Behind the Gathany Museum on the campus of Toccoa Falls College, there is a stream called “Dead Man Branch.” Why it is called that? I am not sure but I have an inkling.
There is a trail running next to the stream that is clearly visible in the beginning but becomes quite wild the deeper you plunge into the woods. This is not the kind of path that you find in a park, unquestionably marked creating an easy walking experience.
This path crosses the stream several times, causing you to leap across almost submerged rocks or teeter across logs that are draped across the thick gooey mud. Massive downed trees block the trail and thick underbrush claws at your legs. A gentle slope climbs through this forest nestled in the rolling foothills of the Northeast Georgia mountains.
We trudged along climbing over and under decaying fallen trees, occasionally stopping to reflect on our surroundings (Ok honestly it was to catch our breath). There weren’t any other humans in these woods today, it was entirely still. Occasionally you would hear the rustling of dead leaves but other than that, silence.
At about a mile into the grove, the stream widened creating a 10-foot deep ravine. We were discussing how quiet the woods were when Shane stopped and went back a few paces. I followed suit. He said, “is that what I think… it is! What is a flag doing a mile and half in the woods?”
I squinted through the limbs, and sure enough in the distance, you could see the glint of red stripes and blue stars. Shane said it was the red that caught his eye. Seeing the flag I immediately scanned the surrounding area and yup, sure enough, there it was a small headstone at the base of the flagpole. It is someone’s grave. Being in Georgia, we figured this would be the grave of a Confederate soldier, but we needed to find out. There was no way we could cross where we were because of the ravine, so we continued forward on the trail. The trail descended to pass through the stream, and from there we set off through the undergrowth looking for the flag. It didn’t take us long until we saw it and there beneath it we got our answer of who was buried 2 miles in the deep woods.
Colonel William Wofford.
But it isn’t what we expected This isn’t a Confederate grave deep in the Georiga woods, Col. William Wofford, Revolutionary War hero, and American patriot was born on Oct. 5, 1728, in Maryland. But what was a man from Maryland doing down here in Cherokee territory during the 1780’s?
At the end of the American Revolution Colonel Wofford, received a headright land grant from the state of Georgia as part of his payment from the United States for his service. A headright is a legal grant of land to settlers. Headrights are most notable for their role in the expansion of the thirteen British colonies in North America. The property he was given was deep within the Cherokee Nation, but that didn’t stop him. In 1783, Colonel Wofford moved with 50 friends and relatives to Georgia and established Fort Wofford. He was among some of the first known white settlers living peacefully amongst the Native Americans in Habersham County. His son, Nathaniel, was the first white child born in this area.
in 1782 Georgia politicians met with the Cherokee Nation to negotiate a treaty to obtain more property from the tribe. Georgia signed a treaty with the Cherokee on May 31, 1783, netting the state 1650 square miles of land. Surveyors were sent out to mark the territories depicting what belonged to the Tribe and what belonged to the government. When the line between the state of Georgia and the Cherokee nation was surveyed by Benjamin Hawkins, a U.S. Indian agent, in 1797, it was discovered that the Wofford settlement was located just over the boundary on Indian land. “Uh, oh.” Wofford’s settlement was in the wrong spot! This meant that if his settlement was not on “U.S” soil but Cherokee land then he was not living in the U.S. (technically). Understand this was the 1700’s when Native Americans were their own governing body.
According to Mrs. Lillie Isbell, a historian, the Wofford settlement was squeezed out of Franklin County during the original survey. She writes, “Wofford was a man without a country.” It was true after all his service to the country Wofford did feel “put out” by his exclusion from the surveyed land.
Legend has it that he mounted his horse and rode to Washington to discuss these matters. Because of Wofford’s credibility, the United States agreed to pay the Cherokee Indians $5,000 and $10,300 per year for the property rights. Eventually, Wofford would own close to 2,000 acres of land around Toccoa, including Toccoa Falls that was then called the “High Falls”.
Today we stood at his grave that the students of Toccoa College lovely care for. A new headstone has replaced the 3 rocks that used to mark the grave. The earth is slightly sunk in where he lays. We studied our surroundings and wondered what life would have been like here in these backwoods in the early 18OO’s. The trail we had been walking along used to be the Old Post Road. His house used to stand up on the ridge and even after after 150 years the old foundation is still visible.
In his final years, Colonel Wofford lived alone with two female caretakers, for no family or friends stayed in the rural area with him. He was 95 when he died and was buried apart from others deep in the woods outside his homestead. His wife and children are all buried in cemeteries.
We paid our respects to this patriot and left him to carry on the watch over his land.
Keep the Lust for Wandering Y’all
Shane and Fran