On the Home Front, Ray City, GA, 1918

WWI HOMEFRONT

As the late summer of 1918 wore on many young men of Ray City and Berrien County, GA were in training, preparing for overseas deployment in World War I. Others had already shipped out, among them Rossie O. KnightHod Clements, Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter, Lorton W. Register, Private Carlie Lawson, Carlos Boggs, Joe Roberson, John W. Faison, Claudie Whitford and Gordon Williams of Ray City; and many other WWI soldiers and sailors of Ray City, GA.

WWI Inductees at Nashville, GA Courthouse, 1918.

WWI Inductees at Nashville, GA Courthouse, 1918.

By mid- August, over one and half million and doughboys were overseas and another million and a half were in training.  The tragic sinking of the HMS Otranto and the drowning of 29 of Berrien County’s finest young men, along with hundreds of other soldiers, was still weeks away.

The headlines were full of war news, including casualty reports. But the tide had turned and the newspapers were focused on the string of Allied victories. The German offensive against  Paris had failed. The Germans were on the defensive, disorganized, demoralized and rapidly retreating.  As the Allies advanced, thousands of German troops were captured.

Atlanta Constitution August 22, 1918 reports route of German army as Georgia soldiers parade before King George.

Atlanta Constitution August 22, 1918 reports route of German army as soldiers from Camp Gordon, GA parade before King George.

In the Wiregrass, many people bowed their heads each day “for it is a [patriotic] duty which is being observed in many towns and cities throughout our grand United States of America; for when the whistle blows every afternoon at  at six o’clock, it is the duty of every citizen … who is able to walk, to uncover their heads and stop still wherever they may be and no matter what they may be doing to ask God’s guidance on our armies on land and sea and to give us a speedy victory.”

In many ways, life in Ray City, GA went on as usual. People tended their crops and worked at  their businesses, children went to school and families went to church.  Business was good; in Ray City, the Clements Lumber Company was experiencing a war boom, and,  other than the waste laid to the cotton by the dreaded Boll Weevil which had invaded the state three years earlier, the “hog and hominy” farming was good, too.

A letter from Ray City resident Josh Jones, published in the Walker County Messenger, August 23, 1918 reported on every day events of the home front.  Jones, apparently a native of Walker County, on the Tennessee-Georgia line, who had removed to Berrien County and was writing to the folks back home.

 

Walker County Messenger, August 23, 1918

A Ray City report in the Walker County Messenger, August 23, 1918

Walker County Messenger
LaFayette, GA
August 23, 1918

Ray City, GA

Mrs. A. L. Fowler is able to be up at present.

Ray City is a very promising little town, a good many useful industries being located here.
    Nashville is the county seat of Berrien county, and as Berrien was such a large county it was divided a few days ago, and Cook county was cut off the west side, Adel being made the county seat.  So I am still in Berrien. Valdosta is our nearest market.
    We have a bumper crop of corn, and a fine crop of peanuts. The boll weevil ruined all of the Long Island cotton, and the short staple will average about half a crop.  The melon crop was fine, several cars shipped from here.  This is a fine hog-raising section of the country. Moultrie and Tifton both have branch packing houses of Armour & Co.
    Rev. and Mrs. J. W. Shumate, of Cooper Heights, have the Ray City School, and we cordially welcome them into our midst.
    I received a long letter from Pat McClaskey, which I enjoyed very much.  The Messenger reaches here on Saturday.
     Best wishes to the correspondents and Messenger and staff.

JOSH JONES

Additional Notes:

  • Ray City School, 1918
    At the time Reverend John Wesley Shumate, Jr.and Mrs. Harriet “Hattie” Mudget Shumate came to Ray City, the Ray City School was a wood frame, three-room school, teaching students through the eighth grade. The brick school building, which has been preserved in Ray City and which now houses the Joe Sizemore Community Library, was constructed 1920-1922.
  • Creation of Cook County, GA
    An Act proposing the creation of Cook County from parts of Berrien County was passed by the Georgia General Assembly on July 30, 1918.
  • The Boll Weevil in Berrien County, GA
    The Boll Weevil had already reached Brooks and Thomas Counties by the summer of 1915. The following summer, 1916, Boll Weevils were found in Berrien  on the farms of Dr. Lovett and Jim Patterson at Sparks, GA. The arrival of the Boll Weevil ended the reign of cotton as the county’s main industry, and forced farmers to shift more to feed and sustenance, or “hog and hominy,” farming.
  • Armour & Co.
    In 1918, both Armour & Co. and Smith & Co. were expanding meat packing facilities in South Georgia, Smith & Co. at Moultrie and Armour & Co. at Tifton, GA.  As the prevailing chaos in the cotton market drove sharply increasing hog production, there was a rush to increase the local capacity of meat packing plants.

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Madge Sellers Guthrie

Madge Sellers Guthrie (1912-1998)

Madge Sellers, wife of John Elwood Guthrie, made her home in Ray City for more than 40 years. She met John in Florida while he was on tour with a band. After they married, they opened a feed store in Ray City and John taught music.

Madge Sellers Guthrie

Madge Sellers Guthrie

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Berrien County High School Class of 1965

Berrien County High School Class of 1965

Berrien County High School Class of 1965

Berrien County High School Class of 1965

1965 BERRIEN HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS
– The largest class to graduated from Berrien High School, 142, posed last week for the Berrien Press camera.  Included, left to right, are: Front, Jim Navarro, Ann Whidden, Jimmy Watson, Beth Taylor, Walter Brooks, Bill Agee, Barbara Jefferson, Jo Ann Jefferson, Elaine Barber, Hilda Lewis, Richard Coleman, Edward Ash, Earl Barrentine, Donald Baldree, Neal Roberson, Johnny McMillan, Earl Rowe, Carrol Harper, Penny Nobles, John Avera, Lou Houston, Linda Wilson, Linda Kay McGill, Delaine Griffin.      Second row, Jacky Harrell, Rudy Hancock, Larry Johnson, Alvin Akins, Gail Chambless, Jackie Tygart,Ann McNabb, Marge Watson, Gay Nix, Iris Moore, Sally Faye Rentz, Immogene Williams, Norris McNabb, Patsy Giddens, John Marshall Hogan,Lana Sellers, Donald Harrell, Linda Hamby, Judy Key, Jerolyn Golden, Mary Jo Tucker, Sandra Yarbrough, Ann Blanton.      Third row, Bobby Futch, Donnie Webb, Connie Lewis, Mary Ann Hogan, Karen Rutherford, Joan Moore, Carleen Chambless, Sherry Paulk, Mary Virginia Boyett, Patricia Robinson, Carolyn Hayes, Elizabeth Spicer, Rondel Tomberlin, Emory Lasseter, Jemima Johnson, Rosemary Weaver, Judy Yarbrough, Sue Nell Tucker, Elaine Pafford, Sandra Kay McMillan, CHristy Whitley, Annette Griner, Liz Parrish, Carol Rowan, Oneta Lasseter.        Fourth Row, Bruce Sheppard, Jeff Byrd, Linda Fay Griffin, Brenda Luke, Shirley McCranie, Arch Clark, Freida Moore, Carolyn Seago, Rachel Pearson, Ronnie Guthrie, Randal Pafford, Wayne Hand, Nita Sharp, Patty Futch, Linda Bailey, Karen Register, Carol Grantham, Marolyn Back, Mary Faye Lindsay, Ruth Burroughs, Beverly McCorvey, Sarah Faulkner, Joyce Cole Lewis, Carolyn Griffin, Janice Swilley.       Fifth row, Wesley Harrell, Davis Delisle, Harvey Nichols, Roddy Odom, Leonard Gray, Wayne Graham, Lamar Steverson, Donald Kirkland, Dixie Smith, Larry Connell, Don McKinnon, Danny Kirkland, Aline Prine, Lawanna Mathis, Mary Mathis, Janet Jones, Shearlie White, Barbara Depew, Evelyn R. Baldree, Mary Alice Harper, Aletha Bennett, Freddy Dix.       Sixth row,Johnny Guthrie, Ricky Partin, Philip Akins, Ed Perry, Melvin Tucker, Homer Williams, Ray Hughes, Jo Ed Gaskins, Ray Sumner, Dannie McCorvey, Dale Sumner, Everett McMillan, Charles Schwab, Wayne Morgan, Jimmy Hall, Michael Lusher, Gene Nelms, Stevie Roberts, Johnny Dasher, Jim Agee, Troy Knowles, James Bush, Dwight Lasseter.

