History Excerpt: "The Dwelling Place of the Phantom Things That Were...."


Helen Valley, circa 1840Two groups of immigrants who began arriving in the 1600s were of particular interest in the settlement of much of Georgia, even though they first put ashore many hundreds of miles north of Georgia soil. Encompassed by the colonies of Virginia and Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay region was settled largely by Englishmen. In this area a plantation economy developed, one which shaped the "Gone With The Wind" development of the South. Using slave labor, large farms produced exports which were traded for manufactured goods made elsewhere.

Further north, in Pennsylvania and adjacent colonies, the Delaware River valley was settled by a mixed group, English at first and then Germans, but predominately Scotch-Irish after 1730. Secondary emigrants from this group eventually came to occupy much of the southern Appalachians, where small highland farms were worked by owners who had little to export and therefore had to have a high degree of self sufficiency.

By the early 1700s, both of these groups had grown to the point where they gave rise to their own migrations. Taking parallel paths, both expanded southward to reach Georgia well before 1800. As the Chesapeake Bay people moved down through Virginia and the Carolinas to Georgia, they occupied the upper coastal plains and most of the piedmont region. The Delaware River group pushed down along the mountains to occupy the valleys and foothills of the Appalachians.

Although these are the basic patterns, neither mountaineers nor piedmont people alone explain the settlement of the upper Chattahoochee, for the streams of migrants were mixed when they reached its headwaters. As they did elsewhere in Georgia, those of the piedmont culture tended to occupy the best lands. Coming with money and slaves, they were soon managing large farms in the fertile bottom areas along the Chattahoochee. In the smaller valleys on the tributaries and back in the mountain coves, family farms were established in the mountaineer tradition.

In Georgia, the Cherokee boundary after the Revolutionary War was fixed along a line which crossed Curahee mountain and ran about 35 miles southeast of the Blue Ridge, where it stayed for nearly 40 years. Although this was a dangerous area until the early 1800's, the Indian conflicts had been resolved by the time the Cherokee treaties of 1817 and 1819 finally opened most of the Chattahoochee headwaters to white settlers.

When the first of the pioneers came to the upper Chattahoochee in the early 1820s, signs of the former occupants were clear. The Indians left a well established network of trails, abandoned fields and perhaps even a few of their houses. As it was all across America, the changing of cultures was a poignant moment, aptly described by Georgia historian Charles Jones some years later:


"The years roll on, and an increasing population, overleaping stream and mountain barrier, fills the hills and valleys of a distant interior. Before its inexorable advance the red race retires... and the locality becomes the home of departed memories, the abode of traditions, and the dwelling place of the phantom things that were..., the same overarching skies, the same potent sun, kindred forests and voices of nature, but all else how changed!"

And the settlers did come to a land of kindred forests and voices of nature, following the Unicoi Road into the heart of a great mountain wilderness which still echoed with the cries of wolves and panthers. Armed with tools of iron, the newcomers started cutting on the edges of this great virgin wood.

The panthers endured for a while, but the wolves soon joined the elk in local extinction. Methodist and Baptist preachers held forth where native shamans once had been the keepers of sacred rituals. With the arrival of the pioneers, things were certainly different in the dwelling place of the phantom things that were.


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