Valdosta Daily Times

March 30, 2014

Early Settlers: Creating the population of Lowndes County

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

- — If you want to go back to the true beginning of Valdosta and Lowndes County, then you have to go back a few hundred years. Before the county was even established, the area played host to Timucua, Hitchitee, Seminoles and Creek tribes, with different tribes living here at different points. Mostly, the area was used as a hunting ground.

In the 17th century, what would become modern-day Lowndes County was part of Spain’s Florida colony and Spain built a series of missions from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. One of those missions was the mission of Santa Maria do los Angeles de Arapajo, probably located along the Alapaha River.

At the time, Spain and Great Britain were both contending for the allegiance of Indian tribes. Spanish soldiers harassed English traders coming through the area, eventually leading to a retaliatory attack by the English on their missions.

In the decades following the attacks, the rise of James Olgethorpe’s Savannah colony and the establishment of a trading post on the St. Marys River led to more hunters and more traders coming through the area. The decades saw numerous treaties, slowly taking land away from Georgia Indian tribes as well as a band of Indians setting up and living in a town of 80 homes within the Lowndes County area.

After Irwin County was established in 1818, the first major thoroughfare for settlers in south Georgia was commissioned by the state in 1822. Gen. John Coffee and the militia cut Coffee Road from Jacksonville in Telfair County all the way to Duncansville in Thomas County, clearing a path wide enough to allow one wagon through at a time.

That’s when Sion Hall, who had been living in Irwin County since at least 1820, realized the kind of opportunity presented by a new thoroughfare Along with his 16-year-old son, Enoch, Hall rambled along Coffee Road, settling on a spot about two miles north of present-day Morven.

After breaking down their sawmill and transporting it along with their belongings, their family and the enslaved, Hall built a store in the pine thicket across  from his house. This was the start of the first commercial enterprise in the county, with Hall’s store serving newcomers, travelers and cattle drovers.

With wagons constantly on the roads bringing in products, Hall stocked his shelves with calicos, nails, salt, coffee, shoes, combs, gin, rum, sugar, even a fancy shawl and a fancy hat or two. He traded for hides, tallow and beeswax, along with other unspecified items.

Sion and Enoch ran their stores for several years before selling out to Hamilton W. Sharpe who had been clerking in the store for a time.

Enoch went into the real-estate business, buying and selling land across Lowndes County as well as south and middle Georgia, investing in other enterprises along the way.

Settlers came into Lowndes County through Coffee Road and the waterways.

The Jennings family came through while lending the family name to Jennings, Fla.

The new settlers arrived to extensive forests of pine and oak, long stretches of wiregrass and a plethora of lakes to the south.

Pine trees had to be felled for crops to be planted and settlers searched for the best soil and grazing lands. Some, like John Langdale, let their herds roam freely until finding sufficient grazing.

Other pioneers, like Capt. Stephen Martin, moved to the area with nothing but the horse they rode in on. For Martin, he slowly built his way to owning and running a farm, buying land in Grand Bay and living there as he raised his grandson, Stephen.

To build a homestead, pioneers usually fashioned a one-room house or a double log house. They constructed chimneys of stones or sticks held together by mud.

While the settlers raised more cattle than anything else, they also raised other animals like sheep and goats, while searching the woods for hogs.

As fields were exhausted, farmers moved deeper into the woods, looking for fresh land.

A local government was established with elected officials.

A large group of Protestants came to Lowndes County from Salzberg, Germany, where the Catholic ruler didn’t allow them to worship openly. They settled into Ebenezer, slowly making their way down to Lowndes over the years.

They were part of an exponentially growing population. In 1820, Irwin County held 411 inhabitants. In the first census of Lowndes County in 1830, there was a population of 2,453. There was a wide age range, but a fairly even distribution of gender.

Lowndes County had been created five years earlier in 1825 by the Georgia Assembly, decreeing that districts 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15 and 16 of Irwin County would be renamed Lowndes. Named for a congressman from South Carolina, Lowndes County was in constant conflict with Indian tribes for its first 15 years. Relations eventually deteriorated to the point where a force of military men and local volunteers “ran the Indians out of Georgia.”

A city was formed, Troupville, named for Governor Troup. In time, the county seat was moved to meet the railroad that was being run through Lowndes. Wishing to keep the connection to Troup, the decision was made to name the new seat for one of Troup’s plantations, Val d’Aosta.

Valdosta was incorporated in time for the 1860 election that saw Reuben Thomason Roberts become the first mayor. From there, Valdosta grew, only to be stymied, like many Southern towns, with the start of the Civil War.

Sources used: “Valdosta and Lowndes County: A Ray in the Sunbelt” by Louis Schmier, “Pines and Pioneers: A History of Lowndes County, Georgia 1825-1900” by Jane Twitty Shelton, “History of Lowndes County Georgia 1825-1941” and the staff of the Lowndes County Historical Society.