A Witcher Family Genealogy
This is an arrest warrant, issued by Brigadier General Floyd, calling for the immediate arrest of a disobedient Captain John Witcher.
Early Cedartown, Georgia history does include some prominent Witchers.
Two of these Witchers, John and Lacy Witcher, apparently were at odds over the displacement and removal of the original Cherokee Indian inhabitants of northern Georgia, and that conflict is the main point of discussion on this page.
Researching who John Witcher descended from has been much easier than sorting out the many Lacy Witchers who lived in those days, and there were quite a few to sort out!
In the early 1800s, both John and Lacy migrated from North Carolina (though John was born in Virginia). I feel certain that Cedartown’s Captain John Witcher was the son of Ephraim Witcher of Surry County, North Carolina. Much research about this particular Ephraim Witcher is made available on this website.
On the other hand, I feel just as certain that Lacy Witcher, found in an 1838 Paulding County record as “Agent Lacy Witcher,” is not the son of Ephraim Witcher of Surry County, NC.
In Ephraim Witcher’s 1819 will, he gives his son Lacy Witcher land, while another Lacy Witcher is listed as one of the executors of Ephraim’s will. Ephraim calls this second Lacy Witcher and a certain Steven Potter his good friends. These two Lacys in that will are not the same people.
There is a certain deed record in deed book 4: pg 206 of Surry County, NC, dated November 9, 1844, where Lacy, the son of Ephraim Witcher, is selling his rights to his father’s estate to Daniel Roberts for $350. This Lacy Witcher is identified as residing in Tennessee, and in the county of Hawkins. At the bottom of this page, I have included the actual court document for your review.
This particular Lacy is found in the 1850 federal census. He then is identified as a guest of the Tennessee State Penitentiary for the crime of Arson. Convicted for barn burning, this man is identified on the penitentiary rolls as being from “Hawkins County,” and forty-seven years of age. This is most certainly the same Lacy identified a few years earlier in the Surry County, NC deed record as the son of Ephraim, residing then in Hawkins County, Tennessee. This also means that Ephraim’s son Lacy was less than 20 years of age when his father died.
With that out of the way, we now know that the agent Lacy in Paulding County was not the son of Ephraim Witcher. Who was he? I feel certain he was the executor of Ephraim’s will.
In the spring term of 1848, NC court records state that Lacy Witcher, the executor of Ephraim’s will, had long since left the state. Almost certainly this man had migrated to the Georgian frontier with other Witchers from that area.
It is interesting that Census records indicate this man had slaves, a sign of wealth. I haven’t taken the time to prove this thoroughly, but he may well have been the son of Daniel Witcher, Sr., whose last will speaks of a son named Lacy. But I am not attempting to prove this point, and I only mention it to help along your search.
I am fairly confident that after John Witcher (the son of Ephraim Witcher) fought in the War of 1812, he migrated to Georgia with his brother James. These two apparently first settled in Morgan County, Georgia, by at least 1820, though I have seen circumstantial evidence which places John in Georgia a few years earlier. By the time the 1830 federal census is recorded, John Witcher is residing in nearby Newton County. A deed record from deed book 3, page 30, indicates that on February 9, 1829, John Witcher of Newton County signed a receipt for $300 from Robert Brown for one negro woman, Sally, sound and healthy.
On May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, formalizing his administration's policy to send west, Indians living east of the Mississippi on land desired by the white pioneers. This was the catalyst for the Georgia Land Lotteries, whereby individuals were awarded lots of land in the newly formed Cherokee County.
John and Lacy Witcher were among a few other Witchers who had placed their names in the 1832 Georgia land lottery drawing and were winners who received land; land which at that time was still in the possession of the local Indian population.
The records for this drawing indicate that both John and Lacy were then living in “section 4” of Cherokee County when they entered the lottery.
Cherokee County was created from land ceded by the Cherokee Indians. A law passed on December 26, 1831, by the Georgia legislature authorized its creation. The first words in the earliest court-minutes book of Cherokee County are: "On the 26th day, it being the fourth Monday in March, in the year 1832, at a court begun and holden at the house of Ambrose Harnage, now Harnageville, in and for the county of Cherokee, in the state of Georgia....”
On Monday, the sixth day of February, in the year 1832, it being the first Monday of that month, county elections were held, and both John and Lacy Witcher casts their ballots; a certain Henry Witcher being among those early voters. I suspect this Henry Witcher was a son of Lacy.
