Governor Wilson Lumpkin

WILSON LUMPKIN (1783-1870), Governor of Georgia, Congressman and U.S. Senator, was the son of John Lumpkin, who was the son of George Lumpkin and Mary Cody. Apparently his first name was after John Wilson, a colonel in Virginia during the Revolutionary War who was married to Mary Lumpkin, his father's sister. Gov. Lumpkin apparently took great pride in his family heritage, for he left several writings on the subject. Gov. Lumpkin's monument, in Athens, Georgia, reads:

Born Jan. 14, 1783 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia
Came to Georgia, 1784
Died at Athens December 18, 1870
He served his State as
Legislator, Congressman, Governor
Commissioner to Cherokee Indians
State Agent W&A RR, U.S. Senator
Trustee of the University of Georgia
And died full of years and honor.

Wilson Lumpkin (Gov. of Georgia from 1831-35, and U.S. Senator), had the dubious distinction of advocating and planning for the "removal" of the Cherokee Indians to the Indian Territory in the west. The book THE GOVERNORS OF GEORGIA, which gives short biographies of each governor, under Wilson Lumpkin's name states "He removed the Cherokees", and says that he took greater pride in this accomplishment than anything else he did in public service.

The forced removal of the Cherokee and the four other "civilized tribes" (Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) from Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and other southern states, to the west of the Mississippi River in Oklahoma (Indian Territory) on the "Trail of Tears," was a very tragic and shameful episode in our nation's history. The Cherokee removal took place during the winter of 1838-39, at the same time that the Mormons were being driven from Missouri by the citizens and governor of that state. The Cherokee suffered even worse abuses and injustices, and a much higher percentage of deaths, than the Mormons did. They were a very educated and civilized people, had adopted the whites' ways, and were peaceful and prosperous farmers. They had a republican form of government, schools, a written alphabet, and a newspaper. Representatives from their tribe had appealed for years to Congress for fair treatment under the law, and for the government to abide by its treaties to them, which recognized them as a sovereign and independent nation. Most of Congress supported their position, and the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, but even though their cause was just and the Cherokee were clearly in the right, in those days state and local governments had more power than the federal, and often "took the law into their own hands".

Since the federal government was comparatively weak, and the Supreme Court had no way to enforce their decisions, local citizens frequently banded together to act according to what they felt were their own "best interests". That often meant violation of the rights of individuals and minorities, oppression, greediness, land-grabbing, and destruction of resources. This basically amounts to mob rule -- because of ignorance, suspicion, fear, misinformation, rumors, and prejudice. This happened against both the Mormons and the Cherokees. What to do about the "Mormon problem" and the "Indian problem" were similar issues to those in the majority and in power at that time. They tended to treat these oppressed minorities as "scapegoats," saying that it was their own fault that their neighbors perpetrated acts of violence and lawlessness against them, and violated their rights. They were "different" and couldn't live peacefully with their neighbors (because of the NEIGHBORS' prejudice and aggression, which they were blamed for). Stories and rumors of the minorities "wrongs" or aggressive acts were exaggerated or else completely fabricated, stirring their neighbors up to violence and retaliation in which they felt justified. The governor and other public officials believed that "the voice of the people is the voice of God", and Governor Lumpkin, apparently, sincerely believed that it would be in the best interest of both the whites and the Indians for them to move beyond the Mississippi. He was very persuasive in arguing his firm stand on this issue. He ignored the U.S. Supreme Court decision, and had the Cherokee land surveyed and distributed out to whites in a "land lottery" even before the forced removal.

The great majority of the Cherokee were peaceable and co-operative, adopted the whites' ways, attended schools and churches, wanted to stay and co-exist peaceably with their white neighbors and have their rights and boundaries respected. They were not the aggressors or perpetrators in any of the conflicts or "problems" which arose (because of whites encroaching on their lands). The Cherokees' rights were completely disregarded and trampled on, and all of the problems were unjustly blamed on them, as was the case with the Mormons. The Cherokees were rounded up by the Army, put into enclosures like cattle, and then had to go on a forced march of a thousand miles in the dead of winter, driven out or "removed" for no other reasons than that they were "different". The whites looked down on, disliked, and feared them, and coveted their lands, particularly the gold which had been discovered there. The first gold rush in U.S. history was in northern Georgia, on former Cherokee lands. The gold soon ran out, and most of the men who had flocked there seeking a quick fortune, left for California in 1849.

Governor Lumpkin alone cannot be held personally responsible for the removal of the Cherokees, for he was only one of many who were "ganging up" against them. He was trying to do according to what the majority of the citizens of his state wanted, and to preserve the peace and the rule of law, in the way he thought was best. In a book or article entitled "Removal of the Cherokee Indians from Georgia," Governor Lumpkin wrote of his family background:

"I am a native of Virginia, and was born in Pittsylvania County, January 14, 1783. When I was one year old my father removed to Georgia and settled in that part of the state then known as Wilkes County, now Oglethorpe County. My parents were of English descent on both sides, and (Virginia was) the birthplace of them and their ancestors for several generations past.

