Following the American Revolution, a company of Virginians followed their leader, General George Mathews, to the promise of a fresh start in Georgia. This was the beginning of what was later referred to as the Broad River settlement.
If it hadn't been for the fact that the decision to make such a move involved some of my ancestors, I would never have known a thing about the Broad River. Having followed the research trail from the Taliaferro home in Virginia to this place in Georgia—wherever it was—I began uncovering details of a society whose impact reverberated beyond that idyllic Georgia riverbank.
To read reports of that settlement, written only the span of one generation following that move, one would think this was the description of Paradise Found. A former governor of Georgia, George Rockingham Gilmer, filled the pages of an entire book with accounts of the people from that place—concerning their industry, ingenuity, perseverance, effectiveness, and, eventually, wealth.
Governor Gilmer's book came with the traditional lengthy title of one published in that century. It began, Sketches of Some of the First Settlers of Upper Georgia. George Gilmer, himself, was born into a family of that Broad River settlement, and having known many of the people in his Sketches, seems to have held back little in his descriptions of his neighbors and relatives.
While his book is a great tool for recreating the characters that peopled that community, my first problem in researching the Broad River settlement was in locating the place. Using Google maps, I was able to see the area around the river, itself, but that didn't help determine where along the river the Mathews party had settled. Wikipedia provided a stub of an article on the Broad River too, but again, no perspective on this slice of history. I found the website of the Broad River Watershed Association, which helpfully provided a map of the river basin, overlaid with the outline of surrounding counties, but again, it provided information of the county borders now, not during the time of the Settlement.
Buried in the middle of the Gilmer book, thankfully, the author had included his own description of the location. From the governor's own account:
I was born the 11th of April, 1790, on the south side of Broad River, about a mile and a half above the Fish Dam Ford, in that part of Wilks which is now Oglethorpe County.
Thankfully, the book also included a map, detailing the homesteads of several of the settlers of the area. It read almost like a phone book to me, as I took in the surnames and realized how many of them were relatives of my ancestors.
In seeking the motives for leaving their established homes in Virginia, I found one handy answer in the pages of the Gilmer book. In broad, sweeping generalizations, the introduction to Sketches explained, "In tracing the causes of the present happy condition of the people of Georgia to the character of the settlers," their good fortune was concluded to be a direct result of the vigorous stock from which these settlers sprang.
"The strong, the brave, the determined to be free" was, according to Gilmer, the heritage of the Broad River people:
...the Harvies, Meriwethers, Taliaferros, Gilmers, Mathewses, Barnetts, Crawfords, Johnsons, Jordans, and McGehees removed, with their families, from Virginia to Broad River at different times from 1783 to 1790...descended from the most vigorous and industrious class...
In reading the descriptions of the various family lines throughout the book, what emerged was a clear picture of the interrelationship of the families. It is not hard, in researching my own family line, to stumble upon any number of these other surnames, intermarrying with the Taliaferros. Likely, the same held true for each of the other families listed in the Gilmer narrative.
Indeed, the introduction to Sketches touches upon this aspect immediately, describing
...how these settlers formed the most intimate friendly social union ever known among the same number of persons; how exceedingly active they were in business; economical in their expenditures; honest in their business dealings, and how they prospered beyond example.
What more could one wish, given such a perfect community? And yet, even this perfect set up had its down side, as we'll witness when members of subsequent generations once again chose to pick up their belongings and move elsewhere.