Thursday, March 25, 2004

Andrew William Jackson

At times we read accounts of early settlers in Union County and learn of their subsequent adventures. We wonder how they lived through some of their exploits. Truth often looms larger than fiction. The story of Andrew William Jackson and his wife Margaret Minerva Goforth Jackson falls into the category of "truth stranger than fiction." I am grateful to Watson Benjamin Dyer and Belle Jackson Maury (she was a granddaughter of Andrew William Jackson) for this account of Andrew William Jackson. I have edited the account for structure, chronology and flow, but have kept to the facts as presented by Belle Jackson Maury.

Andrew William Jackson was born in 1835 in Choestoe District, Union County. His father was William Jackson (b. abt. 1798 in NC, died July 27, 1859, Choestoe, GA) and Nancy Owenby Stanley Jackson (b. ca 1793 in NC, died 1861, Choestoe, GA). They were in Union County when it was formed in 1832.

Andrew was the youngest of eight known children. The others were Rebecca who married Jonathan Cook; Armelia who married William Neely; Johile who married Jane Duckworth; Susan who married John W. Duckworth; Kimsey who married Lucinda Thomas; Mira who married Jehu Wimpey; and William Marion who married Minerva Goforth.

William and Nancy Jackson moved from Rutherford County, NC where they were married December 14, 1814. From there they went to Habersham County, Georgia and then to Union County near Bald Mountain. William and Nancy Jackson were early members--perhaps charter members--of Choestoe Baptist Church. Seeing the list of their children and their spouses indicates that there is a rich family history in each of the children and their descendants, many of whom still live in the vicinity. But the focus of this article will be upon Andrew William Jackson, the youngest of the children.

When the Jacksons were settling onto their Choestoe acres, there was much unrest in the nation. The majority of settlers in Union County were not slave holders and they did not want to participate in the Civil War. Many had Union leanings and went to Tennessee to join the U. S. (Northern) Army. Among these were Marion Jackson (Andrew's brother) and John Hunter, a Choestoe neighbor. Some in opposition to the South hid out in the mountains evading conscription. In the daytime deep caves were their hiding places. They ventured out at night and by the light of the moon worked their crops. Times were hard and fear was rampant.

Andrew William Jackson and Margaret Minerva Goforth were married on November 9, 1855, with the Rev. William Pruitt, Minister of the Gospel, performing the ceremony. When the war was declared, Andrew was in the vicinity of Atlanta. He was conscripted for the Confederate Army but did not like it and deserted.

The story is told that at one time when his pursuers were looking for him, he climbed up into the chimney of their home to hide. Minerva and her little children tried to be calm while the search went on. The men left the home and Andrew stayed several hours in the chimney before he came down. He and sixteen other deserters were captured and sent to a jail in Birmingham, Alabama.

Evidently Andrew found a way to get a message to Minerva. He asked her to visit him at the Birmingham jail and to bring the horses, hiding them out near the jail. The men planned to escape that night. Imagine the bravery of this young woman (about 23 at the time--she was born in 1840) to go across the mountains of Georgia into Alabama to a Confederate prison to assist her husband to escape.

One of the men imprisoned with Andrew Jackson had lost a leg and walked with a wooden leg. Andrew asked him for his wooden leg so he could fashion a key to unlock the jail. The man, at first reluctant, said, "If I don't have my leg, I can't walk out."

The story goes that Andrew Jackson told him, "It's either your wooden leg or we'll be shot to death in the morning." How he had that knowledge is an untold part of the story. Andrew did take the wooden leg and carved a sort of key that worked to open the lock. Evidently the guards were asleep or not aware of what was going on within the jail. Andrew was successful with springing the lock and the men walked out. They set fire to the stockade and burned it down, escaping through the woods.

There in the woods was Minerva with the two horses and their children, waiting for her husband. They made their way from Birmingham northward to the old Jackson homeplace in Choestoe. Minerva and the children rode the horses and Andrew walked in the woods, trying to keep himself hidden. They miraculously made the long trip to Choestoe safely.

