Austin Dabney (ca. 1765-1830)
Austin Dabney was a slave who became a private in the Georgia militia and fought against the British during the Revolutionary War (1775-83). He was the only African American to be granted land by the state of Georgia in recognition of his bravery and service during the Revolution and one of the few to receive a federal military pension.
Born in Wake County, North Carolina, in the 1760s, Austin Dabney moved with his master, Richard Aycock, to Wilkes County, Georgia, in the late 1770s. In order to avoid military service himself, Aycock sent Dabney to join the Georgia militia as a substitute. Serving as an artilleryman under Elijah Clarke, Dabney is believed to have been the only black soldier to participate in the Battle of Kettle Creek, one of the most significant battles in Georgia, which took place near Washington on February 14, 1779. He was severely wounded in the thigh during the fighting, and Giles Harris, a white soldier, took Dabney to his home to care for the wound. Dabney remembered Harris's kindness and worked for the Harris family for the rest of his life.
Although a war veteran, Dabney's race precluded him from participating in any of the Georgia land lotteries of the early 1800s. Upson, by then a state legislator, supported Dabney's cause and sponsored a resolution to provide him with additional land not distributed in the 1819 lottery. In 1821 Dabney received an additional plot of 112 acres in Walton County. This grant caused unrest among the residents of Madison County, who felt that whites and blacks should not be regarded as equals in terms of land allocation. In addition to the two land grants, Dabney also received a federal invalid pension of sixty dollars a year starting in 1789 (which increased to ninety-six dollars annually in 1816) for the wound he received at Kettle Creek.
The friendship between Dabney and the Harris family continued for the rest of Dabney's life. He followed them to Walton, Burke, and Pike counties, and in 1835 William named a son, Austin Dabney Harris, in Dabney's honor. At his death in Zebulon in 1830, Dabney left all his land and property to Harris and was buried in the Harris family plot in Pike County. His name appears on a historical marker in Griffin, and U.S. senator Max Cleland of Georgia lauded him on the Senate floor in February 1998 for his war service and close relationship with the Harris family.
George Rockingham Gilmer, Sketches of Some of the First Settlers of Upper Georgia, of the Cherokees, and the Author (New York: D. Appleton, 1855; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1965).
W. B. Hartgrove, "The Negro in the American Revolution," Journal of Negro History 1 (April 1916): 110-31.
Jim Gigantino, University of Georgia
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