Early History of Harris County
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.
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 a 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 live at the hands of hostile Upper Creeks.
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. His Viatory records the first known journey throughout
the Valley and located Indian villages along the river He frequently described the land
and villages skirting 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
On the twenty-fourth day of December, 1827, the Legislature
handed to the people of the section a Christmas present in the form of a new county.
The act of December 24, 1827, which 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.
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 1788 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 (d. 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.