The Baccalaureate Sermon was held 8:00pm Sunday evening, June 6, 1965 in the Berrien High School Gymnasium.

1965 BCHS Baccalaureate Sermon.  Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

1965 BCHS Baccalaureate Sermon. Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

1965 Baccalaureate Sermon, Berrien County High School, Nashville, GA.

1965 Baccalaureate Sermon, Berrien County High School, Nashville, GA.

Officers of the Senior Class, 1965

Edmond Lewis Perry, President
Linda Kay McGill, Vice President
Rosemary Weaver, Secretary
Carolyn Marie Hayes, Treasurer

 

1965 Baccalaureate Sermon, Berrien County High School, Page 2

1965 Baccalaureate Sermon, Berrien County High School, Page 2

Senior Sponsors

Mrs. Dona Fields
Mr. Lillard Gibbs
Mrs. Alma Kneece
Mrs. Hubert Moore
Mr. Billy Rutland

Program

Processional ……………………………………….. Mrs. Alma Kneece
Invocation ………………………………………… Walter Austin Brooks
Call to Worship …………………………. Berrien High School Chorus
Selected Scripture ……………………………………….. Aline Sirmans
Anthem …………………………………… Berrien High School Chorus
Presentation of Speaker ………………………. Edmond Lewis Perry
Baccalaureate Sermon ………………………. Reverend James Agee
Hymn “Come, Thou Almighty King …………………… Congregation
Benediction ……………………………………………. Linda Kay McGill
Choral Benediction …………………….. Berrien High School Chorus
Recessional …………………………………………. Mrs. Alma Kneece

1965 Baccalaureate Sermon, Berrien County High School, Page 3

1965 Baccalaureate Sermon, Berrien County High School, Page 3

Come, Thou Almighty King

Come, Thou Almighty King, Help us Thy Name to Sing,
               Help us all to praise: Father, all glorious,
               O’er all victorious, Come and reign over us,
                                                             Ancient of days…

Come, Thou Incarnate Word, and Thy mighty Sword,
             Our prayer attend: Come, and Thy people bless,
             And give Thy word Success: Spirit of Holiness,
                                                              On us descend…

To the Great One in Three, Eternal praises be,
              Hence evermore Thy sovereign majesty,
              May we in glory see, and to eternity,
                                                               Love and adore…

1965 Baccalaureate Sermon, Berrien County High School, Page 4

1965 Baccalaureate Sermon, Berrien County High School, Page 4

 

Berrien County High School Class of 1965. Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

Berrien County High School Class of 1965. Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

History of Ray City School

In 1918, a contract for a new school building in Ray City, GA was let out by the Board of Education. Plans for the building were drawn by Valdosta architect Lloyd B. Greer. The contract for materials went to A. H. Miller Hardware Store in Ray City.

Industrial Development and Manufacturers Record, September 25, 1919, announcement of construction at Ray City, GA

Industrial Development and Manufacturers Record, September 25, 1919, announcement of construction at Ray City, GA

Construction on the brick school building, which has been preserved in Ray City and which now houses the Joe Sizemore Community Library, began in 1920.  The Ray City School opened in 1922.

Ray City School, March 11, 1927. In 1918, the Berrien County School Board put out a contract for a new school building in Ray City, GA. Plans for the building were drawn by Valdosta architect Lloyd B. Greer. Materials were supplied by A. H. Miller Hardware Store in Ray City. The school opened in 1922.

Ray City School, March 11, 1927.

The brick school building at Ray City, GA was designed by Valdosta architect Lloyd Greer.  Among other buildings designed by Greer were:  Federal Building and Post Office, Valdosta, GA; Carnegie  Library, Valdosta,GA; First Church of Christ, Scientist, Tallahassee, FL; James Price McRee House, Camilla, GA; Dasher High School, Valdosta, GA; Barney School, Barney, GA; Barber-Pitman House, Valdosta, GA; Lanier County Auditorium and Grammar School, Lakeland, GA; Ilex Theater, Quitman,GA; Moultrie Theater, Moultrie, GA; United Cigar Store Building, Jacksonville, GA; Quitman Library, Quitman, GA; Echols County High School, Statenville, GA; Barrow Hall, Emory Junior College, Valdosta, GA; Pine Grove School, Fitzgerald, GA; Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, GA; Douglas Negro High School and Douglas White High School, Douglas, GA; Nichols House,Valdosta, GA; Berrien High School, Nashville, GA. The Lyric Theater, Waycross,GA was designed by Greer.

Old Wooden School at Ray City, GA

The Ray City High School Class of 1949 wrote, “The school of our community was begun long before our town received its present name having been known as Rays Mill. “

Among those early teachers of Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) was  Henry Harrison Knight (1840-1898).  These teachers   taught in the little one room log house schools  of Berrien county, and were often paid in “found” – bartered, homegrown commodities such as ham, chickens, eggs, or butter.

The first school building was located on the east side of town. This building was destroyed by fire. Then a log cabin called the Alliance Building was constructed in 1898, and was used for about two years.

In 1900 the interested people of the community decided to make an improvement in the school plant. Trees were cut from their lands and carried to Sutton’s Sawmill to be made into lumber, for the purpose of erecting a frame building. That stood where our present building is now standing. It consisted of one large room. Some of the interested patrons who helped with this building were: J. S. Swindle, W. E. Langford, Isaac Burkhalter, Redding Swindle, and W. M. Knight. With the aid of other patrons they completed the first Ray City School. -History of Ray City School (1948-49 Yearbook)

The town experienced a boom period when the Georgia & Florida Railroad came to Ray City in 1909.The increased population made it necessary to make an addition of two more rooms to the school.” -History of Ray City School (1948-49 Yearbook)

The January 19, 1911 edition of the Valdosta Times reported news of the school in Rays Mill (now Ray City).   Husband and wife team James Marcus Patten and Ida Lou Hall Patten were running the school. Professor J.M. Patten was college educated, having completed the teacher education program at North Georgia Agricultural College, and had twenty years experience teaching in the common schools of Berrien County.

