What these Trees have Seen: Slavery, Post-Slavery, and Anti-Blackness in the South River (Welaunee) Forest Zone

Mark Auslander and Avis E. Williams
23 April 2022

The proposed South River (Welaunee) Forest zone spans approximately 3,500 acres in southeastern Fulton County and southeastern unincorporated DeKalb County, Georgia. The land is in the watershed of the South River, evidently referenced as the Welaunee or Weelaunee by indigenous Muscogee Creek inhabitants. This land has a complex indigenous history, incorporating some of the Soapstone Ridge that was the site of numerous indigenous quarries during the late Archaic and early Woodland periods. During the 18th century these lands were well within the territory of Muscogee Creek, gradually being pressed by expanding white trading and settler interests from Florida, South Carolina, and coastal Georgia. From at least the 1790s onward there appear to have been scattered white farms, often based in the enslaved labor of persons of African and indigenous descent, intermixed with Muscogee Creek settlements as well as hunting and gathering zones on these lands. The development of the cotton gin and the increasing industrialization of cotton processing vastly accelerated white demand for agricultural land, to be worked by an enslaved people of African descent.

By 1821, the white expropriation or theft of Muscogee land in this region of Georgia culminated in the fourth Georgia land lottery, in which these lands were divided into 202.5 acre plots, distributed to white men who qualified for the drawing. This essay briefly considers the experiences of enslavement with this 3,500 acre zone, and on continued structures of labor discipline that continued on these lands during the post slavery Reconstruction and Redemption eras.

The Transitional Era: Muscogee Creek, White Penetration, and Early Enslavement

We begin with the transitional era from c. 1750 to about 1820 when enslaved people of African descent, owned by Muscogee Creek. may have resided in these lands or close by them. From 1751 slavery was legal in Georgia. As noted, there were scattered white owned farms through Creek controlled areas between the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers from the 1780s onward. Increasing numbers of African-descent people were also held by Muscogee Creek in involuntary servitude.

Over much of the 18th century, there are accounts of escaped black slaves from the Carolinas and coastal Georgia finding their way into Creek territory, and being, in essence, adopted into local communities. Some African-descent people lived in forms of slavery which Gary Zellar (2007) maintains was not as coercive as the slavery system that had been established in British North America. However, after the invention of the cotton gin, cotton cultivation became increasingly profitable and more and more Muscogee Creek turned to a labor system modeled on the enslavement of African-descended people.

It is unclear if Estelvste (African Creeks), free or enslaved, resided with what is now termed the South River Forest zone, which was located within the Lower Creek region of the Creek Confederacy. As noted, there were certainly enslaved people owned by Creek within the general vicinity (Saunt 2005, Zellar 2007).

The most famous Muscogee Creek slave-based plantations in the region were Chief William McIntosh’s complexes at “Lochau Talofau” on Acorn Bluff on the Chattahoochee River in Carroll County and at Indian Springs, Butts County, respectively about 35 miles southwest and 50 miles southeast of the South River Forest zone. McIntosh owned over 100 enslaved people, and his children owned a number of other people of African or Afro-indigenous descent as well. Many of these enslaved individuals’ names are recoverable from documents associated with claims made against the Upper Creek, after William McIntosh was assassinated (or executed) in 1825 at Acorn Bluff for signing the Treaty of Indian Springs. (Littlefield 1979; May 1996).

Among the individuals owned by the McIntosh family, was Sarah Davis (1799-1886), who was as at one point owned by the daughter of William McIntosh, Rebecca McIntosh Hawkins, who in 1831 married Benjamin Hawkins, an educated, “mixed-blood” Creek and sometime business partner of Sam Houston. After Chief McIntosh was executed by Creek warriors in 1825, Sarah was part of the forced emigration party led by Ben Hawkins and John Sells to Arkansas Indian Territory in 1830.

When Rebeca Hawkins left Indian Territory for Texas, she sold Sarah to her brother Daniel Newnan D.N.) McIntosh. who later served as a colonel in the Confederate States Army. Sarah worked as a house slave/servant for him.

