Benjamin Thomas Cook in Postbellum Berrien County

Benjamin Thomas Cook (1842-1924) Berrien County,  GA

Benjamin Thomas Cook came to Berrien County, GA after the Civil War and settled on land near Empire Church, not far distant from the grist mill Thomas M. Ray and Levi J. Knight had established on Beaver Dam Creek, a tributary of Cat Creek in southern Berrien County. Cook was a veteran who had been a prisoner of war, and came to Berrien to join others of the Cook family connection.

Benjamin Thomas Cook was born in Georgia in 1842, a son of Martha Knight and John  Cook.  His parents were married  December 5, 1841, in Wilkinson County, and Ben was  first enumerated at eight years old on his father’s farm in the  1850 census  of  the county.

1850-census-benjamin-t-cook

1850 Census enumeration of Benjamin Cook in the household of his parents, Martha Knight and John Cook, Wilkinson County, GA. https://archive.org/stream/7thcensus0067unix#page/n602/mode/1up

By the time of the 1860 census, John Cook had moved his family to Milledgeville, Baldwin County, GA.  John Cook was a miller and Benjamin Thomas Cook was employed as a “common laborer.”

1860 census enumeration of Benjamin T. Cook in his father's household, Milledgeville, Baldwin County, GA<br /> https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu111unit#page/n139/mode/1up

1860 census enumeration of Benjamin T. Cook in his father’s household, Milledgeville, Baldwin County, GA
https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu111unit#page/n139/mode/1up

Milledgeville was then capitol of the State of Georgia, also the site of the state arsenal, penitentiary, lunatic asylum, and Oglethorpe University.  Milledgeville was a bustling city, with a cosmopolitan flair.  The Cook residence was near the Milledgeville Hotel, and the neighbors of the Cooks included not only doctors, pharmacists, craftsmen, politicians and state administrators,  but also professionals such as editors and engineers from New York, fencing masters from France, merchants from many states and countries, attorneys from Scotland, watchmakers from Ireland, daguerreotype artists from Germany, and many others who simply gave their occupation as “gentleman.”

Western view of the State House and other buildings in Milledgeville. The view is from near the residence of R. M. Orme, Esg.; the State House is seen on the right; the Milledgevill and McComb's Hotels on the left. The Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopal churches appear in the central part.

Milledgeville, GA, 1861.

Western view of the State House and other buildings in Milledgeville.
The view is from near the residence of R. M. Orme, Esg.; the State House is seen on the right; the Milledgeville and McComb’s Hotels on the left. The Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopal churches appear in the central part. Barber, J. W., & Howe, H. (1861). Our whole country; or, The past and present of the United States, historical and descriptive. Cincinnati: H. Howe. https://books.google.com/books?id=dpzRlpLAGnwC&q

At the age of 20, Benjamin Thomas Cook was a resident of Milledgeville, Georgia, of florid complexion, dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and 5 ft, 3 3/4 inches tall. When the Civil War got underway Benjamin and his brother, Henry Cook, joined the Confederate cause. He enlisted May 1, 1862,  at Macon,  GA  with Company A, 1st Confederate Georgia Regiment, according to the Confederate Pension application he later filed. He appears in the National Park Service database of Civil War Soldiers and Sailors as a private of Company A, 1st Georgia Reserves. There were over thirty Georgia battle units incorporating the “First Georgia” title, so Benjamin’s unit service record remains unclear.

Georgia Ordinances of 1861 required that “every free white person, who shall be engaged in actual service, military or naval, of the State, and shall take an oath of his intention to continue in such service for at least three months, unless sooner discharged honorably, and, also, the oath of allegiance below prescribed.”

“That the oath of allegiance to this State shall be in the following form, to wit: ‘I do swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and true allegiance bear to the State of Georgia so long as I may continue a citizen thereof.”

Those who were residents of Georgia at the time the Ordinance of Secession was passed were implicitly no longer citizens of the United States, but citizens of the State of Georgia. After the passage of Secession, anyone who came from a Union state to reside in Georgia  was required to take the Oath of Abjuration, an explicit statement renouncing their American citizenship.

“The oath of abjuration shall be in the following form, to wit: ‘I do swear (or affirm) that I do renounce and forever abjure all allegiance and fidelity to every prince, potentate, State or sovereignity whatsover, except the State of Georgia.’

While in Confederate service, Benjamin Cook was captured at Milledgeville, GA.  The Roll of Prisoners of War at Point Lookout, MD shows he was captured November 23, 1864, and held as a POW at the federal prison there at Point  Lookout, MD. His brother, Henry Cook, was also among the POWs at Point Lookout, as were John A. Gaskins, John T. Ray, Benjamin Harmon Crum and Aaron Mattox of Berrien County, GA.

