The case of Joe Wilmot

In January of 1911, word came of bloodshed at the  West Bay Company near Chipley, Florida.  The first mention of the violence was in the local paper:

The Chipley Banner, January 12, 1911

A Mr. May at a turpentine still at West Bay was shot and instantly killed Monday by a negro.  Another man was also wounded. We have been unable to hear any of the particulars.

The company was described by The  Americus Times-Recorder in 1907   as  “the West Bay Naval Stores and Lumber Company, of Florida, the syndicate which recently bought from the J. P. Williams Land Company, of Tallahassee, 44,000 acres of virgin pine and cypress near St. Andrews.  The syndicate is largely composed of Georgia men. ” Headquartered  in Florida, the West Bay Company  was “one of the most extensive timber companies in the South.”

West Bay Naval Stores and Lumber Company, of Florida

West Bay Naval Stores and Lumber Company, of Florida

Valdosta resident Dr. Elbert Pinkney Rose  was a prominent timber man with business interests in the Chipley, FL area.   His involvement in the story  which was reported in The Valdosta Times:

The Valdosta Times
January 17, 1911  Page 5

NEGRO KILLED 2 WHITE MEN

One of Them Locked Him in a Room to Whip Him When he Drew Gun and Fired.

Dr. E. P. Rose returned on Saturday morning  from Point Washington , Fla., where he has been for a week or more looking after his interest in that section.  Dr. Rose was in Point Washington when R. S. Mays, of West Bay, and a bookkeeper for the West Bay Naval Stores Company, named Gooding were shot to death by a negro named Joe Wilbur.

       The tragedy occurred at West Bay some distance above Point Washington.  It seems that there were three or four negroes working for the West Bay Naval Stores Company,  who were going to move to Point Washington and work  for Rose and Dasher.  Mr. Mays went to Point Washington to see Dr. Rose about transferring the hands and Dr. Rose paid him the amount that was due his company by three of the negroes.  Mr. Mays told Dr. Rose not to pay him Wilbur’s  account until the wagon was sent to move the negro, as Wilbur was a married negro and Mays said that he could keep matters straighter by settling when he started to move.  A day or two later a wagon was sent to West Bay to move the negroes.  A white man named Postell was in charge of it. After settling with Mays for Wilbur’s account, May told Postell that he wanted to see Wilbur, who at that time was at his shanty packing up his effects.  Postell told Mays that he thought Wilbur was afraid of him and that he didn’t want to come about him.  It is said that Mays became angry and told Postell to move out as quick as he could and not to feed his horses around there.  Mays then started down to the shanty where Wilbur was, the bookkeeper for the West Bay Company following him and begging him not to get in a fuss with the negro or any one else, as he might get hurt.  Mays is said to have remarked that he would look out for that, and went on to the shanty.

      When he reached the shanty he walked in and closed the door behind him and began to strike at the negro who was packing up his goods.  The negro drew his revolver and shot five times, either one of four of the bullets being sufficient to cause death.  The negro then reloaded his revolver and pulled open the door.  Gooding was standing on the steps and fired at the negro, but the negro returned the fire inflicting a wound that caused Gooding’s death.  Gooding was paralyzed by the first shot and in trying to shoot the negro again his pistol fired aimlessly,  the bullet hitting a mule in the thigh.   The animal did not appear to be very badly hurt, but died before reaching Point Washington.  The negro who did the shooting fled from the scene immediately afterwards.  Dr. Rose does not think there would have been any trouble at all if Mr. Mays had not gone to the shanty and began fighting the negro.

An article in the May 18, 1911 edition of the Atlanta Constitution reported on the arrest of the fugitive Willmont at Ray City, Ga.

NEGRO IS ARRESTED FOR DOUBLE MURDER

Willmont Shot Overseer Who It Was Said Was Trying to Whip Him.

Valdosta, Ga., May 17. -(Special.)- Joe Willmont, alias Will Nelson, a negro, charged with the murder of two white men near Chipley, Fla., is in jail here. The man is charged with the killing of Superintendent Mays, of the West Bay Naval Stores Company, of West Bay, Fla., and another employee of the company, a Mr. Goodwin, who were shot to death by the negro last January. Immediately after the tragedy Willmont or Nelson made his way to this section of the state and has been working for a turpentine operator at Ray’s Mill, Ga., for several months. The killing of Mays and Goodwin came about as a result of a whipping Mays tried to administer to the negro when he learned that Willmont was going to quit the employ of his firm. Goin to the negro’s cabin, Mays let himself in and locked the door, when he was shot to death. Goodwin was killed as the negro threw the door open and fired at him.

Sheriff I. C. Avera

Sheriff I. C. Avera

The Valdosta Times gave a more detailed account of the arrest.  After informants reported the whereabouts of the fugitive to Valdosta Chief of Police Calvin Dampier,  Willmont was apprehended in Rays Mill, GA by Berrien County Sheriff I.C. Avera. Willmont was working in Rays Mill in the employ of turpentine operator David Asa Sapp.

