Camp Townsend

In the fall of 1836,  following a number of skirmishes between militia companies and bands of Creek Indians who were resisting relocation to western territories there was a call for support of federal troops to provide protection for settlers in Lowndes County.  Companies of local militia under the command Levi J. Knight, Enoch Hall, Henry Blair, Henry S. Strickland, Samuel Swilley, Hamilton Sharpe, and others had fought engagements at William Parker’s place, Brushy Creek, Warrior Creek, Cow Creek, Troublesome Ford and other locales.

In response two companies of federal troops, about 200 men, under the command of Major Greenleaf Dearborn were assigned to Lowndes county.  Detailed to provide medical services for Dearborn’s command was Army surgeon Dr. Jacob Rhett Motte. The Federal troops first took up position at Franklinville, GA, then county seat of Lowndes County.  But after a few weeks relocated to a camp near the plantation of Thomas O. Townsend.  Townsend later owned property and practiced law at Troupville, GA.

Camp Townsend was situated about ten miles south of Franklinville, GA.

Dr. Motte, Army surgeon, described the new bivouac at Camp Townsend:

The situation at Camp Townsend was not celebrated for many beauties and ecellencies to make it an object of peculiar attraction. It was in one of the most extensive and most barren of all the pine-barrens in Georgia, where nothing is to [be] seen but pine-trees and saw-palmetto. To the North it was sheltered by lofty pine-trees; to the East it looked upon an extensive forest of over-grown pine-trees, most charmingly variegated by pine-trees of a smaller growth. A fine grove of majestic and venerable pine-trees protected the camp from the sun (whose heat was now acceptable) towards the South; and to the West, the eye was carried along over a glittering and smiling quagmire, abounding in toads, and tadpoles, and the view [was] terminated by the towering and thickly growing trunks of pine-trees, whose numbers were doubly increased by reflection in the puddles which beautifully diversified the aforesaid quagmire. A tender air of repose pervaded the whole scene.  The croaking of the thousand varieties of toads and tadpoles with which the quagmire abounded formed a concert of simple melody; the lowing of the cattle, which rove in native freedom through these woods, the grunting of the hogs who enjoy the same rural felicity; and the strokes of our men’s axes, partook of the softness of the scene, and fell tunefully upon the ear.   Amidst such Elysian happiness my mind could not fail being disposed to gentle pleasures and tranquil enjoyments.  The other senses also had their full share of delight; for I reveled in the good things of the land, which abounded with all manner of fish and flesh, and such like delightsome and wholesome excellencies.  I slept on Buffaloe skin – sat on Bear skin – and fed on venison and wild-turkies, with an occasional sprinkling of squirrel.

With the onset of cooler weather, troops were assigned as woodsmen to keep the camp supplied with firewood.

“The constant felling of pine-trees for fuel was a source of much annoyance to me. From morning to night the strokes of the axe were constantly heard at my ears…It took six pine-trees of the largest size to make one campfire every night. It was made this way; the largest trees in the neighborhood were selected, generally from two to three feet in diamitor; these were cut into lengths of twelve feet, and then rolled up to the front of the tent, distant from it about ten or twelve fee; two smaller pieces are laid upon the ground perpendicular to these, and parallel to one another to serve as andirons, lying towards the tents; upon these other large logs are piled to a height of five or six feet. We each of us had a brobdignag comforter of this description in front of our tents, and as soon as the sun set they commenced blazing with the fierceness of so many volcanies.

As our camp consisted of twenty tents, each of which had a fire in front, the scene presented at night was awfully grand and magnificently comfortable.  We burn’d such a large quantity of wood, that we cleared and used as fuel an acre per week of pine woods…

We had been encamped near Townsend’s clearing about three weeks, when our neighbours began to be too troublesome for a longer proximity. They displayed too great an affection towards our men by supplying them with – a soldier’s greatest luxury – whiskey, – thereby injuring their morals and keeping them constantly in the guard-tent. The Major commanding [Major Greenleaf Dearborn] saw the evil, and concluded to get out of its way. He therefore issued his orders on Monday night the 13th November, that we should all be ready to march the following morning by sun-rise.

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Boyette Sisters at Georgia State Womens College

Dorothy and Doris Boyette at Georgia State Womans College

Doris Boyett, of Ray City, GA at Georgia State Womans College, Valdosta, GA

Doris Boyett, of Ray City, GA at Georgia State Womans College, Valdosta, GA

Dorothy Boyett, of Ray City, GA at Georgia State Womans College, Valdosta, GA. 1945

Dorothy Boyett, of Ray City, GA at Georgia State Womans College, Valdosta, GA. 1945


In 1944, Doris Boyette was a senior at GSWC and her younger sister,  Dorothy “Dot” Boyette was a freshman.  Doris was born 27 Oct 1923; Dot was born May 14, 1926. The girls grew up just east of Ray City, GA, in the adjacent portion of Lanier County. Their parents were Eddie D. Boyette  and Mattie Deen Boyette.

At GSWC, Doris was living in Ashley Hall,  a dormitory for sophomores; her roommate was Clare Carson, who was president of the sophomore class.

October 4, 1944 GSWC Campus Canopy mentions petite blond Dorothy "Doris" Boyette, of Ray City, GA

October 4, 1944 GSWC Campus Canopy mentions petite blond Doris Boyette, of Ray City, GA

Among the Boyette’s 1945 classmates was Carolyn DeVane, also of Ray City, GA. There have been many other Ray City women of G.S.W.C. over the years.

Ashley Hall, Georgia State Womans College, Valdosta, GA 1845

Ashley Hall, Georgia State Womans College, Valdosta, GA 1845


The girls’ activities in 1944-45 included the Polio Drive, scrap paper salvage, planting the Camellia Trail, and dancing with those men from Moody Airfield.  The May 9, 1944 edition of the Campus Canopy student newspaper reported. “It’s boy trouble for Dot Boyette…which of the four do you intend dating Sunday night, Dot? – Gee, we wish we could get one date. ”

1945 women of GSWC at Saturday night dance with the men from Moody Airfield.

1945 women of GSWC at Saturday night dance with the men from Moody Airfield.

The October 4, 1944 school newspaper reported:

“There they were, standing all alone just waiting for us to ask them to dance…Men, men and more men and not one of them had a chance.
    To quote one Freshman, Ann Maddox, “It was wonderful just to look at a man.”
    The dance was swell, but that familiar tap on another’s shoulder could mean one of two things…height of ecstacy or depths of despair…’til the next girl broke. This from Lawanda McCellar, as if she were just tearing herself away from it all.
    “Course I wished my fella had been there,” sighed Mary Tharpe, but what chance would I have had with him if he had been.”
    Annes Jean NeSmith summed it all up in a few words…”Plenty of men, good dancers, nice plausible lines, and I can hardly wait ’til next Saturday night.”
    “I’m still overcome by the sight of those men, to express an honest opinion.” says Betsy Markert still in a daze.
    “All in all the opinion of Converse is that it was wonderful and everybody had a good time, but give us men. We see women all week, is the general idea.
    Favorable opinions were not limited to the college girls though. Several of the Moody Field boys were carefully eavesdropped on. Result: “I just can’t believe it, so many girls. If I were to write my mother and say 15 girls cut in on me she would say I was crazy drunk, or lying.”

The hit songs those college girls were swooning to in 1944-45?  The Campus Canopy mentioned:

In 1945, Dorothy Boyett was elected treasurer of the Baptist Student Union.  In the Winter Quarter, 1945 Dorothy “Dot” Boyette was elected to the Sophomore Council.  “Members of the house council check lights, cards and attend the simple cases of Student Government violation. They are elected at the beginning of each quarter to serve a term of three months.”  Dot Boyett also served on the advertising staff and the business staff of the Campus Canopy.

By late 1945 Dorothy Boyette left Georgia State Womans College and was working in Brunswick, GA.

Dot married Charles Gordon Howell. He was a grandson of Caswell Howell, pioneer settler and one of the first ministers of the First Baptist Church of Lakeland, GA. Dot and Charles raised crops and children in Lakeland, GA. Their son, Charles Howell, Jr. became Chief of Pediatric Surgery at the Medical College of Georgia. Their grandson, Charles Howell III, is a professional golfer.  Dorothy Boyette died June 2,1985. Interrment was at Lakeland City Cemetery, Lakeland, GA.

