Mary Jane Smith and the Poison Pork

In the fall of 1916 Mrs. Mary Jane Smith, of Nashville, GA came to visit her daughter, Rachel Smith Sirmans, at Ray City, GA.  It was late October and with the first frosts of the season, people’s thoughts naturally turned toward the harvest of fresh meat from hogs fattened over the summer. Hog slaughter was generally reserved for the coldest days of the year. But after a diet of cured meats over the long heat of the Wiregrass summer and perhaps with the  smokehouse stock nearly depleted, for many farms the first cool day would do for a hog killing.  This was perhaps the occasion of Mrs. Smith’s visit.

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Hog-Killing

In the  Ray City of 100 years ago, winter was the season for hog killing as mechanical refrigeration was not available and there were no real facilities for cold storage.

In the 1920s, the Clements Lumber Company operated a cold storage facility and Ray City built a municipal electric plant in 1922, but dependable home electric service and electric refrigerators would not be available in the town until the 1930s.    Before that, most kitchens were equipped with  an “icebox” – a wood or metal cabinet insulated with straw or sawdust. A compartment near the top could be loaded with a block of ice to cool perishable food stored on lower shelves. Water from the melting ice was collected in a pan below the cabinet.  The ice kept the interior of the box far cooler than room temperature, but certainly no where near freezing.  As the ice block melted, it had to be continually replaced. Even small towns like Ray City had ice delivery men, such as Wilbur and Walter Aultman, or Ferris Moore, who regularly supplied ice to local homes and businesses (see Ferris Moore ~ Ray City Iceman).

In The Art of Managing Longleaf, Leon Neel describes  the practical and social significance of hog killing time in Wiregrass Georgia:

Hogs were a staple and we always had hog killings.  The families would get together to kill a hog or two when the weather was right, and then we would smoke our own meat.  Hog killing was a great time. Hogs were killed in cool weather, because pork spoils so easily.  The colder it was, the better it was for hog killing. But lots of times, the stored food would run out early, and we would have to kill hogs before it got to be the dead of winter.  Hog killing was a full-day’s process, and everybody had a job – the men folk, the women folk, everybody.  The process got started early in the morning.  Daddy had a little .22 rifle, and he usually shot the hog between the eyes.  Then we processed it right then and there. We had a big syrup kettle, and for hog killing time we would fill it with water and build a fire under it to get it boiling.  Then we put the hog in the kettle, which scalded it and made it possible to get the hair off with any trouble. Then we butchered the hog.  It is true what they say: Every part of the hog was utilized, everything but the squeal.  Hog killing was hard work, but it was also a great social occasion. 

For Mary Jane Smith  the visit with her daughter in Ray City was a homecoming of sorts.  She and her husband, John Woods Smith, had formerly been residents of Ray City.

Mrs. Mary Jane Smith was born Mary Jane Whitehurst, a daughter of James Whitehurst (1818-1914) and Sarah Ann Findley (1822-1914). She was born on July 7, 1848 in that part of Lowndes County which in 1850 was cut into Clinch County, GA . Her father’s place was on Land Lot 516 in the 11th Land District,  just east of the Alapaha River near Cow Creek.  Her father later moved to Berrien County and settled on the east side of the Little River where he established a grist mill and operated a ferry across the river.  For several years he had the contract to carry mail on the Star Route from Nashville, GA to Alapaha.

About 1866, Mary Jane married John Woods Smith  in Clinch County, GA.  He was a veteran of the Confederate army, having enlisted March 4, 1862 in Company G, 50th Georgia Regiment.   His time in active duty had been marked with sickness. Within months of his enlistment he had become so sick he was sent to the hospital at Macon,  GA. In June of 1862 he was given leave to “escort the dead body of a comrade home. ”   He returned to his unit but by the end of the year he was again on sick furlough.  He was sick yet again in June of 1863,  with typhoid fever.  This time he was sent to Chimborazo Hospital No. 2 at Richmond, VA then transferred to Jackson Hospital where he was diagnosed with pneumonia.  By the fall he had recovered sufficiently  to return to his unit, but on November 29, 1863 he was captured near Knoxville,  TN.  He was sent to the military prison at Louisville, KY as a prisoner of war,  then on to the notorious Camp Chase, Ohio where he was imprisoned for two years.   In March of 1865, he was transferred to Rock Island Barracks, IL  and from there he was released in a prisoner exchange.  He was  admitted to the Confederate General Hospital No. 9 at Richmond, VA where he recuperated before returning home to Berrien County, GA.

For a short while Mary Jane and John Woods Smith made their home in Clinch County, but by 1880 the couple had moved to Berrien County, GA.  In 1890, their home was in the Rays Mill district, GMD 1144, where they were neighbors of Isabelle Sirmans and Andrew W. Turner and others of the Sirmans family connection.

