James Thomas Biggles
In the winter of 1887, a family feud at Rays Mill, Georgia turned deadly when J.T. Biggles gunned down Madison Pearson from the porch of Henry Harrison Knight’s store.
At that time Knight’s store was one of the few commercial establishments at Rays Mill and was a community meeting place. The store was situated on present day Pauline Street, approximately opposite from the Ray City School. In front of the store was an area known as the “court ground” and the building served as the court house when there was need. Knight’s store was also occupied by Dr. Guy Selman, one of the first doctors in the area, and after David Ridgell departed in 1905 it was the location of the Ray’s Mill Post Office. Henry Knight’s son-in-law, Cauley Johnson was postmaster. The building was destroyed by fire, probably in the 1940’s.
James Thomas Biggles was born in Georgia in October, 1860, a son of John Jefferson Beagles and Catherine Wright Biggles. (There was obviously some confusion over the spelling of the family name.)
Mary Elizabeth Pearson
J.T. married Mary Elizabeth Pearson on July 26, 1879. The ceremony was performed by Jonathan D. Knight, Notary Public. James Thomas Biggles appeared in the census of 1880 in District 5 of GMD#1144 as Thomas Beagle, farm laborer, age 19, with wife, Elizabeth, age 21. In the cemetery of Union Church (aka Burnt Church), next to the grave of Mary E. Biggles, stands a small headstone with the inscription “Infant of Mr. & Mrs. J.T. Biggles, Born and Died Apr. 15, 1879.”
J.T Biggles had a running feud with his brother-in-law, Madison G. Pearson. At first Biggles tried to work through the court, but he soon took the law into his own hands and murdered Pearson before a crowd of citizens. Biggles became a fugitive for twelve years before returning to stand trial.
The state press reported on the Murder in Berrien:
The Columbus Enquirer-Sun
Nov. 11, 1887 — page 3
Terrible Result of an Old Feud.
Nashville, Ga., Nov. 9. – At Ray’s mill in this county, on Tuesday evening last, a dreadful encounter occurred in which M. G. Pearson was shot and instantly killed by J. T. Beagly, the cause being a family feud. It appears the parties had met to amicably settle the trouble if possible, but soon engaged in some hot words, when Pearson said to Beagly:
“Come out in the sand and we will settle the trouble.”
They started out. Beagly drew his pistol and fired upon him as he went out, and shot him dead the first fire, then took to the swamp and has not yet been captured.
The Valdosta Times provided additional details:
The Valdosta Times
November 12, 1887
MURDER IN BERRIEN
J. T. Beigles Kills Madison G. Pearson at Ray’s Mill – A Family Feud which ends in the murder of a Brother – in- law.
Madison G. Pearson was killed by his brother-in-law, J. T. Beigles, at Ray’s Mill, in Berrien County, last Friday, the 4th, inst. A Family feud was at the bottom of the difficulty.
Beigles had married Pearson’s sister. The mother of the latter lived for sometime with her son, but a family quarrel, it seems, drove her to her daughter’s home. After she took up her abode with the Beigles family, some questions arose about the division of her small property. One report says that she willed all she had to Mrs. Beigles, and thus aroused her son’s indignation, and another rumor says that Beigles killed a beef which belonged to the Pearson estate, and that this was the cause of the trouble between the two men. At any rate there was trouble between them, and the old lady took the side of her son-in-law. Pearson, it seems, made some threats, and Beigles had him arrested under a peace warrant. Friday, the day of the tragedy, was set for a hearing before the Justice of the district, and Beigles and his wife and old Mrs. Pearson appeared at the Court ground at Ray’s Mill as witnesses. The bailiff had Madison Pearson under arrest, and the parties at interest, and about forty interested neighbors, all met at Mr. H. H. Knight’s store. Beigles’ father was among those present, and he approached Pearson about a compromise, but Pearson thought he had been greatly outraged, and freely expressed his indignation. He refused to accept the proposals made by the elder Beigles. A witness to the whole affair at the Court grounds informs us that the elder Beigles’ attitude and manner was not such as indicated any real desire for a fair compromise, and that his actions and his words were the immediate cause of the conflict, if it can be called a conflict. In reviewing the difficulty, the elder Beigles, who was standing between his son and Pearson, made some assertions which the latter vehemently denied or disputed, and the younger Beigles shouted to Pearson that he was a liar. At this Pearson, replied hotly that if Beigles would step with him to the ground from the porch upon which they stood, he would whip him, and as he spoke he sprang off at right angles from Beigles, but he struck the ground a dead man. Beigles fired at him on the spring, and the ball entered the side of the head near the left temple. Pearson doubled up as he lie fell and his head hit the ground first. He never spoke a word, and died in a few moments. Pearson had two brothers on the spot, and one ran to the dying man and the other started upon Beigles, but he met a cocked pistol in his face, and was warned to stand back, or else share the fate of his brother. Beigles kept his face to the awe-stricken crowd, pistol drawn, while his father pushed him backward some thirty feet, then he turned and they both fled. There was not a gun or pistol on the hill that could be found, and the two Beigles escaped. A pursuit was quickly organized, but they had gotten out of sight, and are yet at large. Pearson was not armed.
Pearson’s mother and sister witnessed the murder of their son and brother, so an eye witness informs us, without shedding a tear. After some little time Mrs. Pearson walked up to the dead man laying upon the ground, and stooped down and kissed him. She then rose calmly and walked away without any signs of emotion.
