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William Few Jr.: Father of Columbia County

County recalls its founding father

Posted: July 3, 2012 - 11:05pm  |  Updated: July 4, 2012 - 12:07pm
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Columbia County historian Gerald Smith salutes at a monument to William Few, a signer of the U.S. Constitution who also played a pivotal role in the creation of Columbia County.   For video of Gerald Smith talking about William Few, go to www.newstimesonline.com.  Photos by Jim Blaylock
Photos by Jim Blaylock
Columbia County historian Gerald Smith salutes at a monument to William Few, a signer of the U.S. Constitution who also played a pivotal role in the creation of Columbia County. For video of Gerald Smith talking about William Few, go to www.newstimesonline.com.

 

A Georgia man who helped shape the United States of America also founded Columbia County.

William Few was one of two Georgia men to sign the U.S. Constitution.

As a Renaissance man of the Revolutionary War era, Few wore many hats – planter, lawyer, politician and advocate for American independence – and used his knowledge and experience to lobby for the formation of Columbia County.

“He is the father of Columbia County,” said county historian Barbara Seaborn, author of As Long As the Rivers Run, a history of the county.

In the book, Seaborn refers to Few as “the man most responsible for the founding of Columbia County reserved his strongest passion for establishing the postwar government, not only of his new, independent nation, but for his state and community as well.”

Few was in his mid-20s when he moved with his family from North Carolina to property on the Wrightsborough tract in Georgia.

When it became clear that the Revolutionary War was the only way to gain American independence from British rule, Few and his two brothers put aside their peaceful Quaker beliefs to join the war effort.

After the war, in 1786, the state legislature appointed Few to the national Congress. The next year, he became Georgia’s representative at the Constitutional Congress that drafted the U.S. Constitution. He and Abraham Baldwin signed the document as representatives from Georgia.

“He is definitely one of the great men of this area,” said Dr. Gerald J. Smith, author of To Seek a Newer World: A History of Columbia County, Georgia.

Few was elected to the Georgia Provincial Congress in 1776 and served in the assembly twice in 1777 and 1779. He also served on the state executive council and held other positions, including surveyor-general and Indian commissioner.

By the end of the war, Few and his family lived in Brownsborough on land confiscated from British Loyalist Thomas Brown, just north of present-day Appling. At that time, Richmond County consisted of about 1,200 square miles and included lands that would eventually become Richmond and Columbia counties and parts of McDuffie and Warren counties.

Few also became one of Georgia’s first U.S. senators in 1789 and helped write the Georgia Constitution.

Columbia County’s William Few Parkway is named in his honor.

“The road naming may be a sign of honor,” Seaborn wrote, “but it is only a token of the county’s debt to this extraordinary man. Without the efforts of William Few, Columbia County might not exist.”

During the time he served on local, state and federal levels of government, Few was living in the “backwoods” and was concerned for the residents there. He wanted the county seat in Brownsborough, but the state legislature in 1780 deemed the area unsafe for a courthouse and jail.

The seat and courthouse remained in Augusta, forcing anyone in the far-out areas of the county to travel to attend court, vote and record documents.

“All of this was wilderness still,” Smith said of the area that’s now Columbia County. “On court day at the Richmond County courthouse in Augusta, people from up in this part of the county and (the) part that became McDuffie and Warren counties, would have to travel two days to get to the courthouse.”

As people flocked to Richmond County, it became too large to handle the business of its residents. Crime began increasing.

After lobbying and petitioning by Few and other residents, the state assembly agreed in 1790 to split Richmond County in two, and Columbia County was born.

“Few was a guiding light,” Smith said. “I think very much so that if anybody could be said to be the father of Columbia County, it is William Few.”

Few also served as a judge for the Richmond County Supreme Court and state Superior Court.

But after the state legislature didn’t reappoint Few to a second term in the U.S. Senate, he left Columbia County for Fishkill Landing, New York, in 1799. Few continued his political service in New York, where he served as Alderman of the town, in the state assembly, as president of Manhattan Bank, state prison inspector and as U.S. Commissioner of Loans, Seaborn wrote.

Few’s Brownsborough property was renamed and became part of Winfield. A historical marker identifies the site of his home, which burned in 1930, but was rebuilt by then-owners A.D. and Lula Dozier.

In 1828, Few died and was buried in a church cemetery near his New York home. In 1973, just before the nation’s bicentennial, his remains were moved to St. Paul’s churchyard in Augusta.

Few used his knowledge to serve his country, state and community. His efforts left a lasting impression on Columbia County.

Smith wrote: “If, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘An Institution is the lengthened shadow of one man,’ then William Few ... is that man for Columbia County.”

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