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

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Profile of Union County in 1850

A profile of Union County’s population and work can be gained from the 1850 census of the county. Total population registered at that time was 6,958, with 1,141 families (or households) enumerated.

This does not account for some of the “hidden” residences that may not have been visited and enumerated by census taker J. J. Logan as he made his trek from house to house from September 2 through November 16, 1850. The fact that it took him a little more than six weeks to make his home visits speaks for the expanse of the county which then consisted of lands taken into Fannin County in 1854 and into Towns County in 1856 when portions of Union were incorporated into the then newly-formed counties.

The total value of properties owned by citizens in 1850 was said to be $485,688. Think of the broad acreage within the county and its stated value then compared to what it is in 2010, a mere 160 years later. It is almost unbelievable how much land has increased in value since those early years of settlement. Recall that Union County was formed from a portion of the expansive Cherokee Lands (or Cherokee County) in 1832.

Slave owners were enumerated by a simple notation in the census of “owns ____ (number) slave(s)”. Slave owners had in their possession numbers of slaves from 1 to the highest, 27. A total of 259 slaves were enumerated for 1850. I will list here the owners of double-digit numbers of slaves: Henry Alston, 27; J. E. Purkins, 18; J. H. Morris, 17; J. R. Wyly, 16; Sidney Harshaw, 13; R. C. Loiter, 12: John Stevenson, 12; T. M. Alston, 11; and E. G. Barclay, (an attorney), 11.

Most who owned slaves had only one, with the single-digit owners ranging from 1 to 8. My great, great grandfather, Thompson Collins, owned 5 to assist him and his sons on the acreage he owned. Already in process in 1850 were measures which would lead to the Emancipation Proclamation declared by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Most of Union County’s citizens, as the census shows, did not own slaves. Through other records we learn that the county was about half pro-Union and half pro-South in political leanings.

The chief occupation of people in Union in 1850 was farming. Other occupations listed were attorney, physician/surgeon, merchant, lawyer, teacher, clerk, waggoner, tailor, grocer, preacher or clergyman (usually with designation Baptist or Methodist following the occupational title), tanner, saddler, brick mason, cooper (barrel maker), carpenter, blacksmith, wagon wright, stone mason, mechanic, shoemaker or cobbler, hatter, cabinet maker, wheel wright, and miller. In examining the various occupations listed, I was surprised to find only one miller listed: George W. Crawford. Knowing that an ancestor of mine established one of the first mills in Choestoe and seeing that he was not listed as “miller” by trade means that he made his living mainly by farming. This was probably true of others throughout the county who ground corn and wheat for the public. Another occupation not listed was miner. Those who discovered gold, mica and other minerals on their property prior to 1850 did not at that time make their living by mining as their chief occupation.

The 1850 U. S. census was the first that listed names for all in the household. Prior to that time, enumeration had given only heads-of-household and the number in the household, with the 1840 census listing number of males and females within given age brackets. Thankfully, with the 1850 census, those who consult listings for genealogical purposes can begin to link children with parents, and follow them in subsequent census records. The 1850 census also gave the state of birth of those listed so that searchers can return to other state records to find origins of their ancestors.

Education was not a priority in Union County in 1850. Ten persons listed their main occupation as teaching—quite a small number for a population of 6,958 with most of the 1,141 families having several children to educate. The number of people over 20 who could not read nor write was numbered at 1,215, which was about 1/6 of adults. Schools were few and far between, with either “house” schools or short-term sessions of school held in a combination one-room building where both school and church met. Those listed as attending school within the year numbered 1,103. If all ten teachers in 1850 were engaged in teaching, their average classroom size could have been 110. This is not likely, for those in a community having school privileges would have had a sort of “rotating” student body, with those pupils not needed in the most ardent months of farming attending school. It is also possible that those with “farming” as their main occupation could also have been short-term teachers. I know this was true with one of my ancestors, John Souther, who could “read and write and cipher,” and who taught others near him, including his own family, the basic rudiments of learning.

Another item of interest learned from the 1850 census is the number of surnames still present within families in the county 160 years later. Many, many current residents can trace their ancestry back to early settlers. This continuation of families within the same geographic area declares a love for the land and satisfaction with the way of life—even with all of its subsequent changes—within the parameters of the “mountains of home.”

c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 24, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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