The construction of one of the early roads in Wiregrass Georgia, running from Jacksonville, GA down to Florida, was at the direction of the Georgia Assembly. The Wiregrass was then an untamed wilderness on the nation’s southern frontier. Bill Outlaw’s Georgia Centennial Farm application for the W. H. Outlaw farm observes,
“Tellingly, when the advisability of funding Coffee Road was debated in the Georgia Legislature in the 1820s, a legislator asked why Man should build a road through land that God Almighty had not finished building yet.”
But the military road constructed by John Coffee and Thomas Swain in 1823 became the first route opening up the south central Georgia to pioneer settlers (see Daniel McCranie). Coffee’s road, as it was soon known, passed through the site of present day Nashville, GA and on southward to the Florida line, approaching only about seven miles west of the point where Levi J. Knight first settled on Beaver Dam Creek, the site of present day Ray City, GA.
The Act to authorize construction of the road was passed in December of 1822.
To alter and amend the eighth section of an act, entitled an act to amend the road laws of this state, passed the nineteenth day of December, eighteen hundred and eighteen.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Georgia in General Assembly met, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That from and after the passing of this act, all overseers of roads appointed in pursuance of the before recited act, shall cause their respective roads to be cleared twenty feet wide, except market roads, which shall be cleared thirty feet wide, and shall cause all causeways to be made sixteen feet wide. Any thing contained in the said section of the said act to the contrary notwithstanding.
Speaker of the House of Representatives.
President of the Senate.
Assented to December 21, 1822
JOHN CLARK, Governor.
Tq authorise the opening of a Road from the Alapaha to the Florida
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Georgia in General Assembly met, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That from and immediately after the passage of this act his excellency the Governor be, and he is hereby authorised to appoint two fit and proper persons to superintend the opening of a road to commence on the Alapaha at or near Cunningham’s ford on said river, passing through districts number ten, twelve and thirteen in the county of Irwin, and number eighteen and twenty-three in the county of Early, pursuing the best and most practicable route until it intersects the Florida line near the Oclockney river.
Roads, Bridges, and Ferries. 97
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the sum of fifteen hundred dollars be, and the same is hereby appropriated to carry the above recited section into effect.
Speaker of the House of Representatives,
President of the Senate..
Assented to December 23, 1822. .
JOHN CLARK, Governor.
The historic marker in Nashville, GA reads:
The Old Coffee Road, earliest vehicular and postal route of this section, running southwestward from the Ocmulgee River to the Florida Line, passed through today’s Lax, Nashville, Cecil, Barwick and Thomasville. The thoroughfare was opened by direction of the State in 1823 under supervision of Gen. John Coffee and Thomas Swain. Over this pioneer route the products of the region were carried to the coast to be sold and imported goods brought back. Sections of the original route are in use today.
About John Coffee, builder of Coffee’s Road, historian Lucian Lamar Knight wrote:
John Coffee, Indian fighter, planter and congressman, was born in the State of Virginia, in 1780, and when a small boy his father moved with his family to Hancock County, Georgia. He was not associated with General Jackson in his campaigns, as was his cousin and namesake of Tennessee, but later on he became a personal friend of that distinguished man. His military services appear to have been rendered to the State of Georgia in connection mainly with the Indian troubles of the first twenty-five years of the nineteenth century. In his youth he moved from Hancock County to Telfair County. Most of his military service was rendered in South Georgia and Florida, and as it was a wilderness country, he is said to have cut out and built a road for the transport of his munition and supplies, which for half a century was known as the “Old Coffee Road,” and a part of it is recognized on the records of the state as the boundary line of Berrien and Coffee counties. The latter county was organized and named in honor of General Coffee by the Georgia Legislature in 1854. He served his county for several terms in the State Legislature, and this, combined with his military record, brought him into prominence as one of the leading men of the state, so that in 1832 he was elected to the Twenty-third Congress. In 1834 he was re-elected to the Twenty-fourth Congress, and was a useful, though not a showy member of Congress, but from the time of his entry into the House his health was infirm and steadily grew worse, so that on September 25, 1836, he died at his home four miles southeast of Jacksonville, and was buried there.
The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress gives the following bio:
COFFEE, John, a Representative from Georgia; born in Prince Edward County, Va., December 3, 1782; moved with his father to a plantation near Powelton, Hancock County, Ga., in 1800; settled in Telfair County in 1807 and engaged in agricultural pursuits; general of the State militia during the Creek War; cut a road through the State of Georgia (called Coffee Road) to carry munitions of war to Florida Territory to fight the Indians; member of the State senate 1819-1827; elected as a Jacksonian to the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Congresses and served from March 4, 1833, until his death; was reelected to the Twenty-fifth Congress on October 3, 1836, announcement of his death not having been received; died on his plantation near Jacksonville, Telfair County, Ga., on September 25, 1836; interment on his plantation near Jacksonville, Ga.; reinterment in McRae Cemetery, McRae, Ga., in 1921.
For more about the history of Coffee Road and the portions that are still in service today, see the research of Ed Cone at:
- Big Thumb McCranie was First Postmaster of Lowndes
- Coffee Road Led to Creation of Lowndes County
- Morz Swain was Innkeeper, Blacksmith, Sheriff & Jailor of old Troupville, GA
- Samuel Register and the East Florida Militia
- Early Berrien Settlers Traded at Centerville, Georgia
- More About Troupville, GA and the Withlacoochee River
- Rhoda Futch Knight
- James Madison Baskin Settled at Beaver Dam Creek
- Bird’s Mill Post Office
- Georgia Centennial Farm application for the W. H. Outlaw farm