Judge Augustin Clayton: Athens’s First Industrialist

Hargrett Library, UGA

Judge Augustin S. Clayton (1783-1839) has been described both as Athens’s “leading industrialist” (Gagnon, 2012, p. 24) as well as the University of Georgia’s “most zealous friend and patron” (Buckingham, 1842, p. 60). Certainly, Judge Clayton’s life of politics, industrial invention, and college boosterism exemplifies the interwoven histories of the University of Georgia and the Athens Factory.

Judge Clayton was one of Athens’ earliest proponents of Southern industrialization. He believed that manufacturing cotton cloth in the South would circumvent U.S. tariffs on Southern cotton and that an enslaved manufacturing workforce would be easy to control. Prior to building Athens’ first cotton mills, he organized Georgia’s largest anti-tariff meeting on UGA campus where “a thousand or more people crowded onto the campus” to hear Clayton and others rail against the tariff (Coulter, 1928, p. 188).

Judge Clayton was a member of Franklin College’s first graduating class in 1804. During his student years, he helped found the Demosthenian Society, the university’s first literary and debate society, with which he remained affiliated for the rest of his life. At graduation, Clayton served as class poet, delivering a poem about how the “lands of the Oconee were obtained”—an ominous foreshadowing of his later judicial role in denying the Cherokee’s land rights Georgia. The poem celebrates settlement of Athens by white Georgians and the revels in the supposed savagery of the Native Americans. He wrote,

The infant son from his fond mother’s arms
snatched and buried in the circling flames.
Or while the Babe lies sleeping in its bed
A tomahawk divides its tender head

The original copy of his graduation poem is now housed at UGA’s Hargrett Library

The Demosthenian Literary Society continues to host student debates on UGA campus.

Photographs courtesy of Jane McPherson

Editorial, The Athenian, March 23, 1830, Georgia Historic Newspapers, Digital Library of Georgia

Cite this Article

McPherson, J. (2023, November 14). Augustin Clayton. Complex Cloth. https://complexcloth.org/augustin-clayton/


Coulter, E. M. (1928). College life in the old South. The MacMillan Company.