Ellicott’s Rock

By Mark Holloway

There were some real problems brewing down south in the early 1700s. A tiny piece of land, twelve miles wide, was causing political trouble for the settlers in this small corner of the new republic. Today, locals from North and South Carolina and Georgia all enjoy a peaceful coexistence. But you might want to know about a former deadly brouhaha.

Prior to 1811, no one was quite sure where the three newly created states actually met on a map. The settlers in the area were happy enough, sure. But the terrain is as rugged today as it was then and governing the place was difficult. So the North Carolina politicians decided to give the land to the federal government. In their wisdom, the federal folks gave the land to the Cherokee who wisely gave the land back to the federal folks who thought it best to give the land back to… someone, anyone.

In the meantime, Georgia politicians decided they’d be glad to call the land home and went so far as to name the place, Walton County, Georgia.

As politicians love to do, they attempted to collect taxes from the unfortunate folks who’d been living there for years. The settlers decided they weren’t going to send their money to a far away government. Sound familiar? The Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution may have still been fresh on everyone’s minds.

There was bloodshed resulting in the Walton War. A North Carolina constable was shot and killed and the Buncombe County (NC) militia came into Georgia. See the problem? The little piece of disputed land was called the Orphan Strip. Enter the mapmaker and surveyor, Andrew Ellicott, who trained Meriwether Lewis before his grand excursion with Clark.

The world-renowned topographer headed south to sort things out. Georgia hired him to find the exact location the three states touch. Oddly, they underfunded the professional and he had to make guesses. Georgia wouldn’t provide him all the needed equipment, but he forged ahead and battled the mountain laurel, rhododendron, first growth timber and the tributary’s rapids. By the way, the unnamed tributary would eventually get named the Chattooga River!

Ellicott chiseled the letters “N” (North Carolina) and “G” (Georgia) to mark the precise spot on a huge boulder located down a steep cliff. The historic landmark is so low on the bank, it actually gets splashed by the river. I’ve run my fingers over the actual rock carvings. There’s a big catch to touching this historic rock. You can’t really get to it unless you are intentional.

I surround myself with intentional friends. Two days after we watched Georgia’s newest appellate court judge get sworn in under the Gold Dome, Brian Rickman was running the ten mile trail with our group to see the N and G! My wife Carol and I, Brian, Coach Steve Patterson, Megan and Will McDonough all made the trek.

Be watching for a small South Carolina marker on a tree. Then you’ll see a North Carolina marker on a tree a few feet away. You’ve just passed Ellicott’s Rock. Maybe if Ellicott had a tough time finding the initial legendary spot, so should we.

Most every good story offers some irony. Our story is no exception. We met a new friend on the trail that day. He, too, was attempting to locate Ellicott’s Rock and the GPS coordinates of the three states. He didn’t know he was standing right at the path leading down to Ellicott’s Rock. I’m convinced he would have hiked right on by. By the way, he was with the U.S. Forest Service on a mission. The actual location is disputed to this day, I just hope no one else gets shot.

Embrace adventure!


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Mark is an Ironman, adventure writer and climbing guide in the Northeast Georgia Mountains. He and his wife own Fresh Start Property Stewards, taking care of upscale luxury mountain lake homes. Adventure guide 706.490.7060

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