William H. Griffin, Wiregrass Jurist

William Hamilton Griffin (1853-1917)

William Hamilton Griffin was born in that part of Lowndes County, GA which was cut into Berrien County in 1856. He became a prominent public administrator and jurist of Wiregrass Georgia, and was involved in some of the most dramatic legal contests in Ray City history.

William H. Griffin

William H. Griffin

William Hamilton Griffin  was born July 18, 1853, on his father’s plantation, located in that portion of Lowndes county which is now included in Berrien county, GA. His honored parents, William D.and Nancy (Belote) Griffin, were also natives of Lowndes county.”

He was a cousin of Bessie Griffin, and Lester Griffin of the Connells Mill district (Georgia Militia District 1329), just west of  the Rays Mill community  (now Ray City, GA),

“The father, William D. Griffin, aided in effecting the organization of Berrien county and was its second treasurer, which office he held continuously until his death, in 1892, except one term, during the so-called -“Reconstruction” period, immediately succeeding the Civil War, when nearly all white voters were, under Federal statutes, practically disfranchised. The father was a soldier in the Confederate service during the latter part of the war and was with Johnston’s forces in the operations of the Atlanta Campaign.”

The paternal grandfather represented Brooks county in the state legislature, though his residence was on land now in Lowndes county. The great-grandfather, James Griffin, was a private soldier in the Revolutionary War.  James Griffin and Sarah Lodge Griffin were early settlers of Irwin County, GA.

William H. Griffin, the subject of this sketch, was afforded only the advantages of the common schools of his native county, the family fortunes, in common with those of most southern families, having been seriously affected by the war. He was educated in the public schools and academies at Nashville, GA. He soon developed traits of leadership and at twenty was elected clerk of the court for Berrien County, an office he held in 1874-5. From 1882 to 1885 he held of the office of Ordinary of Berrien County. While in this office he studied law, and in 1884 he was admitted to the Georgia bar. He at once began the practice of his profession at Nashville, but in 1885 he removed to Valdosta, GA.  There he formed a law partnership with Judge Benjamin F. Whittington, as Whittington & Griffin, this relation continuing for several years.

He was elected mayor of Valdosta in 1892, and served three consecutive terms. Governor William Yates Atkinson appointed him judge of the city court of Valdosta in 1897, for a term of four years, at the expiration of which he was reappointed for a like term, by Governor Allen D. Candler, and continued on the bench until 1905. During his eight years of service he tried 1,358 civil cases and 2008  criminal cases, a total of 3,866. His decisions were carried to the supreme court but 18 times and were reversed in only two cases.

In politics Judge Griffin was a Democrat, having always given that party his unqualified support. He served as mayor of Valdosta, judge of the city court, representative in the state legislature from Lowndes County, Chair of the Democratic Executive Committee of Lowndes County, and as referee in bankruptcy. His elevations to public office were a tribute to his worth and to the respect with which he was held by the community.

He was a member of the local lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and held membership in various bar associations. His chief recreations were fishing and hunting.

William H. Griffin was twice married — first, on May 18, 1879, to Margaret “Maggie” MacDonald, daughter of Dougal P. and Anna (Peeples) MacDonald, of Nashville, Berrien county. Maggie McDonald was born in 1864. Her father was listed on the 1860 roster of Levi J. Knight’s Berrien Minute Men, but he was also enumerated in Berrien County on the 1864  Census for Re-Organizing the Georgia Militia. Maggie was apparently raised by Dr. Hamilton M. Talley, as she appears in his household in Berrien County in the census of 1870. She died in 1890.

William H. Griffin was second married to Miss Carrie Abbott, of Randolph, VT, September 28, 1892. He had two children of the latter marriage—William Abbott Griffin, born in 1896, and Margaret Griffin, born in 1902. William and Carrie Griffin were members of the Methodist Episcopal church South.

William H. Griffin served as attorney for the estate of prominent Rays Mill turpentine man Robert S. Thigpen, engineering some of the largest property deals in Ray City history in the disposal of the Thigpen estate.  Thigpen’s holdings at the time of his death in 1898 included his turpentine plants and naval stores stock at Rays Mill, Naylor and Lenox, GA.

In 1899, William H. Griffin represented James Thomas Beagles, defending him for the Killing of Madison G. Pearson at Henry Harrison Knight’s store at Rays Mill (now Ray City),GA some 12 years earlier. The Beagles case was tried before Judge Augustin H. Hansell. Attorney Griffin made a most eloquent and affecting appeal in behalf of his client, Beagles, for a light sentence, and every one in the court room was moved by his strong and well-chosen words. Beagles was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to only two years incarceration.

