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WILKES COUNTY, GEORGIA

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 The Story of Washington-Wilkes

Compiles and Written by Workers of the Writers'

Program of the Work Projects

Administration

in the State of Georgia

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Submitted by Christina Palmer

 

Points of Interest in Environs

 

SMYRNA CHURCH YARD, 6m. SE. of Washington on State 47, is one of the oldest burial grounds in Wilkes County. Here dimly inscribed tombstones and unmarked graves lie beneath large oaks, dark cedars,, and glossy-leaved magnolias, some entwined by lavender wisteria and native smilax; individual lots are designed by crumbling stone waslls and rusty iron fences. Among those interred in the old cemetery are John Talbot, an early settler; his son Matthew, governor of Georgia in 1819; Colonel David Creswell and Major Francis Triplett, officers of the American Revolution; Samuel Barnett, cashier of the Georgia State Branch Bank in Washington; and Colonel William Jones, a veteran of the War of 1812. The cemetery was laid out in 1788, when John Talbot gave two ares to establish a Presbyterian Church, the first church of that denomination to be built in Wilkes County. The congregation grew until 1825 when a Presbyterian church was erected in Washington. Afterward, so many members went to town for worship that the property was given over to the use of Methodists. The white clapboard church, built in 1910, is the third to be erected on the site.

            John Talbot spent most of his life in Virginia, where he prospered and became a member of the House of Burgess that signed the Virginia Declaration of Rights, proclaiming independence three weeks before the American Declaration of Independence was adopted. After coming to Georgia he built in 1785 the first house other than pioneer log cabins. Having brought with him slaves, fine furniture, and books, he was considered very wealthy by the early citizens. Several of his books are now on the reference shelf of the Mary Willis Library.

            From State 47 is a view of GRAVES MOUNTAIN, a small elevation in adjoining Lincoln County. The site is a favorite picnic ground for young people of Washington-Wilkes, who climb to the summit and drink the cool water form a spring at the base. A noted New York jewelry company formerly obtained from the mountain the rutile it used in

 

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Polishing gems and fine gold. This elevation was named for Colonel John Graves, a Revolutionary officer, who made his home near by.

            MOUNT PLEASANT (private), 7m. SE. of Washington on State 47, is the plantation given by John Talbot to his son Thomas. The house, built in 1790, is a two-story, white frame structure with blue green window shutters and four end chimneys. The original entrance stoop has been replaced by low-roofed font porch extending across the entire front. Details of the interior are wide plank floors and ceilings, high wainscots, heavy paneled doors, and large fireplaces with unusually high mantels. The house was occupied by the Talbot family until 1857, when the farm was bought by Thomas P. Burdette, father of the present owner (1941), J.L. Burdette.

            Wishing to have a school principally for his own children, Burdette built a small schoolhouse on his plantation in 1868 and secured the services of his nephew, Thomas J. Beck, as teacher. The school received so many applications from outside pupils that Burdette soon opened his home as a dormitory and enlarged the school building. The institution, known as the Burdette Academy, was the outstanding school of the county for the seven years of Beck’s administration and prepared students for the junior class of the University of Georgia. Mrs. Beck taught music. Commencement exercises on a stage in front of a large brush arbor attracted great crowds of visitors, who were served barbecue dinner and supper. Public oral examinations during the day were followed by “exhibition” of speeches, songs, and piano music at night.

            To the left of the house is ELI WHITNEY’S WORKSHOP, where the inventor spent a few months perfecting his cotton gin. The cabin, built of hand-hewn logs, has paneled doors dung by large, home-made iron hinges. On the narrow window frames are scars made by iron bars that once guaranteed Whitney his privacy. The building was constructed in 1795 and stood new Upton Creek on the adjoining Miller and Whitney Plantation of 822 acres until 1810, when the land was bought by Wilkes Manufacturing Company as the site of a textile mill. Thomas Talbot then bought the shop and moved it to his own farm, where the structure was used as a kitchen for many years.

