I’ve been researching Douglas County, Georgia history on a full-time basis since December 2010 when my first column went online with Douglasville Patch. By March 2012 my weekly column began appearing in the Sunday edition of the Douglas County Sentinel where it continues today. With less than ten repeats I have written and published over 400 columns and two books on various local subjects going all the way back to the 1820s when Douglas County was a part of old Campbell County (now south Fulton County).
It has been quite a journey through local history for me, and the only regret I have regarding my large body of work is that I published as I went. My first attempt at a topic might mean I got the gist of the person’s life or the event details, but later as my research progressed, I might find additional puzzle pieces that would lead me to new conclusions about the bigger picture. So, you might see from time to time a few contradictions as additional information was located.
In 2017, I was interviewed more than once by the Douglas County Sentinel regarding the relationship between our county’s namesake, Stephen A. Douglas and Frederick Douglass who lived between 1818 and 1895 and is remembered as a social reformer, orator, writer, and statesman.
My answer to the Sentinel was a simple one.
I have found NO relationship between the naming of Douglas County, Georgia and Frederick Douglass.
My research regarding this matter began as far back as the late 1990s and into the early 2000s when I was still a classroom teacher at Villa Rica Elementary. I heard Douglas County had been formed during the Radical Republican era of Georgia’s history and had been named for Frederick Douglass.
Most of my days were spent teaching American History to fourth and fifth graders, so you can understand how I wanted this to be true! How wonderful it would be to teach my students, many of them African American, about what could be an exciting Reconstruction story. However, at that time I could not find enough evidence to support it. Early on in my research it appeared to be a myth, and I steered clear of myths in my teaching, or I identified them as such to students such as the “George Washington chopped down a cherry tree” myth to help them understand how critical thinking skills are a MUST when examining history and historical sources.
Anyone can say something is historic fact, but if the facts don’t add up, it’s a myth or an interesting story with no sources, at best. You must determine if the sources are credible, and you must determine if a social or political agenda is afoot.
After researching this topic from EVERY possible angle over the last ten years, I am now resolute in my opinion that there is no relationship other that a repeated effort to bring up a historical myth that has no legal or academic source to back it up by persons unknown.
Please bear with me as I present ALL my research here for examination:
Let’s start with the legal documents behind the formation of Douglas County. First, we have the actual law which came into existence October 17, 1870. It can be located online in the book Acts and Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of Georgia Passed at the Session of 1870 (publication date 1870) where the actual act is mentioned…scroll to page 13…Title IV Counties and County Lines…Douglas County, pages 13-16. Fortunately, this book is offered online with Google Books and can be accessed here.
I’ve also been to the Georgia Archives in Morrow, Georgia where I’ve been allowed to handle this exact book and take images of the pages which I provide below.
The title page of the book…
Notice throughout the act the legal spelling of Douglas County has one “S” – one “S” upon creation and printed in the official “Book of Acts passed in 1870”. The one “S” occurs throughout the act as this close-up image from page 13 indicates in the book’s margin:
Notice also the official act creating Douglas County does not provide the namesake information – the person the county was named for. This is nothing out of the ordinary as I’ve read other acts creating Georgia counties and the language concerning namesakes is not included.
If you refer to the online link (above) for the Book of Acts passed in 1870 and scroll through the book’s pages you see the next act is the law which created Rockdale County. It was named for a Baptist church, of all things, and the church was named for the vein of granite that is found underneath the county’s soil.
There were two other counties created with Douglas and Rockdale in 1870 – Dodge and McDuffie. You can scroll on through the Book of Acts and see the laws that created them as well. No namesake information is provided; however, Dodge County was named for William E. Dodge, a New York U.S. Representative and businessman. A known abolitionist, Dodge invested large sums of money buying up large tracts of timberland in the South. Georgia has him to thank for the state’s timber industry. In contrast, McDuffie County was named for South Carolina governor and senator, George McDuffie, who was a staunch believer in state sovereignty which was one of those foundation stones for the Confederacy.
Generally, the names of the county were provided within floor and committee discussions in the Georgia House, Georgia Senate, or within a newspaper article announcing the new county. Sometimes it is found within the legal biography of the legislator who sponsored the bill for the new county because often they had the honor of naming the new county.
In the case of Douglas County, the bill to form the county was introduced by Campbell County’s House member, Representative W.S. Zellars, a former doctor from Palmetto, Georgia and Campbell County resident.
