Prior to 1803 Georgia distributed land via a Headright system. Designed to prohibit corruption, the system actually encouraged it. During early administrations the government abused this system and created what today is generally known as the Yazoo Land Fraud. These abuses led to the adoption of the lottery system in May, 1803 under Governor John Milledge. The first lottery under the new system occurred in 1805.
The "Headright" system proposed that each head of family had the "right" to 200 acres of land for himself and 50 acres of land for each member of his family, up to 1000 acres. For a list of Revolutionary War soldiers who received these headright grants, CLICK HERE.
After the Revolutionary War a number of governors signed land grants of significantly greater amounts than the law allowed. These grants, most of which were signed by Governors George Walton, George Mathews, George Handley, Edward Telfair and Jared Irwin served to fuel land speculation that would briefly put Georgia in the national spotlight.
Governor Mathews granted a million and a half acres to a single man. In Montgomery County Richmond Dawson received grants of 987,000 acres, James Shorter received grants of 1,219,000 acres and Micajah Vassar received grants of 458,000 acres of land. These grants alone totaled 2,664,000 acres of land in a county with an area of only 407,680 acres of land. By the end of his term outstanding land grants totaled three times the amount of land available in Georgia.
In the early 1790's lands "rich in hickory and oak with streams..." were sold to investors caught up in the intense land speculation fever sweeping the country. From the descriptions the land would be suitable for farming. Actually the land was a pine barren that covered 4 counties. Known as “The Pine Barren Speculation” it was quickly overshadowed in 1795 by the Yazoo speculative land fraud.
The Yazoo Land Fraud and the Pine Barren Speculation are two episodes of Georgia history that are not only frequently misunderstood but often merged.
The Yazoo Land Fraud began in 1785 with the organization of the Combined Society and the creation of Bourbon County Georgia. The Combined Society was a secret society whose only purpose was "By means of certain influences brought to bear upon those in authority to obtain from the State (Georgia) large grants of land, either for immigration or for sale, in either case for the end of making a large sum of money out of the transaction".
Bourbon County Georgia was located on the Mississippi and included the site of the future city of Natchez. Georgia appointed civil and judicial officers for Bourbon County but repealed the Bourbon County Act in 1788. The Combined Society faded away but the evil lingered on.
In 1789 three companies, The South Carolina Yazoo Company, The Virginia Yazoo Company, and the Tennessee Company formed to buy land from the Georgia Assembly. On December 21, 1789 Governor Telfair signed into law a bill selling 20,000,000 acres of land to the Yazoo Companies for $207,000. The deal fell through when the companies tried to pay in old, and in some cases worthless, currency. The Virginia Yazoo Company was headed by Patrick, if you can't give me liberty or death at least give me a big chunk of graft, Henry.
In 1794 four new Yazoo companies, the Georgia Company, the Georgia-Mississippi Company, the Upper Mississippi Company, and the Tennessee Company bribed and intimidated a bill through the assembly that sold them more than twice the amount of land for $500,000. It passed the house 19 to 9 on January 2, 1795, and the Senate 10 to 8 the following day and was signed into law by Governor Mathews on January 7, 1795. A bid of $800,000 with a $40,000 deposit in hard money by the Georgia Union Company was ignored. U. S. Senator James Gunn was a major stockholder in the companies, as were a number of Georgia legislators.
Public outcry at the bill and the methods used to pass it resulted in a major upheaval in Georgia politics. Later that year the electorate expressed its' dissatisfaction by voting most of the bill's supporters out of office. Reformers, led by U.S. Senator James Jackson, took office and the Act was rescinded on February 18, 1796. According to some sources he vowed to repeal Yazoo if it cost him his life and was prepared to call out and shoot every person involved in passing the act. All records of the bill and resulting sales except the one sent to President Washington were collected in front of the State Capital (then in Louisville) on February 21, 1796 and consumed by Holy Fire from Heaven summoned with the aid of a magnifying glass.
