After the land in South Georgia was obtained in the Indian Cessions of 1814 and 1818, the state lost no time in creating counties out of the newly ceded territory. At the 1818 session of the Legislature, an Act was passed, and approved Dec. 15, 1818 laying out three new counties; namely, Appling, Irwin, and Early.
Many of Appling County's early settlers came from the Carolinas and the counties north of the Altamaha River. The first recorded white settlement was located at Carter's Cowpens in the Padgett Community (south of Baxley). There were few white settlers in this ceded territory prior to 1818. The older settlers said that one of these was David Summerall. The timber men had explored this area and had persuaded David Summerall from Bullock County to bring his ox team to haul timber to be rafted down the Altamaha River to Darien. Tradition is that he might have been the first white man in the county with the exception of Timothy Barnard, who carried his merchandise through the county until his death in 1816.
The county was named for Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Appling, a hero of the War of 1812. The state Legislature commended him for his heroic exploits and awarded him a sword on October 22, 1814. He died of an attack of pleurisy on March 18, 1818. While his death occurred the same year the county was created, he never knew that a county had been named for him. The sword stayed in the State Capitol until 1880, when the General Assembly made the Georgia Historical Society of Savannah the custodian of the heirloom.
The county originally encompassed all of present-day Bacon, Jeff Davis, Pierce, and Ware counties as well as portions of Atkinson, Brantley, Charlton, Clinch, Coffee, Echols, Telfair, and Wayne counties. Largely due to unsettled conditions along what was then Appling County's western boundary, ten years passed before the county's first seat of government was established at Holmesville in 1828.
The completion of the Macon and Brunswick Railroad through Appling County in 1870 led to the early development of Baxley, originally known as Station number 7, because of its location along the railroad. Following the construction of the railroad, naval store enterprises and sawmills moved into this area. Centrally located northwest of Homesville, Baxley was named for Wilson Baxley, a prosperous local farmer, cattle owner, and businessman who owned extensive acreage in the area and operated the community's first store. Baxley replaced Holmesville as the county seat in 1874, and during the next year the town was incorporated.
The first court held in this county was held at the present site of the Baxley Children's Home, eleven miles from Baxley. The first courthouse for this county was located at old Holmesville. The present day courthouse built from 1907 to 1908 in the Neoclassical style, cost $50,000. H.L. Lewis designed the two-story limestone and concrete structure, which is the fourth courthouse to serve the county. The courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of a statewide county courthouse thematic nomination in 1980.
The economy of Appling County in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was based primarily on farming, livestock raising, and the timber/naval stores industry. Two brothers from North Carolina ran the first commercial turpentine still in Georgia from 1858 to 1861 at the site of old Fort James in Appling County, now located in Wayne County and known as Tar Landing. Another North Carolina native, Adrian Van Bokkelyn began a turpentine operation at Pine Grove in the early 1870's which was one of the largest outfits in Georgia, producing 100,000 casks of turpentine during its ten years in business. Timber was found in almost unlimited qualities. The volume of lumber products under demand soon exceeded the timber growth. For years many acres of barren land, cleared for timber, encountered loss of fertility and soil erosion. The state forestry specialist recognized the need for planting new forests over these areas to restore this original growth of timber and afford the conservation of soil.
Around the same time as the introduction of sawmills to this section, settlers moved in with vast herds of cattle and sheep. The staple, cotton, was being introduced and grown in this section, however, no permanent market had been established. Stores bartered salt, tobacco, snuff, coffee beans, cotton, and wool hides. Mercantile establishments began to allow bees wax and tallow.
Baxley was the first small municipality in the United States to establish a water works system. There was a recognized need for a drainage system in order to drain ponds and residential sections of the town.
The future site of Surrency was settled in the early 1850's by Allen Powell Surrency, a Tattnall County native. Surrency, who became a prominent businessman and local civic leader, initially operated a sawmill and owned the only general store in the area. Like Baxley, the community was known by its railraod station Number 6 prior to being named Surrency in honor of its founder. The Town of Surrency was locally incorporated in 1904, while the Georgia General Assembly chartered the town in 1911. During its heyday in the early 1900's, Surrency was recognized as the "crosstie center of the world" with as many as five train carloads shipped a day. At that time, a number of businesses were located in Surrency, including six general stores, a grocery store, a drugstore, a bank, two hotels, a cotton gin, and grist mill. The population reached 443 in 1920, but increased to only 445 by 1930.
The first settler in present-day Graham was Seaborn Hall, Jr., a farmer with extensive land holdings in the area, who opened a general store in 1866. Several years later when the railroad was completed through the county, another farmer and large landowner Middleton Graham donated the land for station Number 8 and the city of Graham, which was named in his honor. Graham prospered in the late 19th and early 20th century, largely due to the successful naval stores and timber industry. Gum and rosin processed at Van Bokkelyn's turpentine still in nearby Pine Grove were shipped out of Graham by rail, while Alexander Sessoms, also of North Carolina, ran a large naval store operation in Graham from 1879 to 1889. The City of Graham was incorporated locally in 1897. Graham had five stores, a post office, an express office, turpentine still, and a cotton gin. In earlier years, Graham boosted three lumber companies as well as a saloon. Graham was officially granted a charter by the state legislature in 1991.
Caroline Miller was living in Baxley when her novel, Lamb in His Bosom, was published in 1933. Here she learned firsthand something of dignity and courage of the Georgia pioneers still retained by the wonderful people of the county, and found not only inspiration for daily living but source material for her book. She was Georgia's first Pulitzer Prize winner. Her literary achievements will remain in the record books for all time.