By 1853, Sarah Davis purchased her freedom and became a free African Creek merchant who lived in the Creek Agency settlement, west of present day Muskogee before (and after) the Civil War. She ran an inn that served meals and was a major force in the community. Her grandson was Joseph Davison, an important Creek Freedman leader, His descendants continue to reside in Oklahoma, along with thousands of others descended from enslaved Afro-native peoples owned by the McIntosh faction and other members of the Muscogee Creek elite.

Sarah Davis and many other members of her family are buried in the Old Creek Agency cemetery near Muscogee OK, in which an estimated 1,000 African Creek individuals are interred. The cemetery, on private land, is currently unavailable to visits by loved ones and descendants. As we honor this endangered forest, a site of so much tragedy, let us also think of that distant forested cemetery which remains a site of great injustice, compounded by the fact that most Creek Freedmen descendants were in 1979 stripped of tribal citizenship and remain legally outside of the tribe.

The 1821 Land Lottery

The white settler theft of Muscogee (Creek) lands in this region of Georgia, between the Ocmulgee and Flint rivers, was finalized in the 1821 land lottery, in which eligible white men drew for 202 and a half acre plots, including the land that now constitutes the 3500 acres of the proposed South River or Welaunee Forest. What is now DeKalb county was then part of Henry County. Districts 1-18 of Henry were distributed through the lottery, including District 15, in which the proposed forest zone is located.

Naming Names: The Enslaving and the Enslaved

  1. Slaves of Lochlin Johnson

Among the first white winners of the lottery was Locklin Johnson (18 Feb 1787-17 July 1861) who then resided in Cooper District, Putnam County, where he appears to have already owned four slaves. He drew lot 73, at the confluence of the South River and Blue Creek, two miles southeast of where we stand, and in time acquired lots 72,73 56, and 67. The historian Franklin Garret reckoned Johnson’s plantation “the finest in the county,” by which he meant the most productive.Johnson at various points represented the county in the State Senate, served as as county sheriff, postmaster and road commissioner, and was an Inferior Court judge, as well as land speculator in what later become Atlanta. By the time he died in 1861, Locklin Johnson owned eleven people who toiled on these lands, and he may have rented many others.

Through DeKalb County probate records, we are able to identify by name most of these enslaved people, who resided, according to the 1860 slave schedule, in three dwellings. In his will, Johnson Lochlin Johnson bequeathed his his slave Aley valued $300, “and her issue” to his daughter Margaret M.P Lichtenstadt (wife of Maurice Ludwig Lichtenstadt). To his daughter Nancy P. Farrar (wife of Jesse Farrar, a real estate agent) the “negro girl” Harriet and her issue, worth $500. To his daughter his daughter Jane E.L. Robinson (wife of James Robinson) the “negro girl” Emily ($500) and her issue. All of this was consistent with the frequent practice of slaveowner planted to bequeath their daughters with younger women slave who might serve as their enslaved maids and personal attendants (this is precisely how young Sally Hemmings came into the household of Thomas Jefferson as a gift to Jefferson’s wife from her father).

Other enslaved people were sold at an estate auction on New Year’s Day, 1862, on the front steps of the DeKalb County courthouse in nearby Decatur:

Laura and her children Emma and Herman, were sold to David Kiddoo (of Cuthbert, GA)
Wyatt, sold to James Robinson (Jane’s husband) then in Atlanta
Ben, sold to Jesse Farrar (husband of Nancy), then in Atlanta Ward 4
Anthony, sold to Mary K. Richie, via her guardian.
Jake, sold to M.L. Lichenstandt (Margaret’s husband: Maurice Ludwig Lichenstadt)

We are not sure yet of what become of Tobe (also known as Cornelius W) and the “boy” John, who are listed in the estate’s inventory and appraisement records, but not the auction records.

We see likely traces of some of these individuals in the first Freedmen’s Census, of 1870, nine years later.

A. Wyatt Johnson appears as a day laborer living in Atlanta’s Ward 4, living in the household of the black blacksmith Sidney Perkins.

