Sautee Nacoochee, Georgia
AFRICAN AMERICAN HERITAGE SITE
AFRICAN AMERICAN HERITAGE SITE

History of the Cabin & Slavery in Nacoochee Valley

The Treaty of 1819, which ceded Cherokee occupied lands in the Sautee-Nacoochee Valleys, paved the way for expansion in the area. As Native Americans were forced westward, the subsequent Land Lottery of 1820 drew white settlers into the valleys.

Families from North Carolina migrated to Northeast Georgia to settle, clear, and cultivate the land. Among these early white settlers was Major Edward Williams, his family and slaves, arriving in 1822.

The Williams family became major landowners in the region. Edwin Poore (E.P.) Williams (1814-1896), acquired considerable acreage and emerged as a successful farmer and businessman, using slave labor to run his mills, manufacturing operations and agricultural concerns.

In 1850, E.P. Williams and his brother Charles owned 18 and 21 slaves, respectively. By 1864 their brother, George, sent an additional 100 slaves from South Carolina to help his family in Nacoochee during the lean War Years. John L. Richardson, a Methodist minister, owned 19 slaves. Moses Harshaw owned more than 20 slaves, ranging in age from 60 to 6 months.

In the first half of the 19th century, slaves shared the same churches and cemeteries with the early white settlers.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, many of the freedmen stayed in the Nacoochee Valley area and continued to work for former slave owners as sharecroppers and laborers in the mills and mines. Most of these African Americans settled in an area known as Bean Creek, and some of their descendants still live there today.

A community leader, Andy Allen, whose great-grandmother Mary Ann was a slave, is deeply committed to the African American Heritage Site project. She and Lena Dorsey, another community leader, facilitated the collection of oral histories from the Bean Creek community.

It's about preserving this cabin and our history for future generations... where we come from made us who we are.” - Andy Allen

Moses Harshaw: "Meanest Man"

Moses Harshaw was born about 1795 in Burke County, North Carolina, one of ten children. He married Nancy England on June 9, 1814, and they had seven children. On March 1, 1822, the Harshaws migrated to Nacoochee Valley in Habersham County (now White County) arriving on the 10th of March, 1822.

On May 13, 1825, Harshaw purchased land in the Valley for $.01 an acre. In 1832, he acquired more land from the Georgia Cherokee Land Lottery. In 1837, Moses Harshaw built his home (now known as the Stovall House) on his farm in Sautee Valley.

Harshaw was a farmer, an attorney, and gold miner. He owned half interest in eleven gold mines in addition to his own major gold mine near the fork of Dukes Creek and the Chattahoochee River. In the 1850 census Harshaw owned nearly 20 slaves; some of whom he hired out for $10 a month to dig gold mine shafts before the Civil War.

Harshaw was notorious for his ruthlessness in business dealings and brutality toward his slaves. From 1829 to 1844, Moses Harshaw defended himself seven times on charges of "assault and battery" in the Superior Court of Habersham. He was found guilty on six of the seven charges, and one trial for assault with attempt to murder was not prosecuted. Harshaw had a reputation as the meanest man who ever lived.

According to oral tradition, Harshaw forced his elderly or ailing slaves off a cliff on nearby Lynch Mountain rather than feed, clothe, and house laborers too ill or old to work; he considered them an unproductive and costly liability. When Harshaw went to town to buy supplies, a slave went along to load the heavy supplies. Not allowed to ride in the wagon, the unfortunate slave, attached with a rope and harness around his neck, ran behind the wagon, trying to keep pace with the horse. Harshaw’s reputation for cruelty was so great his neighbors conspired to help his slaves escape.

Moses Harshaw had a law office in the nearby county seat of Clarkesville about 20 miles away where he worked during the week. Returning to Nacoochee one weekend, he discovered that his wife Nancy had purchased a new dress for the body and burial of a little slave girl. Harshaw exhumed the child, removed and returned the soiled dress for credit. Harshaw's wife Nancy divorced him on Oct. 7, 1850.

Moses Harshaw died about 1859 and was buried at the Old Cemetery in Clarkesville, Georgia. According to Valley historian, Dr. Tom Lumsden, Harshaw’s tombstone read, Dead and Gone to Hell!

