"Trans-Oconee Republic" is the name used by later historians to describe the short-lived independent state established by Elijah Clarke west of the Oconee River in 1794. While occupying areas in present-day portions of Greene, Morgan, Putnam, and Baldwin counties, Clarke and his followers erected as many as six fortified settlements, wrote a constitution, and elected their own officials. But after a few months, pressure from the federal government forced the governor to take action, and Clarke's independent state came to an end.
Like most Georgians at the time, Clarke wanted the hunting lands of the Creek Indians beyond the river to be opened for settlement as quickly as possible. The 1790 Treaty of New York, however, limited Georgia's westward expansion indefinitely and returned to the Creeks some land gained by the state in an earlier cession. According to the treaty provisions, the Creeks were responsible for expelling or punishing intruders as they saw fit. Clarke believed that those settlers whom the Indians were unwilling or unable to expel should be able to settle west of the river.
U.S. president George Washington believed that Clarke's scheme was detrimental to relations with both the Indians and the Spanish. In accordance with Washington's policy of neutrality, his administration pressured Governor George Mathews to put an end to the affair and threatened federal military intervention otherwise. To keep the federal government out of what he considered to be a state issue, Mathews issued a proclamation in July officially condemning Clarke and his adventurers. Certain of his innocence, Clarke voluntarily surrendered to authorities in Wilkes County. Four sympathetic justices of the peace released him, and he promptly returned across the river to continue his plan.
Recognizing Clarke's popularity, Mathews hesitated to take further action against him. Furthermore,
With Walton's eloquence and reputation on his side, Governor Mathews felt confident enough to send the militia against the illegal settlements. As 1,200 militiamen under Generals Jared Irwin and John Twiggs marched to the Oconee in late September 1794, Clarke vowed to defend his independent state with his life. However, when Irwin offered full amnesty to those who would peacefully return east of the river, Clarke and virtually all of his men surrendered and went back to their homes. Mathews wrote to the secretary of war in October, declaring that "the whole business happily terminated without the loss of blood." Thus Georgia peacefully ended a tense standoff and avoided a clash with the federal government.
Edwin Bridges, "To Establish a Separate and Independent Government," Furman Review 5 (1974): 11-17.
Louise Frederick Hays, Hero of Hornet's Nest: A Biography of Elijah Clark, 1733 to 1799 (New York: Stratford House, 1946).
Richard K. Murdoch, The Georgia-Florida Frontier, 1793-1796: Spanish Reaction to French Intrigue and American Designs (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951).
Christopher J. Floyd, Georgia College and State University
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