By 1750, 27 years after James Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia, England, France, and Spain divided North America into three zones. The Altamaha and the portion of the Ocmulgee which borders present-day Telfair became the dividing line between the English and Spanish. Further northward, the Ocmulgee separated the French and English possessions. Georgia only extended westward to a narrow strip of land just west of the Oconee River. Although the English “controlled” the Big Bend of the Ocmulgee, it was not until the Treaty of Washington in 1805 with the Native American owners that the land between the Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers became officially part of Georgia. This acquired land was divided into 2 counties-Baldwin and Wilkerson.
On December 10, 1807, Wilkerson County was subdivided into Wilkerson, Laurens, and Telfair Counties. Telfair was named after Georgia Governor Edward Telfair. The boundary of Telfair County enclosed 640,000 acres, or 1000 square miles. This is almost the size of present-day Rhode Island. The Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers comprised the southern, western, and eastern borders. The northern border extended from the Oconee River in present-day Wheeler County to the Ocmulgee River near Rhine in present-day Dodge County. The census in 1810 recorded 744 settlers in the county.
The term “frontier” creates images of a wild, untamed area with vast unexplored expanses. With the creation of Telfair County, it became part of Georgia’s frontier with all its opportunities and all of its problems of vast size, poor roads or no roads, a widely dispersed population, and no effective communication network. Due to these problems, governing the young Telfair County was impossible, so land lots were removed for the next 63 years to reshape the county into its present size.
Shortly after Telfair’s creation, the land between the Little Ocmulgee River and the Oconee was annexed to Montgomery County. Land was annexed to Montgomery again in 1820 and 1833. This established the Little Ocmulgee River as the new boundary. A short time later, a small section of land (approximately 1012 acres) north of Gum Swamp was taken from present day-Dodge and Laurens counties and added to Telfair County. Another land increase occurred in 1819 when part of Appling County was given to Telfair, but in 1854 this section was removed and placed in the newly formed Coffee County and the area that would become the future Jeff Davis County. By 1860, Telfair population had increased to 2, 713.
Much of Telfair’s gaining and losing land lots was due to the factors mentioned earlier, like lack of control over a vast frontier. On October 26, 1870, the last change in the county boundaries occurred with formation of Dodge County. Land was taken from Telfair, Laurens, Montgomery, and Pulaski Counties to form Dodge County. The new county was named after William E. Dodge, the owner of the Dodge Lumber Company, which owned 300,000 acres of land in the newly formed county. It has been said that the state Legislature was pressured by Northern influences into forming the new county. This led to a period in this area’s history known as the Dodge County Land War, which lasted through the court system for almost 50 years. A decade after the removal of Dodge County, the population of Telfair County was 4,828.
In 1898 Telfair gained and lost land from Coffee County, so the 1870 creation of Dodge County was the final major change in boundaries. In the 63 years since its formation, Telfair County had gone from a vast area of 1,000 square miles, or 640,00 acres, to its present size of 444 square miles or 281,600 acres. Telfair County has had many neighbors since its 1807 creation when Laurens, Montgomery, and Tattnall Counties, as well as the Native Americans on its western edge, were its only neighbors. Over the next 100 years, boundaries would change many times, and neighbors Appling, Irwin, Pulaski, Tattnall, and Ware Counties were gained and lost. The present-day neighbors of Coffee (1854), Wilcox (1857), Dodge(1870), Jeff Davis (1905), Ben Hill (1906), and Wheeler (1912) became neighbors at the date indicated. Telfair County’s estimated population on July 1, 2019, is 15,876.