A “Benjamin Johnson” is working as a sharecropper in Panthersville, evidently on same land he and his family had been held on during slavery. Among his daughters are 12 year old Harriet and one year old Emma, who might have been named for the Harriet bequeathed in 1861 to Lochlin Johnson’s daughter Nancy, and for the Emma, who was the daughter of Laura, sold to David Kiddoo of Cuthbert County. (All this suggests that various kind was sold or distributed apart from one another during 1861-62. Ben Johnson ten years later is listed as working on a farm in the same neighborhood.

Aley and Jake, as we have seen, were acquired by Dr. Maurice Ludwig Lichtenstadt, a prominent physician whose patients during the Civil War included Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy. Aley may have become Ally Johnson, born 1837, who appears in the 1870 census, living in Atlanta Ward 1, with her husband Green Johnson, a blacksmith

The same year “Jack Lemons,” born 1812 , and his wife Harriet, born 1810, are living together in Atlanta’s West End. Perhaps this is the formerly enslaved Jake, and he and Harriet, separated by the 1862 auction, reunited following Emancipation.

  1. Slaves of Nathan Turner

The plantation of slaveowner Nathan Turner was located in lot 71, just to the east of Lochlin Johnson’s plantation. He enlisted in the Confederate Army as 1st Sergeant March 4, 1862. He was Elected Jr. 2nd Lieutenant September 8, 1862. and Died of disease at Vicksburg, Miss, January 28, 1863. His estate inventory that he owned the following enslaved persons:

—Eady, woman 36 years, and child, also Solomon, a boy, 4 years, valued at $1300
—Margaret, girl, 15, $1500
—King, boy, 15, $1500
—Clinton, a boy, 13, $1500
—Minty, a girl, 12, $1200
—Allick a Boy, 5 years, $1000

His will bequeaths the 14 year old slave girl Margaret to his daughter Frances Ann Turner, and his 12 year old slave “Minta” to his daughter Sarah Eliza.

Most of these individuals remained in Panthersville into the era of freedom. In the 1870 census, twenty one year old Minty (now known as Aminda) is married to a Nathan Turner, in household #11, the is now in the proposed forest zone.

In another part of Panthersville, “Edy” Razenback, 40 ( previously Eady) is married to Edmund Razenback, 40 (who was not in the Turner inventory) with her sons Alexander Razenback, 15 (must be “Allick”) and Solomon Razenback, 10 who were both in the Turner estate inventory).

  1. Slaves of Rev. Elijah Clark

Another prominent slaveowner in the forest zone was the Methodist Minister Rev. Elijah Henry Clark, 3 Dec 1835-12 Jun 1898, who represented DeKalb County in the Georgia House of Representatives and who became a Captain in the Georgie Infantry 42, company D. His father William Henry Clark owned 39 slaves in a different part of the county. Rev Clark himself occupied lot 78 and owned 14 slaves, who resided in three slave dwellings, in 1860.

We can surmise the identities of some of these individuals from the 1870 “Freedmen’s census” which shows the following four free black families living next door to Rev. Clark, five years after Emancipation:

Dempsey Clark, 70, b. 1800
Harriet Clark, 45
Louisa Clark, 20
Ousley Clark, 10

Dempsey Clark, 36
Cordelia Clark, 35 , b. 1835

Bill Clark 25. b 1845
Sally Clark, 24
Amanda Clark, 11
Cordelia Clark, 10 months

Thomas Clark 40
Catharine Clark 34
Marena Clark 10
Ella Clark 7
Hannah Clark 3
Jacob Clark 3 months

(All of these individuals over the age of five were presumably owned by Rev. Clark or his family prior to 1865, when freedom finally came to Georgia.

These black Clark families are still listed in the 1880 census, continuing as sharecroppers farming in Panthersville.

  1. The slaves of George P. Key

The slaveowner George P. Key occupied lots 82 and 83, the site of the Intrenchment Creek Trailhead (where protest and ceremonial events in support of the Forest were held in 2021 and 2022) as well as the southern section of the later Atlanta Prison farm. (Key Road is named for this family.) Key owned 19 slaves in 1860. George Key’s father Chiles Keys (Jan 30 1784-Mar 4 1846) died intestate in 1846. He owned 21 slaves in 1840 The section of his probate inventory listing enslaved people unfortunately is missing. Other enslaved only two individualsReuben and Lively, are mentioned in probate records).
It is not precisely clear which individuals were owned by George Key, but five years after Emancipation, the following black families of sharecroppers were living next door to George Key: Henry and Kizziah Thrasher Phillip and Fanny Mitchel. George Middlebrooks, Annise and Mary Middlebrooks, and Alonzo and Eliza Walker. We surmise some or all of these individuals were owned by the white Key family.

  1. Slaves of James Moore and William Cobb

The slaveowner James Moore (born Cork, Ireland, 6/28/1798; d. 5/14/1856) is recorded as owning six slaves in 1850, on lots 110 and 111, on lands that would later become the northern sections of the Atlanta Prison Farm. After his death in 1856, only two enslaved people are listed in probate records; Fanny and Mary, who were both sold at auction to Moore’s neighbor, William T. Cobb. The 1860 slave schedule indicates they were born 1837 and 1841.
William Cobb, a miller, achieved a degree of fame during the Battle of Atlanta, when on the night of 22 July 1864, he guided Gen. Patrick Cleburne of Gen. Hardee’s Corps ( Confederate) through the forest, in a failed assault on f Union General McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee

One wonders what Fanny and Mary thought as they watched these fateful proceedings.

W speculate that Fanny appears six years later in the 1870 census, as “Fanny Stanners” in Panthersville, born c 1834, in household #t328, married to Bailey Stanners

  1. Slaves of Robert Cobb

William Cobb’s apparent brother Robert Cobb, resided on Lot 84 (between Georgie Key and Augustus Pitts). He died in 1865 and his probate records for 6 April 1865 (three days before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House ) indicate the following slaves in his estate:

Dare, a negro man, valued at $3000
Lee, a negro man, 3500
Sy, a boy, 19 years, 4000
Jane, negro woman and 4 children, 6500
Pegg and 3 children, 5000
Alissa (? ) and a child, 50
Eliza, a girl, 3000

Turner appears five years later in the 1870 census living in Panthersville as sharecropper Turner Cobb, heading a substantial family:

Turner Cobb 58 (b. 1812)
Matilda Cobb 35
Juliann Cobb 18
Mary C Cobb 12
Lucy Cobb 10
George Cobb 8
Polly Cobb 6
William Cobb 3
Andrew J Cobb 3 month
Allen Cobb, 20
Offelia Cobb, 1

Since none of these individuals are listed in the Robert Cobb inventory, it seems likely that most were owned by someone else in the area; and that the family was reunited after Emancipation.

  1. Slaves of Justice Augustus Pitts

Justice Augustus Pitts held property on lots 51 and 76. He owned 6 enslaved people in 1860.

In1870, five years after Emancipation, two doors from Judge Pitts in Panthersville, lived a free black family comprised of:

Holland Pitts 25
Margaret Pitts 25
James Pitts 10
Eliza Pitts 8

Next door to Holland Pitts, lived the free black family

Ephraim Pitts, 25 (b.1845)
Elvira Pitts, 21
Sally Pitts, 4
Margaret Pitts
Irena Clark, 60
Rachel Clark, 10

Ten years later, Ephraim Pitt’s family remained in Panthersville, near Judge Pitts’ home:

Ephaim Pitts 35 Self (Head)
Elvira Pitts, 25 Wife
Sarah Pitts, 14 Daughter
Margaret Pitts, 13 Daughter
William Pitts, 9 Son
Ephriam Pitts, 8 Son
Isaiah Pitts, 6 Son
Caroline Pitts, 3 Daughter
Infant Pitts, 5/12 Son

  1. Slaves of James F. Stubbs

In 1860, James F. Stubbs owned 14 slaves. Ten years later, the census lists several free persons of color likely to have come off of the old Stubbs place, including Henry Stubbs, a 13 year old farm laborer in the household (#42) of former slaveowner James Stubbs

Also in 1870 in Panthersville. Dilsey Stubbs, born 1820, headed a household twelve households away from Judge Augustus Pitts.

