On this date 150 years ago, Bulloch County residents lived as citizens of a newly free and independent Georgia - just five days removed from state lawmakers signing an ordinance to secede from the United States of America.
Monday, the Bulloch County Historical Society commemorated the January 19, 1861 signing with a program about reasons for secession, and events leading up to the monumental decision.
The program, titled "Georgia Secedes! Looking Back 150 Years," was presented by Sterling "Skip" Skinner, a former Statesboro resident, and outlined key figures and political motivations that led to Georgia reaching the peak of its political sovereignty - and ultimately, its involvement in America's Civil War.
"Skinner has done an awful lot of research on the events of 1861 - when the Georgia Secession Convention met at the state capitol in Milledgeville," said Joe McGlamery, vice president and program chair for the historical society. "I was pleased to have him come to the Bulloch County Historical Society to share this information with our members and guests."
"It's tough to celebrate something that led to the death of more than 600,000 people and virtually destroyed the Southern economy," he said. "But to commemorate this and other events of the American Civil War, I feel, is important."
Skinner spoke to the crowd of society members about the state's secession convention - the perspectives of unionists and secessionists, as well as events leading up to the 208-89 vote to abandon the union.
"It's hard to figure out why we would fight a war that killed so many people," said Skinner. "So I decided to work my way backwards, to find the root causes and issues that caused people to be at such odds."
"What were the root causes that divided our country so deeply," he asked. "The constitution was seen, in the beginning, as a device that would secure the liberty, equality, security and tranquility for every state in the union. Events had been building since the nation's founding, that gave southern states increasing cause to doubt these protections were operating for them."
The cause, according to Skinner, centered on a variety of issues including: slavery, state sovereignty and southern distain over high tariffs and union attempts to grow the national government.
"The major argument among the citizens of Georgia was not if their set of grievances were valid or not," he said, "but how to react to them."
Their reaction would become apparent, he said, on the fourth day of Georgia's secession convention; when the state, like South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama did before, voted to break free of the union.
"Generally speaking, there was great display," said Skinner about public reaction to secession. "Bells were rung, cannons boomed, and torch-light parades were held. Some people lit candles in windows and decorated their homes and yards."
Skinner tied his lecture to the Bulloch County natives to which he was speaking, by discussing the county's two delegates in the secession convention: Samuel Harville and Samuel L. Moore.
Skinner read biographies of each man, noting their accomplishments and legacies. Both Harville and Moore voted for every secessionist proposal, he said.
Descendents of both convention delegates were present for the program.
Jeff Harrison can be reached at 912-489-9454.