Historical Maps of Pickens County
Prior to the coming of the Europeans, the Cherokee lands included Tennessee, Kentucky, northern Alabama, North Georgia, and the western portions of the Virginias and Carolinas. As the white settlers moved in and epidemics of imported diseases ravaged their numbers, the Cherokee holdings gradually receded. During the American Revolution, the Cherokee sided with the British who had protected their territory. In 1781, Andrew Pickens led a successful three week campaign against the Cherokee. In September 1782, he and Elijah Clarke succeeded in forcing the Indians to surrender claim to all lands south of the Savannah River and east of the Chattahoochee River in the Treaty of Long Swamp, signed in what is now Pickens County. This was the first Treaty between the United States and the Native Americans.
Many Cherokee continued to battle the invasion of their land by white settlers until 1794 when they were definitively defeated. In 1803, they were persuaded to allow the building of a Federal Post Road through their territory, finally built between 1812 and 1820. Two of the way stations along that road were at the Carmel Mission in what became Talking Rock, and the Harnage Inn, located where the Tate House now stands. Somewhat unified and confined to North Georgia and the surrounding mountains, they formed the Cherokee Nation with its capital at New Echota, and developed an assimilated culture with its own Legislature and Supreme Court. But with the discovery of gold in Georgia in 1829, there were again increasing intrusions from white settlers. When John Ross, the elected chief, marched on white squatters in 1831, the State of Georgia reacted by declaring the Cherokee Nation to be “Cherokee County, Georgia” and convened a State Court at the Harnage Inn. Outraged, the Cherokee sued the State of Georgia, but the Supreme Court refused to hear their case, ruling that the Cherokee Nation had no standing to sue a State. Justice John Marshall who penned this ruling was no friend of the expansionist President Andrew Jackson, and advised the Cherokee’s lawyer how to pursue their cause. Georgia had arrested Stephen Worchester, a missionary at the Carmel Mission in Talking Rock and supporter of the Cherokee, for being on Cherokee Land without a permit. In the resulting Supreme Court case, the justices ruled in 1832 that the Cherokee Nation was sovereign, and not subject to Georgia law. The ruling was never enforced by President Andrew Jackson, who coveted the Cherokee property. Georgia ignored the ruling, and set up a public lottery system to distribute the land in their Cherokee County.
In 1830, the United States Congress had passed the “Indian Removal Act,” allowing the removal of Native Americans to lands in the west. The Worchester ruling essentially nullified this act. Thus, the only way the Cherokee could be removed would be through consent by treaty. Within the Cherokee Nation, there was also some dissent. Chief John Ross and the majority of his nation vowed to fight removal and the Georgia lottery. But a splinter group representing only few percent of the Cherokee, favored relocation and signed such an agreement, the Treaty of New Echota. This gave Jackson the document he needed. In the debate in congress, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay argued against the ratification of this Treaty, but it passed by a single vote. On May 17, 1838, General Winfield Scott marched into Georgia with a force of seven thousand men and began the forced relocation of the Cherokee to Oklahoma. The Cherokee were first housed in Fort Newnan in Talking Rock and Fort Buffington near Canton. On this march, now known as the “Trail of Tears,” one in four of the 17,000 Cherokee died from hunger, exposure, or disease. Once in Oklahoma, most of the signers of the Treaty of New Echota were killed.
Georgia had a unique method for distributing land to its settlers – a land lottery. Starting in 1805, there were seven lotteries as land was acquired – meaning, as Indians were removed from their lands. The first five divvied up the land of the Creek to the south. The last two distributed the Cherokee lands in north Georgia, some six years before the forced dissolution of the Cherokee Nation. One of the lottery winners, Sam Tate, won the land that contained the buildings deserted by Ambrose Harnage and opened his Inn in 1834. It was on Sam Tate’s land that a traveler, Henry Fitzsimmons, an Irish stoneworker, discovered what turned out to be the world’s largest deposit of crystalline marble in 1836.
After the formal acquisition of the Cherokee lands, North Georgia was subdivided into increasingly smaller counties. In 1853, Pickens County was created from parts of Cherokee and Gilmer Counties – becoming Georgia’s 100th county. There was something of a battle between the eastern and western sides of the new county over where to put the county seat. In a close election, the east won and Jasper was incorporated as a county seat in 1857, named for a Revolutionary War hero, Sergeant William Jasper. Though Pickens was a fledgling county at the outbreak of the Civil War and not part of the southern plantation economy, there were 241 slaves registered in the 1860 census [about 5% of the population]. The story of John Darnell may typify the ambivalence of the allegiances in Pickens County. He was among those who flew the Union flag above the Jasper Courthouse at the outbreak of the war, in open defiance of the Confederacy. In 1862, he was in the Pickens County Militia of the 107th Georgia Militia and later the 9th Georgia Cavalry, both C.S.A., but by 1864, he enlisted in the 5th Tennessee U.S. Mounted Infantry, fighting for the Union. In all, 1427 men from Pickens fought for the Confederacy and 253 fought in the Union Army. Though the actual fighting itself bypassed the county for the most part, the war and the chaos of the Reconstruction era brought hard times to Pickens County, as throughout the South.
Then, in 1883, the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad reached Pickens County. Henry Fitzsimmons had mined his marble find for a time in the 1830’s. But with the coming of the railroad, Stephen Tate, one of Sam’s sons, was able to mine a significant amount of the local marble. When Stephen’s son, Colonel Sam Tate, inherited the mine in the early twentieth century, he consolidated the diverse local quarries into the “Georgia Marble Company”. Under Colonel Tate’s direction, the marble industry became the biggest employer in the county and brought a new prosperity to the area. In 1925, he built his own palatial pink marble home on the site of the original Harnage Inn, now known as the “Tate House” or the “Pink Palace”. Some 60% of the National Monuments in Washington were built with the beautiful marble mined here.
