Friday, February 28, 2014



       John Whitehead had the "right stuff."  When it came to flying jet aircraft, he had no fear.  Whitehead flew higher and faster than any African American had ever done before.  Almost every hot shot pilot had a nickname.  In the case of John Whitehead, the United States Air Force's first African-American experimental test pilot,  they called him "Mr. Death," not because of his daring skills in soaring through the stratosphere, but because of his gaunt, shrunken face and skeleton-like frame.

John Lyman Whitehead, Jr. was born on May 14, 1924 in Lawrenceville, Virginia, a small town on the border of North Carolina.  As a child, John would spend some time in and around Dublin.

John Whitehead attended West Virginia State College prior to entering the U.S. Army Air Force.  After training at Tuskegee University, Whitehead was assigned as a pilot  with the 301st Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group of the Tuskegee Airmen.  The 301st primarily performed escort duty on bombing runs over enemy positions in Europe.

"It was an experiment that was established that was supposed to fail, Whitehead said in a 1984  interview with the Portland Oregonian. 

"But the people who were involved in it weren't going to let it fail," added the veteran pilot, who volunteered in the service after his 18th birthday. 

"I had rather fly through this war instead of walk through," recalled Whitehead, who would enter flight training at Tuskegee shortly after his 19th birthday. 

Lt. Whitehead, who earned his wings in 1944,  finally made it to Europe in March 1945, a few months before Germany surrendered.  As he reported for duty at an airfield near Foggia, Italy, his commanding officer, Captain Bob Friend, observed the five-foot, six-inch, 121-pound pilot's skeleton like frame.  

Friend exclaimed, "My Gawd!  What have they sent us  now as a replacement, Mr. Death?" an Ebony Magazine writer wrote in the January 1951 cover story.

Whitehead liked the name and painted it on the nose of his plane.

In his brief stint with the 332nd, nicknamed the "Red Tails" by the bomber crews who were grateful for their fighter support and the "Black Birdmen" by their Germain fighter opponents, Lt. Whitehead was only able to fly nineteen missions.    Although credited officially with only two kills, Whitehead saw plenty of action, some of it nearly fatal.

After his first hitch in the Air Force was over, Whitehead returned stateside to enroll at West Virginia University.  In 1948, the former "Black Eagle," received a degree in Industrial Engineering.  
Whitehead was recalled to active duty in the now integrated  Air Force in 1948.  As a pioneer in the training of jet pilots, Whitehead was a stern, but patient, instructor.   In his tenure at Williams Air Force Base in Utah (1948-1951,)  all but one of his students received their certification as a jet pilot.

President Truman's Executive Order  9981 mandated equal treatment in the Armed Forces although nearly all of Whitehead's students were white.  

Lefty Selenger, "ranking officer at Williams Air Force Base told Ebony Magazine,  "Whitehead has no race problem. He is better liked than most of us by the white boys."  

Whitehead helped to train the Class of 1952 Charlie, which included some four hundred men who would serve as pilots in Korea and Vietnam.  It was during this time when John Whitehead met Roy Black, a trainee from Lithia Springs, Georgia.

In his book, "52-Charlie," Edward Gushee in describing the relationship between the two best friend pilots, Roy "Blackie" Black and John "Whitey" Whitehead, wrote, "Blackie flew an additional twenty missions and when his tour was over, resigned his commission and returned to Georgia.  John Whitehead, who had been raised in Dublin, Georgia, less than a hundred miles from where "Blackie" was born, stayed in the Air Force as a career officer.

After the Korean War, John Whitehead worked as a liaison between the Air Force and Boeing Aircraft and Northrop, two of the country's largest producers of jet aircraft.   Lt. Col. Whitehead  ended his 28- year career with the Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base in 1974. 

In his nearly three-decade career with the Air Force, Lt. Col. John Whitehead is credited with being the Air Force's first African American test pilot and the first African-American jet pilot instructor.  His heroic and dedicated service resulted in him being awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross with five oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with seven  oak leaf clusters, along with the Army Commendation Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

John Whitehead, who flew millions and millions of miles in the service of his country,  died on September 6, 1992 . He was laid to rest beneath a bronze marker in the Riverside National Cemetery in Sacramento, California.

Col. Whitehead, like Col. Marion Rodgers, another California Tuskegee Airman who once, albeit temporarily lived in Laurens County, joins Major Herndon Cummings to form a trio of former Laurens Countians who called themselves Tuskegee Airmen and who served their country with pride.  

Presently, a bill is scheduled to be introduced into the Georgia legislature  to honor these three heroes by naming the intersection of the 441 By Pass and U.S. Highway 80 West in their honor.    


"The Black Boxcar"

In this corner from Cochran, Georgia, Obie Walker!  He was big. He was strong. He jabbed his opponents with machine gun like speed.   Obie Walker thought he could whip every boxer in the world.  But, the Georgia Goliath never got the chance to fight the world champions Max Baer or Joe Louis.  This is the story of a local man, who once reigned as the Prince of boxing in Europe and among his race, was considered a world champion.

Obie Diah Walker was born in Bleckley County, Georgia on September 19, 1911. Before the age of nine, Obie was living with his maternal grandparents, Frank and Elizabeth Powell of the Frazier community.

Obie moved to Atlanta  as a way  to increase his chances for success as a boxer. His first of 100 professional fights took place some eighty five years ago  on February 16, 1929  against "Battling Connell"  in the Auditorium in Atlanta, Georgia.  The hometown fighter had little trouble against Connell, who lost all three of his career professional fights, two of them to the Brute from Bleckley.

