Incendiaries in Berrien County

In 1884, The chronicle : a weekly journal, devoted to the interests of insurance, manufacturers and real estate reported:

Webster defines incendiarism to be the act of maliciously and wilfully setting buildings and other combustible property on Are, and this paper will discuss the subject in the light of that definition.

The ancients, in recognition of that famous medical maxim, “similia similibus curantur,” treated incendiaries with fire, that is, the incendiaries themselves were burned, to the complete vindication of the maxim just quoted. We regret that among the ” lost arts” we must number a mode of “fire prevention” so salutary and effectual.

Indeed, the 1876 Code of the State of Georgia required the death penalty as the punishment for arson, although it fell short of demanding burning at the stake.  The 1884 Chronicle continued:

According to statisticians one third of all our fires is the work of incendiaries; they who wilfully set buildings or other combustible property on fire, and presumably two-fifths of our entire fire waste is the fruit of crime. The number of fires of incendiary origin exceed those from the combined causes of accidents, carelessness, defective construction in all its bearings, including all defects of flues, furnaces, heating and lighting apparatus, friction in machinery, gasoline and coal oil stoves, ignition, spontaneous combustion, mischievous children, lightning and the much abused tramp.

Berrien County certainly knew its share of firebugs. By way of example,  The Columbus Daily Enquirer-Sun, Dec 14, 1887 pg 3 include the following

 The corn crib and contents of Mr. J.J. Sirmans, of Berrien county were incendiarised. The house contained 400 bushels of corn which had just been housed, 35 bushels of oats, all his farming utensils, besides bridles, saddles and other property.

Every decade, probably every year, included accounts of arson. In March of 1915, A.E. Rampey and Virge Curry were arrested in connection with the burning of Rampey’s gin house. “both of these parties were convicted of arson in the burning of the said gin house and sentenced to terms in the penitentiary ”

The  Georgia Report of the Insurance Department of the Comptroller-General’s Office for the year ending 1916,

21. Sparks, Ga.
I went to Nashville, Ga., this week to appear before the Grand Jury of Berrien County in regard to the burning of the dormitory at Sparks, Ga., last December. I had already investigated this fire and turned over what evidence and affidavits I had secured to the solicitor-general and he had me to appear before the grand jury. The grand jury went thoroughly into this case and returned true bills against five of the boys who were attending this school. I am just informed by the solicitor that the sheriff had two of these boys in jail at Nashville and was close after the other three.

22. Milltown, Ga.
Leaving Nashville I stopped by Valdosta and learned of a fire that had occurred at Milltown, Ga., a short distance from Valdosta. I began an investigation and secured strong evidence against E. A. Rampey, owner of the gin that burned, and also against Verge Curry. I was satisfied that Rampey hired Curry to fire the gin, so I hurried back to Nashville where court was in session and took the cases before the grand jury, with the result that true bills were returned as follows: E. A. Rampey as accessory before the fact, and Verge Curry as principal. As soon as these bills were returned I had Sheriff Morris and his deputy to go at once to Milltown and arrest both parties. He succeeded in getting both. They were brought before Judge Thomas at Nashville, and he assessed a bond of $5,000 against each of them, in default of which they were put in jail.

27. Nashville, Ga.
.was acquitted and convicted and sentenced to serve five years on the Prison Farm at Milledgeville. Wright was tried at this term of court. Bridges were tried with the burning of the dormitory at Sparks, Ga. They were chargedPhilip Bridges and James Wright

and convicted and sentenced to serve five years each.were tried and Verge Curry RampeyI attended court M Nashville, Berrien County, for two weeks, trying four cases of arson that I had made on previous occasions. E. A.

The 1884 Chronicle also offered this wisdom:

Incendiarism In Georgia.

The Vindicator counts up several noteworthy instances of incendiarism in Georgia, and then comments as follows: “In the days when insurance was unknown, such fires would have caused the people to turn out and hunt up these ‘ fire bugs,’ and to deal out to them summary justice. Now, however, it is more convenient and saves much trouble, to collect from insurance companies the losses, and let the ‘ grand jury find the criminals.’

Expecting communities to deal with incendiaries themselves was perhaps not so wise advice for those who would a few years later face  some of the most notorious cases of arson in Wiregrass history.

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