In July of that year the new town, originally called Oglethorpe Court-House, received its current name of Lexington in commemoration of the battle between Massachusetts patriots and a small contingent of British soldiers in April 1775, during the Revolutionary War (1775-83). It was not the first place so named in Georgia;
The economy of early Lexington and Oglethorpe County was based upon tobacco and cotton production as well as small subsistence farms, reminiscent of practices in neighboring Wilkes County. Local farmers also experimented with crop diversification by growing wheat and other grain products. In the town of Lexington seventeen lots were added by June 1800, followed by thirty-two more in 1804. The Georgia General Assembly incorporated Lexington in 1806. By 1810 it boasted a population of 222, including 113 slaves. Between 1822 and 1830 the town organized a Presbyterian church, consisting of the reorganized membership of the former 1785 Beth-Salem meetinghouse of Oglethorpe County, as well as a Methodist and a Baptist congregation.
Skilled craftsmen, itinerant traders, and merchants made their way to Lexington to take advantage of the town's location along the road leading to the markets of Augusta. Two of the more influential businessmen, Italian immigrant Ferdinand Phinizy and Irish immigrant Francis Meson, started their mercantile operations in Lexington during the late 1790s. In 1806 Meson bequeathed an $8,000 estate plus town lots to the county school, which later became known as Meson Academy. It served as the county high school from 1917 until it was abandoned in 1954. In 1920 it was renamed Oglethorpe County High School.
During the early nineteenth century the 1808 embargo, the War of 1812, and the financial panics of 1819 and 1837 hampered the local economy. Town residents, neighboring farmers, and plantation owners frequently sold their holdings and migrated to new lands opening in the west. In spite of periodic economic woes, Lexington continued to grow. In 1827 Adiel Sherwood, compositor of the Gazetteer of the State of Georgia, reported fifteen places of business and thirty-eight homes. When mechanized transportation gained popularity, the citizens of Lexington debated the merits of adding a railway line to speed shipment of cotton and other products. But residents refused passage of a railroad within three miles of the town, fearing disease, noise, and social disruption. Their decision forced shipment of goods and produce by wagon from a rail station at nearby Crawford. Crawford briefly challenged Lexington for the Oglethorpe County seat in the late 1870s, but the building of a new jail in Lexington and construction of a railway link between the towns in 1887 helped stop that effort.
U.S. president James Monroe, a Virginia native, visited Lexington in 1819. Several Virginian families had relocated to Lexington, and from this community emerged several north Georgia leaders of the George Troup faction, one of the two major political forces in antebellum Georgia (John Clark's faction was the other). Troup's followers William Harris Crawford, George R. Gilmer, and Thomas W. Cobb maintained an influential role in county and state affairs between the late 1790s and the Civil War (1861-65). Crawford also achieved national office under U.S. presidents James Madison and James Monroe, and he ran as a presidential candidate in the election of 1824.
During the Civil War, Lexington contributed to the Confederate effort by manufacturing and distributing ammunition, supplies, and livestock equipment.
Clarence Lee Mohr, "Oglethorpe County, Georgia, during the Formative Period, 1773-1830" (master's thesis, University of Georgia, 1970).
Ava D. Rodgers, The Housing of Oglethorpe County, Georgia, 1790-1860 (Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1971).
Florrie Carter Smith, The History of Oglethorpe County, Georgia (Washington, Ga.: Wilkes Publishing, ).
Carol Ebel, Armstrong Atlantic State University
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