Oglethorpe County History
This area was long inhabited by various Indian tribes. By the Treaty of 1773 it was part of a large tract surrendered by the Creeks and Cherokees to the colony of Georgia. Four years later, that land became Wilkes County. In 1793, Oglethorpe County was created out of the western portion of Wilkes and named in honor of the great English philanthropist, Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe, founder of the Georgia colony only sixty years before.
With only traders and trappers, there were no permanent settlements in what would become Oglethorpe County until 1774, when a small band of families from North Carolina located on Long Creek, near the present site of Lexington. Extensive settlement of the new lands had been delayed by the Revolutionary War, but by 1784, bounty grants and other incentives offered by the State produced a rapid tide of immigrants into all the open lands.
Many of the newcomers had been tobacco planters in Virginia and North Carolina. They found the area well suited to the production of tobacco, although, as a cash crop, it was quickly superseded by cotton after the invention of the cotton gin in 1793. Some of the settlers from Virginia and North Carolina were distinguished men and women of influence and wealth, who could be considered part of the old aristocracy. They were noted for their culture, education, integrity, and leadership. They and their descendants played important and influential roles in the development of Oglethorpe County, Georgia, and the nation.
For almost half a century after its establishment, Oglethorpe County was a leader in the political, social, and economic life of the state. Because Oglethorpe County's history includes so many important institutions and men of prominence in the state and nation, it has been called the "Mother of Statesmen." Oglethorpe County has furnished three governors of Georgia and two of Alabama, a member of the United States Cabinet, several United States Senators and Congressmen, many State Senators and Representatives and numerous judges, educators, and religious leaders.
Completed in 1841, the Athens-Augusta Railroad (later the Georgia Railroad) was the first railroad in Georgia and only the third constructed in the United States. Many of Oglethorpe's towns, including Arnoldsville, Crawford, Maxeys, Hutchins, Stephens, and Dunlap, prospered around the early railroad depots.
The War Between the States (1861-1865) disrupted the agriculture and economy of the South. Oglethorpe County sent four companies of soldiers to fight - the Gilmer Blues, the Oglethorpe Rifles, the T.R.R. Cobb Infantry, and the Echols Artillery. In all, 766 men from Oglethorpe County, almost three-fourths of the adult white male population, fought in the War. Recovery after the War was slow. The old plantation system was soon replaced by tenant farming. The majority of freed slaves in the county remained on the plantations, working for wages or sharecropping. Widespread poverty gave rise to the crop-lien mortgage system which trapped land-poor farmers and tenants in an all-cotton program and an unending cycle of poverty and debt. Many Oglethorpe County residents migrated to the west.
The economy and population rebounded in the 1880s-90s. New industries began to develop, and as prices rose, cotton once again became king. About that time gold was discovered in the Flatwoods section of southeastern Oglethorpe County. A gold rush ensued. A number of gold mines were opened and foreign capitalists flocked to the county. These mines failed to produce gold in sufficient quantities, and they were eventually abandoned.
The period during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a time of great prosperity for Oglethorpe County. In 1920, the population reached an all-time high of 20,287. Then, economic and agricultural disaster struck. Cotton prices plummeted and remained low for the next twenty years. Devastating droughts and boll weevil infestations hit in the 1920s, followed by the Great Depression of the early 1930s. It was an onslaught that permanently altered agriculture and the way of life in the county. Cotton farming was abandoned and Oglethorpe County lost over half its population in a flight to the cities that continued unabated for the next forty years. Agricultural diversification and general economic development in the region have reversed the trend and Oglethorpe County is once again growing.
Famous Men of Oglethorpe County
William Harris Crawford
Joseph Henry Lumpkin
David C. Barrow
James Monroe Smith
*content contributed by Beverly K. Montgomery and Historic Oglethorpe, Inc.
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