In 1906, after his retirement from the bench Judge Griffin entered into a partnership with Hon. Elisha Peck Smith Denmark, and formed the law firm, Denmark & Griffin. It was said that “He enjoyed the confidence, esteem and patronage of the most prominent and important people and business interests of Lowndes and adjoining counties.”

In the matter of Green Bullard’s estate, William H. Griffin was retained by William B. Shaw to represent the interests of his wife, Fannie Bullard ShawGreen Bullard was a long time resident of the Rays Mill (now Ray City) area, and  owned land out Possum Creek Road and on toward the community of Cat Creek. The Shaws wanted the estate to be administered by Fannies’ brother, Henry Needham Bullard, rather than her half-brother, William Malachi Jones.   The other side of the family was represented  by Buie & Knight in the dispute. Mallie Jones was the son of Mary Ann Knight Bullard by her first husband, William A. Jones.

Judge Griffin’s name was synonymous with integrity. He “walked uprightly, worked righteousness, and spoke the truth in his heart.” He exemplified the best ideals of the profession. He was generous-spirited, and gave liberally of praise and commendation where he thought it due.  When the first train to roll through Ray City on the Georgia & Florida Railroad arrived at Valdosta, it was Judge W. H. Griffin that gave the welcome address at the celebration.

His death occurred at his home in Valdosta, April 15, 1917, and the throng of people, including many lawyers from other counties, who attended his funeral attested strongly the esteem and love there was for him in the hearts
of those who knew him.

Obituary of William Hamilton Griffin

Obituary of William Hamilton Griffin

Post-Search Light
Apr. 19, 1917

Judge Griffin Died Sunday

Prominent Valdosta Jurist Passed Suddenly Away From Heart Trouble – Well Known Here.

    The following account appearing under a Valdosta date line in the daily press Monday will be interest to Bainbridge friends of the deceased.
     Judge Griffin was well known here, and was related to Representative E. H. Griffin, of this city.
    “Judge William H. Griffin, one of Valdosta’s prominent men and a leading south Georgia lawyer, succumbed to attack of heart failure this afternoon at 1:45 o’clock after less than an hour’s illness.  He was alone at his home when the attack came on him, members of his family being at church.  Mrs. Griffin returned home soon after he was stricken and a physician reached his side in a few minutes but was powerless to relieve his patient.
    “Judge Griffin was sixty-four years of age, an active south Georgian, and for forty years a citizen of Valdosta. He was a member of the law firm of Denmark & Griffin, and controlled a large and lucrative practice.  He was a member of the two last general assemblies of Georgia and exerted a strong but conservative influence in that body.  He had been judge of the city court of Valdosta, mayor of the city, member of the school board and active in the public life of this city and section, which loses one of its best citizens in his death.
     “Judge Griffin is survived by his wife and two children, a son, Mr. Abbot Griffin, and daughter, Miss Margaret.
   “His son was in Macon, where an announcement of his father’s death reached him.
    “Judge Griffin’s funeral and interment will take place here probably on Monday.”

Grave of William Hamilton Griffin, Sunset Hill Cemetery

Grave of William Hamilton Griffin, Sunset Hill Cemetery. Image source: Robert Strickland.

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Lester Griffin and Margaret Elizabeth Griffin

On this date, August 12, 1917,  Lester Griffin (1890-1928), grandson of  Wiregrass pioneer Levi J. Knight,  married cousin Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Griffin.  (see Family of Lester Griffin)

Lester Griffin and Mary Elizabeth Griffin.  Image detail courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester Griffin and Mary Elizabeth Griffin. Image detail courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester and Lizzie are buried at Brushy Creek Cemetery near Ocilla, GA.

Grave of Lester Griffin (1890 -  1928), Brushy Creek Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave of Lester Griffin (1890 – 1928), Brushy Creek Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

 

Grave of Margaret Elizabeth Griffin (1899 -  1973), Brushy Creek Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave of Margaret Elizabeth Griffin (1899 – 1973), Brushy Creek Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

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Bessie Griffin Bazemore

Bessie Griffin (1883-1983)

Bessie Griffin Bazemore. Image source: P.C. Griffin

Bessie Griffin Bazemore. Image source: P.C. Griffin

 

Bessie was a daughter of Noah Webster Griffin and Lillian Melissa Knight,  a granddaughter of William Washington Knight, and a great granddaughter of Levi J. Knight, and of Jesse Carroll, both pioneer settlers of the Ray City, GA area.  Her parents grew up in the 1144 Georgia Militia District (Rays Mill District).