Doris Boyette married John Sears and moved to Atlanta, GA.

Obituary of Doris Boyette Sears

Doris Doris Boyett Sears age 87, of Atlanta, GA, passed on Sunday, June 26, 2011. She was predeceased by her husband, John Sears, daughter, Susan Elaine Sears, sisters, Irene B. Smith and Dorothy B. Howell. She is survived by her daughter, Pamela McKinney of Lawrenceville, sister, Louise Davidson of Bonaire, GA, brother, Earl Boyett of Lakeland, GA. 2 grandchildren, Robert Morris and Jennifer Shelton, 4 great grandchildren, Kayla Shelton, Savannah Shelton, Avri Shelton and Joshua Morris, numerous nieces and nephews, cousins and extended family also survive. Mrs. Sears was a charter member of the Johns Creek Baptist Church, a member of the Senior Choir, a Food Pantry Volunteer and an avid Gardner. A Funeral Service to Celebrate the Life of Mrs. Sears will be at 3:00 P.M. on Thursday, June 30, 2011 at Wages Lawrenceville Chapel. Interment will follow in the White Chapel Memorial Gardens, Duluth.

Dr. Motte Arrives at Franklinville, GA, 1836

In the midst of the Second Seminole War young Dr. Motte, a Harvard educated Army surgeon, found himself detailed for duty at Franklinville, GA to provide medical care for soldiers under the command of Major Greenleaf Dearborn.  The arrival of federal troops in Lowndes County in late September of 1836 followed  a series of engagements between local miltia and Native Americans who were fleeing to Florida to avoid forced removal to western lands.  Levi J. Knight, pioneer settler of Ray City, GA, had led a company of men in a skirmish at William Parker’s place on July 12, 1836, and from July through August, engagements were fought at Brushy Creek, Little River, Grand Bay, Troublesome Ford, Warrior Creek and Cow Creek.

Dr. Motte recorded his experiences in Lowndes County in a journal he kept of his military service. This part of his story picks up in the first days of Autum, 1836…

In consequence of the great alarm excited in the southern counties of Georgia by murders and depredations committed by the Creek Indians who were endeavoring to escape into Florida from Alabama, Governor Schley had petitioned Gen. Jesup to station some troops in Ware or Lowndes County, that being the least populous and most defenceless portion of the country through which the Indians were passing.  It was also liable to invasions from the Seminoles, as it bordered upon Florida.  In compliance with this request, Major [Greenleaf] Dearborn with two companies of Infantry was ordered to proceed immediately to the above counties in Georgia, and there establish himself.  These counties being so far south and in a low swampy part of the country had the worst possible reputation for health, and going there at this season of the year was almost considered certain death to a white man and stranger unacclimated.  It was necessary then to send some surgeon with the troops, that it may not be said they died without proper medical attendance; and also that they might have a chance of a surgeon in the other world to physic them. Dr. Lawson, the Medical Director, was therefore instructed by Gen. Jesup to select some on of the surgeons for this duty; and the Doctor with his usual friendly discrimination, whenever there was any particularly disagreeable duty to be done, picked upon me. [Dr. Thomas Lawson, Medical Director at Fort Mitchell, was appointed Surgeon General of the United States on November 30, 1836.] So away I was ordered, to die of fever as I thought amidst the swamps of Lowndes County.  Major Dearborn to whom I was ordered to report myself was at Irwinton [Eufala, AL], sixty miles below Fort Mitchell, on the Alabama side of the Chatahooche. It was therefore necessary for me to proceed there forthwith alone….

I found Major Dearborn encamped two miles from Irwinton, and after reporting myself to him rode over to visit Major Lomax, who was also stationed in the neighbourhood with his battalion of Artillery.

On the 29th Sept we took up the line of march for Lowndes County, Georgia, and after crossing the Chattahooche advanced fifteen miles the first day over the most wretched roads that ever disfigured the face of the earth.  We proceeded by easy marches, generally resting in the middle of the day when we took our food, which was prepared before we started in the early morn and again when we encamped for the the night. The second night I slept in a church by the roadside…The third night we slept in the midst of a pine barren. The fourth near the banks of the Kinchafoonee River upon the site of an old Indian town [Chehaw village, where Georgia militia massacred Creek Indians in 1818]

Dr. Jacob Motte's 1836 route to Franklinville, GA

Dr. Jacob Motte’s 1836 route to Franklinville, GA

The fifth night, the surgeon was coming down with fever. Of the sixth day, he wrote that the column had passed through Pindartown, in present day Worth County, GA.  According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Pindartown was of considerable importance in the early days. When the Creek lands changed hands in 1821, the village was bought from the Indians. Pindartown served as the only post office between the Ocmulgee and Flint rivers in the early days. The town was located at the head of navigation on the Flint River, and the stagecoach road between Milledgeville and Tallahassee, Florida, went through Pindartown.

Continuing his narrative of the travel on October 4, 1836, Motte wrote of his worsening condition.

We crossed the Flint river, and had got beyond Pinderton in Baker county, when the exertion proved too great for me, for fever with its dreadful hold had seized on my very life-springs; and finding myself unable to keep my saddle, I was forced to dismount and lie down upon the road until one of the baggage wagons came up, when I was helped into it. The torture I endured for four days during which I was conveyed in this vehicle of torment cannot be expressed in language.  My anxiety, however, to continue with the troops, enabled me to support the greatest agony for some time. 

Motte’s description of the rude and uncomfortable travel by wagon over the stage roads matches the perceptions of  Charles Joseph La Trobe, an English traveler and writer, who in 1833 rode from Tallahassee, FL to Milledgeville, GA  via the weekly stagecoach. La Trobe observed “The roads through the south of Georgia are in the roughest state.

The rough roads in the heat of an Indian summer in south Georgia were too much for the feverish Dr. Motte.

The thin covering to the wagon afforded my burning brain no protection against the heat of a vertical sun in this latitude, and the constant jolting over the rugged roads and roots of trees was fast driving me into a dreadful tempest of delirium. Human nature could endure such suffering no longer, and with reluctance I was compelled to be left in a log-house which stood beside the road in Thomas county, ten miles from Florida. The occupant, whose name was Adams, seemed a kind hearted man, and he promised to bestow [upon me] all the care in his power. Fortunately I retained my reasoning faculties, and I was enabled to prescribe for myself the proper medicines…

… By aid of a good constitution I was at last enabled to master the disease, and after ten days confinement to bed, again stood upon my legs. …On the 21st Oct I had regained sufficient strength to ride my horse; so on that day I bid farewell to my kind and hospitable host…and following upon the trail of the troops, proceeded to rejoin them.

The route of the troops from Thomasville toward Franklinville would have undoubtedly been along the Coffee Road.     Coffee Road, the military road constructed by John Coffee and Thomas Swain in 1823 became the first route opening up the south central Georgia region to pioneer settlers.  In this section the road passed through Thomas county, Lowndes county, and present day Berrien county, continuing on to its terminus at Jacksonville, GA on the Ocmulgee River. From Thomasville heading east via the Coffee Road, Dearborn’s company could reach Sharpe’s Store which was just fifteen miles west of Franklinville, GA

Now traveling alone and by horseback, Motte’s perception of  conditions along the rough-cut roads are in marked contrast to his torturous wagon ride.

Autumn with its refreshing sunshine had now superceded the heat of summer, and its hollow winds, with mournful sound announcing the approach of dreary winter, were driving the leaves about in eddying course; their rustling alone broke the stillness of the scene as I journeyed slowly through the wide forests, which were now throwing off their garb of sturdy vigour and assuming the ostentatious and gaudy livery of the season. The beauty of woodland scenery is always heightened just before the chilly winter throws its icy influence over their bloom. and envelopes them in a robe of dusky brown.  Then it is that the gorgeous and fantastic blending of green, yellow, crimson, purple and scarlet, which tinge the distant prospect, defies the art of the painter, who endeavours in vain to imitate successfully the varied hues of nature.

