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About Oglethorpe County Georgia

Oglethorpe County Courthouse

Oglethorpe County

Oglethorpe County was created on December 19, 1793 entirely out of Wilkes County.   It was named for General James Edward Oglethorpe, who founded the colony of Georgia, at Savannah, in 1733.   A soldier and philanthropist, Oglethorpe created the colony as an asylum for British debtors.   He remained in Georgia for nine years and drove the invading Spanish troops back into Florida.   He returned to England in 1742 and died there in 1785.

The area that encompasses Oglethorpe County was originally inhabited primarily by the Creek and Cherokee tribes.   It was opened to settlement by a treaty with the tribes in 1771.   These "Ceded Lands", as the area was called, became Wilkes County in 1777.   In 1793, a northwestern portion of Wilkes County was cut aside to form the new county of Oglethorpe.

Several border adjustments were made in the following years.   In 1794, a portion of Greene County was added to Oglethorpe, and the Oglethorpe/Greene county border shifted several times in 1799.   In 1811, Madison County was created, taking land from Oglethorpe.   In 1813, Oglethorpe acquired land from Clarke County.   Taliaferro County took land from Oglethorpe in 1831, and Oglethorpe received land from Madison County in 1842.

The first permanent settlements in what is now Oglethorpe County were along the Broad River ~ settled by a group of Virginia planters in the 1780s   ~ and along Long Creek near the town of Lexington.   Lexington was incorporated in 1806 as the county seat.   Settlers grew mainly tobacco and cotton, and found deposits of granite, gold, iron, copper and other minerals.

The early history of Oglethorpe County is very similar to that of Wilkes County.  The Cherokee and Creek tribes originally inhabited Wilkes County.  In 1773, Governor James Wright acquired the land within Wilkes County from Indians in the name of the English Government.  In exchange for this parcel of land, the English did not require repayment of the large debts the tribes incurred.  The land received from the Indians was,  at that time, part of Wilkes County.  Although Governor Wright's main objective was to populate the newly acquired lands, the Revolutionary War slightly delayed the settlement of Wilkes County.

Many of the first settlers came from North Carolina and Virginia. These early settlers acquired land through two methods. First, the Land Act of 1777 created the "head-right" system that allowed the head of the family to select up to 200 acres of unoccupied land for himself and 50 acres for each family member and slave. Second, those who were loyal during the Revolutionary War or served in the military were given "bounty" land as a method of land disbursement. By 1808, property was also being distributed through land lotteries.

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Lexington, the seat of Oglethorpe County in northeast Georgia, is eighty-five miles east of Atlanta and seventeen miles east of Athens.

An act of the Georgia legislature, dated December 1793, created Oglethorpe County from Wilkes County and authorized the establishment of a county seat.
The town that would become Lexington, however, was not built for several years. An argument among county residents over the choice of two locations, less than two miles apart, delayed construction of the courthouse by appointed commissioners. The lack of a proper facility severely taxed the patience of Superior Court Justice Benjamin Taliaferro, who in September 1796 bitterly complained about the need for legal decorum. By early 1797 commissioners agreed upon Lexington's current site, noting its high ground and nearby water supply from Troublesome Creek.

In July of that year the new town, originally called Oglethorpe Court-House, received its current name of Lexington in commemoration of the Revolutionary War battle between Massachusetts patriots and a small contingent of British soldiers in April 1775. It was not the first place so named in Georgia;
Oglethorpe County Courthouse
Wilkes County court records of early 1791 refer to the brief existence of a tobacco warehouse site named Lexington in Washington County near the Ogeechee River shoals. The new Lexington consisted of a courthouse, completed between June 1797 and 1798, and twenty lots surrounding the public square. A new courthouse, started 1819, suffered from constant leaks until removal of the cupola in 1831. Town leaders worked to improve the physical location of the courthouse square with grass and chinaberry trees. The present courthouse, built in 1887, is made primarily of local granite, wood, and brick. It represents the Romanesque Revival style of architecture, popular during the late 1800s.

