Saturday, September 10, 2011

White Columns of Georgia - The Hillhouse's of Washington

It was Spring in Georgia and the dogwoods were in full bloom, a perfect day for a long drive in the country.  When I mentioned Washington to a lady in Savannah, she cautioned me to watch the road signs carefully The reason the White Columns were spared in Washington was because Sherman couldn't find it!  Its seems though that her statement was more for entertainment than historical fact ...

When the Revolutionary War tore through the southern Colonies, the Patriots of Wilkes County soundly defeated the Tory forces on Valentine's Day in 1779 at the Battle of Kettle Creek.  I've spent my share of  time walking Revolutionary War battlefields, there is a very distinct mist that lingers in those hills, very different from other hallowed grounds of the Civil War. Perhaps there are less tourists than on the Civil War battlefields to saturate the old energies. Kettle Creek was deserted the day I visited and the silence was deafening.  

A few miles down the road, Washington received its charter on January 23, 1780, becoming the first town in the United States to be chartered in the name of the commander-in-chief of American forces.  By 1783, the town had been laid out with a public square, town common and plans for a 'Latin and grammar school'.  However, the area was still rough and tumble as the frontier lifestyle was not one in which gentility could prosper. 


Sarah Hillhouse, a proper New Englander removed to this Georgia frontier village, remarked in the 1780s that many of Washington's inhabitants were 'the most profane and blasphemous sort'.   Images of of America : Washington GA

Sarah's husband, David, was the 4th son of the Honorable William and Sarah (Griswold) Hillhouse. He was born in Montville, CT on 11 May 1756. 

She was the daughter of General Elisha & Sarah (Jewitt) Porter of Hadley, MA, born on 29 April 1763.  David & Sarah were married on 7 October 1781.  As with many of their fellow New Englanders, they found their way south, preferring the milder climate of Georgia to the harsh New England winters. By 1787, David had established his family in Washington,  opening a general store and building a log cabin.  By 1800, David was operating a large plantation and using slave labor.

David & Sarah's children

Sarah - 16 Sept 1782
Mary - 12 Dec 1784
Daniel Kellog - 18 Aug 1788 died Oct 1788
David Porter - 8 May 1791
Thomas - 28 March 1794
William Elisha - 14 June 1799 died July 1799
Caroline Sophia Rebecca - 3 August 1801 died 1804

David died at the age of 47 on 24 March 1803, leaving Sarah with the plantation and three children under the age of 15.  David had also been editor of the local newspaper The Monitor.  A true pioneer, Sarah assumed management of the plantation, raised her children, became the first woman newspaper publisher in America by taking over management of The Monitor and printing the Journal of the Georgia House of Representatives in her print shop. 

Sarah began building the center section of this lovely Georgian style house in 1814.
Her home was enlarged to its present form in 1869, when Gabriel Toombs acquired the property, and moved the end rooms from the Toombs Plantation on log rollers and added them to the house.  I was warmly welcomed to the home by the present owner, Betty Slaton, who graciously shared her Sarah Hillhouse research with me on a rainy spring afternoon.

David was buried in Washington at a grave site on early family property, the graveyard was built over by the town many years ago. Sarah died in Washington on 26 March 1831 surrounded by her children and grand children.  She was buried in Major Shepherd's graveyard in a field SW of his house and not far  from the tan yard.  Today the location is unknown.  

More about Sarah -
The Printer Lady by Frances T. Greiff

Home of Sarah Hillhouse

David's sister, Mary, and her husband, William Prince were also residents in Washington.  Mary was the 2nd child of Hon. William and Sarah Hillhouse, born in Montville, CT on 10 April 1753.  William was the son of William and Mary (Holland) Prince of Montville born 6 March 1753.  They were married in Montville on 6 May 1775. 

William & Mary's children
Sarah (died in childhood)
William III born May 1776, Graduated Yale 1790, died unmarried in Savannah in 1817
Oliver Hillhouse Prince born in New London CT 1782
John Prince died in childhood

Oliver Hillhouse Prince was born in New London CT and attended schools in both Montville and Washington. 

