History of Henry County

A Brief History of Henry County

The following record of Henry County's past was originally printed in 1921 as part of the celebration of the county's 100th birthday. With only a 100 year  history, the author's perspective is itself near the origin of the county's birth. This perspective offers a unique look into the past.

Written by
Mrs. R.H. Hankinson



By Mrs. R. H. Hankinson

On May 15, 1921, Henry County will have reached its one-hundredth birthday. In celebration of this event, Henry County will be “At Home” to her children at McDonough on Saturday, May 14th. These children are many, for Henry County at one time embraced, in whole or in part, Spaulding, Dekalb, Fulton, Newton, Butts, Rockdale, Clayton, and Campbell Counties. 

The land obtained from the Creek Indians by treaty on January 8th, was divided by an act of the legislature of May 15, 1821, into the counties of Henry, Houston, Monroe, Dooly, and Fayette. John Clark was the governor of Georgia. The county was named after Patrick Henry, of Revolutionary fame, thus spreading the mantle of distinction on it at its birth. This distinction was further contributed to, when on December 17, 1823, the county seat was incorporated and named in honor of the hero of the war so fresh in the minds and hearts of the people, Commodore McDonough, who on September 11, 1814, won such a brilliant victory over the British on Lake Champlain. Further distinction was given the county by naming the town of Hampton after the Hampton family, famous soldiers of South Carolina. 

Traces of the Indian possession of the county are still found in the broken bits of pottery and arrow heads occasionally picked up, in such names as Indian river, and Indian fisheries, and in a road known as the “Old McIntosh Trail” in Spaulding County, and which was the route followed by the Indians on their pilgrimages to and from the medicinal waters of Indian Springs. 

Originally Henry County was about seventy miles square, and comprised eighteen land districts. It is now about twenty seven miles in length, and fifteen miles in width, and has one district left intact, the Seventh.  

The earliest settlers came mainly from the counties of Morgan, Walton, Putman, and Jasper, and scattered over a broad area. The main point of entrance to the county was at the convergence of two Indian trails at a place on the Ocmulgee river, which was later given the name of Key’s Ferry after one of the earliest settlers, a name which has since spread to a road through the county, and to a street through the county site. This road was part of the stage coach line between McDonough and Madison. The names of the earliest settlers included Glen, Strickland, Heflin, Woodward, Blissett, McClendon, Turner, Harper, Griffin, Grice, Green, Russell, Johnson, Brooks, Jackson, Malone, Weems, Armstrong, Beard, Patillo, McCally, Brown, Sims, Moseley, Abercrombie, Gay, Dearing, Callaway, Jenks. Eason, Kirk, Smith, Tuggle, Lovejoy, Key, Terrell, Shaw, Lasseter, Clayton, Kimbrough, Pearson, Pate, Sellers, Wood, Barnes, Coldwell, McKnight, Patton, Steele, Stokes, Tye, Lemon, Speer, Price Nolan, Copeland, Carmichael, Berry, Ward, Stillwell, Markham, Cox, Wall, Crabbe, Clements, Brannan, Lowe, Campbell, Ray, Everett, Sloan, Stewtra, Peeples, Askew, Nolly, McDonald, Connell, Rodyhan, Terry, Setzer, Maxwell, Darbey, Hale, Goodwin, Pullin, Foster, Tidwell, Fargason, Varner, McDaniel, Bennett, Adams, Atkins, Tomlinson, Murray, Harris, Fears, Stockbridge, Sowell, Whittaker, Raven, and Crumbley. 

