The stories are too many and too horrific to be untrue.
Moses Harshaw [1794-1858], known as the meanest man alive, is one of those individuals who didn’t make life better for those in his orbit.
One of the earliest white settlers to Habersham County, Harshaw migrated with his family from Burke County, North Carolina, in1822. Settling in the Nacoochee Valley in what is now White County, Harshaw and his wife Nancy English Harshaw had seven children.
They settled into life in the valley, with more than 20 slaves to work the land and the gold mines on his land; he also hired out his slaves to other mine owners.
Purchasing property in 1825, he added to his holdings in the Georgia Cherokee Land Lottery in 1832. He built a home, now known as the Stovall House.
A businessman and lawyer who practiced in the village of Clarkesville 13 miles from his home, he also owned property near the town square.
Representing himself in court, he was found guilty on six of seven charges of assault and battery in the Superior Court of Habersham from 1829-1844. Another trial for assault for attempted murder never made it to court.
The court records tell the story of those cases, but oral history truly cements Harshaw’s reputation as an evil menace.
He was notoriously cruel to his slaves, forcing the elderly and infirm off the peak of Lynch Mountain when they became an economic drain, no longer valuable to him.
And when he went into town, he took a helper along, but slaves were not allowed to ride in the wagon. Harshaw attached a rope from the back of the wagon to the neck of the unfortunate slave, forcing him to run to keep up with the horse.
And a tragic story of a young slave girl likely turned his long-suffering wife Nancy England against him once and for all.
After returning home to discover his wife had purchased a dress for the slave child to be buried in, he demanded her grave be dug up, and the dress removed from the body and returned to the store for credit.
Long-suffering spouse Nancy England Harshaw was first in line when in 1850, the state of Georgia made divorce legal.
The articles of separation, dated October 7, 1850, reference the cause of the split is “from an incompatibility of taste and uncongeniality of temper and disagreement of pursuits, bickering, heartburnings and strife have discovered that it is impossible they should longer live together in peace and harmony and have therefore have agreed to separate from bed and board and absolve, release and forever discharge each other from all conjugal rights, privileges duties and liabilities, further agreeing to live separate and apart and abstain in all and every way from interfering with or molesting each other in all and every way their pursuit of present and eternal happiness.”
She had the final word, too, when she had Harshaw’s grave marker carved – “Died and Gone to Hell,” a fitting epitaph to a man whose black soul found no redemption on this side of eternity.
The original grave marker, likely wooden, long since rotted, but a replica stands as a reminder of what happens in this life can mark you for the hereafter.
Special thanks to Ivy Hall for research assistance.
More from Nancy England Harshaw about the man she married: