“The Quakers of Wrightsborough were more inclined to the
arts of peace than to the
pursuit of war.”
– Lucien Lamar Knight
For some Europeans migrating to the New World in the 18th century, land and prosperity were not the only reasons to exchange one homeland for another. From the Puritans who fled persecution by the Church of England to the German Lutherans and French Huguenots who feared Catholic reprisals following the Protestant Reformation, religious freedom was more important than national ties or personal gain.
For a group of English Quakers, that freedom also meant the right to live by a different set of standards than that of their neighbors.
By the late 1760s, Georgia’s third royal governor, Sir James Wright, had secured an additional two million acres of Indian land for the already crowded colony.
Among the rash of requests for that new land was a petition from some North Carolina Quakers for 12,000 acres 30 miles west of Augusta.
He expected 40 families, but when nearly twice that number arrived, the governor quickly increased the grant to 30,000 acres. In appreciation for the governor’s kindness, the newcomers named their community Wrightsborough (now Wrightsboro) after him.
What a contrast these people were to many who had preceded them. They worked hard, obeyed laws, built fences for their livestock, educated their children and exhibited a strong religious faith.
In short, they were exactly “the better sort” the somewhat aristocratic Wright had hoped to attract to Georgia’s new land.
But the good times were not to last. Seven years after their arrival, America was at war.
To be a Quaker was to be a pacifist, and they would not be joining the fight, even for American independence. Those who favored revolution discounted the Quakers’ religious excuse, called them “loyalists” and considered them part of the enemy. Their homes were burned, crops plundered and, perhaps saddest of all, many Quaker young men were lured into combat against the objection of their parents.
Though weakened, Wrightsboro survived the war, but other events would weaken the community even more.
With the invention of the cotton gin and influx of slave labor to support the increased cotton crop, Georgia’s economy soared.
Yet to be a Quaker also meant to be against slavery. They had survived the war, but with small farms and insufficient family labor, the Quakers couldn’t compete with the larger planters.
They persevered for a few more years, but just after the turn of the 19th century the Quakers left Georgia and joined a similar settlement in Ohio.
Some of their non-Quaker neighbors and descendants stayed behind and kept the community going for another century. But gradually, following disputes over the coming of the railroad and the looming Civil War, the remaining residents of the town left, too.
Wrightsboro hasn’t been part of Columbia County since 1870, when McDuffie County emerged from sections of Warren, Lincoln, and Columbia counties.
But at the time Columbia County began, the Quaker community was the largest and first enduring settlement in the new county.
Had it not been for this particular group of people, the history of Columbia County would have been drastically changed.
Descendant Tom Watson might never have become this area’s leading 19th-century political activist; William Candler’s daughter might not have married the son of Quaker-turned Methodist Ignatius Few or borne a son who would become the founder of Emory University; and another Few brother might not have waged a 10-year legislative battle to ensure that the county seat for the entire (former) Richmond County did not become Augusta. William Few is still the undisputed father of Columbia County.
Some historians speculate that another group of Quakers may have lived near today’s intersection of Washington and Baston roads in Martinez. This legend, though revived in the late 1990’s when a builder named an area apartment complex “Quaker Springs,” has been proven untrue. More likely, the idea was based on an actual nearby “Quaker Spring” which served as a “watering hole for travelers and their horses during the long ride between Wrightsboro and Augusta.
(An excerpt from Barbara Seaborn’s book As Long As the Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County’s Past. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)