Previous posts on this blog have concerned 1880s Berrien County desperado Benjamin William Furlong. The story of Ben Furlong, and reports of his ghost, are interesting passages in Berrien County history. A recent reader comment prompted a further look for Furlong’s trace. (see Ghost.)
Ben Furlong was a wiregrass sawmill man and at the same time an outlaw whose infamous deeds were published around the globe. While Ben Furlong had no direct connection to Rays Mill (nka Ray City), GA he was well known to the citizens of Berrien County, and to all of south Georgia. His ‘stomping grounds’ centered around the town of Alapaha, which in the 1880s was the rail head for Berrien County. Anyone doing business with the Brunswick & Western Railroad risked crossing paths with Furlong. Indeed, his orneriness was known all up and down the B & W line from Brunswick to Albany. Dozens of criminal charges were levied against him in the Superior courts of Berrien and Dougherty counties.
As previously told, his final victim, Jesse Webb, was shot, knifed, brutalized and murdered at Sniff Mill, situated on the route of the Brunswick & Albany Railroad near the county line between Berrien and Coffee counties. Furlong was directly implicated in the murders of at least three other men, and his brother and partner, John Furlong, was gunned down in Texas after fleeing Georgia. Ben Furlong was feared by foes, friends, lovers and lawmen. Previous posts provide additional information on Ben Furlong’s “life of singular desperation.”
Ben Furlong was born about 1854 in Louisiana. Some time before 1869 he came to Georgia with other Furlong family members. By the age of 15 he was working for his brother-in-law ” in a responsible position” at a sawmill located in Pine Bloom, GA in Coffee County. The timber trade is one that he would follow for his short life, when he was not pre-occupied with drinking, drugs, murder, or other mayhem.
Furlong fled Pine Bloom after a fight in which he cut the throat of one of the sawmill workers. He was gone from the area for several years, but eventually returned. He was never charged with the murder.
Later he worked at other Berrien county sawmills at Vanceville and Sniff, GA.
It appears that Ben Furlong married sometime before 1874. In the census of 1880 he and his wife, Pocahontas (age 22), were enumerated in Ware County in the 1231 Georgia Militia District, near Waycross, GA. Ben was working there as a “timber sawyer” while Pocahontas was keeping house. Their children were John W. Furlong (age 5), William Furlong (age 3), Benjamin Furlong (age 2) and Charles W. Furlong (age 4 months.) (see 10th census, 1880, Georgia at Archive.org)
The following year, when Ben Furlong was about 27 years old, may have been the high point in his short life. (Here, the timeline of his documented activities seems to differ from the chronology given in the accounts of his life that were written after his death.) That year, 1881, he and his brother, John Furlong, were operating a sawmill at Vanceville, GA, a stop on the Brunswick & Albany railroad a few miles west of Alapaha, GA. The Brunswick & Albany provided a direct connection to the port at Brunswick, GA and access to world markets. There was a Navy yard at Brunswick, and it was said, “Hardly any other point along the Atlantic, from Maine to Florida, affords such facilities for ship building, with an unlimited supply of materials at hand.” At Vanceville, the Furlongs were in the perfect position to profit from the demand for lumber and naval stores.
The railroad pamphlet Southern Georgia described Vanceville GA:
Vanceville, at the 125 mile-post, is a new and bright looking little settlement. Here Furlong Bros. have a sawmill which cuts 15,000 feet of lumber per day. They have a tramway started, the engine and iron on the ground. The country is rolling and beautiful. There are many lovely building sites on this road. Nature has made them beautiful, and in a few short years our eyes may be permitted to see beautiful gardens, vineyards and orchards, where now the wiregrass flourishes.
Furthermore, the Furlong Brothers secured the financial backing of R. B. Reppard, a timber magnate of Savannah. Reppard’s company, the Reppard Land, Lumber & Sawmill Company of Georgia, owned a dozen sawmills and vast tracts of timber in South Georgia. Reppard invested $30,000 dollars in a sawmill at Vanceville, and set up Ben and John Furlong to run it.
It was perhaps the very success and prosperity of their enterprise that brought about Ben Furlong’s downfall. Later newspaper reports asserted, “The charge of such a large business turned Furlong’s head completely. He began drinking heavily, neglected his wife and family, and took to the companionship of wantons.”
By July of 1882 the growing aberration in Ben Furlong’s behavior was becoming apparent to everyone. Reports of his alcohol fueled aggression began appearing in the press, even in staid publications such as The Sunny South, a weekly literary magazine published in Atlanta from 1874 to 1907.
July 1, 1882
B. W. Furlong a lumber merchant of Vanesville, has been arrested in Albany for shooting at Mr. Will Harrell on the train. Whiskey.
At the western terminus of the B& W railroad the local newspaper, The Albany News and Advertiser, gave an expanded account of the shooting:
Atlanta Weekly Constitution
July 11, 1882 Pg 3
Shooting on a Train
From the Albany News and Advertiser.