Walker won four straight bouts, some people say eighteen,  until his first loss on points to Happy Hunter on February 3, 1930.  

The "Black Boxcar," built like a bank safe,"  would not lose again in thirty fights (28-0-2)  until he lost a close decision on points to Don "Red" Barry at the Arena in Philadelphia.  His last win in America came against George Godfrey, to capture the title of  the Colored Heavyweight Champion.  

That is when Walker's manager Jefferson Davis Dickson made the decision to take his fighter, with a record of 32-2-2, to take on the best fighters in Europe.  Some say that Walker had fought at least sixty other undocumented bouts with colored fighters in addition to his three dozen professional fights.     

The first European  fight came in Sallewagram in Paris, France.  Walker knocked out Belgian giant Louis Verbeeren in the last round of a ten-round match on Groundhog Day in 1934. Fighting primarily in French and Swiss arenas, Walker knocked out all of his first nine opponents. Only one of the ko's came after the third round.  After losing two of his next three matches, Obie, trained by former Argentine champion Norman Tomasulo,  won nine of ten before leaving Europe on a losing note in June 1936 with a defeat on points.

Named "Enfant Terrible "  by his adoring French fans who stormed the headquarters of Joe Louis following the defeat of Max Baer, Walker was praised  for his strikingly unorthodox and  innovative style.  

In commenting on a possible match with Lewis, Walker said, "I ain't been asked yet.  And, I ain't askin." 

Walker confidently  commented on a match with Lewis, the Brown Bomber, "There ain't no fighter in the world who doesn't make a mistake during a fight. Me, I just stand around and wait for that mistake.  

"I can take it.  And, when Louis makes that mistake, I'll swat him," the Georgia boxer proclaimed.  

As he traveled Europe and the states, Walker, a quiet man who could not write and could only read picture books,  showed off his strength by going to carnivals and picking up the strong men and their hefty weights - all at the same time. 

Obie Walker firmly believed that World Champion Joe Louis and he could beat any boxer in the world.  Walker  yearned to get his chance just to fight Louis or Louis' arch rival Max Schmelling, of Germany.  

"Let Louis clean up the states. I'll clean up Europe. Then we will get together and see what for," Walker once proclaimed. 

Walker's first bout upon his return to the United States came in Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia.  Walker had won a fight at Shibe Park, the home of the Philadelphia Athletics, in 1933. Municipal Stadium  was the same outdoor arena where Gene Tunney captured the world heavyweight boxing title from Jack Dempsey. The bout came at the home of the Philadelphia Phillies, where Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott in 1952 to win boxing's heavyweight championship.

Walker pulled himself off the mat and won six consecutive fights in his home territory of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina before losing half of his next eight fights.  Seven straight wins brought Walker to the climax of his career.  No longer the Cochran Colossus he once was, Walker, who had returned to his home at 514 Larkin Street,  lost four of his last six fights before the beginning of World War II.  Walker hung up his gloves after a failed comeback attempt after the war when he lost to Elza Thompson at Dorsey Park in Miami in March 1946 in a close 10-round decision. 

Atlanta Georgian sportswriter Ed Danforth wrote of Walker, "Walker became the toast of Paris.  He knocked cold every topnotcher he met on the continent.  Max Schmelling shrewdly dodged him, the best of the Englishmen too, sidestepped the squatty brown man who carried lightning bolts in both fists.  Competent critics say he could have knocked out Schmelling, Joe Louis and Jim Braddock in one night with the space of ten rounds. 

In the 100 recorded bouts of his twelve- year career, the five- foot nine- inch Obie Walker compiled a record of 77 wins, 16 losses and 5 draws. Walker's powerful arms knocked out 53 of his opponents.  Remarkably, Walker was never himself knocked out - a feat matched only by a few dozen American professional boxers in the history of the sport.

On May 4, 1989, at the age of seventy-seven, Obie Walker unceremoniously died in his adopted hometown of Atlanta.  There is no adequate marker to designate the  final resting place of this once proud and powerful Heavyweight Colored Champion of the World.  Maybe now, many more people will know his story, the story of the Black Boxcar, aka the Bleckley Behemoth, who in a  hundred fights never went down to the mat for the count.


A Television Trailblazer

The day was September 29, 1948.  At 8:00 p.m., history was made in the South.  As the National Anthem played, John Cone proclaimed, "WSB-TV is on the air!"  It was the first time that a television signal was broadcast from the Deep South.  And, at the helm of this history making venture  was John M. Outler, Jr., who once, albeit briefly, called Dublin, Georgia his home.

John Morgan Outler, Jr., the oldest son of the Rev. John Morgan Outler, Sr. and his wife, Gertrude Dewberry, was born on August 19, 1892 in the Thomas County community of Metcalf.  His father had just began his duties as a Methodist minister.  Over the next sixteen years, Outler traveled with his parents as new assignments came in places like Thomasville, Cairo, Jeffersonville, Wadley, Sandersville, and eventually in Dublin in 1909. 

Young John was a grandson of Rufus Alexander Outlaw and Jane Chipley of the Boiling Springs Community of Laurens County.  His great grandparents, Alexander Outlaw and Olive Musselwhite, were among the first settlers of the northeastern part of Laurens County. 

