Native Americans/Pre-Gwinnett

Even before Gwinnett County was created, it played a role in frontier settlement in Georgia. Since the late 1780s, Georgia maintained small forts along the frontier with Native Americans, and one was established at Hog Mountain near the headwaters of the Appalachee River on the line that separated the lands of the Cherokee and Creek Indians, a line after 1798 called the “Hawkins Line,” after the US Indian Affairs agent. During the War of 1812, General Allen Daniel, who commanded the fourth division of Georgia’s Militia, ordered a rotation of soldiers through the fort at Hog Mountain, and the construction of a new fort to replace the old one in order to better protect Georgia’s western frontier from attack from the Creek Indians, a portion of which allied with the British. At the same time, orders were given to construct a road from the newly rebuilt fort, likely renamed Fort Daniel at this time, to another fort to be built on the banks of the Chattahoochee River at the confluence of Peachtree Creek. A young Lieutenant George R. Gilmer (future governor of Georgia) constructed a 30 mile road from Fort Daniel to the fort at Standing Peachtree in 1814. The road became known as the Peachtree Road, the first of many Peachtree Roads in the Atlanta area. Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett still follows portions of George Gilmer’s frontier defense road. [ James J. D’Angelo, “Fort Daniel,” New Georgia Encyclopedia, Web:]

Gwinnett County history officially began on December 15, 1818, and amended 3 days later, when Georgia’s General Assembly created four new counties out of land extracted from Native Americans. These new counties were Walton, Gwinnett, Hall and Habersham. The area that became the southeastern United States had been populated by humans for at least 13,000 years, and the Native peoples of Georgia had consolidated into two major tribal configurations, the Creek and the Cherokee, before Georgia was founded as a British colony. As the people of Georgia decreased their reliance on the Natives in trade and agriculture, Georgia’s government increasingly saw the Creek and Cherokee as impediments to its expansion, and used all means available to take their land. In July 1817, the US signed a treaty at the Cherokee Agency claiming the remaining Cherokee land east of the Chattahoochee River, over the protests of the Cherokee National Council that the treaty was illegal. In January 1818, a similar treaty was made at the Creek Agency on the Flint River, ceding the remaining Creek land on the east bank of the Chattahoochee in northern Georgia. The Creek Treaty identified the Hawkins Line separating their land from the Cherokee as a line running from Suwanee Old Town (which is roughly where McGinnis Ferry Road crosses the Chattahoochee River today) eastward to the head of the Appalachee River near Fort Daniel. [ American State Papers, Senate, 15th Congress, 1st Session
Indians Affairs: Volume 2, Pages 151 through 153, No. 152. “Treaty with the Creeks.” Web: “Cherokee Treaty , July 8, 1817,” Andrew Jackson papers, 1775-1874, Series 1, General Correspondence and Related Items, 1775-1885, MSS 27532, Vol. 45, Library of Congress, Web: Also see “Ratified treaty no. 89, documents relating to the negotiation of the treaty of July 8, 1817, with the Cherokee Indians, Washington, D.C.: National Archives, July 8, 1817,” University of Wisconsin Library, Web: ]

County Formation/Slavery

Gwinnett County was both Southern and Western from the start. The law creating Gwinnett County specified that the county’s Justices of the Inferior Court (akin to today’s county commissioners), could choose a site for its permanent court house, but that until that time, county offices would meet at Elisha Winn’s house near Hog Mountain. Another law passed in December 1818 defined the territorial limits of each county, and then specified that all new lands taken from the Natives would be distributed by lottery. [ Lucius Q. C. Lamar, A Compilation of the Laws of the State of Georgia, Passed by the Legislature since the Year 1810 to the Year 1819, Inclusive (Augusta: T. S. Hannon, 1821), pp 226-229, 231, 234-235, 416-425.]

Cherokee Removal

Gagnon Collection of Indian Removal Documents

Bill Arp Childhood

Civil War

Postbellum – Reconstruction/Lynching

Burning of Gwinnett County Court House

Following “the Surrender,” as many Southerners called the end of the Civil War, Gwinnett was treated like most Southern places. Federal troops briefly bivouacked in Lawrenceville. General orders from Atlanta required the surrender of all guns in possession of anyone not in uniform. The new federal agency, the Internal Revenue Service, added Gwinnett to its collection districts, and most adult white males started signing loyalty oaths to the United States at the court house, which gave them amnesty from prosecution for treason. Additionally many of the fears expressed during the Secession Convention of what would happen should slavery end, came true. The Republican Party did eventually push for citizenship and voting rights for African-Americans, and the formerly enslaved people then required their elected officials to push for social equality. The political and social upheaval resulted in racial and gendered boundaries being crossed, with African-Americans and women making decisions for themselves, decisions that violated former norms. For example, one Gwinnett white resident, whom the newspaper identified as “respectable,” reported in 1867 that his daughter had run off with an African American man in Atlanta and hoped authorities would aid in her return. This was not an isolated case, the Freedmen’s Bureau investigated similar social dislocations elsewhere in northeastern Georgia. Howell Cobb Flournoy of Athens, the Freedmen’s Bureau agent whose district included Gwinnett, wrote to Congress about how reaction to all the changes turned to violence and intimidation against African-Americans, and against white Georgians who also voted Republican. Only one source reports such violence in Gwinnett, the Constitution reported that a riot at Gobey School House in Gwinnett in 1868 seriously wounded four African Americans, killing one of them, but the level of violence in Gwinnett did not match the riots in Camilla, Georgia, or New Orleans or Memphis, where African-Americans were killed in large numbers. Over time African-Americans ceased voting in Gwinnett too, indicating a longer term trend. More research is needed to discover exactly how Reconstruction proceeded in Gwinnett.