In 1918,  the Reverend John W. Shoemate and Mrs. Harriet M. Shoemate came to Ray City to take charge of the school.   Reverend Shoemate was a native of Tennessee, and a Baptist minister.  Mrs. Shoemate was a native of South Dakota, and college educated. In Ray City, they were the neighbors of Professor and Mrs. J. M. Patten.  Mrs. Patten was also then occupied teaching public school.  The Ray City School was then still held in the three-room, wood frame building, and educated  students through the eighth grade. One student from this time period was Claudey Belle Hester, who wrote well enough for publication in Progressive Farmer.

According to the Annual Report of the Department of Education, in 1920 the public high school in Ray’s Mill was a 2-year Junior High School. Sankey Booth was Superintendent of the school and later served on the Berrien County Board of Education. One of the teachers in old Ray City was Louannie Eudell Webb (1902-1972), who started teaching by age 17.  She was a daughter of Luther Webb and Mary J. Albritton, and had only an 8th grade education herself. She married Leroy Lorenzo Carter on August 3, 1922. Another teacher at Ray City in 1920 was Lucile Fountain; she taught the fourth grade class. According to later census records, she herself had only attended school through the 4th grade.  It was the talk of the town when her beau, Calvin Simmons, came and got her out of class  and took her to get married on February 13, 1923. Maria Antoniette Poblete Knight worked as an art teacher at the Ray City School in the 1920s.

The Brick School

That [multi-room wood school house] was used until 1920 when work on the present building was started. -History of Ray City School (from the 1948-49 Yearbook)

Ray City School, 1948-49, C. W. Schmoe, Principal.

Ray City School, 1948-49, C. W. Schmoe, Principal.

Wilma Harper began her 60 year teaching career at the Ray City School in 1928 at the age of 18.  There she met and fell in love with Prentice M. Shultz, who taught and was principal at Ray City School. A year later they were married.

The Great Depression took a great toll on Berrien County, and Ray City struggled with funding to keep the school open. Only through the generous contributions of local citizens and by charging students a tuition, was the school able to continue for the full term. In 1930, the school could not even afford to hold graduation exercises.

In the 1930s many schools in smaller communities were consolidated. In 1936, Pleasant Vale and Sappling Grove schools were closed and the students sent to Ray City.

The Ray City School held a junior high school rating until 1936, when it became an accredited senior high school. Another classroom building was added that year to the school plant. -History of Ray City School (from the 1948-49 Yearbook)

By the 1940-41 school term, New Lois High School was also consolidated with Ray City High School.

In the early days students at Ray City School brought their own lunches to school and ate outside on the school grounds, as there was no lunchroom or kitchen to prepare food.  David Miley recalled a sow that used to come into the playground, and snatch the lunch bags of unsuspecting kids. The school grounds were fenced and had a cattle gap to keep free ranging livestock from entering the schoolyard.  Even so, livestock could and did occasionally get into the school yard.  By 1941, the school had a lunch room serving 150 students a day.

 

Fence and cattle gap in front of the Ray City School kept livestock out of the schoolyard, 1949.

Fence and cattle gap in front of the Ray City School kept livestock out of the schoolyard, 1949.

During WWII, Ray City School did its part.   Vocational agriculture teacher St. Elmo Lee gave up his classrooms at Ray City  and New Lois, GA for the U.S. Army. Graduates and former students left Ray City to go to war. Some never came back.  Hubert Comer (RCHS 1940) joined the Navy and was killed in the D-Day invasion of Normandy Beach. Harry Elmore Devane (RCHS 1938) also joined the Navy.  On D-Day Devane was a boat officer on a tank landing craft at Omaha Beach. He was killed in an accident aboard the aircraft carrier USS FDR after the war. James A. Swindle (RCHS 1936) captained a B-26 Marauder and flew 75 bombing missions; he was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross. Maurice “Max” Johnson (RCHS 1940) served as a B-24 pilot during WWII from 1942 to 1945. Leland E Langford (RCHS 1939) enlisted on June 12, 1941, serving as an Army pilot until he was killed in a plane crash in 1949.   J.I. Clements (RCHS 1938) joined the Army and fought in Germany. Many other alumni of Ray City School served as well.

William R. “Mac” McClure was principal of the school in the mid 1940s. Charles Woodrow “Woody” Schmoe served as principal in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His wife, Nancy Young Schmoe, taught 5th Grade.

In 1947 a fifteen thousand dollar gymnasium was constructed by the patrons, a building in which the whole community justly takes pride (1948-49 Yearbook).  The town dedicated the building with a big dance celebration and the crowning of the Queen of the Harvest.

In 1948, a vocational building was erected by the veterans of World War II, at the end of five years this … [became] a part of Ray City School.

It was in 1949 that veterans of World War II built  a “very modern and up-to-date lunchroom” for the school.

In 1954, Ray City High School and all other white high schools in the county were combined into Nashville High School.  The brick school building at Ray City continued to serve as an elementary and middle school until 1994, when all county schools were consolidated into facilities in Nashville.

Glen Putnal

Glen Hilton Putnal was born July 24, 1936, a son of Wayne Putnal and Ellen Gaskins.  Glen was the youngest of the Putnal children.  He grew up on the Putnal farm on Park Street extension, Ray City, GA. The Putnal farm was about a half mile down the dirt road south from Effie Guthrie Knight’s place and Glen would come up to play with Effie’s neices and nephews.

He attended the Ray City School where he excelled in academics.

Glenn Putnal, 1953 junior at Ray City High School.

Glenn Putnal, 1953 junior at Ray City High School.

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Glen Putnal, 1954 senior photo, Ray City School, Ray City, GA

Glen Putnal, 1954 senior photo, Ray City School, Ray City, GA

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 Glen Putnal was voted the cutest boy of the Ray City High School Class of 1954. Elinor Grissett was cutest girl.

Glen Putnal was voted the cutest boy of the Ray City High School Class of 1954. Elinor Grissett was cutest girl.

 

Glen Putnal went to Valdosta State College, graduating in 1958 with a degree in Biology.  He became a dentist and worked at the Georgia State Prison at Reidsville, GA

Georgia State Prison, Reidsville, GA

Georgia State Prison, Reidsville, GA

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Glen Putnal, 1955, freshman at Valdosta State College

Glen Putnal, 1955, freshman at Valdosta State College

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Glen Putnal, 1958, senior at Valdosta State College

Glen Putnal, 1958, senior at Valdosta State College

Glen Putnal later returned to the area and practiced dentistry in Hahira, GA.  He was active in civics. In 1967 he was president of the Lion’s Club of Hahira, GA. He was a contributor to the Valdosta State College Foundation.

Glen H. Putnal died November 4, 1990 in Lowndes County, GA. He was buried at Woodlawn Memorial Gardens, Adel, GA.