On the evening of the 22nd Oct I arrived at Franklinville, which is the only town in the whole of Lowndes county, and contains only three log-houses one of which is a court-house, and another the Post-office; the third is a store. This great place is situated on the upper Withlacooché, and here I found the troops encamped. They were preparing to move farther south, and nearer to Florida; and the day after I joined, the tents were struck, the Withlachooché crossed, and after marching ten miles in a southerly direction, a new place of encampment was selected near the plantation of a Mr. Townsend.

[Thomas O. Townsend was one of the first settlers of Lowndes County, and later owned several lots in the town of Troupville.]

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Berrien County Paid Terrible Toll on the Otranto

When the troopship Otranto went down on October 6, 1918 near the end of World War I,  Ray City and Berrien County, GA paid a heavy toll. Among the hundreds of Otranto dead were dozens of soldiers from Berrien.  For weeks news of the disaster trickled into American newspapers. Facts were sketchy at best –  In some cases, soldiers who perished in the sinking were incorrectly reported as survivors. The article below incorrectly reported the Irish coast as the site of the sinking. In actuality, the ship went down of the coast of the Isle of Islay, Scotland.  It would nearly two months before the names of the lost were known to the folks at home…

Atlanta Constitution
November 28, 1918

Berrien County Paid Big Toll On The Otranto

Nashville, Ga., November 27.- (Special.) – Berrien county paid a terrible toll in the loss of her young men when the ill-fated Otranto went down off the Irish coast a few weeks ago [October 6, 1918];  in today’s list seven new names of dead from here were added the to already heavy toll.  The names of the dead in today’s list include:

Joe Wheeler, son of John Wheeler, of this city; Lester Handcock, son of Joe Handcock, of Enigma;
William P. Hays, father unknown [George Robert Hayes, died 1914], of Enigma; James M. McMillen, son of Jake McMillen, of Alapaha; Ben F. McCranie, son of Neil McCranie, of Adel. Mr. McCranie had heretofore lost his son-in-law, Gordon Flowers, killed in action some weeks ago. Shelby [Shellie] L. Webb, son of Thomas Webb, of Ray City; Arthur Harper, son of Peter Harper, of Alapaha.
     Those Berrien county boys reported lost prior to this report include Jim Boyett, son of Jack Boyett, of Milltown; Guy Coppage, son of Guy G. Coppage, of Cecil; Lafayette Gaskins, son of Bart Gaskins, of Ray City; Bennie E. Griner, son of Ben Griner, of this city; Robert J. Hancock, son of J. J. Hancock, of Lenox, George H. Hutto, son of Luke Hutto, of Adel; Mack Easters, son of Benjamin Easters, of Lenox; George B. Faircloth, son of Colon Easters, of Milltown; Thomas H. Holland, son of K. H. Holland, of Adel; Ralph Knight, son of Walt Knight, of Ray City; William McMillen, son of B. [Burrell] McMillen of Enigma; John F. Moor, son of Frank Moor, of Adel; Charley Railey, son of John Railey, of Alapaha; William C. Zeigler, son of J. W. [Jesse] Zeigler, of Sparks; Thomas J. Sirmans, son of Mose Sirmans, of this city; Richard [Rufus] Davis, father unknown [Elisha E. Davis].
     The dead from this accident bring Berrien county’s total to about 45 fatalities from all causes during the war. Based upon population, this county has undoubtedly suffered greater loss in men dead than any other county in this state, because of so many of her boys on board the Otranto.  The people here will take steps to preserve the memory of these boys by appropriate construction on the public square, it is said.

Atlanta Constitution, November 28, 1918 - Berrien County Paid Big Toll on the Otranto

Atlanta Constitution, November 28, 1918 – Berrien County Paid Big Toll on the Otranto


Otranto Stories in Ray City History

An Inquest Into the Death of Jesse Webb

Jesse Webb Murdered by Ben Furlong

As previously told,  Jesse Webb was the last victim of Berrien County desperado Ben W. Furlong.  Webb was  shot, knifed, brutalized and, after three days of agony, finally bludgeoned to death with a sledge hammer on September 9, 1886 at Furlong’s Mill.  The mill was situated at Sniff, GA on the route of the Brunswick & Albany Railroad near the county line between Berrien and Coffee counties.


Alapaha Star

October 2, 1886


Wednesday morning  [September 22, 1886] acting coroner J. A. Slater and a jury of eight men repaired to Furlong’s mill, five miles east of Alapaha. On arriving there several witnesses were summoned. Jim Simmons, col., was the first witness sworn. He testified that the down freight on Tuesday, September 7th put a colored man off and the conductor told Furlong to take him and work him. The man said he —- want work there. When —- left the colored man started —- it. Furlong told him if —–not come back he would f— him full of shot, went in — the commissary to get his gun The negro came back and F—ong handcuffed him and put Lo—- – white man, as guard over —. About an hour from night f— — –gro made a break for liberty. —

— ran to a swamp seve— hu—– yards south of —— —— —– —-
Furlong was about the —– tance behind Lofton. The —ness ran after Furlong, hoping to keep him from killing the ——. Soon after the pursuers and -ursued were lost to sight in the swamp. The witness heard a gun or pistol shot and stopped. In the pursuit Furlong carried a double barreled gun. In a few minutes he returned, without the gun, and said to the witness, “If you breathe a word about this I will kill you.” He afterwards told witness, “If you mention a word of this affair to a living being I know three men that will swear you did the shooting, and your neck will snap.” Tuesday night [September 7, 1886] Furlong, Tom Sharon and J. M. Lofton took Simmons down to where the wounded man lay. They were all armed with double-barreled guns. When they reached the wounded man they told Simmons to assist Sharon in getting the handcuffs off him. While they were thus engaged Furlong drew his knife and tried to cut the wounded man’s throat. Simmons caught his arm and begged him not to kill the man. He then made a lunge at Simmons’ — — —– —- —-

1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-inquest-2him. Wednesday morning [September 8, 1886] Simmons took the wounded man a bottle of water. The man begged him to take him to one of the shanties. Furlong refused to let him bring him. Later that day he told Lofton the man ought to have something to eat. He was helpless but could talk. The witness did not see the wounded man after Wednesday night.

Thursday night [September 9, 1886] Furlong set for Simmons and told him he wanted him to go with him that night. Simmons told him he was too sick to go.

Several other witnesses were examined, but we have only space for the most important.

Mr. James Cross, white, testified that he came at night Tuesday the 7th, and that Furlong asked him to go and stay at his house that night, as his wife was frightened about something. He did so. About 9 o’clock Furlong came in but remained only a minute. Wednesday night [September 8, 1886] Furlong, Lofton and Sharon stayed out nearly all night. Thursday night they left about 8 o’clock, returned about 9 o’clock, changed clothes, putting on their worst clothes and old shoes, and left again. They were absent until three o’clock. Witness did not –e —- — — morning their pants were wet and muddy to their knees and Sharon’s coat was wet to the pockets. He questioned them but they would not tell where they had been or what they had done.

None of the witnesses saw the man after he died, nor were any of them willing to say that he had been killed, although they felt satisfied that such was the case. The main actors in this brutal tragedy were absent, one in his grave and the other two had fled.

After hearing the testimony of the coroner, the jury and a number of white and colored men scoured the woods and bays and branches for miles, in search of the missing man, but without success. Not a trace was found as to where his body had been hidden.

When the party returned to the mill, it was given as a rumor that the man had been buried in the horse lot, just back of the commissary

Several men, with iron rods, went to the lot and probed it. In one place the rod went down 1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-5— feet in loose earth, but it was not thought at the time it be the man’s grave. It being late in the afternoon [Wednesday, September 22, 1886] the jury adjourned to Saturday, to await the arrival of important witnesses. Just as Alapaha was reached Mr. James Cross came galloping in and announced that the body had been found in the horse lot where the iron rod had sunk in the ground. Several colored men were sent back to guard the body till Thursday morning.

Thursday [September 23, 1886] about nine o’clock the coroner and jury returned to Furlong’s mill. The jury at once repaired to the horse lot and were soon at work exhuming the body of Jesse Webb, this being the name by which the murdered man was said to be known.

