Forsyth County - History

A Short History of Forsyth County

In 1830 the Georgia Legislature designated all if the Cherokee Nation as a new county of Georgia named Cherokee County. This county covered the whole of Northwest Georgia and led to the Cherokee removal in the late 1830's. At the suggestion of then Governor Wilson Lumpkin the Georgia Legislature, on 3 Dec 1832 divided (old) Cherokee County,together with portions of Habersham and Hall Counties, into 10 smaller counties. Formation of these counties was necessary from a practical standpoint, as people could now reach the new county seats within a day's ride, thus allowing citizens to pay taxes, obtain marriage licenses, register deeds, enact probate, etc.

Old Cherokee County was split into 4 vertical Sections, each section was then split into several Districts, Forsyth was formed from Districts 1, 2, 3, and 14 of Section 1. Each District was further divided into Land Lots. Depending on whether the area had the potential for gold to be found, the land lots were either 40 acres or 160 acres. Those lots close to the Chattahoochee River were all designated "gold lots" of 40 acres; those further away from the river were considered agricultural and there the Districts were subdivided into 160 acre lots. On 24 Dec 1831 the Georgia General Assembly authorized a lottery for the 40 acre lots. This included all of Forsyth County. All of the 40-acre lots were entered into the lottery and drawn between October 1832 and May 1833. The "lucky drawers" received a deed to their lot after paying a $10.00 grant fee. These winners can be found in The History of Forsyth County, Georgia, 1832-1932, Vol. I, by Garland Bagley, pages 80-119. Many of the drawers sold their lots immediately and never came to Forsyth, however, many of the surnames in the lottery can still be found in the county. Where lots bordered the Chattahoochee river many lots were less than the full 40 acres and were known as "fractional lots." These lots were entered into the 1833 Land Lottery and drawn in December 1833. Though smaller (less than 33 acres,) these lots were of high value since they often bordered the Chattahoochee River and had plentiful water supply.

In 1833 elections were held by eligible residents for posts of Clerks for Superior and Inferior Courts, Sheriff, Tax Collector, Tax Receiver, County Surveyor, and Coroner.

The First County Officers were:

  • Clerk of the Superior Court: Oliver Strickland
  • Clerk of the Inferior Court: John Blaylock
  • Sheriff: John Jolly
  • Tax Collector: Lewis Sams
  • Tax Receiver: William Humphrey
  • Surveyor: Thomas Burford
  • Coroner: Alston B. Welborn

  • In the same year the new counties were placed into a Militia - Forsyth County Militia becoming the 2nd Brigade of the 7th Division. A census was ordered to be taken in 1834 which resulted in a population of whites of 2,044. Only 357 households were enumerated. As there were a total of more than 4,500 lots in the 1832 and 1833 lotteries, it can be seen that most of the lots remained unoccupied. Early deed books show a great deal of buying and selling of property at this time. A census of Cherokees was ordered in 1835 and it resulted in a count of 162 Cherokees, 231 slaves (of Cherokees... Yes! the Cherokees had slaves!) and 13 whites by marriage. Prior Cherokee property was evaluated in 1836 and those that were shown to have improvements were compensated for the loss of their property. Several Cherokee made application for citizenship and were approved. Many of these family names are still in Forsyth County today. The remaining Cherokee population were transported in 1838 to Oklahoma, actually the immigration of Cherokees to "West of the Mississippi" started many years earlier, but was completed with the "Trail of Tears" migrations.

    By the time of the 1840 census the population had increased to 5,000 and by 1850 it had reached 7,800. Forsyth County became a recognized stopping place on the great migration westward. Many families just passed through after staying for a few years, but many also stayed and became part of the growing farming community. The population of Forsyth County grew slowly over the next one hundred or so years as is shown in the following table:

    Year Population

    Growth% from
    Prev. Census
    1834 2,044 -
    1840 5,048 147%
    1850 7,802 55%
    1860 6,752 -13% 1
    1870 8,089 20%
    1880 10,563 31% 2
    1900 11,550 9%
    1910 11,940 3%
    1920 11,755 -2%
    1930 10,624 -10%
    1940 11,322 7%
    1950 11,005 -3%
    1960 12,170 11%
    1970 16,928 39%
    1980 27,958 65% 3
    1990 44,083 58%
    2000 98,407 123%4
    2010 175,511 78%

    Some comments about the data:
    1. In 1860 the reduction was mainly due to the loss of part of the county to Milton.
    2. The 1890 census was burned and no data can be found for this year.
    3. Note that population started increasing rapidly in the 1970's - coinciding with the opening of GA-400.
    4. Forsyth County becoming a bedroom community for Atlanta. One of the fastest growing counties in the nation.

    In 1858 Forsyth lost a reasonably large part of the population and area due to the formation of Milton County. Most of District 1 was included in this split.

    The Civil War did not impact the county directly, other than from loss of life on other battlefields. Only two soldiers were known to have died due to fighting within the county boundaries, both from minor skirmishes with Sherman's force during his "March to the Sea." Many soldiers fought bravely and died in battle or of disease while away from home. See the military page to find a list of known Confederate Soldiers.

    For the next 90 years the population of Forsyth County remained reasonably constant, growing slightly. It was a rural community and most people made their living by subsistence farming. There were, of course, merchants, doctors, blacksmiths, etc., but most families made their living by growing corn, cotton, and other staples. In the 1930's and 1940's things started to change as the county began to invest heavily in the chicken industry. The industry was relatively profitable and many of the farmers switched from agriculture to raising poultry. The county quickly became one of the most active counties in the nation for chicken production, so much so that Tyson Foods a large processing center in Cumming. It still remains one of the biggest industries in Forsyth, though most of the old chicken houses are now empty.

    In the 1950's the Army Corps of Engineers built Buford Dam, whose flooding created Lake Sidney Lanier. Forsyth County lost some land along the Chattahoochee River to the flooding, but gained some important things from the dam construction, namely: a constant water source, hydroelectric power, and tourism. The influx of people building homes on the shores of the lake made it one of the more fashionable places to live in the Atlanta area.

    The 1970's brought more change with the building of GA-400, eventually connecting Cumming and Atlanta. This gave easy access for Atlantans to Lake Lanier and brought home-buyers to the county who wanted to live out of Atlanta but still work in the city. While traffic can be a nightmare in rush hour, it still beats the long drive on Highway 9 through Alpharetta, Roswell, and Sandy Springs.

    Today Forsyth County is still growing, (some think too fast!) It has grown from a mainly farming community a few short years ago to become a county that is becoming more diverse and with a culture that is unique. Unfortunately, growth has its disadvantages too. A recent number of cases of vandalism to some of our old cemeteries have resulted. While we appreciate the influx of new people to the area, we suggest that the vandals who have no respect for tradition or history don't bother to stay! We enjoy our historic features just the way they are...


    Copyright © 2014, John Salter, all rights reserved