Researched by Ed Hoffman

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Origin of the Preservation Project

During a visit to the history museum at SNCA several years ago, local resident Caroline Crittenden noticed a young black student examining all the exhibits. The girl observed, "There's nothing here that speaks to me or tells the story of my people."

Crittenden, a retired teacher, acknowledged the omission and asked the girl, Sierra Nicely, what she would like to see on display. Sierra, then a student at Rabun Gap Nacoochee School, replied that she wanted to know about slavery, the history of her people in these valleys, and the contributions made by African Americans in White County.

This chance encounter grew into a project focused on the history of Bean Creek and became the African American Heritage Site.

The history of slavery in Nacoochee Valley is unique, and the descendants of slaves who still live in the community are working with the descendants of slave owners and volunteers to preserve their heritage.

Caroline Crittenden coordinated the preservation and restoration of an old slave dwelling that once belonged to the descendants of E.P. Williams. The cabin, built about 1850, is believed to have once been home to servants of the Williams family.

After emancipation various generations of Williams family members occupied and maintained the cabin. The original structure was 16 ft x 28 ft with one room and two front doors, but later occupants added a bath, a kitchen and other rooms.

Nacoochee slave cabin (circa 1850)

Believed to have been occupied by the house “servants” of E.P. Williams, owner of 18 slaves in 1860, this antebellum dwelling was one of three slave cabins on his property. Built on a foundation of hand-hewn timbers and framed with lumber bearing the tell-tale marks of a sash saw, this 16 x 28 foot cabin perched on stacked rock piers in plain view of the Unicoi Turnpike (Hwy 17 today).

The conspicuous location (seen in background on left in photo) and quality of the cabin may have reflected the slave owner's desire to display his prosperity and demonstrate his benevolence toward the people he enslaved. This slave cabin survived, in large part because the property owners remodeled it as a cottage, long after emancipation, for use by subsequent generations of white family members.

As recently as the 1930s the granddaughter of E.P. Williams lived in the cabin but over the years the building began to deteriorate.

By 2002 the land on which the cabin stood had come into the possession of a director of SNCA, Jim Johnston. The Johnston family agreed to donate the cabin for preservation. Caroline Crittenden assembled a talented team to assist with this ambitious undertaking.

Among them were photographer David Greear, who documented achitectural features of the cabin. Preservation craftsman Barry Stiles stabilized the cabin and removed the additions. Linda Aaron, a UGA archivist, searched tax digests, wills, and family records. She assembled photos, census information and provided additional documentation.

See pictures and details of the historically accurate restoration of the cabin.

Initially the cabin was moved to the SNCA Nacoochee Valley Nature Preserve, a nature preserve area along Highway 17. Ultimately it found a home on the main SNCA campus where it was completely restored and is now the centerpiece of the African American Heritage Site.

Historic Objects Found During the Restoration

During the early phase of restoration Barry Stiles unearthed pottery shards, original split oak roof shingles, cut nails, buttons, an Indian relic, and numerous other items. The original roof shingles had been tossed into the attic when a metal roof was installed early in the 20th century. These shingles served as templates for the historically authentic split oak shingles on the restored roof.

As he peeled away layers of interior wall covering, sections of old newspapers pasted beneath were exposed. One newspaper article, illustrated with a woman in a Victorian gown, was dated to 1880 by a clothing expert. An especially interesting bit of newsprint on the wall has a section on the paris Exhibition of 1900.

At that 1900 exhibition W.E.B. DuBois won 15 gold, silver, and bronze medals in Paris for his “Exposition des Negres d'Amerique” - Exhibit of American Negroes - flourishing 35 years after emancipation. The images were subsequently compiled in the book, A Small Nation of People.

A small brass dome button, commonly known as a muffin button, dropped from the ceiling during restoration, apparently dislodged from the large nest of a pack rat above. Markings and manufacturing details identify it as a US army button of a style manufactured by the Waterbury Button Company between the years of 1850 and 1900.

The soldered eyelet, the number of stars, and details in the relief of the eagle design indicate that this button may once have adorned a United States Army officer's uniform.

It is a mystery how the button came to reside in the ceiling of a slave cabin in Northeast Georgia.

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W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963). Born in western Massachussetts he graduated from Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate. He was professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University and one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.