A Grateful People: An Historical Account of the Founding of a Community

A Grateful People: An Historical Account of the Founding of a Community

by Willie Marie Porter


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ISBN-13: 9781491705247
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 12/17/2013
Pages: 194
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.45(d)

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A Grateful People

An Historical Account of the Founding of a Community

By Willie Marie Porter

iUniverse LLC

Copyright © 2013 Willie Marie Porter
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4917-0524-7


Facts about Stewart County and Early History

The history of early Georgia and consequently the history of Stewart County are, to a large degree, the history of the Creek Indians. For most of Georgia's colonial period, Creeks outnumbered both Europeans colonists and enslaved Africans. They also occupied more lands than these newcomers. Not until the 1760s did the Creeks become a minority population in Georgia. They ceded the balance of their lands to Georgia in the 1800s.

The area now known as Stewart County was inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years in the Pre-Columbian Period. Roods Landing Site on the Chattahoochee River is a significant archaeological site located south of Omaha. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it includes major earthwork mounds built about 1100-1350 AD by peoples of the sophisticated Mississippian culture.

The first Europeans to encounter the Native Americans were Spanish explorers in the mid-sixteenth century. At that time, the historical Creek tribe inhabited the area, and they maintained their territory until after European American settlers arrived in increasing numbers in the early decades of the nineteenth century. In the 1830s, due to conflicts between the early settlers and the Indians, the federal government via Indian removal forced most of the Creek to relocate west of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma.

One conflict between the early residents of Stewart County and the Creek occurred on May 15, 1836, as Creek warriors crossed the Chattahoochee River from Alabama and attacked the town of Roanoke, Georgia. The citizens were caught unprepared. Many fled to Lumpkin and Columbus. The attack was led by Creek war leader Jim Henry and two hundred to three hundred Creek warriors. The town was taken by complete surprise and the Georgia militia could not set up a defense fast enough to save the town. The Indians burned plantations and carried off Negro slaves. As I write the Green Grove story, I am curious to know to what extent my own ancestry relates to the Creek Indians. Family members were often told that my maternal grandfather, John Hubbard, was part Indian. It was also interesting to find out that the Creek Indians took slaves as they raided the early settlers of Stewart County. There was a relationship carved out of desperation and need between the Creeks and the Negro slaves.

Under the European Americans, Stewart County was created by an act of the Georgia General Assembly on December 23, 1830, from land that had been part of Randolph County, Georgia. The county is named for Daniel Stewart, a Revolutionary War veteran, fighter against American Indians, and great-grandfather of US President Theodore Roosevelt.

White settlers developed the area as large cotton plantations, part of the "Black Belt" of Georgia and the Deep South. Although the term originally described the prairies and dark soil of central Alabama and northeast Mississippi, it has long been used to describe a broad agricultural region in the American South characterized by a history of plantation agriculture and a high percentage of African Americans in the population.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, as many as one million enslaved African Americans were taken there in a forced migration to work as laborers for the region's cotton plantation owners. After having lived for several generations in the area, many stayed as rural workers, tenant farmers, and sharecroppers after the American Civil War and emancipation.

Before the Civil War, planters depended on enslaved labor to cultivate and process the cotton for market. In 1850, Stewart County reached its peak in wealth as one of the largest cotton producers in the state. It had the tenth-largest population of any county, with 16,027 people; of these, 7,373 were enslaved. By 1860, the population had declined to 13,422. Kinchafoonee (later Webster County) and Quitman County had been created from Stewart County territory in 1853 and 1858 respectively. There were 5,534 slaves in the redefined Stewart County.

After the war and emancipation, cotton continued as a major commodity crop but began to progressively decline. Stewart County lost its premier position when it was bypassed by developing railroads which went north and south. It did not have railroad access until 1885.

Inappropriate farming practices and over cultivation of cotton from before the Civil War led to extensive land erosion by the early twentieth century, with accompanying population losses. Up to the twentieth century, many blacks left the area in waves of the Great Migration, seeking jobs and better lives in northern and Midwestern industrial cities. Farmers shifted to cultivating peanuts and later pine trees to reclaim and restore the land. Population losses continued throughout the twentieth century, as the forest and lumber industries did not require as many laborers

In 1965, some of the towns in Stewart County began to redevelop historic properties to attract tourists and expand the economy. Lumpkin, Omaha, and Louvale all had relatively intact historic properties and commercial districts. Green Grove, the historic African American community, established after the Civil War, is the primary subject of this book. Stewart County was the first rural county in Georgia to use historic preservation and main street redevelopment to support historic tourism.

Stewart County Quick Facts from the US Census Bureau showed the number of households from 2007 to 2011 as 2,183. The racial makeup of the county at 2011 was 46 percent white persons and 50.9 percent black persons with American Indians, Asians, and Hispanics making up the remaining 3.1 percent.

