The Tree That Owns Itself
There is a tree in Athens, Georgia that owns itself. The white oak tree, has legal ownership of itself and of all land within eight feet of its base. You can find the tree on the corner of South Finley and Dearing Streets and is sometimes called the Jackson Oak. The original tree died in 1942, but a new tree was grown from one of its acorns and planted in the same location. The tree you actually see today is the Son of The Tree That Owns Itself.
How did a tree come to own itself. Simple really.
Colonel William Henry Jackson had great memories of the tree , the original tree not the son, growing up. I can imagine a small boy climbing its limbs, perhaps swinging from its branches, maybe sitting in the heat of a summer afternoon in the shade of the trees branches, sipping lemonade. Colonel Jackson had such good memories he wished to preserve the tree for all time.
William Jackson was no slouch, not just your ordinary guy. Nope, he was the the son of one James Jackson who was a soldier in the American Revolution and a Congressman, a U.S. Senator, and Governor of Georgia. William Jackson was the father of James Jackson, also a Congressman and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia. He was also the brother of Jabez Young Jackson, who was , you guessed it a Congressman. The Colonel was pretty well connected, even if no one knows why he was called Colonel and what his military service was.
So being well connected and having such great memories of the tree, no to mention it was on his land, he deeded the tree to itself. According to a newspaper story from an article entitled “Deeded to Itself” in the Athens Weekly Banner of August 12, 1890 the deed said:
“I, W. H. Jackson, of the county of Clarke, of the one part, and the oak tree … of the county of Clarke, of the other part: Witnesseth, That the said W. H. Jackson for and in consideration of the great affection which he bears said tree, and his great desire to see it protected has conveyed, and by these presents do convey unto the said oak tree entire possession of itself and of all land within eight feet of it on all sides.“
And the tree found freedom as a land owner.
There is some thoughts out there that the deed was not legal and that perhaps Jackson did not even own the land the tree stood on. There is a lot of evidence to show that the tree actually stands on a right of way.Either way who cares. It is a great The tree does indeed exist. I should say existed because remember it fell down as trees are wont to do. The Son does exist and it has become a National Monument. City-county officials, local government and the owners of the adjacent property jointly serve as “stewards” for the care of the tree. The Athens’ Junior Ladies’ Garden Club serves as its Advocate. AS for the deed? The Athens-Clarke County Government takes the stand that the tree, since the public has recognized the deed, in spite of the law, does indeed own itself.
On the site of the trees two monuments. One for the orignal tree and one for the son. they read:
FOR AND IN CONSIDERATION OF THE GREAT LOVE I BEAR THIS TREE AND THE GREAT DESIRE I HAVE FOR ITS PROTECTION FOR ALL TIME, I CONVEY ENTIRE POSSESSION OF ITSELF AND ALL LAND WITHIN EIGHT FEET OF THE TREE ON ALL SIDES WILLIAM H. JACKSON
A Descendent of the Tree That Owns Itself Planted by the Junior Ladies Garden Club 1946
There is also a brass plaque that reads
- THE TREE THAT OWNS ITSELF
- Quercus alba
- Deeded to itself by Col. William H. Jackson
- circa 1832
- This scion of the original tree was planted by
- the Junior Ladies Garden Club in 1946
- National Register of Historic Places 1975
- Athens Historical Landmark 1988
Just to put it in perspective, this tree was a landowner when Andrew Jackson became president and the 22nd congress was seated. Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence died. Benjamin Bonneville leads the first wagon train across the Rocky Mountains by using Wyoming’s South Pass. Our flag had 24 stars. And a tree was deeded to itself.