The junior Outler attended Young Harris College before entering Emory College, Georgia's premier Methodist University.  Following his graduation from Emory, Outler accepted a position as a reporter for the Augusta Chronicle.  After a couple of years, the young reporter realized that he was more suited as an advertising agent for the Atlanta Journal.  

As the United States entered World War I, a call was sent out the highly educated to enlist in the Army "over there."  Outler joined the 319th Field Artillery, serving first at Fort McPherson and Camp Georgia closer to home before traveling to New York. Outler went overseas for year beginning in May 1918.  Outler's unit participated in the attack on St. Miehel, France and the Meuse Argonne offensive, which led to the ultimate surrender of German forces.

After the war, Outler returned to Georgia and his position at the Journal. Eventually he was promoted to business manager of the paper.  In 1931, the up and coming executive switched positions with the paper's radio station, WSB, regarded as the top radio station in the South.  

In the days of the Great Depression, it has been said that for many years Outler was the station's only advertising salesman.  One fellow ad salesman once commented, "He was always great company.  One minute Outler was a warm philosopher, the next a great spinner of yarns with a southern drawl as wide as Peachtree Street, and the next moment he was  deadly earnest; one thing he never was   a stuffed shirt." 

During the height of World War II, "Johnny" Outler, as he was known to his colleagues and listeners, was promoted to General Manager of WSB. 

After the end of the war, a new, more exciting form of mass media began to emerge.  Although it had been around for more than a decade, the new medium of television began to emerge, primarily in the Northeast.  The South's first television station, WTVR, went on the air in Richmond, Virginia in April 1948.  

Later in the summer, Outler and his colleagues assembled at Grant Field in Atlanta, for the Georgia High School All Star football game.  WSB's crew filmed the event, sending the pictures out through a closed circuit network.  

Then, on the evening of September 29, 1948, it all began for real.  

After the formalities with remarks by James Cox, the president of the company, and NBC president, Niles Trammell, Georgia Governor Melvin Thompson and Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield made politically serving comments.   

In the audience that night would be one of Outler's first hires, a young radio comedian from Missouri, Dick Van Dyke, who would make his television debut on WSB with his daily program, "The Merry Mutes." 

Among his colleagues, Outler was considered a pioneer, both in radio and television.  In 1954, he led the way with the first color television broadcast in the South. The short in stature, but tall in admiration Outler worked to construct the second tallest television antenna in the country, a fete which allowed the lower frequency signal to be clearly received as far as 250 miles away.  Outler worked with Rich's Department Store to produce one of the first television shows in the country which allowed shoppers to view the store's merchandise from the comfort of their own living rooms. 

He was a founder of the National Association of Broadcasters, serving a term on the association's board of directors.  Outler was chosen as Chairman of the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters in 1956. 

Outler's affable style made him quite popular as a speaker at industry meetings, schools and other business organizations. 

Outler, believing in the principles of his Christian home, led the way on television for the expansion of Civil Rights in Georgia, a nationally recognized accomplishment which Outler proudly displayed in the studios.   

"When Johnny Outler retires, an era retires," so said one of Outler's fellow broadcaster's.  That era finally came to an end in 1958.  After more than four decades with the The Augusta Chronicle,  The Atlanta Journal, WSB-Radio and WSB-TV, Company president Leonard Reinsch presented Outler a large token of Cox Broadcasting Company's gratitude when he delivered a 14-foot cruiser to the retiring icon of Georgia broadcast journalism and to a man who was known to fight for what was right for radio. 

John Outler died on New Year's Eve on the last day of 1966.  In his career, he served through the infancy of radio and aided the  birth of television in America.  And, during all that time, he  did it with grace, charm and compassion.     


       If you were asked to list the ten most influential persons in the history of Laurens County, you would have to include the name of General David Blackshear.  In many lists, he would be near the top, certainly first in chronological order.   This is the story of a remarkable man, who as a child fought to defend his state from British invaders, as a young man braved the wilderness of the Georgia frontier, as a middle-aged adult, he  led armies to protect the fledgling state of Georgia from the British and hostile Indians in the War of 1812 and as a wise old sage, the old general guided the state through some its greatest trials and tribulations.

David Blackshear was born on January 31, 1764 in Craven County, later Jones County, North Carolina.  The third of eight children of James and Catherine Franck Blackshear, young David was reared in a home, seven miles above Newton on the banks of Chinquapin Creek near Trenton.  David's grandfather Alexander Blackshear came to North Carolina  as early as 1732. Blackshear arrived in the colony in the company of John Martin Franck and Phillip Miller.  They landed in New Haven.  As soon as they were able to secure sufficient transportation, the families traveled up the Trent River about twenty miles before coming ashore. There they found a wilderness west of New Bern, which had been settled in 1710.   They carried their  sole possessions with them since there was no stock for food and no horses for transportation.  These stalwart German immigrants immediately went to work building their homes.  Blackshear applied for and was granted a patent to obtain his land from the Crown. 

The Blackshears and their related matriarchal relatives were of German ancestry.  Alexander Blackshear made out his last will and testament on October 3, 1785.  In it, he named his wife Agnes and children, James, Eleanor Bailey, Elisha, Abraham, Sarah Clifton and a granddaughter Susanna Fordham, who apparently was a daughter of another daughter.  Agnes Blackshear died sometime in or shortly after 1793. John Franck and his wife Civel  had two daughters, Barbara and Catherine. Catherine  first married a Mr. Bush and had two sons, John and William.  Bush died in the late 1750s and his widow married James Blackshear.  James and Catherine had James, Edward, David, Elizabeth, Susannah, Elijah, Penelope and Joseph.  Barbara Franck married Daniel Shine.  The Shines lived ten miles above Trenton. Mrs. Shine was given the honor of entertaining General George Washington on his tour of the South in 1791.  