"My father and his father, George Lumpkin, settled on Long Creek (Georgia) in the year 1784.

"Blessed by nature with a fine commanding person, upwards of six feet high and perfectly erect in his carriage; naturally fluent in speech, polite, courteous, and exceedingly popular in his deportment, yet he had sufficient command of his feelings to control his temper when his judgment deemed it proper and expedient to forbear.

"He was a man of affairs, a strong character, courageous, thoroughly honest, a good conversationalist, a man of sound judgment with a pleasing personality.

"During a long public life in various County Offices, few men ever maintained a more uniform popularity; although sometimes censured and blamed as a Public Officer, yet upon due investigation he never failed to rise higher in the public esteem.

"He was for many years acting Magistrate, or Justice of the Peace, in Wilkes County. After the creation of Oglethorpe County, 1794, he was for many years, Judge of the Inferior Court; was a member of the Legislature which passed the Rescinding Act of the Yazoo Fraud; a member of the Convention which framed the present Constitution of Georgia; was elected a Jeffersonian Elector of President and Vice-President; was many years Clerk of the Superior Court of Oglethorpe County, besides in many trusts too tedious to mention.

"These different positions always brought within reach of the family, a knowledge of many local public matters which were not accessible to many of the rising generation of that day.

"In his home were found more newspapers, books, and reading matter, than was common to families of that period in similar circumstances; in other respects few men retained so large a share of popularity through life in their respective spheres than he did. From the first settlement of the county to this day, he and his immediate descendants have maintained as much character and influence in the County of Oglethorpe as has fallen to the lot of any other whatever.

"My mother was a woman of great strength of mind, deeply imbued with the religion of the Bible, with which Book she was so familiar as to need no Concordance to find any passage of Scripture she desired."

Letter of Governor Wilson Lumpkin to his daughter, Mrs. Ann Alden:

Athens, Ga., Oct. 20, 1852
My dear daughter,

After I shall have seen the last of earth, some of my descendants may feel some interest in knowing some of the genealogy of our family; such things as I have not recorded; a few of which I will now append, in the form of a letter addressed to you.

Unimportant and commonplace as these things may appear to others; there may be one yet unborn, who, like myself, would willingly dwell on the pages of the past.

In the History of England I find the name of Lumpkin, and though not conspicuously enrolled upon the pages of fame, I find nothing of reproach. Indications of mind utility and industry, may be described from the little I have seen of the name "Lumpkin" as an English name.

Among the early settlers of Virginia, I find the name of Col. (Jacob) Lumpkin, who settled in King & Queen County in the old Dominion, in the Sixteenth Century. He brought with him from England a small marble tablet, or tombstone, to be placed on his grave (more likely it was actually brought over later), and there it stood a few years ago, unimpaired by time. I had a copy of the inscription taken from this stone, but it is now mislaid or lost, and I cannot now be accurate as to dates, etc.

From this individual as far as I have been able to ascertain, have descended all the Lumpkin family of the United States, some of whom are to be found in many of the States of our great and widely extended confederacy.

My father was probably a great-grandson of Col. (Jacob) Lumpkin. My father in his youth on a visit to the coast of Virginia, visited the tomb of this, our first American ancestor. One motive of his visit was to settle a disputed issue between my grandfather and his brother, Joseph (my old schoolmaster) in regard to spelling the name "Lumpkin." My grandfather left out the "p". My father's visit to the grave settled the controversy, the "p" was in it, and so we have all spelled the name ever since (excepting my grandfather, who continued to leave the "p" out to the day of his death, in writing his name).

My grandfather gave me many interest details concerning our ancestry, which I deem it unnecessary to reiterate here; suffice it to say while we have no royal blood, or aristocratic blood to boast of, I am content to know that we have no reproach or taint from our progenitors. If there be anything to produce a blush, it must be sought for in the present generation, of which I leave others to make up the record.

The Lumpkins, like all other families, have doubtless peculiar traits of character, but it would not become me to dwell upon these distinguishing traits, whether to our credit or discredit as a family. I feel that I may be allowed to say, industry and honesty are common traits in the Lumpkin family. The reason why few of them have become wealthy, is neither for want of industry, talent, or vigilant care; it is because they are not disposed to hoard; but rather to enjoy the fruits of their industry.

Allow me to state; many of my father's family in early times, were remarkable for their gigantic proportions and physical power. My grandfather had a brother by the name of Anthony, who had twelve sons, all born of one mother. None of them were under six feet in height; their average weight being over two hundred pounds, yet none of them carried any surplus flesh. I have seen four of these giant sons of old Uncle Anthony, and truly they were most extraordinary men in physical appearance and power.