Georgia’s original Cherokee County was only a county for one year. In December of 1832, the territory which it had comprised was divided up by act of legislature into ten different counties: Cass (now Bartow), Cherokee, Cobb, Floyd, Forsyth, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Murray, Paulding, and Union.
That same act specified that local elections in the newly created Paulding County were to be held at the house of John Witcher, and until a courthouse was built, state legislation provided that Paulding County Superior and Inferior Courts were also to hold sessions at John’s house. I have read reports that John was judge of the newly formed Inferior Court.
Responding to the unrest within the territory, the Georgia Guard had been established in the previous year of 1831 by the Georgia legislature. This act was intended to bring order in the Cherokee Territory.
In no time, local militias were forming with the purpose of assisting in the control and extraction of the local Indian population. The Cedartown area of Paulding County formed its own militia, one headed by Captain John Witcher, a militia which would come under intense scrutiny from both Lacy Witcher and the Governor of Georgia himself.
There were differing opinions about the peacefulness of the local Indian population and their willingness to comply with the newly ratified Treaty of New Echota. This treaty, ratified by a small minority of the Cherokees, would eventually result in the War Department dispatching General Winfield Scott to Georgia to round up resisting tribesman and begin their removal west, to Oklahoma, a forced migration which is now known as the Trail of Tears.
With this controversy in mind, here is an interesting petition, dated May 12, 1834, an “Express” letter sent to Governor Wilson Lumpkin by the residents of the newly formed Cherokee Territory. I am quoting from a book called, “Whites Among The Cherokees.”
Since the convention of a meeting of the citizens of this town and neighbors and additional position of intelligence has come to us under circumstances which we believe to be true –
An Indian girl has been brought before us who gives the following facts with tears in her eyes and every emotion of excitement –
There has been and now is a concerted plan among the Indians for the purpose of a massacre of the white inhabitants of this county. She says she received the information from her grand father who is a chief under an injunction that if she revealed the plan he himself would put her to the most cruel death that she could die –
She says about three weeks since her grand father went to John Ross’s house and returned with a circular written in the Indian language in which it was planned about the coming up of corn and at the time the leaves were fully grown the Cherokees were to be organized in squads of 20 and 30 who were to attack the thickest settlements and towns at one general signal.
The Cherokee girl is a girl of very general intelligence reads and writes both in English and Cherokee language and has been raised in a white family.
The Indian girl says that when she heard of the attempt upon the life of Dr. Burns she believed it to be the signal of attack, --
We have taken the girl with us, and shall as soon as possible convey her and our wives and children into some of the old country and return and defend the country to the last –
We are as it were in the beginning of war – Aid from the state must be had instantly – In addition to our perilous condition we are without arms or ammunition – we must have arms as well as men – Your Excellency will not delay an hour – We are in such a state of excitement from the situation of our families that we have not had time to give further particulars –
We are a committee appointed to report the facts – The Indians have been for some time past purchasing unusual quantities of powder and lead and have been seen for some time past rapidly passing and repassing with guns.
R. N. Holt, Committee
Received per express
Referred to committee on Cherokee affairs, Com’d to legislature 1834
Source: Cherokee letters, pg 487, Georgia archives
As you can see, there was at least some cause for alarm among the local settlers. Certainly, in response to the needs of both Indian and White, Indian agents were therefore appointed by the Governor for each county within the Cherokee territory, Lacy Witcher being one of them. He was appointed as agent over Paulding and Floyd Counties.
Captain John Witcher and agent Lacy Witcher may have been blood relatives, but when it came to how to deal with the Indian population, they were certainly at odds with each other.
John Witcher was no stranger to armed conflict. Some years earlier, he was a company commander in the War of 1812 at Norfolk, VA, and apparently fought with the Paulding County Volunteers in 1835 during the war with the Creek Indians, though I have not seen official documentation for John’s involvement in the Creek War.
In December, 1837, responding to the pleas of local citizenry, Georgia’s General Assembly authorized the governor to raise local militias to protect its citizens from the perceived threat of the local Indian population. It was apparently at this point when John Witcher organized his militia in the Cedartown area, and subsequently advised the governor that he had been elected commander. At some point after being notified, the governor declined to commission John's company, supposedly because it was said that the election process during the formation of the militia was questionable.
Never the less, John’s militia did receive payments from the state, as there are records of payrolls being released to his Company of Mounted Volunteers of Paulding County. One such payment was for the sum of $888.20, made around December of 1837, and by April, 1838, Witcher had collected munitions from Capt. Buffington in Canton.
