The Biggles Farm

In 1880, Needham W. Pearson deeded 80 acres of land to his daughter, Elizabeth Pearson Biggles. She was the wife of James Thomas Biggles, subject of the previous post.

James Thomas Beagles and Mary Elizabeth Pearson Beagles

James Thomas Biggles and Mary Elizabeth Pearson Biggles

About 1901, James Thomas Biggles  returned to the Rays Mill area after completing a prison term in the Fargo Convict Camp for the murder of his brother-in-law, Madison G. Pearson. Re-joining his wife, Biggles purchased an 100 acre tract, adjacent to her land,  from Eugene M. Giddens. This tract had been in the Giddens family since the early 1800s. Isbin Giddens brought his wife, Keziah, and their two young children, William and Moses Giddens from Wayne County to settle in what was then Irwin County, near the present day Ray City GA in the winter of 1824-25. Present day county lines place the land in Lanier County, about 6 miles east of Ray City and just north of Highway 129.

After the death of James Thomas Biggles in 1911, the 100 acre tract that was in his name was sold at an administrator’s sale to J. V. Talley. The 80 acre tract was sold in 1924 by the heirs of Elizabeth Pearson Biggles, following her death in 1923. About that time Dr. Reubin Nathaniel Burch acquired both the 100 acre and the 80 acre tracts from different owners. Dr. Burch sold the property about 1930 and it was eventually accquired by the Roquemore family of Lakeland, GA for turfgrass production.

More on the 1887 Family Feud at Rays Mill, GA

James Thomas Beigles

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

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


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 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

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:

Nashville Herald
Aug 7, 1911

Administrators Sale

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

Nashville Herald
Sept 5, 1911

Administrator’s Sale

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

Gravemarker of Mary Elizabeth Pearson Biggles, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, Georgia

Sam I. Watson Dies in Explosion

On March 7, 1939 Samuel Irvin Watson was killed in a tragic accident on his farm near Ray City, GA.  Watson served on the State Board of Education (see Sam I. Watson and the State Board of Education )  and route 64 out of Ray City was named in his honor (see The Samuel Irvin Watson Highway)  The March 8, 1939 Atlanta Constitution reported on Watson’s death with front page headline:


2 Farm Tenants of Sam I. Watson  Are Also Killed

Another Tenant Escapes But Is Prevented by Flames From Attempting to Make Rescue

Bucket Brigade Conquers Fire

Lakeland Blast Occurs While Chemically Treating Corn for Weevil

Special to The Constitution.
LAKELAND, Ga., March 7.  Trapped by an explosion and flames which spread quickly through a barn on his plantation near here, Sam I. Watson, member of the Georgia Board of Education, perished early this afternoon with two farm tenants.
    The other victims were J. I. Parrish and Edmond Jones.
    Riley Stone, another tenant on the Watson farm, six miles from here, was standing near a door and fled to safety, prevented by roaring flames from attempting to rescue the others.
    Bodies of the three victims huddled in one of the sheds which surrounded the big structure, were found after the flames had been extinguished by a bucket brigade.
    Lint Miller’s Brother-in-Law.

    Watson, a brother-in-law of Lint Miller, chairman of the State Highway Board, was directing the treatment of corn for weevil infestation when the explosion occurred, Stone said.  The four men had treated several thousand bushels with a chemical preparation, and were leaving the barn when the blast came, apparently set off by a spark made by a nail as the door was opened.
    Neighbors reported the explosion was heard a few minutes after 2 o’clock, and that the barn was enveloped in flames almost immediately.  Volunteer fire fighters rushed to the scene and formed a bucket brigade to prevent further spread of the flames and to avert threatened cremation of the three trapped men.