Bessie was born  August 11, 1883.  Tax records at that time show her father owned 175 acres on Lot #371, 10th Land District, Berrien County, GA, increased to 245 acres in 1884. The Griffin farm was in the Connells Mill district (Georgia Militia District 1329), just west of  the Rays Mill community  (now Ray City, GA), although at that time,  the community of Ray’s Mill consisted of little more than the grist mill built by Thomas M. Ray and Levi J. Knight, and the store owned by Henry H. Knight.

Bessie’s early childhood, from 1883  through 1890,  was spent on her father’s farm on the same Lot #371.    Tax records of 1890 show  Guilford I. Parrish, Molcie Parrish – wife of Elder Ansel Parrish, James W. Parrish, John S. Carter, Joel J. Carter, James P. Devane, Millard F. Devane, Georgia R. Devane, William E. Fountain Jr, John Webb, Thomas W. Ray, William W. Knight, Sovin J. Knight, and Matthew H. Albritton were among their neighbors.

Apparently, the Griffin’s moved to the Lower Fork district  of Lowndes county (Georgia Militia District 658) before the birth  of Bessie’s brother, Lester Griffin, in 1890.

Bessie Griffin married Joseph S. Bazemore   on December 20, 1899, in Lowndes County, GA.  The bride was sixteen; the groom was a 29-year-old farmer.  Joseph Salem Bazemore was born March 10, 1870 at Hazlehurst, GA. He was a son of James J. Bazemore (1853-1893)  and Mary Elizabeth McIntyre (1848-1924).

Marriage Certificate of Joseph S. Bazemore and Bessie Griffin, December 20, 1899, Lowndes County, GA.

Marriage Certificate of Joseph S. Bazemore and Bessie Griffin, December 20, 1899, Lowndes County, GA.

Image source: http://cdm.sos.state.ga.us/u?/countyfilm,123494

Bessie and Joseph were married by William W. Wilkinson, Justice of the Peace.  In the 1850s, Wilkinson had been a neighbor of  Jesse Carroll and of William J. Lamb  (see (Bazemore-Griffin Wedding 1899.

Bazemore-Griffin Wedding, Dec 20, 1899, Lowndes County, GA. Image courtesy of Jim Griffin.

Bazemore-Griffin Wedding, Dec 20, 1899, Lowndes County, GA. Image courtesy of Jim Griffin.

In 1900, the newlyweds were renting a farm in Lowndes County, in the Lower Fork District No. 658, next to the farm of Bessie’s widowed mother. Boarding with them and working as a farm laborer was William J. Lamb, and his wife Mary Carrol Knight Lamb. Among the neighbors were David and Rachel Passmore and their children.

1900 census enumeration of Joseph S. Bazemore and Bessie Griffin, Lower Fork District, Lowndes County, GA.

1900 census enumeration of Joseph S. Bazemore and Bessie Griffin, Lower Fork District, Lowndes County, GA.

http://archive.org/stream/12thcensusofpopu209unit#page/n440/mode/1up

By the census of 1910, Bessie and Joe Bazemore had moved to the Hazlehurst, GA area, Georgia Militia District #1364.  Their place was on “Rural Route Road #1”  near where it intersected with Graham & Smith Landing Road. Joe’s brother, Captain Bazemore, and his wife Ida were living next door.

1910 census enumeration of Joseph S. Bazemore and Bessie Griffin, Hazlehurst, Jeff Davis County, GA.

1910 census enumeration of Joseph S. Bazemore and Bessie Griffin, Hazlehurst, Jeff Davis County, GA.

http://archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po198unit#page/n463/mode/1up

Joe and Bessie, as well as Cap and Ida, remained in Hazlehurst through the 1920 census.

1920 census enumeration og Joseph S. Bazemore and Bessie Griffin, Hazlehurst, Jeff Davis County, GA.

1920 census enumeration of Joseph S. Bazemore and Bessie Griffin, Hazlehurst, Jeff Davis County, GA.

http://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu263unit#page/n466/mode/1up

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Family of Lester Griffin

Lester Griffin, born July 30, 1890, was a son of Lillian Melissa Knight and Noah Webster Griffin, grandson of  Mary Elizabeth Carroll and William Washington Knight, and great grandson of Levi J. Knight, pioneer settler of Ray City, GA. He was a brother of Bessie Griffin.

Lester Griffin, age 18, son of Noah Webster Griffin and Lillian Melissa Knight.  Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester Griffin, age 18, son of Noah Webster Griffin and Lillian Melissa Knight. Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester’s parents grew up in the 1144 Georgia Militia District (Rays Mill District) but moved to the Lower Fork district  of Lowndes county (Georgia Militia District 658) before his birth in 1890.   There, Lester Griffin grew to manhood and took up farming on his own account on rented land.