After digging a depth of two —and a half or three feet, in the —- –st corner of the lot, between —- — —d and the forage house —- — -ands near the railroad —- —- body was re—– —– —- on his —- — —- —————————- out property. Decomposition had set in and his flesh would peel off at a touch. With the aid of crocus sacks, which were placed under him, the end of which extended out on either side, he was lifted out of the grave and placed in a box.  On examination the skull was found crushed in on the left side just above the ear, seemingly with a large hammer, perhaps a sledge-hammer. On the right side, a short distance from the forehead, and about an inch from the center of the head the skull was also crushed in, the hole being fully an inch and a half in circumference. In the man’s mouth was a roll of waste, such as is used for packing the boxes on car wheels.  The evidence showed that Furlong, Lofton and Sharon were at the commissary about midnight Thursday night, when Furlong asked first Gammage and then Simmons to go with him that night.  What they did after that is left to conjecture, but the presumptive evidence is that they prepared themselves and proceeded to where the wounded negro lay, rammed the waste into his mouth and down his throat, so that he could not cry out when struck, and then crushed in his skull, dragged him a hundred yards through the woods — buggy, hauled him to the lot and buried him.  1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-6All this was done inside of three hours.

The jury of the inquest will sit in Alapaha to-day, when doubtless a verdict will be reached.

This is beyond doubt the most brutal murder that has ever darkened the annals of out county.  This unoffending negro was handcuffed and when he made an effort to regain his freedom, was pursued and shot after he was caught. Paralyzed in every limb, he lay in a dense swamp from about an hour before sundown, Tuesday evening, September 7th, until the following Thursday night at 12 o’clock. During all this time he had one drink of water and one meal, notwithstanding he was less than four hundred yards from several houses. Thursday night, at midnight, three white demons, braced with whiskey, which was the real cause of the crime, advanced through the gloomy swamp to where the helpless man lay and murdered him in the manner already stated.

Furlong, the leader in this horrible murder, is in his grave, but his accomplices are still at large. No time should be lost in bringing them to justice.

The first part of this article was — — would be an inquest.

Nathan Bridges and Jesse Woolbright, two colored men of this place, deserve honorable mention for their unceasing efforts to aid the jury in finding the body and for their attention to the jury while hearing evidence.

Related Posts:

The Ghost of Ben Furlong, Berrien County Desperado

More on Berrien County, GA Desperado, Benjamin William Furlong

Back Story on Benjamin William Furlong

The Vanceville Affair

Ben Furlong’s Ghost Haunted Conscience of Berrien Residents

Southern Georgia: Railroad Pamphlet

The Haints of Berrien County

More Haints of Berrien County

Alapaha Star Reports 1886 Demise of Ben Furlong

Ben Furlong (circa 1854-1886),
Desperado of Berrien County, GA

Ben Furlong was perhaps the most notorious outlaw ever known in Berrien County, GA. Furlong, a sawmill man when he wasn’t on the bottle, frequented the communities along the tracks of the Brunswick & Western Railroad – Sniff, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Enigma and Vanceville.


The Brunswick & Western Railroad linked the communities of northern Berrien County with Brunswick, GA to the east and Albany GA to the west, and connected with the larger Plant Railway.

Furlong was a philandererwife beater and a killer, wanted for dozens of criminal charges including the shooting of B&W engineer Chuck Brock and passenger Will Harrell, and cutting the throat of another passenger.  It was said he committed his first murder at the age of 15. Some said after his demise his ghost haunted the scene of his final, heinous crime.

After his September 24, 1886 death  Furlong’s infamy was literally told around the world. But the most detailed accounting of  Furlong’s final days was published in the Alapaha Star, Berrien County’s own “splendid newspaper” edited by Irishman J. W. Hanlon (Hanlon had previously served as editor of the Berrien County News,  Albany Medium, and later edited the Quitman Sun and wrote humorous works under the pen name Bob Wick).



Alapaha Star

October 2, 1886


A Negro and — the Body In His Stock Lot – Suicide —- The Negroe’s Body Found —- —- – Inquest – A Horrified —- Etc.

Friday evening of last week [September 24, 1886], after the Star had gone to press news reached town that B. W. Furlong, who has been conducting a saw mill at sniff in this county, was dead, from the effects of a dose of laudanum, taken with suicidal intent. Before going to his room about twelve o’clock he asked his wife to forgive him for all he had ever done, and told her that he would go away from there in a few days and begin a new life. He called his children to him and spoke kindly to them and asked them not to disturb him, as he wanted to take a long sleep. He then went to his room, closed the door and, it is supposed, took the fatal dose. Later in the afternoon some one entered the —m, on hearing a strange —– — —– — dead.

Mr. Furlong had been drinking heavily for some weeks, and his creditors, knowing his business to be in a shaky condition, a day or two before his death had his property attached. Mr. Silas O’Quin, of this place, went down Friday morning to levy on some of his property, and found him rational, but wild-looking. He informed Mr. O’Quin that he had shot a negro about two weeks previous to that time and it was supposed that he was dead. This conversation occured about 11 a. m.

Mr. Furlong’s body was taken to Waresboro Sunday morning [September 26, 1886] for interment.

Immediately after his death rumors of the killing of the negro began to circulate, and on Friday evening [September 24, 1886], for the first time, they reached Alapaha. It seems that Furlong had been short of hands for several weeks.  A negro boarded the B. & W. R. R. at some point and stated that he was hunting work, and that he had no1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-2a money. The conductor, knowing that Furlong needed hands, took the negro to Sniff and turned him over to —- was taking to Furlong got off —-Willachoochee,
where he had work. The negro objected strenuously to being put off, and refused to work. Shortly after the train left, the negro walked off in the direction of Willacoochee, but was soon discovered by Furlong, who brought him back, handling him pretty rough in doing so.

Furlong then handcuffed him. That evening, after dark, according to report, the negro slipped out of the commissary and had gone some distance out on the tram-road when he was missed. He was still handcuffed. Lofton, a white man, in Furlong’s employ, discovered the fleeing negro and showed Furlong the direction he had taken. Furlong pursued him with a double-barreled gun, and in a short time the report of the gun was heard. Furlong returned without the negro. Before he reached the mill he met a mulatto who was a trusted employe, who had started after Furlong, hoping to prevent him from shooting the negro. Furlong told him that he had shot the negro and that if he divulged it, he, Furlong, had men there who would swear that he, the mulatto, did the shooting. Later in the night Lofton and the mulatto were sent by Furlong to the wounded man —- — ——— –. — ——- was shot through the neck and was completely paralyzed, except his tongue. When he saw Lofton he said: “if it hadn’t been for you Mr. Furlong would not have shot me.” This mulatto says he carried the wounded man something to eat later in the night. This was Tuesday night. It is reported that the negro lay there until Thursday night, when he disappeared. That night Furlong ordered out three mules, one for a wagon and two to be saddled. Where they went is not known, but the supposition is that the mission was to take the body to some deep water, weight it and sink it out of sight.

Lofton has fled, and his whereabouts are unknown. It is said that he is well connected in Atlanta. The mulatto is named Jim Simmons and is here.

Last Sunday [September 26, 1886] a crowd of whites and blacks went down to the Alapaha river and dragged for the body of the missing 1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-3anegro at the bridge at Moore’s old mill, but without success.

It is now rumored that the —- was concealed in a branch — of the mill.

But those rumors would turn out to be wrong, the mill branch concealed no body. An inquest into the fate of Jesse Webb was about to uncover the ultimate cause of death and the true location of the body.


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Dr. Jacob Rhett Motte: Army Surgeon

In the fall of 1836 at the onset of the Second Seminole War, Dr. Jacob Rhett Motte became perhaps the first surgeon in Lowndes County, GA, which then encompassed a vast area including all of present day Lowndes, Berrien, Brooks, Cook, Lanier and Echols counties. Motte was the first of the medical men anywhere in the vicinity of the pioneer homesteaders at the settlement now known as Ray City, GA. Dr. Motte, a U.S. Army surgeon detailed to serve under the command of Major Greenleaf Dearborn, had come to Franklinville, GA which was the first government seat and post office of Lowndes County.

The early pioneers of the area cheered the deployment of federal troops, and the arrival of a doctor was especially welcome.  But to Dr. Motte, the assignment for duty in Lowndes was most unwelcome, in his words the county “being so far south and in a low swampy part of the country had the worst possible reputation for health, and going there at this season of the year was almost considered certain death to a white man and stranger unacclimated.”