In 2017, I published a column regarding Representative Zellars in the Douglas County Sentinel providing bits and pieces of his life. It seems he was the perfect man to serve in the Georgia legislature during his first term which spanned from 1868 to 1870 because he was not an ex-Confederate, and he was not a Democrat. This means during Terry’s Purge, which occurred later in the legislative term and which I address at length below, Zellars would be able to could keep his seat in the House for the entire term. There are newspaper lists of legislators who have the term “Radical Republican” by their name in 1868 including Zellars…he certainly wasn’t thought of as a Democrat or a Confederate “good-old-boy” at that time. This clipping is taken from the Federal Union, dated May 26, 1868. You can see the entire list of the House and Senate elected to serve the term beginning in 1868 below (middle of the column/highlighted in pink):
I was also able to access Zeller’s biography published during his second term in the Georgia House in the early 1880s. The book is titled Georgia’s General Assembly of 1880-81…Biographical Sketches of Senators and Representatives, the Government and Heads of State, pages 381-82. You can read the two-page biography by clicking on the book’s title:
Notice at the end of the section the biography states, “…In 1860, Dr. Zellars was an ardent supporter of Stephen A. Douglas, and in 1870 when he introduced the bill to create the county of Douglas, he at the same time named it in honor of that great statesman.”
Also, the biography tells you he did not consider himself as a Democrat as most of the white population in Georgia did at that time. This explains why he broke from most white men in Georgia who favored Breckinridge in the Election of 1860 and voted for Stephen A. Douglas. There were approximately 11,000 Georgians who voted for Stephen A. Douglas in the 1860 election, and as you can see from the partial list of House of Representative members for 1868 I posted above, Zellars was not a lone wolf as far as white Radical Republicans were concerned. There were quite a few.
Douglas County is not the only Georgia location named for Stephen A. Douglas. The town of Douglas in Coffee County is also named for the Illinois Senator who ran for president and debated Abraham Lincoln.
Here are the pages with the Zellars’ biography from the book linked to above I was able to access at the Georgia Archives.
The title page of the book…
Next let’s look at the path the law that created Douglas County took through the Georgia Legislature.
What happened when it was introduced?
How did the Georgia House and Georgia Senate react to it?
Fortunately, the Georgia Archives maintains the House and Senate Journals for each year going way back in the state’s history. I have been able to access both at the Georgia Archives and present the pages here that trace the path regarding how the bill to create Douglas County became an official act or law.
In Georgia, bills are introduced, and at that time the bill is referred to as the first reading. Then there is a second reading where the bill has already been referred to the appropriate committee or will be, and then finally, a third reading is completed. This is where you see discussions on the House and Senate floor, and then action takes place…generally a vote if the appropriate committee has recommended the bill.
The bill to form Douglas County was introduced on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives on Friday, August 19, 1870 during the morning session, by W.S. Zellars, the representative for Campbell County. The House Journal indicates Zellars introduced “a bill to lay off a new county from Carroll and Campbell Counties…”. I’ve provided the page image below from the House Journal.
Front page of the House Journal for 1870…
Page 388 of the House Journal for 1870….refer to the left-side. I’ve provided the right-side page to show the date.
The bill’s second reading occurred September 2, 1870 as page 561 indicates.
Page 564 shown below shows the second reading. The House Journal states (middle of the page),”The following bills of the House were read the second time and referred to the Committee on New Counties and County Lines, to-wit: …A Bill to lay off and organize a new county out of the counties of Campbell and Carroll.”
On September 7, 1870 on page 603 it is noted the bill had been “in committee” and said committee recommended its passage. It was noted in the record, “The Committee on New Counties and County Lines have had under consideration the following bills: …A bill to lay off and organize a new county out of the counties of Campbell and Carroll, which they recommend do pass.”
The third and final reading occurred on September 26, 1870 with floor discussion. House Journal, page 813 states near the bottom, “The House took up the report of the committee on the bill to lay off and organize a new county out of the counties of Campbell and Carroll; to change the line between the counties of Campbell and Fayette; to add a portion of…” [continued next image]
House Journal, page 814, at the top of the page continues, “…the county of Fayette to Campbell; to move the county site of Campbell to some suitable and convenient place on the Atlanta & West Point Railroad, and for other purposes therein mentioned.
Mr. Hall of Meriweather moved the indefinite postponement of the bill.