Also, I suppose John Witcher’s request to be mustered into service for the removal of the Cherokees may have been rejected by Governor Gilmer because of reports trickling in from authorities such as agent Lacy Witcher, who wrote that officers of John Witcher’s company were often intoxicated, lawless, and were needlessly harassing the local Indian population.
Apparently, the local population disagreed with the assessments of agent Lacy Witcher and Governor Gilmer, as local citizens such as Asa Prior and other prominent Cedartown settlers requested that the state authorize and equip Witcher’s company.
To make matters worse, when agent Witcher submitted his reports to the Governor, the militia began to accuse him of attempting to influence the governor against the company and further accused Lacy of even denying that Cedartown needed the presence of a militia in the first place.
Agent Lacy Witcher did indeed write letters to Governor Gilmer. As you will see, in at least one of these letters he did lament the issues facing the Cherokee Indians under his jurisdiction. There is little doubt that Lacy became an advocate for the Indians and was very much opposed to the behavior of the company under the control of Captain John Witcher.
But apparently, at first, agent Lacy was not so much against the local militia activity, as you will read in the letter I have transcribed from Lacy to the Governor, dated December 16, 1837.
Dec the 16th 1837
Yours of the 6th ? has been recd requesting me to report immediately whether or not any of the Indians have disturbed in their occupant rights and the state of my agency generally. I am happy to inform your Excellency that none of the Cherokees have been interrupted in their occupant rights and as far as I know the Cherokees have non humanly treated in the counties of Paulding & Floyd (which includes my agency) than in any other part of the whole Cherokee county. In the early part of the present year a lot of villains who at that time resided in this county stole a great deal of their property such as horses cattle ? which occupied the most of my time in proving their property and restoring to them again[.] You state that you have lately understood that we agent have permitted the owner of the land to sow grains on the occupant land of an Indian and request us to state whether or not you have been correctly informed I can state confidently that I know of no such permission having been given[.] some of the citizens of this place request me to state to you that they think it advisable to organize a small company of men for the purpose of protecting the ? against hostile movements of the Indians as most of them are violently opposed to the treaty and declare they will never leave the county A sufficient company can be raised in this county for the protection of the people of this place
Respectfully yours His Excellency
Lacy Witcher Geo. R Gilmer
It is documented that some state officials had previously been saying that there were not enough Indians in Paulding County to justify placing troops, but apparently that attitude changed after officials toured through the Cherokee territories of Georgia in the winter of 1837, around the time agent Lacy wrote his December 16th letter. At that time, the delegation was surprised to find an unexpectedly high number of Cherokees hostile and averse to immigrating west to the new Indian territory. It was at this point that apparently every agent was asked to report on Cherokee behavior and attitudes, to describe them as peaceful and friendly or resistant to removal. I expect this is why agent Lacy Witcher made his report to the Governor.
However, despite earlier rumors of impending attack in the spring of 1834, and the understandable resentful anger the Cherokees were exhibiting in the winter of 1837, no insurrection occurred. Yet, in spite of reluctant willingness to comply with the treaty, it appears that the local Cedartown militia did at times harass the local Indian population.
Responding to the actions of Captain John Witcher’s men, a clearly frustrated Lacy Witcher again reports to the Governor in a letter dated May 21, 1838.
Here the transcript of that actual letter.
Cedartown, Paulding Cty. Ga. May 21st, 1838, To his Excellency George R. Gilmer
Not having wrote to you in some time, the time affixed for the removal of the Indians approaching near at hand I embrace the present opportunity of stating to you the moving of the Indians in this part of the country. So far as I can learn, the Cherokees remain as friendly as they ever were, there is no secret movements so far as I can learn.
The company commanded by John Witcher raised under the last act of the legislature have been in service for some time, & their conduct towards the Cherokees I feel it to be my duty to make known to your Excellency, The officers with one or two exceptions are a great part of their time so much intoxicated that they are unfit for the service some week or ten days since. Some twelve of fifteen men have encamped near Cedartown, and in the early part of the night some Indians were passing the road was hailed by the guard 2 answered & so soon as they answered and was known to be Indians, there was six or eight guns discharged at them but fortunately did no injury since that time I understand some of the Indians have left their homes & are lying out somewhere perhaps in the mountains to be feared in their usual habitations such conduct in my estimation is very impudent, I have been charged with being opposed to the companies going into service, & of having wrote to your Excellency on the subject, it is true I run & was opposed to the company going into service and more so since their conduct has been so lawless a character, I wish you to state in your reply whether or not I have at any time stated to you that there was no necessity for troops at this place, or attempted at any time to influence you as Chief Magistrate of the State from calling on Capt. Witcher & his men to protect the county, my warm opposition to the Companies going into service, believing there was not necessity for it – has caused them to charge me as the agent of Paulding County of having addressed you on the subject, & I shall ever be opposed to them so long as they treat the Cherokees as they have been done.
