ECLECTIC PAST GIVES BIRTH TO HISTORIC PRESENT
Home to the ancestors of the Creek Indians and named for noted Savannah lawyer and mayor Charles Harris, Harris County was created from Muscogee and Troup counties in 1827 by an act of the state General Assembly. Hamilton was incorporated and designated county seat in 1828.
Harris County has a wealth of significant historic structures, ranging from pre-antebellum to high Victorian. The Harris County Courthouse, Duke Log House, Hamilton Baptist Church, Sweet Home Plantation and Callaway home are among the Harris County buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The historic Mountain Hill Schoolhouse off Highway 219 in west Harris County was a restoration project taken on by a citizen-led group. The school was where the legendary Chet Atkins — guitar player and innovator of the “Nashville” sound in country music — attended school and first performed. Facing the demolition of this historic building, the group raised government-matched funds to restore the building.
All of these historic places help keep the Southern culture of Harris County alive.
Mountain tops for the ages
The surrounding geology of Harris County holds a unique place in Earth’s history. Pine Mountain Ridge and Oak Mountain Ridge, which start near the Chattahoochee River on the west and run east to the Flint River, are theorized to be among the oldest mountains in the world.
Long before Harris County came into existence, the region played an important part in Indian Affairs, and consequently, in the affairs of the English, Spanish and French Colonies. The Indians, whose origin is lost in antiquity, held unmolested sway over the lands.
Just across the river was Coseta, or Coweta Town, the capital of the Creek confederation to which white traders had found their way before the establishment of the colony of Georgia.
Also across the river, farther north, lay Oakfuskee, one of the centers of trade that the upper Creek Indians commanded.
The trail of Oakfuskee definitely passed through the area now called Harris County. Weaving an interesting pattern of topographical significance, the path also cut its way in and out of the present boundaries of several adjoining counties. Dr. John H. Goff marked the trade route in Harris.
A life lost gives birth to new settlement
From 1725-1728 the rivalry between the English and Spanish for control of the region had developed to fever pitch. By 1739, reports of Spanish intrigue and Creek discontent had reached such a state that Oglethorpe felt constrained to make his way across the vast wilderness to Coweta in order to bring about amicable agreement with the assembled Estates of the Creek Nation.
The Indians were overjoyed at his arrival and straightway made a regular act in council, granting the Sea Islands and the territory between Savannah and the Altamaha Rivers to the Trustees of Georgia. The treaty was an important one for the peaceful development of the colony, and one historian states that “such diplomacy was more than that of Europeans monarchs.”
From this land of the Creeks came such picturesque and important figures as Mary Musgrove, Alexander McGillivary, and William McIntosh. McIntosh, a half-breed Creek, played and important part in the affairs of Georgia. The son of a British Army officer and a cousin of Governor George M. Troup, McIntosh rose from obscurity and became the leader of the Lower Creeks. For remaining friendly to the Americans during the War of 1812, he was awarded the rank of Brigadier General in the United States Army. During 1817-1818, he served in the campaign against the Seminole, a tribe related to the Creeks.
The greatest service of McIntosh to Georgia was his influence in getting the Lower Creeks to assent to the famous treaty of Indian Springs in 1825, which opened for settlement the lane which became Muscogee County and later a part of Harris County. This action cost McIntosh his life at the hands of hostile Upper Creeks.
Christmas Eve 1827 sees a new county arise
Benjamin Hawkins, Carolinian commissioned by President Washington (in 1796) as Principal Temporary Agent for Indian Affairs and by President Jefferson a Permanent Agent, came to the Chattahoochee Valley in 1798. Beloved by Indians and respected by traders, he kept a record called a “Viatory of Journal of Distances and Observations.”
Traveling along the west banks of the Chattahoochee from the river towns below the site of Columbus, Georgia, he went northward on the Alabama side until he crossed into Troup County. He records the first known journey throughout the Valley and located Indian villages along the river. Of lands within view of the river at Moore’s Creek on both sides (thus including Harris County), he said, “They are stiff, gravelly and broken, fit for culture. The growth is a mixture of post and red oak, hickory and pine.” He wrote that slightly northward, near the Harris-Troup line, there were lands bereft of trees by hurricanes (at least five hurricane spots in various direction and some years difference from each other) as poor and gravelly.
Georgians had long been impatient for the United States government to fulfill its pledge of 1802 and remove the Indians from the state. Planters were eager to take up the new lands and turn up the new lands and turn them to cotton production. By the Treaty of Indian Springs, the lands were ceded to Georgia. The Creeks themselves retired across the Chattahoochee River into Alabama, there to remain for a decade a constant menace, real and imaginary, on the other side. Only the Cherokee Indians remained, and the question of their removal furnished Georgia an exciting problem until 1835.
On December 24, 1827, the Legislature handed to the people of the section a Christmas present in the form of a new county. The act that created the county of Harris was signed by Irby Hudson, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Thomas Stocks, President of the Senate. It was assented to by John Forsythe, Governor.
Famed Savannah lawyer becomes Harris namesake
It was an act for the division of the late acquired counties of Carroll, Troup, Muscogee and Lee into counties of proper shape and size. Section 3 of the act reads, to wit: beginning at the southeast corner of lot number one hundred and ten, in the second of Troup, thence a straight line to the northeast corn of lot number two hundred and ninety-four, in the twenty-second district, then west on the district line of ten and seventeen and nine and eighteen, along the same to the Chattahoochee, thence up the Chattahoochee River, sixty, the southwest corner of fraction a straight line to the beginning, shall form a county known as Harris (in memory of Charles Harris of the city of Savannah).
Charles Harris, distinguished Savannah lawyer who died about the time the County was laid off, was the son of William Harris, barrister, first cousin of Lord Malmesbury and of an excellent family in England, Charles Dymock. Charles Harris was born in England in 1772, and after receiving his early education in France, came as a youth of sixteen in 1778 to Savannah, Georgia.
He studied law in the office of Samuel Stirk, a leader of the profession in that year and day, and gained reputation almost from his entry into the profession. Time and time again he refused appointment or election to exalted positions because such would interfere with his domestic life.
The loss of his wife, Catherine (died May 25, 1815, age 36), daughter of General Lachlan McIntosh, and his own ill health caused him to go into close retirement. He died on March 13, 1827, lamented by the entire population of Savannah, accounted by many men as the best lawyer in Georgia.
He is buried in the old Colonial Cemetery in Savannah, by his wife, their infant son, McIntosh, their five-year-old daughter, Catherine Virginia, and his father-in law.