House at the former 4,000 acre Cotton Plantation in GA


John Frank Mathews Plantation, Prattsburg Georgia
Date added: June 02, 2024 Categories:
Main House, front (1986)

The John Frank Mathews Plantation is a virtually untouched example of a main house on a late antebellum plantation. It is the often-found four-over-four with a central hall plan, Greek Revival-style structure. The original plans by James D. Cottingham still exist, the only ones known for a Georgia antebellum plantation house. The property has the remains of the industrial complex that once contained a cotton gin, grist mill, sawmill, planing mill, and dipping vat, if not more. Over 100 bales of cotton were produced here on the eve of the Civil War. It would have been one of the major plantations within the community of Prattsburg. The prototypical Georgia plantation, this property was one of the largest and most productive cotton plantations in the area.

The John Frank Mathews Plantation rests upon land which was opened for white settlement with the 1827 Land Lottery; Talbot County was established the same year. Frank Mathews was born that same year in Baldwin County, Georgia, site of the then-state capitol of Milledgeville. He moved with his parents to Talbot County, and it was there in 1851 that he married seventeen-year-old Mary E. Parker. They obtained Land Lot 56, consisting of 202 and a half acres, after her father's estate sale in 1857.

The Mathews are said to have built this plantation house during 1859-1860, and to have moved into it in early 1861, the same day one of the local companies left for the Civil War. A local carpenter, James D. Cottingham, who was born in Virginia in 1808, was the builder/contractor. His signed plans and a list of the supplies he needed for the house from the local sawmill still survive.

Between their marriage and moving into their new home, the Mathews lived at the nearby Drane-Mathews House (later used as a tenant house). In the 1860 Census, Mathews was listed as being a planter, with real estate valued at $6,000. In their household, besides their own child, were Mrs. Mathews' orphaned three brothers and a sister. Some of the young couple's wealth, and especially slaves, came to them after her father's death in 1856.

There were 800 acres under cultivation and 225 acres not cultivated. Statistics show the Mathews had a variety of livestock on the plantation: horses, mules, milch cows, fifteen sheep, and 100 pigs. They raised, or grew, wheat, corn, and some vegetables, and they produced over 106 bales of cotton in 1859-1860, as this plantation house was being completed. Talbot County was the 8th largest cotton producing county in Georgia that year, and the Mathews' plantation was one of the major plantations in the county.

The Civil War affected the Mathews plantation in a major way. J. Frank Mathews was called to serve late in the war, in 1864, but was fortunate enough to survive and return to the "new south" of Reconstruction and the reorganization of society. With slaves now free, he had to contract with them in order to have a work-force to run the farm. In 1869, he was on the building committee and a trustee of the nearby Corinth Methodist Church. The 1870 Agricultural Census indicated that the farm consisted of 1,000 cultivated acres and 600 unimproved ones, with the same crops and livestock as in 1860, except that the cotton production was down to 67 bales a year. In his later years, Mathews was also a merchant, stock raiser, and stock dealer.

When Mathews died in 1888, at age 60, he left a plantation of over 4,000 acres, valued at around $20,000. At that time the community of Prattsburg was variously described as a place where cotton was the principal crop, with two churches, Baptist and Methodist, and one common school. It also had a post office, several general stores, and one doctor. In 1883, the population was given as 100, with the nearest bank being in Columbus. There was a water-powered grist mill, four general stores, and a blacksmith. The industrial complex whose remains still exist on the Mathews' land is said to have included a family-operated sawmill and planing mill, both of which were run by the same overseer who also looked after a peach orchard. They also operated a grist mill, cotton gin, and community dipping vat. The blacksmith is said to have shoed horses and mules and was also a wheelwright. The Mathews family operated the blacksmith shop as a community service from 1890 to 1955.

After J. Frank Mathews' death, his lands were divided between his wife and children, with the widow getting Land Lot 56 which included the main house. Land Lot 56 included, besides the house, the Mathews' general store, blacksmith shop, and another house. At her death in 1893, her property was divided among the children. The main house and surrounding land was occupied in 1901 by her son, Joseph Brown Mathews (1861-1957), who was named for Georgia's Civil War governor. His four daughters were married in the house. In 1896, he ran a general store as well as being a farmer. His daughter, Rosa (1893-1970), and her husband Herschel V. Williams, later made this their home. At her death, the main house and surrounding area went to her son, Francis Mathews Williams, who sold the house and most of Land Lot 56 in 1985.

Site Description

The John Frank Mathews Plantation consists of a large, two-story, frame, four-over-four rooms with a central hall main house with a detached kitchen, outbuildings, a family cemetery, a tenant house, a blacksmith shop, a garage/gas station, and the ruins of a sawmill, planing mill, grist mill, cotton gin, and dipping vat complex. The main house, built in 1859-1860, retains its original siding, columns, balconies, sidelights, mantels, stairs, and shutters. It is raised on a brick and stone foundation while the kitchen rests on rebuilt rock and stone piers. There is a cellar under the main house. Outbuildings immediately behind the house include a smokehouse, privy, and two-room kitchen/cook's house with a central chimney. Away from the house are a large barn and a large corn crib. The family cemetery with a historic fence is across the road from the main house. The tenant house (Drane House) is a one-story frame house, ca. 1840, that is also across the road from the main house but closer to the main highway. The blacksmith shop directly fronts the main highway and contains many blacksmithing tools and supplies. The garage is covered in metal siding and has a very early gas pump. The industrial complex is in a pine forest about one hundred feet from the highway. Visible remains include a frame structure, a concrete dipping vat, foundations of a grist mill, millstones, and other foundations. The sites of tenant houses and a commissary (general store) are also known. The property is flat to gently rolling land in a rural area, although it adjoins a major highway. The community of Prattsburg now consists only of a few houses, a church, and a closed store. South of this property is a modern house built by a previous owner. The main house has been changed very little.

John Frank Mathews Plantation, Prattsburg Georgia First Floor Plan (1986)
First Floor Plan (1986)

John Frank Mathews Plantation, Prattsburg Georgia Second Floor Plan (1986)
Second Floor Plan (1986)

John Frank Mathews Plantation, Prattsburg Georgia Main House, front (1986)
Main House, front (1986)

John Frank Mathews Plantation, Prattsburg Georgia Main House, front (1986)
Main House, front (1986)

John Frank Mathews Plantation, Prattsburg Georgia Main House, front (1986)
Main House, front (1986)

John Frank Mathews Plantation, Prattsburg Georgia Main House, side view and outbuildings (1986)
Main House, side view and outbuildings (1986)

John Frank Mathews Plantation, Prattsburg Georgia Main House, rear view and outbuildings (1986)
Main House, rear view and outbuildings (1986)

John Frank Mathews Plantation, Prattsburg Georgia Main House, front door inside (1986)
Main House, front door inside (1986)

John Frank Mathews Plantation, Prattsburg Georgia Main House, rear door and stairs (1986)
Main House, rear door and stairs (1986)

John Frank Mathews Plantation, Prattsburg Georgia Main House, first floor, southeast front room (bedroom) (1986)
Main House, first floor, southeast front room (bedroom) (1986)