It was during Reconstruction that the brick Gwinnett County courthouse in Lawrenceville, built in 1824, was burned by members of the Ku Klux Klan on September 10, 1871, and nearly all the county’s records were lost in the fire. The superior court had been in session, considering civil cases the first week, with criminal cases coming up the following week. The Atlanta newspapers reported that, immediately following the fire, authorities arrested one of the criminal defendants who was out on bond. He possessed a box of matches and a pistol in his pocket at the time of his arrest. Meanwhile a group of three men left town while shooting pistols in the air as soon as the fire was detected, and were thought to be part of the same gang. They were later arrested and released on bond. The grand jury meeting at that time investigated the fire, found it to be an act of arson, and authorized a $500 reward to capture whoever set it. The newspapers never reported the connection to the KKK. However, in October, Gwinnett County Sheriff M. V. Brand, told a Congressional Select Committee investigating KKK terrorism in the South, that the defendants were arrested for assaulting African-Americans. These “Ku Kluxers”, as Klansmen were called at the time, attempted to intimidate key witnesses and public officials to get the charges dropped. When that failed, reported Sheriff Brand, they burned down the court house to destroy the evidence against them. The sheriff also testified that he continued to receive death threats for prosecuting the desperadoes, but that he would hold them for trial if he could. He was not confident that sufficient witnesses would testify since everyone was afraid of retaliation. There is no record that anyone was convicted in this case. Another grand jury the following March recommended paying R. M. Cole $50 for saving the few records of the Court of the Ordinary that he was able to remove from the burning building. The county issued bonds and by 1875, the current historic brick court house was completed. [ “Testimony Taken by the Sub-Committee. … Atlanta, Georgia, October 20, 1871 (M. V. Brand).” Report of the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs of the Late Insurrectionary States (Washington, 1872) in 13 volumes, 6:350-356; and “Testimony Taken by the Sub-Committee. … Atlanta, Georgia, October 28, 1871 (James Skiles),” 7:743-752. ]

Lynching of African Americans

There were 2-3 documented lynchings of African-Americans in Gwinnett, one or two lesser known ones in 1882, as well as the thoroughly
documented lynching of Charlie Hale on April 7, 1911, on the courthouse square at the corner of Perry and Pike Streets.

The 1882 lynching was on the Jefferson Road from Lawrenceville, near the Jackson County line, and involved Thomas Martin. The accounts vary as to when and who was killed, but the gist is that Martin was accused of horse stealing and taken away. The body was found in February, either hanging from a tree, or found in a body of water. An inquest found cause of death to be blunt force to the head. Because of the differences in the accounts, there may be two lynchings but there seems too much overlap between the accounts for that.

Postcard of Lynching of Charlie Hale in 1911 in Lawrenceville

Gilded Age



Gold Mining

Progressive Era

New Women/Strickland

Agriculture/Cotton Culture

New South Mfg

Segregation/Black Outmigration

      Race relations in Gwinnett reflected those throughout the South. Jim Crow was king by the 1890s as the Plessy v Ferguson Supreme Court decision made a mockery out of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. While segregation preceded the Jim Crow laws, it was based on traditions that predated emancipation, and was somewhat flexible, depending on the circumstances. With the failed alliance between poor blacks and poor whites during Populism, segregation became the law throughout the South, and Gwinnett communities would have been required by state law to pass local segregation ordinances that separated the races in a variety of settings. These laws also intended to disenfranchise African-American voters, without technically violating the Constitution. One cannot tell exactly how difficult these legally enforced race relations were, since the newspapers rarely commented on them, but one can know in certainty that African Americans were relegated to second class citizenship. Unsurprisingly between 1910 and 1930, the African American population of Gwinnett decreased significantly from 4,431 to 3,343. We cannot tell if these people joined the Great Migration to northern cities, or if they simply moved to Atlanta seeking greater opportunities. One can see that this was happening throughout Georgia, at even larger numbers as the percentage of Blacks in Gwinnett’s population fell from 15% to 12% while the percentage of African-Americans in Georgia fell from 45% to 37% during the same time. After World War 2, the Black population in Gwinnett decreased to its lowest level of 3,052 people or only 9% of Gwinnett’s population in 1950. African-American population experienced slow growth after 1950 to 4,154 in 1980 which nearly re-achieved the total number of Black people living in the county in 1910. However, the percentage of African-Americans fell to 2% of Gwinnett’s population in 1980 because the White population had grown so large. The growth rate for African-Americans in Gwinnett closely resembled the Black growth rate for the state at large, with slight variations due to the small numbers of African-Americans living here

      African American Population Growth Rates

Post-War Suburbanization

Chain Gang/Prisons

Utilities/Buford Dam/Lake Lanier

Colleen Wiggins

White Flight Suburbanization