Children of Edwin and Sallie Griner

Children of Edwin and Sallie Griner

In the 1930’s D. Edwin Griner  was a miller working at a grist mill in Ray City, GA.  He and his wife grew up in Berrien County, GA and lived for many years in and around Ray City.

As a boy D. Edwin Griner suffered tragic loss, watching his siblings die of measles in the spring of 1889 – four dead in a  week – and in the winter of that same year his mother, Sarah Gaskins Griner, was taken.

In adulthood, Edwin Griner married Sarah “Sallie” Rouse, daughter of Robert and Kizzia Rouse. The couple made their home in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Rays Mill District where the census of 1900 shows they owned a farm near Sallie’s parents and others of the family connection.

But tragedy was not over for Edwin; he and Sallie would have to endure the painful loss of four of their own precious children, and the loss their daughter-in-law.

The four lost children of  Sarah Rouse Griner and D. Edwin Griner rest at Empire Cemetery. Their son, Bill, the only child who survived to adulthood, was buried next to his parents at New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

 

Grave of Carl Griner, born September 11, 1894; died November 5, 1900; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Carl Griner, born September 11, 1894; died November 5, 1900; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

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Grave of Eugene Griner, born May 26, 1896; died November 3, 1900, buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Eugene Griner, born May 26, 1896; died November 3, 1900, buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

†††

Grave of Lona Belle Griner, born April 15, 1899; died November 11, 1909; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Lona Belle Griner, born April 15, 1899; died November 11, 1909; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

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Grave of Willie "Bill" Edwin Griner, born December 5, 1902; died April 21, 1984, buried New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, GA. Image source: Robert Strickland

Grave of Willie “Bill” Edwin Griner, born December 5, 1902; died April 21, 1984, buried New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, GA. Image source: Robert Strickland

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Grave of Sarah V Griner, born 1905; died some time before 1930; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Sarah V Griner, born 1905; died some time before 1930; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

 

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Portrait of Helen Baskin

 Helen Baskin Pierce (1920-2004)

Helen Baskin, 1941, at Georgia Teachers College.

Helen Baskin, 1941, at Georgia Teachers College.

Helen Baskin was born February 2, 1920 at Ray City, GA. She was a daughter of  Minnie Lee Hancock Baskin and Armstrong B. “Bee” Baskin.   In 1941, Helen Baskin was a sophomore at Georgia Teachers College (now Georgia Southern University). In 1943 she married  Wilmont C. Pierce.  After WWII, the couple made their home at Ray City, where Wilmont  engaged in farming with Helen’s father.   In 1968, the Pierces moved from Ray City to Valdosta, GA.

Helen Baskin Pierce died in 2004.  She was buried at Unity United Methodist Church Cemetery near Lakeland, Ga.

Graves of Helen Baskin and Wilmont Pierce, Unity Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image source: Dana Futch

Graves of Helen Baskin and Wilmont Pierce, Unity Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image source: Dana Futch

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Isham Watson, Revolutionary Soldier

Isham Watson, Revolutionary Soldier (1759-1842)

Isham Watson,  a veteran of the Revolutionary War,  and his wife Rhoda Ann Oswald came to Lowndes County, GA about 1831. At least one of their children, son Frederick Watson, came with them to Georgia.  Lowndes county then encompassed  present day Lowndes, as well as Berrien County, Tift, Cook, Brooks, Atkins, Lanier, and  Echols counties. The county seat was at Franklinville, on the Withlacoochee River (although the river was then labeled on maps as the Ockolacoochee). Isham Watson’s place was on Lot 100, 12th Land District, about 10 miles west of Franklinville, and about two miles east of the Little River (labeled on the original land plats as the Withlacoochee).

Isham Watson was born about 1759 in Dobbs County (now Wayne County),  in the British Crown Colony of North Carolina. He  was one of ten children born to Samuel Watson (1731-1784) and Christine Watson (1740-1810).  He grew to young adulthood during the time of escalating tension between England and the American Colonies.

“In the early 1770’s, North Carolina sentiment on the subject of independence was fairly evenly divided. Back country settlers in 1771 openly defied royal authority, but they were successfully quelled by Governor William Tryon at the Battle of Alamance. By 1775, North Carolinians had generally split into two factions: patriots, who were willing to fight England for independence; and loyalists, who were either strongly in favor of British rule or those who did not feel that war was a way to redress grievances.”

Following on news of the fighting  at Lexington and Concord in April, 1775, the patriots of North Carolina  began organizing Continental Army and militia units. Isham Watson was among those who were willing to fight for independence.  By the age of 16, he joined Captain John Sheppard’s Company of the Dobbs County Regiment of Militia.  The Dobbs County Regiment, led by Col. Abraham Sheppard, Maj. Martin Caswell, and Maj. William McKinnie, would play a pivotal role in the opening of hostilities in the Revolutionary War.

When Governor Josiah Martin learned of patriot military preparations he fled the palace at New Bern and by July was on board a British warship off the North Carolina shore.

With Governor Martin out of the colony the patriots established a provisional government and began mobilizing their forces.

From his exile, Governor Martin organized a plan to recapture the colony. He hoped to raise a loyalist army of 10,000, many of which would be back-country Highland Scots. The army would then march to the coast and join a British expeditionary force led by Lord Cornwallis, Sir Henry Clinton and Sir Peter Parker. Together they would be able to re-establish royal authority in the Carolinas.

By February 15, 1776 Governor Martin’s Tory army assembled at Cross Creek (now Fayetteville), NC, mustering about 1,600 loyalists, including some 500 Scots armed with broadswords.   Under the command of Brigadier General Donald McDonald and lieutenant Colonel Donald McLeod, the Tory force began the march down the Cape Fear River to link up the the British regular forces on the coast at Wilmington where Cornwallis and Clinton had six regiments of British regulars  and a fleet of seventy-two ships to control the coast. The goal was to divide the northern and southern colonies.

But through a series of troop maneuvers and posturing, the patriots  managed to intercept the Tory army at Moores Creek Bridge.

On February 20, MacDonald began his march toward the coast; however, he found his way barred by Moore at Rockfish Creek. Instead of bringing on a fight the loyalists turned eastward and crossed the Cape Fear River. With Moore outmaneuvered, another patriot leader, Colonel Richard Caswell with 800 men [private Isham Watson and the Dobbs County Militia among them] rushed to take possession of the bridge on Widow Moores’ Creek, a crossing the loyalists must make in order to reach Wilmington. Moore sent 200 men with Colonel Alexander Lillington to reinforce Caswell and with his own force followed the enemy in hope of attacking his rear.

Lillington arrived at Moores Creek Bridge on the 25th and erected an earthwork on a slight rise overlooking the bridge and its approaches. The creek at this point is a dark, sluggish stream about 50 feet wide and 5 feet deep. A simple wooden bridge provided passage across the creek, but much of the terrain adjacent to the crossing was swampy.

With Caswell’s arrival on the 25th the patriot strength climbed to 1,000 men. Instead of joining Lillington, Caswell crossed the creek to the western bank and prepared a position there.

