Topography, Trails, and Standing Peachtree

War Roads, Squatters, and the 1821 Land Survey

Wagon Roads, Railroads, and Atlanta

The Air Line Railroad

Formalizing the Peachtrees

Looking for the Road to Standing Peachtree

Sources of Information







In August 1790, representatives of the Creek Nation signed a treaty with United States commissioners that, in addition to guaranteeing "perpetual peace and friendship," fixed Georgia's western frontier at the Oconee River, sixty or seventy miles east of today's Atlanta. It did not remain there long. A treaty in 1805 pushed the boundary thirty or forty miles further west to the Ocmulgee and Alcovy Rivers and also provided that "the government of the United States shall forever hereafter have a right to a horse path, through the Creek country, from the Ocmulgee to the Mobile." Ostensibly a post road, the Creek were irate to discover that simple foot logs over the creeks, as stipulated in the treaty, had morphed into bridges and the horse path itself into a wagon road, all part and parcel of Gen. Andrew Jackson's strategy to "destroy" the Creek confederacy. With these roads, one historian noted, "the palimpsest was scored again as the trading paths, post roads, and traveler's routes were rutted with commissary wagons and heavy weaponry."[1]

In June 1812 war broke out between the United States and Great Britain, and at the same time the Creek were descending into civil war. The so-called Red Stick faction of the Creek was more than ready to fight on the side of the British, and their raids on the Georgia and Alabama frontier culminated in a dreadful massacre of white settlers, militia, and their White Stick allies at Fort Mims in Alabama on 30 August 1813. In early October the federal agent for the Creek reported to the commander of the Georgia Militia that the Red Sticks were threatening to destroy all of the Lower Creek towns and to "then take the post road, enter Georgia, ravage all before us out round Hog Mountain," which was then the westernmost point on the Georgia frontier. The state militia's fort at Hog Mountain was soon rebuilt and its garrison strengthened as state, federal, and Indian forces combined to put down the Red Sticks. The logistics of supplying the primary military garrison at Fort Mitchell overland by the Federal Road proved daunting, and a plan was devised to build another palisaded, log fort on the Chattahoochee River at Standing Peachtree. Below that point, the river was navigable by shallow-draft flatboat, which the military intended to use to supply its garrison at Fort Mitchell, a hundred miles to the southwest. [2]

Figure 3-1. USGS map annotated to highlight the route of Peachtree Road, built in 1814, as delineated on the district plats of survey in 1821. The River Road to Sand Town, which is also shown on the district plats, was built around the same time. The solid lines denote trails that are shown on the plats of survey and/or individual land-lot surveys; the dashed lines are documented in the historical record but not in those surveys. (Annotations by author, 2014.)

In early January 1814, Maj. Thomas Bourke of the Army Quartermaster Corps blazed a road between the two forts, reporting to his superior in a letter dated 11 January 1814 that he found eighteen miles of the proposed forty-mile route "had been made use of byWaggons already." He hired local contractors—Robert Young (1760-1851), Isham Williams (1776-1852), and William Nesbit (1789-1863)—who in turn engaged crews of men to actually clear the remainder of the road. It is thought that the new road incorporated ancient trails, but precisely where the route might have deviated from the earlier trails remains uncertain. In some places the surveyors are likely to have identified a new route better suited for a wagon road as they worked their way to the southwest along the high ground between Peachtree and Nancy Creeks to Standing Peachtree. By the spring of 1814, the road was more or less complete.

Sometimes designated "the road to Standing Peach Tree," that designation initially depended on the direction of travel. From the perspective of the Georgia frontier pushing to the southwest, it was "the Peachtree Road," but anyone returning from Creek territory would probably have been looking for the "Hog Mountain Road." Locally it was almost always "the Peach Tree Road," contracting to Peachtree Road by the 1840s. Although sections of the original road were largely obliterated by construction of the Air Line Railroad in the 1870s and by I-85 a hundred years later, its route is documented in the State's 1821 district plats of survey, and much of it can still be traced in a series of modern roads running through landscapes rural, suburban, and intensely urban.

The army also extended a "river road" from Standing Peachtree south to Sand Town. Like the Peachtree Road and other similar military roads in Georgia and Alabama, it facilitated the United States' slow-motion invasion of the Creek Nation. Until 1821, the Peachtree Road and its extension, the River Road, remained the only roads in what became the City of Atlanta.

In vain the Creek, tried to define and protect their borders, but regardless of any treaty guarantees, the invasion of their nation by a flood of white settlers continued. With little opposition from the state, the newcomers flaunted federal and tribal law, hunting, fishing, growing crops, and establishing large plantations inside the boundaries of the Creek Nation. Federal troops were sent to destroy farms, burn houses and remove the “intruders,” but as soon as the soldiers were gone, the squatters were back. Col. Hugh Montgomery, the federal government’s Indian agent, was “at a loss what to do” and bemoaned in a letter to the governor "the prevailing idea in Georgia (especially among the lower class) . . . that they are the rightful owners of the soil, and that the Indians are mere tenants at will; and indeed, Sir, there is only one point on which all parties both high and low in Georgia agree, and that is, that they all want the Indian lands." [4]

Figure 3-2. Detail from "State of Georgia Original and 1895 Counties and Land Lot Districts" showing the original counties and land districts, with the 1821 Creek cession outlined in red. (Georgia Archives)

In January 1821, the first Treaty of Indian Springs gained the State some 4.3 million acres of Creek Indian territory, including the future site of Atlanta. Surveyed and platted into land districts and land lots in the summer and fall of 1821, the land was distributed by lottery by the end of the year. The influx of new settlers in 1822 precipitated creation of new counties, one of which was named DeKalb and included all of what are now central Fulton County and most of the City of Atlanta. The following year, a new county seat, Decatur, was established along the ancient Sand Town-Stone Mountain Trail near its crossing with the trail from Indian Springs to Shallow Ford. By then there were already as many as 3,000 residents in the county.

