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An old Columbia County patriot was lost then found

Posted: July 2, 2013 - 11:10pm
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William Few was instrumental in forming Columbia County.
William Few was instrumental in forming Columbia County.

Let me say something good about vandalism.

At the beginning of the previous century, according to newspaper accounts, vandals broke into a somewhat forgotten family mausoleum outside the Reformed Dutch Church in Fishkill, N.Y., a town about 70 miles north of New York City.

When someone went to clean up the mess, they found a silver casket nameplate, which identified the grave: ``William Few, died the 16th day of July A.D. 1828 in the 80th year of age.’’

I’m not sure if those guys knew who William Few was, but we do. Today William Few Parkway is a major route in Columbia County. He was one of our community’s early leaders. A Maryland native, he led troops against the British during the American Revolution.

After the war, Few also was one of two men from Georgia who signed the U.S. Constitution, an enterprise he considered so important that he was the only representative to never miss a meeting during the constitutional convention.

Few became Georgia’s first U.S. senator, an Augusta judge and an active leader. That leadership led to a political disagreement of sorts with George Walton, the Declaration signer and another of Augusta’s early movers and shakers.

The solution was simple. Few and his crowd, living far from town near what is now Appling, got to split off from Richmond County and create Columbia County.

So what was he doing in New York?

Well, it’s an old story. He lost an election.

And got so disappointed he left town and moved about as far away as he could get – New York, where he became a bank president, legislator and government prison official.

He died at age 80 … and gradually his family – like many Americans – migrated West.

Almost everyone forgot about his grave … until those vandals … and then – what do you know? Few was once again in a political controversy.

Georgia wanted him. New York didn’t want to let him go.

Both states spent much of the 1900s mildly arguing about it.

In the early 1970s, then-Gov. Jimmy Carter got involved and got New York to agree to let us have him back … if a relative could be found to approve the transfer of his bones.

Clifford Clarke Jr., vice chairman of the Georgia Commission for the Nation Bicentennial Celebration, tracked down a Few descendent, an Indiana teenager named Dennie Russak, who had never heard of his famous ancestor but also had no legal objection to moving his bones.

On Jan. 29, 1973, Georgia state archaeologist Dr. Lewis Larson and Dr. Larry Howard, director of the state crime lab, traveled to the old graveyard, sifted through debris and beer cans and found the jaw, some teeth and other bones of the man who – it was said – never missed a meeting of the U.S. constitutional convention.

They placed them in a child’s bronze casket, covered it with an American flag and flew back to Georgia in the governor’s plane.

William Few, a past patriot, U.S. senator and judge, was reburied with great ceremony in October 1973 in the graveyard of Augusta’s historic St. Paul’s Church.

He’s still here.

So is the Columbia County he helped create and the country he helped form.

ONLINE EXTRA

See the Kirby’s Augusta video titled The Mystery of William Few by going to chronicle.augusta.com

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