In A Nutshell
After the Revolutionary War, Georgia and North Carolina fought over a remote stretch of land called the Orphan Strip. In 1804, Georgia set up the area as Walton County and, in the course of trying to get the area’s settlers to pay taxes, a North Carolina constable was killed which prompted North Carolina to send out its militia.
The Whole Bushel
A 19-kilometer (12 mi) strip of land, nestled in the Appalachian Mountains and located right on the shifting borders of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, was dubbed the “Orphan Strip” because nobody wanted it. Originally occupied by the Cherokee, South Carolina made the first claim to the area before eventually turning it over to the federal government. The government returned the strip to the Cherokee, but they handed it back to the government 10 years later. It was finally made a public domain, meaning the area did not belong to any state. Many settlers from the three surrounding states showed up to stake their claims. Some of them asked South Carolina to once again claim the area, but the state refused. Instead, North Carolina stepped in.
As part of the Act of Cession of 1802, Georgia ceded the land on which Mississippi and Alabama currently sit to the United States government. The act also made the Orphan Strip part of Georgia, but there had not been any survey on the area to determine exactly where the new boundary would fall. So despite the fact that North Carolina had already adopted the area into its Buncombe County, Georgia came in to establish its own Walton County. Walton officials started trying to govern the residents and collect taxes. While people holding land grants from South Carolina recognized the new Walton government, many residents refused to recognize Walton County fearing that doing so would invalidate their North Carolina land grants and they would lose their land. But increasing pressure from Walton County officials lead to an outbreak of violent altercations. One such confrontation saw a Buncombe county constable, John Hafner (or Havner), hit on the head and killed by a Georgia official. North Carolina called out the militia to arrest the Walton officials for Hafner’s death, and the men fled, taking the Walton government with them.
There is some debate over what happened next. Georgia’s version of events is that there were two battles between the state’s militias at this point, one at McGaha Branch and another at Selica Hill, with North Carolina thumping Georgia and killing around a dozen Georgians and taking another 25 prisoners. North Carolina’s more boring story ends with 10 Walton officials escaping before the militia arrived and proving that North Carolina was in a much better position to govern the area then Georgia.
Finally, after agreeing that the border between the states would be the 35th parallel, a joint survey in 1807 showed the area to be completely in the state of North Carolina. Georgia refused to believe the results of the survey. They held another survey in 1811, even going so far as to hire famous surveyor Andrew Ellicott. But Ellicott announced that the entirety of the orphan strip was still, in fact, in North Carolina And Georgia finally ceded all claims to the strip to North Carolina in 1811. At least until 1971, when Georgia’s government again disputed the exact location of the border between themselves and North Carolina. They dropped it when North Carolina’s government threatened to use the National Guard to defend the border.