Friday, April 18, 2008
Old Walton County
Some people call Transylvania County the "Land of Waterfalls".
Today a place of wild splendor, it was - two hundred years ago - a place of confusion and turmoil.
Remember how the boundaries of early states ran from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Mississippi River? By 1787, South Carolina ceded to the United States government a narrow strip of land between the northern border of Georgia and the southern border of North Carolina.
Over the next decade, 800 people settled in the area. By 1800 they petitioned Congress to have the land turned back to South Carolina, but the South Carolina government wanted no part of the orphan strip that some say gained a reputation for harboring desperadoes and outlaws.
Federal legislation, the 1802 Act of Cession, made Georgia responsible for the territory but did not establish whether the strip belonged to Georgia or North Carolina. Before long, Georgia claimed it and established Walton County, named for George Walton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. (The original Walton County GA, not to be confused with a later Walton County GA, included much of present Transylvania County and parts of Henderson and Jackson Counties.)
Unfortunately, some of the Walton County residents held South Carolina land grants while others held North Carolina grants… resulting in jurisdictional conflicts between leaders of Walton County, GA and Buncombe County, NC.
Walton officials tried to intimidate citizens who favored Buncombe rule in the area. In December 1804 Buncombe constable John Havner was killed by a blow to the head with a musket stock. The Buncombe militia responded with 72 men who marched into Walton County on December 19. They apprehended ten Walton County leaders and took them to Morganton to be tried for Havner’s death. But the prisoners escaped from the jail and were not seen again.
Meanwhile, North Carolina secured a claim to the orphan strip. Eight years after it was established, Walton County, Georgia ceased to exist. Writer Harry McKown would say that was all there was to the legendary "Walton War."
Other writers, not quite so burdened with footnoted sources, tell a different tale. For instance, Richard E. Irby, Jr. describes a December 1810 confrontation, (rather than 1804) in which the Buncombe sympathizers marched into Walton County and removed the leadership:
The major engagement was fought at McGaha Branch about one mile south of present day Brevard near the Wilson Bridge on U.S.Highway 276. The North Carolina Militia killed an unknown number of the Georgians and took about twenty-five prisoners. A second stand was made by the survivors of McGaha Branch at Selica Hill some three miles southwest of Brevard. The Georgians were either shot or taken prisoner. The fate of the prisoners is still uncertain. Sporadic snipping continued for some weeks but the main engagements were over.
Another version of this story, from Carol Greenberger, discusses the subsequent survey to establish the borders of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. In 1811, disgruntled Georgia leaders hired the highly regarded scientist and surveyor Andrew Ellicott to verify the location of the 35th Parallel, the intended demarcation between North Carolina and Georgia:
Ellicott followed the Savannah River north, up the Tugaloo River and then the Chattooga River until he determined by astronomical observations where the true line lay. He marked a rock in the east bank of the Chattooga, now known as Ellicott’s Rock. Ellicott’s survey determined that Georgia had been claiming territory eighteen miles too far north. The legislative commission was unhappy with Ellicott’s findings and refused to pay him. However, Georgia’s governor finally accepted the verdict and said "it appears that no part of the territory heretofore claimed by this state remains in Georgia."
So, the next time you head south from Brevard on US 276, keep in mind that you’ll drive past the bloody battleground of the Walton War.
But then again, maybe you won’t…
[As recently as 1971 Georgia considered reopening a separate dispute about the boundary and the North Carolina legislature “in a jocular mood” mobilized the National Guard to protect the state from usurpers.]