The state refunded the money paid for the land, but some of the land had been resold to people who refused the money, preferring the land instead. The state did not recognize the claims and the matter ended up in court. The United States accepted the transfer of the Yazoo Land Fraud claims along with the cession of Georgia's western claims in 1802. In 1810 the U.S Supreme Court struck down the reform act as unconstitutional (Fletcher vs. Peck), ruling the state had infringed on a valid contract.
However, this was not the end of the effects of the Yazoo Land Fraud. We fought a war with North Carolina as a result!
The State of Georgia ceded disputed land in the Yazoo Land Fraud along with the associated problems to the United States on April 26, 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 the 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 1811. The Walton War as it is known was a little one sided but a war it was nevertheless. The Orphan Strip included the upper French Broad River valley of what is now Transylvania County North Carolina. Georgia established the first Walton County in the Orphan Strip in 1803 and appointed Sheriffs, Judges 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.
Walton County was a Georgia county until sometime in 1811. As Georgia cleaned up the Orphan Strip it began to look more attractive to North Carolina who began advancing a claim to the Strip. Georgia protested North Carolina's actions to the United States without success. Sometime in late December 1810 a North Carolina Militia Unit was posted to the upper French Broad River with orders to remove the Walton County Government. Georgia's first Walton County died in a hail of North Carolina musket fire in January of 1811. 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. The fate of the prisoners is still uncertain. Sporadic snipping continued for some weeks but the main engagements were over. The Georgia Legislature was still prioritizing its options in the matter in 1971.
Seven times between 1805 and 1832 Georgia used a lottery system to distribute the land taken from the Cherokee Nation or Creek Nation. These lotteries were unique to the state; no other state used a lottery system to distribute land. Lot size varied widely, even in the individual lotteries. The largest lots distributed were 490 acres in the 1805 and the 1820 land lottery. The smallest lots were the 40-acre gold lots distributed during the Gold Lottery of 1832.
Many people, including the state of Georgia, combine the Land Lottery of 1832 and the Gold Lottery of 1832 and represent it as a single lottery; however, both the enabling legislation and the drawings themselves were independent, hence there were seven lotteries, not six.
Almost 3/4 of the land in present-day Georgia was distributed under this lottery system. During the 27 years that land was distributed under the system the rules and the methods of the lottery remained virtually unchanged. Applicants could be white males over 18 (or 21 depending on the lottery), orphans, or widows. Fees depended on the lottery and the size of the lot won, but in general they only covered the cost of running the lottery.
The state did not profit from allocating these lands. Fractional lots were sold in each of the lotteries and some lands, especially those near major rivers, was exempt from the lottery. These were distributed by the state using alternate, frequently corrupt, methods.
Wofford's Tract or the 4-mile purchase was exempt from the lottery.
For each person subscribing to a lottery a ticket was placed in the barrel. Since each lottery was over-subscribed, blank tickets were added to compensate for the over-subscription. According to the state archives, no record remains of the people who drew the blank tickets after the 1805 lottery.
1805 Land Lottery
This encompassed Creek Indian lands just west of the Oconee River ceded to the state in 1802 and a small strip of land in the southeast section of the state.
1807 Land Lottery
Included additional Creek lands.
1820 Land Lottery
After the Creek War (1814), Andrew Jackson demanded the secession of the southern third of present-day Georgia. A second section of land in northeast Georgia known as the land cession of 1817 and the land cession of 1819 were included in the lottery. This defined the eastern end of the Cherokee Nation for 12 years.
1821 Land Lottery
Further Creek cessions
1827 Land Lottery
Signaled the end of the Creek Indians in Georgia.
1832 Land Lottery
This lottery, along with the 1832 Gold Lottery, gave the Cherokee Nation to Georgia settlers. Sparked the "Cherokee Trail of Tears."
1832 Gold Lottery
By the time of the gold lottery the Georgia Gold Rush was winding down. The state did not guarantee that gold existed on the lot.