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Happy 223rd birthday, Columbia County

Posted: December 8, 2013 - 12:07am

“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Georgia in General Assembly, that the county of Richmond shall be divided into two counties. ... Beginning on the river Savannah, at the mouth of Reed’s Creek, from thence a line shall be drawn running South 45 degrees West, and all that part of Richmond County lying above the aforesaid line shall be one county known by the name of ‘Columbia....’”

— From An Act to Divide the County of Richmond, December 10, 1790

Edward Telfair, Governor

Two Georgia stories intertwined throughout the American Revolution: the war itself and the struggle to maintain her fledgling government once the royal government had been displaced. Often, for those who were more schooled in planting crops than forming governments, the political battles between the patriots would be as troublesome as their military clashes with the British.

Conscious of the need for legal authority following the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress asked each state to set up its own government. Georgia’s Provincial Congress (forerunner of the General Assembly) worked through the winter of 1776-1777 to create the document, “Rules and Regulations,” which served as the state constitution for the next 12 years. At the same time, Georgia’s 12 parishes were divided into eight counties, with the former St. Paul’s Parish becoming Richmond County.

But the course of true intentions rarely runs smooth, and county names and boundaries were the least of newly independent Georgia’s problems. The human issues between differing opinions would need more than one session of the Legislature to solve. State-wise, those disagreements resulted in the death of interim Gov. Button Gwinnett in a duel with his military commander, and a lengthening of the war in the South, because the boundaries between political and military responsibility either were not followed or understood. County-wise, other conflicts would give birth to a new county called Columbia.

According to the new Georgia Constitution, every county in the state had to have one county seat where residents could vote, record documents, and hold court. But with a 30-mile shoreline along the Savannah River and 40-mile extension into the interior, Richmond County covered 1,200 square miles. This meant a long commute to transact business in those pre-horseless-carriage days, unless that county seat was centrally located.

There were two reasons why George Walton, the recognized leader of the Richmond County group, wanted the county seat in Augusta. First, although Savannah had served as the capital of Georgia’s provincial government, for safety reasons the government had moved to Augusta during the war. Now that the war was over, Walton assumed the capital would remain in Augusta, but the Assembly chose to return it to Savannah. Walton didn’t want to be disappointed again by losing the county seat.

Reason one, however, may only have been a cover for reason two: Walton and the others did not want to go “way out in the woods” to transact county business.

It would take another year, but by December, 1790, 10 years after the initial act to create the county seat in Augusta, the Assembly voted to split Richmond County in two, and Columbia County was born.

George Walton finally had his county seat and, in the words of historian George Lamplugh, “that tenacious champion of Brownsboro, William Few, had his county, too.”

(An excerpt from As Long as the Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County’s Past, by local author, Barbara Seaborn. E-mail comments to seabara@aol.com.)

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