    Well-known Farm.
    The main section of the barn was 100 feet long and 60 feet wide, with small sheds on all sides. Contents of the structure included several head of livestock and between 4,000 and 5,000 bushels of corn.
    Watson’s farm, which includes more than 2,000 acres, is one of the best known in south Georgia, largely because of the progressive farming methods the owner had inaugurated and followed in its development.
    Mr. Watson was the second member of the present State Board of Education to meet violent death within the last year.
    Several months ago, Lee Branch, of Quitman, vice chairman of the board, was shot and killed by a deranged member of his family.  Mrs.  Branch also was slain.
    In Atlanta, Governor Rivers expressed deep sorrow over the death of Mr. Watson, who was an old and personal friend.
    “The death of Mr. Watson and his two friends is a great shock to me,” the Governor said.  “I have had few friends closer to me than Mr. Watson. In addition he was an excellent public servant and an outstanding member of the board of education.  The school children of the state and the state itself have lost a fine public official, and I have lost a warm friend. I am deeply grieved.”
    Miss Levond Watson, an employee of the State Department of Public Welfare is a daughter of Mr. Watson.  Mrs. Rivers informed her of the tragedy and she left for home immediately accompanied by Mrs. Rivers.
    Chairman Miller, of the highway board, will leave Atlanta tomorrow morning to attend the Watson funeral.

Sam I. Watson and the State Board of Education

Governor Ed Rivers, Sam I. Watson and Mattie Lucille Lashley Rivers.

Governor Ed Rivers, Sam I. Watson and Mattie Lucille Lashley Rivers.

In his first term, Rivers brought a “Little New Deal” to Georgia and presided over a significant expansion of state services…. Probably the most expensive state reforms came in the area of education. In the four years before Rivers became governor, state spending on public education amounted to about $29 million. During his four years in office, the Rivers administration appropriated almost $49 million, including measures to raise teachers’ salaries and provide free textbooks. Rivers’s reforms did not eliminate racial disparities, but these measures benefited black schools as well as white.
-New Georgia Encyclopedia

In 1937, Rivers enacted legislation that created a new, eleven-member state board of education. Named among the members was Sam I. Watson, of Ray City.

The existing state board of education was abolished by an Act of Feb. 10, 1937 which became effective on July 1, 1937, and a new state board of education was created, composed of eleven members, the governor and one member from each of the ten congressional districts to be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate for six year terms. The members shall be citizens who have lived in this state continuously for five years, and shall not be in any way connected with any educational institution nor school book concern; they shall elect one of their members as chairman, and shall hold regular quarterly meetings at the State Capitol, and the state superintendent of schools shall serve as executive secretary, with a salary to be fixed by the board members (Acts 1937, p. 864).

July 20, 1937-date
Governor, Chairman, Ex-Officio
State Superintendent of Schools, Secretary, Ex-Officio
1st district: DR. R. J. KENNEDY, Statesboro
2d district: LEE W. BRANCH, Quitman
3d district: MRS. FRANK DAVID, Columbus
4th district: ALVIN H. FREEMAN, Newnan
5th district: Dr. W. A. SHELTON, Atlanta
6th district: H. C. WILLIAMS, Adrian
7th district: MRS. ELIZABETH McWATERS, Cedartown
8th district: S. I. WATSON, Ray City
9th district: W. W. McCAY, Eastonellee
10th district: W. C. CLARY JR., Harlem

The Clinch County News reported on the appointment:

The Clinch County News
July 23, 1937 Pg 1

Watson Is Named To State Board.


S.I.Watson, named by Governor Rivers as a member of the State Board of Education under the 1937 legislative action which abolished the old board and created a new board of ten members is a well-known and prosperous farmer of Lanier county.
Mr. Watson, known to his friends as Sam Watson, was named as one of Georgia’s Master Farmers a few years ago. He is a brother-in-law to W. L. Miller, chairman of the State Highway Board.
Mr. Watson’s post office is Ray City.
Mr. Watson has not been active in politics and his appointment is considered by those who know him to have been an unusually good one. He represents the Eighth Congressional district on the Board.
L.C. Branch, well known Quitman attorney, is another South Georgian named to the State Board of Education. He represents the Second Congressional District.
The Board is meeting this week to consider matters in connection with the new state educational program. Naming of the members was delayed by Governor River’s illness. The old board went out of office on July first.
-Valdosta Times.

Sam Watson’s service on the State Board of Education ended in 1939 when he was killed in a tragic explosion on his farm near Ray City, GA.