The motion did not prevail.
The report was agreed to.
The bill was read the third time and the question of its passage the yeas and nays were recorded.
[Those voting in the affirmative and the negative were given]
So, the bill creating Douglas County passed, but was that really all that was said on the House Floor?
Why did Mr. Hall of Meriwether move to postpone the bill? Why were there 23 nay votes?
In general, this website advises research regarding legislative history is difficult and says, “In general, state legislative history is elusive, and Georgia is no exception. The Georgia General Assembly does not publish transcripts of its floor debate or committee reports. The hunt for legislative intent can be time-consuming and may not always produce results…keep in mind, the Georgia courts primarily look at the plain meaning of the statute when determining legislative intent. You may do a great deal of research into the legislative intent of a statute only to have your argument rejected by the court.”
Committee records were not kept, information regarding changes to a bill were not recorded, and as we can see the bill to form Douglas County was changed in committee. What was originally a bill to “lay off and organize a new county out of the counties of Campbell and Carroll” ended up being a law to do the same plus “to change the line between the counties of Campbell and Fayette; to add a portion of the county of Fayette to that of Campbell; to move the county-site of Campbell to some suitable and convenient place on the Atlanta & West Point Railroad, and for other purposes therein mentioned.”
So, was the passage of the law which created Douglas County really this simple and done with these few comments as I lay out above?
Fortunately, in the 1870s there were reporters in the House and the Senate who wrote down the proceedings and recorded floor discussions in the Atlanta newspapers, and I have located them. These were done in real time each day and published in newspapers across the state.
There is no way anyone could go back later and amend them in any way just as there is no way someone could go back and alter all the copies of the books I reference above. These are all as they appeared in 1870.
So, here they are:
As noted above the bill to form Douglas County was introduced on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives on Friday, August 19, 1870 during the morning session, by W.S. Zellars, the representative for Campbell County. The Daily Atlanta Intelligencer for August 20, 1870 indicates W.S. Zellars introduced “a bill to lay off a new county from Carroll and Campbell Counties…”
The Third reading of the bill in the House occurred on Monday, September 26 during the morning session. The Daily Atlanta Intelligencer for September 27, 1870 provides much more regarding the discussion on the House Floor and indicates, “The special order of the day, to-wit – bills organizing and laying off new counties – was taken up. “The bill to lay off and organize a new county from the counties of Campbell and Carroll, was read a third time.
Mr. Scott [Floyd County] read from the Constitution [Georgia] that portion prescribing the number of Representatives at 175, and that no change can be made in the apportionment, except after the taking of the census by the General Government, and even then the whole number cannot be increased. He argued that the new county cannot have a representative.
Under this Constitution provision Mr. Armstrong [Cobb County] said that unless he can have certain doubts as to expediency and constitutionality of laying off new counties removed, he would be compelled to oppose all such measures, and that there are a good many counties mentioned in the Comptroller General’s report, which do not pay tax enough to meet the charges of their representatives for per diem and mileage.
Mr. Anderson [Cobb County] said that in favoring the bill, he spoke at the request of the Representative from Campbell County [Zellars]; that he understood that the people in the proposed new county are in favor of the change.
Mr. Hall [Meriwether County], moved to indefinitely postpone the bill. Lost.
On the motion to adopt the report of the committee recommending the passage of the bill the yays and nays were called with the following result – yeas 66; nays 28; so the bill was passed.”
You can see the wording from the newspaper in the following images.
At least now we know the context regarding Mr. Hall’s, the Representative from Meriwether County, call to postpone the bill.
I don’t see any discussion regarding the naming of the county, do you?
What I do see are members of the legislature concerned that by adding another county the money pie that paid the legislators for their service would be divided yet again, and they would all lose money. Many didn’t like that. That’s the reason why there was 25 nay votes. The nay votes have nothing to do with the county’s name, at all.
I would also like to add here I’ve compared all the names of the House members who voted no against the bill for Douglas County. They were all white and a mixture of Democrat and Republicans. I found no black representatives who spoke on the floor or who voted against it.
Of course, if you remember your civics and Georgia history class correctly, you know that bills must pass both the House and the Senate to be enacted as law. So, now we must look at the Senate to see what happened there.
First, I pulled the Senate Journal for 1870 at the Georgia Archives.
This image shows page 475 of the Senate Journal providing the date, Wednesday, October 12, 1870.
In the Senate Journal, page 476, at the bottom of the page it states,” The Senate took up the special order for the day, the same being action upon all bills to create and organize new counties. [continued on the next page…]
Continued on page 477 of the Senate Journal shown below in the upper-half of the page it says,” …The Senate took up the House bill to lay off and organize a new county out of the counties of Campbell and Carroll, and to add a portion of the county of Fayette to that of Campbell; to move the town site of Campbell to some suitable and convenient place on the Atlanta & West Point Railroad, and for other purposes therein mentioned.
The Committee on New Counties and County Lines, to who this bill is referred, reported the same back with the recommendation that it do pass.
The report of the committee was agreed to.
Mr. Holcomb (39th District) proposed the following amendment, which lost, to-wit: [the amendment dealt with the Fayette voters and can be read on the page]
Page 478 shows where the discussion continues saying, “Mr. Hinton (24th District) moved to indefinitely postpone the bill.
Mr. Speer (22nd District) called the previous question, which being sustained the main question was ordered upon the motion of Mr. Hinton, which did not prevail.
Upon the question, shall this bill now pass – a constitutional majority being required to pass the same – the yeas and nays were required to be recorded and are yeas 25 nays 5.”
Names of those voting in the affirmative are given at the bottom of the page and…
…the nays can be seen at the top of page 478 of the Senate Journal, and it stated, “So, the bill was passed by a constitutional majority.”
Once the governor provided a signature Douglas County would exist. This occurred on October 17, 1870.
Regarding the Senate actions in the newspapers, I found the discussion for the morning session, Tuesday, October 12, 1870 in the Weekly New Era, an Atlanta newspaper where it was reported in their issue for October 19, 1870.
What is interesting about this report is that Douglas County IS named. Notice in the following images the county name is provided with one “S” just two days after the county’s formation date.
I made the following screenshots:
And here is a transcription of the discussion from those images:
“A bill to create a new county out of the counties of Campbell and Carroll, and for other purposes…was read a third time, said county to be called Douglas.
Mr. Barnes moved to strike from the bill all relating to Fayette County.
He said there were 19 counties that did not pay enough taxes to pay the per diem of the members of the lower house. He was opposed to all new counties.
Mr. Holcomb (39th District) moved to refer the matter to the people of the county of Fayette.
Mr. Hungerford (17th District) said that if the people wanted these new counties he saw no just reason why the Senate should not grant their request especially when the money necessary would come out of their own pockets and not from the funds of the state.
Mr. Holcomb opposed making new counties. He argued for his amendment.
Mr. Brock (38th District) supported the bill.
Mr. Bradley (1st District) opposed the bill being unconstitutional
Mr. Hinton (24th District) believed Mr. Bradley’s view was correct, it would take a two-thirds vote of each House and that it should be submitted to the legal voters of the county before a county can be abolished or created.
After a lengthy discussion taken part in by Messrs. Speer, Campbell (2nd District), Merrill, Smith (36th District), and Nunnally (26th District), the previous question was demanded.
Mr. Holcomb’s amendment was lost.
The bill was carried by 25 to 5.”
Again, there is no uproar regarding the naming of the county. The only objections had to do with the apportionment issue and the fact General Assembly members would lose a bit of their pay having to split with four new counties that were coming on board in 1870. The lone African American who spoke out as opposed to the bill, Mr. Bradley of the 1st District, did so because of unconstitutionality regarding adding another county. The five Senate members who voted no, against the bill for Campbell County, were all white and a mix of Democrats and Republicans.
There were no issues regarding naming the new county Douglas or regarding the namesake, Stephen A. Douglas.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS MYTH
So, where does this notion that Douglas County, Georgia was named for Frederick Douglass come from?
I’ve found three possible sources including typographical/spelling errors, a letter written in 1931, and recent media reports.
I’ve examined each one very carefully.
The first source happens to be a situation appearing in the early years of Douglas County where the county name was misspelled in the newspapers and on maps as you can see on this map dated 1874 which I obtained from this page.
Ever hear of typographical errors?
I’ve researched many counties across the nation named Douglas, and all have had to deal with misspellings of their name at one time or another. In fact, this would be the proper place to note in this chain of research that when Stephen A. Douglas was born his last name was spelled “Douglass”.
Yes, there was a double “S” in the name of Stephen A. Douglas originally.
