Burke County, whose eastern edge shares the border with South Carolina along the Savannah River, is one of Georgia's eight original counties. When the colony was established in 1732, the area now known as Burke County was called the Halifax District. In 1758 Georgia was divided into parishes, and the Halifax District became the parish of St. George. The county currently encompasses an area of 831 square miles after portions of it were incorporated into Screven (1793), Jefferson (1796), Richmond (1841), and Jenkins (1905) counties.
The original inhabitants of the area were Creek, Cherokee, and Catawba Indians, who lost their land when members of their leadership, often not speaking for all of them, signed treaties in 1733, 1736, and 1758 with the English. The first white settlers were "headright settlers," or those who acquired land via a system that granted parcels to the heads of families, with more land going to larger families. Almost all of the first landowners came from the older American colonies, especially after Georgia lifted its ban on slavery in 1751. The majority were farmers with small- and medium-sized operations who were attracted by the Savannah and Ogeechee rivers, which offered transportation and water for their livestock. A few other settlers came from parishes to the south, and some (mostly Scots-Irish Protestants) arrived from across the Atlantic.
Waynesboro, laid out in 1783 and incorporated in 1812, is the county seat. It was named for General Anthony "Mad Anthony" Wayne. The current courthouse, built in 1857 and expanded in 1899, is one of the state's oldest brick buildings still in use. Other incorporated towns are Girard, Keysville, Midville, and Sardis.
Former notable residents of the county include Lyman Hall, one of three Georgians who signed the Declaration of Independence and governor from 1783 to 1784; Edward Telfair, governor from 1786 to 1787; naturalist and illustrator John Abbot, who wrote The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia (1797); nineteenth-century politician Herschel Johnson; and nineteenth-century historian Charles C. Jones Jr.
Augusta Technical College operates a satellite campus in Waynesboro.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population of Burke County is 23,316, an increase from the 2000 population of 22,243.
Susan R. Boatright and Douglas C. Bachtel, eds., Georgia County Guide (Athens: Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, University of Georgia, annual).
Robert Scott Davis, Georgians in the Revolution: At Kettle Creek (Wilkes Co.) and Burke County (Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1986).
Albert M. Hillhouse, A History of Burke County, Georgia, 1777-1950 (1950; reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Co., 1985).
Angela Lee, Burke County, Georgia (Dover, N.H.: Arcadia, 1996).
Elizabeth B. Cooksey, Savannah
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