The Pioneer Spirit
This essay on family, heritage and change is dedicated to my mother, Charlotte Liddell Green and my uncle, Moses Frank Liddell of Duluth, Georgia. They are the last of the family to have been born in the log house of 1840 that sat on the land of the Creeks.
Nine generations of Liddell family descendants have called Gwinnett County home since a distant day in 1820. On that day, important to American Revolution veterans and to the widows of veterans, parcels of 250 acres of land were drawn in a lottery system that gave land away. This lottery provided a compensation for those men serving in the United States Continental Armed Forces. The land distribution had resulted from the expansion of the white man into the newly ceded Native American territories. This system opened up primeval Creek and Cherokee lands in the state of Georgia, allowing surveyors to divide up the wilderness that had been home to the Creek and Cherokee Indians.
William Liddell served his country as a young patriot in the war for American Independence. He received one of the precious land lots which would allow him to start a new life in a state deep in the south of his new country. Along with his wife Ruth and their family, he had become part of a movement over the years, a drifting of enterprising folk to vacant lands in the south and beyond the mountains to the west.
William Liddell would have had to take quite a leap of faith in order to envision a future that would bring his family a sturdy roof of protection and a mule trail to the county seat of Lawrenceville or the stagecoach inn at Pinckneyville. These were the centers of business, gossip, government and opportunity. It would be decades before Atlanta became a name on the new maps.
William’s people would manage to prosper in their new home. Wars that would tear at the quilt of civilization would leave their marks on the family. Economic upheavals that threatened to kill the pioneer dream would hone the survival instincts of the family. Through it all, the old Liddell log home that William’s son Daniel built would continue to shelter the generations of children that would call the farm home in the new county of Gwinnett.
None of these children became Nobel laureates, none rose to the heights of political success and none amassed legendary fortunes. True to their Scots blood, Liddells worked hard and earnestly, seeking to better the farm and to provide small comforts for their children. They didn’t know it then, but the weight of time would prove them careful custodians of a legacy. That legacy was simple to say, but harder to practice. Good people always help their neighbors. And with that as a simple credo, the family became community leaders and helpers. Many families in the Pleasant Hill area would look to the Liddell’s for some relief during a “tight” when such was all too common in the “thirties.”
The Liddell children became community stewards serving as grand jury men, ministers, teachers and school administrators. Hundreds of school children, young adults, teachers, staff, and parents have been influenced by the teaching and leadership skills of Liddell descendants.
The Liddell surname has just about died out in a Gwinnett County that has changed exponentially in the last nearly two hundred years. The log homeplace of 1840 was razed in the late 1950s, shortly before US Interstate 85 bisected the farm that had grown into a Gwinnett plantation. The old homeplace grounds have been resculpted into a large restaurant and entertainment complex. Somewhat miraculously after the years of commercial development, the old Creek landmark known to all Liddells as Big Rock, shimmers in the woods with its freshwater spring hiding beneath.
The last Liddell left the homeplace thirty years ago. The old community had ceased to exist as neighbors enjoyed their own close-knit society. The old pioneer concept, the struggles, the failures and the landscape that had remained undisturbed for one-hundred and sixty years of Liddell stewardship became virtually unrecognizable. Only incomplete memory and legacy remain, but these are ripe for rediscovery and extension for those who want to reconnect with family history.
Michael P. Green
August 28, 2011