Dilsey Stubbs 50
Charles Stubbs 17
Alexander Stubbs 10
Lucy Stubbs 7

Future research, based on Probate records, Indian Agency files, church documents, land records, and other materials may be able to help us compile a more complete picture of the enslaved people who labored and resided on the lands of the proposed South River Forest, during the successive periods of Muscogee Creek and white control, and to tell more fully the story of free people of color who worked this land during the post-Emancipation era.

Appendix I. Known Names of the Enslaved in the South River Forest zone (list in progress of formation)

Aley (owned by Lochlin Johnson, then Margaret Lichtenstandt )
Harriet (owned by Lochlin Johnson, then Nancy Farrar )
Emily (owned by Lochlin Johnson, then Jane E.L Robinson
Wyatt (owned by Lochlin Johnson, then James Robinson)
Ann. owned by Lochlin Johnson
Ben , owned by Lochlin Johnson, then Jesse Farrar)
Anthony (owned by Lochlin Johnson, then Mary K. Richie via guardian)
Jake owned by Lochlin Johnson, the, then M.L. Lichtenstadt)
Laura and her children Emma and Herman ( owned by Lochlin Johnson, then David Kiddoo)
John, a boy, owned by Lochlin Johnson
Tobe (alias Cornelius W) owned by Lochlin Johnson,
Fanny (owned by James Moore, then William Cobb)
Mary (owned by James Moore, then William Cobb)
Turner Cobb (owned by Robert W. Cobb)
Dare (owned by Robert W. Cobb)
Lee, (owned by Robert W. Cobb)
Sy, (owned by Robert W. Cobb)
Jane (Perkerson?), and 4 children (owned by Robert W. Cobb)
Pegg and 3 children, (owned by Robert W. Cobb)
Alissa ? (Hollingsworth?) and a child (owned by Robert W. Cobb)
Eliza, a girl, (owned by Robert W. Cobb)
Holland Pitts (owned by Augustus Pitts)
Ephraim Pitts (owned by Augustus Pitts)
Henry Stubbs (owned by James Stubbs)
Benjamin McWilliams
Eady, (owned by Nathan Turner)
Solomon (owned by Nathan Turner)
Margaret, (owned by Nathan Turner)
King, (owned by Nathan Turner)
Clinton (owned by Nathan Turner)
Minty or Aminda (owned by Nathan Turner)
Allick, or Alexander (owned by Nathan Turner)

Acknowledgements: Research on this project has been conducted in the Archives of the DeKalb History Center, the Kenan Research Center of the Atlanta History Center, the Georgia Archives, and the Probate and Real Estate offices of the DeKalb County Courthouse (Decatur, Georgia). We are grateful for the guidance of Creek Freedmen leaders and community historians Rhonda Grayson, Sharon Lenzy, and Akua Maat in deepening our understanding of early Muscogee Creek enslaved history in Georgia and environs. Many thanks to Margaret Spalding, Jaqueline Echols, Joe Peery, Craig Womack, Gerardo “Abundia” Tristan, Guillermo Zapata, and Johnna Gadomski for sharing their perspectives on the complex struggle to interpret, protect and remediate the South River watershed and forest zone.


Lifflefield, Daniel F, .Jr, 1979. Africans and Creeks: From the Colonial Period to the Civil War. Greenwood Press.

May, Katja. 1996. African Americans and Native Americans in the Creek and Cherokee Nations, 1830s to the 1920s. Collision and Collusion. Garland Publishing.

Saunt, Claudio. 2003. Atlanta, White and Indian: Race and the Unmaking of an American Family. Oxford University Press.

Zellar, Gary. 2007 African Creeks; Estelste and the Creek Nation. University of Oklahoma Press.

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