In 1829, gold was discovered in the Cherokee Nation, and the natives were forced off their land. In 1832, Lumpkin County was created and was home of Dahlonega, the South’s first gold rush. By 1835, Fort Lumpkin was ready for the Trail of Tears. Thomas Denning Sr., Joel Herndon, Peter Weaver Jr. and William Fry Sr. all moved to Lumpkin County in the 1830’s and 1840’s, most certainly to mine gold. It’s not known if Peter Martin spent any time there, but he also moved away from Hall County and was one of the first pioneers in Forsyth.
In Hall County, Joel Herndon married Thomas and Margaret Denning’s daughter, Sarah, about 1828. They had three children in Lumpkin County by 1835, but their next child was born in Forsyth County in 1837. According to marriage records, William Fry married Thomas and Margaret Denning’s daughter, Margaret, on 25 Aug 1835 in Lumpkin. Thomas Denning Sr. died in 1838, according to church records, and his wife and remaining daughter, Catherine, returned to Hall County with Thomas Denning Jr. as head of the house.
In the 1840 census, the remaining Denning family again lived next door to Peter Weaver Sr. in Hall County, and Peter Weaver Jr. still lived in Lumpkin. In 1845 Catherine married David Neisler, and by 1850 Denning’s widow, Margaret Martin, was living in Forsyth County with her daughter, Arminda Finn Herndon.
Arminda married Caleb Herndon before 1825 (Caleb is considered to be the brother of Joel Herndon, but this is unconfirmed). Peter Martin is known to have married Mary Finn, who was born in Virginia in 1799, but there is no known marriage record, and Peter’s first daughter was born in 1819 before it is believed the Dennings arrived in Hall County Margaret’s last daughter was born in Virginia in 1820. So the marriage remains unconfirmed.
By 1850 not only is Peter Martin in Forsyth, but on page 126 of the 1850 Forsyth census, the following are listed living side by side: David and Catherine Denning Neisler, Caleb and Arminda Finn Herndon with widow Margaret Denning, Joel and Sarah Denning Herndon (Joel is believed to be Caleb’s younger brother but Caleb was born in VA and Joel in SC), and William and Margaret Denning Fry. It was the only census ever taken when most of the Denning family would be together.
According to family stories, Peter Weaver Jr. and his friend Dabner Elliot headed out to Coloma, California, in 1849 with the hope of striking gold. Peter’s first wife died in 1842, and the widower left his children with relatives. According to Elliot’s family, they started out on foot with a mule and oxcart, and when it broke down they sold both to outfit themselves with backpacks. Nothing else is known until Elliot recorded a claim in Louisville, California, in January 1851. By 1851, Peter Weaver Jr. was back in Georgia and married Peter Martin’s daughter, Arminda, in Forsyth County.
In 1850 Thomas Denning Jr. still lived in Hall County with wife Francis Warren, his children, and mother-in-law, Mary Warren. In the early 1850s, David Neisler and Thomas Denning Jr. left their families behind and headed to California in search of gold, after most certainly being raised on the stories of the Dahlonega gold rush. But the gold bug didn't last long. Thomas soon became ill and died on the trip home, as his ship sailed around the Cape of Good Hope. His widow, Francis Caroline Warren Denning, then married Caleb Jasper Herndon, the oldest son of Joel and Sarah, in 1855.
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