The Samuel Irvin Watson Highway

Samuel Irvin Watson Highway, near Ray City, GA.

Samuel Irvin Watson Highway, near Ray City, GA.

Heading northeast on highway 64 out of Ray City, GA  in the direction of Empire Church, you will encounter a sign at the Lanier county line that identifies this route as the Sam I. Watson Highway.  Sam Watson was raised on the Watson family farm, located near Empire Church about 5 miles northeast of Rays Mill, originally settled by his grandparents about 180 years ago.

Born August 9, 1877 in Lowndes county, GA Samuel Irvin Watson  was a son of Mary and Joseph Watson.

By age 22, Sam Watson was occupied as a school teacher. Enumerated in the census of 1900 next to his father, Sam had by that time established an independent household on a part of the family land. As yet unmarried, he owned a farm, free and clear of mortgage. Perhaps the establishment of his homestead was in preparation for matrimony; later that year Sam married Jennie Lee, a daughter of Amanda Clements and Moses C. Lee. Jennie was born on January 5, 1882 in Berrien County and grew up on her father’s farm near Ray’s Mill (now Ray City), GA.  As a girl she attended the Green Bay School, along with her brother, Bill.

Sam and Jennie were married July 1, 1900 at the home of the bride’s parents. The ceremony was performed by  William C. Patten, Notary Public and Ex Officio Justice of the Peace.  (W.C. Patten was the husband of Jennie’s aunt Sarah Lee, and he later married Sam Watson’s sister,  Laura Watson.)



In September of 1918, Sam Watson registered for the draft for World War I.  At age 41 he was of medium height and build, with blue eyes and gray hair.

Perhaps Sam found the pay of a teacher was not sufficient to support his growing family. By 1920,  had returned to the occupation of farming, and was an employer in general farming.  One of his employees was John Kirkland. Sam’s eldest daughter, Gola Watson, was already a student in college. The census of 1920 shows the Watson farm was located on the Ray City & Mud Creek Road in the Milltown District of Berrien County, and area soon to be cut into the newly created Lanier county.

Sam Watson, a man of Berrien and Lanier county his entire life, and was again enumerated on his farm near Ray City in the census of 1930. That year the enumeration included a count of citizens who owned radio sets, which Sam Watson did.   In the enumeration of Ray City, there were only eight radio sets within the city limits, the owners being James A. Grissett, John D. Luke, Henry Swindle, Marvin Purvis, Walter Altman, John Simpkins, Joseph Johnson and Fannie Parks.  The average cost of a radio in 1929 was around $139 dollars. In terms of comparable “affordability” for an average person in today’s dollars (2010 index) this would be like making a $7,600 purchase (relative worth based on nominal GDP per capita index – see

It is safe to say that Sam Watson was among the prominent citizens of Lanier County. He was a former educator and a successful farmer who could afford relative luxuries, like a radio.  He followed the politics of Ed Rivers, State Assemblyman from Lakeland, GA.

After Ed Rivers was elected Governor of Georgia in 1936 he appointed Sam Watson to the State Board of Education.

But more about that in the next post.


Related Posts:

Wilmont Pierce and the Valdosta Baptist Association

Wilmont Pierce (1922-2009) An old newspaper clipping tells of the service of  Wilmont Pierce, of Ray City, as clerk of the Valdosta Baptist Association during the 1950s. Pierce was a graduate of Lanier County Schools, and in 1938 was a member of the 8th District high school championship basketball team.  He joined the First Baptist Church, Ray City, Ga., in the early 1940s and served as a deacon, teacher and in various other capacities. In 1943 he married  Helen D. Baskin, daughter of Armstrong B. “Bee” Baskin.    Pierce served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was stationed in France and Germany, as well as Fort Dix, N.J.  Following the War he enlisted in the regular Army for service in the Panama Canal Department. After discharge from the service Wilmont Pierce farmed at Ray City with his father-in-law. In the late 1960s, the Pierces moved to Valdosta, GA and later moved to Axson, in Coffee County, GA.

