Henry Harrison Knight Among Earliest Teachers in Berrien County

Henry Harrison Knight,circa 1896, located at Ray’s Mill, holding Levi, Jr.

Henry Harrison Knight is a well documented historical figure of  Ray City, GA.  He was born on November 17, 1840 in that part of Lowndes County which was later cut into Berrien County.  His father was John Knight and his mother was Sarah “Sallie” Moore.  “His father, John Knight, had held various county offices during his lifetime and died in 1876. Henry’s education was limited to that of the common schools of the county.”  His uncle, General Levi J. Knight, organized the first Civil War unit to go forth from Berrien County, the Berrien Minute Men.

Henry Knight, himself, was a Confederate veteran, statesman, civil servant, and merchant.

A recently encountered news clipping from the 1956 Berrien County Centennial edition of the Nashville Herald, gives testimony that Henry Harrison Knight was also among the early educators in Berrien County.  In his day, however, the role of teacher may have been more of a community service than an occupation.

Although modern American usage of the word is restricted almost exclusively as a verb, the online dictionary gives a definition of the word “found” as a noun:

found -noun .

something that is provided or furnished without charge, esp. meals given a domestic: Maid wanted, good salary and found.
Consider then, this note from the Herald’s centennial history  about the early educators of Berrien County:

First Teachers in Berrien County Paid in “Found”
      In the early history of Berrien county education was eagerly sought by parents for their young, and making an impress upon the minds and hears of what are now, the older citizens, were the early teachers who taught the various schools around the county.
     Among these were Martin Miller, Jonathan D. Knight, Lacy E. Lastinger, W. H. Griffin, Henry H. Knight, Henry B. Peeples.
    These men taught in the little one room log house schools and were often paid in “found.”

Henry Berryman Peeples (1849-1909), son of Henry Thompson Peeples and nephew of Richard A. Peeples, was one of the early teachers in Berrien County, GA

Henry Berryman Peeples (1849-1909), son of Henry Thompson Peeples and nephew of Richard A. Peeples, was one of the early teachers in Berrien County, GA

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Abe Levin Starts Family Business At Ray City, GA

Leon Levin at Grand Opening of Levin’s Foodland, Nashville, GA circa 1962.

Abe Levin was a Jewish immigrant who entered the retail merchandise business in Ray City, GA in the 1920s.  Abe was born in Russia in 1891.  His parents were Austrian Jews, but sometime before he was born they moved to Russia.  In 1903, when Abe was about 12 years old, he came to America where he became a naturalized citizen. He married a Russian Jewish woman, Nettie Simon,  who had also immigrated to America in 1903.  The 1920 census shows that the mother tongue of Abe and Nettie Levin was “Jewish”.

The Levins were living in Maryland when their first son , Leon I. Levin, was born about 1914.  By September 1915 when their second son, Morris, was born they were living in North Carolina, and a third son, Charles, was born there in December 1917.

Some time before 1920 the family moved to Georgia and settled in Ray City, where Abe opened his own store.  The 1920 census shows that he was the owner and an employer.  The family lived in a house on Jones Street  where the neighbors were other merchants of Ray City:  men like Gordon V. Hardie, butcher; Claud Clements, grocer;  and Walter Aultman, ice dealer.

By 1930 the Levins had moved to Nashville, Ga. where the family was long engaged in retail trade.

A. Levin’s store on the south side of the courthouse square, Nashville, GA in April 1965. Image courtesy of Berrien County Historical Society http://berriencounty.smugmug.com

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1929 Merchants Support Ray City News

Abraham Leffler ~ the Merchant from Bavaria

Georgia Teacher For Fifty Years Only Went To School 335 Days

In 1933 the Atlanta Constitution gave this retrospective on the remarkable life of William Green “Bill” Avera

Georgia Teacher for fifty years only went to school 335 days.
Atlanta Constitution. Sept 10, 1933

