Tag Archives: Slave Construction in Georgia

Swanscombe, 1828, Covington

Swanscombe was built by the first white settler of Covington, Cary Wood, and is the oldest house in the city. It was originally a more simple form; the columns were a later addition, but they were present before the Civil War. The descendants remained in the house for several generations until selling the property to Thomas C. Swann in 1884. The name Swanscombe was given to the house during his ownership.

Floyd Street Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Neal Patterson House, 1850s, Covington

This Greek Revival landmark, known locally as “The Cottage”, was built for Neal Patterson between 1855-1859.

Floyd Street Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Robert Usher House, Circa 1840, Covington

Robert O. Usher (25 April 1809 – 9 May 1859), a prosperous merchant in Covington, built this house circa 1840, and it remained in the family for over 90 years.

Floyd Street Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Chappell’s Mill, Circa 1811, Laurens County

Though some sources note that a John or Thomas Gilbert constructed the first mill, now known as Chappell’s Mill, on Big Sandy Creek [South Sandy Creek] in northern Laurens County circa 1811, it is more likely that it was James Stanley II (1771-1841), a settler from Jones County, North Carolina, who purchased nearly 2000 acres surrounding the millpond. [Primary sources are not available to me, so I cannot be certain of the date of the purchase, but the Stanley family migrated to Laurens County in 1811. It seems more than coincidental that the date of their move happens to be the date generally accepted for the construction of the mill]. He also operated a mercantile on the site.

The millpond site is considered to be the oldest man-made landmark in Laurens County. The old mill house, seen in the first two photographs, dates to the 1840s and was built after the original structure, which stood on the north side of the pond, washed away during a flood.

The stone work in the foundation certainly indicates the work of early craftsmen, almost certainly enslaved laborers.

Upon Stanley’s death in 1841, his son Ira B. (1802-1858) took control of the operations. He served Laurens County as sheriff in the 1820s and state representative in the 1830s. Until just after the Civil War the site was known as Stanley Mills, but in 1868 Ira’s son-in-law, James W. Chappell, gained majority interest in the mill. It has since been known as Chappell’s Mill.

Ira Stanley Chappell (1859-1931) was the last member of the Chappell family to own the mill. He sold it circa 1917 to Allen J. Dixon who sold it in 1943 to Dr. T. J. Blackshear.

Dr. Blackshear eventually sold it to Alex Dixon’s grandsons, James and Forrest Townsend.

During their ownership, the mill was expanded and electrified (1950s).

The Townsends always felt that water power resulted in a superior meal but the volume of work mandated the modernization.

At its peak, production ran to over 15,000 bushels per year.

The mill remained in operation until 1997. Its importance is not only in its longevity but in the fact that various structures associated with different eras of milling, from water power to electricity, as well as a mercantile and various barns, remain largely intact, and illustrate the evolution of what was one of Georgia’s most important early industries.

I am grateful to the caretaker for allowing me to photograph. It is private property and he noted that law enforcement often has to disperse trespassers. It’s an invaluable historical resource and the owners have been good stewards.

The Slate House, Circa 1860, Macon

Named for their slate roof, the Slate Row Houses were built to house the engineers who were constructing the grand home of William Johnston [now known primarily as the Hay House]. They are considered to be among the earliest apartment buildings in Macon. Architecturally, they’re described in the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places (1973) as a simplified version of the Second Empire style apartment house that has been converted into a modern condominium building. James B. Ayers, the contractor hired by Johnston, employed numerous enslaved artisans, according to research by Mercer Law student Nathan Corbitt. One of those artisans was Primus Moore, who worked on the construction of the Hay House. He was also responsible for all of the plaster work at Macon City Hall and was even paid by the city after Emancipation to continue the work.

National Register of Historic Places

Pearson House, Circa 1798-1805, Hancock County

This important house is little-known outside Hancock County and its specific early history is apparently lost, but a new look into available genealogical records sheds light on the story. It is certainly among the oldest extant houses in the county and, through oral tradition, has long been known as the Pearson House. I am grateful to Bud Merritt for bringing it to my attention. Bud writes: We “discovered” it this week and were clueless at the time to its status. It is close to the road but barely visible and in my opinion could collapse at any time. The brick first floor has many separations and the second floor in the rear is completely unsupported. It unleashed several loud creaks while I was photographing it.

The house has appeared in print at least twice: 1}In The Early Architecture of Georgia (1957), Frederick Doveton Nichols, identifies it as “Undocumented cottage…east of Devereux”; 2}Nichols’s work was later incorporated in The Architecture of Georgia (1976), with photographs by Van Jones Martin. It may have also been photographed for the Historic American Buildings Survey in the 1930s by Frances Benjamin Johnston. Curiously, it is missing from the two best-known architectural surveys of Hancock County: 1}Architecture of Middle Georgia: The Oconee Area (1972), by John Linley; 2}The Houses of Hancock 1785-1865 (1996), by John Rozier.