I am yours & very respectfully & obdt. servant Lacy Witcher, agent
It’s no small wonder that Lacy penned such a response, as he seemed to be receiving criticism from all sides. Again quoting from the book “Whites Among The Cherokees,” a letter was written by a certain A.T. Harper to Governor Gilmer, critical of Lacy’s performance as an agent. This letter is dated January 15, 1838. It was written just a few months before Lacy’s May of 1838 report critical of John Witcher and his militia.
“’As to the manner it has been performed I cannot state for it has been as varied as the stars in the heavens…. It is the opinion of the people here that such an appointment is unnecessary; There is verry fiew Indians in this county and so far as I can understand perfectly peaceable.’ Harper recommended Mr. Young Allen as a replacement for Witcher.”
Though at times Captain John Witcher may have been disliked by some in the State and Federal government, he was very much liked by those at the local level.
To that point, here is an excerpt from the Cedartown Standard Newspaper, dated June 12, 1875, an article written many years after the death of John Witcher.
"Captain John Witcher was one of the most prominent men in the valley; was one of the Justices of the Inferior Court of the Cherokee purchase; had commanded a company at Norfolk, VA in 1812 and a company of Paulding volunteers in 1835 during the war with the Creek Indians, and also a company of State troops in 1838 in the removal of the Cherokee Indians. A man of great courage and resentment; a truly good man to his friends, but thunder and lightning to his enemies. He owned considerable Negro property, land __ and was an old style Virginia gentleman, and a Democrat of the old Clark school."
The same article followed the bio about John Witcher with these remarks about agent Lacy Witcher:
“Lacy Witcher was one among the [missing phrase] Cherokee Purchase--a man of great firmness, integrity and honor and Christian piety. Owned several slaves, land, and other property. A good citizen and an old line Democrat. He had several sons--Henry, John, Daniel, and Lacy--all hardy, robust fellows and made all the other boys in the neighborhood “june” around when they got mad, but good, honest, clever boys to their friends.”
After years of fighting for his causes, John Witcher eventually located to Carroll County, Georgia. In the early 1840s, court records reveal that he had retained his son Ambrose J. Witcher to represent him in a legal battle over his deceased father Ephraim Witcher’s estate. Those records reveal that John was then residing in Carroll County. In 1845 some of John’s children, including Bushrod W Witcher, paid a $2,500 bond and were given guardianship of their father, whom the system had sadly deemed a lunatic.
On December 25th, 1847, John Witcher died, I presume he was with his children in Carroll County, Georgia.
Courthouse fires probably consumed deed records which proved how much land John Witcher owned. We do know he at least owned the property awarded in the Georgia lottery of 1832. I suspect that John was a free spirit who was never tied down to any one place for very long, especially after the early death of his wife Polly, who apparently had died sometime before 1834. I will even speculate that perhaps, after the death of his wife, his brother James may have had a significant role in raising any remaining minor children.
And yet, John Witcher must’ve settled for a while in Cedartown, long enough to serve as a judge, and as Paulding Counties first postmaster, when in 1833 he was presumably serving the community from a storefront. He also was apparently the census taker for the 1840 Paulding County federal census, though unfortunately he failed to record himself in that important document.
John Witcher was also appointed an original trustee for the Cedartown Academy. This charter was approved by the state of Georgia in 1834. Interestingly, the publication I reviewed which transcripted the original document of this legislative act mentioned a certain “Lary Witcher” immediately before John Witcher. This is almost certainly an error in copy and was probably agent Lacy Witcher. So it appears that before they feuded over how to deal with Cherokees, both Lacy and John worked together on educating the children of the newly formed Paulding County in the old Georgian frontier.
For more information about Captain John Witcher, and his probable ancestry, click here to review this sites supposition about his linage, his family bible record, and the unfortunate lunacy he suffered at the end of his life, which resulted in the Power of Attorney his son Bushrod Witcher wielded. Wayne Witcher, a ggg-nephew of James and Polly Witcher.
Feel free to write me at wwawitcher @ windstream . net
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Deed book record of Lacy Witcher selling his interest in his father Ephraim Witcher's estate
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