When the loyalists neared the creek and learned of the presence of the patriots, they had to decide whether to march in another direction or to fight. After a lengthy debate, the younger leaders prevailed and the decision was to fight. MacDonald was ill, so McLeod commanded the attack. Captain John Campbell with 75 picked broadswordsmen was to lead the charge into Caswell’s camp. However, a reconnaissance warned Caswell of his vulnerable position so he withdrew across the creek to the position of Lillington’s earthwork.

Caswell’s troops left their campfires burning as they quietly shifted across the bridge. Thus, on the evening of February 26th, 1776,  Private Watson found himself along with the other patriots “entrenched on a sandy elevation, about one hundred yards [east] from the bridge. The flooring of the bridge was taken up, the pine pole girders thoroughly greased with tallow, over which quantities of soft soap were poured to make crossing the more difficult, and then the patriots resolutely awaited the coming of the Tories.”

An hour before dawn on February 27, the loyalists struck Caswell’s deserted camp and found only low-burning campfires. McLeod quickly regrouped his men and when musket fire was heard near the bridge, they charged with the rallying cry, “King George and Broad Swords.” Though it was not daylight, they rushed the partly-demolished bridge with claymores drawn and bagpipes skirling.  As the advance party struggled across the bridge, they were met with a hail of musketry and artillery fire.

North Carolina Patriots , Private Isham Watson among them, defeated loyalist militia at Moores Creek Bridge on February 27, 1776. Isham Watson later moved to Lowndes County, GA.

North Carolina Patriots , Private Isham Watson among them, defeated loyalist militia at Moores Creek Bridge on February 27, 1776. Isham Watson later moved to Lowndes County, GA.

“From their well-defended position, hundreds of patriots trained their guns on the loyalist Scots who charged from the shadows in the light of dawn.  But bravery and broadswords were no match for muskets and cannon.  Within seconds, the front ranks of the loyalists were decimated. Some lay dead below the earthworks, while others drowned in Moore’s Creek.”

The patriots counter-attacked with vigor, producing a loyalist rout. The battle lasted only three minutes, with the patriots losing but one man.

A firsthand account of the battle was written by Colonel Richard Caswell in a letter published in 1776 in  John Almon’s work The Remembrancer.

1776-feb-29-caswell-letter-2

Extract of a letter from Col. Richard Caswell, late a delegate for the province of North Carolina in the Continental Congress, and now commander of a body of troops in that Province, to the Hon. Cornelius Harnett, Esq: president of the Provincial council of North Carolina, dated from his camp at Long Creek, Feb. 29, 1776

“I have the pleasure to acquaint you that we had and engagement with the Tories at Widow Moore’s Creek bridge on the 27th current.  Our army was about one thousand strong, consisting of the Newbern battalion of minute-men, the militia from Craven, Johnston, Dobbs, and Wake, and a detachment of the Wilmington battalion of minute-men which we found encamped at Moore’s Creek bridge the night before the battle, under command of Colonel Lillington.  The Tories, by common report, were three thousand; but General Mcdonald, who we have a prisoner, says there were about fifteen or sixteen hundred. He was unwell that day, and not in battle. Captain McLeod, who seemed to be the principal commander, with Captain John Campbell, are among the slain. The number killed and mortally wounded, from the best accounts I was able to collect, was about thirty; most of them were shot on passing the bridge.  Several had fallen into the water, some of whom, I am pretty certain, had not risen yesterday evening when I left the camp.  Such prisoners as we have made say there were at least fifty of their men missing.

The Tories were totally put to the rout, and will certainly disperse. Colonel Moore arrived at our camp a few hours after the engagement was over. His troops came up that evening, and are now encamped on the ground where the battle was fought. And Colonel Martin is at or near Cross-Creek, with a large body of men. Those, I presume, will be sufficient effectually to put a stop to any attempt to embody again. I therefore, with Colonel Moore’ s consent, am returning to Newbern, with the troops under my command, where I hope to receive your orders to dismiss them. There I Intend carrying the General. If the Council should rise before my arrival, be pleased to give order in what manner he shall be disposed of. Our officers and men behaved with the spirit and intrepidity becoming freemen, contending for their dearest privileges.

RICHARD CASWELL.

To the Hon˙ Cornelius Harnett, President of the Provincial Congress of North-Carolina.

After the battle, the Patriots captured hundreds of loyalists, large quantities of weapons, supplies, and more than £15,000 ($13,850,000 in today’s money).  The Patriot victory at Moores  Creek Bridge played a significant role in ending the British ambitions in North Carolina.

Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, References:

Almon, J. 1776. The Remembrancer, or Impartial repository of public events
Lewis, J. D. 2012. The Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge
Moore, F. 1876. Record of the Year, a Reference Scrap Book: Being the Monthly Record of Important Events Worth Preserving, Together with a Selection of the Choicest Current Miscellany, Volume 1, pg 207
National Park Service. 1969. Moores Creek National Military Park Master Plan: History
North Carolina. 1907. The Battle of Moores Creek Bridge in Literary and Historical Activities in North Carolina, 1900-1905.Pg 215

Dobbs County militia participated in a number of subsequent battles in the Revolutionary War, but Isham Watson’s is not known to have been present.  He continued to reside in Wayne County, NC.

On February 12, 1781 Isham Watson was among the citizens of Wayne County, NC signing a petition to the North Carolina General Assembly requesting the appointment of new county commissioners to select a sight for the county courthouse, the former commissioners have failed to select a central location.  It is interesting that so trivial an event of local governance would take up the time and attention of the citizens of Wayne County or the NC General Assembly in light of the fact that Lord Cornwallis was then occupying North Carolina, forcing Nathanael Green’s Continental Army troops to retreat into Virginia.

The British fortunes were quickly reversed. Despite a British victory at Guilford Court House, Cornwallis was unable to control the colony. Just months later, George Washington’s victory at Yorktown would end the major conflicts in America.

Isham Watson remained in Wayne County, NC after the war. The census of 1790 show he was a slaveholder there with 9 slaves.

About 1831, Isham Watson and his wife came to Lowndes County, GA originally settling in Folsom’s District.  Among other Revolutionary soldiers homesteading in Lowndes County were John Davis, Henry Hayman, Gideon Elvington, and William Peters.

In the 1832 Cherokee Land Lottery, Revolutionary Soldiers were given extra draws, and Isham Watson, of Lowndes County, GA was a fortunate drawer. He drew a lot in Cherokee County, GA, but it appears that he never occupied the property, and quickly sold it.

The 1834 property tax digests of Lowndes County, GA show that Isham Watson owned 490 acres of pine lands in Section 1, District 12, Lot 100,  Captain Caswell’s District.

The last record of Isham Watson appears in the 1840 Census of Lowndes County, GA.  He died in the 1840s; the location of his grave is not known.

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William Jackson Taylor, Sr.

William Jackson Taylor, Sr.

Special appreciation goes to Linda Ward Meadows, 3rd great grand daughter of William Jackson Taylor, Sr. and Samantha Jane Rogers Taylor, and 2nd great grand daughter of Benjamin Thomas Cook and Samantha Jane Taylor Cook, for her avid research and contributions to this post.

