Back Story on Benjamin William Furlong

Previous posts on this blog have concerned 1880s Berrien County desperado Benjamin William Furlong.  The story of Ben Furlong, and reports of his ghost, are interesting passages in Berrien County history.  A recent reader comment prompted a further look for Furlong’s trace. (see Ghost.)

Ben Furlong was a  wiregrass  sawmill man and at the same time an outlaw whose infamous deeds were published around the globe. While Ben Furlong had no direct connection to Rays Mill (nka Ray City), GA  he was well known to the citizens of Berrien County, and to all of south Georgia. His ‘stomping grounds’ centered around the town of Alapaha, which in the 1880s was the rail head for Berrien County.  Anyone doing business with the Brunswick & Western Railroad risked crossing paths with Furlong. Indeed, his orneriness was known all up and down the B & W line from Brunswick to Albany.  Dozens of criminal charges were levied against him in the Superior courts of Berrien and Dougherty counties.

As previously told, his final victim, Jesse Webb, was  shot, knifed, brutalized and murdered at Sniff Mill, situated on the route of the Brunswick & Albany Railroad near the county line between Berrien and Coffee counties.  Furlong was directly implicated in the murders of at least three other men, and his brother and partner, John Furlong, was gunned down in Texas after fleeing Georgia.  Ben Furlong was feared by foes, friends, lovers and lawmen.  Previous posts provide additional information on Ben Furlong’s “life of singular desperation.”

Ben Furlong was born about 1854 in Louisiana.  Some time before 1869 he came to Georgia with other Furlong family members.  By the age of 15 he was working for his brother-in-law ” in a responsible position” at a sawmill located in Pine Bloom, GA in  Coffee County.  The timber trade is one that he would follow for his short life, when he was not pre-occupied with drinking, drugs, murder, or other mayhem.

Furlong fled Pine Bloom after a fight in which he cut the throat of one of the sawmill workers. He was gone from the area for several years, but eventually returned. He was never charged with the murder.

Later he worked at other Berrien county sawmills at Vanceville and Sniff, GA.

Detail of Augustus S. Mitchell's 1883 County Map of the States of Georgia and Alabama, showing location of Vanceville, Alapaha, and Rays Mill, GA. The mapped location of Pine Bloom is in error - the actual location of Pine Bloom was about two miles east of Willacoochee. [Special thanks to Bryan Shaw for this explanation - see comment below.]

Detail of Augustus S. Mitchell’s 1883 County Map of the States of Georgia and Alabama, showing location of Vanceville, Alapaha, and Rays Mill, GA. The mapped location of Pine Bloom is in error – the actual location of Pine Bloom was about two miles east of Willacoochee. [Special thanks to Bryan Shaw for this explanation – see comment below.]

1880 Census enumeration of Ben W. Furlong in Ware County near Waycross, GA.

1880 Census enumeration of Ben W. Furlong in Ware County near Waycross, GA.

It appears that Ben Furlong married sometime before 1874. In the census of 1880 he and  his wife, Pocahontas (age 22), were enumerated in Ware County in the 1231 Georgia Militia District, near Waycross, GA. Ben was working there as a “timber sawyer” while Pocahontas was keeping house.  Their children were John W. Furlong (age 5), William Furlong (age 3), Benjamin Furlong (age 2) and Charles W.  Furlong (age 4 months.) (see  10th census, 1880, Georgia at Archive.org)

1881 South Georgia Pamphlet.

1881 South Georgia Pamphlet.

The following year, when Ben Furlong was about 27 years old, may have been the high point in his short life. (Here, the timeline of his documented activities seems to differ from the chronology given in the accounts of his life that were written after his death.)   That year, 1881, he and his brother, John Furlong,  were operating a sawmill at Vanceville, GA,  a stop on the Brunswick & Albany railroad a few miles west of Alapaha, GA.  The Brunswick & Albany provided a direct connection to the port at Brunswick, GA and access to world markets. There was a Navy yard at Brunswick, and it was said, “Hardly any other point along the Atlantic, from Maine to Florida, affords such facilities for ship building, with an unlimited supply of materials at hand.”  At Vanceville, the Furlongs were in the perfect position to profit from the demand for lumber and naval stores.

The railroad pamphlet Southern Georgia described Vanceville GA:

Vanceville, at the 125 mile-post, is a new and bright looking little settlement. Here Furlong Bros. have a sawmill which cuts 15,000 feet of lumber per day. They have a tramway started, the engine and iron on the ground. The country is rolling and beautiful. There are many lovely building sites on this road. Nature has made them beautiful, and in a few short years our eyes may be permitted to see beautiful gardens, vineyards and orchards, where now the wiregrass flourishes.

