Actual Factual Georgia: Who was Fulton County named for?

Q: I’ve heard that Fulton County was named for either Robert Fulton or somebody else named Fulton. Is that true? Please clear up my confusion.

A: Let’s try to wipe away the steam that surrounds the answer to this question.

There’s evidence, including the historical marker in front of the Fulton County Courthouse and the research of past and current historians, that point to Robert Fulton as the namesake of Fulton County. You might remember him from your American history classes. Fulton was the guy who turned the steamboat into a reliable and faster mode of travel more than 200 years ago.

But there’s another Fulton, this one named Hamilton, an English engineer who worked in Georgia for a couple of years in the 1820s, surveying the area. And he’s also been credited as the Fulton behind the county’s name by some sources.

Robert Fulton was from Pennsylvania and didn’t have any known ties to Georgia, but many experts, including Franklin Garrett, Atlanta’s official historian, wrote that the county was named for him in “Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of its People and Events: Vol. 1: 1820s-1870s.”

“The present writer leaned to the Hamilton Fulton theory and was anxious to prove it … Yet an historian cannot fly in the face of contemporary evidence, that evidence is on Robert Fulton’s side,” he wrote.

Georgia State history professor and local expert Clifford M. Kuhn confirmed Garrett’s finding when I contacted him last week. And then there’s the historical marker, which states the legislative act naming the county didn’t specify “whom the name honored.” The marker mentions both, but then declares Robert Fulton as the man behind the name.

“Growing up here, we were always told that the county was named for Robert Fulton,” Atlanta native and longtime AJC writer Jim Auchmutey told me in an email. He wrote that the Fulton National Bank Building at 55 Marietta St. featured artwork of Robert Fulton and his steamboat, including aluminum murals by Atlanta artist Steffen Thomas.

If you have any stories or evidence about which Fulton is the right Fulton, let me know.

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