RAY CITY, Ga. -Sept. 9. -(AP) Bill Avera, 78, went to school 335 days over a period of eight years but for 50 years he worked in the educational field, taught hundreds of children and served 16 years as commissioner of education in Berrien county.
  He’s retired from active teaching now but is writing and compiling a textbook on primary arithmetic at his country home near here. He believes the book will simplify the teaching of “figgurs” to children in the grammar grades of school.
  “I know the difficulties which both teacher and pupil have to face in arithmetic and I think this book will help them,” he says. “It will be a distinct change from methods which we used when I was teaching. In the book, I am trying to write and explain the subject from the child’s viewpoint as well as that of the teacher”
  He began teaching in Berrien county in 1877.  Realizing he had much to learn he bought books on geography, arithmetic, grammar and other subjects and studied incessantly when he was not in the classroom to equip himself for his vocation.
  He has taught in Berrien, Lanier, Cook and Lowndes counties and hundreds of young people remember him as their teacher.
  Kindly, congenial,and possessing a wealth of information and knowledge, he is a favorite with children and adults. There is a stone plaque over the arched gateway of his home which he placed in memory of his first wife, who died in 1905. It reads: “In memory of my beloved and faithful wife because she never spoke a harsh word to me nor left undone an act of kindness that would add to my comfort and happiness.”
  Four times Mr. Avera was elected school commissioner of this county and he did much for the progress of rural education. He has a library consisting of more than 500 books for which he spent more than $2,000.

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Professor Avera Lived Near Ray City, GA



Image detail: William Green Avera, circa 1905. Image courtesy of Berrien County Historical Society, http://berriencounty.smugmug.com/

William Green “Bill” Avera


Bill Avera was a lifelong educator of Berrien county who lived in the vicinity of Ray City, GA. He was born August 1, 1855, in  Clinch County Georgia. His father was Stephen Willis Avera and his mother was Martha Elizabeth Aikins. William Green Avera was the oldest of eleven children, his brothers and sisters being  Winnie Ann, Polly Ann, Sarah O’Neal, Daniel M., Lyman H., Phebe V., Lou, Junius H., Cordelia and Martha.

Upon the organization of Berrien County,  Stephen and Martha Avera brought their young son to establish the family homestead in the new county in 1856. During the Civil War, Bill’s father enlisted and became a soldier of Company E of the Fifty-fourth Georgia Infantry. Stephen Avera saw action defending Atlanta from Sherman’s approach and later in the battles at Jonesboro, Franklin, Murfreesboro and Nashville. The war ended while he was at home in Berrien County on detached duty.  After the war, Bill’s father continued to farm in Berrien County.  In 1877 Bill Avera married and established a household of his own near Ray City, GA.

The home of William Green Avera was located about five miles northeast of Ray City, GA.

In addition to his work as a teacher and superintendent William Green Avera worked for teacher education, being frequently involved in the organization and presentation of “teacher institutes.” In the spring of 1895, Avera co-presented with James Rembert Anthony at a teacher institute held at Sparks, GA, on Saturday, March 16, 1895, their presentation: “Grammar, the Actual and Relative Importance of Parsing and Diagramming.” J. R. Anthony was a teacher from Valdosta, GA. Among others on the program was Marcus S. Patten, who presented “Reading: Teaching to read using Holmes as the text.”

In his 1913 work, A History of Savannah and South Georgia, Volume 2, author William Harden gave the following account of William Green Avera:

   PROF. WILLIAM GREEN AVERA. The career of a man who for the greater part of a life time has been identified with the training and education of the youth is always one of the most valuable assets of a community. Probably no educator in south Georgia has been so long or so closely connected with educational progress and the practical work of the schools as the present superintendent of the Berrien county schools, Prof. William Green Avera. He belongs to a family of pioneer Georgians, and was born on a farm in Clinch county, the 1st of August, 1855.


  Reared in a good home and trained to habits of industry, William G. Avera early manifested special inclination for study and the pursuit of knowledge, and made the best of his early opportunities of schooling. He has been a lifelong student, and when he was eighteen he was entrusted with his first school, located three miles east of Nashville. For thirty-three years, an entire generation, he was in the active work of the schoolroom, and he taught children and children’s children during that time. The aggregate length of his service out of those thirty-three years was twenty-five full years, a third of a long lifetime. In 1907  professor Avera was elected superintendent of the Berrien county schools, and by re-elections has since served continuously in that office. His administration has been marked by many improvements in the county educational system.

