By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Gainesvilles first postmaster was pushed out of job by politics
Placeholder Image

Wiley Harben held the distinction of being Gainesville’s first postmaster, appointed in 1823. He also had the distinction of being the first postmaster to lose his job for purely political reasons.

Postmaster jobs early on in the country’s history were considered more plum political appointments than they are today. Both Gen. James Longstreet and his second wife, Helen, at one time held postmaster positions in Gainesville during a time when it took considerable political lobbying to fill them.

John Bates, one of the early settlers of Hall County and instrumental in the location of Gainesville as county seat, was involved in Wiley Harben’s case that lasted for weeks and filled early newspaper pages. Bates served more than a dozen terms as state representative.

Harben had operated the post office in his store for 11 years when either the Georgia governor at the time and/or members of Congress saw fit to remove him. At any rate, the political party in power at the time, Union/Democratic, wanted him out. The postmaster general officially appointed postmasters, but he usually was under pressure from senators and representatives, perhaps even the president, to put people they favored into the positions.

Harben protested his removal and seemed to have considerable support in the community. Citizens wrote to the powers-that-be saying in all the time he had been postmaster, they had heard no complaints against him, nor had Harben received any complaints.

Some detractors, however, said they had lodged numerous complaints that were not documented or explained. One complaint that was mentioned involved Bates when a newspaper addressed to him was found outside the post office by a man named Kellogg a year from the time the complaint was filed. It was said because the paper was found outside the post office this was negligence on Harben’s part. However, Harben’s supporters said it was never explained how the paper got outside the post office; perhaps Bates himself had dropped it.

Harben’s supporters also pointed out that every Gainesville merchant, except one the proposed new postmaster was associated with, had petitioned for him to remain as postmaster. His supporters couldn’t prevail, however, as Minor W. Brown, a Gainesville merchant, succeeded him in January 1834.

Brown must have swung some political weight as he remained in office until 1848. When he was nominated, petitioners said he was “a gentleman in every way qualified ... he is a Union man, a (President Andrew) Jackson man and an honest man, and these should be sufficient.” Another Brown, Perino, succeeded him and served three years.

• • •

Browns Bridge gets its name from Minor W. Brown, who built the toll bridge over the Chattahoochee River 1839-40 at what had been known as Goddard’s Ford. Several other bridges replaced it as floods or storms destroyed succeeding ones.

The last private owner of Browns Bridge was Bester Allen, who sold it for $1,600 to Hall and Forsyth counties in 1898, and it became a toll-free bridge. The present Browns Bridge came about when the Chattahoochee River was dammed at Buford and formed Lake Lanier.

• • •

Immigration isn’t just a current controversial issue; it’s been with us over the history of the country.

A Gainesville man was prominently involved in an immigration debate in the early 1900s. Sam C. Dunlap was with Georgia’s Bureau of Industries and Immigration at the time. He was on the side of more liberal immigration policies. Dunlap said a lot of Americans had a mistaken idea about the character and condition of immigrants.

“They carried with them an air of respectability, energy and determination,” he was quoted as saying in an Atlanta newspaper. “They come to this country full of expectancy; their minds and hearts fixed on great American ideals. They come to this country as the land of promise, the land of the free and the home of the brave; they come imbued with the spirit that cannot fail to make them good citizens.”

Dunlap and others were petitioning Georgia’s legislature to create a department of immigration to prepare for immigrants. Thousands of untilled acreage in Georgia could use the work of immigrants, proponents argued.

Dunlap was a force in Georgia politics as well as locally, serving for a time as mayor.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

Regional events