William Jackson Taylor, Sr. (1801-1885) was a settler of that part Lowndes County, GA which was cut into Berrien County in 1856. He came to the area about 1851, first renting land from William J. Lamb and later establishing a homeplace on the Indian Ford Road (Upper Mud Creek Road).

Grave of William Jackson Taylor, Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image source: ShelbyGT2011

Grave of William Jackson Taylor, Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

William Jackson Taylor was the subject of a biographical sketch compiled about 1927 by William H. Griffin, an early historian of Berrien County, GA.  Griffin described how William J. Taylor came from South Carolina to settle in Georgia:

William J. Taylor
The subject of this sketch was born in Marion Township, South Carolina, January 4, 1801 and died at his home in Berrien county, Georgia, July 18, 1885.

In the year 1851 he decided to cast his fortunes in the state of Florida, consequently he set out by private conveyance to reach that state but for some cause halted at the village of Alapaha, later known as Milltown [now Lakeland, GA], and rented land from William Lamb remaining there a short period when he moved over into what is known as the Upper Tenth district and bought land, cleared up a farm and remained there until his death.  The farm he cleared is a portion of the land [later] owned by E. B. Taylor, a grandson, on the Indian Ford or Upper Mud Creek road.

Mr. Taylor in addition to being a farmer was an expert blacksmith and maker of bells, trivets, etc.  It was his custom to make a lot of these useful articles and take them on the old fashioned two-wheeled horse cart and peddle them out among the people of the surrounding country, often going into other counties in the sale of his wares. Among the stock raisers of South Georgia, and almost every resident in that day was engaged in stock raising, it was an easy matter to make a sale of one or more bells of different sizes at every house, while the housewife who did her cooking on the open fireplace never failed to barter with him for one or two trivets for use under her cooking utensils.  A trivet, as its name implies, is a 3 legged utensil for use under the pots, spiders and ovens to raise the pot or oven up from the hearth so as to give room for building the fire underneath.  It is formed by welding three legs on to an iron ring about eight inches in diameter, the legs being about four inches in length.  It was a great help to the housewife in her primitive method of cooking. Other articles of Mr. Taylor’s man——- —— —— ———- —– fireplace and on which the pots and kettles were suspended while boiling.  Mr. Taylor’s approach was always heralded by a ringing of his bells of different tones in unison and his quaint method of showing off the merits of his bells were always a source of great amusement to the children who would leave their tasks and gather about his cart while he was bartering with the father and mother.

South Carolina Beginnings

William Jackson Taylor was born January 14, 1801 in South Carolina.  His lineage is uncertain, but his presence is well established in the Census records of  Marion County, SC, along with others of the Taylor family connection.

William J. Taylor first married Samantha J. Rogers. She was born in South Carolina February 3, 1800.  In the 1850 census of William Taylor’s household, his wife “Mantha” and eight children are enumerated by name, all of whom moved with their parents to Lowndes County, GA (now Berrien) in 1851.

1850 census enumeration of William J. Taylor and family in Marion County, South Carolina

1850 census enumeration of William J. Taylor and family in Marion County, South Carolina

In 1850 in Marion County, SC, William Taylor’s neighbors  were Robert Taylor, age 75, and Thomas Taylor, age 50.

A William Taylor appears in the 1840 census of Marion County, SC, with the same neighbors Robert Taylor and Thomas Taylor. Although names of spouses and children were not recorded in the 1840 census or earlier, this enumeration  shows three female children and one male child in William Taylor’s household, as would be expected from the ages given in the 1850 census.  Despite some discrepancies in ages of William, his wife and children, it seems almost certain that the  William Taylor in the 1850 and in the 1840 census of Marion County, SC are one and the same person.

William Taylor also appears as a head of household in the 1830 census of Marion County, SC , as do Robert Taylor and Thomas Taylor. In William Taylor’s household in 1830 there are his spouse and  three children, two boys and one girl. But all of the children named in the 1850 census were born after 1830. If this is the same William Taylor, which seems most likely,  then these three children all left their father’s household before 1850. Given their ages were at least twenty-something by then, it is entirely reasonably that they should have married and established their own households.

In 1820, William Taylor and Robert Taylor both appear as heads of households  in Marion County, SC. William’s household includes his spouse and two children.   William Jackson Taylor and Samantha J. Rogers in 1820 would have been 19 and 20 years old, respectively. If this was indeed their household, then their marriage must have occurred about 1817.  Unfortunately, no documentation of their marriage date has been located.

From Federal Census records, though,  it seems that by 1820  William Taylor and Samantha J. Rogers had established their household in Marion County, SC.  The names of the three eldest Taylor children are not known, and it appears that they had left their father’s household by the time of the 1850 census, but the names of the known children of Samantha J. Rogers and William J. Taylor are listed below.  All of these children were born in South Carolina. The reported dates of birth of the children show typical variances found in 19th century census records; where given below the dates of birth are taken from  grave marker inscriptions.

  1. unknown male Taylor, born about 1818 in South Carolina
  2. unknown female Taylor, born about 1819 in South Carolina
  3. unknown male Taylor, born about 1826 in South Carolina
  4. Fannie R. Taylor, born January 21, 1832; died June 30, 1904; never married; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.
  5. Mary Taylor, born 1833; at home with her parents in Berrien County, GA in 1860
  6. Thomas L. Taylor, born November 7, 1838; married Fairiby Cook (b. 1846), daughter of Elijah Cook;   died June 18, 1922; buried Poplar Springs Missionary Baptist Church, Berrien County, GA.
  7. Emeline Taylor, born about 1839, in South Carolina; married Joseph Lewis, January 28, 1866 in Berrien County, GA.
  8. Jemima Taylor, born January 22, 1842; married on December 25, 1856 to William Hill Boyett, who was born July 27, 1834 and died December 16, 1897; Jemima died June 28, 1926; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA
  9. Robert Lewis Taylor, born 1845; married 1st Nancy Tison, daughter of Henry Tison, on June 22, 1834; married 2nd Sallie Boyd, daughter of Aden Boyd; said to be buried in an unmarked grave at Empire Church Cemetery
  10. William Jackson Taylor, Jr. born 1847; married Eliza H. Boyd, daughter of Aden Boyd, on July 29, 1862.
  11. Samantha Jane Taylor, born December 28, 1848; married Benjamin Thomas Cook in Berrien County on December 14, 1865; Jane died June 7, 1888; Ben died October 5, 1924; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

The 1860 Federal Census of Berrien County, GA lists two other children living in William J. Taylor’s household.  They were Martha, age 3, and Harriet, age 1. Both girls were born in South Carolina.

William Jackson Taylor and his wife, Samantha, joined with the Primitive Baptist congregation of Empire Church.  Their future in-laws, Nancy Sykes and Aden Boyd, gave land in 1854 to establish Empire Church,  located on Empire Road near Five Mile Creek,  about six miles northeast of Ray City out the Sam I. Watson Highway.