David and his siblings had a meager education at best.  Periodically a traveling teacher might be hired to teach the children the fundamentals of writing and reading.  Most days of spring and summer were spent learning the science and art of agriculture.  

Edward, born on January 20, 1762, married Emily Mitchell. He lived for a time in Montgomery County before joining the mass migration to Thomas County, where he died in 1829. Elizabeth, born on September 16, 1765, married Blake Bryan.  The daughter Mary, married the legendary Maj. Gen. Ezekiel Wimberly of Twiggs County, Georgia.  Susannah, born on May 27, 1769, married Edward Bryan.  Following his death in 1813, Susannah and her sons moved to Twiggs County to be closer to their family. Elijah, born on July 17, 1771, never married.  He died in Laurens County in1821 and is buried in the old yard at Vallambrosa.    Penelope, born on April 13, 1773, married Edward Bryan, and joined her sisters and their Bryan husbands in Twiggs County.  Joseph, the youngest child, was born on September 7, 1775.  He married Winifred, sister of Col. William A. Tennille, Secretary of State of Georgia.   He died in Laurens County in 1830. 

In the late spring of 1775, reports of the encounter between Massachusetts minute men and British Army regulars at Concord and Lexington reverberated throughout the backwoods of Jones County.  Militia units in the area forced the British to abandon New Bern, then the capital of North Carolina.  The British army under the command of General McDonald rendezvoused at Cross Creek on February 15, 1776.  Present were a force of 1600 men composed of Highlanders, loyalists and eleven dozen ex-Regulators.    The Blackshears and their neighbors did not take this threat lightly.  Guns, tools and any weapon capable of inflicting deadly harm were grabbed up by men of fighting age.  

On the morning of February 27, 1776, the loyalists were moving north across Moore's Creek some twenty miles north of Wilmington.  There as they crossed a bridge, partially disassembled to retard their progress.  They were met by a force of a thousand patriots who pounced upon them in utter surprise.  Expecting only light opposition as their column moved through the countryside, the Scottish Highlanders were dazed and confused as the North Carolinians assaulted them with deadly effect.  As the enemy chaotically left the field in retreat, they left valuable wagons, weapons and huge sums of silver coins.  Thirty enemy soldiers were dead. Some 850 more were captured.  The defeat at Moore's Creek effectively ended Tory activities in the area for years to come.    Present that day, probably somewhere in the rear of the fighting, was a twelve-year-old David Blackshear, along with his older brothers James and Edward.  The young warrior was also present at the Battle of Buford's (Beauford's) Bridge.  

After the battle, David returned home and for three months of school before being tutored by James Alexander Campbell Hunter Peter Douglass, an eccentric Scotsman.  In his latter years Blackshear related a tale about a time when the professor instructed the class to spell the word "corn," which his pronounced "korrun."  Each student spelled the word just as they had heard it.  Upon an examination of their papers, the Scotsman became so infuriated that he flogged every single member of the class and sent them home.   

David's oldest brother, James Blackshear, Jr., and his cousin, Martin Franck were appointed to raise a company of militia to defend their local area.  A scouting party composed of James, Edward and David, along with Martin Franck, Peter Callaway and several others, was sent out under the command of Captain Yates to locate, capture and kill, if necessary, a band of Tories.  The party stopped to rest for the night at the home of Col. White.  James, Martin and Peter continued on to James's home some five or six miles further away.  

Just as the men were sitting down for a well-desired supper, the house was surrounded by Tories.  James and Martin were taken out of the house, carried to the end of the lane, tied to stakes and executed without mercy.  Somehow Peter Callaway escaped.  A Negro man ran as fast as he could to Col. White's house.  Following closely on his trail, a band of Tories set out to destroy the remaining Whigs.   With only seven horses for fourteen men, Yates set out toward the Blackshear home.  Just as they left the gate outside the White house, they were ambushed by the Tories, hidden on both sides of the road, killing one patriot and wounding several others, including Edward Blackshear, who was shot in both hands as he was riding double with another man.  The Whigs scrambled for the nearest cover.   Captain Yates, his collar bone broken, fired and killed the Tory captain.   After the skirmish ended, the Loyalist leader was promptly, and without a moment's hesitation, tied to a stake.  A flurry of gunshots inflicted sweet revenge on the murder of  their compatriots.  

Those who have not studied the history of the American Revolution in the South do not realize the barbarous acts inflicted by Tories on the Patriots and vice versa.  It was the country's first Civil War, and unlike the conflict which would follow nine decades later, neighbors killed neighbors.

With the end of the American Revolution in 1783, the State of Georgia signed the treaty of Washington.  The agreement with the Indian tribes who owned the lands provided a cession of all the lands from present day Athens down the Oconee and Altamaha Rivers to present day Tattnall County.  The new county was named Washington in honor of the most prominent founding father of the country.  

David Blackshear, though lacking in any substantial mathematical training, developed an interest in surveying.   He taught himself how to use a transit, compass and protractor to survey land.   Services of trained surveyors were at a premium and the mapping and division of the new county of Washington drew the young man to Georgia.  He made several trips to Georgia, first in Wilkes County and then into Washington County.  Life for a 18th Century surveyor wasn't easy.  With no comforts of home, surveyors trampled through swamps, creeks, briar patches and were constantly in fear of attack by Indians, who still possessed lands west of the Oconee River.  

