While prosperous planters controlled antebellum Georgia, for the most part north Georgia was home to farmers and merchants. These men had little time for leisure or academics and were overly middle-class. In the northern part of the state, only in Athens and Rome did an aristocracy form, and it was composed of a few planters and merchants. Among whites the illiteracy rate was 20 percent.
Map of North Georgia Railroads
Thanks to the farsightedness of Wilson Lumpkin and others, by 1850 Georgia had the best railroad system in the deep South. In the northern part of the state, the Georgia Central RR cut across the state, meeting the Western and Atlantic Railroad in Atlanta. The WARR ran from the Chattahoochee River to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Spurs connected Rome andAthens to the main line.
Starting in the 1830's an economic boom spurred growth throughout much of the north Georgia area. Railroads began to move cargo in the area in 1833 and the state completed a Chattanooga to Atlanta (formerly Marthasville) link in 1850. Textile mills sprang up across the area as the railroads were built. A severe depression following the Panic of 1837 and stretching into the mid-1840's delayed the growth of the area, but by 1860 Georgia had 1200 miles of track and the best rail system in the deep South.
Although largely regarded as an agricultural area, North Georgia also had numerous tanneries, brickworks, and iron foundries. Gold was discovered in 1828 in present-day White County and later in the area around Dahlonega (Lumpkin County), supported mining operations that were so productive that the United States built the Dahlonega Mint in the town in 1838. Iron, clay, coal and marble were also taken from the ground.
The larger cities of the time included Ringgold, a warehouse district south of Chattanooga, Cassville, a major cultural center until destroyed by General_Slaves in GeorgiaMany misconceptions exist about the institution of slavery in North Georgia. One is that a significant number of North Georgians owned slaves. The most accurate figure is about 7% of North Georgians owned slaves at the time of the Civil War. That percentage was significantly lower (3%) in the mountains of North Georgia, and higher in the eastern piedmont area (almost 10% in some places). Only in the larger cities of Rome, Athens, and Lawrenceville did ownership exceed 10%. Slaves were a sign of wealth. Most slaves were owned by planters and, to a much less extent, professionals.
In coastal Georgia and on the piedmont plantations most menial tasks were performed by black slaves. In the mountains of north Georgia similar tasks were completed by the large amount of Scot and Irish farmers, displaced during the brutal Panic of 1837. These workers, who lack a title, are sometimes called indentured servants, however, they lacked a term of service. Cherokee Indians who were left behind during the Cherokee Trail of Tears were also used to complete the tasks that a black slave might perform in coastal and Piedmont areas of Georgia.
Georgia had been slave-free until 1750 when Joseph Habersham and two pastors pushed for admitting slaves to the fledgling colony. Habersham, a teacher, later became acting governor of the state in the early 1770's. Although a number of Cherokee (most notably Chief James Vann, Major Ridge, and John Ross) owned slaves, introduction of black slavery to North Georgia was much slower than to the eastern coast of the state. Generally, settlers did not farm the land here until after 1830, and there were large areas that were not farmed.
Sir Godfrey Barnsley was one of the richest men in north Georgia. His palatial estate near present-day Adairsville, Georgia is now a an inn and golf club (Barnsley Gardens). Margaret Mitchell based the character Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind (Books:Hard cover, Paperback, Video:VHS, DVD) on Mr. Barnsley. Other wealthy north Georgians include Farish Carter, for whom the city of Cartersville is named, and Asa Prior, founder of Cedartown.
An economic boom that started shortly before the completion of the Western and Atlantic Railroad in 1850 carried north Georgia into the war. The economic downturn in 1857 did not have a lasting effect on most residents.
Georgia History Articles about North Georgia history and the state in general. This section is currently being developed. For more information on Georgia History, please see The Civil War in Georgia