The Death of an Icon
Monday, June 30, 2014
GEORGE M. TROUP
The Death of an Icon
Exactly a one and one half centuries ago, the face of Laurens County changed forever. The date was April 26, 1856. The news traveled slowly at first and then rapidly throughout the countryside and across the nation. Governor George Michael Troup was dead! No Georgian in the first half of the 19th Century was more revered and reviled at the same time. Troup actively engaged in public service for three decades. From his Laurens County home, which he called "Val d'osta" or simply "Valdosta," George Troup served his country as a senator and congressman and his state as one of its most popular governors. His last two decades were spent in virtual isolation from the political world which he dominated with unwavering boldness and the conviction that the states' inalienable rights to determine their laws. Many of his last years were spent in ill health, which prevented him from serving his nation and state which he loved so well.
It was about the 19th of April that a message came from Governor Troup's plantation in the western portion of Montgomery which later became Wheeler County. William Bridges, the plantation's overseer at what the Governor called the "Mitchell Place," summoned the venerable sage to come to the plantation to quell an acrimonious slave. Troup, one of the richest men in Georgia, owned more than four hundred slaves, some of whom, were fathered by his brother R.L. Troup and some possibly by his son George and possibly by the governor himself. It was a common practice in ante bellum days for slave owners to father children with slave women with the intention of improving the Negro race.
Troup called for Madison Moore, his trusted coachman, to prepare his coach for the thirty-five mile ride to the Mitchell Place. Apparently order was restored with little or no violent punishment. Troup was known as being a firm and deliberate master, and not one to flog his slaves. The hasty trip was too much for the failing seventy five year old Troup. Troup collapsed and was gingerly taken from his meager home at the Mitchell place to the home of overseer Bridges, where he lingered in pain and anguish for five days. A local physician was summoned. His efforts to save the dying Troup failed, and wise old gentleman quietly passed away.
Bridges ordered Smart Roberson to take a fine horse and race to Savannah to inform Thomas M. Foreman, the widower of Troup's recently deceased daughter Florida. Before Roberson could reach Foreman, his horse gave out. Undaunted and determined to deliver the dismaying news, Roberson set out on foot to reach the Foreman home. On a separate course, Madison Moore sped his empty coach back to Valdosta, where the governor's daughter Oralie was unaware of her father's death. The other child, George, Jr., his whereabout's unknown, seemed to have suffered from some malady, either physical or mental, which caused his untimely death in 1858.
Word quickly spread throughout the community. The governor's corpse had to be prepared for burial immediately. A coffin was made from the suitably wide and yet un-nailed boards of Peter Morrison's front porch. John Morrison, his son Daniel, and Duncan Buchanan fashioned the lumber into a fitting coffin. Peter Morrison, the village blacksmith, wrought the nails. Troup was well known in the community. In remembrance of their dear friend, the coffin makers carefully arranged a series of brass tacks forming the words "An Honest Heart" on the lid of the governor's primitive coffin. Mrs. Elizabeth Morrison carefully unrolled a bolt of white linen cloth. With the devotion of a caring mother, Mrs. Morrison formed a tightly fitting cloth to enshroud her beloved friend.
Originally it was intended that Governor Troup be brought back to Valdosta for a burial befitting the man he was. But owing to the delay and the increasing temperatures it was decided to lay him to rest at his Rosemont plantation (overseer's house at Rosemont left) in present day Treutlen County. Eight years before in 1848, the governor and his son had erected a handsome sandstone, granite and marble monument to his brother, Robert L. Troup.
In the center of the seventeen by twenty-five foot sandstone enclosure is a ten foot shaft, which had been formed in Augusta and bears the memorial "Erected by G.M. Troup, the Brother and G.M. Troup, Jun., the nephew, as a tribute of affection to the memory of R.L. Troup, who died September 23, 1848, aged 64 years. An honest man with a good mind and good heart."
Owing to the lack of space, the governor was laid to rest to the right of spire, carefully placed so as not to disturb its foundation. Following his death, Troup's family had a marble slab, two feet by three feet, recessed into to the base of the shaft. It reads " George Michael Troup. Born Sptr 8th, 1780, Died April 26th, 1856. No epitaph can tell his worth. The history of Georgia must perpetuate his virtues and commemorate his patriotism. There he teaches us the argument being exhausted to stand by our arms."
The walls of the enclosure were constructed from sandstone which was quarried from Berryhill's Bluff by slaves and hauled the short distance to Rosemont. A beautiful iron door was furnished by D.W. Rose of Savannah at the entrance to the enclosure, which is set low to the ground forcing the visitor to stoop to enter the inside. Just inside the entrance on the right is a wild climbing rose. It was placed near the grave by a grateful slave woman in fond remembrance of her fallen master. The rose still blooms even day, sometimes during the dead of winter in January.
For decades after the Governor Troup's burial, the monument suffered from a series of a attacks by miscreant vandals and the ignorance of apathetic citizens. The State of Georgia, which had originally planned to make the monument the center piece of "George M. Troup State Park in the mid 1930s, restored it to its present state of acceptable repair.
It was in the early 1900s, that J. Tom White and a group of enterprising Dublin businessmen sought out and were granted permission by some of the governor's descendants to have his bodies of the governor and his brother disinterred, the enclosure disassembled and removed to the courthouse square in Dublin for a proper memorial in the bustling city as opposed to the remote regions west of Lothair in Treutlen County. Obviously the movement never materialized.
To view this marvelous structure and pay homage to arguably the most important resident of our county and our state as well, follow Georgia Highway 199 from East Dublin south to Lothair, where you turn right and follow Spur 199 to the grave site which is situated on a one acre plot of land owned by the state of Georgia.