The Tree That Owns Itself is a white oak tree that has legal ownership of itself and of all land within eight feet (2.4 m) of its base. The tree, also called the Jackson Oak, is located at the corner of South Finley and Dearing Streets in Athens, Georgia, United States. The original tree fell in 1942, but a new tree was grown from one of its acorns, and planted in the same location. The current tree is sometimes referred to as the Son of The Tree That Owns Itself. Both trees have appeared in numerous national publications, and the site is a local landmark.
The earliest-known telling of the tree’s story comes from a front-page article entitled “Deeded to Itself” in the Athens Weekly Banner of August 12, 1890. The article explains that the tree had been located on the property of Colonel William Henry Jackson. William Jackson was the son of James Jackson (a soldier in the American Revolution as well as a Congressman,U.S. Senator, and Governor of Georgia), and the father of another James Jackson (a Congressman and Chief Justice of theSupreme Court of Georgia). He was the brother of Jabez Young Jackson, also a Congressman. (William Jackson was reportedly a professor at the University of Georgia, and is sometimes given the title of Doctor. The nature of his military service and the source of the title “Colonel” are unknown.) Jackson supposedly cherished childhood memories of the tree, and, desiring to protect it, deeded to it the ownership of itself and its surrounding land. By various accounts, this transaction took place between 1820 and 1832. According to the newspaper article, the deed read:
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.
It is unclear whether the story of the Tree That Owns Itself began with the Weekly Banner article, or if it had been an element of local folklore prior to that time. The article’s author writes that, in 1890, there were few people still living who knew the story.