The Milledgeville Federal Union reported the arrival of United States troops in Lowndes County.

September 27, 1836 Milledgeville Federal Union reports Major Greenleaf Dearborn and 200 federal troops have taken up position in Lowndes County, GA.

September 27, 1836 Milledgeville Federal Union reports Major Greenleaf Dearborn and 200 federal troops have taken up position in Lowndes County, GA.

 Milledgeville Federal Union
September 27, 1836

United States Troops in Lowndes.

It is stated that Gen. Jesup has ordered Maj. Dearborn with about two hundred United States regulars, into Lowndes county, for the protection of that and the surrounding country against the depredations of Indians. It is anticipated that when operations shall be renewed in Florida, parties of Creek Indians, perhaps accompanied by the Seminole allies, will return through our southwestern counties to their ancient homes; and this force is designed, we learn, as a preparation for such a state of things. – Gen. Jesup has been at Tallahassee, and it was there understood, that he would be invited by Gov. Call to take command of the Florida forces.

As Native American inhabitants of Georgia, Alabama and Florida forcibly resisted removal to western lands, the summer of 1836 had erupted into a string of violent encounters. On or about July 12, 1836 Levi J. Knight led a company of men in a skirmish at William Parker’s place. In subsequent days, engagements were fought at Brushy Creek, Little River, Grand Bay, Troublesome Ford, Warrior Creek and Cow Creek.

About Dr. Motte…

Young Jacob Rhett Motte,  descendant of two distinguished and colorful South Carolinian families, graduated with an A .B. degree from Harvard University in 1832. Disappointed at his failure to receive an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, he returned to his home in Charleston. There he entered the Medical College of South Carolina and served his apprenticeship under the direction of a Doctor J. E. Holbrook. Upon the completion of his medical studies he became a citizen M. D. at the United States Government Arsenal in Augusta, Georgia. A yearning for a military career finally led the young physician to Baltimore where in March, 1836, he was examined by the Army Medical Board. His application for a commission as Assistant Surgeon was approved on March 21, and around the first of June he was ordered to active duty with the Army in the Creek Nation. For seven months he participated in the so-called Second Creek War in Georgia and Alabama-an action which was nothing more than the employment of about 10,000 regular and volunteer troops in a giant round-up of the demoralized and dispossessed Creek Indians. Early in 1837 he was transferred to the Army in Florida and for the next fourteen months took part in the campaigns against the Seminole Indians.

During his period of service with the Army in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, Motte faithfully kept a journal in which he recorded, in a fascinating style, his travels, experiences, activities, observations and impressions.

-James F. Sunderman

According to The Army Medical Department, 1818-1865,

President Jackson decided that it was necessary to move Army units into Georgia, Alabama, and Florida to force the removal of the Seminoles and Creeks, a step that had the added effect of intimidating the most reluctant members of the other three tribes. Although the Creeks put up less resistance to removal than the Seminoles, the possibility of wholesale active resistance caused the Army to order sixteen companies of regular troops from artillery and infantry regiments, more than 1,000 men, south by mid-1836 to assist over 9,000 state troops in rounding up the reluctant members of this tribe in preparation for their removal. In the course of the following six months, over 14,000 Creeks left the area under Army escort.

The Medical Department provided medical supplies for some of those going west, including the Cherokees, Choctaws, and Chickasaws, for which it was reimbursed from a special fund by the “Indian department,” and medical officers also vaccinated large groups from the various tribes for smallpox. At least one Army surgeon, Eugene Abadie, was sent with the Creeks and specifically designated “Surgeon to Emigrating Indians” although, except for surgeons assigned to Army escorts, physicians accompanying groups of migrating Indians were apparently usually civilians. Abadie reported that many Indians fell sick during their march, fevers, dysentery, and diarrhea being the most common ills, and that many died, especially the very old and the very young. Abadie appears to have left the Creeks shortly after their arrival in the West, for he was at Fort Brooke, Florida, in August 1837.

Some of those whose duty it was to assist in the removal of the members of these tribes were well aware of the tragedy involved. Although he was not assigned to accompany the Creeks as they moved west, Assistant Surgeon Jacob Rhett Motte, who was then attached to one of the artillery units in the territory of the Creeks, studied their language and learned to respect them as a people. He watched at least 500 Creeks being brought in chains to Fort Mitchell, Alabama, and deplored the melancholy spectacle as these proud monarchs of the soil were marched off from their native land to a distant country, which to their anticipations presented all the horrors of the infernal regions. There were several who committed suicide rather than endure the sorrow of leaving the spot where rested the bones of their ancestors. The failure of his attempt to escape the round-up drove one warrior to self destruction; the fact that the only weapon at his disposal was an extremely dull knife did not deter him. With it he made several ineffectual efforts to cut his throat, but it not proving sharp enough, he with both hands forced it into his chest over the breast bone, and his successive violent thrusts succeeded in dividing the main artery, when he bled to death.

The troops based at Fort Mitchell during the Creek removal suffered primarily from dysentery and diarrhea, which Motte blamed on “the rotten limestone water of the country.” The sick were sheltered in two small buildings, each with a ten-foot wide piazza shading it from the summer’s sun. Both structures were in poor condition, with split floor boards and rooms without ceilings. Neither had been intended to serve as a hospital, but the building constructed for this purpose was on private land and had been taken over as a home, apparently by the family owning the land. The diseases endured by the men who came to the facility were, for the most part, fevers, probably malarial, and, in hot weather, diarrhea and dysentery. An epidemic of measles broke out in the fall of 1836, and the surgeon was occasionally called upon to treat the victims of delirium tremens or even of poison ivy. By the summer of 1836 the facility was serving as a general hospital, taking in both Regular Army patients from the garrison and men from the Alabama volunteers, recently back from Florida and the war against the Seminoles.

Character of the Second Seminole War

A brief show of strength served to eliminate Creek resistance, but an increasing number of attacks on white families and ambushes of small Army units emphasized the determination of the Seminoles never to leave their homes. In the last weeks of 1835, the conflict erupted into open warfare. In the guerrilla struggle that followed, Army regulars and members of various state units sent to subdue the Seminoles fought in an unfamiliar and dangerous land, “healthy in winter but sickly in summer; . . . a most hideous region,” where insects and bacteria alike throve and multiplied.”

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More Ray City Women of G.S.W.C

West Hall, Georgia State Womans College, 1945

West Hall, Georgia State Womans College, 1945

From 1922 to 1950 the state college in Valdosta, GA was known as Georgia State Womans College (now know as Valdosta State University”.  A number of Ray City women who attended the college during this period were featured in a previous post. Here are a few more who appeared in available yearbooks:

Doris and Dot Boyette were daughters of Eddie D. Boyette  and Mattie Deen Boyette. Their home was in Lanier County, just east of Ray City.

Doris Boyett, of Ray City, GA at Georgia State Womans College, Valdosta, GA

Doris Boyett, of Ray City, GA, 1942 sophomore at Georgia State Womans College, Valdosta, GA

Dorothy Boyette

Dorothy Boyett, of Ray City, GA at Georgia State Womans College, Valdosta, GA

Dorothy Boyett, of Ray City, GA. 1945 sophomore at Georgia State Womans College, Valdosta, GA

Carolyn DeVane was a daughter of Caulie A Devane and Alma L. Albritton. She grew up in the Lois community just west of Ray City, GA.

Carolyn DeVane, 1945, Freshman

Carolyn DeVane, 1945, Freshman

Marian Hambrick, sister of Thera Hambrick, was a daughter of Ruth and John O. Hambrick. Her family’s place was in the Cat Creek community, just southwest of Ray City.

Marian Hambrick, 1941, Freshman

Marian Hambrick, 1941, Freshman


Louise Paulk was a daughter of  Gladys Daniels and James M. Paulk. Her father died when she was a toddler and her mother remarried Hun Knight. Her step-father was the owner of the Mayhaw Lake amusement park at Ray City.  Her half-brother was Jack Knight, who attended college at Valdosta after the school went co-educational.