   In 1877 Professor Avera was united in marriage with Miss Eliza J. Sirmans. Mrs. Avera was born in Berrien county, daughter of Abner and Frances (Sutton) Sirmans. She died at Sparks in 1905. In 1911 Professor Avera married Margaret McMillan, a native of Berrien county and daughter of Randall McMillan. The following children were born to Professor Avera by his first marriage, namely: Sirman W., Marcus D., Bryant F., Aaron G., Alice J., Homer C., Abner J., Willis M., Lona, and Lula. Marcus D., Homer C., Abner J., and Lula are now deceased. Aaron G. married Fannie Key, now deceased, and has one son, William. Sirman W. married Annie Young and has a daughter named Georgia. Bryant F. married Mary Patton. Alice J. is the wife of William T. Parr, and has four children, J. W.,Stella, Saren and Gladys. Lona married Austin Avera, son of I. C. Avera, sheriff of Berrien county.

   In 1878 Professor Avera settled on a farm eight miles southeast of Nashville, and that was the home of his family until 1904, when it was temporarily removed to Sparks that the children might have the benefit of the superior educational advantages available in the Sparks Collegiate institute there. Prof. Avera’s present home is at Nashville, the county seat of Berrien county. He still owns the old home where all of his children were born and reared, and where his beloved deceased wife and children are buried. Sacred is the memory of this home to the man who has given the best years of his life to the educational and moral upbuilding of this section of Georgia. 

   Professor Avera and wife are members of the Primitive Baptist church, and in politics he is a Democrat.


James F. Fountain ~ Postmaster & Pecan Planter

Earlier posts discussed the establishment of the post office in Ray City.  In the 1920s, the Ray City Postmaster was James F Fountain. Later his wife, Mamie E. Fountain, would serve as postmistress. (see Posting Mail at Ray City)James’ extended household included  his wife, as well as his parents, brother and sister, and nephew.  In 1920, James and Mamie did not have any children of their own.

In addition to serving as Postmaster, James F.  Fountain was a farmer, living on a farm he owned free and clear, and farming it on his own account.  His wife was a public school teacher.  All the men in the family were farmers.

James F. Fountain was  one of the first to engage in pecan farming in Berrien County. Pecan trees are known to have been introduced in Georgia as early as 1872, grown from pecans sent from Texas.  They may have been grown here a decade earlier, as pecans are mentioned in a Civil War letter written by John Hagan, of Berrien County, dated June 2, 1862.  Hagan wrote to his wife, Amanda Roberts:

 “Give my respects to your Uncle Bryant J. Reoberts…Tel him I would like to heare how his little cob corn is doing. Also letter me know if Capt Martin has paid his cotoe [quota] of the precans [pecans] for introductsion.”

By 1909, 10,000 acres of pecan trees were being cultivated in southwest Georgia, and by the 1920s, pecan farms  were spreading into south central Georgia.

The following appeared in the Oct 1, 1923 edition of the Atlanta Constitution:

 Plan Pecan Nursery

Milltown, Ga., September 30.– (Special) — Dr. W. D. Simmons, of Milltown, and Postmaster J. F. Fountain, of Ray City, are planning to begin a pecan nursery on Dr. Simmons’ farm just west of town. They have recently visited nurseries at Thomasville, Blackshear, and other points. The pecan growing has become a lucrative business.

Rays Mill Boys Debate at Advance Society Meeting

In the late 1800s,   Perry Thomas KnightLucius Clements, Benjamin L. Wilkerson and William D. “Bill” Lee  were intellectually inclined young men of  Rays Mill, GA.    Clements and Wilkerson were neighbors.  All four of the boys attended the Green Bay School. They and others of similar mind gathered at  Green Bay “Advance Society” meetings to discuss and debate social ideas.