1883 Stock certificate of the Reppard Land, Lumber & Sawmill Company of Georgia. R. B. Reppard provided financial backing for the sawmill operated by John and Ben Furlong at Vanceville, GA.

1883 Stock certificate of the Reppard Land, Lumber & Sawmill Company of Georgia. R. B. Reppard provided financial backing for the sawmill operated by John and Ben Furlong at Vanceville, GA.

Furthermore, the Furlong Brothers secured the financial backing of  R. B. Reppard, a timber magnate of Savannah.  Reppard’s company, the Reppard Land, Lumber & Sawmill Company of Georgia,  owned a dozen sawmills and vast tracts of timber in South Georgia. Reppard invested $30,000 dollars in a sawmill at Vanceville, and set up Ben and John Furlong to run it.

It was perhaps the very success and prosperity of their enterprise that brought about Ben Furlong’s downfall.  Later newspaper reports asserted, “The charge of such a large business turned Furlong’s head completely. He began drinking heavily, neglected his wife and family, and took to the companionship of wantons.”

By July of 1882 the growing aberration in Ben Furlong’s behavior was becoming apparent to everyone. Reports of his alcohol fueled aggression began appearing in the press, even in staid publications such as The  Sunny South,  a weekly literary magazine published in Atlanta from 1874 to 1907.

Sunny South
July 1, 1882

B. W. Furlong a lumber merchant of Vanesville, has been arrested in Albany for shooting at Mr. Will Harrell on the train. Whiskey.

At the western terminus of the B& W railroad  the local newspaper, The Albany News and Advertiser, gave an expanded account of the shooting:

Atlanta Weekly Constitution
July 11, 1882 Pg 3

Shooting on a Train

From the Albany News and Advertiser.
    B. W. Furlong, a prominent lumber man who operates at Vanceville, on the Brunswick and Albany road, was arrested in Albany on Thursday night, at the insistence of Mr. Will Harrell, who swore out a warrant charging assault with intent to murder.  Both parties came up on the train that evening and got into a row with each other. Furlong was quite drunk, drew a pistol and fired at Harrell.  Quite a row ensued before matters grew quiet.  When the train reached Albany the warrant was sworn and the arrest made, as stated.  Furlong was not incarcerated, but was allowed liberty under the surveillance of an attending officer.  He claims to have been crazed by drink, and did not know what he was doing.  He was brought before Judge Warren late yesterday afternoon and waived a committal trial.  Bond was fixed and given for his appearance here ond day next week.

In the summer of 1883, further stories about the excesses and abuses of Ben Furlong were appearing in newspapers all over the state, from The Valdosta Times, The Brunswick Advertiser,  The Columbus  Daily Enquirer, to The Atlanta Weekly Constitution :

The Atlanta Weekly Constitution
August 7, 1883 pg 2

Albany was full of rumors Sunday and Monday to the effect that a Mr. Furlong, of Furlong’s mill, about four miles this side of Tifton, had cruelly whipped his wife, and when she ran from him, he took the large end of his buggy whip, with which he had been beating her, and struck her on the head.  One report was to the effect that he killed her, but it was learned since that such was not true.  The deed was committed on Thursday, and Furlong defied arrest.  A large posse of men, however went down and arrested him.

The Atlanta Weekly Constitution
August 9, 1883 pg 2

A white man named Furlong, in Coffee county, brutally beat his wife – Mrs. Furlong, is in a deplorable condition – not expected to live. Her body is only a mass of bruised flesh, while one of her jaws is broken.  The cause of the trouble was a woman – another man’s wife, with whom Furlong was too intimate.  She has been arrested as an accessory to the crime.

 The Columbus Daily Enquirer
August 7, 1883 Pg 3 Brunswick Advertiser:  A disgraceful affair occurred at Vanceville on the Brunswick and Western road, the past week.  Mr. Ben Furlong, becoming enraged with his wife, chastised her severely with a whip, and because she attempted to get away struck her with the butt of the whip, knocking her senseless. He then stood in his doorway with a double-barrel gun and told all outsiders to keep off, or he would kill the first man who attempted to enter.  He remained master of the situation for several days, and finally surrendered.  Meanwhile his poor wife was lying extremely ill without attention.

