By 1853, the population of the city of Atlanta had reached 6,000, which far exceeded the population of Decatur which was the county seat of DeKalb County at that time. Many Atlantans thought a new county should be created with Atlanta as the county seat. A bill was introduced in the State Senate to “lay out and organize a new county from the county of DeKalb, and for other purposes,” but the name of the new county was left blank. Fulton County was thus carved out of DeKalb County. Upon a motion by John Collier, Senator from DeKalb, the bill was amended to insert the word “Fulton.”
The Times and Sentinel, of Columbus, Georgia reported the Senate action and stated that the new county was named in honor of Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamboat. Franklin Garrett writes that considerable discussion has taken place as to whether it was truly named in honor of Robert Fulton or whether it was in fact named after Hamilton Fulton, the civil engineer and surveyor who surveyed the route ultimate used by the W. & A. Railroad, the railroad that spawned Atlanta. Garrett submits that the discussion persisted because no historian could find or took the time to cite evidence on the subject and Hamilton Fulton seemed a more logical candidate for the honor. The purpose of Hamilton Fulton’s survey was to determine a route for either a canal or a railroad from the Tennessee River to the Chattahoochee and to determine which was more feasible. When the W. & A. route was surveyed 11 years later, the route followed substantially the survey laid out by Mr. Fulton.
Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamboat, was “never identified specifically with the State of Georgia by residence or activity.” He acquired national fame when on August 17, 1807, he piloted his steamboat, the Clermont, along the Hudson from New York City to Albany in 32 hours. Garrett states that the steamboat did have a connection to Georgia since on May 26, 1819, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic, the Savannah, embarked from the port of Savannah. As an aside, the Savannah was also equipped with sails and the crossing took 25 days. A certain Dr. Angier was credited with suggesting the name “Fulton” for the new county and Garrett writes that he was from New Hampshire, came to Georgia long after Hamilton Fulton’s day and probably did not know of Hamilton Fulton’s works. Garrett is forced to reluctantly conclude, even though he would have liked to have proved otherwise, that Fulton County was, in fact, named after Robert Fulton.