Tifton Gazette
Friday, March 20 1896

From South Berrien
Green Bay, Feb 17.  Our Advance Society held its meeting Friday evening.  Subject for discussion Resolved, that the negro has been more cruelly treated by the white man than the Indian.  The decision was rendered in the negative. The affirmative was represented by B.L. Wilkerson and W. D. Lee, and the negative by P.T. Knight and Lucious Clements.

Lucius Clements would have been about 15 at the time of this debate: Perry Knight about 19. Lee was 16, and Wilkerson was 17.  Perry T. Knight attended Oaklawn Baptist Academy  and went on to became a teacher, lawyer, soldier, chaplain, railroad commissioner, legislator, and public service commissioner.  Lucius J. Clements  attended the Georgia Normal College & Business Institute,  and managed the Clements Sawmill at Ray City until the Clements family sold the business.  He became a businessman, license inspector, and assistant tax collector. Wilkerson became a dentist and later moved to Miami, FL.  Lee became a farmer; he later constructed a Sears Mail-order home east of Ray City.

Images courtesy http://yatesville.net/index.htm and http://berriencounty.ga


WWI Vocational Rehabilitation of Thomas J. Collins

In the census of 1910,   Thomas Jefferson Collins was enumerated as a teenager living with his family in Ray City, GA.  He was born July 14, 1894, a son of William A. Collins.  By the time of the WWI replacement draft registration of 1917, he was a young man of 22, with medium height and build, light blue eyes and light brown hair. At the time of the registration, he was living in Barretts, GA, about seven miles south of Ray City where he was employed as a farmer.

Thomas was drafted and inducted for service on June 24, 1918 at Valdosta, GA.  He served in the Army and came back to Ray City a disabled veteran.

WWI Service Record of Thomas J. Collins

WWI Service Record of Thomas J. Collins

The Army sent Collins to Auxiliary Remount Depot 316 at Camp Gordon, GA.

According to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Foundation, “The principle function of the Remount Service during peacetime was to procure, process, train, and issue horses, mules, and dogs (1942-1948) for military use and to train personnel in animal management.

Army Mule. Image Source: http://www.qmfound.com/remount.htm

Army Mule. Image Source: http://www.qmfound.com/remount.htm

It was also responsible for purchase of forage for these animals. Another function of the Remount Service was that of  the Army horse breeding program designed to raise the quality of horses. The Remount Service’s principle functions during war were to supply replacement riding horses and the draft animals required to haul ammunition, water, food, and heavy artillery and to evacuate the wounded. World War I was the last major conflict which the United States Army used horses and mules in significant numbers.  The Remount Service was enlarged to meet the increased demands of the Artillery, the Cavalry and other units.  Around 571,000 horses and mules processed through the Remount system of which more than 68,000 were killed in that war.  At the close of the war the Quartermaster Corps maintained 39 remount depots with a capacity 229,200 animals.”

Auxiliary Remount Depot No. 316 at Camp Gordon, GA had a capacity for 5000 horses and mules, and quartered an average of 4015 animals.  It was staffed with 6 commissioned officers and  75 enlisted men. Collins served there as a private in the Quartermasters Corps. Listing of other depot staff  may be viewed at AUXILIARY REMOUNT DEPOT 316 ROSTER, CAMP GORDON, GEORGIA (ca. 1919).

While in Army service Thomas J. Collins was seriously injured resulting in a 50 percent disability.  He was honorably discharged on March 20, 1919 with a Service Connected Disability.  Fortunately, in 1919 Congress passed a law providing vocational rehabilitation for disabled veterans.


Red Cross Poster for WWI Wounded Warriors

Red Cross Poster for WWI Wounded Warriors

Legislation for Vocational Rehabilitation

During the summer [1919] the bill introduced into Congress by Senator Hoke Smith and Representative Wm. J. Sears, known as the Smith-Sears Bill, was passed by Congress. This Act provides for vocational rehabilitation and return to civil employment of disabled persons discharged from the military and naval forces of the United States. The bill vests the Federal Board for Vocational Education with power to pass on who may be vocationally rehabilitated, to prescribe and provide courses of vocational rehabilitation, and to provide for the placement of rehabilitated persons in suitable and gainful occupations.