Among the very first to come to the county were John Glen, Soloman Strickland and Wiley Heflin who settled on the Towaliga river. Aaron Woodward Elisha Blissit and Thomas McClendon came from Walton County about the same time, and settled on the Hampton road southwest of McDonough. Wade Turner and Roddy Harper went to the eastern part of the county and Mr. Hinton to Cotton Indian river. Mr. Frank Pearson, the progenitor of Mrs. Charles Bankston, of McDonough, settled east of McDonough, as did also William Wood. Thomas Russell came from South Carolina to McDonough. Jethro Barnes settled at Snapping Shoals, Jacob Hinton at Whitehouse, Parker Eason on the Towaliga river. John Dailey came from North Carolina to McDonough. Ezekiel Cloud came from Putnam in 1824. He was a distinguished Revolutionary soldier. Wade Turner came from Jasper County. His brother Allen Turner was a Methodist preacher of prominence, who once came within one vote of being made a bishop. He was so fired with the zeal of his work that he would inquire about the spiritual welfare of everyone he met, and was frequently known to hold prayer services by the roadside with chance passers-by. The Clements family came from Virginia to McDonough. Benjamin and Barton Crabbe came from Wiles County. Samuel Weems settled near Bear creek. Elijah Foster, from whom Mrs. J. B. Dickson is a lineal descendent, came from Virginia and settled near Jonesboro. The Copelands came from South Carolina in 1826. John Stillwell came from Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Dr. Tye accompanied him about 1830. William Berry came in 1836 and settled west of McDonough. John Crockett came in 1840. W. A. Stewart came from South Carolina with his parents in 1833, aged four years. Abel Lemon came from South Carolina to Georgia in 1813, and later entered Henry County. Alexander Price came from Virginia and settled near Flippen. His original home is still in possession of the family. John Cox came to McDonough in 1838, some years after his brother Oliver. John Ward came from Putnam in 1845 and settled at Lovejoy. Q. R. Nolan came in 1846, Miss Pamelia Campbell came in 1848 and settled in McDonough. J. M. Carmichael came in 1849, and settled west of McDonough. Thomas Speer came in 1852. Col. C. T. Zachary in 1854, A. R. Brown in 1873. 

On December 24, 1821, an act was passed by the legislature which provided for the election of five justices of the inferior court who should define the militia districts of the county, provided for the election of the officers for the county site. William Harkins, David Castleberry, Cheedle Cochran, Soloman Strickland, William McKnight, Charles Gates, Sr., and Lee Jeffers were named as commissioners to hold the election for the justices. Henry was placed in the western circuit. The Flint Circuit had been created of the five new counties by the legislative act of December, 1824, to be effective after the next meeting of the legislature. To this circuit Dekalb, Bibb, Pike, Crawford, and Newton were attached later. This first session of the couth was held on June 10, 1822, at the home of William Ruff, Judge Augustus Clayton presiding. It was for Judge Clayton that Clayton County was later named, and McDonough still boasts lineal descendents of the illustrious old founder in the family of Mr. and Mrs. Jullian Weems. This session of court lasted one day. Another one-day session was held on December 9, 1822 – Henry County then belonged to the Flint Circuit. William Harden was clerk, and a Mr. Cook solicitor general pro tem. The first session of the inferior court was held in March, 1825, with William Griffin, Garry Grice, Wade Turner, Joseph Green, and Thomas Russell presiding as justices, and Samuel Johnson serving as clerk. Cheedle Cochran was chairman of the first grand jury.  

The first deed of record was drawn on March 7, 1822, between John and Mary Phillips, of Savannah and Thomas Elkins of land lot No. 71 in the Seventh district of Henry County. The first marriage was that of Bradford Hinton and Patience Lucre in November, 1822. Three marriages took place in the county during that year. 

The first grist mill was erected by Jethro Barnes. Cattle raising was instituted in the county on a comparatively large scale for that day by Mr. Frank Pearson. A comparison of the taxes imposed on the citizens of Henry in that day with those of the present day reveals some interesting figures. Mr. Wade Turner paid taxes on two lots 202 1-2 acres each, four slaves and one poll, which amounted to the sum of $2.43. In 1837 the entire tax of the county $1,309.22, a sum less than some corporations and several individuals of the county now pay. 

Agriculture was the leading pursuit of the early settlers, though corn and tobacco were raised more extensively than cotton because of the difficulty of separating the seed from the lint, and because it was not easy to secure gins. Game abounded throughout the county, and is remembered as being plentiful by even the oldest living citizens. A grog shop on the road near Locust Grove, called attention of passing planters, by a stuffed rattlesnake skin twined over the door, that thirst might be quenched within.  

