History of Telfair County, Georgia
County History: Telfair
County was created from Wilkinson County by an act of the General Assembly
approved Dec. 10, 1807 (Ga. Laws 1807, p. 37). Georgia's 35th county was
named for former governor and congressman
Edward Telfair (1735-1807).
In 1812, the legislature transferred the portion of Telfair County
between the Oconee and Little Ocmulgee rivers to Montgomery County. In 1819
and 1825, the legislature transferred respectively land lots 1 and 6 in
Appling County to Telfair County (Ga. Laws 1819, p. 45 and 1825, p. 61).
These transfers gave Telfair a substantial area of land south of the
Ocmulgee River. However, in 1854, the legislature transferred this area to
newly created Coffee County (Ga. Laws 1854, p. 294).
The last loss of land came in 1870, when areas of northern Telfair County
were used to form Dodge County (Ga.Laws 1870, p. 18 ). However in 1872 and
1875, areas of Dodge County were transferred back to Telfair County (Ga.
Laws 1872, p. 408 and 1875, p. 275). The last boundary adjustment came in
1877, when the lands of Bradley Harralson (land lots 265, 266, 272, and 273
in the 10th district) in Montgomery County were shifted Telfair County (Ga.
Laws 1877, p. 277).
County Seat: The 1807
act creating Telfair County provided that courts and county business
initially be conducted at the house of Jesse Bird. On Dec. 22, 1808, the
legislature provided that effective immediately, county elections and other
business would be held at the home of John Patterson (actually Peterson). An
act of Dec. 8, 1810 repealed the 1808 act and authorized the justices of the
inferior court to pick any site for a county seat, so long as it was in the
8th land district and on the Ocmulgee River. The act further directed that
elections and other county business be conducted at the residence of Mark
Pregon (actually Pridgen) in the 8th district until a courthouse could be
An act of Dec. 13, 1811 directed that the Telfair County courthouse and
other public buildings be built on land lot 79 in the 8th district on the
Ocmulgee River on land purchased from Jesse Wiggins, Jr. The justices of the
inferior court were authorized to contract for the building of a courthouse
and jail. Until a courthouse was completed, the legislation provided that
court sessions, elections, and other county business take place in the house
of Jesse Wiggins or such other place in land lot 79 as the inferior court
Still, nothing happened -- so in an act of Dec. 7, 1812, the legislature
provided that the inferior court purchase between 50 and 202 acres of land
for erecting a courthouse and other public buildings. The act directed that
the site be within two miles of the center of the county and on or near the
Ocmulgee River. [At that time, the Ocmulgee River flowed through the middle
of Telfair County.] Until the courthouse was built, courts and elections
were to be held at the house of Mark Pridgen.
Despite the acts of 1810, 1811, and 1812, Telfair County still did not
have a courthouse or county seat. In Nov. 1813, the legislature passed a new
act authorizing the inferior court to build a courthouse and jail on land
lot 340 in the 8th district (Ga. Laws 1813, p. 76). The legislation further
provided that as soon as a courthouse was built on lot 340, that site would
become the permanent county seat of Telfair County.
For whatever reason, the inferior court failed to implement the 1810,
1811, 1812, or 1813 acts, so in 1814 state lawmakers passed another act
confirming land lot 340 as the site for building a courthouse (Ga. Laws
1814, p. 53). However, rather than wait for completion of a courthouse, this
act declared that land lot 340 henceforth was Telfair County's permanent
county seat. Subsequently, the land lot was surveyed and subdivided. One lot
was reserved for a courthouse and jail, with the other lots to be sold for
settlement of a new town. On Nov. 25,1815, the General Assembly provided
that Telfair County's new seat of government be named Jacksonville (Ga. Laws
1815, p. 126). In an act of Dec. 14, 1815, the legislature incorporated
Jacksonville and directed the new town commissioners to assemble "at the
court-house in said town" (Ga. Laws 1815, p. 68). As for the town's name,
the legislation specifically noted that "the name of Jacksonville is here
intended to perpetuate the name and memory of the late hero of New Orleans."
That hero, of course, was Gen. Andrew Jackson, who on Dec. 8, 1815 had
defeated British forces at the Battle of New Orleans.
After the southern half of Telfair County was transferred to newly
created Coffee County in 1854, the county seat of Jacksonville no longer was
in the center of the county. In fact, it was now just a few miles north of
Telfair County's new southern boundary -- the Ocmulgee River. As a result,
many Telfair County residents began calling for removal of the county seat
to a more central location. In an act of March 3, 1856, the legislature
authorized the inferior court to call an election on removing the county
seat. The act further provided that if a majority of voters approved
removal, the inferior court was to purchase at least twenty acres as near
the center of the county as possible and lay out a new county seat, which
was to be named Ridgley (Ga. Laws 1855-56, p. 481). It is not clear whether
the inferior court ever called a referendum-- but if an election actually
was held, supporters of removal lost. The outbreak of the Civil War brought
a temporary end to efforts to move Telfair's county seat.
After the Civil War, the Macon & Brunswick Railroad was built through
eastern Telfair County, bypassing Jacksonville by twenty miles. This fact,
plus Jacksonville's location near the southern boundary of the county, led
to renewed agitation for removal of the county seat to a more central
location In Oct.1870, the General Assembly passed legislation calling for an
election on designating a new county seat and allowing Telfair County
officials to levy a special tax for erecting of a suitable courthouse and
jail (Ga. Laws 1870, p. 29).
The Oct. 1870 legislation did not authorize a referendum on whether or
not to move the county seat. Rather it provided for election of five
commissioners "whose duty it shall be to select a suitable site on the Macon
& Brunswick Railroad, as near the center of said county as practicable, for
the capital or county-site of said county of Telfair." The election took
place on Dec. 20, 21, and 22 of 1870. It is not known how long the
commissioners deliberated on selecting a new county seat -- but presumably
they made their decision during the final week of 1870 or in early 1871.
The site selected as Telfair County's new county seat was the railroad
station of McRae on the Macon & Brunswick Railroad. Before the Civil War,
the McRaes and several other groups of Scottish Presbyterians from the
Carolinas had emigrated to this area. Around 1870, track for the Macon &
Brunswick was laid through the plantation of Daniel McRae. A railroad
station was built here and named for the McRae clan. A town quickly sprung
up, and the legislature incorporated McRae as a town on March 3, 1874 (Ga.
Laws 1874, p. 157). According to that act, McRae's city limits included
everything within one-half mile of the courthouse.