The bill appropriates $1,800,000 for buildings and equipment ; preparation and salaries of instructors and supervisors; traveling expenses of disabled persons in connection with training; tuition, placement and supervision after placement of vocationally rehabilitated persons; and investigations and administrative expenses.

An investigation that has been made by the Federal Vocational Board shows that for every million men in the army 100,000 wounded men will recover. Of this 100,000 men 80,000 will need no re-education; 10,000 should have partial re-education, and 10,000 total re-education. Georgia has about   of the population of the United States, and calculating on the basis of three million men in the army we would probably have about 1,000 white soldiers in Georgia to be given re-education, owing to severe wounds. The Federal Board has divided the forms of education for these men into six groups—Agriculture, Commerce, and Professional, Navy, trades, and industries.

This action on the part of the government is indeed a noble one. An effort will be made, as in other countries, to put the crippled soldier on an independent basis of wage earning and not leave him to eke out his existence as a cripple or in a soldiers’ home, but let him feel that tho a crippled he can be a useful and self supporting citizen.

In 1919-1920 Thomas J. Collins of Ray City, GA was a “Rehabilitation Student” at the University of Georgia.

-Announcement of the University of Georgia For the Session of 1920-1021 with a register of officers and students for the session of 1919-1920, Volume 20, Issue 9 By University of Georgia. PG 287

 These courses are open only to disabled soldiers, sailors and marines who have been recommended by the Federal Board for Vocational Training.

Special courses are arranged according to the previous education and training of those recommended for vocational training, taking these courses are required to take work in English and mathematics and optional courses in general agriculture or special courses in agronomy, horticulture, animal husbandry, agricultural engineering or poultry husbandry.

The object of these courses is to give vocational training in some phase of agricultural work

The High school quarterly, Volume 7 By University of Georgia, Georgia High School Association, Georgia College Association, National High School Inspectors’ Association, Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. Commission on Accredited Schools of the Southern States. PG 6

By 1930, Thomas J. Collins was living in Valdosta, GA and later moved to Hillsborough, Florida.


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Armistice Day Memorial to Soldiers from Berrien County, GA Killed During WWI

Berrien County, GA soldiers who died in WWI including many who died in the sinking of the HMS Otranto off the coast of Islay, Scotland on October 6, 1918.   To view larger images, scroll down and click icons below.

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The U.S. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. In proclaiming the holiday, he said

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with lots of pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

Armistice Day  is on November 11 and commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

Shellie Loyd Webb – Lost at Sea

Private Webb entered service in July 16, 1918. Was attached to First Company, Coast Artillery Corps, Over-seas Replacement Draft, Ft. Screven, Ga. Embarked for over-seas service in September, 1918, sailing on the ill-fated transport “Otranto,” which was sunk off the Scottish Coast in a collision October 6, 1918. Private Web was one of the soldiers drowned.

Death and Repatriation of Private Gordon Williams

Photos of fallen soldiers from the Georgia State Memorial  Book, 1921, provide better images of  the sons of Berrien County, GA who served and died during the Great War – WWI.  Gordon Williams, image scanned for this post, was one of three men from Ray City, GA  who gave their lives in the conflict, the others being Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb.

PVT. GORDON WILLIAMS. Ray City, Ga. Private Williams entered service June 25th, 1918. Was attached to the 35th Company, 9th Training Battalion, 157th Depot Brigade at Camp Gordon, Atlanta, Ga. Embarked for over-seas in August, 1918, where he contracted pneumonia which resulted in his death at Base Hospital 33, September 20th, 1918.

Gordon Williams registered for the draft in Ray City, GA on June 5, 1917. The registrar was C.O. Terry.