He married Mary Ross Norman on 14 August 1817 and moved several times around Georgia before settling in Athens. He served as state Senator and penned several books.  He was also remembered for laying out the town streets of Macon, GA.

He and his wife perished in the wreck of the Steamship Home off the coast of Ocracoke, N.C. on 9 October 1837.  They are buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon.

Oliver started building this house in Washington in 1810 but he moved out of town before it was finished.  It stood nearly 100 years with a wrap around Victorian porch on two sides until 1905 when the front porch was removed and replaced with a stately Beaux-Arts Revival columned portico.

More about Oliver Hillhouse Prince -
With Kindly Voices by Virgina King Nirenstein

Oliver Hillhouse Prince Home

More about Washington, GA -
White Columns in Georgia by Medora Field Perkerson
Many thanks to Elaine Filipiak of Miss Fanny Tours for her time and knowledge of Washington
Quotes used from Images of America: Washington Georgia by Robert E. Willingham Jr.

Geneaological references from "Historical & Genealogical Collections Relating to the Descendants of Rev. James Hillhouse" by Margaret P. Hillhouse

Part II - Washington faces the Civil War (to be continued)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sarah Alexander Lawton - Georgia 1/26/1826 - 11/1/1897


The story of this lovely Georgia Belle could easily have been the inspiration for many a Civil War romance novel.  Sarah was the great granddaughter of Sarah Porter Hillhouse
(1763-1831), the first woman editor and printer in Georgia and reputed to be the first woman editor and businesswoman in the nation. 

Sarah spent her childhood at Fairfield, the Alexander plantation, on the edge of Washington, GA. The home still stands as do many of the lovely Antebellum homes in Washington that were spared destruction in Sherman's March to the Sea.  Her brother, Edward Porter Alexander (1835-1910), was a distinguished Confederate General of Artillery and survived to pen one of the most respected accounts of the Civil War, Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander

Sarah married Alexander Robert Lawton in November of 1845 in Savannah. The Lawton's were a distinguished family of Welsh descent who settled in Charleston, S. C. at Mulberry Grove Plantation.  Both Alexander and Sarah's brother, Edward, were educated at West Point.  Alexander went on to serve as Brigadier General to Jefferson Davis and in the summer of 1862 his brigade joined forces with Stonewall Jackson's corps in battles around Richmond, Virginia. He was severely injured at Sharpsburg and after months of recovery, returned to duty and served as Quartermaster General for the remainder of the war.

After the war, the Lawton's returned to Savannah to Alexander's law practice and worked toward the rehabilitation of Georgia.  He served in both branches of the Georgia legislature and as vice-president of the Georgia Constitutional Convention in 1877.  President Cleveland appointed him Minister to Austria 1887-89.

Sarah was with her husband in Richmond during the war and in Austria.  It was noted that her worldly experiences enriched her conversation, making her a most interesting companion. 

Alexander and Sarah had four children -
Corinne Elliott Lawton - 9/23/1846
Louisa Frederika Lawton - 6/9/1849
Nora Lawton - 3/1/1855
Alexander Rudolph Lawton - 8/9/1858

The Lawton's final resting place is as large as the lives they lived.  Overlooking the Wilmington River in the famous Bonaventure Cemetery on the edge of Savannah, the story of these exquisite tombstones in the Lawton Family plot tell many tales .. some fact, some legend.


These Italian monuments were sculpted by Raffaello Romanelli in Florence in 1898.  As with many of the lovely monuments placed in Bonaventure Cemetery, their story is expressed with symbols and by placement, often leaving interpretation open to myth and mystery.

One interpretation of the arched stone is of a gate to heaven with Jesus standing at the gate, Sarah and Alexander were allowed to pass through since their names are placed beyond the opening.  Corrine's epitaph reads Allured to brighter worlds and led the way.  One can only assume that since her parents were deceased before their stone was sculpted and placed that they had no control over its placement or its legend. 

Lawton Home Savannah across from Forsyth Park
(now owned by the Savannah College of Art & Design)