On November 8, the University of Georgia marked the Bicentennial of its first class - and the founding of Clarke County - by transforming the North Campus into a scene from the early 19th century. Famous characters from the university's past appeared to re-enact a series of historical events, including the purchase of the land that became the university.

Local Athenians playing Abraham Baldwin, John Milledge,
John Twiggs, Hugh Lawson and George Walton in the

Milton Leathers, portraying Abraham Baldwin, prepares to ride off in a re-enactment of the search for a site to locate the University of Georgia campus.

The UGA activities climaxed with a bicentennial event called "The Ride of Five." The ride re-created a journey five men made by horseback through the north Georgia wilderness in the summer of 1801 to purchase land for the University of Georgia. The riders, portrayed by local citizens, began their trip in Louisville, Ga., on Nov. 5 and passed through Washington and Watkinsville before arriving at UGA.

The real "committee of five" included Abraham Baldwin, who was chiefly responsible for writing the charter that created the University of Georgia in 1785 and was the school's first president, and four other men prominent in early Georgia history - John Milledge, John Twiggs, Hugh Lawson and George Walton. Townsmen portraying the committee were Milton Leathers (portraying Baldwin), Toombs Lewis (Milledge), Lee Epting (Lawson), Daniel Epting (Twiggs) and Richard Hathaway (Walton). All are active in state and local history programs.

In June of 1801, state officials dispatched the committee to find a suitable location for the University of Georgia. Though the state legislature had established the university 16 years earlier based on Baldwin's charter, it had never begun operations. Leaving from Louisville - then the state capitol - the committee rode for several days before arriving in what was then Jackson County. There the group met an entrepreneur named Daniel Easley, who owned a mill on the Oconee River. Easley (portrayed by Athens Mayor Doc Eldridge in the skit) sold Milledge 633 acres of land on a hill on the west bank of the river. Milledge turned over the tract, known as Cedar Shoals, to the state and part of it became the university campus.

University of Georgia president Michael F. Adams portraying Josiah Meigs, teaching the University's first class in 1801.

Milton Leathers (center) playing the part of Abraham Baldwin in a reenactment of the discussion about where to locate the University of Georgia.

Three months later, Meigs stood before a group of teenaged boys in a rough log structure and taught the university's first class. Meigs, a scientist, lawyer and former mathematics professor at Yale, had been appointed president after Baldwin resigned the position. For the first class, he probably read from works by such classical writers as Virgil and Cicero and gave instruction in arithmetic and bookkeeping.

Instead of quoting from Greek and Latin texts, Georgia President Michael F. Adams used the occasion to place education in a historical context, and then spoke about his vision for the University of Georgia and its contributions to the state. His class of male students was portrayed by Clarke Central High School history students.

Following the skits, Adams unveiled a plaque on Old College, which stands near the spot where the first log structure was built in a forest clearing. A concert of period music was held in the Chapel. Performers included the UGA Woodwind Quintet and the Athens Chamber Singers. A festive dinner followed, with music, dancing and food typical of meals served on the Georgia frontier in 1801.

All photos by Paul Efland, courtesy of the University of Georgia.