Thus a Justice’s court was sadly and suddenly transformed into an inquest court. The coroner lived forty miles away, and the bailiff, who held Pearson in custody as a prisoner when he was killed, summoned a jury, and the Justice, who was about to convene his court to try Pearson on a peace warrant, instead of proceeding with the trial, swore in an inquest jury to sit upon the dead body.
After swearing numerous eye witnesses the jury found that the killing was done as outlined above, that the same was willful murder; also that the elder Beigles was an accessory to the dead.
We are indebted to a neighbor of the parties, and an eyewitness to the tragedy, for the above statement of the circumstances connected directly and indirectly to the killing. All the parties were sober.
In 1899 the Valdosta reported the follow up on the trial of the Biggles case.
The Valdosta Times
October 17, 1899
BERRIEN SUPERIOR COURT. CONCLUSION OF THE BEAGLES-PEARSON CASE.
Berrien Superior Court after a four days’ session adjourned Thursday afternoon. The session was devoted entirely to criminal business, no civil cases being called. The principal case of importance was the trial of Madison G. Pearson, Nov. 4, 1887, twelve years ago as was stated in Friday’s Times.
Beagles was married to Pearson’s sister, and there had been considerable bad blood between them, culminating when Mrs. Pearson left the home of her son and went to live with her daughter, Beagles’ wife.
Pearson threatened to kill Beagles on several occasions and a few days before his death went to Beagles’ house and cursed his wife and children.
Beagles then swore out a peace warrant for Pearson, and he was arrested under it and carried to the Court House at Ray’s Mill for trial. A large crowd was on the court ground, among them Beagles, and Pearson challenged him for a fight, pulling off his coat and starting out the door as he did so. Beagles was standing on the porch of the house, within a few feet, and as Beagles stepped out fired at him, shooting him through the head, the ball entering just in front of the right ear and coming out behind the left ear, producing instant death.
Beagles skipped the country, and spent several years in Florida, returning just before his arrest. He was admitted to the bail, and staid under bond until two months ago, when his bondsman gave him up, and since that time he has remained in jail.
At his trial he was represented by Col. Joseph A. Alexander of Nashville and W. H. Griffin of Valdosta, while the state was represented by Col. W. M. Hammond of Thomasville and Solicitor General Thomas. The trial lasted a day and a half, and every inch of ground was stubbornly fought. The principal evidence against the dead man was the ante-mortem statement of his own mother, made four years ago, which was exceedingly bitter in denunciation of her son.
Six hours were spent by Cols. Griffin and Hammond in their strong and eloquent arguments of the case, and he jury remained out on it seven hours before returning a verdict of manslaughter with recommendation to mercy. Col. Griffin made a touching appeal to the court for mercy, and Judge Hansell fixed the sentence at two years in the state penitentiary.
In the U.S Census of 1900 James T. Biggles was enumerated on June 23, 1900 as a convict in the Fargo Convict Camp in the Jones Creek District of Clinch County, GA.
In 1910, the Biggles were back together in Rays Mill, GA where they were enumerated with several boarders living in their household.
James Thomas Biggles died May 11, 1911 in Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia. He was buried at Union Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Lakeland, GA. On his tombstone his name appears as J.T. Biggles.
Grave Marker of James Thomas Biggles, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA
Reports on the disposition of his estate were reported in the Nashville Herald:
Aug 7, 1911
Pursuant to an order of the Court of Ordinary, will be sold before the court house door in Berrien County, all the real estate belonging to J.T. Biggles, deceased, to wit: one lot in the town of Milltown, on Howell Ave., known as the H.L. Kelly lot; also ten acres of lot No. 473 in the 10th district in the southeast corner of said lot; also, 36 acres in the ? district, the last two tracts known as the Margaret Horsby lands; also, 100 acres, bounded on the west by Milltown and Nashville public road, east by Dog Branch, and lands of Jas. Johnson and Banks lands, on the north by lands of Mary E. Biggles, said tract known as land sold by E.M. Giddens to J.T. Biggles; also, lot 6 in block 32, lot 8 in block 73, lot 1 in block 69, lot 6 in block 59, lot 10 in block 48, all in the new survey in Milltown, Ga., also, one-half acre in town of Milltown bounded east by lands of M.E. Patten, south and west by lands of R.L. Patten, north by old Brunswick & Western right-of-way; also lot No. 3 in block No. 29, Roberts survey of Milltown, Ga., Sold as the property of the estate of J.T. Biggles, deceased, to pay debts and for distribution. August 7, 1911
Sept 5, 1911
Georgia, Berrien County. Will be sold before the court house door on the first Tuesday in October the following land: 1/2 acre of land in the town of Milltown bounded east by lands of M.E. Patten, south and west by lands of R.L. Patten, north by old Brunswick & Western right-of-way on which is situated one gin house and one barn, five double Foss gins, one short cotton gin, one conveyor, one double Monger box press, one seed conveyor and all belts and pulleys now used in the gin house. Terms cash. Sept 5, 1911. M.W. Bargeron, W.A. Biggles, Administrators of Estate of J.T. Biggles.
Mary Elizabeth Biggles died May 7, 1923. She was also buried at Union Primitive Baptist Church. Her tombstone reads, ” Mary Elizabeth Biggles, May 7, 1923, Aged 70 Yrs., A loving mother and grandmother.”
Gravemarker of Mary Elizabeth Pearson Biggles, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, Georgia