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

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

When Union became a county in 1832

This past December 3, 2007 was Union County's 175th birthday. By an Act of the Georgia Legislature, signed into law by then Governor Wilson Lumpkin, Union became one of ten counties carved from the vast territory once known as Cherokee County, and the eighty-third county in Georgia. This northern reach of Cherokee, Georgia was so named because it was still the dwelling place of the Cherokee Indians that inhabited the coves, mountains and valleys of the beautiful land.

In the late 1820's, gold was discovered in the vast Cherokee County, with deposits found along Duke's Creek in what would become White County, Yahoola Creek in the Lumpkin County area, and Dooly in the future Union County. Drawings for the 40-acre gold lots and the 160-acre land lots were conducted. Many who drew the lots for land did not want to settle in the remote mountainous areas of North Georgia. Therefore, they sold their land lots, making them available to more hardy pioneers mainly from North Carolina. Ancestors of these, in turn, had first settled in Virginia and were of sturdy Scots-Irish descent. Some of these pioneers had already made their way into what became Union County in 1832 and had settled on small farms along the creek and river bottoms, with the mountains stretching above them as a veritable fortress against the outside world.

Citizen John Thomas was a representative from this mountain region to the Georgia Legislature meeting in 1832. Whether he was the one to introduce the bill to form the county of Union is not known to this writer. However, it is a matter of public record that, when asked what to name the new county, John Thomas was quick to respond: "Name it Union, for none but Union-like men reside in it!"

We are not to confuse John Thomas's suggestion for a name for the newly-formed Union County as being indicative of the later pro-Union and pro-Confederacy political leanings. The Civil War was some thirty years in the future when Union County was formed in 1832. Rather, Representative Thomas had in mind the Union Party, a political group that held, "Our federal Union--it must be preserved!" In the fairly young and struggling nation, having won its independence from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, and reinforced that freedom from Britain's over-lordship in the War of 1812, America's independence was dear, but seen as strong only if citizens could uphold the Union itself.

In 1832, Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States, serving his second term. Jackson hailed from the frontier state of Tennessee. Vice-president was John Caldwell Calhoun of South Carolina. Jackson and Calhoun were often at cross-purposes in their philosophy of government. Jackson was the first president elected from among "the common people," not from the group of well-know Revolutionary War supporters. Jackson had distinguished himself as a general in the War of 1812, the Indian Wars, and in the famous Battle of New Orleans.

Jackson signed the "Indian Removal Act" into law in 1830. The famous US Supreme Court case of Worcester versus Georgia occurred in 1832, in which the Cherokee Nation challenged the Removal Act. The Supreme Court upheld the Cherokee position to maintain their mountain stronghold, but Jackson did not try to enforce the court's decision, giving his answer as "John Marshall (Supreme Court Justice) has made his decision. Now let him enforce it!" We know the succeeding story. By 1838, when Union County was less than six years old, the Trail of Tears occurred, and the Indians that remained within the confines of Union County were moved west.

The first officers of the new county of Union in 1832 have evidently been lost in a courthouse fire or lack of preserving public documents. In all my research for the first county officers, I could not find names or dates of service of the first leaders of the county. It is unfortunate that we do not know to whom to give credit for Union County's beginning government.

The first census of Union County was ordered by an Act of the Georgia Legislature of 1833 for the ten new counties formed in 1832. The census was completed March 24, 1834 by William B. Gilliland. It showed a population in Union County then of 903 persons living in 147 listed households. An examination of last names of many of these householders in 1834 shows that descendants of these first settlers have remained as citizens of Union County for the past 175 years. I am proud to name among them my own ancestors of Dyer, Collins, Hunter and England and others.

By the time of the 1840 Union County census, the population had increased to 3,152, showing that Union had become a popular place to settle in the eight years of the county's existence. In the 1840 census, slaveholders were listed as being eighteen of the total population, and slaves numbered eighty-seven. The smaller farms of the mountainous Union County terrain did not foster great plantations as found in the Piedmont and Southern areas of Georgia. The largest slave-owner in 1840 was Morton Saunders who owned twenty-three slaves. It would be interesting to know where his land holdings were located.

More than 175 years have passed since Union County's founding. Political leaders have come and gone, many making their mark in local, state, national and even world affairs. But still nestled within one of the most beautiful stretches of earth is the 323 square-mile area of Union County, still drawing population to its pristine forests and fields, developments and tourist areas.

Now the Appalachian Development Highway (also known in places as the Zell Miller Parkway) has replaced the Logan and Unicoi Turnpikes and the Indian Trails of lore. But the call of the hills is ever present. The days of the "daring horsemen" (Naduhli - Nottely) have long passed. But we should hope that the lure of "Tsistu-yi"- dancing place of rabbits- and the land of the "Ani-yun-wi-ya," "peaceful people" will never fade from our beloved North Georgia map.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published January 10, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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