The Grand Jury of 1868, Berrien County, Georgia

Moses C. Lee,  his brother-in-law Samuel E. Register,  and Jonathan D. Knight, all early settlers of the Ray City area, served together on the 1868 term of the Berrien County Grand Jury, as did Benjamin Perry Jones, who would later engage in banking at Ray City and Valdosta, GA

The Court of 1868 was convened at a time following the Civil War, when the business of the county was in disarray.  A Berrien County Centennial edition of the Nashville Herald observed in retrospect, “Pillage and plunder, indignities and overbearing had galled the necks of Berrien County taxpayers for  three years or more; the loss of their boys on the front was still a cankering sore in the hearts of the fathers and mothers bereaved by the war’s toll on human life and wanton destruction of property.”  The county government had reached a financially unsound state and the taxpayers wanted an accounting.

The Grand Jury was faced with investigating the cause of the fiscal problems. The members were frustrated and perhaps contentious in reaching a conclusion in the matter, and their deliberations were inordinately extended. Jury members were at odds over who was to blame for it all.  Eventually, Judge Hansell, the presiding magistrate, adjourned the Court even though the Grand Jury had not concluded.

The Judge’s action  led the members of the Grand Jury to make a General Presentment that was harshly critical and highly publicized. This was despite the fact that when the court was convened, the Judge had notified the jury of his intention to adjourn on schedule that he might return to the bedside of his wife, who was in poor health.

The minutes of the court provide the following:

“We the jury chosen, selected and sworn to serve at this court respectfully ask for the appointment of a judge that would do justice to our county.

” We denounce Judge Hansell for adjourning the court  and leaving the business of the grand jury unfinished, and in such condition that it is impossible for us to proceed further.

“We denounce the course of all our county officers who are connected with the financial matter of our county, in that we find it impossible to make a proper investigation on account of the negligence of the officers.

“We, finding it impossible to arrive at the financial condition of the county, we recommend that no extra tax be levied on the county till the county records of the treasurer be ascertained by the succeeding grand jury, of the county.

“We respectfully ask the Clerk of the Court to place on the minutes these resolutions and to furnish Maj. Pendleton with a copy of same for publication.”

D.G. Hutchison, Forman
Thos. D. Lindsey,
P. Tison,
Malcolm McMillan,
B.P. Jones,
A. H. Turner,
Moses C. Lee,
M. C. Futch,
J. B. Giddens,
M. Tison,
John McMillan, Jr.,
John Hesters,
Wiley Tison,
H. B. Dodson,
S. E. Register,
J.D. Knight,
T. Mathis,
John G. Taylor,
T.J. Lindsey.
William Folsom

Major Pendleton was the editor of the Valdosta Times.  The jury’s denouncement was published in the Times, followed by a backlash against the jurors – who received  “the indignant criticisms this episode created, so great was the love and esteem which was extended for Judge Hansell,”   by many citizens in the Southern Circuit.

It is said that many of the jurors of the 1868 term later regretted their actions in regards to Judge Hansell.  And while this smirch on his record may be preserved in the minutes, it was far outweighed by another 35 years spent on the bench following the 1868 term.

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1 Comment

  1. cecilia jones caldwell said,

    April 25, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    I am a descendant of the Registers from Sampson County NC

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