While the fate of the Pickens County generally followed that of the Tate family and its mining operations, there were other currents flowing in the veins of these mountains. The local Irish settlers brought their time honored methods of distilling whiskey. At the end of the Civil War, the newly formed Internal Revenue Service was charged with collecting a tax on alcohol containing products. Thus began one of the more colorful sagas in the history of North Georgia – the war between the “Moonshiners” and the “Revenuers.” In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the distillers were farmers making whiskey for local consumption and some extra money. But as the country eased its way towards Prohibition, “White Lightning” became an increasingly valuable product, and making whiskey became a lucrative underworld business. It was distilled in the remote mountain woods in crude stills, then “run” to market in Atlanta and other cities in cars with “souped up” engines for outrunning the ever vigilant government agents.
The 1958 movie, “Thunder Road,” was only one of many fictionalized accounts of the illegal liquor trade in the southern mountains. The fast cars of the southern moonshiners became the “hot rods” in the dirt track races throughout the South – the roots of the now-popular NASCAR circuit. Many of the early NASCAR drivers got their start running whiskey from Pickens, Dawson, and Lumpkin Counties.
Aside from the misadventures of the moonshiners and the activity in the marble quarries, life in Pickens County for its first century was little different from any other small isolated community in the southern mountains. People born here mostly stayed and raised their families, worked their farms. Automobiles replaced horse drawn wagons and the radios brought news from around the world. Young men marched off to fight in foreign wars. Small settlements came and went while the towns of Jasper, Talking Rock, Tate, Hinton, Blaine, Ludville, and Jerusalem grew at a snail’s pace. The meandering Georgia Highway 5 connected Pickens County to Atlanta to the south and the other mountain communities to the north.
Back in the 1930’s, Colonel Tate had built a “summer colony” in the far northeastern corner of the county, the Tate Mountain Estates, a getaway community for the wealthy surrounding Lake Sequoyah with an impressive lodge – the Connahaynee Lodge. As things turned out, 1929 wasn’t a particularly good year to start a resort, so it never quite achieved the grandeur he envisioned. The Lodge, itself, burned in 1947. In the early 1970’s, construction began on two other large gated resort communities, also in the eastern mountainous region of the county. Bent Tree was started in 1971 on a 3500 acre tract that includes Oglethorpe Mountain – part of the huge original land holding for Tate Mountain Estates project. Big Canoe, begun in the next year, occupies 6200 acres overlapping Pickens and Dawson Counties on the former site of yet another of Colonel Tate’s undertakings – a school for mountain children, the Wolfscratch Wilderness. The beauty of the North Georgia mountains, the resort homes, large lakes, community golf and tennis facilities, and other resort amenities have drawn large numbers of retirees and second home owners to the area.
It’s always an open debate as to whether roads are built in response to growth, or actually cause the growth themselves. Both things are probably true. The Old Federal Road brought the white settlers into Pickens County, and carried the Cherokee out on their forced trip to Oklahoma. By 1865, the end of our first decade, the towns in Pickens County were well established along the Old Federal Post Road. The Carmel Mission was now Talking Rock, along the creek of the same name; the community of Jasper, now the county seat, had become a major town; and the Harnage Inn was now the town of Harnageville beside Long Swamp Creek.
The Marietta and North Georgia Railroad opened Pickens County to a lucrative market for our indigenous marble. But by 1899, after the coming of the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad, things had changed. Talking Rock literally moved east to meet the rail line, leaving Blaine to occupy its former site. Jasper did not move as the rail come straight through it. But Harnageville, now renamed Tate, had migrated west to the Tate railway station.
And it was the construction of yet another road that blew the winds of change towards Pickens as it entered its second century. In the 1950’s, President Eisenhower introduced the Interstate Highway system that ultimately interlaced America with an unparalleled transportation grid. Construction on Interstate 575 began in 1979, and was completed in 1987. I-575 connects I-75 going north from Atlanta to Nelson on the Pickens County border where it meets GA-515, a four lane highway that runs north to Hiawassee. So now, downtown Metropolitan Atlanta is only an hour’s drive from the County Courthouse.
In the recent infrared aerial photograph, Jasper is clearly visible as a long line which runs along GA 5, the road that roughly follows the path of the railroad. But it’s obvious, even from high in the sky, that Jasper is migrating west towards GA 515, a four lane highway meant to bypass it.
While this brief history began with the coming of the white settlers into the Cherokee lands of North Georgia, the Cherokee had migrated into this area from the north around 1300 A.D. – relative newcomers themselves. One has to drive only forty miles to the southwest to see evidence of their predecessors, the Etowah Indian Mounds near Cartersville. The moundbuilders were from the last of the great prehistoric cultures, the Mississippians, that dated from around 700 A.D. It was the Creek, displaced south by the coming of the Cherokee, that may have been descended from this group directly. Before them, who knows? As any history, the history of Pickens County is the story of the migration of people looking for a better life – the moundbuilders from the Mississippi Valley, the Cherokee Indians from the Great Lakes, colonists fleeing an overcrowded Europe, settlers like Sam Tate with his wagon full of kids and a lucky lottery ticket, or now, modern Atlantans “sprawling” north.