Point Lookout had been hastily constructed in 1863 to confine Confederate prisoners of war captured at Gettysburg.

At the end of August 1863, Point Lookout’s stockade held more than 1,700 Confederate soldiers.  The prison population swelled to 9,000 by the end of the year. During the summer of 1864, the prison population grew to 15,500, well more than the stockade’s designed capacity, and reached 20,000 in June 1865. Conditions for the prisoners severely worsened as the population exploded.  The military did not construct barracks or other permanent housing; instead, tents provided inadequate shelter from the sweltering summer heat and brutal winters.  Contaminated water, meager rations, malaria and typhoid fever, and exposure to the elements led to a high death rate in the camp.  Approximately 4,000 of the total 50,000 Point Lookout prisoners died while  incarcerated. National Park Service

Following the Confederate surrender, B.T. Cook swore an Oath of Allegiance to the United States, and was released from Point Lookout on June 10, 1865.

Prisoners at Point Lookout, MD taking the oath of allegiance. A group of prisoners stand in a building, with the U.S. Flag draped across the ceiling, each with his hand on a Bible. A Union officer stands at a dias administering the oath of allegiance to the Union. Image courtesy of Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society, [Digital ID, nhnycw/ae ae00007] http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpcoop/nhihtml/cwnyhshome.html

Prisoners at Point Lookout, MD taking the oath of allegiance. A group of prisoners stand in a building, with the U.S. Flag draped across the ceiling, each with his hand on a Bible. A Union officer stands at a dias administering the oath of allegiance to the Union. Image courtesy of Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society, [Digital ID, nhnycw/ae ae00007] http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpcoop/nhihtml/cwnyhshome.html

It appears from the Point Lookout records that B.T. Cook  was transported to Hilton Head, SC arriving on July 1, 1865.

After the War, Ben and his brother, Henry, came to Berrien  County, GA. In doing so, Ben and Henry were joining  about a dozen or so families originating from Wilkinson county who had made the move to the newly established Berrien County some ten years earlier. These included  the families of Ben’s cousins Elijah, Tabitha, and Piety Cook. Tabitha married Daniel Avera and Piety married Nicholas Lewis, both of these couples moving to Berrien.  Dawson Webb, father of Elijah’s first wife, had also moved to Berrien around 1856, and Webb’s daughter Louisa Eliza Webb and son-in-law Moses G. Sutton came to Lowndes County (now Berrien) a few years prior.

In Berrien County on 14 December 1865, Ben married Samantha  Jane “Mantha” Taylor. Jane was the daughter of blacksmith William Jackson Taylor and his wife, Samantha Jane Rogers, originally from Marion County, SC. The marriage ceremony was performed by Jane’s brother, Thomas L. Taylor, Justice of the Peace. 1865-benjamin-thomas-cook-marriage-cert

Back from the war,  Benjamin Cook endured the conditions of Reconstruction in Berrien County, GA. “It was also a time when the entire nation, but especially the South, was forced to come to grips with the legacy of slavery and the consequences of emancipation.” -National Park Service

Congress passed the Reconstruction Act in 1867 requiring the former Confederate states to ratify the 14th Amendment,  which “defined all persons born in the United States as national citizens, who were to enjoy equality before the law.”  States were compelled to adopt new state constitutions, providing “equal protection of the laws” to all national citizens, black and white.  Southern states which continued to deny the vote to black men would lose representation in Congress.

W. H. Griffin, Jr.,  who was born during the Civil War, described the post-war perspective of ex-Confederates in Berrien County:

“Georgia had been placed under military rule, Union soldiers stood guard everywhere, indignities were piled upon the citizens of Berrien county by scalawags and carpet baggers who subjected war worn soldiers to almost brutal treatment in order to force them to take the oath of allegiance.” – The unpublished papers of W.H. Griffin Jr., (1863-1932) 

In July 28, 1866 The Albany Patriot wrote:

“Unjust and discriminating taxes are heaped upon us, and we are allowed no voice or representation in the councils of the Government. We are invited to degrade ourselves on a level with the most miserable and debauched class of people known among us.  With our oaths of allegiance staring us in the face, we are baselessly charged with disloyalty and our motives impugned.”