Religion came to Henry County with the first settlers. The first religious service was held at the home of Wade Turner. The first campground was laid off in the Rowan settlement. William Harden later donated the land for the Shingleroof campground to the Methodist Conference, and services are still held regularly at this place. It was in Henry County at a church in the Turner neighborhood that those differences, which had been existing for some time in men’s minds first, were made public in 1825. These differences culminated in 1835 in Monroe County in a division, the branches of which were later as the Primitive and Missionary Baptist. In December, 1823, one acre was deeded to the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian, each. The denominations carried the title of “Societies.” The act that authorized the making of the deeds carried a provision that no cemetery should be laid off within three hundred yards of the Big Spring. This spring, located in McDonough, supplies water for the city of McDonough today. Mr. Gamble was the first Presbyterian, Mr. Cyrus White the first Baptist, and Mr. Bellah the first Methodist ministers of Henry County.  

Four years later the town was incorporated. Tandy Key, Andrew Brown, William Clayton, James Kimbrough, and William Harden were named commissioners. McDonough was made from one half of lot No. 134, one half of lot No. 123, and one square lot of land, all in the Seventh district and purchased from Mr. Turner Evans. The site of the town was chosen with reference to the Big Spring. A courthouse was built of plank and cost $1,000.00. In 1824, there were five dry goods establishments in McDonough. They were owned by Clayton, Kimbrough, Shaw, Findley, and Hutcheson. There are seven such establishments now. The little daughter of Turner Evans was the first to die in the town, and was buried in the cemetery belonging to the old Presbyterian Church. A second cemetery was chosen on the old Methodist Church lot, but was moved to its present location to get it farther away from the Big Spring. 

The first school was built of logs, and had a dirt floor. It stood on the hill above the Big Spring. The school was conducted by Mr. Fish. On December 12, 1853, a brick school house was built, and was called McDonough Collegiate Seminary. The trustees were Mr. Adam Sloan, Humphrey Tomlinson, Leonard Doyal, Thomas Speer, and Asa Brown. This building was destroyed by fire. The late Mrs. William Healey, of Atlanta, was one of the teachers in this building. She belonged to the Markham family. Mrs. Robert Lowery, of Atlanta is also a descendent of this family. 

The county muster ground was near the present school house, and here the old Revolutionary soldiers met regularly to drill and reunion. 

The first tavern was conducted by Tandy Key on the site occupied by McDonough Drug Company. It was a long house, built double. This was followed by Cox’s tavern. Mrs. Enoch Callaway, of LaGrange, is a lineal descendent of the Cox family.  

Among the early industries were a jug factory near Flippen, a brick plant near McDonough near the Tomlinson residence, an old tannery, opened by W. Tomlinson, and a silk factory, the last named being owned by John Dailey. Silk culture was not a success, and after a period of inoperation started as a cotton factory with one wing used for wool carding. The cotton was made into five pound hanks, and was sold to be knitted into clothing by hand. The factory later became a ginnery, and later a flower and corn mill. This building was washed away, but was rebuilt on the same site. This property is still in possession of the Dailey family. A nursery was also instituted by the Daileys and there are trees in the county now that were bought from this old nursery. Mr. Billy Beck introduced Bermuda grass into the county by way of the old Lemon estate. Mr. Minor started the first newspaper in 1828, the Jacksonian. It is claimed that is was the first newspaper in the United States to put the name of Andrew Jackson in nomination for the presidency. Here again Henry won historical distinction. 

Even before Atlanta was built, McDonough was a town of considerable prominence. The development of the town was retarded because the old citizens and the town council objected to the entrance of the railroads, believing that they would bring with them objectionable features. Serving was actually done by the Central of Georgia Railroad, but because of the violent opposition, it was never built. Later on when railroads came to Griffin and Hampton, many people left McDonough and moved to these towns, tearing down their houses and hauling them with them. 