Wilmont Pierce, of Ray City, GA, Clerk of the Valdosta Baptist Association, 1953

Wilmont Pierce, of Ray City, GA, Clerk of the Valdosta Baptist Association, 1953

Clinch County News
November 6, 1953

Rev. Marvin Stedham, Lakeland, retiring moderator of the Valdosta Baptist Association, congratulates the newly elected moderator, Rev. Edgar Davis (center), Homerville pastor, who was named to the association’s highest office at sessions of the annual meeting in Valdosta Thursday.  Wilmont Pierce, Ray City layman (right), was re-elected as clerk of the organization for his third term.  Rev. Omer Graves, Nashville, who was named vice moderator was unable to attend.

Obituary of Wilmont Pierce

Wilmont Pierce, of Axon, Ga., passed away on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009, at his home following an extended illness. Mr. Pierce was born on Jan. 17, 1922, in the Mud Creek/Crisp area of Lanier County, the son of the late Joseph Candler Pierce and Nancy Richardson Pierce. Preceding him in death were his wife of 61 years, Helen D. Baskin Pierce, Axson, Ga., and his brothers and sister, Billy Pierce, Dilmus Pierce and Beatrice Pierce Everett, all of Lakeland, Ga. He was a graduate of Lanier County Schools. Mr. Pierce has served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was stationed in France and Germany, as well as Fort Dix, N.J. After his discharge he farmed with his father-in-law, the late A. B. Baskin of Lanier County. He was instrumental in re-organizing the Lanier County Farm Bureau and became the first insurance agent for the Georgia Farm Bureau Insurance Company in that county. He also opened the first Farm Bureau supply store that became a pilot project for Farm Bureau stores state-wide. He retired in the late 1990’s while residing in Valdosta, Ga. After moving there in the late 1960’s, he worked with the Grant’s retail stores, later managing hospitality properties for Jolly Inn. The King of the Road, Club House Inn and the Elks Club. He also managed properties in Thomasville, Ga. and Jacksonville Beach, Fla.  In his early years, Mr. Pierce had been a member of Unity United Methodist Church in Lanier County. He became a member of First Baptist Church, Ray City, Ga., in the early 1940’s where he served as a deacon, teacher and in various other capacities. After moving to Valdosta he was a member of First Baptist Church there. He and his wife moved to Coffee County in 2000, and was a member of Stokesville Baptist Church where he served as a teacher of senior adults until a few months ago. He is survived by his sons, Michael J. Pierce (Lou), Axson, Ga., W. Candler Pierce (Mary Ann), Wyoming, R.I., Bobby L. Pierce (Kay), Axson, Ga.; his grandchildren, M. Andrew Pierce (Robin), Olathe, Kan., Holly Smith, Axson, Ga., Wade C. Pierce (Jennifer), Keith H. Pierce, Clearwater, Fla., Jessica and Andrea Pierce, Boston, Mass., Justin Pierce, Wyoming, R.I., K. Lynn Eslinger (Jason), Cleveland, Tenn., Kimberly L. Hunter (Tim), Valdosta, Krista L. Pierce, Valdosta; as well as seven great-grandchildren. Surviving in his extended family are J.C. and Evelyn Pierce, Crawfordville, Ga., Howard and Dorothy Faye Pierce Ray, Ray City, Ga., Jessie Pierce Hudson, Valdosta, McDonald (Jabo) and Betty Pierce and Burma Pierce, Lakeland Ga., Vanelle Baskin, Valdosta, Gloria Baskin, Groves, Texas, Hagan and Shirley Baskin, Atlanta; and 16 nieces and nephews.

Memorial services for Mr. Pierce were held at First Baptist Church, Ray City, Ga., on Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009, at 2:30 p.m. with the Rev. John Patten and the Rev. Bob Pierce officiating. Interment, with the Rev. Edgar Musgrove officiating followed in the Unity United Methodist Church cemetery near Lakeland, Ga., with military honors.

Levi J. Knight and Lowndes First Superior Court.