Just what year Andrew and Minerva and their by then four children decided to leave Choestoe is not certain. But evidently the unrest of the war years was still upon the land. They packed up their meager belongings and set out with their young family heading west. They had great difficulties along the way. Andrew still had to hide out because he was wanted for having escaped the Confederate jail. When they crossed the Mississippi River and arrived in Kansas, they felt safer because they were again among Union sympathizers who helped the young family to find food and provisions and temporary work for Andrew.

It was a sad journey. The two middle children died on the journey and were buried along the route. Their names are unknown to this writer. Milton Bert and Dicie survived the trip. The Jackson family arrived at the San Louis Obispo Valley, sometimes called the Creasy Plains, of California, and there they began farming. They were ready for a new life and gave themselves to it with a passion. There Minnie Matilda, their last child, was born on August 7, 1879.

Milton Bert was given the responsibility of herding sheep. He took the sheep to open range on the mountains near where they lived. The lad was only fourteen when he began this herdsman's job. Andrew went every week to take Bert food and to check on him. The lad did a good job of warding off wild animals and caring for the sheep.

Andrew liked seclusion. When other settlers began to move onto the Creasy Plains and get too close, Andrew would stake out another claim in a less-populated area. He did not like to talk of his Civil War experiences or of the hardships the family endured. One day Bert saw a large scar on his father's side and asked how he got it. Andrew told his son, "It's none of your business."

One day a group of men with winded, exhausted horses rode onto the Jackson ranch. They asked Andrew for his horses, as theirs were spent. He knew they would take them by force if he did not let them go willingly. They promised to send his horses back in a few days and quickly rode away.

Soon afterward, a sheriff's posse came by looking for the men. Noticing the many horse tracks near Andrew's barn, they wanted to know why. Ever the man of few words, Andrew told the sheriff that a lot of riding had been going on there the last few days. The sheriff explained that the Dalton Gang had robbed the bank the day before and the posse was trailing them.

A few days later, Andrew's tired horses reappeared at the ranch. He took off their saddles, and there under the blanket were fastened several $50 gold pieces. Whether Andrew kept the gold or turned it over to the authorities is unknown. Maybe he went by the old adage, "Finders, keepers."

Andrew and Minerva Goforth Jackson did not return to Georgia. They remained in California where their last place of residence was at Cholame. Andrew died there in 1917 and Minerva died in 1915. They were buried at San Louis Obisbo. Their adventures bespeak the independent spirit and work ethic so tightly woven into the character of early Union County, Georgia people.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published March 25, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Union County’s Claim to Governor Joseph Emerson Brown

Joseph Emerson Brown (1821-1894) 27th Governor of Georgia

Driving along Georgia Highway 60 near Woody Gap School, you see a Georgia Historical Marker announcing “Homesite of Joseph Emerson Brown.” Stopping to read it, you find that Joseph Emerson Brown, four-time governor of Georgia, lived with his parents at about the same location where the school is today.

We like to take pride in claiming that famous people lived here—or, for that matter, “slept here.” Once a citizen of Union County, Brown sat in the state’s highest seat from 1857 through 1865 when Georgia’s capitol was located at Milledgeville, Georgia. He served as governor during the turbulent years of secession and the Civil War.

What can we learn about this tall, lanky man whose pictures remind us somewhat of Abraham Lincoln, except that Brown’s beard was white?

He was not born in Union County, Georgia. Instead, his birth state was South Carolina, in the Pickens District, where he was born April 15, 1821. His parents were Mackey and Sally Brown. As with most who left one area and went to another in those years, the Browns moved to what we know as Suches, Georgia and settled at Woody Gap. There the family farmed. Few educational opportunities existed there for the young Brown beyond the one-teacher school that was held for a few months a year. We can imagine, with his bent for learning, he longed to have a better education.

That opportunity came when Joseph Emerson Brown was nineteen. In 1840, his father gave him two oxen that evidently had been yoked together and trained for work on the farm. Brown took the oxen and his meager belongings and left, dressed in a suit his mother made for him from wool from the Brown’s own sheep. He made his way over the mountains to South Carolina where he sold the oxen to gain money for room and board. He entered Camden Academy. The administrator must have seen promise in the young Brown, for he went to school there on credit, promising to repay the loan after graduation.

