The area which is now Madison County was originally inhabited by
the Creek and Cherokee Indians. By 1773, most of this land was ceded by the Cherokee
Indians to the Colonial Governor of Georgia, opening the area to frontier settlement. Two
large counties were formed out of this land; Wilkes County in 1777 and Franklin County in
1784. After the American Revolution, settlers were encouraged to migrate to the new
counties by the States Headright Grant system; each settler was granted acreage
based on number of heads (wife, children, and slaves) in his family. Georgias
Revolutionary War soldiers were also awarded bounty grants as payment for their loyal
service. Several forts were built in Madison County -- Hillhouse Forge near Comer,
Hillhouse Furnace near Rogers Mill, Jones Station (later named Fort Lamar), and Black
Station near Blacks Creek and the Hudson River.
Wilkes and Franklin were soon divided into several smaller counties, and
Madison was subsequently formed in 1811 from 281 square miles of Elbert, Franklin, Clarke,
Jackson and Oglethorpe Counties, becoming Georgias 38th county.
The earliest permanent settlement was in the Paoli area, settled mainly by
pioneers from Virginia, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas. Madison County existed primarily
as an agricultural community for most of its history. In 1860, 84% of the countys
population farmed. Farmers grew corn, beans and pumpkin at the start of the 19th century.
Eventually the agricultural base of the county began to diversify and cotton, beef,
dairy and oats were grown. The soils of Madison County were heavily damaged by the cotton
monoculture common in this region prior to the 1930s. Presently, 23% of the land is
considered prime agricultural land. Agribusiness dominates the local economy, with poultry
and egg production particularly important.