Children of Mary Jane and John Woods Smith were:

  1. Osborn Levi Smith  (1867 – 1896), buried at Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA
  2. Rachel Allifair Smith (1869 – 1940),  married Jay Mitchell Sirmans, son of Hardeman Sirmans
  3. Susan Earlie Smith (1871 – 1960)
  4. Cassie Jane Smith (1874 – 1948),  married Lucius John Knight, son of Rhoda Futch  and George Washington Knight, buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA
  5. William David Smith (1876 – 1887)
  6. Barzilla Newton Smith (1878 – )
  7. Sarah Levinia Smith (1880 – 1964), buried at Pinecrest Cemetery, Vidalia, GA
  8. Mary Ann Smith (1882 – 1965), married Henry J. Parrish
  9. John Dixon Smith (1884 – 1943)
  10. Martha Missouri Belle Smith (1887 – )
  11. Kissiah Amanda Smith (1889 – )

Mary Jane’s eldest daughter, Rachel Allifar Smith,  was married  to Jay Sirmans on March 22, 1893. He was son of Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight. Rachel and Jay made their home and farm near Rays Mill (now known as Ray City), GA next door to Jay’s father. By 1910, Mary Jane and John Woods Smith had moved from Ray City to Nashville, GA where they owned a home on Washington Street where they operated a boarding house.

Mary Jane’s husband, John Woods Smith,  died April 24, 1915 and was buried at the Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA. Mary Jane Smith died a year and a half later while visiting with her daughter, Rachel, at Ray City, GA.  The cause of death was “pork poisoning.”

Without refrigeration the home preservation of meats, especially pork,  presented challenges.  In The prevention of disease; a popular treatise (1916), Kenelm Winslow reported:

Pork causes poisoning because it is imperfectly preserved by salt or smoking, and is often eaten insufficiently cooked in sausage and other forms.  Four-fifths of all cases of meat poisoning are due to eating the flesh of animals suffering from one of the germ diseases…unfortunately the meat is not altered in appearance in such cases, nor is cooking by any means a sure preventative against poisoning. Even poisoning by meat which has decomposed from too long keeping is much more frequent in the case of animals diseased before slaughter.  Expert veterinary inspection of the various organs of slaughtered animals will detect disease and prevent the killing of sick animals for food, which is most apt to occur in small towns where meat for local use is not properly inspected. Poisoning from meat which has putrefied from long keeping is more common in warm months and in the case of chopped meat or sausage. Putrid meat is usually recognizable, if not chopped, by softness and bad odor, especially about the bones and fat.  Boiling, roasting, or frying lessens the danger from putrefying meat, but does not absolutely prevent it.  Proper refrigeration in the household, both before and after cooking meat, is essential in order to preserve it, otherwise it should be eaten fresh. It is also advisable to clean refrigerators frequently with a hot solution of washing soda.  The poisoning is due to toxins in poisons produced by germs which originate in diseased animals, or contaminate the meat after slaughter and grow luxuriantly when refrigeration is imperfect.

 

1916-mary-jane-smith

Tifton Gazette

Friday, October 27, 1916

MRS. MARY JANE SMITH

Mrs. Mary Jane Smith died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. J. Sirmans, near Ray City, Saturday night after an illness of only a few days, says the Adel News. Mrs. Smith died of poison, some pork which she and Mrs. Sirmans had eaten, violently affecting them. Mrs. Sirmans was very ill for a time.

Mrs. Smith was the mother of eleven children, nine of whom survive her. Among her children are Mrs. Sirmans, Mrs. H. J. Parrish and Rev. John D. Smith, of Morven. The deceased was reared in this county and was sixty-nine years of age. She was a devoted member of the Methodist church. The funeral services and burial took place at Nashville Monday, the services being conducted by Rev. J. Harwell House, of Ocilla.

 

Grave of Mary Jane Whitehurst Smith, Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA

Grave of Mary Jane Whitehurst Smith, Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA

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Green Bullard Fought Sickness in the Civil War

Green Bullard  was a pioneer settler of Berrien county. He came to the area of present day Ray City, GA with his parents some time before 1850.  They settled on 490 acres of land acquired by his father, Amos Bullard, in the 10th Land District, then in Lowndes county, GA (cut into Berrien County in 1856).

confederate-camp

Following the commencement of the Civil War Green Bullard, and his nephew, Alfred Anderson, went to Nashville, GA and signed up on March 4, 1862 with the Berrien Light Infantry, which was being formed at that time.   The company traveled to Camp Davis, a temporary training camp that had been established two miles north of present day Guyton, GA (then known as Whitesville, GA). There they received medical examinations and were mustered in as Company I, 50th Georgia Regiment on March 30, 1862.