By 1867, white Georgia voters were required to complete the Oath of Allegiance in order to be listed in the register of qualified voters. White southern men whose national citizenship had been renounced by way of the Ordinance of Secession, oaths of  abjuration of national citizenship, oaths of allegiance to Confederate states,  or acceptance of Confederate citizenship were required to swear a new oath of allegiance to the United States in order to have their national citizenship restored and to qualify for the right to vote. Some whites who had held posts in the Confederate government or the governments of Confederate states were disqualified from having their citizenship restored through the oath of allegiance.

Like many other men of Berrien County, Benjamin Thomas Cook swore to this new Oath of Allegiance, signifying his acceptance on the written oath by making his x mark over his printed name:

I, B. T. Cook do solemnly swear in the presence of Almighty God, that I am a citizen of the State of Georgia; that I have resided in said State for 24 months next preceding this day, and now reside in the County of Berrien in said State; that I am 21 years old; that I have not been disenfranchised for participation in any rebellion or civil war against the United States, nor for felony committed against the laws of any State or the United States; that I have never been a member of any State Legislature, nor held any executive or judicial office in any state, and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State Legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid and comfort to the enemies thereof, that I will faithfully support the Constitution and obey the laws of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, encourage others so to do. So help me, God”

Benjamin Thomas Cook,1867 Oath of Allegiance, Berrien County, GA

Benjamin Thomas Cook,1867 Oath of Allegiance, Berrien County, GA

The 1870 census records show Benjamin T. Cook took up farming next door to his brother-in-law, Thomas L. Taylor, and cousin, Elijah Cook, in the 1148th Georgia Militia District. Ben owned $50 in real estate and $85 in personal property. Benjamin T. Cook was undoubtedly a cousin of Elijah Cook, although the exact relationship is not known. Like B. T. Cook, Elijah was a native of Wilkinson County, GA.

1870 Census enumeration of Benjamin T. Cook and family, 1148th Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

1870 Census enumeration of Benjamin T. Cook and family, 1148th Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0135unit#page/n437/mode/1up

Around 1874 Benjamin Thomas Cook acquired 65 acres of Berrien County land on Lot 219 in the 10th Land District. About that time, Elijah Cook let go of his land on Lot 217, and acquired Lot 198 which was just to the north.  In 1879, Benjamin T. Cook had 40 acres on lot 217, and Elijah Cook held 680 acres along Five Mile Creek,  on Lots 217 and 198.

In 1880, Benjamin and  Samantha Jane “Mantha” Cook were enumerated by L. E. Lastinger in the 1148th Georgia Militia District of Berrien County. Children in the Cook household were William (13), Fannie (11), Mary (9), Henry (5) and James (3). William and Mary attended school.  The 1880 census also recorded sickness or disability on the day of enumeration;  11-year-old Fannie Cook was enumerated as at home, suffering from “rheumatism” that left her classified in the census as “maimed, crippled, bedridden, or otherwise disabled.”

Next door to the Cooks  was the family of  Samantha’s sister, Emaline Taylor Lewis, and her husband, Joseph Lewis.  Joseph Lewis was Ben’s  cousin, a son of  Piety Cook and Nicholas Lewis. Two of the sons of Joseph Lewis and Emaline Taylor Lewis, 14-year-old Thomas Lewis and  4-year-old William Lewis, also suffered from debilitating “rheumatism.”

1880 census enumeration of Benjamin Cook, 1148 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

1880 census enumeration of Benjamin Cook, 1148 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA https://archive.org/stream/10thcensusl0134unit#page/n393/mode/1up

The 1880 population census also shows that three of the children of  Ben’s cousin Elijah Cook and his wife Arinda Chandler Cook were also disabled.  These Cook daughters were Juda, Amanda, and Sarah. These girls were known locally as the “alligator children,” and apparently presented a rare, debilitating form of the genetic skin condition ichthyosis. Two of the grandchildren of Elijah Cook also suffered from ichthyosis, and Ben’s nephew Andrew Cook, son of Henry Cook, was also disabled (When Henry Cook went to prison for manslaughter in 1907, an application was submitted on behalf of Andrew to receive his father’s Indigent Soldiers pension as a dependent.)

Benjamin T. Cook in 1880 had 390 acres on Lot 215. In 1884 Benjamin gave up 160 acres on Lot 215, retaining 130 acres there.