Henry County lost land on all sides. On December 9, 1822, DeKalb County was made almost entirely from Henry. Fulton County was made from DeKalb in 1853. DeKalb also gave a portion of her land at an earlier date to Campbell County. In 1825 Butts County was created, and embraced a portion of Henry. In November, 1858 Clayton County was formed, and embraced a generous portion of Henry. In 1870 Henry again made a contribution to Rockdale upon the creation of that county. 

At the begging of the Civil War Henry was one of the leading counties in Georgia, and McDonough one of the leading towns in the middle part of the state. It lay in the region of greatest production, and consequently was of great importance to the Confederacy, a fact later attested to by its being included in Sherman’s path of destruction on his way to the sea. The free population at this time was 9,759. The real estate was valued at $1,726,595.00 and the personal property at $2,869,342.00. The population now is $20,400, and the property valuation $7,372,599.00. 

Many companies left Henry County during the Civil War. In all the county contributed about one thousand men to the cause. The first company organized, and the first to leave McDonough was under the command of Captain Flynt. The Lieutenants of the company were H. Stokes, J. R. Selfridge, and John R. Elliott. Captain Sloan led another company later. A part of the actual warfare was rought into the country towards the end of the conflict. After the battle of Atlanta, July 22, 1864, Kilpatrick’s raiders made a visit to Henry under the direction of Sherman. Consternation seized the people. Men concealed themselves to prevent capture, and the women and children received the invaders and saw their cherished possessions thrown about in confusion, and their provisions destroyed at this time by the invaders. Many of the county records were also destroyed at this time by the invaders. Confederate forces under the command of General Ross and General Ferguson pursued these invaders, and overtook the last remnant of them to Cotton Indian river on Peachstone Shoals road. By leaving them no alternative, they forced them into the water where horses and wagons were lost and a number of soldiers were drowned. 

Later Hood’s Army with Wheeler’s cavalry as advance guard, made a visit to Henry County and McDonough, and lighted the night with camp fires of twenty thousand soldiers. The battle of Jonesboro was fought next day, and the army moved on into Tennessee to threaten Sherman’s line of supplies. On November 14, 1864, a wing of Sherman’s army started to the sea by way of Jonesboro and McDonough. On the next day fighting took place between Jonesboro and Lovejoy. On November 16th, the enemy reached McDonough by way of Stockbridge, and left confusion and destruction in their wake. Here the army divided, a part leaving the county by the Macon road, and the other division leaving by the Key’s Ferry road. A portion lost their way going down Peachstone Shoals road. Heavy rains came up, the river was flooded, and a number lost their lives in truing to cross. Names of prominence during this period were Sloan, Zachry, Ward, Hitch, Brown, Peeples, Elliot, and Farrar. After the surrender of Lee, General Stoneman entered the county with a body of soldiers in pursuit of President Davis. 

During the period of Reconstruction, James Johnson was the provisional governor of Georgia. One of the features of this period most objectionable to the people of Henry County was the educational policy. The school system was directly under the control of the state. In 1872 the county system was again inaugurated, with Hon. Q. R. Nolan as first superintendent. In April, 1875, a resolution was passed by the grand jury that no more teachers should be elected from the colored schools of Atlanta because of objectionable teachings that had been traced to such teachers. A little later a gin and corn meal, the Baptist Church, and the McDonough Institute were burned. Out of such emergency the Ku Klux Klan was born. Its operations were confined principally to the eastern part of the county. Dave Fargason, a negro was killed. Those charged with the killing were arrested and imprisoned. The matter was adjusted by the Bureau Agent from Henry County, the appointment of Mr. George M. Nolan to the position, the turning over of the prisoners to the civil authorities of Henry County, and the promise of dissolution of the Ku Klux Klan in the county. The clan had existed from spring until fall of 1866.  

Two chapters of the United daughters of the Confederacy have been organized in Henry County to preserve the history of this period and to do honor to the living, and keep bright the memory of the Heroes in Gray who have passed.  