The Creek cession was first surveyed into districts that were about nine miles square, which were then divided into square land lots of 202½ acres. For each district, the state contracted a surveyor who was instructed to mark not only boundary trees and rocks, but also to "insert in their proper places, what runs of water [and]... noted paths or roads" might cross their survey lines. The interpretation and the execution of this portion of the instructions varied widely, with some district plats of survey, including those that encompass downtown Atlanta and areas south, showing no trails where it is known that trails existed. None of the relevant surveys neglected to mark the Road to Standing Peach Tree, which allows a complete reconstruction of its route.

The State contracted with John Thompson Terrell (1798-1864) to survey and plat the Seventeenth District of what was then Henry County, but is now part of Fulton County. On 18 July 1821, he and two "chain bearers," who carried the 100-foot-long chains that were used for measurements, commenced the work at a chestnut post at the district's southeast corner, which is near the present corner of Virginia Avenue and Rosedale Road in the city's Virginia-Highland neighborhood. Over that summer and into the fall, they walked the district, which encompasses what is now the City of Atlanta north of a line along Eighth Street as well as all of Sandy Springs. [5]

Little is known about Thompson, but whatever his biography, he was meticulous. The plats that he drew for each land lot in the district noted even the most minor streams and branches, with most of the larger waterways given names that continue to be used today, including Utoy, Proctor, Peachtree, and Clear Creeks. Most importantly, in platting the land lots, Thompson went to the trouble of delineating not only Peachtree Road, which was then but a few years old, and the Hightower and Sand Town Trails, which had been in use for thousands of years; but also dozens of secondary trails, or paths as they were also called. Some may have led to individual farms, but many were the sort of interconnecting routes of travel common in every community.

Figure 3-3. The district plat of survey for the Seventeenth District of what was originally Henry, later DeKalb, and now Fulton County annotated to show the trails, paths, and roads, depicted in the survey records from 1821. The solid red lines indicate the routes of Peachtree Road and area trails that appear on the district map itself. The lighter red, dashed lines are the trails or paths noted in the individual land-lot surveys. (Annotations by Tommy H Jones, 2014)

Few if any of these trails have been corroborated by archaeological evidence and probably never will be. It might be possible to correlate some of them with archaeological sites documented during the course of modern road and utility construction, since many of those projects were documented during the course of compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 7f of the National Transportation Act, and other state and federal laws and regulations. In spite of the paucity of archaeological documentation, however, historical documentation, especially the state land surveys, describes and elaborate system of trails. And a look at the road system that developed in the second quarter of the nineteenth century leaves little doubt that an important part of Atlanta's system of streets and highways—including much of Peachtree Road and some, but not all, of Peachtree Street—evolved out of ancient trails and paths.

Figure 3-4. Old Marietta Road through Crestview Cemetery in northwest Atlanta, one of the best-preserved of the city's many early roads that followed trails platted in the state's 1821 land survey. (Photo by Tommy H Jones, 2013)



1.  Charles J. Kappler, "Treaty with the Creek, 1805," Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, 85-86; Angela Pulley Hudson, Creek Paths and Federal Roads: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves and the Making of the American South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 113.

2. James D'Angelo, Ph.D., R.P.A., ""A New Take on an Old Story: Fort Daniel, Fort Peachtree, and the Road that Connected Them," The Heritage 43, no. 1, Spring 2014 (Gwinnett Historical Society), 6-8; "Cultural Resource Management," Gwinnett Archaeology Bulletin II, no. 4 (April 1, 2013), 2.  D'Angelo has led archaeological research on the site of Fort Daniel and has also done extensive archival research in state records to document the origins of the forts and the road between them. His conclusions challenge some of the traditional accounts of those early events. See "The Fort Daniel Foundation, Inc." accessed online at <http://www.thefortdanielfoundation .org/History.htm, 6 June 2014>. For the traditional story, see Franklin Garrett, Atlanta and Environs, Vol. 1, 13-16; and James C. Flanagan, History of Gwinnett County Georgia 1818-1943. Vol. 1. (Lawrenceville, GA: 1943, facsimile reprint by Alice Flanagan, 1995), 16-18.

3.  Sarah Blackwell Gober Temple, The First Hundred Years: A Short History of Cobb County in Georgia. (Marietta, GA: Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society, 1997, reprint of 1935 edition), 18.

4. John H. Goff, "The Sandtown Trail," The Atlanta Historical Bulletin, Vol. 11, No. 4 (December 1966), 40.

5.State of Georgia, records of the State Surveyor General, Record Group 003-03-024, District Surveys, 1821, Georgia Archives. The present study is the first effort at mapping all the trails delineated in the land-lot surveys of the Seventeenth District.


This and associated web pages are an expanded version of a paper presented at the Preserving Historic Roads Conference 2014 in Savannah, Georgia. They are presented here for your amusement and edification and not for commercial use.

Tommy H. Jones, Atlanta Georgia, December 2020.