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 Reds (Reeds) 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,
Dec. 10, 1790
Edward Telfair, Governor
Two stories intertwined in Georgia 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 themselves 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 formal government. Georgias Provincial Congress (forerunner of the General Assembly) worked through the winter of 1776-1777 to create the document, Rules and Regulations, which would serve as the state constitution for the next 12 years. At the same time, Georgias 12 parishes were divided into eight counties, with the former St. Pauls Parish becoming Richmond County.
But the course of true intentions rarely runs smooth, and county names and geographic boundaries were the least of newly independent Georgias problems. The human issues between differing opinions and unharnessed egos would need more than one session of the Legislature to solve. Statewise, those disagreements would result 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. Countywise, other conflicts would give birth to a new county called Columbia.
The remote situation of Brownsboro rendering it a very unsafe place for a Gaol and Court-House, it is enacted that (these buildings) for the County of Richmond be built in the Town of Augusta ... (from a 1780 Act of the General Assem-bly).
According to the new Georgia Constitution, every county in the state had to have one - and only 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.
Or so thought Brownsboro (Appling today) resident and legislator, William Few, who wondered why the Augusta-based Richmond County delegation insisted on claiming their easternmost settlement as the county seat.
There were two reasons why George Walton, the recognized leader of the latter group, wanted the county seat in Augusta. First, although Savannah had served as the capital of Georgias provincial government, for safety reasons the government had moved to Augusta during the war. Now that the war was over, Walton assumed the capitol would remain in Augusta, but the Assembly chose to return it to Savannah. Walton didnt 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 didnt want to go way out in the woods to transact business.
Initially the Assembly agreed that the more-developed Augusta was the better location, and they commissioned a construction company to begin building a gaol and court-house there. But Fews idea gained strength and he succeeded in getting the decision delayed - for 10 years. At each session there were committees, resolutions, indecisive votes and further delays until, in 1789, someone came up with a new idea that broke the deadlock. Even with the public controversy and continued political upheaval, people were flocking to the backcountry, and whenever population increases the need for services increases, too. Richmond County was simply too large to handle that much business and, many feared, that much crime.
It would take another year, but by Dec. 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.
(Excerpt from As Long As the Rivers Run, a work in progress by local writer Barbara Seaborn. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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