Sometime before 1917, Lester Griffin moved to Irwin County, where he took a wage job farming for James O. Sutton, who owned a farm on the Ocilla-Lax Road. Sutton’s mother was a Griffin.

On August 12, 1917 in Irwin County, GA, Lester Griffin married Margaret Elizabeth “Lizzie” Griffin.   She was a daughter of Rachel McMillan and Bartow B. Griffin, keeping it all in the family. The blushing bride was 18 years old; the 26-year old groom was of medium height, slender, with dark hair and blue eyes.

According to Griffin family members, “Lester Griffin and Margaret Elizabeth (Lizzie) Griffin were distant cousins.  Lester’s Great-Grandfather Thomas Griffin and Lizzie’s Great-Grandfather Joshua Griffin were sons of James Griffin, Revolutionary Soldier, and Sarah Lodge Griffin, early settlers of that part of Irwin County.”

Lester Griffin and Lizzie Griffin, 1917.  Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester Griffin and Lizzie Griffin, 1917. Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Marriage Certificate of Lester Griffin and Mary Elizabeth Griffin, Irwin County, GA

Marriage Certificate of Lester Griffin and Mary Elizabeth Griffin, Irwin County, GA

Lester Griffin and Lizzie Griffin had five children:

  1. Bonita Griffin
  2. Noah Webster Griffin
  3. Audrey Griffin
  4. Ommie  Griffin
  5. Cecil Lester Griffin

Descendant Alan K. Griffin shares the following:

From what we were told, mostly by Daddy’s oldest sister, Bonita, Lester Griffin took a job in Fort Lauderdale, Florida as a carpenter/builder when she was a child.  This corresponds to the South Florida real estate boom of that time (see Obituary of Dr. L.S. Rentz).  She vividly recalled travelling by wagon and walking on their move to that area and coming home.”

Lester Griffin and Children, circa 1925-1926. (L to R) Noah Webster "Webb" Griffin, Lester holding daughter Ommie, and Audrey. Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester Griffin and Children, circa 1925-1926. (L to R) Noah Webster “Webb” Griffin, Lester holding daughter Ommie, and Audrey. Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lizzie Griffin and Children.  Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lizzie Griffin and Children. Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

“There was a violent hurricane that hit the Miami area on September 18, 1926, with winds estimated between 131 and 155 MPH  (see Ray City Residents Among Refugees from 1926 Hurricane).  Because there was little warning or understanding of hurricanes at that time, more than 370 lives were lost and 35,000 were made homeless in Southern Florida.   Some thought the storm was over when the eye passed over and were outside when the second part of the storm hit (the eye reached the coast at Coral Gables about 6AM and lasted 35 minutes).  The highest winds and storm surge (up to 10 feet) was in the second part of the hurricane.  Fort Lauderdale, just to the North also had severe storm surge from the Hurricane.  Prior to the hurricane, Grandmamma Lizzie and the children had travelled home, apparently for a visit.  Both of Lizzie’s parents had birthdays in August, Bartow Beauregard Griffin (August 18, 1861 – August 12, 1929) and Rachel McMillan Griffin (August 12, 1860 – October 29, 1938) so perhaps the visit home was to celebrate their 65th and 66th birthdays, respectively.  In any event, they were fortunate not to have been in Ft. Lauderdale.  As Bonita related, Lester remained  and rode out the storm in their house, which overturned in the storm (similar to photo below), nearly taking his life.  Whether they would have all survived is doubtful, had they remained with him. 

Fort Lauderdale, FL building destroyed by hurricane. Photographed on September 18, 1926. Image courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/3048

Fort Lauderdale, FL building destroyed by hurricane. Photographed on September 18, 1926. Image courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/3048

“They never returned to live in South Florida, instead buying a house on 5th Street in Ocilla, GA near the home of Lizzie’s brother, John Griffin.  Lester  became a night watchman, or deputy policeman in Ocilla sometime after returning.  He became sick with flu and pneumonia sometime in late 1928 and was under the care of Dr. G. L. McElroy and Dr. G. W. Willis from December 17 till he died on News Years Eve, December 31, 1928.    The information on the death certificate was provided by Lizzie’s brother, John. 

 

Lester Griffin (left) and friend.  Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester Griffin (left) with ‘a friend’ (as noted on the back of photo).  Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

 

Death Certificate of Lester Griffin, Irwin County, GA.  Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Death Certificate of Lester Griffin, Irwin County, GA. Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

 “Lester Griffin died December 31, 1928 at the age of 38.  He died of pneumonia leaving his widow and children at a tough time with the depression and all they faced.

