Walton War

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Walton War Map
Walton War Map.jpg
Location of the Walton War

The Walton War: December 1804

Arguments between states in this country are usually settled more or less decorously and peacefully through debate and compromise. In at least one instance, however, such a quarrel resulted in armed conflict and loss of life. In December 1804, in disputed land along their common border, several Georgians assaulted and killed a Buncombe County, North Carolina constable, and North Carolina responded by sending in a detachment of militia to restore order and assert its authority in the area. Called the Walton War, this incident was part of a series of more peaceful boundary conflicts between North Carolina and its neighbors which were caused by confusion inherited from British colonial rule and territorial pressure resulting from the creation of the new American nation.

At the time of the American Revolution, North Carolina's boundary with South Carolina was in dispute, particularly in the western part of the state. After the Revolution the new government of the United States pressed states that had claims on land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River to cede those lands to the national government. North Carolina gave up its claim to a broad swath of land from which most of the state of Tennessee was later formed. South Carolina, however, had only a narrow strip to cede between the southern border of North Carolina and the northern border of Georgia. In 1802, after long negotiation with the federal government, Georgia surrendered claim to the territory from which Alabama and Mississippi were formed. As part of the negotiation, the federal government gave Georgia the strip recently ceded by South Carolina, giving Georgia and North Carolina a common border. Unfortunately, this common border had never been accurately surveyed, and there was substantial debate about how it should be defined. The eastern edge of this strip, as Georgia defined it, contained land at the head of the French Broad River that North Carolina believed to be part of Buncombe County which at that time was the only county in the far western end of the state.

This messy situation was aggravated by the presence of settlers in the disputed territory who began coming over the Blue Ridge about 1785. By 1802 there were some 800 people in the area. The fundamental problem was that many of the settlers held their land by grant from South Carolina while many others had North Carolina grants. In the confusion over state authority settlers saw the possibility of losing their land and hence their livelihood. In 1803, to solidify its claim, Georgia organized the disputed territory into Walton County, named for George Walton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Relations between residents in the new county rapidly deteriorated. Holders of South Carolina land grants supported the new county government and resisted the authority of Buncombe County officials. North Carolina grant holders supported Buncombe and refused to acknowledge the Walton County government.

The crisis came in December 1804 when Walton County officials and their supporters attempted to intimidate and possibly dispossess several outspoken partisans of Buncombe. One of these, John Havner, a Buncombe County constable, was struck on the head with the butt of a musket and killed. In response, Buncombe County called out the militia. A detachment of seventy-two men, under Major James Brittain, marched into Walton County on December 19, 1804, where they were joined by twenty-four North Carolinians living in the disputed area. Ten important Walton County officials were taken prisoner and sent to Morganton, North Carolina, to be tried in the death of Havner. The Walton County government was effectively crushed. North Carolina and Georgia continued to quarrel over the disputed territory until 1807 when commissioners from both states met to establish the boundary. Joseph Caldwell, president of the University of North Carolina, and Joseph Meigs, president of the University of Georgia, were charged with making the scientific observations for the party and after several trials established that the true boundary was a number of miles south of its assumed position. The commissioners from Georgia admitted that all of Walton County was in fact in North Carolina.

In the end, North Carolina recognized the South Carolina land grants and extended amnesty to those who had opposed the state in the Walton War -- except for the ten men accused of the death of John Havner. They, however, had escaped from the jail in Morganton and fled the state, never to be seen again. Although Havner was the only fatality, stories of the Walton War grew over the years creating a legend of the conflict in which truth and fiction freely mixed. In the legend, dozens of Georgians died in pitched battles with North Carolina militia. The frustrated farmers of Walton County, worried about the legality of their land grants, became, in some stories, bands of vicious desperados inhabiting a "no man's land" beyond the law.

By the late twentieth century the Walton War was almost, but not quite, forgotten. In 1971, Georgia questioned the location of its boundary with North Carolina, and the North Carolina General Assembly, reported by the press to be in a "jocular mood," passed a resolution urging that the National Guard be called out to defend the border.

Harry McKown
December 2006

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Recommended Reading: Encyclopedia of North Carolina (Hardcover) (1328 pages) (The University of North Carolina Press). Description: The first single-volume reference to the events, institutions, and cultural forces that have defined the state, the Encyclopedia of North Carolina is a landmark publication that will serve those who love and live in North Carolina for generations to come. Editor William S. Powell, whom the Raleigh News & Observer described as a "living repository of information on all things North Carolinian," spent fifteen years developing this volume. With contributions by more than 550 volunteer writers—including scholars, librarians, journalists, and many others—it is a true "people's encyclopedia" of North Carolina. Continued below...

