Hall Countians and other North Georgians played important parts in the removal of the Cherokee Indians westward to Oklahoma on what became called the Trail of Tears.
Ezekial Lafayette Buffington of Hall County led a company of Georgia's Mounted Militia in helping the U.S. government round up Cherokees to move them out of the state. John W. Latty, whose great-great-great-grandfather, John Canida Latty, was a private in Capt. Buffington's company, has written a book about it.
Most Lattys in Hall and Jackson counties are descendants of Pvt. Latty. Many Buffington descendants live in this area.
The federal government and the Cherokees had negotiated a treaty in the 1830s that would award the Indians millions of acres west of the Mississippi River if they would leave their lands in Georgia and neighboring states. Most Cherokees didn't want to leave their homes. White settlers feared there would be hostilities.
A Georgia Guard formed to protect white residents living in Cherokee country. Later, the U.S. military organized volunteer companies to assist with the "collection" of the Cherokees.
Ezekial Buffington formed a company from Hall County. In December 1836, he gathered 67 men in Gainesville for a march to New Echota, the former Cherokee capital near what is now Calhoun. They would earn 40 cents a day plus expenses and 15 cents a day for extra duty.
Capt. William E. Derrick and Lt. H.B. Shaw raised another company out of Dahlonega.
Buffington's troops built a winter quarters at what would be called Fort Wool after the commanding officer, Gen. John E. Wool.
Latty's book details the good and bad experiences of Buffington's company. One volunteer was accused of stealing a civilian's pig, another was dismissed because he stole money from another soldier's saddlebags, and at least two men died of illnesses. Some attempted to "rescue" fellow soldiers who had been imprisoned for various violations, resulting in disciplinary action and demotions.
Gen. Wool addressed a problem with militiamen: "The Comdg Genl has learned with regret and mortification that many of the Volunteers are in the habit of frequenting houses of ill fame." He ordered patrols to round up offenders.
Capt. Buffington settled disputes between Indians and white settlers, often restoring Indians to property that whites had taken. Whites also brought to his attention Indians who were suffering from sickness or lack of food and shelter.
Latty writes that the militias were in a hard place: "They were resented, and often demonized, by the Indians, and their supporters, and the white citizens, who demanded the removal of the Indians on the one hand, and complete autonomy for themselves and their actions on the other."
In the fall of 1837, Buffington's company built a military post for rounding up the Cherokees near Canton. The encampment on the plantation of Moses Perkins became known as Fort Buffington.
As the removal of the Indians began in earnest in May 1838, the commander of U.S. forces ordered, "Officers and parties of Soldiers in pursuit of fugitive Cherokee Indians are directed not to fire upon them whilst flying, and in no case, but that of hostile resistance, as the object of the pursuit is to apprehend and hold them ... and not wantonly or unjustly to wound or kill them."
Gen. Winfield Scott urged his troops to do their duty with "every possible kindness" to the Indians. He admonished his officers to deal harshly with any soldier "inflicting a wanton injury or insult on any Cherokee man, woman or child."
The volunteers at Fort Buffington brought in more than 500 Indians to be held until the march west would begin. The collection was completed about mid-June, and the process of "mustering out" Buffington's volunteers concluded July 3. Their superiors praised them for their service.
A historical marker on Ga. 20 east of Canton marks the site of Fort Buffington.
An active Presbyterian, Buffington served as a Hall County Inferior Court justice and state representative. He and his wife Nancy had eight sons and owned 16 slaves. He died June 25, 1859, at age 60.
John C. Latty and his wife had 12 children. He died in 1856 and is buried in the old Latty/Diamond Hill Cemetery on the Hall-Jackson counties line.
John W. Latty's book, "Carrying Off the Cherokee," is available at amazon.com.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.