Today, for most residents of Columbia County, former resident, war hero and politician William Few is little more than a name on a road sign that bisects the county between Washington Road and I-20. The county owes a huge debt to this extraordinary man, because without him it might not exist.
The small Maryland and North Carolina communities where Few was raised offered little to support a family, and almost no opportunity for an education. So in 1773, when 2 million acres of Indian land became available in Georgia, the Fews migrated south.
In his mid-twenties when his parents and younger siblings left North Carolina, William remained behind to settle his family’s affairs. From this experience, plus some fruitful mentoring by local attorneys, he gained enough knowledge of the legal system to practice law soon after joining his family on the Wrightsborough tract in Georgia. But when it became apparent that American independence could not be won apart from war, William and his brothers, Benjamin and Ignatius, set aside their pacifist Quaker leanings and joined the Revolution. All three became officers in the local militia and figured strongly in liberating Georgia from the British.
By war’s end the Fews were living in Brownsborough on land confiscated from British loyalist Thomas Brown near Appling. William repaid his “spoils-of-war” reward with nearly superhuman service to his adopted state and community. Before leaving Georgia in 1799, he would become her delegate to the Continental Congress, state surveyor-general, member of the Georgia Legislature, signer of the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Senator, and judge of the state’s Second Judicial Circuit. He also would begin a 10-year legislative journey that led to the forming of Columbia County.
To set the stage for William Few’s political battle, it’s important to note that in 1777 the parishes, which had subdivided Georgia since 1758, were regrouped into counties. Thus, Augusta and surrounding territory, formerly known as St. Paul’s Parish, was called Richmond County. Also, it was not unusual for a congressman or legislator to be involved in local issues.
For Few, the most important local issue was the location of the county seat, which he believed should be at Brownsborough, or halfway between Augusta and Wrightsborough, so no citizen would have to travel more than 20 miles to conduct court business or vote. But because the Augusta legislators, George Walton especially, did not want to travel “way out in the woods” for that purpose, the Legislature turned Few’s plan down every year from 1780 to 1785, then tabled it completely until the Georgia Constitution was revised five years later.
Meanwhile, court business continued to be conducted in Augusta, although two additional polling places were held in the western part of the county, including one in Brownsborough. With a constant rise in population, crime increased, too. Suddenly, the courthouse and jail in Augusta were no longer able to police an area of 1,200 square miles.
Finally, in 1790, with the consent of the entire delegation and an act of the Georgia Legislature, Richmond County was sliced in two. George Walton still had Augusta and William Few not only had his Brownsborough Plan, but an entirely new county, called Columbia. And, Brownsborough, later named Appling, was still the county seat.
(An excerpt from Barbara Seaborn’s Columbia County history book, As Long As the Rivers Run. Next time: It all began with Columbus.)