The Lumpkins have been a most prolific race of people. My grandfather, however, lost most of his children in infancy. He reared but three sons and one daughter who reared families of children, all of whom, except my father, continued to reside in Virginia to the close of their lives, except one of my father's brothers who came to Georgia at a later period of life, and died there.

The maiden name of my grandmother Lumpkin was Cody; and she, like all the rest of those days, was a most excellent woman; just what the best of women should be. The Cody family of Warren County were her near relations; and upon investigation you will find them to be a highly respectable and meritorious family of people.

My grandfather's three sons were named Robert, George, and John, and his daughter, Mary, after her mother.

In the state of Georgia there is a county and also a town named for Governor Lumpkin: Lumpkin County is in northern Georgia, where the old Cherokee town of Dahlonega and the Dahlonega Gold Museum is located. In another part of the state is a town called Lumpkin -- along the western border of Georgia towards the south, in Stewart County. Within the town of Lumpkin is a reconstructed farming village called Westville, a living historical village which shows the handicrafts and culture of Georgia during the 1850's. Also it is said that "the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company was chartered in 1833, with Lumpkin as a director. When the railroad finally was completed in 1851, the route closely followed the one he had selected in 1825. The southern terminus of the railroad, in DeKalb County, has had several names. Originally White Hall, it was changed to Terminus, then Marthasville, in honor of Governor Lumpkin's daughter. This town finally became the city of Atlanta, Georgia."

Joseph Henry Lumpkin, a brother of Wilson Lumpkin, became Georgia's first Chief Justice, and two other brothers became ministers. The law school of the University of Georgia is named the Lumpkin Law School, after Joseph Henry Lumpkin, and Wilson Lumpkin's former home is located on the University campus, on land which he gave to the University when he helped to found it.

John Henry Lumpkin, a nephew, was a lawyer, solicitor general of Georgia, and U.S. Representative to Congress from Georgia. He was defeated by a small margin in his run for governor of Georgia.

Samuel Lumpkin, a great-nephew of Wilson Lumpkin, was a lawyer, member of the state legislature and senate, and at the time of his death was presiding justice of the supreme court of Georgia. In a tribute to him presented before the supreme court, it was said that

"Samuel Lumpkin was one in whose mortal tenement burned the flame of loftiest manhood. He was ... a member of a family whose name has been one of prominence in the annals of American history ... The name of Lumpkin adds luster to the political annals of the state of Georgia, and to the records of the bench and bar of this commonwealth ... John Lumpkin, great-grandfather of Samual Lumpkin ... was a man of force and ability such as one would expect to find as the progenitor of men like the Lumpkins ... he had nine sons, four of whom achieved marked distinction ...

Samuel's father Joseph Lumpkin, though he died at the early age of 26 years, had already won an enviable position at the bar of this state. The untimely death of this gifted man left young Samuel, then of tender years, to care for his widowed mother and his sister ... Those of us who knew him intimately knew of the tender affection and anxious solicitude which he ever manifested for both of them. We might pause here and profitably point out a moral of well-nigh universal observation, that responsibilities are essential to the development of true manhood; and when to other responsibilities are added the care and support of mother and sister, how immeasurably potent in that development are such influences. Truly no man was ever completely great, nor can be, who did not love his mother ... At the time of his graduation in the state university he was 17 and one-half years old, and graduated with first honor ... The friends he made in college he retained through life, and it may be said no man ever valued friendship more or surpassed him in loyalty to that pure and precious relation ...

After graduating, he taught school for a few years and applied himself outside of school hours to the study of law, and in 1868 he was admitted to the bar ... He was vigorous, strong intellectually, persistent in purpose, steadfast in moral integrity, and untiring in the performance of duty. He possessed in a remarkable degree the power of statement, and that gift, coupled with his wonderful power of discrimination, analysis, and condensation, made him truly a great judge in his day. He was also a most devoted husband ... (his wife) was his constant inspiration and he had the greatest admiration for her judgment and high sense of justice. He has been heard to say that he frequently discussed with her questions of abstract right and justice and was much aided in the solution of such questions as a result of these discussions ... as a husband he showed his brightest and most attractive side. In the language of his broken hearted widow, in a letter written to a member of this committee, 'He was always so cheerful, never despondent or discouraged; even during his last illness, through the long months of pain and suffering, he saw only the brightness ahead; his face always turned toward the sunshine.' And the committee may add, she has spoken truly, for he loved the light. This was characteristic of the man -- to look always toward the sunshine, ever and always in search of light, and those of us who knew him best, hopefully believe, as the shadow of death's wing shut all the sunlight of this life from his mortal eyes, on the 18th day of July 1903, a new 'light' opened up to his immortal vision, eternal light which bringeth in and sustaineth the life everlasting."

Information Compiled
by Karen Bray Keeley

INTERNET Adaptation
by Sandra Shuler Bray