When he finished at Camden, he must have returned to visit with his parents at Suches. But soon he made his way to Canton, Georgia where he got a job teaching school. In whatever time he could spare, he studied law (it was called “reading law” then). He passed the Georgia bar examination in 1845.

Then came the next lap in his educational journey. He went to Yale University School of Law, graduating in 1846 with a Bachelor of Law degree. He had borrowed money to attend Yale from a friend and physician in Canton whom Brown would later appoint to the Georgia-owned railroad, the Western and Atlantic.

He opened his law practice in Canton and soon began earning a sizeable annual salary for 1846—up to $3,000 per year. He also served as a tutor to certain young men whom he encouraged. A shrewd businessman as well as a lawyer, he was able to make investments that later would make him one of the wealthiest men in Georgia.

His courtship with Elizabeth Grisham began. She was a daughter of a Baptist minister. They were married in 1847. To them were born eight children: Julius, Mary, Joseph, Franklin, Elijah, Charles, Sally and George. Their son, Joseph Mackey Brown, would later follow in his father’s footsteps and serve as Governor of Georgia (1909-1911 and 1912-1913).

Joseph Emerson Brown’s political career began actively when he was elected to the Georgia senate from his district in 1849. In the 1852 national election, he was the presidential elector on the Democratic ticket of Pierce and King. He was appointed as judge of the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit in 1855.

His next big political move came when he was elected governor of Georgia in 1857. His opponents among the landed large plantation owners called him “The Ploughboy.” They sought to discredit him because he had grown up on a poor mountain farm in North Georgia. The man who had taken his education and career into his own hands was not to be dismissed with such an epithet. His political leanings up until 1865 were more like those of President Andrew Jackson. In fact, he was labeled by historians as a “Jacksonian Democrat.” He held firmly to states’ rights. He appealed to and upheld the common man. As Georgia’s 27th governor, and elected for four terms (1857, 1859, 1861, and 1863), he served during one of Georgia’s most turbulent periods.

Vital to the economy prior to the Civil War and essential to the war effort during the conflict, the railroad was one of Governor Brown’s chief projects. He replaced top management positions in the Western & Atlantic Railroad as well as minor officials. Many who received railroad jobs were his staunch supporters. He advised the superintendent to “cut all unnecessary expenses, but to keep the railroad in good repair.” He also wanted unnecessary employees dismissed and to pay salaries commensurate to those paid by other railroads. Intoxicating beverages were not allowed. Strict obedience to the rules concerning operation of the railroad was to be followed. The rules were printed, posted and also delivered to all employees.

Next: More on Governor Brown and on his post-war political career.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published March 11, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

John Nicholson, Revolutionary War Soldier (Part 2)

In October, 2000, the Blue Ridge Mountains Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution, held a ceremony at the Pleasant Grove Cemetery in memory of John Nicholson, Sr., Revolutionary patriot. Last week’s column recounted his four terms of Revolutionary service, each of three months, making a total time of one year as a soldier.

Patriot John Nicholson had an interesting life after his Revolutionary War experiences.

An article by historian Robert S. Davis, a descendant of Patriot Nicholson, recounts incidents involving John Nicholson, Sr. that took place in a disputed area sometimes known as Old Walton County. He, along with some other settlers, took out a land grant and settled in the area of the French Broad River Valley in Cherokee Indian Territory sometime before 1786. The land grant was possibly a reward for service in the Revolution.

The frontiersmen believed these were western lands belonging to South Carolina. However, that state had the grants annulled and withdrew claims to these “western” settlements. The grantees petitioned Congress for annexation to South Carolina. When their appeals failed, the settlers formed their own government in 1793. The area– much like the State of Franklin in Tennessee that John Sevier had settled–became known as “The Orphan Strip” because it was not claimed by South or North Carolina or Georgia.

In 1798, the Federal Government secured The Orphan Strip officially from the Cherokees, and, believing it to be below the boundary of the 35th parallel separating North Carolina from Georgia, ceded it to Georgia in 1802.

