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History of East Central Georgia


Much of our Indian history in our area unfortunately died with the Indians that lived here. Indians probably inhabited our lands for about 10,000 years before the arrival of Europeans. Archeological evidence would indicate the height of Indian civilization in our area occurred about 800 years before the arrival of the white man. Indian mounds in our area are prehistoric and little is known of the people of who built them. The sad history of the Indians ended in the short span of about 200 years as they were expunged from their lands. Ravaged by white men's diseases and driven by hunger from depleted hunting grounds, the Indians were severely disadvantaged against the ever growing populations of white settlers. Pressured out and sometimes thrown forcibly out of their lands, the Indians were driven further west. By about 1835 all semblances of Indian habitation in Georgia were completely gone.

The first reports of Indian civilization in our area were chronicled by Hernando DeSoto who traveled through Georgia in about 1540. He reports traveling from Ocute (Sandersville) to Cofaqui (Louisville), and thence to Potafa (Shell Bluff) where he encountered the people of Patofa (Shell Bluff, GA). He crossed the Savannah River just below present Shell Bluff Landing at Point Comfort. (See USGS quadrangle map for Shell Bluff.) DeSoto crossed the south fork of the Edisto River near what is now Aiken State Park. He reported a large uninhabited area between Shell Bluff and Cofatichique (Columbia, SC.) Other than describing the individuals he met along the way. DeSoto provided few insights into the lives and customs of the natives. Evidently the Indians he met were predecessors to the Creek Indians that were the native inhabitants encountered by James Oglethorpe.

The first effort at colonizing and settling our region by whites was made by the Georgia Trustees under the command of James Oglethorpe. Fort Augusta was established as a settlement and a trading post in 1736. The Indians that lived in our area at that time were predominantly of the Creek and Cherokee Nations, and to a lesser extent Shawnee and Chickasaw tribes. Unlike the vision portrayed by modern media, the Indians of our area were not nomadic. They lived in villages and when they became overpopulated they sent out a portion of their population to form new villages. They were known to be good farmers and had an agrarian life style. All Indians were of necessity avid hunters. The one remaining evidence of this is the abundance of arrowheads that can be found in our area. The Indian existence among the white man was short lived. Diseases, particularly smallpox eradicated much of the tribes. Starvation and hunger took its toll as white settlers took the best agricultural land and trapped or hunted the game that the Indians depended upon. This resulted in clashes between the two factions. The white settlers continually made bargains with the Indians in exchange for territorial concessions only to find that those too were being ignored. After four decades of trade and skirmishes, any American Indian claim to area land ended in 1773, when Creeks and Cherokees signed away more than 1.5 million acres at an Indian congress in Augusta. No doubt many arrowheads have disappeared into the collections of several generations of young boys. Nonetheless arrowheads can still be found. The easiest place to find them is in newly plowed fields. The only problem with most arrowheads found in plowed fields is that many have been damaged or ruined by agricultural equipment. Old spring heads are also a likely spot to find arrowheads. Presumably Indians washed their kills at the springs and many arrowheads may have been lost in the process. I have found arrowheads in most of the counties around Augusta. The best areas for me have been in the areas along the Savannah River, particularly in Burke and Screven Counties. The arrowheads in our area were constructed of chert, flint, and sometimes quartz. If you are looking for arrowheads, check for stone flakes that are of a different color than the surrounding stones. Usually sharp edges are a telltale clue. To make the arrow aerodynamic the stone usually has sharp edges all the way around. Spear heads also have a similar shape but much larger.

Indian pottery can be found throughout our area, of course mostly in fragments. It can be readily distinguished from European pottery by the absence of glazing. I have found substantial amounts in South Burke County, but almost none in the counties just north of Augusta.

Oglethorpe and beyond

Slavery was a part of Georgia since 1749. Oglethorpe had originally forbidden slavery in Georgia but the King of England rescinded the ban in 1749 at the behest of farmers who pled that they were unable to compete with other states and white men were unwilling to do most of the backbreaking work of rice and cotton farming. Nonetheless slavery was beginning to subside in Georgia and in all the states until 1793 and the invention of the cotton gin. Suddenly processing cotton for use in clothing was an profitable industry that required a huge labor force. The slave population of Georgia escalated as farmers sought to increase their worth by acquiring, breeding, and increasing their compliments of slaves. According to the census of 1860, the population of Georgia was comprised of 45 percent slaves.

The Civil War had a huge impact on the economy and the civilization of our area. Prior to the Civil War our region of Georgia was largely agrarian and cotton was truly king. It was the crop that brought money into an otherwise only subsistent economy. Since the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney, cotton exports to Europe and to the north were the essence of Augusta's wealth. The farming and production of Cotton in the old south was back breaking and hard work, and fueled by an economy of slavery. While it is true that in many cases slavery had a patriarchal flavor, for the most part it was cruel and often inhumane. Sparked by slave uprisings and an increasing rise in the relative size of the population of slaves, slave holders resorted to more heavy handed treatment of slaves to ensure their control. While an individuals wealth might be measured by the number of slaves they held, the risk of revolt was rising. The solution in the minds of the southern states lay in the export of slaves to the new territories, notably Kansas and Missouri. This was bitterly opposed by northern trade unions, who feared that slave labor would be used to compete against their industries. The export of slavery was the primary catalyst that ignited the civil war. The southern states urged that "states rights" would allow each state to make its own decisions with regard to the slavery issue.

The Civil War was not an idealogical war to end slavery, but an economic struggle between north and south. In retrospect, however, as terrible as the war was, it had the one good effect of ending the terrible practice of slavery.

While Augusta sent most of its young men to fight in the war, the true face of the war didn't really strike home until William Tecumsah Sherman cut a swath through Georgia, burning crops and destroying almost everything in his path. His mission was to destroy the south's supply lines and further deteriorate their ability to supply an army. What was left of the major forces that opposed Sherman had been effectively eliminated at the Battle for Atlanta. General Joseph Wheeler commanded the only forces left to oppose his march and he was overwhelmingly outnumbered. Many of his troops were undernourished and poorly clad. Some were barefoot and many dressed only in rags. Many were young boys or old men. His only ability was to harrass the marauding union troups. Sherman's march led him from Altanta, through Milledgeville, Sandersville, Louisville, Waynesboro, Millen, and on to Savannah. One of his main missions was the destruction of railroads. Many of his Sherman's bowties can still be found. Dubbed bowties, railroad tracks were heated and bent so that they could not be used to reconstruct the rail lines. Much is made of the fact that Sherman bypassed Augusta, however Sherman himself dismissed it as not a military necessity.

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