The economy of early Lexington and Oglethorpe County was based upon tobacco and cotton production as well as small subsistence farms, reminiscent of practices in neighboring Wilkes County. Local farmers also experimented with crop diversification by growing wheat and other grain products. In the town of Lexington seventeen lots were added by June 1800, followed by thirty-two more in 1804. The Georgia General Assembly incorporated Lexington in 1806. By 1810 it boasted a population of 222, including 113 slaves. Between 1822 and 1830 the town organized a Presbyterian church, consisting of the reorganized membership of the former 1785 Beth-Salem meetinghouse of Oglethorpe County, as well as a Methodist and a Baptist congregation.

Skilled craftsmen, itinerant traders, and merchants made their way to Lexington to take advantage of the town's location along the road leading to the markets of Augusta. Two of the more influential businessmen, Italian immigrant Ferdinand Phinizy and Irish immigrant Francis Meson, started their mercantile operations in Lexington during the late 1790s. In 1806 Meson bequeathed an $8,000 estate plus town lots to the county school, which later became known as Meson Academy. It served as the county high school from 1917 until it was abandoned in 1954. In 1920 it was renamed Oglethorpe County High School.

During the early nineteenth century the 1808 embargo, the War of 1812, and the financial panics of 1819 and 1837 hampered the local economy. Town residents, neighboring farmers, and plantation owners frequently sold their holdings and migrated to new lands opening in the west. In spite of periodic economic woes, Lexington continued to grow. In 1827 Adiel Sherwood, compositor of the  Gazetteer of the State of Georgia, reported fifteen places of business and thirty-eight homes. When mechanized transportation gained popularity, the citizens of Lexington debated the merits of adding a railway line to speed shipment of cotton and other products. But residents refused passage of a railroad within three miles of the town, fearing disease, noise, and social disruption. Their decision forced shipment of goods and produce by wagon from a rail station at nearby Crawford. Crawford briefly challenged Lexington for the Oglethorpe County seat in the late 1870s, but the building of a new jail in Lexington and construction of a railway link between the towns in 1887 helped stop that effort.

U.S. president James Monroe, a Virginia native, visited Lexington in 1819. Several Virginian families had relocated to Lexington, and from this community emerged several north Georgia leaders of the Troup faction, one of the two major political forces in antebellum Georgia (John Clark's faction was the other). Troup's followers William Harris Crawford, George Rockingham Gilmer, and Thomas W. Cobb maintained an influential role in county and state affairs between the late 1790s and the Civil War. Crawford also achieved national office under Presidents James Madison and James Monroe and ran as a presidential candidate in the election of 1824.

During the Civil War, Lexington contributed to the Confederate effort by manufacturing and distributing ammunition, supplies, and livestock equipment.

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Lexington (County Seat)

County Records

Clerk of Superior Court
[has Court Records from 1794 and
Land Records from 1794
Courthouse, ?

Probate Court Clerk
has Probate Records from 1794
and Marriage Records from 1795

P.O. Box 70, Lexington, GA 30648-0070;
706-743-5350 / FAX 743-5270

Vital Records
Birth & Death Records from 1919-Present
Birth and death records in Georgia can be requested from the
Georgia Department of Human Resources, Vital Records Unit,
                2600 Skyland Drive, NE
Atlanta, GA 30319-3640
  (404) 679-4701
      Fax: (404) 524-4278
Email: [email protected] 

Oglethorpe County Clerk
P.O. Box 70
Lexington, GA 30648
(706) 743-5350

Georgia Department of Archives and History
330 Capitol Avenue, S.E.
Atlanta, GA 30334.

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The Great Seal of Georgia

The Great Seal of the state of Georgia features a symbolic image of the Constitution as an arch that is supported by three pillars. The pillars represent the three branches of government; the legislature, the judicial, and the executive. Banners worded Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation, (Georgia's official motto) hang from the pillars. The principles of the Constitution are symbolically protected by a man standing ready with a drawn sword. Circling the images are the words "State of Georgia 1776". In 1914, the legislature decided that 1776, representing the Declaration of Independence, was more appropriate than the 1799 date that formerly displayed on the seal.

The seal's other side reads "Agriculture and Commerce 1776", and the image is of the seashore with a ship at anchor near a wharf receiving hogsheads of tobacco and bales of cotton; Georgia exports. A small boat can be seen in the distance representing internal traffic. A man is shown plowing in a field and a flock of sheep is shown in the shade of a tree representing the agricultural aspects of the state.

Page Created May 20, 2004
Copyright 2004