For many of the men in the 50th Regiment, this was the farthest they had ever been from home and the largest congregation of people they had ever seen.  Coming from the relative isolation of their rural farms and small south Georgia communities, many received their first exposure to communicable diseases such as Dysentery, Chicken Pox, Mumps,  Measles, or Typhoid fever. The first cases of Measles were reported within days of the men’s arrival and at times nearly two-thirds of the regiment were unfit for duty due to illness. On April 7, 1862 Bullard’s nephew, Alfred Anderson, reported sick with “Brain Fever” [probably either encephalitis or meningitis] while at Camp Davis, with no further records of his service.  With so many down sick, the Regiment could barely drill or even put on guard duty.  As the summer wore on, those that were fit participated in the barricading of the Savannah River and in coastal defenses.

 “In May 1862 the Confederate Government established a General Hospital in Guyton, GA,”  near Camp Davis. “This hospital was located on a nine acre tract of land adjacent to the Central Railroad… From May 1862 to December 1864, this hospital provided medical care, food, clothing, and lodging for thousands of sick and wounded Confederate soldiers.”  – Historical Marker, Guyton Confederate General Hospital.

Finally, in mid-July the 50th Regiment moved out via train to Richmond, VA where they joined Drayton’s Brigade in the CSA Army of Northern Virginia. The Regiment bivouacked first at Camp Lee.  Camp Lee was a Confederate training camp that had been converted from the Hermitage Fair Grounds near Richmond, with the exhibit halls converted into barracks and hospitals. The grounds were filled with the tents of infantry and artillery companies. The men bathed in a shallow creek, “but it is doubtful if their ablutions in that stream are productive of cleanliness,” opined the Richmond Whig in August of 1862.

Camp Lee, near Richmond, VA

Camp Lee, near Richmond, VA. Text from Confederate Military Hospitals in Richmond, by Robert W. Waitt, Jr., 1964.

On August 20, 1863  the 50th Georgia Regiment moved out to see their first real action.  but by that time company muster rolls  show that  Green Bullard was absent from the unit, with the note “Left at Lee’s Camp, Va. sick Aug 21st.”  On September 7, 1862  Bullard was admitted to the Confederate hospital at Huguenot Springs, VA. The hospital muster roll of October 31, 1862 marks him “present: Bounty Paid”.  He remained “absent, sick”  from Company I at least through February, 1863.

In 1862, the Huguenot Springs Hotel was converted to a Confederate hospital.

In 1862, the Huguenot Springs Hotel was converted to a Confederate hospital. On September 7, 1862 Private Green Bullard, Company I, 50th Georgia Infantry, was one of the patients convalescing at the hospital.

On June 19, 1863 he was admitted to Chimborazo Hospital No. 2, Richmond, VA  this time with typhoid pneumonia. Typhoid fever was a major killer during the war.

Chimborazo Hospital, the "hospital on the hill." Considered the "one of the largest, best-organized, and most sophisticated hospitals in the Confederacy."

Chimborazo Hospital, the “hospital on the hill.” Considered the “one of the largest, best-organized, and most sophisticated hospitals in the Confederacy.”
Library of Congress

Sometime before February of 1864 Green Bullard returned to his unit. Records show he drew pay on February 29, 1864 and again on August 31 of that year. By October, 1864 he was again sick, but remained with his company. He continued fighting through his illness through November and December,1864. It was during this period (1864) that the 50th Georgia Regiment was engaged in battles at The Wilderness (May 5–6, 1864), Spotsylvania Court House (May 8–21, 1864), North Anna (May 23–26, 1864), Cold Harbor (June 1–3, 1864, Petersburg Siege (June 1864-April 1865, and Cedar Creek (October 19, 1864.)

At Cedar Creek, it is estimated that the Georgia 50th Regiment suffered more than 50% casualties. Among those captured was Jesse Bostick of Company G, the Clinch Volunteers. Bostick was sent to Point Lookout, Maryland, one of the largest Union POW camps. (see Jesse Bostick and the Battle of Cedar Creek.)

Receiving and Wayside Hospital, Richmond, VA.  was an old tobacco warehouse converted to a receiving hospital because of its nearness to Virginia Central Railroad depot.

Receiving and Wayside Hospital, Richmond, VA. was an old tobacco warehouse converted to a receiving hospital because of its nearness to Virginia Central Railroad depot.

By January, 1865 Bullard was too weak to continue fighting. He was sent to Receiving and Wayside Hospital (General Hospital No. 9), Richmond, VA.  From there he was transferred to Jackson Hospital, Richmond, VA where he was admitted with dysentery,  which was perhaps the leading cause of death during the Civil War.  Two months later, March 14, 1865 Bullard was furloughed from Jackson Hospital. No further service records were found.  Following less than one month, on April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, VA ending the War.

Twice  as many Civil War soldiers died from disease as from battle wounds, the result  in considerable measure of poor sanitation in an era that created mass armies that  did not yet understand the transmission of infectious diseases like typhoid,  typhus, and dysentery… Confederate men died at a rate three times  that of their Yankee counterparts; one in five white southern men of military  age did not survive the Civil War.  http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/death.html

Despite the odds and repeated  bouts of serious illness, Green Bullard survived the war and returned to home and farm in Berrien County, GA.

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