Louise Paulk, 1939, GSWC

Louise Paulk, 1939, GSWC

Marilyn Faye Weaver was a daughter of John W. Weaver and Irene Guthrie. The Weaver farm was just east of Ray City in the 1300 Georgia Militia District in Lanier County, GA.


Marilyn Weaver, 1949, freshman at Georgia State Womans College.

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Lowndes County Seat Almost Sunk in 1827

After the territory of south Georgia was opened with cutting of the Coffee Road, the Georgia Legislature acted on December 23, 1825 to  create Lowndes County.  It was around this time that the Knights first came to Lowndes county and settled in that portion which was later cut into Berrien County.    It has been said the first Courts and first elections in Lowndes County were held at the house of Sion Hall,  who built an Inn on the Coffee Road, and that in 1828 William Smith’s place on the Withlacoochee River was chosen as the county seat. A courthouse was constructed on this site and a town, named Franklinville, was platted.

But an article from the Savannah Georgian dated July 12, 1827 suggests a courthouse was constructed in Lowndes prior to 1828. Did this article refer to Hall’s Inn, situated on land lot No. 271, 12th District, about 1 1/2 miles north of present day Morven, GA?  Or was a courthouse constructed at William Smith’s place prior to the incorporation of Franklinville?

Either way, the article documents that sinkholes were a part of pioneer Georgia.

July 12, 1827 A sinkhole was reported at Franklinville, GA

July 12, 1827 A sinkhole was reported at Franklinville, GA?

Savannah Georgian
July 12, 1827

Natural Curiosities. – Travellers in the low country have related to us the following facts:
     A spot of earth, about an acre in extent, near the court house in Lowndes County, suddenly gave way not long since, and sunk to the depth of a hundred feet!  The place is now covered with water, the trees standing as they grew – the tallest pines being 20 or 30 feet below the level of the surrounding country.  Small ponds like this are frequently met with in the lower part of the state, and are called Lime Sinks – produced probably by the action of subterraneous streams.
     In Thomas county, the waters of two creeks, at their junction, formerly made a lake of considerable size, and then ran off in a large rivulet.  But about a year and a half ago, the water of the lake found a subterranean outlet – the bed of the rivulet, as well as the whole lake, has become entirely dry and covered with luxuriant grass, &c. The lake disappeared so suddenly, that tons of fishes, terrapins, and alligators totally unapprised of its intentions, were left behind.
     Travellers speak of the large Ponds or Lakes in Florida, as objects of curiosity. In Armonia Pond are several large Islands, said to be floating!  A circumstance is mentioned of an individual having purchased a small Island, in this pond, which, when he went the second time to see, could not be found! He afterwards heard of it in another part of the lake several miles from where he left it.
     Jackson Pond, in Florida, is said to be increasing in extent – the earth on the margin having settled; or, from its outlet becoming obstructed, the quantity of water having accumulated.  Fields and orchards cultivated but lately by the Indians, are now entirely under water – the tops of the peach trees being nearly covered.
     We have given the above particulars as they are stated to us; and from the respectability of their sources we have no doubt of their being substantially correct. An inquiry into the causes of these operations of Nature, will be an interesting employment for the admirerer of nature’s Works.

Macon Telegraph.

Richard McGowen, Slave Boy of Ray City

Richard McGowen, Slave Boy of Ray City

Richard McGowan (or McGowen), an African-American resident of the Ray City area for nearly 80 years, was born into slavery in Duplin County, NC about 1845.

Research on the ancestry of Richard McGowan conducted by Bryan Shaw resulted in an outline which in large part formed the material of this blog post.  Special thanks to Bryan for his contributions. His sources were the Will of William M. McGowan, Jr. 1792; U.S. Census records from 1790 through 1920 from Duplin County, North Carolina, and Berrien County, Georgia; also the Slave Schedule of 1850, 1866 Duplin County Cohabitation Record, tax digests of Berrien County, Georgia, and the estate papers of Hardeman Sirmans. Additional sources for this post include the 1860 Census  Schedule of Slave Inhabitants of Berrien County, GA; 1866 Marriage of Freed People, Duplin County; 1867 Berrien County Loyalty Oath and Voter Registrations; 1894 Colored Voter Registration, Rays Mill, GA; Roots, rocks and recollections by Nell Patten Roquemore, and the 1930 U.S. Census records of Berrien County, GA.  Information which is stated as fact is documented, and presented as most likely or probably. That which is conjecture is presented as a possibility. The history is presented in chronological order.

The McGowan Family

The origins of the family of the slave boy, Richard McGowan had their roots in Duplin County, North Carolina. Richard McGowan is believed to be the descendant of slaves owned by the William M. McGowan, Jr. family of that county.  Willliam M. McGowan, Jr. was born about 1745, son of William McGowen, Sr. of New Hanover County, North Carolina. William Jr. married Mary Dickson in 1767, and by their union they had 10 children: David (c1770), John (c1772), William (c1773), Robert (c1775), Edward (c1777), Michael (c1779), James (c1781), Joseph (c1782), George (c1789), and Alexander (c1790).

William McGowan, Jr. purchased and settled on land in the Grove Creek Swamp area between today’s Kenansville, North Carolina and North East Cape Fear River, north of Highway 24. One biography suggests his land was south of the swamp, however the McGowen African-American cemetery with many unmarked graves is located on the north side of the swamp, between Highway 11 and Sarecta on the Sarecta Road (GPS Coordinates: 34.810733 N 77.996659 W ). The white McGowen family (sometimes spelled McGowan or McGowin) owned hundreds if not thousands of acres of land in Duplin and Hanover counties, NC.  Based on the small number of slaves owned, it does not appear that they had large tracts of land under cultivation.This was consistent with most North Carolina farmers at that time.

William McGowan, Jr.  died in 1792, leaving a will dated October 5, 1792. The will of William M. McGowan, Jr. divided his estate among his children, including the slaves he owned at the time. He willed that his estate be kept together including the slaves until his children were schooled, and all of his debts were satisfied. However he did specifically identify one of his slaves, Will, to be included in son John’s portion of the estate. He also left a “negro wench named Roze” to his wife Mary. He also “lent” her one negro boy named Dick and one negro girl named Nancy, both to be divided amongst the children upon Mary’s death. His will states all his slaves who were not otherwise identified should also go to Mary to work his estate until his affairs were settled, and to be sold off as his minor children reached the age of majority or were married. Was this boy named Dick the son of Will and the grandfather of Richard “Dick” McGowan?

Thus, following the death of William McGowan, Jr. his children and widow continued as landowners and slaveholders in Duplin County, NC. In the 1800 census, son John McGowen is shown  as the owner of 12 slaves.  Son William McGowen owned 5 slaves, son Robert McGowen owned 4 slaves, and widow Mary McGowan owned 11 slaves.

By 1810, John McGowen had 13 slaves, William McGowen had 8 slaves, Mary McGowan had 9 slaves, and James McGowen had 3 slaves.

In the 1820 census, James McGowen had no slaves, Robert McGowen had 13 slaves, and William McGowen had 3 slaves.

By 1850,  the only McGowen slave owners in Duplin County were the sons of William M. McGowan, Jr.: William McGowen, James P. McGowen, and Joseph McGowen.

On the 1850 Census Slave Schedule, Joseph McGowen owned 26 slaves enumerated  as: a female 65, female 58, male 45, male 44, female 39, male 37, male 26, female 24, female 22, male 19, male 18, male 17, male 16, male 15, female 14, female 14, male 14, male 11, female 7, male 6, female 5, male 5, female 3, female 2, male 2, and a female 9 months. James P. McGowen owned 3 slaves – female 50, male 7, and male 3, and William McGowen owned 1 slave, male 18.

In addition to the slaves enumerated in 1850 in the possession of the McGowens,  it appears that two slave boys, Richard and Peter, had been sold by James, Joseph or William McGowan to a Duplin County neighbor, James Dobson.  James Dobson could have purchased the slave boys from any of the three McGowens, but the most likely would be Joseph McGowen as he had the largest slave population.

Marriages of the McGowan Slaves and the Parents of Slave boy Richard McGowan

The parentage of the slave boys Peter and Richard McGowan cannot be stated with certainty.  Records of the Freedman’s Bureau in post-bellum Duplin County, NC provide evidence that their parents may have been McGowen slaves named Thomas and Malvina.