David Blackshear settled along the banks of the Oconee River about the year 1790.  He chose the perfect spot for a home, one just above the point where the ancient Lower Uchee Indian Trail crossed the Oconee River at Carr's Bluff.    Then in Washington County, Blackshear chose a tract of land with fine river bottom lands and a prime spot for his home on an elevated ridge.  The only trouble was that he chose a place which was subject to numerous depredations by some Creek Indian hunters who had been displaced from the lands some seven years prior.  Blackshear's grants of land totaled more than twenty one hundred acres, the largest being 1084 acres in 1793.    Grants of the latter's size usually indicated that the grantee had performed some public service to the state beyond the standard 287.5 acre grants given to soldiers of the Continental Line.  

Many of the conflicts along the lower Oconee River centered around Carr's Bluff on the eastern banks of the Oconee River in north central Laurens County.  Carr's Bluff is  relatively small in comparison with higher bluffs up river.  Its importance was derived from its location.  The bluff is located at the point where the Lower Uchee Trail crossed the Oconee River.  The trail was used by Indians in their travels between the Augusta area and lower portions of Georgia and Alabama.  The trail seems to have been used throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and may have been in use long before then.  According to some early Georgia historians,  it was the path taken by the Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, while on his expedition in May of 1540.

In 1792,  the clouds of war once again came into this area.  While negotiations were pending at Rock Landing, attacks continued along the eastern banks of the Oconee. Indian agent Seagrove went from village to village asking for the return of stolen animals.  In July,  Captain Benjamin Harrison had six horses stolen from him by Uchee Indians.  Harrison lived at Carr's Bluff, across from the present day Country Club.  Settlers in what would become eastern Laurens County stepped up their defenses.  An old Indian trail leading along the eastern edge of the river was used for border patrols.  This may have been the Milledgeville-Darien Road.   The settlers petitioned the Georgia governor for ammunition and forts.  The State built an outpost called Fort Telfair at Carr's Bluff on the Oconee River in 1793.  The people built their own forts arming their families and even their slaves.  On April 18, 1793,  the Indians raided the home of William Pugh near Carr's Bluff.  Pugh was the son of Col. Francis Pugh for whom Pugh's Creek in eastern Laurens County is named.  Pugh was killed and scalped in the attack.  Four horses were taken and one slave was captured.  The situation eased when the Oconee's waters rose, creating a natural barrier to an attack.

In the summer of 1793,  armies were being raised all over Georgia to protect against further raids.  Benjamin Harrison, a resident of the Carr's Bluff area, bore the brunt of these constant attacks of horse taking and killing of livestock. Captain Benjamin Harrison simply hated Indians.  Harrison once said "that there should never be a peace with the Indians whilst his name was Ben Harrison for he was able to raise men enough to kill half the Indians that might come to any treaty."  Benjamin Harrison is said to have been a frontier character with a patch over an eye and piece of his nose missing.  Harrison, a captain of the local militia, called his men together for a mission to retrieve some of his stolen horses.  The company moved along the Lower Uchee Trail until they reached the home of the Uchee King who promised him that the horses would be returned.  At another time, Harrison's men overtook a group of Indians taking three of their guns.  Timothy Barnard, the husband of a Uchee woman, convinced Harrison to return the guns and the matter was temporarily resolved.  

By October of 1793,  Harrison's ire had once again been raised by the Indians.  Captain Harrison's company and other companies under the command of Major Brenton set out from Carr's Bluff in defiance of General Jared Irwin.  Their destination was a Chehaw village on the Flint River.  Their objective was to capture any runaway slaves and stolen property.  They found the village defended by sixteen males and four slaves.  The rest of the men were in Florida hunting for game.  A battle ensued with two Georgians and three Indians being killed.

In early May of 1794,  Indian agent Seagrove invited the Lower Creeks and Uchees to return to their hunting grounds along the Oconee River while treaty negotiations continued.  That same month Georgia's war hero, General Elijah Clarke, was about to embark upon an attack on the Spanish at St. Augustine.  Clarke and his men were supported by the French government.  The expedition left from the upper Oconee area down an old Indian trail along the western side of the Oconee River.  The men camped at Carr's Bluff on their route to Florida.  Before he could invade, Clarke was convinced by the federal government to call off the attack.

On October 28, 1795,  Georgia and the United States were drawn into an incident which nearly precipitated a  war with the Creek Nation.  A small group of Indians had crossed the Oconee River and were visiting friends in a home near Carr's Bluff.  Benjamin Harrison, along with Mr. Vessels and their men, attacked the Indians, killing seventeen of them.  The dead, which included five Creek and twelve Uchee, were thrown into the river.  The next morning the Uchee rode along the Uchee Trail leading to the bluff.  They planned a retaliatory strike at dawn.  The Uchee surrounded Harrison's home.  To their dismay Capt. Harrison was gone.  They moved east attacking Bush's Fort with all haste.  Bush was a stepbrother of future General David Blackshear and lived in the area south of Ben Hall Lake along the newly created Washington/ Montgomery County line.  They captured the fort and killed one man.  The horses were taken and the cattle were killed. The Creek chiefs protested the killings to the Georgia government.  The legislature passed a resolution regretting the incident.  Harrison and his men were arrested for murder, but were never tried.