By the fall, Furlong was again in trouble in Albany, GA the western terminus of the Brunswick & Albany, which by then had become the Brunswick & Western. The story from The Albany News was repeated in The Atlanta Weekly Constitution:

Atlanta Weekly ConstitutionOctober 18, 1883 Albany News:  B. W. Furlong, who beat his wife so mercilessly in Berrien county some time ago, and who spent several days in jail in this city, has been on the rampage again for the last week or two, and although under bond to keep the peace and for his appearance at the next term of Berrien superior court, has been into two or three more difficulties and making himself a nuisance generally.  Upon learning that Furlong was not keeping his promise to them, and that he was behaving badly again, three of his bondsmen, Messrs. W. J. Nelson, of Alapaha, B. B. Gray, of Gray’s  mills, and Colonel J. L. Boyt, of Dougherty county, notified the sheriff of Berrien county that they would not remain on his bond any longer.  The sheriff refused to relieve them of their responsibility, however, until Furlong was delivered to him.  With the intention of arresting Furlong and delivering him over to the sheriff, Mr. Nelson, accompanied by Mr. A. J. McRea, marshal of Alapaha, started Sunday night to Albany, where they expected to find Furlong.  They met him at Sumner, however, and started back to Alapaha with him.  They did not tell him what their purpose was, but he evidently suspected that something was wrong, and just after the train started, jumped off, and has since been making himself scarce.

A few days later, The Cuthbert Enterprise supplied a brief follow-up report which was repeated in The Atlanta Constitution:

Atlanta Constitution
October 20, 1883 Pg 2

B. W. Furlong, the wife-beater of Berrien County, has been surrendered to the sheriff by his bondsmen. Two indictments against him at the last April term of Dougherty superior court, and Messrs. C. M. Mayo and John Ray became his bondsmen.  There is also an indictment against him for assault and battery.

Columbus Daily Enquirer
October 23, 1883 Pg 3

Furlong the wife-beater, got drunk in Albany, Wednesday night, and has been surrendered by his bondsmen who thought that he had left them in the lurch.

Alarmed by Furlong’s scandalous and violent behavior, R.B. Reppard sent a man to Vanceville to take over the operation of the lumber mill. Ben’s brother, John, didn’t wait to be discharged and absconded with $10,000 dollars of the company’s funds.   He was later shot and killed by a Texas lawman in a dispute over payment in a land auction.

Meanwhile, Ben Furlong’s “reckless and dangerous” behavior continued to infuriate his neighbors.  In the summer of 1884, O.R. Giddens came gunning for Furlong, seeking satisfaction for some wrong. This time fate intervened, and the man was killed before he could confront Furlong.  Perhaps Giddens’ rage drove him to the fatal error…another man killed after crossing paths with Furlong.

The New York Times
June 17, 1884

Vindictive Mr. Giddens Killed.

Albany, Ga. Jun 16.  The night train on the Brunswick and Western Railroad ran over and killed O. R. Giddens, a well-known citizen of Berrien County, near Allapaha.  Mr. Giddens had a grudge against a man named Furlong, and it is claimed, was in waiting for the purpose of killing him. The train was delayed several hours, however, and Mr. Giddens, in walking up and down the track to pass away the time, fell asleep on the track and so came to his death.

Detail from an 1895 railroad map, shows the location, from East to West on the line of the Brunswick & Western Railroad, of Sniff, Alapaha, Enigma, Vanceville, and Sumner,GA.

Detail from an 1895 railroad map, shows the location, from East to West on the line of the Brunswick & Western Railroad, of Sniff, Alapaha, Enigma, Vanceville, and Sumner,GA.

A detail from the   George Cram Railroad and County Map of Georgia, 1885  shows the location of Sniff, Georgia.  According to The Mercantile Agency special edition of Bullinger’s postal and shippers guide for the United States and Canada, January 1883 edition,  Sniff, GA was located in Coffee County, placing it on the east bank of the Alapaha River.  Sniff, GA would be the stage for the final desperate acts of Benjamin William Furlong. In June of 1886,  state newspapers were again reporting on Ben Furlong’s violent encounters,  this time involving the shooting of a Brunswick and Western railroad engineer.

