When I was a young girl growing up in Red Oak there was an old "Tara-style" home on the right side of the road as you reached Palmetto near the intersection of Cascade-Palmetto Road and Roosevelt Highway. It had long since been abandoned which intrigued me even more. Years later, the home was taken down, and I discovered it had been part of Levi Ballard's place.
Captain Ballard (1833-1921) will have a place in my old Campbell County research once I get around to telling the stories in a book I have planned, but for now I'll let you know he was well known in Atlanta and throughout Campbell County. He had fought for the Confederacy, served as a state representative and senator, was president of the Palmetto Banking Company, and a stockholder with the Palmetto Cotton Mill and Fairburn Oil Company. His biography published in "Men of Mark" (1910) states, "Captain Levi Ballard will be remembered for the aid and assistance he has given so many people in acquiring independence…" which was making reference to emancipated slaves, of course.
Two emancipated slaves are the focus of this week's column -- two former slaves who were assisted by Captain Ballard -- Edith and Solomon Jefferson. Today, there are many Jefferson descendants in the Palmetto and general Atlanta area, but originally, Edith and Solomon were not from old Campbell County. The story goes that after emancipation Edith and Solomon Jefferson along with their four children packed up and left the plantation where they had been slaves and set off for Savannah where they knew they had relatives.
This was nothing unique. While many emancipated slaves elected to stay put many chose total freedom by leaving the area where they had been slaves and seek out a new home. The detail of the story that makes Edith and Solomon's journey just a bit more intriguing is the fact that their starting point -- the place where they had been slaves was Monticello in Virginia.
Yes, "that" Monticello originally owned by Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. While I myself have no direct proof of Edith and Solomon living on the Monticello property, it is a generally known chapter in Palmetto history that the Jefferson family descends from Monticello slaves.
The Jeffersons set their sights on Savannah, but had no way of knowing how to get there from Charlottesville, Virginia. Years later they would tell that along the way a man told them about Captain Levi Ballard and how he might be willing to assist them if they could reach Palmetto. The man who remains unidentified after all these years had served in the war with Captain Ballard.
The journey south was not an easy one. There are accounts that the family spent a couple of years in Charlotte, North Carolina, before trekking into Georgia, making their way to Atlanta and then to Palmetto.
Edith and Solomon did indeed find Captain Ballard, and he offered them a place to live and jobs. Eventually, a school was set up to educate the Jefferson's children, which over the years swelled to at least 10. Ballard Springs School served other children as well.
It is generally known in the Palmetto area that "Mama Edie" lived a long life and had a job in the Ballard household for as long as she wished and was physically able. There are property records indicating Solomon owned land in Campbell County in 1871, and Edith shows up in the 1910 census living in Palmetto as a widow born around 1845 with both parents having been born in Virginia.
Over the years Edith and Solomon's descendants have fanned out from Levi Ballard's plantation contributing greatly to the general local area. Over the years as one of the Jefferson children or grandchildren have died there are references in the Atlanta papers regarding the family history. The last reference was when Inez Jefferson, a grandchild, passed in 2016 at the age of 100.
The last time I visited the Palmetto History Museum located in the old depot along Highway 29 they had a display regarding Edith and Solomon Jefferson, the slaves who were connected to a Founding Father.
It might be worth your time to take a trip over to Palmetto and check it out!
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can find her new book "Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County" online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her book can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art and the Douglasville Welcome Center located at O'Neal Plaza in the former Douglasville Banking Company building.