At some point Stephen A. Douglass changed his last name to one S per biographer Roy Morris, Jr. in The Long Pursuit: Abraham Lincoln’s Thirty-Year Struggle with Stephen Douglas for the Heart and Soul of America, published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2008.
Stephen A. Douglas had to deal with the double S mistake for the rest of his life. Here are just three instances of typographical errors in Atlanta newspapers. I’m sure I could find more from other papers across the country if I wanted to.
From the Weekly New Era for October 5, 1870…
From the Weekly New Era for March 3, 1870…
From the Weekly New Era for July 13, 1870…
The Moses McKoy Smith Letter
The second source regarding the Frederick Douglass myth comes from a letter that supposedly was written in 1931 by Moses McKoy Smith (1854-1931) from his home in Texas. I’ve mentioned this letter in some of my writings and other local historians have mentioned it as well including Fannie Mae Davis and Joe Baggett, however, it was always presented as an aside to the events surrounding the formation of the county because the historical record and legal record as presented above strongly refutes it.
I would also like to add that it appears that I am the first county historian to actually take the time to examine the legal documents in totality along with the newspapers of the day, plus research each and every man who had anything to do with the formation of the county.
Upon closer examination and after researching this matter from various angles, I don’t feel this letter is a verifiable source of county history due to Moses McKoy Smith’s involvement and his father’s involvement in the location of Douglas County’s county site.
My first issue with the 1931 letter is I’ve never seen it, and I know of no other local historian including Fannie Mae Davis who has. I’ve recently inquired with Virginia Pope who served as Mrs. Davis’ assistant and editor with her book, Douglas County, Georgia: From Indian Trail to Interstate 20, and she tells me the actual letter was never seen.
There are several typed copies that can be located, but no copy has been authenticated as “the” letter. Some of the typed copies I’ve seen have differences in the wording and the events presented in the letter when they are compared. Plus, I’ve seen other letters written by Moses McKoy Smith throughout his lifetime which were all handwritten…no typed letters in the collection.
Another issue with the Moses McKoy Smith letter has to do with the fact that his family didn’t exactly head off to Texas with a love for some of the folks here in Douglas County. The Smith family were among the losers in a lawsuit that held up the naming of the county site for five years. The struggle was bitter, divided families, and feelings of rancor existed for years, even decades.
Douglas County existed as of 1870, but Douglasville, the county site, was not formed legally until 1875, and the reason had to do with a squabble over where the county seat would be located.
Soon after the county was formed an election was held as the law directed to determine the county site.
Moses Montgomery Smith (1815-1872), one of the men who pushed for Douglas County to be formed and the father of Moses McKoy Smith (the supposed letter writer), originally wanted the Chapel Hill area, which at that time covered all the area down to the Chattahoochee River, as the county site. Later, he amended his choice to what was the middle of Douglas County, the Pray’s Mill Baptist Church area. Other folks in Douglas County wanted Skint Chestnut (where Douglasville is located today) as the county site which was along the newly proposed railroad and for some it was the logical choice for the county site.
When the first election was held there were some irregularities regarding the counting of votes. Many said Skint Chestnut won, and the name would be changed to Douglasville, but folks like the Smith family were mad and filed a lawsuit to stop it.
The lawsuit wound through the courts slowly. The Skint Chestnut folks went ahead with their plans anyway. Young Vansant donated 40 acres for Douglasville and a makeshift, wooden courthouse was erected. By the time the second election was held…a do-over, you might say…most already considered Skint Chestnut/Douglasville to be the county site and their votes reflected so.
Moses Montgomery Smith died in 1872, and with his death the fight went out of those who wanted Pray’s Mill. The lawsuit disappeared, but many of the “center” people as they were referred to still had issues with not getting their way.
I call the story Moses McKoy Smith lays out in his letter a “ruse”…because he says the county was named for Frederick Douglass as this was the only way the legislation could be passed through the Radical Republican state legislature during Reconstruction. In other words, the county fathers fooled the African American controlled legislature, but really had no intention of keeping the Douglass name once Reconstruction was over.
At face value the story seems plausible, but upon more careful examination the “ruse” story doesn’t hold up. First, there was NO African American majority in the Georgia House, and the majority in the Senate was slight in 1870.
