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Column: Pioneers read this 1821 Bible by candlelight
Johnny Vardeman

An 1821 Holy Bible has turned up in Hall County.

To put that into perspective, this particular Bible will be 200 years old next year.

In 1821, James Monroe was in his second term as only the fifth president of the United States.

Missouri would be admitted as the 24th state in the United States.

James Longstreet, famous Confederate general in the Civil War, was born, as was Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate officer and Ku Klux Klan founder, about whom there has been considerable controversy of late.

The few years that included 1821 became known by historians as “The Era of Good Feelings.” That was because after the War of 1812, people began to feel good about themselves and their fledgling country, and there was a desire for unity and a sense of national purpose. It also marked a time when partisan disputes among political parties of the day were not so common or intense. In other words, about the opposite of today’s political environment.

In 1821, Gainesville officially became a town and county seat of Hall, which had been formed three years earlier. But it still was pretty much a wilderness watering hole with a few scattered wooden houses and buildings around. After all, its original name was Mule Camp Springs, where American Indians and settlers followed a couple of intersecting major trails to come, trade and water their livestock.

In Hall County and throughout much of North Georgia, there were few bridges crossing the many streams. Pioneers and Indians found shallow places to ford, used ferries or built crude rafts to get their families and livestock across. Roads were more like rutted trails that up until governments formed were maintained only by those who used them regularly. Taverns operated near major river crossings.

The first settlers might have bought land from the Cherokee Indians, cleared it, built  homesteads and out buildings and planted crops. 

Churches began to sprout early on, and also were used as schools and community gathering places.

Grain mills were common on many of the streams throughout the region, and their names are still attached to roads today. Examples are Thompson Mill, Tanner’s Mill and Mundy Mill roads in Hall County.

Hall County’s first courthouse was a log building on a hill that later became known as East Highlands off what is now Athens Highway. It wasn’t until 1821, when Gainesville was officially named the county seat, that a two-story brick courthouse was built in the middle of the public square. It was around this that store buildings arose and where Gainesville’s downtown remains today. That property was part of 50 acres Duke Williams of Greene County had sold to Hall County for $1,000.

With the formation of Hall County and chartering of Gainesville, the area began to attract more settlers, but the real boom was to come just a few years later when a county resident, Ben Parks, supposedly stubbed his toe on a gold nugget, touching off the country’s first gold rush in neighboring Lumpkin County. That’s when gold prospectors began to push American Indians out of their territory, and the Cherokees were forced to march to what is now Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears.

One could imagine that this very 1821 Bible was being read by candlelight or fireplace in a cabin during those early years of Hall County, though the origin of this Bible is uncertain. The owners of the Bible are Jim and Janice Brackett. They figured Jim’s father, Lewis Brackett, picked it up at a yard sale, which he visited frequently. The writing inside the cover reads, “Printed in 1821.”  The Family Record inside has Joseph McMeen and Martha (illegible) married in 1810. The same Joseph McMeen apparently married two more times up until 1832, and the births of his and his wives’ children are listed. The dates of death of family members also are recorded.

Other names written in the Bible include John Hall, Elizabeth Hall, Joseph Williams, Betsey Baston, Robert Hall, John Reavs and Zola Belle Hemphill.

The cover of the Bible is still intact, though held together by electrical tape. Its pages are yellowed but legible.

The Bracketts would like to know more about the families whose names are written in the Bible, but the book eventually is destined for the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University. Anybody with clues to the families mentioned can contact me through the information below.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, or His column publishes weekly.

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