Milledgeville Union Recorder
June 22, 1886 pg 6

Probably Fatal Difficulty

News reached the city [Albany, GA] by the Brunswick train on Wednesday night that B. W. Furlong shot Church Brock, at Sniff, on Wednesday morning.
    The News and Advertiser was unable to get full and reliable particulars of the difficulty, but it seems that Furlong owed Brock some money, and that when the latter asked him for it on Wednesday morning hot words followed.  Furlong cursed Brock, using very severe language, and when Brock started to strike him Furlong drew his pistol and shot him.  The ball taking effect in the abdomen.
   One of the News and Advertiser’s informants stated that Brock had a monkey-wrench in his hand, and another said he did not think he had anything.  We give both statements with knowing which, or whether in fact either, is strictly correct.
    It is thought that Brock will die.
    Furlong is well known in Albany, and Brock has been an engineer on the B. & W. Railroad, but was running as a fireman on a freight train on Wednesday.  He is a Brunswick man, and was carried home on Wednesday.  – Albany News

The Macon Weekly Telegraph
June 29, 1886  Pg 5

    John Brock, an engineer on the Brunswick and Western railroad, was shot while the train was stopping at Lee’s Mill on Wednesday afternoon, by Ben W. Furlong, a mill manager.  The men had some difficulty  previously, on account of a small sum alleged to be due Furlong by Brock, and when the train stopped, Brock went into the depot, and furlong followed, abusing Brock. The latter was about to strike him, when Furlong pulled out a self-cocker and shot Brock, the ball entering his right side and passing out on the left below the navel.  The wound is painful, but not serious.

Just a few weeks following the shooting of Church Brock, Furlong’s despicable behavior slid even further into the depths. The End of a Noted Desperado told the story of Furlong’s torturous execution of Jesse Webb in early September, 1886. Before that month was out Furlong took his own life, overdosing on Laudanum.  Laudanum, essentially a liquid heroin, was also known as opium tincture or tincture of opium. It was an alcoholic herbal preparation of opium that was popular in patent medicines in the late 1800s.     The obituary of Benjamin William Furlong appeared in the Macon Weekly Telegraph:

Macon Weekly Telegraph
September 28, 1886   Pg 11

DEATH OF B. W. FURLONG.

A Well Known Mill Man Ends His Life With a Dose of Laudanum.

Albany News.
    News reached the city yesterday morning of the death of Mr. B. W. Furlong, at his home at Sniff, on the Brunswick and Western railroad, on Friday evening.  He died from the effects of a dose of laudanum which he took, it is supposed with suicidal intent.
    Coupled with other reports as to what caused him to end his own life, it is rumored that he killed a negro not many days ago and sank his body in the Alapaha river.  He had been on a protracted spree just before his death, and had involved himself in a good deal of trouble.
    Mr. Furlong was well known in this city and all along the line of the Brunswick and Western railroad, having been engaged in the saw mill business on this line of road for several years past.  While he was a very clever and companionable man when sober, he appeared to place no value upon his own life when on one of his protracted sprees, and was generally regarded as a reckless and dangerous man.

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12 Comments

  1. Bryan Shaw said,

    September 10, 2011 at 9:40 am

    For accuracy of your article and to give the proper local of Pinebloom, your map attached to this article is incorrect. There are a number of railroad maps that definitively locate Pinebloom between Willacoochee and Leliaton, about 2 miles east of Willacoochee. Benjamin B. Gray operated a sawmill near there, and was one of the original bondsman of Benjamin Furlong. Gray was also a railroad developer of the Ocilla, Pinebloom & Valdosta Railway.

    Excerpt from Georgia’s Railroad History and Heritage, copyright Steve Storey:

    The OP&V, originally called the Fitzgerald, Pinebloom & Valdosta, was a logging road and occasional common carrier owned by the Gray Lumber Company. The 52-mile Lax-Pinebloom-Nashville line was completed in 1901-03.

    In 1906, the OP&V sold the section south of Pinebloom to the Douglas, Augusta, and Gulf Railway (which was controlled by the Georgia and Florida). It continued to operate the tracks north of Pinebloom. (Pinebloom was a flag station on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad a mile east of Willacoochee with a 1896 population of about 200. The Gray Brothers saw mill was its largest enterprise.)
    The line was renamed the Ocilla, Pinebloom, and Valdosta Railroad in 1910.

    In 1915 the Henderson Lumber Company gained control.

    The 1918 Report of the Georgia Railroad Commission listed the OP&V as a 27-mile line between Gladys, a point on the Ocilla Southern Railroad, and Shaw’s Still, which was about nine miles southeast of Willacoochee. Two years later the Commission indicated that the OP&V had been dismantled and listed its successor road, the Willacoochee and DuPont, as a 9.5-mile line between Willacoochee and Shaws Still.

  2. September 10, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Bryan, thanks for the clarification on Mitchell’s 1883 map and the additional information on Pine Bloom. I’ve edited the caption on the map image to reflect the correct location.