“Bonita was 10 years old at his death, Webb 9, Audrey 7, Ommie 5, and Cecil was 1 year and 8 months old. So, here was Lizzie at 30 years old, with five young children to raise on her own, and a house with a mortgage.  By the Grace of God, the Woodmen of the World covered Lester’s mortgage, so the home became Lizzie’s outright.  She had many of her family nearby, but being a proud lady, went to work as a seamstress to support them, and worked her whole life.  (She still worked at A. S. Harris Department Store in Ocilla when my brothers and I would spend weeks there during summers in the 1960’s.) Bonita helped with the younger children and home chores, and Webb worked to support the family as well.

“Odd thing is, Lester’s Father, Noah Webster Griffin,  similarly died in 1897 at the age of 41 , leaving his widow, Lillian Melissa Knight Griffin, to raise 8 children (one, William Howard Griffin, that she was about 6  months pregnant with at Noah’s death).   Noah Webster Griffin actually died from Typhoid fever, possible due to contaminated well water at the farm they had moved to about a year earlier.

“I recently found the only photo I know of Lillian at about age 80, still looking very strong with daughter-in-law, Lizzie Griffin (Lester’s widow), Lizzie’s daughter Audrey Griffin Fletcher with baby daughter, Faye, Sarah Catherine Griffin (daughter of WH and Carrie Griffin),  Carrie May Kelly Griffin (wife of Lillian’s son, William Howard Griffin), Charles Harold Griffin (son of WH and Carrie Griffin), and Ommie Griffin (daughter of Lizzie) .

“Lillian Melissa Knight Griffin (1862-1947) as you may know, was the sister of Walter Howard Knight (1859-1934) and Mary Virginia Knight Langford (1856-1916).  Another sister, Margaret Ann Knight, b. 1858 died in 1863 at the tender age of 5 years.  This is documented in one of the Civil War letters of William Washington Knight to his wife, Mary Elizabeth Carroll Knight.”

Family of Lester Griffin

Family of Lester Griffin
Left to Right: Lillian Melissa Knight Griffin at about age 80, still looking very strong; Margaret Elizabeth “Lizzie” Griffin (Lester Griffin’s widow); Lester’s daughter Audrey Griffin Fletcher  (in rear) with baby daughter, Faye Fletcher; Lester’s daughter Ommie Griffin (front, center); Sarah Catherine Griffin (daughter of Lester’s brother, William Howard Griffin); Carrie May Kelly Griffin (wife of WH Griffin); Charles Harold Griffin, son of WH and Carrie Griffin (front, right). Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester and Lizzie Griffin are buried at Brushy Creek Cemetery, Ocilla, GA with many others of the Griffin family connection.

 

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Bazemore-Griffin Wedding 1899

Bazemore – Griffin Wedding Day

Bazemore-Griffin Wedding, Dec 20, 1899, Lowndes County, GA.  Image courtesy of Jim Griffin.

Bazemore-Griffin Wedding, Dec 20, 1899, Lowndes County, GA. Image courtesy of Jim Griffin.

Identified in this photo are William J. Lamb, Jim Touchton, Obbie Passmore, Mary Griffin, Howard Griffin, Haynes Griffin, Sally Passmore Sharpe, Jim Passmore, Luther Langford, Eva Passmore, Lillian Melissa Knight Griffin, the groom Joseph S. Bazemore , Mary Carroll Knight (later married William J. Lamb), the bride Bessie Griffin, Stella Griffin, unidentified man, Alan Tyler, Lillie Tyler Wilson, Lou Fiveash, Pearlie Fiveash, Lee Fiveash, Dolly Knight Bullard, Julie Knight Sloan, Mamie Langford, and Mabel Langford.

Joseph S. Bazemore married Bessie Griffin on December 20, 1899, in Lowndes County, GA.  The groom was a 29-year-old farmer; the bride was sixteen.  Bessie was a daughter of Noah Webster Griffin and Lillian Melissa Knight, and a granddaughter of William Washington Knight. She was a great granddaughter of Levi J. Knight, and of Jesse Carroll, both pioneer settlers of the Ray City, GA area.

Marriage Certificate of Joseph S. Bazemore and Bessie Griffin, December 20, 1899, Lowndes County, GA.

Marriage Certificate of Joseph S. Bazemore and Bessie Griffin, December 20, 1899, Lowndes County, GA.

Image source: http://cdm.sos.state.ga.us/u?/countyfilm,123494

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