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Grady County, A Background Sketch
by Wayne Faircloth
Included in A Dash... A Pinch... A Smidgen... More than a Cookbook
published in 2003 and copyrighted by the Grady County Historical Society, Inc.

Grady County is considerably younger than most of Georgia's other 159 counties, only seventeen being younger. It, along with seven other counties, was created in 1905 and named for Henry Woodfin Grady, the famous Georgia journalist and orator who championed the "New South" movement for the southern states during the late 1800's.

The geographic area from which it was created, however, was Creek Indian territory until 1814 and belonged neither to the United States nor to the State of Georgia. During the War of 1812 Georgia became involved in fighting both Great Britain and the Creek Indians. The Lower Creeks, who lived mostly in Georgia, were sympathetic to the United States, but the Upper Creeks, living mostly in Alabama, aligned themselves with Great Britain and were the source of many barbaric massacres and unrelenting depredations. To quell the threat of the marauding Upper Creeks, Andrew Jackson and his Tennessee Militia were sent to help subdue them. In March 1814, Jackson was successful in defeating the Creeks in the famous battle of Horseshoe Bend on the Alabama River. Five months later he forced them to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson, by which the Creeks gave up nearly all their lands in Alabama and a strip across the southernmost part of Georgia, which included the territory that would eventually become Grady County.

The provisions of the treaty, however, permitted the Lower Creeks to remain on the ceded territory east of the Chattahoochee River, supposedly to serve as a buffer between the angry Upper Creeks and the Spaniards and Seminoles in Florida. Georgians were greatly displeased with this provision, for in a very short time the region became a thoroughfare for the renegade Upper Creeks to move southward to join the Seminoles in Florida. This caused another vexing situation, and it was not until 1818, near the end of the first Seminole War, that the ceded strip of land in Georgia passed from Federal ownership to the State of Georgia. The legislature in Milledgeville acted promptly and on December 15, 1818, passed an act dividing the newly ceded territory into the three large counties of Early on the west, Irwin in the middle, and Appling on the east, and authorized it to be surveyed into land lots and districts. To provide for a rudimentary Inferior Court system of government to conduct business and to hold elections, the three counties were formally organized in 1819. In the same year Spain ceded Florida to the United States, thereby removing another deterrent to settlement of Georgia's newest frontier.

Before the creation of the counties, a few white Indian traders had moved into the area, but they were located adjacent to the Creek villages, which were mostly concentrated along the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers. To encourage settlement, Georgia made land ownership in Early, Irwin, and Appling counties available to its citizens by the 1820 Land Lottery Act. Most of the "fortunate" drawers did not want to move to the desolate pine and wiregrass barrens, and willingly sold their newly acquired land at prices considerably lower than land value elsewhere in the state. Eager for land, pioneer settlers mostly from the Carolinas, with a fewer number from Virginia and elsewhere, were willing to relocate, many of them having already migrated to middle Georgia. They purchased large tracts of the cheap land and, by the early 1820's, settlement was well underway.

The only roads in the wiregrass-pine barrens were primitive three-notch wagon trails where Indian paths had previously existed, and most of its streams were not navigable, except by canoe or small flatboat. Deprived of accessible transportation, the pioneers were forced into a self-reliant way of life, one of subsistence farming and herding, even though they were large landowners. Lack of any efficient transportation also played a role in subdividing the three large border counties into smaller ones to better accommodate county business and government. In 1823 Decatur County was created from the southern portion of Early, and in 1825 Thomas County was formed from the Eastern part of Decatur and part of Irwin. It was eighty years later before an eastern strip of Decatur and a western strip of Thomas were used to create Grady County.

Proposals for a new county, to possibly be named Maxwell, originated as early as 1904. This spawned much wrangling and heated debate between the local proponents who wanted to be a separate county and others who were opposed. As momentum for a new county gained wider acceptance, the major issue of contention became the location of the county seat. Both Whigham and Cairo were intensely desirous of that distinction. After bitter infighting and considerable influential political maneuvering, Cairo was finally chosen. The official signing of the Act to create Grady County occurred on August 17, 1905. Later, in October of that year, an election for the citizens to choose county officials was held, and on January 1, 1906, the newly created county began operating as a separate unit of Georgia's state government organization.

The dreary pine and wiregrass barrens to which the original settlers came proved to be most beneficial, with bountiful supplies of timber, an abundance of streams, and soils that produced fertile, prime farmland. It has been characteristic that persons who came to the area have tended to remain, and family names of the earliest inhabitants are still commonplace in Grady and the surrounding counties.

Only after the two World Wars and a shift from subsistence to commercial based farming has there been any significant change in the makeup of the area's population. Even so, Grady County can still be promoted as being included in "The Greatest Diversified Farming Area of America."

Wayne Faircloth








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