On this day in 1885, General Robert Toombs died at the age of 75, at his home in Washington, Georgia, after years of declining health. Despite long-woven tales to the contrary, the oak tree outside the Chapel at UGA where Toombs supposedly gave a great speech after his expulsion in 1828, was not struck by lightning.
Augustus Longstreet Hull recounted the myth in his 1894 book, A Historical Sketch of the University of Georgia, and explained that neither the speech nor the lightning strike actually happened:
A story of Robert Toombs has swung round the circle of the papers of late years, which represents him expelled from college for gambling, standing beneath the old oak in front in front of the chapel at commencement, pouring forth such burning words of eloquence that the chapel is deserted and the speakers left to declaim empty benches. And from this circumstance, the old tree has ever since been known as the "Toombs Oak." It has even been said that on the day of Mr. Toombs' death, the old oak was struck by lightning and destroyed.
There is not the semblance of truth in the story. It was a fabrication of Henry W. Grady, who, in an admiring sketch of the great Georgian, wrote charmingly of his overwhelming eloquence and pointed it with a story drawn from his own vivid imagination.
In 1985, 100 years after Robert Toombs died, the Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution to have an historical marker placed on the University of Georgia campus, commemorating General Toombs and the "legend" of Toombs Oak. The marker is located between the Chapel and Demosthenian Hall on North Campus.
- The Toombs Oak, the Tree That Owned Itself, and Other Chapters of Georgia by E. Merton Coulter in the Heritage collection.
- Robert Toombs by Pleasant A. Stovall in the Heritage collection.
- College Life in the Old South by E. Merton Coulter in the Heritage and general collections.
- A Walking Tour of the University of Georgia by F. N. Boney in the Heritage and general collections.
- Annals of Athens, 1801-1901 by Augustus Longstreet Hull in the Heritage collection.
- Robert Toombs of Georgia by William Y. Thompson in the Heritage collection.
- A Historical Sketch of the University of Georgia by Augustus Longstreet Hull in the Heritage collection.
- The Life of Henry Grady, Including His Writings and Speeches by Joel Chandler Harris in the biography collection.
- Robert Toombs Oak State Historical Marker page on the GeorgiaInfo site via GALILEO.