Biographical Sketch of John T. Ray ~ Ray’s Mill Foundling

After being orphaned at age 6, John T. Ray (1845-1888)  was raised by his uncle Thomas M. Ray, first miller at Ray’s Mill (nka Ray City) in Berrien County, Georgia.  At 16,  he was a soldier in combat in the Civil War. At 25, he worked as an overseer for the railroad, and by age 33  he was a private contractor laying track.  A few years later he was a partner and general manager in the large sawmill concern Dale, Dixon & Co.

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John T. Ray married Sarah E. Wilkins, and by her had five children.  Sadly, their mother died at age 41.   John T. Ray remarried, but within two months was himself killed in a railroad disaster, leaving his orphaned children in the care of their new step-mother.

Grave marker of Sarah E. Wilkins and John T. Ray, Blackshear City Cemetery, Wayne County, GA

Grave marker of Sarah E. Wilkins and John T. Ray, Blackshear City Cemetery, Wayne County, GA

As the following biography portrays,  John T. Ray overcame adversity in his early life and went on to achieve success in business through hard work.  No doubt, he also benefitted from the social and political connections of his adopted family. His uncle was one of the prominent businessmen of Berrien County, and his adopted grandfather, General Levi J. Knight, was a renowned Indian fighter, military leader and state legislator.

Biographical Souvenir of the States of Georgia and Florida, Containing Biographical Sketches of the Representative Public, and many Early Settled Families in These States. F. A. Battey & Company, 1889]

John T. Ray (deceased) was born in Houston County, Ga, October 28, 1845.  His parents were James and Nancy (Lovett) Ray, both natives of Georgia. The father was a millwright and died in 1852, aged thirty-five years; the mother died in 1847, aged twenty-five.  These parents had two children — our subject and Fannie, now Mrs. Wesley Elmore, but whose first husband’s name was Leonard Dasher. This sketch was taken by the writer from the subject himself, at his home, Friday afternoon, February 24, 1888. It is, indeed, with sad heart and faltering hand that we to-day copy that sketch, and the sadness is greatly increased when we are compelled to record the death of one in the vigor of manhood, who had the surroundings of a pleasant, happy home, and the expectancy of a long and useful life. His death occurred Saturday, March 17, 1888, at the age of forty-two years, four months and nineteen days.  Mr. Ray was one of the victims in the accident on the S. F. & W. Railroad. The account as given by the Hawkinsville Dispatch is as follows: “The fast mail train No. 27, leaving Savannah at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, went through the Hurricane trestle, one and one-half miles east of Blackshear, at half past nine o’clock that morning. The train, consisting of the baggage car and smoker, one coach, the Pullman sleeper, the private car of E. P. Wilbur, is a complete wreck. The accident was caused probably by a broken truck under the front end of the baggage car, causing the cars to leave the track and knock down the trestle. The only car not actually broken into splinters is that of Pres. Wilbur. As soon as the trestle began to go down, the engineer pulled open the throttle of his engine.  The coupling broke between the tender and the baggage car, and the engine bounded over safely, saving the lives of the engineer and his fireman. A gap three hundred feet long was torn out of the trestle, and the train fell about forty feet to the ground below.  Seventeen persons were killed in the crash, and over thirty others wounded, several of whom have died since from their injuries.  The citizens of Blackshear turned out en masse and rendered every assistance possible to the wounded.  Too much praise cannot be given them for their tireless work. The scenes at the wreck, with the groans of the dying and mangled and the silent bodies of the dead, is one never to be forgotten. From the best information we can gather Mr. Ray was instantly killed, but the particulars of his death we have not been able to gather any information.”

The following paragraph is contributed by a friend of the family:

“On the morning of the terrible Hurricane trestle disaster Mr. Ray left his happy wife and little ones to attend to some business in Blackshear, where he owned considerable property. As the writer of this stood in conversation with him but a short time before he boarded the ill-fated train, little did he dream that he was conversing with him for the last time in life. It was some four or five hours after the accident before the intelligence of his death reached us; it fell like a thunder-bolt in our midst. The grief of his heart-broken wife and little ones was heart-rendering indeed, and there was a settled gloom upon the entire community, for Mr. Ray was loved by all classes. Little groups of employees could be seen here and there earnestly discussing the news, many of them hoping, against hope, the intelligence was not true. But when, about dark, it was confirmed beyond a doubt, there was a general out-burst of grief. As many as could get there went to Blackshear the next day to attend his burial in the family burial ground in Blackshear. In his death the community in which he lived sustained a great loss. Honest and upright in all of his dealings, with his fellow-men, and a true friend; he carried with him to his last resting place the love and respect of all who knew him. At the time that the train went through the trestle, Mr. Ray was in the smoking car, having left his little daughter in another coach but a short time before, and was in conversation with the conductor of the train when the crash came. The conductor was not killed. Mr. Ray’s little daughter was seriously wounded and for some time her life was despaired of. She had her thigh broken, and, as it was badly set, it had to be re-broken after it had begun to knit, but she has almost entirely recovered from her injuries. His bereaved young wife has been true to her duties and untiring in her devotion to the little ones who were so unexpectedly left to her for counsel and guidance, and the sincere prayer of the writer of these lines is that God may bless her and help her in training them up aright.           A Friend.”

When a little over sixteen years of age, Mr. Ray enlisted (spring of 1862) in the Eighteenth Georgia battalion, and served until the close of the war. As a soldier, as well as a citizen, he had an enviable record. He never missed a roll-call except for three days, when he was indisposed from jaundice. He did not receive a wound in all that time. He took part in the siege of  Battery Wagner, on Morris Island, and his last battle was at Sailor’s Creek, but three days before the war closed (April 6, 1865); he was captured and carried to Point Lookout, where he remained three months as prisoner. He was released June 27, and arrived in Savannah July 5, 1865. His first business was shoveling on the railroad, which he continued three months, when he was promoted to second boss, which continued four years. The next three years he served as blacksmith and wheelwright; the next year he served as contractor for building a railroad for a saw-mill, then “woodsing” for a saw-mill. He then went into the saw-milling business with Capt. Grace, continued two years, and next located at Dale’s Mills and became a partner with “Dale, Dixon & Co.,” and was in that firm until death closed his labors. His life is an excellent illustration of what can be accomplished where there is will and determination. He began life without capital and with scarcely anything beyond an unlimited amount of energy and pluck, and from a poor boy he rose to an enviable position among the wealthy and respected of a large circle of acquaintances. His life is an epitome of what can be accomplished when honesty, industry and integrity are the principles that give direction.

John Ray was married first in 1866, to Miss Sarah E., daughter of John Wilkins, of Terrell County, Ga. Five children came to bless that union, viz: Charles M., Beula L., Joseph D., Mattie L. and Thomas D. Mrs. (Wilkins) Ray died in 1887, aged forty-one. Mr. Ray’s second marriage was to Miss Georgia I. Mingledorf, of Effingham County, Ga., January 15, 1888. Mr. Ray was a member in good standing of the Masonic order. Mrs. Ray is a member of the Methodist Church.

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