WWI Draft Registration of Gordon Williams, Ray City, GA

WWI Draft Registration of Gordon Williams, Ray City, GA

Gordon Williams was selected for service and inducted into the Army on June 25, 1918. He was entrained for Camp Gordon along with 22 other Berrien County men, where he completed his training.  Gordon Williams’ fellow Berrien County inductees and camp mates at Camp Gordon included Owen Spivey, J. Falson Brown,Hugh Hardy, Bill Sapp, Silas Isbon Thomas, William Jesse Moore,Isom Thornton, Vaden Hughes, Flem Mitchell Gray, Melton Jackson Hinton, William E. Griffin, Archie Dunn, Luther Tyson, James Fletcher Hutto, Charlie Lawson Sirmans, Thomas Alvin Baker, Brooker Hodges, Robert C. Royals, Zollie Brown Thomas, Billie Lindsey, John Richmond Griner and Milburn Mathis.

Camp Gordon, Atlanta, GA

Camp Gordon, Atlanta, GA

Panoramic View of Camp Gordon, Atlanta GA, 1918.<br> Gordon Williams and other men Berrien County, GA trained at Camp Gordon.

Panoramic View of Camp Gordon, Atlanta GA, 1918.
Gordon Williams and other men Berrien County, GA trained at Camp Gordon. Library of Congress.

In June, July and August, 1918,  the troop ships transported 870,988 American soldiers to Europe to fight in WWI.   A large portion of these arriving troops, including Private Gordon, were routed through England.   Even before leaving America, these troops were fighting a war of attrition – a war against disease.    On some arriving transports, disease ravaged the troops.  Thousands of soldiers reached England already stricken with Influenza.

Private Gordon Williams was sent to Base Hospital 33 with pneumonia, a frequent complication of Influenza during WWI.  He died at the hospital on September 20, 1918.

United States Army Base Hospital No. 33, established at  Portsmouth Borough Asylum, Portsmouth, England, was one of many hospitals where the American casualties of WWI were treated. This institution had been built and maintained by the Board of Asylum Control of London. It consisted of one main building of modern brick and stone construction and of several detached villas surrounded by eight acres of farmland.  War wounded requiring surgery were returned from France to Southampton, England on hospital ships then sent on to the base hospitals via motor ambulances and hospital trains;  casualties from the front might reach Base Hospital 33 within thirty-six hours from the time they had been wounded.

It is difficult to appreciate the extent to which Influenza and other diseases depleted the roles of the arriving American troops. Just two days after the death of Gordon Williams, Base Hospital 33 received word that another  troop ship, “the S.S. Olympic,  with six thousand troops on board, the greater number of them suffering from influenza, had come to port in Southampton.   [The S.S. Olympic was the sister ship of the ill-fated Titanic.]  Sixty-six tents were immediately secured from the British to set up in the court yard of Base Hospital No. 33. Convalescent patients and members of the detachment were immediately transferred to these tents and the wards were cleared for the reception of influenza patients. Within one week seven hundred and ninety-seven cases had come to us, one hundred and forty-four of whom were nurses and female members of the Signal Corps. Both pneumonia and meningitis developed.

Base Hospital 33, Portsmouth, England.  Private Gordon Williams, of Ray City, GA died at the hospital on September 20, 1918.

Base Hospital 33, Portsmouth, England.  Private Gordon Williams, of Ray City, GA died at the hospital on September 20, 1918.

For three years, the remains of Gordon Williams were interred in England. The Atlanta Constitution reported the return of his body to U.S. soil,  Jan 13, 1922.

Atlanta Constitution, Jan 13, 1922

Services were held yesterday over the bodies of eight southern soldiers, including one Atlantan, colored, who lost their lives overseas during the world war. The bodies arrived at 11:30 o’clock at the Terminal station.

The soldiers and their destinations were: Private Victor LeBlanc, Convington, La.; Private Mayberry Smith, Lucien, Miss.,; Private Gordon Williams, Ray City, Ga.; Private Alfred Lindsey, Ward, Ala.; Private Aquilla Calhoun, Aiken, S.C.; Private Ike Thomas, Prichard, Ala.; Jesse Ellor, Trion, Ga., and Private Thomas Reese, colored, Atlanta

Gordon Williams was re-interred at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Gordon Williams. Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Berrien County, GA. Image source: Charles T. Zeigler

Grave of Gordon Williams. Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Berrien County, GA. Image source: Charles T. Zeigler

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