Savannah Augusta Louisville Milledgeville Atlanta

You may, if you remember your state history, recognize these cities as being past and present capitals of Georgia. But what about Heard’s Fort? Or Ebenezer? These places, long gone, also hold the distinction of being temporary seats of Georgia government, as does the City of Macon. Just how all these places are woven together into the rich fabric of Georgia’s history is the subject of this article.

First Came Savannah

In 1733, James Oglethorpe landed at Yamacraw Bluff and founded Savannah, first settlement of Georgia and last of the thirteen British colonies in America. Strictly speaking, Savannah was not the capital of the colony at that time because Georgia was governed by Trustees who remained in London. But Savannah was clearly the center of government in the colony, even if never formally designated as such by the British.

When Georgia’s independence from British rule was declared in January of 1776, an Executive Council was elected, and this revolutionary state government made Savannah, in Chatham County, its capital. The first Legislature met in the city in 1777 and again in 1778 when the British captured the city and caused the revolutionary government to fall back 127 miles north to Augusta (Richmond County).


Traveling Legislature

The harried legislators were barely settled into Augusta when it was also captured by the British in 1779. With both of Georgia’s principle cities in British hands, the government moved to Heard’s Fort, in Wilkes County, in February 1780. Heard’s Fort was a temporary establishment located about eight miles from the present city of Washington, Georgia. Nothing remains of the settlement today.

Possession of Augusta turned over three times during the Revolutionary War. In July 1781 (due in large measure to the efforts of Col. "Lighthorse" Harry Lee, father of General Robert E. Lee), Augusta fell to the Americans, and state officials returned and stayed until May of 1782. Savannah was still considered by many to be the capital city, and when it was evacuated by the British, the Georgia legislators returned there, pausing en route to conduct business at Ebenezer (Effingham County), a small German settlement 25 miles northwest of Savannah, which has disappeared.

A Tale of Two Cities

A rift was developing between the interests of the coastal settlers around Savannah and those living up-country in and near Augusta. As a result, Georgians found themselves with two capital cities, one in the tidewater and one farther north. Between 1783 and 1785, the Georgia General Assembly rotated between Savannah and Augusta. Governor Lyman Hall divided his official residence between the two cities. But public pressure was mounting to have one capital city located in what was then the center of the state. So, on February 22, 1785, the General Assembly held its last meeting in Savannah. Augusta had become the official capital.

Augusta--From Fort to Capital City

Founded in 1735 by Oglethorpe’s followers as a fort and trading post, Fort Augusta, as it was then called, was named after the mother of England’s King George III. Today a Celtic cross at historic St. Paul’s Church marks the site of the old fort.

There must have been a feeling a great relief among the legislators at having a single state capital when they met in Augusta in 1786. Exactly where in the city they met is uncertain, but it was very likely in a downtown building, probably on Broad Street. The state’s westward expansion was continuing relentlessly, however, and the Legislature was immediately faced with the prospect of selecting a new capital city farther west. A commission appointed by the Legislature in 1786 to find a suitable place, centrally located and accessible from all parts of the state, recommended Louisville--a capital city which would literally have to be built from the ground up. Due to a series of construction delays, it was a full decade before the government changed locations.

Louisville--First Planned Capital and Capitol

The commission appointed to choose the location of a new permanent capital city directed that it be built within 20 miles of the trading post called "Galphin’s Old Town" (or "Galphinton"), which was located in present day Jefferson County. The site finally selected was by a slave market located at the intersection of three roads leading to Augusta, Savannah, and Georgetown respectively. The slave market, built in 1758, is still standing. The Legislature directed that the name of the new capital be Louisville in honor of King Louis XVI of France as an expression of thanks for French aid during the Revolutionary War.

Louisville was Georgia’s first planned capital, and the city was to contain the state’s first capitol building built expressly for that purpose. The new state house was completed in 1796. Although there are no known paintings or drawings of this building, it is known that it was a two-story structure of 18th century Georgian architecture, and was made of red brick. Even before moving to the new capital, the Legislature designated Louisville the "permanent seat" of Georgia government. But by the early 1800s, further western expansion caused the Legislature to convene in yet another new "permanent" state capital.


In 1804, the state government foresaw that another capital, farther west, would soon be needed. As a result, an act was passed authorizing a new capital city to be built on 3,240 acres of land in present day Baldwin County. The new city was to be named Milledgeville in honor of then Governor John Milledge.

The new capitol building took two years to build at a cost of about $60,000. It was constructed of brick in Gothic Revival style without the dome often associated with state capitols. When the new Capitol was finished and the Legislature took possession in 1807, they authorized that the former capitol building at Louisville be made into a public arsenal. Later purchased by Jefferson County and used as a courthouse, the building became structurally unsound and had to be torn down. Today a plaque by the present courthouse marks the spot where the old Capitol stood. It was from the Milledgeville Capitol that the Legislature passed the Secession Act on January 19, 1861, and joined the Confederacy. In the fall of 1864, with General Sherman’s troops nearing the city, the Legislature adjourned amid great confusion. It later reconvened in Macon in 1865. At the end of the Civil War, with federal authorities in control of Georgia’s government, the Legislature was allowed to reconvene at the Capitol in Milledgeville. However, change was in the air, and that change was named Atlanta.

Atlanta--A Capital Idea

As early as 1847, the small settlement of Atlanta, 90 miles northwest of Milledgeville, had been suggested as the new capital city of Georgia. In that year the first proposal to make Atlanta the capital was defeated in the Legislature by a vote of 68 to 55. A similar proposal was defeated in 1854. The vote was 49,781 to remain in Milledgeville; 29,377 to move the capital to Atlanta; and 3,802 to move the capital to Macon. But after the War, the situation had changed.

In 1867, Georgia was under military rule headed by Major General John Pope. He called for a "reconstruction" constitutional convention to assemble in Atlanta that year. During this convention, Atlanta officials decided to press again their case for making their city the state capital. The City Council offered a formal proposal that if the capital were to be located in Atlanta, the Council would furnish suitable buildings for state officials at no charge for up to ten years. They also proposed that the state choose any 10 unoccupied acres in the city for a new capitol building. The constitutional convention agreed to the offer, which was then ratified by the voters in an election on April 20, 1868. Georgia now had her fifth state capital.

On July 4, 1868, the Georgia Legislature met in Atlanta for the first time. They convened in the combined City Hall and Fulton County Courthouse, located on the site of the present Capitol. It proved far too crowded, so the Atlanta City Council rented the Kimball Opera House, located at Marietta and Forsyth Streets, at a cost of $6,000 annually, and presented it to the state to be used as a Capitol. In 1870, the Legislature purchased the building at a cost of $250,000.

The matter of Atlanta being the permanent capital of the state was not yet settled, however. In 1877, at the end of Reconstruction, a new constitutional convention was called by Governor Alfred Colquitt. At this convention the question of where Georgia’s capital should be located was again brought up. The Atlanta City Council quickly proposed to the convention that if Atlanta were chosen as the permanent state capital, the City would give to the state any 10 acres of unoccupied land in or near the city or the five acre square called the City Hall lot, on which to build a Capitol. As an extra attraction, the City of Atlanta offered to build a Capitol "as good as the old Capitol in Milledgeville" on the selected site. The convention decided to let the matter of the location of the capital city be voted on by the people of the state. A lively contest followed.

Milledgeville, unhappy at having lost the capital to Atlanta, was determined to get it back. Milledgeville backers charged that the temptations of Atlanta might prove too much for the legislators, and associated Atlanta with the excesses of Reconstruction. Atlanta countered by implying that Milledgeville was a stagnant community and pointed out her own growing importance as a rail center. It is estimated that over a million circulars were distributed by partisans of the two cities and most newspapers in the state had editorial opinions on the issue. As one newspaper of the day reported:

Atlanta and Milledgeville had a warm contest for the Capital. The battle was lively and somewhat acrimonious. Some of the arguments used were of a novel and farcical character. That Milledgeville was a stagnant locality where the average legislator would browse in public retrogradation, and that Atlanta was a den of immeasurable iniquity whose atmosphere would ruthlessly poison the virtue of the most guiltless Legislative body, was irrefutably proven by incontestable evidence.

But on December 5, 1877, when the dust settled and the votes were in, Atlanta had been chosen as the permanent state capital by almost a two to one margin. The vote on the capital site was 99,147 for Atlanta; 55,201 for Milledgeville.

With Atlanta definitely selected, the old Capitol at Milledgeville was used as the Baldwin County Courthouse. Later it became the Middle Georgia Military and Agricultural College, now called Georgia Military College.

The five acre tract on which the Atlanta City Hall was located was chosen as the site of a new capitol building. Instead of accepting Atlanta’s offer to build a new capitol, the state accepted payment of $55,625 from the City (the estimated value of the Milledgeville Capitol), and cancellation by Atlanta of the mortgage on the Kimball Opera House. Then, in 1884, the Legislature, in a bold action, appropriated one million dollars for the construction of a new state capitol. The boldness of this act lies in the fact that total state revenue for that year was less than two million dollars. It was also stipulated by the Legislature that materials native to Georgia be used in construction insofar as possible. Construction began on October 26, 1884, the cornerstone was laid on September 2, 1885, and the building was completed and first occupied June 15, 1889. Dedication ceremonies for Georgia’s new Capitol were held on July 4, 1889, and the event drew vast crowds to Atlanta.



Adapted from: "The Capitalization of Georgia" in Make Georgia A Shining Example, Georgia Building Authority, 1979, pp. 12-18, and "A History of the Capitals of the State" in The State of Georgia and Its Capitol, published by Georgia Secretary of State and Georgia Department of Archives and History, 1979.

Georgia's Original 32 Counties:

Counties formed from the Headright and Bounty Grants:
1. Camden 2. Glynn 3. Liberty 4. Chatham 5. Effingham
6. Burke 7. Richmond 8. Wilkes 9. Franklin 10.Washington

Counties formed in the 1805 Lottery:
1. Wayne 12. Wilkinson 13. Baldwin

Counties formed in the 1807 Lottery:
The remainder of 12. Wilkinson and the remainder of 13. Baldwin

Counties formed in the 1820 Lottery:
14. Walton 15. Gwinnett 16. Hall 17. Habersham
18. Early 19. Irwin 20. Appling 21. Rabun.

Counties formed in the 1821 Lottery:
22. Dooley 23. Houston 24. Monroe 25. Henry
26. Fayette.

Counties formed in the 1827 Lottery:
27. Carroll 28. Coweta 29. Troup 30. Muscogee
31. Lee

Counties formed in the 1832 Lotteries:
32. Cherokee which was divided into Cass (later Bartow), Cherokee,
Cobb, Floyd, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Murray, Paulding and Union.

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