Levi J. Knight, the earliest Wiregrass pioneer to make his home on Beaverdam Creek at the site of present day Ray City, GA was among the prominent men of early Lowndes County (later, Berrien County.) When the first Superior Court in Lowndes County was convened in 1825 at Sion Hall’s Inn on the Coffee Road, Levi J. Knight served as foreman of the Grand Jury.  L. J. Knight’s father, William A. Knight was also present for the court session, which was a social event as much as a judicial one.  If the first court was indeed convened in 1825 it was quite a Christmas affair, as the county of Lowndes was only created by the Georgia legislature on December 23, 1825.

An 1888 article in the Valdosta Times reflected upon that first court session, Judge Thaddeus G. Holt presiding. While the name of the Solicitor-General is not given, in December, 1825 that position would have been filled by Thomas D. Mitchell. (Mitchell was killed in a duel in March 1826).

The Valdosta Times
Valdosta, GA
Oct. 13, 1888
The First Superior Court.

…I now turn the leaves of time back nearly seventy years to the time when Jackson having purchased Irwin and Early counties of the Creek Indians the people east of the Ocmulgee river began to cross over and settle the vast region of wilderness now known as the wiregrass.
    West of the Alapaha the first white settler was Joe Bryant in the fork of Ocapilco and Mule Creek.
    The first house built in Lowndes was by James Roundtree, and on the lands now owned by West and James Roundtree in the northwest corner of the county [Lowndes].  Here was born in 1823 Irwin Belote, who is in fact the oldest inhabitant, save uncle Mose Lucas, who came here a grown man and is over 100 years old.  Ah, met Irwin has had a time of it, but in his time a country that was well supplied with Indians, bears, panthers, wolves and other unfriendly neighbors, has been populated and made to produce support for many thousand people.
    Of course our forefathers were rough, but like Gen. Taylor were also ready in good deeds.  Pardon me kind reader if in recording some scene of the twenties or thirties you recognize a venerated ancestor, they were honest, brave men, but saw some fun when whiskey, that would put to shame our $2.00 cost, could be bought at three and four bits a gallon.
    I believe Holt was judge, I know Levi J. Knight was foreman of the grand jury, and Sion Hall’s house, now in Brooks county near Morven was the place of our first superior court.
    The men of Lowndes were gathered from the Alapaha to Mule Creek, from the village of LeConte to the Florida line, as much to see, hear, get acquainted, drink whiskey and swap horses as any thing else.
    And Father Knight was there the first minister in the county, and John C. Underwood was there.  They said I favored him when a boy, of whom more hereafter.
    Uncle John and Uncle Isben and Jack Sweat and Elze Lellman — well why enumerate.
    There were idle brains and the devil rolled up his sleeves and entered his shop as the peeped through tumbler bottoms.  After the half pints had vanished some of the old men could see their youthful days again and began to act.
    “Boys lets have a foot race,” said Hall as the crowd began to brag–old men of “when-I-was-young,” and young men of the present, “Why, uncle Green, Jack can beat you now, and give you ten steps the start for a quart!”  “Bet a quart he can’t”, came from the crowd.  Judges were selected, also a track, and as they ran Jack who was sober tripped uncle Green who was “stimulated” and sprained arm and no doctor the consequence.
    Uncle Green was carried into the dwelling of Mr. Hall.  Near the fire place the court was in session.  At the farther end of the room were two beds on one of which lay uncle Green.  “Father Knight, I’m ruined, I’m eternally ruined!” wailed uncle Green.  “Hush Green, hush!” said uncle John, who had also seen through the glass.  “Durn you, you’ll disturb the court!”
    The judge, convulsed with laughter, adjourned in honor of the occasion.  Men were men in those days.

One Year later, the legislature moved the county site from the house of Sion Hall to the house of Francis Rountree.

Related articles:

Reverend Clayton Samuel Yawn

Clayton Samuel Yawn (1895 – 1950)

Clayton Samuel Yawn lived in Ray City, GA from about 1918 to about 1935.  He was the father of Caswell Yawn, Aline Yawn and  D’Ree Yawn, subject of the previous post.

About 1916 C. S. Yawn was ordained as a Baptist minister. C.S Yawn of Ray City, GA was listed among the ordained ministers of the United States in the 1919 American Baptists Yearbook. From 1918 to 1921 he served as pastor of the Baptist Church at Ray City.