Stewart County is located in southwest Georgia, just south of the fall line. Its county seat is Lumpkin, Georgia, located thirty-five miles south of Columbus, Georgia, and sixty-five miles northwest of Albany, Georgia. There exist many buildings from the 1800s in Stewart County that needed to be preserved, fostering an appreciation of history from those who had their beginnings in Stewart County especially. Consequently, preservation has become an important movement in Stewart County. As mentioned earlier, 1965 saw productive efforts to restore historic buildings, thereby embarking on historic tourism as a viable component of a much-needed reenergized economic engine.

A group was formed to restore a stagecoach hotel. The inn, built about 1836 in Lumpkin, Georgia, by Dr. Bryan Bedingfield, served as a family residence as well as a stopping place for stagecoaches and other travelers. Dr. Bedingfield was the first physician in Stewart County; his son, Dr. Samuel Bedingfield, who grew up in the inn, was the first white male child born in Stewart County. The restoration of the 1836 Bedingfield Inn, on Lumpkin's courthouse square, became the first small-town community preservation project in Georgia. Today, the Bedingfield Inn has been transformed to one of the great house museums of the South.

The citizens hoped to attract tourists to the county; this marked the beginning of Heritage Tourism in rural Georgia.

The early success of the inn restoration caused the same group to establish a living-history museum known as Westville. It is a simulated village of 1850, comprising actual historic buildings of Georgia.

More historic and natural attractions followed the example of Westville. Providence Canyon, designated a state park in 1971, is a series of erosion gullies on 1,003 acres of land, but the multicolored 150-foot-deep "canyons" attracted tourist and media attention throughout the twentieth century.

In approximately 900 AD, the Mississippian culture in Stewart County left major architectural features.

Two of Georgia's six largest mound sites in Stewart County are Roods and Singer-Moye Mounds.

Other important preservation efforts have been initiated by the Historic Chattahoochee Commission. Organized in 1970, the HCC is charged with the responsibility of promoting tourism and historic preservation. In 1970, it became the nation's first and only "bi-state heritage tourism agency." One other organization worth mentioning is the Lower Chattahoochee RDC, which took interest in the Stewart County area. It includes eighteen counties: eleven in Georgia and seven in Alabama.

The largest city in Stewart County is Richland. It is located nine miles east of Lumpkin and twenty-seven miles west of Americus.

Lumpkin was established on March 30, 1829. It was named for Governor Wilson Lumpkin. Atlanta was almost named Lumpkin, but Governor Wilson declined to name it Lumpkin. He suggested that it be named Marthaville, for his daughter—and it was for a while. Lumpkin was incorporated and designated the county seat in December 1830.

The first house in Lumpkin was built in August 1830. In 1836, the town had more than thirty dwellings. There were fourteen stores, three confectioneries, three taverns, a Methodist and a Baptist church, a men's academy, a courthouse, one blacksmith shop, three lawyers, and three doctors.

The north, south, and east sides of the square were filled with small wooden stores erected on pillars, just as the dwellings were. A short flight of steps led into each building.

A fire destroyed all of the buildings in the 1890s except brick and cement structures. On the north side, brick buildings were erected to replace small wooden structures.

Lumpkin had a temporary hewn-log courthouse built in 1831, which was a blockhouse.

The second courthouse was completed in 1837, and it lasted until 1895. It was replaced with a brick courthouse, which burned in 1922. A new one was built, which still stands today.

The Victorian jail was built in the 1890s and still houses the trapdoor for gallows. It is said that one person was hanged there.

One of the first incorporated cities in Stewart County is Omaha. Founded in the 1890s, when the railroad arrived, Omaha is nestled in the northwest corner of the county near the juncture of the Chattahoochee River and Hannahatchee Creek.

Another community within Stewart County is Louvale. Best known for its "Church Row," Louvale's Primitive Baptist, Methodist, and Baptist churches form a religious courtyard of sorts, with a community center among the churches. Louvale is long and narrow, stretching about six miles along US Highway 27.

Much of Stewart County is covered in southern pines, mostly in hardwood climax.

Most visitors enjoy the red and white oak, sweetgum, hickory, poplar, sycamore, beech, red maple, dogwood, buckeyes, holly, and magnolia.

Providence Canyon, near Lumpkin, has the largest national collection of the rare plumleaf azaleas in the world.

There is an interesting map of Lumpkin in 1848. It was hand-drawn by a young man from the North who was living in the town and writing letters home. It is now displayed in the Public Room of the Bedingfield Inn.

You can enjoy a "windshield tour" along Lumpkin's Stagecoach Trail. There you will see the exteriors of more than twenty houses of the 1830s to the 1850s marked by black-and-white stagecoach signs in the yards. Some homes along the stagecoach trail are those of Mrs. Rhonda Averett, Mr. and Mrs. Randy Butts, and Mr. and Mrs. Andrew G. Mistulie

The Georgia Trust Ramble joined Westville and Stewart County Historical Commission, Friday, October 27, and Saturday, October 28, 2000. It was made a family affair, including children and grandchildren, to discover Stewart County's treasures. The tour of Lumpkin included the Bedingfield Inn, the courthouse, and the Baptist church, to name a few. A tour of Louvale included Louvale Church Rows. A tour of Richland included the Richland hotel, a bank, and the Richland Baptist and Methodist churches.