Further documentation was made by Catherine Drewry Comer in her thesis, Preserving Early Southern Architecture: The Antebellum Houses of Hancock County, (University of Georgia, Master of Historic Preservation, 2016). Comer doesn’t associate the house with a builder, either, but gives the best description of its style: [It]…appears based on its construction to be remarkably early. Its two basement-level fireplaces are almost identical to those that could once be seen at Old Dominion before it was lost in the 1980s...This house is of a very early style that was common in the Mid-Atlantic states such as Virginia and North Carolina. [It] is of frame construction on the second story, which rests on top of a brick first story…[and] has one chimney on each gable end with two doors to enter the first floor on the front and one door on the rear. Comer refers to its architecture as “Tidewater”, a popular description of the style.

Of the interior living space, Sistie Hudson notes that she was able, 35 years ago, to look inside via a ladder [and] discovered that it had paneled wainscoting and curved stairs to the half story above and that it would have had staircases from outside to the second floor. She further confirms its local identification as the Pearson House and its presumed construction date as “the late 1700s”. Mark Phillips, a longtime student of architecture in the region, adds: I have always understood that this was the original Pearson home…the Pearson-Boyer house being later built by a son

Making the connection between the presumed builder, Stephen Edward Pearson, Sr. (1774-1854), and the house requires a review of the available genealogical record, which has been graciously shared with Vanishing Georgia by Cynthia Jennings. Pearson was born to a wealthy family at Padget’s Creek, Newberry County, South Carolina. He married Mary Polly Fletcher (1775-1833) on 28 November 1798. It is believed they moved to Georgia and built this house soon thereafter, as one record notes he settled around 1795-1805 in the “watery fork of Buffalo (Creek)”. It is likely the new couple brought a number of enslaved individuals to Georgia; he owned over 80 human beings at the time of his death, including several of advanced age. They would have been involved in all aspects of the home’s construction, from milling the lumber to making the bricks. [The undeniable similarities between the Old Dominion fireplaces and those in this house are significant. If the work of the same mason, perhaps an enslaved man, they help validate the “1795-1805” time frame. Old Dominion was built in 1806].

Mary Fletcher Pearson bore Stephen no children, but research on Ancestry.com suggests he fathered a child with an enslaved woman named Cilla Chapman; the child, named Cilla Pearson, was born in 1805. Mary died in 1833 and Stephen married Catherine Garland in 1834. Their son, Stephen Edward Pearson, Jr., was born in 1836. He built a home nearby, circa 1854, now known as the Pearson-Boyer House.

Zach Hedgepeth writes: This house was in my grandfathers family for many years. A brick in the chimney had 1834 carved into it so I believe that is when it was built. The house used to sit closer to the road but when the road was paved in the 1990s they moved the road over. You can still make out the parts of the old dirt road. Over the years passers by have taken pieces of the house little by little leading to its current condition.[I believe it is likely that the dated brick commemorated the marriage of Stephen and Catherine and not the date of the house, as the conclusion of architectural historians is that the house is very early and 1834 wouldn’t be considered early in Hancock County].

This post represents the research of numerous people, to whom I’m indebted, but in no way purports to be definitive. I hope it is a catalyst for further research, and as always, welcome new facts that can be validated through primary sources. The house is unlikely to survive but I am glad to further document it as an important relic of Georgia history.

Sanders-Spann-Bryson House, 1836, Webster County

This Plantation Plain farmhouse, built circa 1836, is the oldest in Webster County. Typical of the transitional architecture of the time, it retains a strong Federal influence. It is an amazing treasure that has only survived because of good stewardship.

The house is best known today as the Spann-Bryson House. I’m indebted to Debbie Walker for her assistance in tracking down the history. She spoke with owner Mike Connor and he and his wife Ann have done an amazing job maintaining this venerable landmark. Mr. Connor noted that it was built by a Mr. Sanders and was identified in the Webster County history book as the Old Sanders Place.

Killen-King House, 1852, Perry

Built for Judge Samuel D. Killen, this Greek Revival home was later owned by the Francis Marion King family and the Penn-Dixie Cement Company, who used it as a clubhouse. It was purchased by Gardner Watson in 1955 and has been used as a funeral home since then.

George Singleton House, 1834, Perry

George Singleton received a land grant from the Creek people in 1832 and built this home on the property soon thereafter. It remained in the Singleton family until 1962. It was built in the style of the ‘Sand Hills Cottages’ then common in the Augusta area.

Friendship Baptist Church, 1857, Sumter County

Friendship was founded by members of Liberty Baptist Church who split with that congregation over doctrine in 1839. The congregation expanded significantly throughout the 1840s and was the spiritual home of many prominent area farmers. It is the oldest surviving church building in Sumter County.

Wiley Carter, the great-great grandfather of President Jimmy Carter, joined with his wife and an enslaved female in 1852. He bought and presumably moved the original church upon the construction of the present structure in 1857. In the five years following the Civil War, many emancipated slaves joined the congregation, but by 1870 had formed their own church, New Bethel.