Clayton Samuel Yawn was born and raised in Appling County,  and went on to be college educated and trained in the ministry. Some time before 1919 he came to live in Ray City.  However, he does not appear in the 1144 Georgia Militia District in the census of 1920.  It may have been during this time that Clayton was away at school.

Two years before, on June 5, 1917, the C. S. Yawn registered for the WWI draft in Appling County. The 22 year-old Yawn was described as medium height and build, with grey eyes and black hair. He gave his occupation as “minister” and his employer as “Wayne County.”

Clayton Samuel Yawn attended the Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL in 1918.

Clayton Samuel Yawn attended the Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL in 1918.

Clayton Samuel Yawn and Vera Laura Roberts were married about 1921.

In the 1930 census  Vera and Clayton Samuel Yawn were living  in Ray City, GA boarding in the household of her uncle James and aunt Mollie Studstill. Clayton Yawn listed his profession as “commercial traveler,” working in the “automobile accessories” industry.

Clayton Samuel Yawn died in 1950.

Florence Morning News
Saturday, January 14, 1950

Rev. Clayton S. Yawn

    Funeral services for the Reverend Clayton S. Yawn, Baptist minister, will be conducted at 3 o’clock Saturday afternoon.
    Officiating will be the Reverend William L. Faircloth, pastor of the Rosewood Baptist Church of Columbia, and the Reverend Jasper Hinson, pastor of the Holly Hill Baptist Church.
    Committal services and burial will follow in the family plot of Norway cemetery.
    Mr. Yawn died Thursday afternoon at Bruce Hospital in Florence [SC].  He had been in failing health for the past year. At the time of  his death he was pastor of the Baptist Tabernacle of Ocean Drive.  He was a former pastor of the Grace Baptist Tabernacle of Bucksport.
    He was born at Hazlehurst, Georgia July 25 1895, the son of the late James H. and Lydia Carter Yawn of Baxley, Ga.  He had resided in Columbia, Sumter, Florence, Ocean Drive and Norway.  He was a member of the Rosewood Baptist church of Columbia, the Lions Club, and the Junior Order.
    Reverend Yawn was educated at Mercer University, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, and the Baptist Bible Institute of New Orleans.
    He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Ann Moss Moore Yawn of Norway; a son, Caswell Yawn of Atlanta, Ga.; two daughters, Misses Deree and Aline Yawn of New York City; a brother, Evan Yawn of Hazlehurst, Ga.; two sisters, Mrs. Edna Sapp and Mrs. Agnes Franklin of Brunswick, Ga.;  a nephew,Codis Yawn, of Charleston and two grandchildren survive also.
    The body of Reverend Yawn was taken from Waters Funeral Home Friday afternoon to the residence of Miss Emma Moss at Norway to remain until the hour of the funeral services.
    Active bearers will be Joe Cleaton, Henry Price, Frank Cunningham, the Reverenc Keith Gordon, J.W. Hughes, Dr. J. L Bruce, Dr. W. L. Mills, J. H. Price and R. L. Moore.

Another Alma Mater of Clayton Samuel Yawn was The Baptist Bible Institute of New Orleans (image circa 1938).

Another Alma Mater of Clayton Samuel Yawn was The Baptist Bible Institute of New Orleans (image circa 1938).


Mercer University, Macon, GA

Mercer University, Macon, GA



Obituary of Clayton Samuel Yawn, 1950, Florence, SC.

Obituary of Clayton Samuel Yawn, 1950, Florence, SC.

D’Ree Yawn Natale ~ Small Town Girl

D'Ree Yawn, about 12 years old. Image detail from 1934 6th grade class photo, Ray City School, Ray City, GA.

D’Ree Yawn, about 12 years old. Image detail from 1934 6th grade class photo, Ray City School, Ray City, GA.

Ray City, Ga was the childhood home of  D’Ree Yawn Natale, born July 31, 1922.