B. W. Furlong, a prominent lumber man who operates at Vanceville, on the Brunswick and Albany road, was arrested in Albany on Thursday night, at the insistence of Mr. Will Harrell, who swore out a warrant charging assault with intent to murder. Both parties came up on the train that evening and got into a row with each other. Furlong was quite drunk, drew a pistol and fired at Harrell. Quite a row ensued before matters grew quiet. When the train reached Albany the warrant was sworn and the arrest made, as stated. Furlong was not incarcerated, but was allowed liberty under the surveillance of an attending officer. He claims to have been crazed by drink, and did not know what he was doing. He was brought before Judge Warren late yesterday afternoon and waived a committal trial. Bond was fixed and given for his appearance here ond day next week.
In the summer of 1883, further stories about the excesses and abuses of Ben Furlong were appearing in newspapers all over the state, from The Valdosta Times, The Brunswick Advertiser, The Columbus Daily Enquirer, to The Atlanta Weekly Constitution :
The Atlanta Weekly Constitution
August 7, 1883 pg 2
Albany was full of rumors Sunday and Monday to the effect that a Mr. Furlong, of Furlong’s mill, about four miles this side of Tifton, had cruelly whipped his wife, and when she ran from him, he took the large end of his buggy whip, with which he had been beating her, and struck her on the head. One report was to the effect that he killed her, but it was learned since that such was not true. The deed was committed on Thursday, and Furlong defied arrest. A large posse of men, however went down and arrested him.
The Atlanta Weekly Constitution
August 9, 1883 pg 2
A white man named Furlong, in Coffee county, brutally beat his wife – Mrs. Furlong, is in a deplorable condition – not expected to live. Her body is only a mass of bruised flesh, while one of her jaws is broken. The cause of the trouble was a woman – another man’s wife, with whom Furlong was too intimate. She has been arrested as an accessory to the crime.
The Columbus Daily Enquirer
August 7, 1883 Pg 3 Brunswick Advertiser: A disgraceful affair occurred at Vanceville on the Brunswick and Western road, the past week. Mr. Ben Furlong, becoming enraged with his wife, chastised her severely with a whip, and because she attempted to get away struck her with the butt of the whip, knocking her senseless. He then stood in his doorway with a double-barrel gun and told all outsiders to keep off, or he would kill the first man who attempted to enter. He remained master of the situation for several days, and finally surrendered. Meanwhile his poor wife was lying extremely ill without attention.
By the fall, Furlong was again in trouble in Albany, GA the western terminus of the Brunswick & Albany, which by then had become the Brunswick & Western. The story from The Albany News was repeated in The Atlanta Weekly Constitution:
Atlanta Weekly ConstitutionOctober 18, 1883 Albany News: B. W. Furlong, who beat his wife so mercilessly in Berrien county some time ago, and who spent several days in jail in this city, has been on the rampage again for the last week or two, and although under bond to keep the peace and for his appearance at the next term of Berrien superior court, has been into two or three more difficulties and making himself a nuisance generally. Upon learning that Furlong was not keeping his promise to them, and that he was behaving badly again, three of his bondsmen, Messrs. W. J. Nelson, of Alapaha, B. B. Gray, of Gray’s mills, and Colonel J. L. Boyt, of Dougherty county, notified the sheriff of Berrien county that they would not remain on his bond any longer. The sheriff refused to relieve them of their responsibility, however, until Furlong was delivered to him. With the intention of arresting Furlong and delivering him over to the sheriff, Mr. Nelson, accompanied by Mr. A. J. McRea, marshal of Alapaha, started Sunday night to Albany, where they expected to find Furlong. They met him at Sumner, however, and started back to Alapaha with him. They did not tell him what their purpose was, but he evidently suspected that something was wrong, and just after the train started, jumped off, and has since been making himself scarce.
A few days later, The Cuthbert Enterprise supplied a brief follow-up report which was repeated in The Atlanta Constitution:
October 20, 1883 Pg 2
B. W. Furlong, the wife-beater of Berrien County, has been surrendered to the sheriff by his bondsmen. Two indictments against him at the last April term of Dougherty superior court, and Messrs. C. M. Mayo and John Ray became his bondsmen. There is also an indictment against him for assault and battery.
Columbus Daily Enquirer
October 23, 1883 Pg 3
Furlong the wife-beater, got drunk in Albany, Wednesday night, and has been surrendered by his bondsmen who thought that he had left them in the lurch.
Alarmed by Furlong’s scandalous and violent behavior, R.B. Reppard sent a man to Vanceville to take over the operation of the lumber mill. Ben’s brother, John, didn’t wait to be discharged and absconded with $10,000 dollars of the company’s funds. He was later shot and killed by a Texas lawman in a dispute over payment in a land auction.
Meanwhile, Ben Furlong’s “reckless and dangerous” behavior continued to infuriate his neighbors. In the summer of 1884, O.R. Giddens came gunning for Furlong, seeking satisfaction for some wrong. This time fate intervened, and the man was killed before he could confront Furlong. Perhaps Giddens’ rage drove him to the fatal error…another man killed after crossing paths with Furlong.
The New York Times
June 17, 1884
Vindictive Mr. Giddens Killed.
Albany, Ga. Jun 16. The night train on the Brunswick and Western Railroad ran over and killed O. R. Giddens, a well-known citizen of Berrien County, near Allapaha. Mr. Giddens had a grudge against a man named Furlong, and it is claimed, was in waiting for the purpose of killing him. The train was delayed several hours, however, and Mr. Giddens, in walking up and down the track to pass away the time, fell asleep on the track and so came to his death.