Located in east central Georgia, Wilkes County was created in 1777. The state's first county, it was originally far larger than its current 471 square miles. The area that became the original Wilkes County was called the New Purchase or Ceded Lands, referring to the land lying between the Broad River and the Savannah River, which today includes Elbert and Lincoln counties, as well as parts of Oglethorpe, Taliaferro, and Warren counties. Wilkes County is named for John Wilkes, a colorful member of British Parliament who opposed some of the British policies that eventually led to the American Revolution (1775-83).
The area now forming Wilkes County saw action
The town itself was laid out in the midst of the Revolution, retaining the name to honor General Washington and,
Wilkes County's economy originally relied heavily on cotton, and Washington was once a thriving commercial center. However, the
The other incorporated towns in the county are Rayle and Tignall, which was known earlier as "Little Atlanta."
Wilkes County has been home to several notable Georgians, including U.S. Supreme Court justice John Archibald Campbell, who helped decide the Dred Scott case; Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy; Robert Toombs, secretary of state of the Confederacy; Ben Fortson, Georgia's secretary of state; governor George Mathews; Jesse Mercer, Baptist leader and publisher; and John Springer, noted educator and clergyman and the first Presbyterian minister ordained in Georgia.
Wilkes County boasts twenty-nine entries in the National Register of Historic Places, including several districts within Washington. Structures range from Victorian to Greek revival in style. Among them are the courthouse, the Robert Toombs House, and the Washington Historical Museum, which houses a rare collection of Civil War (1861-65) relics, including Jefferson Davis's camp chest. The Callaway Plantation, northwest of Washington, is a working farm museum, and southwest of Washington is the Kettle Creek Battlefield.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population of Wilkes County was 10,593, a slight decrease from the 2000 population of 10,687.
Susan R. Boatright and Douglas C. Bachtel, eds., Georgia County Guide (Athens: Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, University of Georgia, annual).
Georgia Writers' Project, The Story of Washington-Wilkes (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1941).
Robert Marion Willingham, The History of Wilkes County, Georgia ([Washington, Ga.]: Wilkes Publishing, 2002).
Robert Marion Willingham, No Jubilee: The Story of Confederate Wilkes (Washington, Ga.: Wilkes Publishing, 1976).
Elizabeth B. Cooksey, Savannah
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