The Valdosta Times
May 20, 1911  Page 9

 DAMPIER  GETS $500 REWARD

 Negro who Killed two White Men in Florida is in Prison in Valdosta

       Locked in prison here is a negro murderer for whose arrest a reward  of $500 is outstanding.
      The negro is charged with killing two white men, R. S. Mays and D. J. Goodwin, of the West Bay Naval Stores Company, near Chipley, Fla., early in January.   The news of the tragedy was published in the Times at the time and is remembered by the readers of this paper.
      The negro’s name is Joe Willmont, but he has been going by the name of Will Nelson in this section.  He was located at Rays Mill last Friday or Saturday by Chief of Police Dampier.  He was driving a wagon for a turpentine operator, Mr. Sapp, and he was located by accident, though Chief Dampier has received a number of letters in regard to him from Sheriff C. G. Allen, of Chipley, Fla.
       Last Friday Chief Dampier sent a “spotter” to Rays Mill to see if he could not locate a negro who was accused of reckless shooting in this city and who, it was hoped, could by landed in time for the grand jury  to consider him after Recorder Varnedoe finished with him.   This negro could not be found, but the chief’s “spotter” told him that he saw a negro there who was a fugitive from Florida.  The “spotter” knew his name as well as his alias.
      Chief Dampier looked in his “rogue’s gallery” and found the descriptions, as well as the letters which he had received from Florida in regard to the negro.  He then telephoned Sheriff Avera, of Berrien, and asked him if he would not catch him and bring him to Valdosta.  The sheriff replied that he would be glad to do so, as he had business that day at Rays Mill.
     Yesterday morning the Berrien sheriff dropped off at Rays Mill, found Willmont driving a wagon and took him in charge.  Arriving here the sheriff was told who the negro was and what he was wanted for, and that there was a reward of $150 for him, that being the amount which the state of Florida had offered.  Chief Dampier immediately wired to Sheriff Allen and informed him of the negro’s arrest.  The sheriff wired back that the reward for him was  five hundred dollars and that he would come for him at once. 

Charges Against the Negro.

     The negro admits that he shot both of the men and also that he killed Mays, but he does not know whether Goodwin died or not.  He says that Mays came to his shanty, and locked the door on him for the purpose of whipping him and that he shot him because he had done nothing to be whipped for.  He says that he was going to leave Mays employ, but that it was satisfactory to Mays, he thought, but when the wagon came to move him Mays seemed to get mad and decided to beat him.
      At the time of the tragedy The Times learned that the negro had been working for the West Bay Naval Stores Company under Mays, who was superintendent.  Rose and Dasher made a trade with the West Bay people under which several hands were to be exchanged, Willmont being among the number.  Several days after the agreement was made Rose and Dasher’s wagon went over to the West Bay quarters to get Willmont and his effects.  Mays , it is said, wrote them a letter showing that the transfer was all right, but stated to the driver of wagon that he wanted to give Willmont a “beating before he left.”  Mays is said to have gone to the negro’s  house and locked himself in it with the negro. The shooting followed and Mays was killed.
     The negro  ran from the house and Goodwin fired at him, the bullet hitting the door.  The negro shot him down and continued his flight.  Goodwin died a few days later.
     An officer will come from Florida as soon as requisition papers can be secured for the fugitive.  The negro shot him down and continued his flight.  Goodwin died a few days later.
     It is said that the slayer has been living in this section ever since then, though the fact was not known until Chief Dampier got onto him last Friday.
     An officer will come from Florida as soon as requisition papers can be secured for the fugitive.  The negro is between twenty-five and thirty years of age, is of medium size, black, not bad looking, but is said to be desperate.  He does not like the idea of going back to Florida, as he is afraid of being lynched.

Sheriff Charles G. Allen, of Chipley, FL, came to Valdosta to take custody of Willmont.

The Chipley Banner., May 18, 1911

Sheriff Allen left last night for Valdosta, Ga., to get Joe Wilmot, the negro who murdered Messrs Mays and Godwin, at West Bay, a few months ago.

The Valdosta Times
May 30, 1911  Page 3

 CARRIED BACK TO FLORIDA

Sheriff Allen Came up Today and got the Murderer of Mays and Gooding.

 (From  Fridays Daily)

       Sheriff Allen of Washington county, Florida, reached this city [Valdosta, GA] this morning with requisition papers authorizing him to get Joe Wilmont, the negro who is wanted for the murder of R.D. Mays and D. J. Gooding, near Chipley, Fla.
      Sheriff Allen says that it is a very small county, but that this negro makes eight murderers in jail there to be tried at the next term of court.
      He also says that from what he understands the killing of the two men was  almost unprovoked and that there is a serious case against the negro.
      It is learned from another source that the reward for the negroe is about $500 of which $200 of the amount was offered by the widow of the dead man.  The company for which he worked also offered a reward and the state offered a reward of $150.
      It is said that May had $5000, accident insurance on his life, but the company will not pay the claim until the negro has been tried and it has been proven whether or not the killing was due to recklessness on the part of Mays or was a case of pure murder.  If the evidence shows that Mays was murdered the Company will be liable for the insurance, but if it is found that he was killed by the negro in self defense it will claim that it is not liable.
      It is said that the negro shot Mays three times after Mays had fallen to the ground.  The negro does not claim that Mays  tried to whip him but he says that he thought Mays was going to try it and that is the reason that he killed him.

The trial of Joe Willmont was not concluded until March of 1912

The Chipley Banner
March 28, 1912 Pg 8

Joe Welmont, the negro who murdered Mr. Mays on West Bay about a year ago, was convicted of murder in the first degree last week and will probably be given a life sentence.

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