Gen. James Oglethorpe: Visitor In Troup?

Gen. James Oglethorpe: Visitor In Troup?

Forrest Clark Johnson III
LaGrange Daily News, Sept. 25, 1980

Many famous figures in history passed through Troup County and West Georgia in their early years. But local historian Charles Corless has turned up evidence that the most famous visitor of all -- Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe, who founded the colony of Georgia -- may himself have been a visitor to this area. This interesting article was written by Forrest Clark Johnson III, a student of area history.

West Georgia, though not purchased from the Indians until 1825, was not unknown to the Americans or even to the colonists.

We know that trappers and traders crossed through the area. We know too that settlers heading for Alabama had special permits to travel through the Creek lands of West Georgia.

Most of the prominent traders in the Indian country of Georgia were Scottish and usually they married into the Creek aristocracy. Many of their names are still familiar to us today, for instance William Mcintosh and Alexander Grayson. One of the earliest Scots to take up the Indian trade was Lachlan McGillvray, who immigrated to Savannah from Scotland around 1735.

Other men, prominent in American history, also made journeys through West Georgia. Aaron Burr passed through our area on way to his trial in Washington, D.C., in 1807. The Marquis de LaFayette, a French General in the American Revolution, crossed the Chattahoochee near Columbus in 1825. LaFayette remarked that West Georgia resembled his French estate "LaGrange." Colonel Julius Caesar Alford, who accompanied LaFayette, suggested the name "LaGrange" for the county seat of Troup County as a tribute to LaFayette, perhaps inspired by the General's remark.

Recently, a Troup County native and devoted student of local history -- Charles Warren Corless Jr. -- has unearthed evidence that another prominent American historical figure not only traveled in West Georgia, but may have actually passed through what is presently Troup County.

The person in question was Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe, founder of the colony of Georgia in 1733.

One purpose of founding Georgia was to serve as a buffer colony between South Carolina and the hostile Spaniards in the Florida area. The Spanish, and the French at Mobile, attempted to turn the mighty Creek Nation against the English at Savannah. Oglethorpe, therefore, persuaded the Trustees of Georgia that he needed to journey inland and talk with the Creek leaders. He set out in 1739 to confer with the Creeks at their principal town, Cowetau, on the Chattahoochee River, roughly three miles north of pre- sent day Columbus.

Oglethorpe's destination was described by him as, being 500 miles from Frederika. The "History of Macon County" quotes Oglethorpe's diary as saying that the Creeks met him 40 miles from Cowetau. The Macon County chronicle draws a straight line across the State to show how Oglethorpe's journey must have brought him through that county.

However, as Corless points out, the route through Macon County is only about 200 miles, not 500. Corless also reminds us that travel through the wilds of Georgia in 1739 would not follow straight lines.

Instead, it would perhaps follow the line of least resistance. The best route would leave Frederika going northwesterly up the main rivers and then north of present day Atlanta would curve southwesterly down the river flows. Such a journey, as plotted by Corless, is indeed 500 miles.

Additionally, this projected route not only places Oglethorpe in Troup County when he made his trip, but it also means that it was in Troup County where the Creeks met the English General to escort him on the last leg of his expedition.

Further conjecture even projects the most probable site for the initial contact between the Creeks and Oglethorpe.

The major waterway crossed in a north-south traverse of Troup County is Flat Shoals Creek. The only place on Flat Shoals easily forded is near the site of old Troup factory, where the banks slope down to the water's edge. And Troup Factory's site was almost exactly 40 miles from the old Creek town a Cowetau.

Certainly the founder of our State, like Burr and LaFayette, made a trip into West Georgia.

What is most interesting is the prospect that the General may have passed through what is now our own Troup County, about 86 years before the county was created.

Oglethorpe's efforts in 1739 were rewarded.

He out-smarted the Spanish and French and gave the English better relations with the Creeks for many years.

In fact, the Creeks in West Georgia, known as the White Sticks or Lower Creeks, fought with the Georgians in the War of 1812 against their enemies.