In February of 1796,  John Watts and his company of 17 men were at Hickory Bluff, two miles above Carr's Bluff on the Oconee.   The men received information on the 6th that Indians had been committing depredations along the frontier.   Some of the men started down the river in two canoes.   The first canoe was fired upon.  Joseph Blackshear, George Muse, and James Leonard in the second canoe heard the gunfire and quickly moved ashore.  The firing continued for fifteen minutes.   The next day Watts led a party to the scene of the incident.  There he found a decapitated William Foster who had his intestines and private parts cut out.  Israel Smith's bullet-riddled body was found skinned like an animal.  Isham Carr testified that he was a member of the party sent to investigate the theft of horses and sundry articles on February 8th.    He stated that the men on the land ran to the crossing point on the river.  The militia fired on the forty to fifty Indians, who retreated and fired from the high ground.  After a short time, the militia retreated when they feared they might be surrounded.  He went with Major Blackshear, Captain Blackshear, and others on the 10th to look for the missing men.  The men found  a small cache of three guns, a pistol, powder, and some clothing which they believed to belong to the Indians.   Carr found one dead man on the east bank of the river.  His scalp had been taken and it was presumed he had tried to swim to the east side of the river to safety.  Two men, Sparks and Leonard, were missing after the action and were presumed to have drowned in the attack.

While the negotiations for the Treaty of Colerain were pending, many of the hostilities ceased.  By the spring of 1797, the Indians were becoming impatient with the failure to bring Harrison and his men to trial.  They attacked Long Bluff a few miles above Carr's Bluff.   Isaac Brown (Vansant?)  had his brains blown away and was scalped at Bush's Fort in present day Laurens County in 1797.   Jeremiah Oates of Washington County testified that the dozen or so Indians carried off most of Brown’s belongings.  Brown’s wife was shot.  The Indians set the Brown’s house on fire.  Mrs. Brown managed to fire a shot which scared the Indians.  Despite her wound, Mrs. Brown was able to extinguish the fire.  The Indian leading the party had a son killed by Harrison at the massacre at Carr's Bluff.  In one of the last attacks in this area in February of 1798, William Allen was killed near Long Bluff.  

As early as the fall of 1797, David Blackshear was serving as a major of a brigade of militia.  By the end of the century, most of the hostilities had ceased.  Gen. David Blackshear complained of the small thefts being committed by Indians in the late spring of 1799.  No harm was done, but he thought the Indians were too insulant and mischievous.  He found the remains of a bar-be-qued pig at a camp site.  Blackshear was aggravated that the Indians were killing any animal they could find on his side of the river and that he had done all in his power to stop them without laying his hands upon them.  In one of the final clashes with the Indian people, two white citizens of Montgomery County crossed the Oconee River and took two horses belonging to Indians.  Gov. James Jackson wrote to Gen. David Blackshear who had command of this area.  One of these may have been ol' Benjamin Harrison.  Jackson gave orders to Blackshear directing him to arrest the offenders and not to resort to violence in the absence of any provocation.  Jackson reiterated the law against any Indians remaining on Georgia soil without permission.  The governor promised to back General Blackshear in any actions he might take.   

Pursuant to the approval of the Georgia Legislature on February 22, 1796, Jared Irwin, a fellow Washington Countian and Governor of Georgia, appointed Blackshear as Justice of the Peace for Blackshear’s Militia District on June 4, 1796.  Militia districts were formed primarily as a means of local defense against Indian attacks.  Each district was named for its captain, presumably either David Blackshear or his brothers Joseph or Elijah.  Three years later the Justices of the Inferior Court of Washington County renominated Blackshear to the position, which he served at least until 1808 and presumably until the boundaries of Laurens County were expanded to encompass all of his holdings in 1811.

Blackshear represented Washington County in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1797 to 1798 and again in 1804.  Nearly all of the records of General David Blackshear’s activities while he was residing in Washington County went up in flames in a disastrous fire which destroyed the county courthouse in the 1850s.  The early years of the 19th Century were relatively quiet in the number of so called Indian depredations.  This lull was not so much caused by a cessation of hostilities but primarily because the state of Georgia acquired all of the land east of the Ocmulgee River in the early years of the century.  Blackshear remained active in local affairs.  With the creation of Laurens County in 1807, new lands were opened across the Oconee River from his plantation.  Blackshear and his brothers, though not land lottery winners, promptly expanded their family’s holdings by purchasing fractional land lots along the river at a public sale held in the capital in Milledgeville.  In 1811, the Georgia legislature authorized the ceding of portions of Washington and Montgomery counties to Laurens County.  This simple act to compensate Laurens County for its loss of lands to Pulaski County was directly responsible for David Blackshear becoming a resident of Laurens County.   David Blackshear’s early years as a local patriot and warrior was soon to change.  In his last twenty five years of life, Blackshear would make outstanding contributions to his state that would make him one of the county’s most influential and important citizens in the 200-year history of Laurens County.

Known to many as “The Second American Revolution,” the War of 1812 began with a declaration of war by President James Madison on June 18, 1812 following a ten-year series of skirmishes at frontier outposts, impressment of sailors on the seas, and blockades of shipping.  It was on the 4th of July in 1812, some three dozen years after America first declared its independence from the King of England that soldiers of the Georgia militia rendezvoused in Dublin to launch an attack on British fortifications in Florida, which would not become part of the United States until six years later.

During its regular session, the Georgia legislature on December 9, 1812, appointed David Blackshear to command the 2nd Brigade of the 5th Division of the state’s militia.  Dr. William Lee commanded the first division.  