Children of Benjamin Thomas Cook and Samantha Jane Taylor include:

  1. William Jackson “Jack” Cook – born March 13, 1867; married 1st Annie Laura Mathis (1871-1910), September 25, 1887; married 2nd, Nancy Barker; married 3rd, Carrie E. Sullivan (1878-1942); died February 1, 1951; Jack, Laura, and Carrie are buried Empire Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.
  2. Francis “Fannie” Cook – born April 3, 1868; married Enoch “Bud” Benefield, August 18, 1887, Berrien County GA;
  3. Mary Elizabeth Cook – born December 31, 1878; married James Elijah Benefield March 24, 1891 in Berrien County, GA; died May 22, 1947; buried Poplar Springs Cemetery, Berrien County, GA
  4. Henry Cook – born abt 1875; married Fannie Giddens
  5. James Lewis Cook – born February 7, 1876; married Elizabeth Virginia “Lizzie” Duren, August 24, 1899, Berrien County, GA; died May 31, 1945; buried Pine Grove Baptist Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA
  6. Elijah “Lige” Cook – born December 10, 1881 in Berrien County, GA; married Eva Studstill, February 9, 1905; died October 19, 1963; buried Union Hill Cemetery, Atkinson County, GA
  7. Martha Cook – born abt 1884; married Charlie S. Tucker, December 10, 1909 in Berrien County, GA; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Samantha Jane “Mantha” Taylor Cook died on Thursday, June 7, 1888.  She was buried at Empire Church Cemetery, about seven miles northeast of Ray City, GA.

Grave of Samantha Jane

Grave of Samantha Jane “Mantha” Taylor Cook, first wife of Benjamin Thomas Cook. Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

Just seven weeks  after the death of Samantha Jane “Mantha” Taylor Cook, Benjamin T. Cook married his second wife, Arrilla “Sis” Stone. They were married on Thursday, July 26, 1888, in Berrien County, GA,  the bride’s name appearing on the Marriage license as “Gurila” Stone.  The marriage ceremony was performed by J.P. Patten, Notary Public. Arrilla was a daughter of Elizabeth Harris (1840-1929) and David Stone (1838-1899). The groom was 46 and the bride was 21; she was born in March of 1867. Her father was a Confederate veteran, having served in Company G, 26th Georgia Infantry.

1888-benjamin-thomas-cook-marriage-cert

Marriage certificate of Benjamin Cook and Arrilla Stone, July 26, 1888, Berrien County, GA

On January 29, 1898, Ben was enrolled into the Berrien County Confederate Veterans Association in Nashville, GA. Ben and Arrilla Cook appear in the 1900 Census in the 1300 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County, GA.  In their household were four children: David (7), Elizabeth (5), Nancy (2), Leonard (1).  Also living in the Cook home was Fannie Taylor; the census taker recorder her relationship to Ben as “Grandmother” but she was actually the sister of his first wife, Samantha Jane Taylor. Around their farm were the farms of their son, Lewis Cook, and  their sons-in-law,  Enoch Benefield and James Elijah Benefield.

1900 census enumeration of Benajmin T. Cook and other of the Cook family connection in Berrien County, GA

1900 census enumeration of Benajmin T. Cook and other of the Cook family connection in Berrien County, GA

In the 1910 census records Benjamin T. Cook and Arrilla Cook  appeared in the 1300 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County, GA; Arrilla was enumerated under the name “Gorilla.” Ben owned his farm, free and clear of mortgage. Ben and Arrilla were listed as parents of seven children: David (16), Elizabeth (15), Nancy 14), Leonard (10), William Harrison (8), and Celia Samantha (2).

1910 census enumeration of the families of Benajmin T. Cook, and his sons Lewis and Elijah

1910 census enumeration of the families of Benajmin T. Cook, and his sons Lewis and Elijah “Lige” Cook in Berrien County, GA https://archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po172unit#page/n902/mode/1up

Some time between 1910 and 1920, Benjamin Cook became a widower for the second time.  Arrinda Stone Cook was buried at Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA, near the grave of Benjamin Cook’s first wife, Mantha J. Taylor Cook. The date death came for Arrinda Stone Cook is not known; the marker for her grave bears only her date of birth.

Children of Benjamin Thomas Cook and Arrinda “Sis” Stone include:

  1. David”Dave” Cook – born June 22, 1891;  married  Lou Annie Gray6/22/1891; died April 1, 1957;  buried at Empire Cemetery.
  2. Elizabeth Cook – born September 1894
  3. Nancy Cook – born October 1897; married Isaac Gray
  4. Leonard Cook – born February 1899; moved to Alabama
  5. William Harrison Cook- born September 13, 1902;  married Mineola Smith (b.3/10/1904); Died February 1, 1967. both are buried at Empire.
  6. Celia Samantha Cook- born June 5, 1907; married Eddie Gray November 11, 1922 in Berrien County (Separated and resumed her maiden name.); died December 1, 1997; buried at Empire Cemetery

By 1918, B.T. Cook was 75 years old. He deeded 30 acres of his land on Lot 309 to his son, James Lewis Cook, and four .