Another community, Roanoke, was founded on the river in 1832 and burned by Native Americans in 1836. Similarly, Florence was founded in 1837 as a river town near one of the South's first cottonseed oil mills. A state park remains to mark the city now.

The county grew quickly on the premise of cotton farming. Lumpkin grew too, attracting merchants from as far as New Hampshire and Vermont. White settlers, overwhelmingly of English ancestry, about 84 percent, came from other areas of Georgia. Three counties, Washington, Wilkes, and Jones, supplied about 40 percent of the new settlers. By 1850, Stewart County's population ranked tenth out of ninety-five counties in Georgia.

In addition to cotton and the boll weevil, Stewart County's economic history has been tied to peanuts, pine, and heritage tourism.

Heritage tourism has now become an innovative approach in raising the level of consciousness about historical preservation and has to some degree enhanced the economic coffers of Stewart County. Today, there are twenty-seven historic places in Stewart County that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Green Grove Church, School, and Cemetery are listed as site six. Refer to the entire list of Historic Places in Stewart County later in this book.


People and Founders of the Green Grove Community, Church, and School

The year was 1886, twenty-three years after the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln; twenty-one years after the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution freed the Negro slaves; eighteen years after the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave the freed slaves full citizenship, was ratified; and sixteen years after the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment gave the right to vote to the freed slaves. At this juncture three men with an insatiable appetite for freedom, for justice, and for being and acting like men among men entered the picture. They came, enshrouded with immense dignity, punctuated with an unquenchable thirst to live in a land whose Constitution declared all men to be created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Enter now Mr. Perry Hudson, Mr. Louis Cherry, and Mr. Isaac Shorter, the founders of the Green Grove Church. They came humbly, but they were determined to put their stamp on the Green Grove community, to exert some influence on how their families would be raised—how, even then, the indomitable spirit which formed the Green Grove paradigm was being framed. They came without the alliance and protection of the Freedmen's Bureau that had been struck down a decade earlier. It's important that they came—but how they came and the adversity they overcame is more important.

Green Grove Church had its beginnings on a spot of land under a bush arbor. We don't know how long these men of Christian faith worshipped there, but we do know that they were free. They were citizens, and they had the right to vote. They knew that no matter how shaky their present circumstances might appear, there was a brighter day ahead—and they were going to stake a claim on that brightness by obeying the Almighty God through the establishment of a church at Green Grove in His name.

They had very little money and few tangible resources, but they knew the value of owning land. Landownership was only a recent possibility for many of their friends and relatives. Owning land held viable economic and political advantages for these men and their families. But not this spot, for while land in and of itself held great significance and promise, this piece of property would serve as the earthly foundation for a house of worship with a heavenly mission. A house of worship built on their own ground, with monetary influences and other contributions, further solidified their quest to secure for themselves and their posterity a place to nurture and develop the spiritual aspects of their very being. Owning this land and having a total commitment to build a church house was a physical manifestation of the Green Grove paradigm at work. These men held the belief that if you worked hard, believed in God, stayed honest in your dealings, and always strove for self-improvement, you could have a good life on this earth. The name Green Grove was given by a prominent citizen of the place because the grass seemed to stay green all year long. By 1898, the Green Grove Church was holding classes for children—serving notice to the community that the church was ready, willing, and able to assemble whatever resources were needed to take care of its own. The clarion call for self-help had gone out to the residents of the Green Grove community, who for the most part were tenant farmers, but who were ready to rise to the challenge even though it seemed improbable much of the time.

Try to walk with me through these times, on paths created at first by three men and later by an entire community. Walk with me as we see many, uneducated themselves, going without so that their children could have a future. There was no help from anyone outside of the Green Grove community. There were no bankers, no lawyers, and no persons occupying positions of authority in the majority community who were a part of Green Grove. Consequently, there were no means available to these men whereby their economic standing could be enhanced.


Excerpted from A Grateful People by Willie Marie Porter. Copyright © 2013 Willie Marie Porter. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Dedication, vii,
Foreword, ix,
Preface, xv,
Acknowledgments, xvii,
Introduction, xxi,
I. Facts about Stewart County and Early History, 1,
II. People and Founders of the Green Grove Community, Church, and School, 17,
III. The Church Experience, 32,
IV. Workplace, Livelihood, and Economic Development, 56,
V. Triumphs, Tragedies, and Looking Back, 74,
VI. The Evolution of the Green Grove Elementary School, 78,
VII. The Wesley Chapel Story: Saving the Old Schoolhouse, 85,
VIII. The Migration, 102,
Epilogue, 107,
Biographical Sketches, 111,
National Register of Historic Places In Stewart County, 147,
Pastoral Administrations' Cemetery Records 1886—Present, 149,
Deacons' Cemetery Records, 150,
Green Grove Baptist Church's Cemetery Records, 151,
Cemetery Records by Family, 153,
Index, 165,
Bibliography, 169,

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