Blackshear’s first known call to duty came in early August 1813, when Georgia governor David Mitchell wrote the general to move his brigade to the frontier and adopt measures to afford some security for the fearing inhabitants.  Gen. Blackshear ordered Lt. Col. Ezekiel Wimberly to immediately man three forts: Twiggs, Telfair, and Jackson along the line of the frontier, then the Ocmulgee River.  Blackshear ordered Col. Allen Tooke of Pulaski County and Major Cawthorn of Telfair to immediately do the same.

The General set out on a patrol to inspect the forts and reported back to the Governor,  “I found the inhabitants in a high state of alarm - an immense number of whom had left and fled to the interior.”  Blackshear immediately began preparations to lay out an additional ten forts along the frontier, each manned by one subaltern, a sergeant, a corporal and fifteen privates and each approximately ten miles equidistant.

My mid-September, Gen. Blackshear reported that all threats of an eminent invasion had subsided, at least for the present.  By mid-November, tensions along the Ocmulgee once again began to rise.  Major General David Adams ordered Blackshear to send some of his best men to join a force of 157 men and  to go out to the frontier to make improvements to existing fortifications and erect new ones and to report his activities to Major James Patton at Fort Hawkins.

On January 4, 1814, the newly elected Georgia governor Peter Early, a former judge of Laurens County Superior Court, replaced the ailing General John Floyd with his old friend, David Blackshear to command the army from Georgia in the lower Flint River region.  Blackshear reported that a great number of his men were sick and that he needed substantial reinforcements to aid his 700-man force in guarding his forts and supplies, not to mention the effort to drive away the hostile Indians, all the Negroes, and the British forces at the mouth of Flint River.

Two years after the war began, Gov. Early reappointed Gen. Blackshear to command a brigade of first class militia along with Gen. Floyd.  Blackshear responded, “Sir, I am at all times ready promptly to accept that or any other appointment you may think proper to confer on me in which it is in my power to serve my country.”  

Just as was the case in previous Septembers, tensions along the Georgia frontier began to explode.  Blackshear ordered several units to move out from Hartford, opposite present day Hawkinsville.   Adjutant General Daniel Newnan informed Blackshear that 2500 men would be needed to support General Andrew Jackson, then in the vicinity of Mobile.  Several units from Blackshear’s command were detached for that purpose. 

Ten days before Christmas, Blackshear and his brigade received orders to move from their encampment at Camp Hope,  two miles  north of Fort Hawkins on the Milledgeville Road  in present day Macon,  to Hartford and then to open a road to the Flint River, where he was ordered to erect fortifications.    No one in Georgia even realized that the war with Great Britain officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve while Blackshear and his men were camping on the banks of the Ocmulgee.

Blackshear’s men spent Christmas at Camp Blakely, two miles from present day Hawkinsville before moving west toward his objective on the Flint River.  Blackshear reported that he arrived on January 6 “without forage and not many rations on hand.” Blackshear continued his march, oblivious to the fact that two days later, General Andrew Jackson’s command defeated the British at the war ending Battle of New Orleans.

With no instant communications informing him that hostilities had officially ended, Blackshear marched his men, many of whom were sick, south and west from their Flint River base.  On January 14, Blackshear received orders to return to Fort Hawkins.  Within a week, Blackshear was back at Fort Hawkins, where he begged Farrish Carter, of Baldwin County, to furnish him with 30,000 badly needed rations. Blackshear implored, “Our country is invaded; and I hope in God you will use every exertion in your power to facilitate the movement of the troops to check the insurrection and depredation that will ensue should we delay for want of provisions.”

Once resupplied, at least in part, Blackshear began cutting a road down the northeastern line of the Ocmulgee and Altamaha.  His destination was Fort Barrington on the Altamaha in McIntosh County.  Along his line of march, Blackshear’s men cut the legendary “Blackshear Road.”  

Reports of British activity around St. Mary’s were coming in from many sources. One of those sources was J. Sawyer, possibly Jonathan Sawyer the founding father of Dublin, who reported that the British were landing on Cumberland Island.  Sawyer wrote Blackshear concerning British atrocities  and their movement toward Darien.  

By February 4, 1815, Blackshear reported that he was some 132 miles from Hartford  or just a few miles from Fort Barrington.  Upon his arrival in Darien, David Blackshear reported, “We have been in a constant state of alarm, and the principal inhabitants, remonstrating against my leaving this station.”
Just as he was making plans to move toward the enemy, General Floyd wrote to Blackshear, “The official accounts of a peace having been concluded between our country and Great Britain appear to have filled the hearts of the populace here (Savannah) with joy.”  And, just like that it was over.  After formally winding up their affairs, Blackshear’s men were discharged and went back their homes in East Central Georgia.

As the military chapter of Blackshear’s life came to a close after the Indian Wars of the early 19th Century, a new chapter, his return to government service, reopened.  Blackshear’s power and influence led directly to dramatic changes in the history of the State during the first third of the 19th Century. 

Blackshear was elected in 1816 to represent Laurens County in the Senate of the State of Georgia.  He would serve ten consecutive one-year terms in the Senate before voluntarily retiring in 1826.  

Among David Blackshear’s closest friends was his neighbor to the south, George M. Troup.  Troup, who had served in the Congress of the United States for nearly a decade, moved to Laurens County at the end of the War of 1812.  Shortly thereafter Troup was appointed to serve the remainder of a vacancy in the Senate of the United States.  