As an almost universal condition of slavery, the slaves of the William M. McGowan family were denied the civil and religious convention of marriage. According to Reginald Washington, African American genealogy specialist at the National Archives and Records Administration, “Slave marriages had neither legal standing nor protection from the abuses and restrictions imposed on them by slaveowners. Slave husbands and wives, without legal recourse, could be separated or sold at their master’s will. Couples who resided on different plantations were allowed to visit only with the consent of their owners. Slaves often married without the benefit of clergy, and as historian John Blassingame states, “the marriage ceremony in most cases consisted of the slaves simply getting the master’s permission and moving into a cabin together.”

Almost immediately after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, federal authorities decreed that marriages of enslaved African-Americans were legitimate and had legal standing.  In some areas the newly created Freedman’s Bureau began issuing marriage licenses to former slaves. Within a year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation providing for the recognition of the marriages of former slaves.  According to Learn NC“The North Carolina office of the Freedmen’s Bureau published announcements outlining the provisions of the law: Any couple who appeared before a Justice of the Peace or Clerk of the Court and stated when they began living together as husband and wife, would be issued a certificate and would be considered lawfully married. Bureau officers worked to make all freedmen in their districts aware of the new rules and of the deadlines for complying with them. In response, tens of thousands of freed couples reported their marriages to county courts.”

On August 18, 1866,  two former slaves giving their names as Thomas McGowen and Malvina McGowen went before the court of Duplin County, NC  for “Acknowledgement” of their marriage  and registered their date of “commencement” as 1826.

Records of Thomas McGowan in the 1866 Marriage of Freed People, Duplin County, NC

Records of Thomas McGowen in the 1866 Marriage of Freed People, Duplin County, NC

There was also another Thomas McGowen in Duplin County who, on August 11, 1866, registered his marriage to Malvina Pearsall.  For this couple, the date of “commencement” was 1855. This Thomas McGowen appears to be the possible son of Thomas and Malvina McGowen who “commenced” their marriage in 1826. An interesting note about this couple is that in the 1870 U.S. Census they are living on or near the farm of John Quincy McGowen and Alexander D. McGowen, sons of Joseph McGowen and grandsons of William M. McGowan.

Was the older Thomas McGowen actually the father of Richard “Dick” McGowan? It is certainly a possibility.

The Dobson Connection

The first slave owner who can be identified with a high degree of certainty as having owned the slave boy Richard McGowan is James Dobson, of Duplin County, NC.  James Dobson was a son of Hezekiah and Elizabeth Davis Dobson. The Dobson property was just to the southeast of the lands owned by the descendants of William M. McGowan, near Kenansville, NC.  In fact, the Dobson Family cemetery is east of Kenansville on the south side of Highway 24 just east of North Dobson Chapel Road.

The 1850 Slave Schedule for Duplin County enumerated the six slaves owned by James Dobson as: a  female 27, male 12, male 10, male 8 (probably Peter McGowan), male 6 (probably Richard “Dick” McGowan), and a male age 2.  That same year, James Dobson moved his family and slaves to that section of  Lowndes County, Georgia which was later cut into Berrien County.  About that same time, a number of families were relocating “from Duplin to Lowndes. Among these families were those of William J. Lamb, James Carroll, Jesse Carroll, William Godfrey, Andrew J. Liles, William Best, James W. Dixon and others. These all settled in or around the village then called Alapaha but now named Lakeland, Lanier County.”  Among others coming from Duplin to Berrien in the mid-century were Robert Rouse, William Hill Boyett, John Bostick, Treasy Boyett Bostick and Mary C. Bostick.

James Dobson settled his family and slaves on land lot 333 of the 10th District, just west of Ten Mile Creek in what is now Lanier County. The 1856 Berrien County Tax Digest shows James Dobson owning 7 slaves, with a total value of approximately $4500. That same year, November 11, 1856, Dobson sold two negro boys, Peter, about 13 years old, and Dick, about 11 years old, to Hardeman Sirmans who lived on the connecting land lot number 339 near present day Ray City, GA. In a bill of sale in possession of the Berrien Historical Foundation, James Dobson warrants that the two boys are of sound body and mind. The sale price was $1900.

1856 Slave Bill of Sale<br> Bill of Sale from James Dobson to Hardeman Sirmans for tw.o slave boys, Dick and Peter, dated November 11, 1856. Image courtesy of the Berrien County Historical Foundation.

1856 Slave Bill of Sale
Bill of Sale from James Dobson to Hardeman Sirmans for two slave boys, Dick and Peter, dated November 11, 1856. Image courtesy of the Berrien County Historical Foundation.

Received of Hardeman Sirmons One thousand nine hundred dollars in full payment for two negro boys, one named Peter about thirteen years old the other named Dick about eleven years old which negroes I warrant to be sound and healthy both in body and mind and I further warrant and  defend the right and titles from of the aforesaid negro boys from and against the claim or claims of myself my heirs executors administrators and assigns and from the claim of all and any other person in witness whereof I the said James Dobson have herewith set my hand and seal this 11th day of November 1856.

James Dobson

The Sirmans Connection

The slave boy Richard McGowan was purchased by Hardeman Sirmans on November 11, 1856.  This was just days before  Berrien county was created from lands cut out of Lowndes County, GA including the lands of Hardeman Sirmans which lay just north of present day Ray City, GA.  By the time Berrien County was created, Hardeman Sirmans was already a prominent citizen of the area.  According to historian Folks Huxford, “Mr. Sirmans served in the Indian War as a private in a volunteer company of Lowndes County militia commanded by his father-in-law, Capt. (afterwards General) Levi J. Knight, August 15th to Oct 15 1838. He was 1st Lieutenant of the 664th militia district, Lowndes County, 1845-46, then served as Captain in same district 1847-1851. Mr. Sirmans was a member of the Masonic order, receiving his degrees in Butler Lodge, No. 211, F. & A.M. at old Milltown (now Lakeland) in 1858. He was the brother of  Rachel Sirmans Mattox; she was the widow of Samuel Mattox who was hanged at Troupville in 1843. In 1847, Hardeman Sirmans married Elizabeth Knight,  eldest daughter of General Levi J. Knight.  General Knight was a neighbor of Mr. Sirmans and the original settler of Ray City.

The 1860 Census Schedule of Slave Inhabitants in Berrien County, GA shows Hardeman Sirmans owned three slaves: Male Mulatto, 25; Male Black, 16 (probably Peter McGowan); Male Black, 14 (probably Richard McGowan). The Slave schedule showed Sirmans provided one “slave house” for his slaves. None of his slaves had escaped and none had been freed.

1860 Census schedule of slave inhabitants of Berrien County, GA enumerating the slaves owned by Hardeman Sirmans.

1860 Census schedule of slave inhabitants of Berrien County, GA enumerating the slaves owned by Hardeman Sirmans.

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Hardeman Sirmans, a State Militia veteran of the Indian Wars, enlisted in the Confederate Army with the Clinch County Greys. Sirmans spent most of the Civil War in South Georgia patrolling the southern counties in search of deserters. He probably had opportunities to visit his farm and oversee it to some degree. It appears that Richard McGowan remained with the Sirmans throughout the duration of the War.

Hardeman Sirmans Home just north of Ray City, about 1910. The photo was taken after the death of Hardeman, however his wife, Betsy Knight Sirmans is seated at the table, center. Photo courtesy of Patricia Sirmans Miller and the Berrien County Historical Foundation

Hardeman Sirmans Home just north of Ray City, GA about 1910. The photo was taken after the death of Hardeman, however his wife, Betsy Knight Sirmans is seated at the table, center. Photo courtesy of Patricia Sirmans Miller and the Berrien County Historical Foundation

Richard McGowan, Freedman

After the war, Richard McGowan remained on the Hardeman Sirmans place. The 1867 Berrien County tax digest shows the “Freedman” Richard McGowan was self-employed and that he paid the $1.00 poll tax.  The Reconstruction Act of 1867  allowed all freedmen the right to vote and required states to draft documents providing for black male suffrage. But the poll tax quickly became a device for disenfranchising black voters.  It was not until 1966 that Supreme Court rulings on the Twenty-fourth Amendment, ratified in 1964, outlawed the use of this tax (or any other tax) as a pre-condition for voting in federal or state elections.