The Sons of William Jackson Taylor

According to W. H. Griffin, all three sons saw service in the Confederate army. The sons were:

  • Thomas Lang Taylor who married Ferraby Cook, a daughter of Elijah Cook, and they were the parents of George M., E.B., William J., Archie and Arthur, twins, and the three daughters. Thomas Lang Taylor enlisted in Company I, 50th Georgia Regiment on March 22, 1862, and mustered out on February 15, 1863 at Camp Winder, Richmond, VA. He was enumerated at age 23 in Berrien County, in the 1864 Census for Re-organizing the Georgia Militia. His profession as “shoemaker”  was critical to the war effort; “keeping the troops adequately shod was a problem that plagued Confederate authorities from first to last.” Thomas L. Taylor later served as  Justice of the Peace in Berrien County.
  • Lewis Robert Taylor, who married first Nancy Tison and after her death Sallie Boyd, a daughter of Aiden Boyd. Pvt L. R. Taylor enlisted in Company E, 50th Georgia Regiment on January 28, 1863 at Coffee Bluff near Savannah, GA.
  • William J. Taylor Jr. was too young for service when the Civil War started. He was enumerated at age 16 in Berrien County in the 1864 Census for Reorganization of the Georgia Militia. William J. Jr., [was] still living [in 1927] and was married to Eliza Boyd, another daughter of Aiden Boyd.  William J. Jr., [was then] in his eightyeth year.

Widower and Groom in a Month

Samantha J. Rogers Taylor,  scarcely survived the end of the Civil War.  William J. Taylor was left a widower on November 6, 1865; Samantha was buried at Empire Church Cemetery, near Ray City, GA.

Samantha Jane Taylor tombstone

Grave of Samantha J. Taylor, Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

William J. Taylor was not in mourning for long. Within days following the death of his first wife, Mr. Taylor married Mrs. Mary Ford. She was the young widow  of William A. Ford, who apparently died at home in Berrien County, GA about 1864. Born Mary Patience Ellen Musselwhite, she was daughter of Asa Musslewhite, of Lowndes County.   Mrs. Ford had four young children:  Mary Ann E. Ford, age 7; Nancy E. Ford, age 5; John S. Ford, age 3; and Anna Ford, age 1.

There seems to be some confusion of the military records of William A. Ford with those of William D. Ford.

William D. Ford (1839-1862)
William D. Ford, of Berrien County, GA was the husband of Lydia M. Baker.  Military records show he served with The Berrien Light Infantry, Company I, 50th Georgia Regiment.  He enlisted on March 4, 1862 at Nashville, GA and died on October 26, 1862 at Winchester, Frederick County, VA. Extensive research on the 50th Georgia Regiment by James W. Parrish, author of Wiregrass to Appomattox, indicates William D. Ford died of disease at Winchester Hospital and was buried at Stonewall Confederate Cemetery, Winchester VA.

William A. Ford (abt 1825 -abt 1864)
William A. Ford, married Mary P. E. Musselwhite in 1851 in Dooly County, GA and moved to Berrien County, GA before 1860. He  did not serve in the Civil War, claiming the equivalent of “conscientious objector” status.  William A. Ford was enumerated in the 1864 Census for the Re-organization of the Georgia Militia  at age 42 years and 7 months.  His occupation was farming but he was also a preacher, which was the basis of his exemption from Confederate service. Apparently William A. Ford died shortly after the 1864 Georgia census; the date of death and place of burial is not known.

 

William J. Taylor, Sr. and Mary Musslewhite Ford were married in Berrien County on November 30, 1865.  The groom was 64;  The bride was exactly half his age, at 32.

William J. Taylor, Sr and Mary Ford, Certificate of Marriage, November 3, 1865, Berrien County, GA

William J. Taylor, Sr and Mary Ford, Certificate of Marriage, November 3, 1865, Berrien County, GA

The Taylor children’s position on their father’s remarriage so soon after the death of their mother, and to a much younger woman, is unknown.  The wedding ceremony was performed by the widower’s son, Thomas L. Taylor, who was Justice of the Peace.  On the other hand, William J. Taylor’s youngest daughter, Samantha J. Taylor, left the home of her father and new step-mother just two weeks later, to be married to Benjamin Thomas Cook.

On October 27, 1866  William J. Taylor was expelled from the Empire Primitive Baptist Church, presumably on account of his association with a Missionary Baptist church.  According to W. H. Griffin, “Mr. Taylor was a member of the Missionary Baptist church and was a co-temporary and fellow worker with Moses G. Sutton and other pioneer citizens in the establishment of Poplar Springs church out ten miles east of Nashville…”

In 1867,  William Taylor  signed the Oath of Allegiance to the United States in order to have his national citizenship restored and to qualify for the right to vote.  The Oath of Allegiance was required of all southern men whose national citizenship had been renounced by way of the Ordinance of Secession, oaths of  abjuration of national citizenship, oaths of allegiance to Confederate states,  or acceptance of Confederate citizenship.

In 1867 William J. Taylor signed an oath of allegiance to the United States and sought to have his civil rights restored.

In 1867 William J. Taylor signed an oath of allegiance to the United States and sought to have his civil rights restored.

William  and Mary made their home in Berrien County in the 10th Land District.  The children of William J. Taylor and Mary  P. E. Musselwhite were:

  1. Moses A. Taylor, born about 1868
  2. Sarah Ann Taylor, born August, 1870
  3. Ephraim Taylor, born about 1872

The 1870 Census shows William J. Taylor and Mary PE Musselwhite Taylor were enumerated on their farm in the 1148 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA. In their household were their children Moses and Sarah Ann, and Mary’s children by her former marriage, Mary A., Nancy, John and Ann.  Their neighbors were the families of John Sapp, William Garrett, William Gaskins, and Emily Gaskins Newbern, widowed daughter-in-law of Etheldred Newbern.

1870 Census enumeration of William J. Taylor and Mary P E Musselwhite Taylor in Berrien County, GA https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0135unit#page/n501/mode/1up

1870 Census enumeration of William J. Taylor and Mary P E Musselwhite Taylor in Berrien County, GA https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0135unit#page/n501/mode/1up

In 1880, William  and Mary were still in the 1148 th District of Berrien County. In their household were their minor children Moses , Sarah, and Ephriam, and Mary’s daughter, Nancy Ford.  Enumerated at age 81, William Taylor was still working as a blacksmith.  On neighboring farms were the families of his son, Thomas Taylor, and of James Sirmans.

 

1880 Census enumeration of William J. Taylor and Mary P E Musselwhite Ford in Berrien County, GA. https://archive.org/stream/10thcensusl0134unit#page/n432/mode/1up

1880 Census enumeration of William J. Taylor and Mary P E Musselwhite Ford in Berrien County, GA. https://archive.org/stream/10thcensusl0134unit#page/n432/mode/1up

William J. Taylor, Sr. is buried by his first wife Samantha in Empire Church Cemetery. Several of their children are buried nearby.  His second wife Mary survived him by many years.

SOURCES:
Griffin Papers, by William Henry Griffin; Taylor Family folder found in Huxford Library; 1820, 1830, 1840,1850 Federal Census for Marion County, SC; 1860, 1870, and 1880 Federal Census for Berrien County, GA; Tombstone inscriptions in Empire Cemetery; Berrien County marriage records.