    Jon

  3. Jerry Furlong said,

    September 12, 2011 at 8:10 am

    Jon- Thank you for updating with the additional information. My family still has a few missing links that we are trying to answer..1) Pocahontas 2) Joe Alsea Furlong ( My Great Grandfather). At the direction of our Historical Society in Bartow Florida we have be told to write the Social Security Administration to determine the names of Joe’s Parents. We believe he was the child of either Pocahontas and Ben And wasn’t listed on the census or he was the child of one of Ben’s Children.
    We are trying to find old family photos that we know exist of Pocahontas and any other photos from this time. As we learn more, I will definitely keep you posted- Thanks again- Jerry

  4. Jerry Furlong said,

    September 12, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Follow up- pictures do exist of Ben and Pocahontas. We are currently working to retrieve them from my Aunt. Joe Alsea Furlong lived with the Grey Family. They owned and operated Grey Timber Company. Apparently the children were borrowed by other families to assist with work during that time which is why Joe isn’t listed as living in the house.

    I am also working to retrieve an article concerning Joe and Will Furlong. In Waycross Georgia, they stole a 4th of July cannon and filled it with railroad spikes, chains and ball bearings and fired it at a house..seems the apples don’t fall far.

    Thanks again-
    Jerry

  5. Bryan Shaw said,

    September 12, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    I have photographs of Benjamin Gray and his wife Ellen. He not only operated the Gray Lumber Company at Pinebloom, but also was a major railroad owner and operator in the area. I will load the photos on the website berriencountyga.com

  6. Bryan Shaw said,

    September 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Mr. Furlong, You may wish to contact Dr. Hal Henderson, 2808 Park Ave. N., Tifton, GA 31794-1312. He is a descendant of Benjamin Gray and may be able to shed some light on the Furlong family, as he has an interest in history of the Willacoochee area.

  7. Jerry Furlong said,

    September 12, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Mr. Shaw-
    Just spoke with Mr. Henderson and we were able to fill in some gaps. He remembers BB Gray married a “Furlong” from Louisiana which explains why the Furlong’s and Gray’s were close. Joe Alsea Furlong lived with his “Cousins” in Pinebloom growing up according to family, and also explains the Railroad connection and Waycross…where Joe and Will shot the house with a cannon.

    I will keep an ey on the website for the photos and when I get copies of our family photos, I will make sure you get them as well.

    Thanks-

    Jerry

  8. Jerry Furlong said,

    September 12, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Mr. Shaw-
    I spoke with Mr. Henderson- It seems BB Gray married a Furlong from Louisiana..”Ellen?” I am now looking into that.. Thank you for posting the Pictures. I am anxious to see if I have any of her. I have also located Pictures of Will Furlong (son of Ben) as he worked for Gray Timber Co. as well. More to follow soon- It makes sense why the Gray’s and Furlong’s were so close now-
    Thanks!

  9. Bryan Shaw said,

    September 13, 2011 at 9:57 am

    The 1880 US census lists Ellen also as being born in Louisiana. Glad Mr. Henderson was able to shed more light on the family. My great grandfather’s son, Bernard Shaw of Willacoochee was a poll bearer at Ellen’s funeral. Bernard passed away back in the late 1980s but I will check with Bernard’s son, Paul Shaw to see if he has any additional info.

  10. Bryan Shaw said,

    September 13, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Photos of Benjamin B. Gray and Ellen are posted. Look forward to any photos of your Furlong or Gray connections. Any photos with the saw mill or Gray or Furlong homeplace?

  11. Jerry Furlong said,

    September 15, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Yes sir- photos are being copied and mailed from my Aunt in Virginia. I know we are receiving a photo of Will Furlong- who we always heard was the “bad” one in the family. He was the son of Ben and worked for Gray Timber. It is a photo of him on his horse that he used to mark timber.

    As soon as we get the photos, I will make sure you get copies for your site. Thanks again for posting the photos of the Gray family. I am anxious to see if they are some of the same folks as in my photos.

    • March 17, 2012 at 11:09 pm

      Hi Jerry: This is Jackie Furlong, married to Bill Furlong, We did live in Fla. where we visited you some years back. We are in GA now, living in Ray City, GA….not found property to buy yet. I’ve just found this website and I’m so surprised, really. Could you send any pix you have of Furlongs born to Ben W. Furlong? Bill is kin to Ben W. Furlong, through his son, John W. Furlong. If you have further information, we would dearly love to have it…..until we see you and Sheila again:

      Jackie & Bill Furlong


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