County. At the insistence of William Few, the county was partitioned. The new county formed from Richmond was named "Columbia". This did not end the controversy about location of the county seat. The citizens of Columbia County turned to arguing among themselves. Supporters built one courthouse in Brownsborough, and those of Cobbham built another. The courthouse at Cobbham was used; and Brownsborough in short order ceased to exist. In 1793, part of the County was taken, combined with part of Wilkes County, and formed into Warren County.

Around 1799, William Appling deeded a tract of land to the county for the purpose of building a courthouse. It was near Kiokee Creek and the Baptist Church which Marshall had founded. A courthouse was constructed, and served the county until around 1808. The small town that existed around the church and courthouse came to be known as "Columbia Courthouse." In 1809, the Baptist congregation left the town and constructed a new meeting house (a building which still survives) several miles away near the junction of Kiokee and Greenbrier creeks. That same year, construction began on a new courthouse, which was completed in 1812. In 1816, Columbia Courthouse was chartered as the Town of Appling, named for the Appling family who had donated the land to the county, and for Colonel John Appling, a local resident who died in a campaign against the Seminole.

Appling was the political, educational, social, and religious center of the county. Near Appling were located Mt. Carmel Academy and Columbia Institute. Mt. Carmel Academy was run by the famous Southern educator, Moses Waddel; it was here that John C. Calhoun and William H. Crawford were educated. Columbia Institute was started by a certain gentleman going by the surname Bush; he was none other than the Bushnell of Revolutionary War submariner fame. During the Georgia Gold Rush of the 1820s, some successful prospecting and mining occurred in Columbia County.

The 1830s were a period of major infrastructure projects and the coming of the railroad. When the Georgia Railroad was established, the judges determined that having trains' passing near Appling would disturb their proceedings; they insisted that the railway line that was built in the county from Atlanta to Augusta pass well below Appling. Construction of the Augusta Canal in the 1830s required Columbia County's cooperation, as the beginning of the canal and the locks were within the county.

In 1855, the Courthouse in Appling received a major overhaul, and after the remodeling was complete, the building was in more or less its present form. Despite the extensive project, builders retained the shell of the 1809–1812 building.

Plantation agriculture based on slave labor was the major force of the economy in the county prior to the American Civil War. Cotton production had expanded dramatically after the invention of the cotton gin, which enabled the cultivation of short-staple cotton in the upland areas. Numerous vast plantations existed, the central houses of some of which still exist. Thousands of slaves were brought to the county for labor. At times the slave population outnumbered the free white population.

When Georgia seceded from the United States, George Walker Crawford, a native son of Columbia County, presided over the Secession Convention. He had previously been elected as the only Whig governor of the State. Men from the county served in several companies, among them the Hamilton Rangers and the Ramsey Guards, some in the 48th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and some in the 22nd; almost all in Wright's Brigade. The troops assembled in front of the courthouse, then boarded trains at the depots. No fighting occurred in the County during the war; nor was it directly in General Sherman's path. According to some family stories, some Union cavalry scouts or bummers entered the county. Near the war's end, the remnants of the Confederate treasury were taken through Columbia County from Augusta to where the Chennault Raid occurred in neighboring Lincoln County.

The war took a heavy toll on the white male population of the county; a plaque behind the bench in the main Courtroom bears the names of Columbia County's Confederate dead. During Reconstruction, the County was subject to military occupation. Because of significant Ku Klux Klan violence in the late 1860s, it was attached to a special district including Warren, Wilkes, and Oglethorpe counties. Additional Union forces were sent there to try to suppress the insurgents and their vigilante crimes against freedmen. They had been steadily reported by the Freedmen's Bureau, whose reports included a mob lynching of a freedman in Appling in July 1866.

During Reconstruction, the legislature passed an act to establish a public school system for the first time. Like the rest of the state, the county developed segregated schools. The new communities of Harlem and Grovetown grew up. Harlem arose in the 1880s when a disgruntled railroad employee named Hicks, angered by saloons and Sabbath breaking in Sawdust, moved along the tracks one mile east and set up a rival town, complete with its own depot. Sawdust was eclipsed by Harlem, losing its depot and being absorbed by the newer town in the 1920s. The city was named after Harlem, New York. Grovetown, named for Grove Baptist Church, developed as a summer resort in the 1880s for wealthy Augustans.

The 20th century brought many changes to the county, with new technologies and modernization. In 1917, Harlem was badly damaged by fire. Bringing electricity to the county began. Men from Columbia County answered the call of duty and served in both World Wars. Prior to World War II, the County was still primarily agricultural; it had escaped the boll weevil infestation that destroyed cotton crops in Mississippi and other parts of the South. The US Army built Camp (later Fort) Gordon, taking over a large portion of Richmond County and parts of Columbia, McDuffie, and Jefferson. The Army's keeping the fort after WWII created a new population and economic center for the county. During the 1950s, the Clarks Hill Dam was constructed, submerging considerable land in northern Columbia County under the new reservoir. It prompted new residential development around the lake.

Between 1950 and 1990, the population increased dramatically. Agriculture declined, as farmland was redeveloped as suburban housing and community centers for persons employed in Augusta. Numerous personnel stationed at Fort Gordon eventually settled in Columbia County. During the 1960s, the schools were integrated largely without incident under the leadership of Superintendent John Pierce Blanchard.

Adjacent Counties

Cities & Communities

  • Appling (County Seat)
  • Berzelia
  • Campania
  • Cobbham
  • Evans
  • Grovetown
  • Harlem
  • Leah
  • Lewiston
  • Martinez
  • Phinizy
  • Pollard's Corner
  • Pumpkin Center
  • Rosemont
  • Sawdust
  • Snead
  • Winfield
  • Winfield Hills

Links

Wikipedia

Augusta Canal

Kiokee Baptist Church

Slaveholder List