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

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Revolutionary War Soldier John Nicholson and his connection to Old Walton County

Before John Nicholson, Revolutionary War Soldier, moved to Hall County, Cherokee County, and then Union County in Georgia, he was a resident of the Old Walton County, a hotly contested strip of land sometimes referred to as the "Orphan Strip" in a twelve mile wide area of land near the 35th latitude north in old Buncombe County, now Transylvania County (South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia). It took some time to settle the land dispute and find that the line gave the contested land to North Carolina.

Before 1786 the John Nicholson family and several other pioneer families settled in Cherokee Indian Territory at the head of the French Broad River. At that time, the place where they settled was claimed by South Carolina, and the families were allowed land grants. But South Carolina withdrew claims to the strip. The settlers set up an independent government much like the famed John Sevier had formed in the old State of Franklin. They waited for the US Government to cede them to a state.

It was in 1798 that the federal government received this land from the Cherokee Indians. It was not surveyed at that time, and was believed to be below the 35th latitude north, the boundary line between Georgia and North Carolina. Georgia took the "Orphan Strip" as a part of the northernmost territory of the state in 1802, rugged and hard-to-reach as it was. The strip was named Walton County after the last survivor from Georgia who signed the Declaration of Independence. It was officially added to Georgia by act of the Georgia Legislature on December 10, 1803. This county on the border of North Carolina is not to be confused with the later Walton County in central Georgia with Monroe as the county seat town.

Soon after Walton County was added to Georgia, a census was taken. About 800 people lived in the county. John Nicholson's family at that time had eleven persons, he, his wife, and nine children. Property deeds recorded in Old Buncombe County showed that he owned 500 acres of rugged land on the northwest of the French Broad River along Gladys Branch. He evidently did not move while living in this "Orphan Strip" area but remained on his lands along the French Broad.

John Nicholson and John Aiken (Akins) were elected representatives from Walton County to the Georgia Legislature. They would have had to make the long journey to Louisville, Georgia, the capitol of Georgia until the state house in Milledgeville was completed enough for the state government to be moved there in 1807. Either place was a long trek through rough terrain and over poor roads for these two men who represented Old Walton County.

Then the situation back in Walton County became volatile. When the Georgia-owned county became more tame and law-abiding, it looked favorable to the North Carolina government. The contest over ownership of the land led to the Walton War. Militia groups from North Carolina opened fire on Walton County defenders at Magaha Branch, a tributary of the French Broad River. Some Walton County citizens were killed and a number were imprisoned. Among the prisoners was Representative John Nicholson. When brought to trial, the Walton citizens claimed that their only crime was defending their claim as land owners in the still-contested strip of land.

Georgia, thinking to set the line once and for all, appointed commissioners, as did North Carolina, to survey the land. Finding that the 35th parallel was indeed, within North Carolina, Georgia's governor and legislature wanted a second opinion. In 1811 they hired a noted Philadelphia professional surveyor, Andrew Endicott, the man who had surveyed the Mason-Dixon line. The diary of the rough times his surveying team had going through thick rhododendron bushes and undergrowth to survey the land is interesting reading. Georgia was again disappointed, for Endicott found that, indeed, the 35th parallel was farther south, extending North Carolina's borders. The famous Endicott Stone can be viewed, even today, at the corner of three states, South and North Carolina, and Georgia at its most northeastern point.

The Georgia faction in Old Walton County finally relented, and in 1813 requested that it become a part of Old Buncombe County (now Transylvania).

By the 1820 census of Buncombe County, John Nicholson and his wife were registered there with a son and daughter still at home, both between 10 and 16 years of age.

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published March 12, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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