            After making the first model of his gin in 1793 at Mulberry Grove, General Nathanael Greene’s plantation near Savannah, Whitney formed a partnership with Phineas Miller, the tutor of the general’s children. These two men planned to obtain a patent, buy cotton, gin it, and sell

 

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the lint. When news of the machine spread rapidly, multitudes gathered to see the marvelous invention. Determined to his partner from the prying eyes of others trying to fashion a similar instrument, Miller later bought the plantation on Upton Creek, where he sent Whitney to perfect his machine. On that land, this workshop was built, the “Engine” was perfected, and the first gin not propelled by hand power was set in operation. The machine was driven by the swift water of Upton Creek.

            Despite the greatest precaution, many would-be inventors learned of Whitney’s shop and went to see the invention. The men, who were not allowed to enter, peeped through the iron grating of the windows, but they could only see the cotton flying from the gin. Believing that women were incapable of understanding machines, Whitney often allowed groups of them to see his own in operation. There is a story that Edward Lyon, disguised as a woman, learned the secret and described the process to his brother, John. Thereupon John Lyon perfected a machine of his own and Whitney meanwhile began to manufacture their “engines” which they allowed farmers to use for 33 1/3 per cent toll. Many Georgia farmers, angered by such a monopolistic policy bought their gins from others who made used of Whitney’s ideas. Although the inventor received a paptent in 1794, he was involved in infringement suits until 1807, when his priority was firmly established.

            Recently J.L. Burdette discovered an early model of Whitney’s gin in a old attic on a near-by plantation. This machine, which was operated by hand, has a circular drum with inserted wires to pull the cotton link from the seed. The use of revolving saws, found in gins today, was a later improvement.

            The ABRAHAM SIMNS HOUSE, 9m. SE. of Washington on the dirt Old Augusta Road, is a two-story clapboard structure, now very dilapidated. Its outside chimneys are constructed of slave-made bricks, and its window shutters and heavy paneled doors are hung by large hand-wrought iron hinges. There are two front doorways, for the house is different in plan from most old residences in Georgia. Since there is no central hallway, one entrance leads directly into the dining room on he left, while the other door opens into the bedroom on the right .Near the rear of the house and accessible from both sides by means of short flights of steps is a steep stairway that rises between rooms to the second floor with its large ballroom and smaller bedrooms. Evidence

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of former elaborate decorations can still be seen in the dining room where fragments of ornate wallpaper depict English hunting scenes and in both the dining room and ballroom were dilapidated but still handsome moldings extend several inches form the low ceiling.

            The house was built in the 1790’s by Captain Abraham Simons, a Jewish officer who fought in the Battle of Kettle Creek and had moved to Wilkes County after the Revolution.   Here he obtained a large tract of land and became a wealthy planter and horse breeder, so highly respected in the community that he was once time elected to represent Wilkes County in the state legislature. A lover of fine horses, he raised what were considered the best in the section and joined both the Augusta and the Washington Jockey Club. On his private track were trained many racers which were entered in the contests of the Washington Jockey Club, held the first Wednesday of each March. Simons was also known throughout the county for the four white horses he always kept to draw his handsome carriages.

            In 1798 Simons married Nancy Mills, whose family served prominently in the Smyrna Presbyterian Church. Though an Israelite, he frequently accompanied her worship and entertained the officials of that organization. Three years after Simons’ death in 1824, his widow married Jesse Mercer, the Baptist Clergyman, who efficiently took over the management of the large fortune bequeathed to her by her first husband. The two made a liberal contribution to the Georgia Baptist Convention to aid in the establishment of the school that was named after Mercer’s honor. Acting with the approval of his wife before her death in 1833, Mercer later willed the residue of the estate to form the nucleus of an endowment for the institution, by that time called Mercer University.

            On the top of the hill beyond the house is the GRAVE OF ABRAHAM SIMONS, surrounded by a high rock wall and reached by means of a heavy iron gate. At his request he was buried standing erect with his musket at his side; if he should meet the devil, he would the be prepared to shoot the demon. The grave has been marked by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

 

 
 

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