Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Sunday, February 28, 2010

John Nicholson, Revolutionary War Soldier (Part 2)

In October, 2000, the Blue Ridge Mountains Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution, held a ceremony at the Pleasant Grove Cemetery in memory of John Nicholson, Sr., Revolutionary patriot. Last week’s column recounted his four terms of Revolutionary service, each of three months, making a total time of one year as a soldier.

Patriot John Nicholson had an interesting life after his Revolutionary War experiences.

An article by historian Robert S. Davis, a descendant of Patriot Nicholson, recounts incidents involving John Nicholson, Sr. that took place in a disputed area sometimes known as Old Walton County. He, along with some other settlers, took out a land grant and settled in the area of the French Broad River Valley in Cherokee Indian Territory sometime before 1786. The land grant was possibly a reward for service in the Revolution.

The frontiersmen believed these were western lands belonging to South Carolina. However, that state had the grants annulled and withdrew claims to these “western” settlements. The grantees petitioned Congress for annexation to South Carolina. When their appeals failed, the settlers formed their own government in 1793. The area– much like the State of Franklin in Tennessee that John Sevier had settled–became known as “The Orphan Strip” because it was not claimed by South or North Carolina or Georgia.

In 1798, the Federal Government secured The Orphan Strip officially from the Cherokees, and, believing it to be below the boundary of the 35th parallel separating North Carolina from Georgia, ceded it to Georgia in 1802.

Settlers in The Orphan Strip had kept minutes of their official meetings. These were signed and submitted to Governor John Milledge of Georgia, together with a petition that their settlement be recognized. The Georgia Legislature acted on the Governor’s recommendation, and on December 10, 1803, the “Orphan Strip” became Walton County, named for George Walton who was then the last one living of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, had been a Congressman, and was a former Georgia Governor.

This “old’ Walton County is not to be confused with the present-day Walton County, with Monroe as its capital, founded from a portion of Jackson County on December 15, 1818. The “Old Walton” was right along the North Carolina and Georgia border, and extended over to the South Carolina line.

Elected to represent Walton County in the Georgia Legislature were two citizens, John Nicholson, Sr. and John Akins. The county was described as very mountainous and “inhabited by an orderly and industrious people” numbering about 800. In the state census soon after Walton County was formed, the John Nicholson family was listed with eleven whites in the household.

We may not have read about “The Walton War” in the history books, but it was fought because of the confusion over who owned the Orphan Strip--North Carolina or Georgia. The two states could not agree with reports of the surveying team. Buncombe County claimed the land. The “bandittery” of the area had “taken arms” and were committing “depredations on the honest civil citizens of the county.” The citizens retaliated, and several skirmishes ensued.

John Nicholson himself was taken prisoner and put in jail in the Morgan District. When he came to trial, charges against him were that he refused to accept North Carolina’s claim to the contested Walton County.

In 1807, both the North Carolina and the Georgia Legislatures agreed to a new survey. That team found that Walton County was well above the 35th parallel. But Georgia did not want to relinquish claim so easily and so in 1811 hired a nationally-known surveyor, Andrew Ellicott, to run the disputed line. He found that the line extended even farther south than the 1807 team had determined. John Nicholson, who had served in the Georgia Legislature from Old Walton County in 1806, 1808 and 1809 had to give up his political representation by virtue of finding himself again a citizen of Buncombe County, NC. The “Orphan Strip” became a part of both Buncombe and Transylvania Counties in North Carolina.

In 1820, John Nicholson was enumerated in Buncombe County with his wife (both he and she above 45 years of age), and one son and one daughter, each between 10 and 16.

His next move evidently was to Habersham County, Georgia, where, in 1833, he sold 468 acres of his Buncombe County, NC land for $600 to Benjamin Wilson. A witness to the deed was John Erwin who married Nicholson’s daughter Sarah in 1823.

By 1830, John Nicholson, Sr. was in Hall County, Georgia with his son, John, Jr. (1802-1884). It was while in Hall County he applied for and received a Revolutionary War pension of $40 per year.

As an old man, he moved to Union County, Georgia, although, as we saw in last week’s account, he already owned land and paid taxes in Union in 1850. On March 26, 1855, records show that he applied for bounty lands in Union County available to Revolutionary War veterans. He was then living in the home of his son, Alfred Nicholson (1799-1874, who had married Mary “Polly” Chastain), in the Harmony Grove community, Arkaquah District. From there he went to live with his daughter, Vica Nicholson Akins, near Pleasant Grove, where he died December 10, 1858.

A landed gentleman, a patriot, a legislator, a farmer, a mover-and-shaker of his time, this 96-year old man had lived through almost a century of upheaval and change in America.

So far as is known , his children were: (1) James Nicholson; (2) Mary “Polly” Nicholson (1791-1868) who married Rene Chastain; (3) Walter Nicholson (1795-1859) who married Dorcas Hogsed; (4) Elizabeth “Betty” Nicholson who married Benjamin Burke; (5) William Harrison Nicholson (1797-1864) who married Jane Duckworth and Jane Blocker; (6) Alfred Nicholson (1799-1874) who married Mary “Polly” Chastain; (7) Daughter who married Porter Owenby and moved to Union County; (8) Luvicia Nicholson (1802-?), who married Lewis Akins; (9) John Nicholson, Jr. (1802-1884), who married Elizabeth Allred; and (10) Sarah Nicholson (1803-1882), who married John Erwin.

Genealogists who puzzle over how some of Nicholson’s children were listed on census records as having been born in Georgia and others in South Carolina or North Carolina can now know that it hinged on that Old Walton County dispute as to which state owned the “Orphan Strip.”

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 4, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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