Google+ Georgia On My Mind: Surprising History in Washington County

Monday, July 15, 2013

Surprising History in Washington County

If you check basic records spanning across the 237 year history of the United States you discover time after time counties, cities, buildings, bodies of water, people, and even a state have been named for our first president, George Washington including our own Washington County located in the eastern central part of the state.

Taking a closer look, however, you discover that Washington County, Georgia was named for General George Washington in 1784 - five years before he became president.

Georgia's Washington County is the only county in the United States that solely honors Washington's service as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

It does make sense when it is realized that the county, per the Washington County Historical Society, was formed for the express purpose of issuing bounty land grants to Revolutionary War soldiers such as Jared Irwin who not only reached the rank of colonel  during the American Revolution but was also elected governor of Georgia in 1796 and 1806.

Bounty land grants were given to soldiers for services rendered - basically free land for military service.

In 1784, Washington County covered a much larger area than it does today. It was created from Creek Indian Land cessions of November 1, 1783 and was the 10th county formed in the state. The counties of Greene, Hancock, Johnson, Treutlen, Montgomery, Toombs, Tattnall, Evans and portions of Long, Liberty, Candler, Emmanuel, Jefferson, Baldwin, Taliaferro, Oconee and Oglethorpe counties.

The first county seat was at Warthen where today you can find the restored jail seen in an older picture below. It is considered to be the oldest log jail in the state today.

Per Georgia's DNR website for Georgia's State Parks, the jail's most famous occupant was Aaron Burr, third Vice-President of the United States. In 1807, he had been arrested in Mississippi for treason against the United States and was being carried to Richmond, Virginia to stand trial. They reached Warthen at dusk, so Burr spent the night in the little jail while the officers in charge were entertained in the home of Richard Warthen, one of the original recipients of the bounty land grants mentioned above.

By 1796, the county seat had been moved to Sandersville. A courthouse was built, but it was lost in a fire that took most of the town in 1855. A new brick courthouse was constructed a year later.

It is said during the Civil War that Washington County sent more soldiers to serve the Confederate cause than any other. Fifteen different companies were organized there.

Towards the end of the Civil War the 1856 courthouse was burned by the Union. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the Confederates had fired upon advancing  Union troops from the upper floors of the building.

Yet another courthouse was built in 1869 and still stands today. Additions to this courthouse seen below were added in 1899 and 1939. Renovations and rehabilitations were done in the early 1970s and in 1987.

Photo of the old jail via Virtual Vault of Georgia
Photo of the 1896 courthouse via Georgia Info

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