“Cousin John Thrasher” had the first mercantile store in what became Atlanta, Georgia.
There is a bronze plaque on The Federal Reserve Bank, Atlanta, Georgia, which reads as follows:
Site of First Mercantile Business, 1839, The General
Store of Johnson and Thrasher. Home, 1842-45, of Mr.
and Mrs. Willis Carlisle and their daughter Julia
Carlisle (Withers) Atlanta’s First Baby born August 17,
1842. First Presbyterian Church was built here in 1850
rebuilt 1877 and occupied until 1915.
In his Atlanta and Environs, Franklin Garrett, Historian of the Atlanta Historical Society, gives the following references to “Cousin John,” and the part he played in establishing the first settlement at the location of what is now the great City of Atlanta.
THRASHERVILLE – TERMINUS – MARTHASVILLE – ATLANTA
In 1839 “Cousin John” Thrasher started what is now Atlanta when he built the railroad construction settlement, which was called THRASHERVILLE, around the present site of the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta.
As a young man of twenty-one, he was the successful bidder for the construction of a large embankment to enable the laying of railroad tracks for the future use of the Monroe Railroad near the site that was planned to become the southern end of the Western and Atlantic Railroad. This major construction project extended from the Terminal Station to Foundry Street and required over two years to complete. (The World Congress Center is built over a portion of this project.)
John Thrasher went to this place in the wilderness to fulfill his contract. He brought in many laborers, including many Irishmen, to do the work and rough shelters were built to house the workmen. Other necessities for their living had to be provided; consequently, a commisary for this purpose became the first store in THRASHERVILLE (called Johnson & Thrasher), and John Thrasher became its first merchant. As the building of the railroads and the laying of track progressed the settlement of THRASHERVILLE was referred to more and more as the TERMINUS until expansion led to the incorporation of MARTHASVILLE, on December 23, 1843. It was re-incorporated as the Town of Atlanta in 1845, and again re-incorporated as the City of Atlanta in 1847.
Many narratives have been told why John Thrasher became familiarly known as “Cousin John” in early Atlanta history. According to early census records of Marthasville and Atlanta, many of his relatives came to the area to assist him and to enjoy his generosity and success. This friendly and gregarious entrepreneur was called “Cousin John” by so many kinsmen that other Atlantans began doing the same, and he became famous by that name over much of the South. He represented Fulton County in the State Legislature for many years, and his beautiful Atlanta home was one of two residences used by General Hood as his headquarters during the final days of the Confederate defense of Atlanta.
MARTHASVILLE had about 2,000 inhabitants in 1845. The census of the town for that year listed two of his uncles and a number of cousins with large families. By 1853, more of his relatives from Morgan, Newton and Henry Counties had arrived in Atlanta to live. He was a friendly fellow who claimed kin with his relatives, and as a merchant with a business in town, in such association he naturally was called “Cousin John” or “Uncle John.” He was an outstanding and colorful character and has been the subject of many articles which have appeared in historical collections and newspapers.