D’ree was a daughter of Vera Laura Roberts. Vera Roberts was a neice of  Mollie Clements and James M. Studstill. In 1920,  seventeen-year-old Vera was living in her uncle’s household.   Her uncle was a deputy sheriff stationed at the sawmill in Ray City.  This would have been the Clements sawmill, which was a community of over 300 people in itself.  The Studstills had a large old, unpainted house in Ray City that was situated on the southwest corner at the intersection of Bishop Street and Jones Street. The 1920 census lists this house on Jones Street, but the front of the house actually faced Bishop Street. (Later, this home was owned by Pluma Batterbee, and has since been destroyed.)  The Studstills also had a a farm out on the northeast side of town.

D’Ree’s father was Clayton Samuel Yawn.  He was born and raised in Appling County,  and went on to be college educated and trained in the ministry. Some time before 1919 he came to live in Ray City.  However, he does not appear in the 1144 Georgia Militia District in the census of 1920.  It may have been during this time that Clayton was away at school.

Clayton Samuel Yawn and Vera Laura Roberts were married about 1921. D’Ree was born the following year.

In the 1930 census D’Ree Yawn and her family were living in Ray City, GA still boarding in the household of James and Mollie Studstill. D’Ree’s father, Clayton Yawn, then listed his profession as “commercial traveler” working in the “automobile accessories” industry.

Image (right) is detail from the 1934 Ray City School Grade 6 class picture.

Ray City School 1934

In 1935, when D’Ree was about thirteen years old, her parents were divorced in Florida.  D’Ree continued to live with her mother and siblings in Ray City.

D’Ree grew into one of the most attractive young women of Ray City.  She, her sisters and mother, were always noted for their  fashionable dress, and beautifully done makeup and hair.

At age 21, D’Ree Yawn married Michael F. Natale. They were married on April 9, 1944 at St. Peter’s Church, Haverstraw, NY.  Thereafter the couple made their home in New York.

D'Ree Yawn and Michael F. Natale, April 9, 1944.

D’Ree Yawn and Michael F. Natale, April 9, 1944.

NATALE, D’REE – D’Ree Natale, formerly of Garnerville, NY, passed away on November 12, 2003, at her home in Washingtonville, NY. She was 81. She was the beloved wife of the late Michael F. Natale whom she married on April 9, 1944 and together owned and operated Mike’s Taxi Service in Haverstraw for over 50 years. D’Ree was born on July 31, 1922 in Ray City, Georgia to the late Vera Roberts Yawn and Clayton Samuel Yawn. D’Ree is survived by her four loving children, Michael and wife Lois of West Nyack, Robert and wife Joanne of Washingtonville, Debra and husband Robert Klein of Campbell Hall and Jeffrey of Atlantic Highland, NJ; and a dear sister, Allene Stutzman of Pinehurts, North Carolina; cherished grandchildren Christine, Stephanie, Tiffanie, Dawn, Amy, Robert Jr., Jaimie, Alison, Jason, James and Matthew; and six great-grandchildren, Madison, Branden, Aiden, Gavin, Jackson and Ian along with several nieces and nephews. D’Ree was predeceased by a granddaughter, Lauren, a brother Caswell Yawn and a sister Laura Jean Yawn.

 Funeral Services were held at the T.J. McGowan Funeral Home in the Village of Haverstraw on Monday, November 17, at 10 AM. Interment followed at St. Mary’s Cemetery, Washingtonville, NY.

Related Posts:

Alvin Claude Bozeman and the Sinking of the HMS Otranto

This blog has featured many stories of Berrien County soldiers who died in the 1918 sinking of the HMS Otranto . By special request, a soldier from Ware County:

Alvin Claude Bozeman, 1918, died in the sinking of the Otranto.

Alvin Claude Bozeman, 1918, died in the sinking of the Otranto.

Private Alvin Claude Bozeman

Waycross, Ga.

Private Bozeman entered the service July 15th, 1918.  Was attached to First Company, Coast Artillery Corps, Fort Screven, Georgia.  Embarked over-seas the latter part of September, 1918.  Was drowned when the ill-fated transport “Otranto” was sunk in a collision off the Scottish Coast, October 6th, 1918.


Oct 12, 1918 ~ 372 U.S. Soldiers Lost in Sinking of Otranto


Burial of the Otranto Victims

Bivouac of the Dead

The Long Trip Home

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