 

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John C. Sirmons Fought Graft in Atlanta Police Department

John C. Sirmons, a native of Berrien County, GA , made a lifetime career in education. In 1917 he was teaching at Tech High School in Atlanta.  There, he suffered the indignity of having his car  stolen.

His car was recovered by Atlanta police and in attempting to claim his property, John encountered some difficulty which sparked an investigation into municipal graft.

The February 17, 1917 Atlanta Constitution reported on the incident:

February 23, 1917 Atlanta Constitution reports charges of police graft brought by John C. Sirmons

February 17, 1917 Atlanta Constitution reports charges of police graft brought by John C. Sirmons

Atlanta Constitution
February 17, 1917

Board Will Probe Charges of Graft

Rewards Demanded by Policemen for Recovery of Automobiles, According to Professor J. C. Sirmons.

    A special meeting of the police board will be called to investigate Professor J. C. Sirmons’ charges that policemen charged him a reward of $25 to recover his stolen Ford car.
    This course of action was decided upon by Chairman Andy King after a conference held by Mayor Asa G. Candler, Chief of Police W. M. Mayo and the board chairman, in the mayor’s office Friday afternoon.
    “Of course, Professor Sirmons must make his verbal charges to Mayor Candler against the two policemen in writing,” said Chairman King, “before they can be tried before the police board.
    “Chief Mayo has detailed Captain L. S. Dobbs to investigate Professor Sirmons’ charges tomorrow, and if the captain finds that there is sufficient grounds for a further investigation by the police board, I will call a special meeting immediately, and the matter will be sifted out thoroughly.

Rights of Policemen.
    “Policemen have a right to receive rewards for cars stolen out of the city and recovered in Atlanta, but they have no right to demand rewards for cars stolen in Atlanta, and recovered here.”
    When Mayor Candler received information from Professor Sirmons indicating graft in the police department in connection with the recovery of stolen automobiles, he asserted that Professor Sirmons’ case had the appearance of an “outrageous offense” by the police.
    Professor Sirmons laid the case plainly before Mayor Candler, and later told the newspaper men of his grievance as follows:
    “My car was stolen from in front of the Lyric theater last Saturday night. I notified the city detective department on Sunday.
    “Several unsuccessful efforts were made to get me by telephone on Monday and Tuesday. I was teaching classes and could not answer the phone at Tech High. Early Tuesday afternoon I answered a call at the school and was informed that it was a policeman. The policeman wanted me to offer a reward for the recovery of my car.  Finally, at his insistence, I agreed to give $25 for it.
    “‘Come down to the police station this afternoon and get it,’ he said.
   “I went down, taking a fellow teacher with me.

Wanted $25 Reward.
    “When I asked concerning the car, the station sergeant told me that there was my man over there, point to an officer in knickerbockers.
    “The officer pointed to my car outside.
    “‘What are the charges.'” I asked.
    “‘You said you’d give me $25 reward,’ he said.
    “I said I’d pay the next day, as I did not have the money with me.
    “‘Leave the car here until then.’ answered the policeman.
    “I then gave a check, made payable to Chief Mayo, in compliance with his request.
    “As I came through up town, I didn’t think I ought to be made to pay for my car, so I stopped at my bank, and ordered payment stopped on the check.
    “Later I informed Chief Mayo of my action. I made no explanation of the details to the chief, but laid the matter before Mayor Candler today.”
     Chief Mayo said the officers’ names were Barfield and Fain.
    Mr. Sirmons said he did not remember any of the names of the policemen he talked with.
    “It’s an outrageous offense,” said Mayor Candler, after receiving the facts as laid before him by Professor Sirmons. “I shall insist upon a probe at once.”
     The mayor was given facts in a similar case where an insurance man recently had his car stolen, but refused to pay any reward for the recover of his car. The facts were given by a local newspaper man who stated his friend, the insurance man, did not want his named mentioned, but would present his grievances to the police board.
     The police board has a rule against policemen receiving rewards, but it is always laid aside and special resolutions passed granting rewards to policemen whenever rewards are offered.

The following week the police officers involved in the case were exonerated of all charges,  but John C. Sirmons got his car back and his $25 dollars.  The practice of officers collecting rewards for the return of stolen property was abolished by Atlanta mayor Asa Candler.

Atlanta police practice of charging a "reward" to return stolen property to victims, reported Atlanta Constitution, February 23, 1917.

Action by John C. Sirmons brought an end to Atlanta police practice of charging a “reward” to return stolen property to victims, reported Atlanta Constitution, February 23, 1917.

Atlanta Constitution
February 23, 1917

Reward System To Be Abolished

Mayor Candler Tells Commissioners That It “Will Pervert Police Force” if It Is Continued.

There will be no more rewards for Atlanta policemen for recovery of property stolen from citizens of Atlanta, or any property stolen in Atlanta, and recovered here, if the wishes of the police board, as expressed at the meeting last night, are respected.
    Mayor Asa G. Candler declared that the “reward system would pervert the police force.” He urged that the system of granting rewards be abolished, and the police board, from expressions of the members, would have taken favorable action on his suggestion at once if City Attorney Samuel A. Hewlett had not informed the commissioners that he was at present drawing up a city ordinance, at the request of a councilman, the purpose of which will be to put an end to the practice of rewarding officers who are paid by the city. Attorney Hewlett informed the board that this proposed ordinance would be introduced at the next meeting of council, and further discussion was dropped.
    After hearing numerous witnesses in the cases of Call Officers Barfield and Fain, charged by Professor J. C. Sirmons of the Tech High school, with extorting a $25 reward for the recovery of his stolen Ford machine, the board exonerated the officers on motion of Mayor Candler, which was seconded by Commissioner W. A. Vernory.
    On motion of Commissioner Poole, the action of the board at its former meeting in granting the Sirmons reward to the two call officers was rescinded. This made it obligatory upon the call officers to return Professor Sirmons his check, on which the professor Sirmons his check, on which the professor had stopped payment after issuing it, claiming that he did not think he was obligated to pay a reward for his car.
    “I do not think these two officers are to blame for taking this reward,” said Mayor Candler.  “It is the system. I know the officers are honest men – have known Officer Barfield’s family for many years, and trust him. But a city policeman has no right to expect a reward from a citizen of Atlanta, or for property stolen in this city and recovered here.
    “The reward system will pervert the police force, and I am zealous to see the force a good force. Citizens of Atlanta have said to me that the police force is more anxious to catch the stolen car than the thief who stole it. I have several similar complaints to that of Professor Sirmans, and I do not wish that these officers will be allowed to be put in positions where they will bring discredit upon the police department.”
    Attorney J. A. Branch, of Moore & Branch, represented Fain and Barfield.
    The commissioners present were: Mayor Candler, Chairman Andy King, Commissioners J. Lee Barnes, Poole, B. F. Styron, Maddox, Vernoy, McGee, J. C. Vaughan and Foster.

It appears that after the 1916-1917 academic year at Tech High School, John C. Sirmons had had enough of Atlanta. He sought a chance to return to higher education and an opening at his former institution, Cherokee Junior College, San Saba County, TX provided the opportunity.

Related Posts:

John C. Sirmons, Big Man On Campus

 

 

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