Settlers in The Orphan Strip had kept minutes of their official meetings. These were signed and submitted to Governor John Milledge of Georgia, together with a petition that their settlement be recognized. The Georgia Legislature acted on the Governor’s recommendation, and on December 10, 1803, the “Orphan Strip” became Walton County, named for George Walton who was then the last one living of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, had been a Congressman, and was a former Georgia Governor.

This “old’ Walton County is not to be confused with the present-day Walton County, with Monroe as its capital, founded from a portion of Jackson County on December 15, 1818. The “Old Walton” was right along the North Carolina and Georgia border, and extended over to the South Carolina line.

Elected to represent Walton County in the Georgia Legislature were two citizens, John Nicholson, Sr. and John Akins. The county was described as very mountainous and “inhabited by an orderly and industrious people” numbering about 800. In the state census soon after Walton County was formed, the John Nicholson family was listed with eleven whites in the household.

We may not have read about “The Walton War” in the history books, but it was fought because of the confusion over who owned the Orphan Strip--North Carolina or Georgia. The two states could not agree with reports of the surveying team. Buncombe County claimed the land. The “bandittery” of the area had “taken arms” and were committing “depredations on the honest civil citizens of the county.” The citizens retaliated, and several skirmishes ensued.

John Nicholson himself was taken prisoner and put in jail in the Morgan District. When he came to trial, charges against him were that he refused to accept North Carolina’s claim to the contested Walton County.

In 1807, both the North Carolina and the Georgia Legislatures agreed to a new survey. That team found that Walton County was well above the 35th parallel. But Georgia did not want to relinquish claim so easily and so in 1811 hired a nationally-known surveyor, Andrew Ellicott, to run the disputed line. He found that the line extended even farther south than the 1807 team had determined. John Nicholson, who had served in the Georgia Legislature from Old Walton County in 1806, 1808 and 1809 had to give up his political representation by virtue of finding himself again a citizen of Buncombe County, NC. The “Orphan Strip” became a part of both Buncombe and Transylvania Counties in North Carolina.

In 1820, John Nicholson was enumerated in Buncombe County with his wife (both he and she above 45 years of age), and one son and one daughter, each between 10 and 16.

His next move evidently was to Habersham County, Georgia, where, in 1833, he sold 468 acres of his Buncombe County, NC land for $600 to Benjamin Wilson. A witness to the deed was John Erwin who married Nicholson’s daughter Sarah in 1823.

By 1830, John Nicholson, Sr. was in Hall County, Georgia with his son, John, Jr. (1802-1884). It was while in Hall County he applied for and received a Revolutionary War pension of $40 per year.

As an old man, he moved to Union County, Georgia, although, as we saw in last week’s account, he already owned land and paid taxes in Union in 1850. On March 26, 1855, records show that he applied for bounty lands in Union County available to Revolutionary War veterans. He was then living in the home of his son, Alfred Nicholson (1799-1874, who had married Mary “Polly” Chastain), in the Harmony Grove community, Arkaquah District. From there he went to live with his daughter, Vica Nicholson Akins, near Pleasant Grove, where he died December 10, 1858.

A landed gentleman, a patriot, a legislator, a farmer, a mover-and-shaker of his time, this 96-year old man had lived through almost a century of upheaval and change in America.

So far as is known , his children were: (1) James Nicholson; (2) Mary “Polly” Nicholson (1791-1868) who married Rene Chastain; (3) Walter Nicholson (1795-1859) who married Dorcas Hogsed; (4) Elizabeth “Betty” Nicholson who married Benjamin Burke; (5) William Harrison Nicholson (1797-1864) who married Jane Duckworth and Jane Blocker; (6) Alfred Nicholson (1799-1874) who married Mary “Polly” Chastain; (7) Daughter who married Porter Owenby and moved to Union County; (8) Luvicia Nicholson (1802-?), who married Lewis Akins; (9) John Nicholson, Jr. (1802-1884), who married Elizabeth Allred; and (10) Sarah Nicholson (1803-1882), who married John Erwin.

Genealogists who puzzle over how some of Nicholson’s children were listed on census records as having been born in Georgia and others in South Carolina or North Carolina can now know that it hinged on that Old Walton County dispute as to which state owned the “Orphan Strip.”

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 4, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.