Berrien County’s Oldest Resident Dies at Ray City

The August 7, 1930 edition of the Atlanta Constitution reported the following:

 Georgia Negro, 106, Dies in Ray City

Ray City, Ga., Aug 6 – “Uncle” Dick McGowan, a negro man believed to be Berrien county’s oldest resident died near here. He was 106 years of age.

McGowan was known to have been a slave, owned by the late Hardy Sirmons, of Ray City.  Hardy Sirmons died several years ago at an advanced age, and it was known that McGowan was at least 35 years old when Mr. Sirmons was born, giving a very authentic idea of the validity of the claim that the negro was 106 years of age at the time of his death.  McGowan had lived in the Ray City section of Berrien County all of his life and was known to all of the older residents of that section.

For a number of years McGowan was given a home and shelter at the home of Molly Hall, a negress who is known throughout this section of south Georgia as claiming to have supernatural powers as a “seeress.” The home of the Hall woman is a mecca to which literally thousands of white people journey every year in efforts to fathom mysteries of the past. Many wonderful stories are in circulation regarding the accuracy with which the woman draws away the mysterious veil for her clients.

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  1. Stella Solomon Brown said,

    June 13, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    My name is Stella Solomon Brown, dauther of Lela M. Wright Solomon. Lela was the daughter of Stella Wright. I was named after my Grandmother Stella Reddick Wright who was a younger sister of Molly Hall. Molly was older and raised Stella after their mother passed away. See blog on Stella Wright below

  2. Stella Solomon Brown said,

    June 13, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Posted the wrong link, try this one…

  3. Bryan Shaw said,

    January 24, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Richard “Dick” McGowan was a slave boy who was purchased by Hardeman Sirmans the elder in 1856 from James Dobson one of Mr. Sirman’s neighbors. The original bill of sale is in the archive of the Berrien Historical Foundation. The bill of sale states that Dick McGowan was 11 years of age at the time of the sale. T Hardeman Sirmans, the son of Hardeman the elder, was born in 1860. Dick McGowan would have only been 15 years old at the time Hardeman the younger was born, not 35. The approximate date of Dick McGowan’s birth was 1845, not 1825. The early census records in 1870 and 1880 of Dick McGowan verify the approximate birth date of 1845. However by the 1900, 1910, and 1920 census the McGowan family started adding additional years to his age. In fact at the time of his death, Dick McGowan was only approximately 86 years old. This is an example of hearsay genealogy creating misinformation that is passed down from generation to generation.

    • January 25, 2014 at 8:39 am

      thanks for sharing this additional documentation on Dick McGowan. There was certainly an element of sensationalism in the newspapers of the early 1900s that attracted exaggerations like this story. On the other hand, there is a very high degree of variability from decade to decade in the reported ages of many if not most individuals in the census records of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The uncertainty about birth dates was undoubtedly higher among the family members of former slaves, so it is not surprising that the age of a former slave could become distorted by as much as twenty years over the course of a lifetime.

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