Since the war and the period of Reconstruction, Henry County has made steady progress. Henry is one of the most important agricultural counties of the state. The land is rich and productive, and is the farming is largely intelligent white farmers who live on the farms and look after their own work. Vegetables, fruits, grains, forage crops, and cotton are raised. The soil is particularly adaptive to the raising of cotton. A belt reaching from Stockbridge to the lower end of the county, and stretching entirely across, produces, according to local cotton men, a staple from an inch to an inch in quarter in length. McDonough cotton is known not only in domestic markets, but in foreign markets as well; and it demands a premium over other north Georgia cotton. The average yield for the county is between 25 to 30 thousand bales. The yield last year was about 28,000 bales. This fact establishes the productiveness of the county, for while other counties were cut short, Henry still produced a splendid yield. 

The lack of manufacturing enterprises has been one of the serious handicaps to the county. However, advances have been made in this direction. The Hampton Cotton and Knitting Mill is a splendid enterprise, and particularly consumes all the cotton brought into the market. A guano factory has also been established at Hampton, which is meeting, if not shutting out, foreign competition.  

A drainage project near Stockbridge is increasing the cultivatable area by hundreds of acres, and adding materially to the wealth of the county. A main canal sixteen miles in length, beginning at a width of 25 feet, and increasing to 42 feet, and eight feet deep, is being dug at a cost of $100,000.00. The Morris Construction Co., of Marietta, is in charge, and are using two dredges in the construction of the ditch. Pates creek, Rum creek, and Big Indian creek are in the line of activity. 

One of the recently acquired industries is the Grist Mill and Ice Factory of McDonough, managed by Mr. Fred Varner, and known as the Henry County Milling and Ice Company. 

There is considerable water power in the county, most of which up to date has remained undeveloped. Dr. J. G. Smith has built a dam on Cotton Indian river completed about a year ago, which supplies power for lights and other purposes for McDonough and vicinity. 

Henry County has had local tax for a number of years, and its rural schools are in good condition. Recently $1,500.00 state aid has been secured for a county high school for next year, adding to the importance and the efficiency of the McDonough school. Locust Grove Institute is one of the most important secondary schools of the state. Prof. Claude Gary has patronage from all sections of the state. Locust Grove Institute is regarded not only as a fine institution, but as a school of splendid ideals. 

Henry County does not lie in a mineral belt, however, mica has been found, and development has been begun on a farm by Mr. Fillmore Bowden. A rock quarry near Stockbridge produces an excellent quality of gray granite. 

Henry County has eight banks with resources amounting to one and three-quarter million dollars. 

Henry County played her part in the World War by sending volunteers and filling her quota in the draft. A number of her sons rose to positions of rank, and seven made the supreme sacrifice. They were Sergeant Troy Barret, Claude Babb, Corp. James A. Davis, Corp. Tom F. Gardner, William Mayo, B. F. Moseley, E. N. Williams.  

The Red Cross was particularly active, and the spirit of patriotism was maintained by the subscriptions to the Liberty loans. 

There are in Henry County five branches of the Georgia Federation of Women’s Clubs and four men’s organizations – Masons, Oddfellows, Woodmen, and Knights of Pythias.  

The Southern Railroad, which came in 1882, passes through the entire length of the county, and offers splendid schedules between Macon and Atlanta. This road was formerly called the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia railroad. This road had been surveyed through Jasper County. Mr. W. F. Smith, of Flovilla, in order to have the road pass through his town, with the assistance of Mr. Nolan, of McDonough, brought such pressure to bear on the officials of the road, that its course was diverted from the route originally proposed, to the present one, which passes through Henry County. Later another road was built connecting Columbus and McDonough. This road is now a part of the Southern system. 

The roads of Henry County have gradually been improved until they are now in fairly good condition. Under the present arrangement of co-operation between state and national governments, the Dixie Highway, which passes through the county, has been put into excellent shape. 

With lands that are fertile and productive, with an intelligent and industrious citizenship, the county’s growth and prosperity are assured.


By Mrs. R. H. Hankinson 


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Created by Scott Rowan    Copyright (c) June 01, 2000.  All Rights Reserved.