The volume includes more than 2,000 entries, presented alphabetically, consisting of longer essays on major subjects, briefer entries, and short summaries and definitions. Most entries include suggestions for further reading. Centered on history and the humanities, topics covered include agriculture; arts and architecture; business and industry; the Civil War; culture and customs; education; geography; geology, mining, and archaeology; government, politics, and law; media; medicine, science, and technology; military history; natural environment; organizations, clubs, and foundations; people, languages, and immigration; places and historic preservation; precolonial and colonial history; recreation and tourism; religion; and transportation. An informative and engaging compendium, the Encyclopedia of North Carolina is abundantly illustrated with 400 photographs and maps. It is both a celebration and a gift—from the citizens of North Carolina, to the citizens of North Carolina. "Truly an exhaustive and exciting view of every aspect of the Old North State!”

 

Recommended Reading: The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina (Hardcover). Description: The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina constitutes the most comprehensive and inclusive single-volume chronicle of the state’s storied past to date, culminating with an attentive look at recent events that have transformed North Carolina into a southern megastate. Integrating tales of famous pioneers, statesmen, soldiers, farmers, captains of industry, activists, and community leaders with more marginalized voices, including those of Native Americans, African Americans, and women, Milton Ready gives readers a view of North Carolina that encompasses perspectives and personalities from the coast, "tobacco road," the Piedmont, and the mountains in this sweeping history of the Tar Heel State. The first such volume in more than two decades, Ready’s work offers a distinctive view of the state’s history built from myriad stories and episodes. The Tar Heel State is enhanced by one hundred and ninety illustrations and five maps. Continued below...

Ready begins with a study of the state’s geography and then invites readers to revisit dramatic struggles of the American Revolution and Civil War, the early history of Cherokees, the impact of slavery as an institution, the rise of industrial mills, and the changes wrought by modern information-based technologies since 1970. Mixing spirited anecdotes and illustrative statistics, Ready describes the rich Native American culture found by John White in 1585, the chartered chaos of North Carolina’s proprietary settlement, and the chronic distrust of government that grew out of settlement patterns and the colony’s early political economy. He challenges the perception of relaxed intellectualism attributed to the "Rip van Winkle" state, the notion that slavery was a relatively benign institution in North Carolina, and the commonly accepted interpretation of Reconstruction in the state. Ready also discusses how the woman suffrage movement pushed North Carolina into a hesitant twentieth-century progressivism. In perhaps his most significant contribution to North Carolina’s historical record, Ready continues his narrative past the benchmark of World War II and into the twenty-first century. From the civil rights struggle to the building of research triangles, triads, and parks, Ready recounts the events that have fueled North Carolina’s accelerated development in recent years and the many challenges that have accompanied such rapid growth, especially those of population change and environmental degradation.

 

Editor's Recommended Reading: Western North Carolina: A History from 1730 to 1913 (Hardcover: 679 pages). Description: From the introduction to the appendix, this volume is filled with interesting information. Covering seventeen counties—Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, and Yancey—the author conducted about ten years searching and gathering materials. Continued...

About the Author: John Preston Arthur was born in 1851 in Columbia, South Carolina. After relocating to Asheville, North Carolina, in 1887, he was appointed Secretary of the Street Railway Company, and subsequently the Manager and Superintendent until 1894. Later, after becoming a lawyer, he was encouraged by the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) to write a history of western North Carolina.

 

Recommended Reading: Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads (Touring the Backroads). Editorial Review: This guidebook, unlike most, is so encyclopedic in scope that I give it as a gift to newcomers to the area. It is also an invaluable reference for the visitor who wants to see more than the fabulous Biltmore Estate. Even though I am a native of the area, I learned nearly everything I know about Western North Carolina from this book alone and it is my primary reference. I am still amazed at how much fact, history and folklore [just enough to bring alive the curve of the road, the odd landmark, the abandoned building] is packed in its 300 pages. The author, who must have collapsed from exhaustion when she finished it, takes you on a detailed tour, laid out by the tenth of the mile, of carefully drawn sections of backroads that you can follow leisurely without getting lost. Continued below...

The author is completely absent from the text. The lucid style will please readers who want the facts, not editorial comment. This book, as well as the others in this publisher's backroads series, makes an excellent gift for anyone, especially the many seniors who have relocated, or are considering relocating to this fascinating region. It is also a valuable reference for natives, like me, who didn't know how much they didn't know.

Sources: Carpenter, Cal. The Walton War and tales of the Great Smoky Mountains. Lakemont, GA: Copple House Books, 1979; Reidinger, Martin. "The Walton War and the Georgia-North Carolina Boundary Dispute." Typescript in North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1981; Skaggs, Marvin Lucian. "North Carolina Boundary Disputes Involving Her Southern Line." James Sprunt Studies in History and Political Science, Vol. 25, No. 1. University of North Carolina Press, 1941; Durham Morning Herald, 12 September 1971 as found in North Carolina Collection Clipping File through 1975, Subject Clippings, vol. 177.

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