It seems odd, but former slaves could exercise their civil right to vote they were also required to take the same Oath of Allegiance as former Confederate soldiers.   Among 0ther former slaves of Berrien County who took the Oath of Allegiance were Moses Riley, Edward Ross, William Adams, Joseph Wilcox, Timothy Wilcox, Edmund Jones, James A. Adams, Alexander Wright, Allen Lewis, Richard Lewis, John Smith, Seaborn Hubbard, Rolin Alexander, Edward Swain, Benjamin Neasmith, Thomas Udderback, Richard Morehead, Henry Brown, John Thomas, George Houston, Frank Head, Hilliard Armstead, Samuel Rose, Jacob Thomas, William Watts, Aaron Wright, Austin Freeman, Daniel Freeman, Madison Daniels, Sandy Thomas, Andrew Wilson, and Thomas Howard.

1867 Oath of Allegiance completed by Richard McGowen in Berrien County, GA.

1867 Oath of Allegiance completed by Richard McGowan in Berrien County, GA.

State of Georgia
County of Berrien

Personally appeared before me this 22nd day of July, 1867, Richard McGowan who states that he resides in the 3d Election Precinct of Berrien County, Georgia, and who makes oath as follows:

“I Richard McGowan do solemnly swear in the presence of Almighty God, that I am a citizen of the State of Georgia; that I have resided in said State for 19 years months next preceding this day, and now reside in the County of Berrien in said State; that I am 21 years old; that I have not been disfranchised for participation in any rebellion or civil war against the United States, nor for felony committed against the laws of any State or the United States; that I have never been a member of any State Legislature, nor held any executive or judicial office in any State, and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof; that I have never taken an oath as a member of Congress of the United States, or as an officer of the United States, and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid and comfort to the enemies thereof; that I will faithfully support the Constitution and obey the laws of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, encourage others so to do. So help me, God.”

The said Richard McGowan further swears that he has not been previously registered under the provisions of “An act supplementary to ‘an act to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States’ – passed March 2, 1867 – and to facilitate restoration,” under this or any other name, in this or any other Election District; and further, that he was born in ______ and naturalized by ___________ on the day of ________________,18__ in the ___________

Richard McGowan

Sworn to and subscribed before me date precinct & county aforesaid

A. Marochetti
Register of the Sixth Registration District

The 1870 census shows Richard McGowan, 23, and another African-American man,  Tony Smith, 24, residing at the Sirmans residence.  Both men were working as farm laborers.

1870 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

1870 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

About 1871, Richard had met and married Sally Thomas and they started their family with the birth of their son, Billy followed by Jesse, Henry, Aaron, and Minerva.

What became of the slave boy Peter is not known, however the 1870 census lists a Peter McGowen, age 80 and his wife Polly, age 60, living nearby.  Furthermore, an 1867 Oath of Allegiance and voter registration  completed by a Peter McGowan in Berrien County indicates he came from North Carolina to Georgia around 1849. This may be the father or relative of Peter and Richard McGowan, as he would have been about 55 at the time of Richard’s birth. The 1870 Census shows Polly was born in Georgia and the 1880 Census records her birthplace as South Carolina; either way she is most likely not kin to the boys.

By the 1880 census Richard, age 30 (probably 34) and Sally, 25 were still living near the Sirmans and Knight family farms, but in a separate household in Enumeration District 1144.

1880 Census enumeration of Richard McGowen and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

1880 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

There is no 1890 census record of Richard McGowan; most of the 11th census records were lost after a 1921 fire, and a series of tragic missteps in the record handling left nothing. However, Richard McGowan is listed in the 1894  Colored Voter Registration for Ray’s Mill, GA, indicating that he  remained in the community.

The 1900 census lists the members of the Richard McGowan household as: Richard, age 66 born July, 1833 (probably 54 and born c1845); Sallie, age 55 born March, 1845 (probably 45 and born c1855); Minerva, age 25 born February, 1875; Barney age 9 born March, 1891; Maggie, age 7 born December, 1892; Charlie, age 5 born December, 1894; Fannie, age 3 born March, 1897; and Richard Jr., age 7 months born October, 1899. Sallie had given birth to 13 children, ten of whom survived. She probably lost three children sometime between the birth of Minerva and Barney. Richard and Sallie were living next door to their son Jessie and his wife and step children, still in the Rays Mill District. Other neighbors included Moses Lee,  J. J. and Catherine Beagles, Hiram Beagles, and Elizabeth Beagles.

1900 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA


In 1910 the McGowan household consisted of: Richard, age 62 (see note regarding ages); Sallie, age 52; Barney, age 20; Maggie, age 18; Charlie, age 16; and Fannie, age 14. The McGowans  were renting a home about 6 miles east of Ray City and just north of Highway 129, next door to Mary Elizabeth “Mollie” Truett and James R. Johnson, Sr. Richard, Barney and Charlie were farm laborers working as wage employees.    The Beigles were still among the neighbors;  ex-convict Thomas J. Beigles and his wife Mary Elizabeth Pearson Beigles owned a nearby farm. It was reported that Richard and Sallie McGowan had been married 30 years (actually 40) and she had given birth to 16 children, only 8 surviving. Richard Jr. appears to be among those who did not survive.

1910 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA.

In the 1920 census, Richard, enumerated as Dick McGowen, age 76, was still renting in the Ray City area, farming and living with Sallie, 64; Maggie, 25; Fannie, 23; and a granddaughter, Florrie, 4. They were living next door to Martha J. Baskin Clements, widow of David C. Clements, and her adult children Grover C. Clements, Albert B. Clements and his wife Connie, and Alma Clements. Nearby was the household of Elick Wright, brother of Moses Wright.

1920 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA.


At the time of the 1930 Census, Richard and Sallie McGowan and several of their children and descendants were still living near Ray City, GA. The family was enumerated April 25, 1930 in the 1300 Georgia Militia District of Lanier County, GA, which was cut out of Berrien County in 1920.  Richard, enumerated as age 99, was probably about 86 years old.  Sallie was reported as 76 years old. Residing with them was their daughter Fannie, reported as age 39, actually 33. The McGowans were renting a home near Ray City. Fannie was working as a farm laborer.  Among the nearby neighbors were Americus McGee, Floyd Green, Caulie Pevy, Lucius J. Knight, and John and Wealthy Lee.  Richard McGowan is enumerated as a veteran of the Civil War.


1930 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1300 Georgia Militia District, Lanier County, GA.

On August 6, 1930, just a few months after the 15th census, the Atlanta Constitution reported the death of Richard McGowanThe article even further exaggerated the longevity of the former slave, giving his age as 106.  The article also unfortunately confuses Richard McGowen with his grandson, Philmore McGowan, who was the late husband of Molly Reddick McGowan Hall, a Ray City psychic of widespread fame.

It is understood that both Richard McGowan and Sallie Thomas McGowan are buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery at St John Baptist Church in the Barretts community, five miles south of Ray City, GA .

A Note on the Ages of Former Slaves as Reported in Census Records

Because slaves were deprived of civil and human rights  – education, literacy, personal property –  records of slave birth dates, marriage dates, family relations, genealogy or even place of residence may be very difficult to document. Remembering dates, and counting years  was not easily achieved. It was quite common over the course of eight or nine decades for those vital dates to be forgotten, mistaken or erroneously changed for no particular reason especially if not recorded in a family Bible.  Census enumeration of slaves was typically only a count of heads.  Furthermore, the ages and birth dates of any persons were not of particular consequence prior to the passage of the Social Security act in 1935.

Now regarding the age of Richard, Sallie and their children, It appears that the most definable age of Richard was when he was about 11 years of age in the 1856 bill of sale. He was certainly not born in 1833 as listed in the 1900 census. Probably 1845 is the more accurate birth date. He was listed as 24 in 1870, which appears to be about right. It is more probable that Richard was about 54 in 1900, and that he probably died about the age of 84 in 1930. Ages of Richard’s children are probably more accurate if figured from the date of their earliest recording in the census.

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