Second, we know that Douglas County wasn’t the only county created during this “Radical Republican” legislature, and their namesakes were varied – a church, a Yankee capitalist, and a man who was a proponent of state sovereignty – not exactly the namesakes you would think would come out of a Radical Republican controlled group. If they had wanted to name a county for Frederick Douglass, why stop there? Why not name all four for African American heroes of the time?
That didn’t happen because most people have an incorrect impression on what happened during the Radical Republican era.
Versions of the Moses McKoy Smith letter discuss how the county fathers followed this ruse until Federal control was over during Reconstruction, and then quietly cut the extra “S” from the county seal and went on like the “Douglass” name never existed.
Why cut an extra S off the official seal when the legal document that created the county…refer to the Act of 1870 above…had no extra S?
I firmly think the 1931 letter sent by Moses McKoy Smith was just one more way to throw a knife at a situation where he never admitted defeat. His letter was delivered just a few months before his death in 1932.
Regarding all the men who pushed for this new county – and there were several – I think their main desire was to get the county formed. They left the naming to W.S. Zellars, the representative for Campbell County. They didn’t care.
Regarding the men who “pushed” for this county they included the following: Moses M. Smith, Ephraim Pray, John C. Bowden, C.P. Bowen, John A. Wilson, W.N. McGouirk, J.H. Winn, S.N. Dorsett, John M. Huey, F.M. Duncan, W.D. Price, T.H. Selman, A.S. Gorman…and others.
I’ve researched ALL of these men and written about most at one time or another. They were white, Democrats, considered to be the planter class in the majority, ex Confederate soldiers, in some cases ex-slave owners, and if I dug hard enough I could…sadly…find Ku Klux ties with some. These were NOT men who would honor Frederick Douglass or push W.S. Zellars to name the county for a black man in the year 1870.
It was known the railroad was coming through Skint Chestnut…these men and others on the north side of the Chattahoochee River were not part of the power base for Campbell County. They rarely show up in political discussions, meetings, etc. prior to 1870, but once they got their county…BANG! Lots of money was made for most of these men due to the power they would hold in the new county.
If you read the original act for Douglas County you see it does more than just provide for a new county. It provides for Campbell County to move their county seat from Campbellton to Fairburn.
I believe that was part of the deal.
The men on the north side of the river got their new base of power to run as they wished being Douglas County with the plans for a new railroad to come through that section at some point, AND the men of Campbell County got to move their county seat from Campbellton which had no railroad to Fairburn where the business opportunities looked much brighter for the future.
The third and final source for the stories surrounding the naming of Douglas County is a news story from 2016 or 2017 where a relative of Frederick Douglass says the Radical Republican legislature named the county for Frederick Douglass and once Reconstruction was over the extra “S” disappeared, so let’s examine the events going on in Georgia from 1868 to 1870 which is the period of time that is sometimes labeled as the “Radical Republican Legislature”.
First, we already know there was a law that created the county, and we know how the law read. We also know the ONLY way to change a law is to AMEND it via the legislative process.
The law that created Douglas County has been amended at least twice. The only reasons for those amendments had to do with boundary lines.
In 1871, the amendment had to do with the Carroll County boundary. As these clippings show from the Atlanta Daily Sun.
The transcription from the Atlanta Daily Sun dated December 2, 1871:
Friday’s Session, December 1, 1871
Bills read for the third time:
to change the line between the counties of Douglas and Carroll
Mr. Head presented a petition from a large number of citizens and moved to disagree to the report of the committee which was adverse to the passage of the bill, urging that the citizens who desire this change, were cut off from Carroll County without their consent.
Mr. Goodman (Douglas County had no representative, Mr. Goodman represented Campbell County) favored the report of the committee and said that part of the persons affected by the bill, were formerly in Campbell County. He also presented a petition from over 200 citizens of Douglas County asking that the bill may not pass
The motion to disagree with the report of the committee prevailed and the bill was passed.
The 1874 Amendment is seen in this Atlanta Daily Herald newspaper account of the legislative history:
The transcription of the Atlanta Daily Herald, February 26, 1874 states:
Senate bills on their third reading…
A bill to change the lines between Carroll and Douglas Counties so as to include lands of A.B. Davis, passed.
Now, let’s examine the Radical Republican Legislature (1868-1870)…
In 1868, the state of Georgia remained in military control headed by General George C. Meade. In January 1868 General Meade installed a military governor by the name of General Thomas Ruger. He held office until July 1868. In March of that year 169 delegates met in Atlanta from all across the state to approve a new state constitution that met the demands of the First Reconstruction Act including provisions for black voting, free public school system, provided for debt relief, gave wives control of property, increased the governor’s term to four years, and moved the state’s seat of government to Atlanta.
I need to note here that of the 169 delegates who framed this state constitution 37 of them were African American. This new constitution was ratified by the General Assembly in April 1868, and Rufus Bullock, a Republican, became the state’s governor.
The General Assembly make-up was as follows: In the House were 84 Republicans (29 black), but they fell three seats short of a majority of the 172 seats. In the Senate there were 27 Republican seats (3 blacks) to 17 Democrats.
Some of the black Republicans included Henry McNeal Turner – Union chaplain during the war and minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Tunis Campbell – New Jersey native who settled in McIntosh County after the war and organized a group of black landowners along the coast registering black voters. Both men served as delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1867 and then were elected to the Georgia legislature in July 1868.
Also, in July 1868 the General Assembly Democrats and White Republican allies began a campaign to expel black legislators. This would happen in September 1868 resulting in prolonging military control in the state. These black legislators would not be allowed back until 1870 during a period known as Terry’s Purge.
Alfred H. Terry, the third and final commanding general of the District of Georgia took control in January 1870. He removed 24 Democrats from the legislature who had served in an official capacity during the Confederacy or who had not taken the oath to the United States. Terry replaced these men with their Republican runner-ups and then reinstated the expelled black legislators – this in turn created a heavy Republican majority, but it would only last until November 1871 when a new election resulted in heavy wins for the Democrats.
It is important to remember that while there were Republican majorities during some of this period, a Republican majority was not an African American majority. White Republicans outnumbered black Republicans, and often they disagreed.
Historian Kenneth Coleman in his A History of Georgia states, “The role of blacks in the Radical Republican legislature of Georgia was a very limited one, more so than in most of the southern states. This was due mainly to the fact that after two months in office they were removed from and denied their seats for almost a year and a half, from September 1868 to January 1870.”
The idea that the Radical Republican legislature was full of African Americans and they passed any legislation they wished is a misnomer. It is a myth…especially when you look at the body of legislation passed during this time.
There was no reason for any supposed delegation from Campbell County to let it be known the new county would be named for Frederick Douglass because there weren’t enough black members to create a block.
In fact, black members once they retook their seats were more interested in getting the 14th amendment re-ratified and the 15th amendment ratified so their people could be citizens and then be allowed to vote.
Legislation regarding new counties was just a blip on the map regarding the hundreds of things that were deliberated and passed during the 1868 to 1870 term.
Finally, Frederick Douglass was a rock star in the 1870s and rightly so. Every move of his was recorded daily in the all newspapers across the country. Where he went, what he ate, who he saw, and honors that were bestowed upon him were recorded in the newspapers every day. Go to newspapers.com which is a national data base and do a search…thousands of hits…or the Library of Congress national newspaper database. I’ve used various keywords to attempt to isolate an article on a county in Georgia being named for him. I’ve found nothing.
Had a county in the deep south full of ex-slave owners and ex-Confederates been named for a black man in 1870…it would have gone viral, right? Over ten years of research, and I’ve found nothing.
While I can understand someone arguing the official records could have been cleaned up later, it would have been hard considering the books of acts passed each year were printed in the hundreds. It would have been impossible to round them all up and republish them a few years later. I also don’t see how the newspaper records could have been hidden when it was published daily in real time.
My best expert opinion: Douglas County was named for Stephen A. Douglas as proven above.
The men in Campbell were happy to get their new county seat at Fairburn. The men in Douglas were happy to have their new county, and all were happy to allow W.S. Zellars, a non-Democrat, to give the new county a name for someone he admired: Stephen A. Douglas.
To keep putting the myth out there that there was a group of people who wanted Douglas County to be named for Frederick Douglass, that it passed the legislature, and then quietly went away without referencing any supporting documentation from official state documents, authenticated letters, journals, newspaper stories, etc. from the time period speaks volumes to me as a dedicated historian.
It would appear a political agenda is more important than historical truth and in my personal opinion as a Douglas County citizen, a historian, and as an educator with a Master degree in curriculum it is a dangerous thing indeed when local, state, or national governments, as well as some members of the media seek to change written and valid history on unproven myths and folklore.
The wonderful legacy of Frederick Douglass deserves better treatment than that.