Troup, an ardent supporter of State Rights, lost a narrow election to John Clark, his bitter political enemy, in the election of 1821.  At that time, the office of the Governor was filled by a vote of the members of the Senate.  Blackshear supported his good friend and protege  in all three of his gubernatorial campaigns.  The election of 1823 in the Senate was one of the most interesting and tide-turning elections in the history of the State of Georgia.

The election of 1823 would be the last time the legislature regularly elected the governor. The contest was bitter, divisive and fierce to say the least.  As the Secretary of the Senate called for the vote, each member rose, walked to the speaker’s desk and deposited their ballots in a hat.  The atmosphere inside the chamber was tense.  Passions peaked.  Betters placed their wagers.   Blackshear, the Chairman of the Committee on the State of the Republic who was frequently asked to act as President Pro Tempore, sat silently in his seat, emotionless on the outside, his heart throbbing on the inside. 

A deafening silence came over the clamoring chamber as the 166 paper ballots, one by one, were taken from the one hat and put in another.  To win the election, either Troup or Clark had to be named on 84 ballots.  With two ballots left, the votes were even at 82 for each candidate.

The clerk paused.  Everyone in the chamber rose forward in fervent anticipation of victory for their candidate.  The next ballot was for George Troup.  Only one ballot remained.  It lay face down in the bottom of the hat.  The President of the Senate picked up the hat by its rim, turned it over and exclaimed, “Senator Troup!”  

Historian William H. Sparks wrote, “The scene that followed this announcement in indescribable.  the smothered emotion of the multitude burst forth as the eruption of a volcano.  All order and dignity was lost.  Shrieks, yells, tears, and laughter all mingled in the wild commotion.  Men rushed into each other's arms, desks were kicked over; men rolled upon the carpet, whilst deep and bitter curses came from the opposition.  This turmoil defied the power of the speaker, and continued for twenty minutes.  When excitement had exhausted itself, and silence and order restored General Blackshear, who had remained silent and standing amidst the turmoil lifted his eyes toward heaven, and stretching forth his hands, said in a loud but trembling voice, ‘Now Lord, I am ready to die.’  This was the signal for the renewal of the extravagances of joy in cheers and shouts from all around.   The crowd surrounded the venerable general, blessing and caressing him until, overcome with emotion, with tears streaming down his withered cheeks, he sank into his chair, still saying ‘Yes, I am now ready to die.’"  

Blackshear continued to consult and advise Troup during his four years as Governor, often working with the Governor’s Secretary Mirabeau Lamar.  Lamar, who lived in Troup’s home down river from Blackshear, went on to become the second President of the Republic of Texas. 

  After his retirement from the Senate, the venerable statesman withdrew from the political scene.  He did return briefly to politics during  the presidential elections of 1828 and 1832 when he served as an Elector to the Electoral College committed to Andrew Jackson.  At the turn  of the 19th Century, Blackshear had served as an elector in favor of Thomas Jefferson.   In one of his last political actions, Blackshear was named Chairman of a Committee to fight prospective tariffs in 1832. 

Among the General’s most passionate interests came in the field of agriculture, particularly in the science of viticulture.  Blackshear consulted with his friend, Thomas McCall, in cultivating the finest wines made from a mixture of local wild grapes and traditional European ones.  Known as one who always offered his frequent and numerous guests a hospitable glass of wine, Blackshear planted acres of apple and peach trees to produce cider and brandy.  For those of his friends who did not partake of the alcoholic fruit of the vine, Blackshear developed a sweet tasting, non-alcoholic apple cider.

As one of the state’s most prominent men, Blackshear was often called upon to serve on various committees formed for the betterment of the state.  In 1815, the General was appointed by the governor as a commissioner for The Improvement of the Oconee River.  Blackshear had a personal, pecuniary interest in the project.   Blackshear put a lot of unpaid time and labor into the committee, whose goals were stymied because of the fact that capital of Milledgeville was established too far to the north to allow river boat traffic to the capital city.   River transport was critical to the shipment of the General’s plantation produce.  Blackshear, along with his brother, established several ferries across the Oconee River.  The longest of lasting impact was the  last ferry, which closed in the latter part of the 1940s.  

A friend to all, Blackshear played host to the executive, legislative and judicial officials of the state, entertaining them when there travels brought them to Laurens County.  Days were filled with feasts of wild game, toasts with the finest wines, and afternoon fishing in  the General’s bountiful fish ponds and lakes.

Among his close friends were fellow veterans of the Revolutionary War, John Shine and Peter Calloway, both of whom died while visiting the Blackshear home and whose bodies lie among those interred in the family cemetery.  

In his private life, General Blackshear, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Benjamin Franklin by those who knew him,  married Fanny Hamilton, daughter of John Hamilton of Hancock County, in 1802.  The Blackshears had eleven children, eight sons and three daughters.  Sadly all three of their girls died as infants.  Fanny Blackshear’s brother, Everard Hamilton, served as the Secretary of the State of Georgia under the administrations of Governor George Troup and John Forsythe.  

On July 4, 1837 on the 61st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the 73-year-old statesman died at his home , which he named Springfield.  He was laid to rest in the family cemetery near his house next to his Virginia born wife, who died on February 28, 1827. 

In describing Blackshear, his biographer, Stephen F. Miller wrpte. “David Blackshear was a man of quiet chivalry, never compromising with danger when duty called.  

Scott B. Thompson, Sr.
January 2014