Wilkes County lies in the northeastern part of Georgia. American settlers began to establish a formal presence in the area in the 1770s. A treaty with the Cherokees and Creeks in 1773 transferred title of the land. In 1777, the county was laid out, though over the next few decades the boundaries changed several times. Wilkes County residents held their first court in 1779 to try "several persons whom [the grand jury] had cause to believe, have acted in conjunction with, and have aided, abetted, and assisted the British, and the avowed enemies of the United States." The court found guilty and sentenced to hang nine people, most for treason. The American Revolution disrupted life for many Wilkes County residents. According to White's Statistics of Georgia, "During the American Revolution, no part of the State suffered more than Wilkes. . . It received the name of the Hornet's Nest,' from the great opposition of the people to the tories." The name of the county testified to the politics of the 1770s; it honored John Wilkes for his support of American colonists' opposition to taxation by Parliament.
In 1824, Wilkes County seemed to be one of the wealthiest counties in the state based on their tax payments. However, over the period that this collection covers, the county's fortunes fell. "The surface of the country is undulating," according to White's Statistics, but appealing topography was but one facet of the land. White's description added that "The soil is various," suited to cotton and different grains, and "generally was once very fertile, but has suffered from much injudicious culture." Perhaps worn-out soil explained the county's population loss, a loss that White attributed simply to "many causes." In 1824, 16,975 people - 9956 black and 7019 white - lived in Wilkes County. By 1849, the population had fallen to 11,042. Another reason for the decline in population might be that "In 1826-27, the county suffered much from sickness."