North Carolina - Antebellum Key Events - The Walton War

An interstate clash in 1804 on the poorly-defined frontier between North Carolina and Georgia, but also including a small portion of South Carolina, precipated the Walton War. The land area in question lay in or adjacent to the land ceded to the US government by these three states. Each state had granted land to settlers, though none knew for certain where the state lines were.

In this "Orphan Strip" about twelve miles wide, settlers far removed from any state authority held community meetings for their own well being. Thinking that they were within the state of Georgia, the area's approximately 760 white and 40 black residents petitioned that state for protection. The state of Georgia responded by creating Walton County in 1803, however the citizens of Buncombe County in North Carolina realized what was taking place and they strongly objected to this. They denied the validity of the Georgia land grants, demanded taxes and militia service of the residents, and protested the suspected presence of unlawful land speculators.

As a result of this dispute, there were instances of armed conflict, militias from the two states fought each other, houses were burned, and general banditry prevailed. Appeals by Georgia state officials for congressional intervention were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, the North Carolina government strongly maintained that the thirty-fifth parallel of north latitude was the proper boundary between the two states, and the line had been surveyed three times. Georgia was reluctant to accept the surveyors' findings until 1807, when commissioners from the two states came to an agreement. It was not until 1810, however, after Georgia had conducted its own independent survey did its protests cease. North Carolina's claims were sustained.

In 1797, surveyor John Clark Kirkpatrick made an attempt, as part of the surveying of the Indian line by Andrew Pickens for South Carolina and Benjamin Hawkins for North Carolina, to ascertain the boundary between North Carolina and South Carolina. Kirkpatrick's line divided the settlement that had already gathered in the area, but it left most in South Carolina.

In 1802, the portion of this recently-settled area south of the new line was ceded to Georgia as part of a federal agreement whereby Georgia ceded its territories associated with Alabama and Mississippi to the federal government in exchange for this tract. This settlement was then organized by the Georgia legislature a Walton County. Those holding North Carolina land grants in the vicinity, however, did not recognize Georgia's authority over the area.

This resulted in a number of incidents in December of 1804 in which Walton County officials sought to impose Georgia law on the North Carolina settlers and to collect taxes. In one of these confrontations, North Carolina constable John Hafner was killed when he was struck in the head with the butt of the musket by Georgia official Samuel McAdams.

The North Carolina militia was ordered into the region to arrest the offending Georgia officials. All of the Walton County officers ultimately escaped from jail before trial and fled to South Carolina and Georgia because they were under indictment for Hafner's murder. This exertion of authority by North Carolina, however, demonstrated that the settlement was too remote from the seat of power in Georgia for that state to enforce any legitimate claim.

By 1807, Georgia and North Carolina agreed that the dividing line between the two states should be the thirty-fifth parallel. A joint survey by the presidents of the University of Georgia and the University of North Carolina revealed that the entire settlement was in North Carolina. Georgia did not recognize the validity of this survey until 1811, when it was confirmed by an independent survey performed by Andrew Ellicott, who located the boundary at Ellicott's Rock.

Although the Georgians who had been arrested in Hafner's death had fled, North Carolina granted amnesty to the other Walton County officials and reintegrated them into the settlement.

The State of Georgia ceded some disputed land in the Yazoo Land Fraud along with its associated problems to the United States government on 26 April 1802, for $1,250,000 and removal of the Cherokees from Georgia at Federal expense.

Article II of the 1802 Act of Cession contained a thorn. When stripped of its legalese, Article II required Georgia to take responsibility for an outlaw- and desperado-infested patch of land known as the Orphan Strip. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia had all previously refused this honor. Article II led to war between Georgia and North Carolina in 1804.

The Walton War, as it is now known, was a little one-sided but a war it was, nevertheless. The Orphan Strip included the upper French Broad River valley in what is now Transylvania County in North Carolina. Georgia established the first Walton County in the Orphan Strip in 1803 and appointed a sheriff, judge, and the usual lot of bureaucratic parasites. Elections were held and John Nicholson and John Aiken served as representatives of Walton County in the Georgia Legislature at Milledgeville.

As the state of Georgia attempted to clean up the Orphan Strip, it began to look more attractive to North Carolina who began advancing a claim to the land. Georgia protested North Carolina's actions to the United States without success. A North Carolina Militia Unit was posted to the upper French Broad River with orders to remove the Walton County Government.

The major engagement was fought at McGaha Branch about one mile south of present day Brevard near the Wilson Bridge on U.S. Highway 276. The North Carolina Militia killed an unknown number of the Georgians and took about twenty-five prisoners. A second stand was made by the survivors of McGaha Branch at Selica Hill some three miles southwest of Brevard. The Georgians were either shot or taken prisoner. Sporadic snipping continued for some weeks but the main engagements were over.


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