Located near the geographic center of Georgia, Jones County possesses a rich historical and architectural heritage. Created in 1807, the state’s thirty-second county ranks as the sixty-first in area (almost 400 square miles). Jones County’s fertile soil made it prime cotton land in the nineteenth century, as well as a center for peach and pepper production for much of the twentieth century.

The county’s position astride the fall line has determined much of its history. Several important Indian trails and trading paths crossed the area, following the flat shoals of the fall line and lower Piedmont. One of these trails, the Lower Creek Trading Path, formed the basis for the Garrison Road, which was completed across the southern part of Jones just before the county was organized. This military thoroughfare would become a segment of the Federal Road linking Washington, D.C., with New Orleans, Louisiana.

In 1807, the year after the county’s area was acquired from the Creek Indians, the territory was distributed by land lottery in lots of 202.5 acres, and the county was created by the state legislature. Its name honors James Jones (1769-1801), principal protege of Georgia governor James Jackson (1798-1801) and noted adversary of the perpetrators of the Yazoo land fraud. The name of the first county seat, Clinton (1808-1905), has been variously linked to two prominent political leaders of the early 1800s: DeWitt Clinton, mayor of New York City from 1803 to 1815, and his uncle George Clinton, vice president in the administrations of U.S. presidents Thomas Jefferson, from 1805 to 1809, and James Madison, from 1805 to 1812.

DeWitt Clinton
DeWitt Clinton

After the War of 1812 (1812-15) came a great influx of westward-bound settlers. By 1820 they had made Jones the most densely populated of Georgia’s counties, with 43.5 people per square mile (9,821 whites; 6,886 enslaved people). In comparison Chatham County, home to Savannah, at that time the state’s largest city, had only 35.1 people per square mile. Clinton’s 1820 population of almost 850 people made it Georgia’s fourth largest town.

George Clinton
George Clinton

Between 1810 and 1830 Clinton’s most impressive residences were built, many of which survive. The town, proud of its stature, was among those visited by the Marquis de Lafayette during his 1825 tour of Georgia. But Jones County’s heyday was over. With the opening of Indian lands west of the Ocmulgee River, the flood of settlers rushed on, and Macon, in Bibb County, became the population center of central Georgia. Jones County’s white population declined to 6,471 by 1830 and was only 3,084 in 1860.

Nonetheless, important gains had been made in the antebellum period, both educationally and industrially. The Clinton Female Seminary, founded in the early 1830s by Thomas Bog Slade, later provided the nucleus for what would become Macon’s Wesleyan College. Samuel Griswold prospered as a cotton gin manufacturer and in 1849 created the industrial hamlet Griswoldville on the Central of Georgia Railway in southern Jones County.

As the nation began to break apart in the winter of 1860-61, Jones County elected to the Milledgeville Convention two immediate secessionists, who voted for Georgia to secede from the Union. One of them, James Madison Gray, also outfitted an entire company, the “Gray Infantry,” Company F, Forty-fifth Georgia Volunteer Infantry. During the Civil War (1861-65), Samuel Griswold’s pistol works supplied the Confederacy with more sidearms than any other private firm. Additionally, two significant engagements were fought in the county. The Battle of Sunshine Church, one of the few Confederate victories of the Atlanta campaign, was fought in the summer of 1864. In November of that same year, the only major engagement of the Savannah Campaign was fought at Griswoldville, as Jones County was devastated by Major General William T. Sherman’s march to the sea.

Gray, ca. 1910s

The aftermath of war brought political turmoil, continued population decline, and plummeting land prices. The concentration of population shifted to fall along two new rail lines, and several villages grew up along these lines. Gray (named for the secessionist planter-politician) became the largest of these villages, and in 1905 it became the county seat.

Jones County Courthouse
Jones County Courthouse
Photograph by Jimmy Emerson, DVM

By 1920 the vast majority of the county’s acreage remained in farms. Farmland averaged a little over 110 acres, though half was concentrated in the hands of about fifty families, some having parcels of more than 12,000 acres. In 1917 the county shipped almost 11,000 bales of cotton, along with a quarter million crates of peaches. But the county’s cotton lands, particularly in the area’s northwest corner, had become depleted. By the 1930s more than 30,000 acres (including land in adjoining Jasper County) were being converted into the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge.

Historic Clinton
Historic Clinton
Courtesy of Georgia Archives.

In the late 1950s the county’s appreciation of its past increased with a Sesquicentennial Celebration and the publication of a county history. Over the next several decades historical interest increased with the opening of the Jarrell Plantation State Historic Site, which also supervises the Griswoldville Battlefield site. In the 1970s the Old Clinton Historical Society was founded, and soon thereafter Clinton was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Well-known residents of the county include Harrison Berry, a literate enslaved person who published tracts about slavery and race; nineteenth-century state legislator James Blount; Confederate general Alfred Iverson Jr.; governor William J. Northen; baseball manager George Stallings; and twentieth-century state legislator Denmark Groover.

Jarrell Plantation Historic Site
Jarrell Plantation Historic Site
Image from B A Bowen Photography

Central Georgia Technical College operates a learning center in Gray.

The 1980 U.S. census showed that Jones County had finally returned to its 1820 population size. But the county has been transformed. Neither agriculture nor industry, which is principally represented by two gravel quarries, looms large, and the county itself has become a bedroom community for people working in nearby Macon or Milledgeville.

According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population of Jones County is 28,669, an increase from the 2000 population of 23,639.

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Historic Clinton

Historic Clinton

A photograph of a road in Clinton, in Jones County, circa 1900. During this time, and until around 1920, Jones County was mostly farm land and was known for its prolific cotton and peach crops.

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, #jon109.

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DeWitt Clinton

DeWitt Clinton

Clinton, the first county seat of Jones County, may be the namesake of DeWitt Clinton, the mayor of New York from 1803 to 1815 and the nephew of George Clinton.

George Clinton

George Clinton

George Clinton, the first governor of New York and the vice president under both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, may be the nineteenth-century politician for whom Clinton, the first county seat of Jones County, is named.

Gray, ca. 1910s

Gray, ca. 1910s

This sketch by Telamon Cuyler, made between 1910 and 1918, portrays Gray from the courthouse front door. Gray replaced Clinton as the county seat of Jones County in 1905.

Jones County Courthouse

Jones County Courthouse

The courthouse, in Gray, was built in 1906 in the Romanesque revival style. It was designed by J. W. Golucke and is noted for its arched clock tower. The courthouse was rehabilitated in 1992.

Photograph by Jimmy Emerson, DVM

Jarrell Plantation Historic Site

Jarrell Plantation Historic Site

This cotton plantation was owned by the Jarrell family for 140 years. Many antebellum furnishings are on display at the historic site, and many outbuildings dating back to about 1900 still stand.

Image from B A Bowen Photography

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Old Clinton Barbecue

Old Clinton Barbecue

The Old Clinton Barbecue House, located in Jones County in middle Georgia, has been serving barbecue since 1958.

Courtesy of Explore Georgia, Photograph by Geoff L. Johnson.

Sally and Frank Black

Sally and Frank Black

Frank Butler Black was a farmer, mail carrier, and chairman of the Republican Party in Jones County. He and his wife, Sally Barfield Black, pose at a Macon photographer's studio (ca. 1900).

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, #
jon079.

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