1918-b-t-cook-deed

Quit Claim Deed, B.T. Cook to J.L. Cook, Lot #309 in the 10th District, Georgia, Berrien County. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

Warranty Deed, B.T. Cook to Elizabeth Cook, #308 in the 10th District, State of Georgia, Berrien County. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

Warranty Deed, B.T. Cook to Elizabeth Cook, #308 in the 10th District, State of Georgia, Berrien County. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

Benjamin T. Cook applied for a Confederate Veteran’s pension in  1919. His application for a pension was  accepted, and he was awarded $6.00 a month.

By 1920, Benjamin Cook was 77 years old. He was residing in the household of his son-in-law James Elijah Benefield and daughter Mary Cook Benefield. The Benefield  place was situated on the Milltown & Willacoochee Road. Elijah was engaged in general farming with the assistance of his eldest sons, Willie and Eddie Benefield. Just down the Milltown & Willacoochee Road were the farm places of William J. Cook and Elijah Cook.

1920 enumeration of Benjamin Cook, 77, in the household of his son-in-law James Elijah Cook.

1920 enumeration of Benjamin Cook, 77, in the household of his son-in-law James Elijah Cook. https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n479/mode/1up

Ben  died  at  home on October 5, 1924. The certificate of death, filed in Berrien County, GA, gave his cause of death as “old age & heart trouble.”  His daughter, Mary Benefield, was the informant and R. N. Mathis was the local registrar.  There was no doctor in attendance to sign the death certificate or undertaker to handle funeral arrangements.

1924 death certificate of Benjamin Thomas Cook, Berrien County, GA

1924 death certificate of Benjamin Thomas Cook, Berrien County, GA

Family members who remember Ben recall a man with a temper, who  enjoyed family get-togethers, such as barbecues. He  was  a man who walked with a limp, which was the result of his breaking his  leg when he fell from a barn roof. He rebroke it before  it healed, thus the limp.

Ben  died  at  his home in the 10th district  of  the  newly formed  Lanier County sometime in the early part of 1924.  He  is buried  between his two wives at Empire Cemetery. His home  still stands  as a reminder of the industrious man who came to  Berrien County  and carved a home for himself and his large family  after the Civil War.

Grave of Benjamin Thomas Cook, Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

Grave of Benjamin Thomas Cook, Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

Special thanks to Linda Ward Meadows for contributions of content and images to this article, and for the following selected sources : Tombstones Empire Cemetery; GA Census records 1850  Wilkinson, Co., 1860 Baldwin Co., 1870-1910 Berrien  Co.; Interviews with Grandchildren of Ben & Jane Cook; Pension Records from GA  Archives; Berrien Co. and Wilkinson Co.  marriage  records; Interview with Celia Samantha Cook and her  sister-in-law, Mineola  Smith  Cook, at their home on  10/13/1990;  Cook  family Bibles. Mineola  Smith Cook and Celia Samantha Cook went to  the Berrien County, GA nursing home shortly after my visit with them in 1990. Both are deceased; GA Death Certificate Berrien Co, GA.: Linda Ward Meadows is a great-great granddaughter of Benjamin  Thomas Cook and Samantha Jane Taylor Cook. (9088  Val-Del  Road, Adel, GA, 31620. Ph 912-896-3591) lmeadowsz4@windstream.net

Wiregrass Babes in Sugarland

To children of Wiregrass Georgia, sugar cane was the homegrown candy of choice.  The harvest of the cane crop, and cane grinding time was anticipated by children of all ages.

Children of the Cane. Children in Berrien County, as in other Wiregrass Georgia counties, looked forward to the sugar cane cutting with great anticipation. Pictured here are children of the Liles and Edson families together on the Leggett farm, Berrien County, GA. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Children of the Cane. Children in Berrien County, as in other Wiregrass Georgia counties, looked forward to the sugar cane cutting with great anticipation. Pictured here are children of the Liles and Edson families together on the Leggett farm, Berrien County, GA. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Sugar cane has been an integral part of Wiregrass culture since it was introduced into South Georgia in around 1828.  John Moore began the cultivation of cane when he settled near the Grand Bay swamp in Lowndes County.  By 1876 sugar cane was one of the staple field crops of South Georgia, and an important staple in the farming and agriculture of Ray’s Mill (now Ray City), and the section. “Sugar, Syrup, and Molasses are made on a considerable scale in the southern part of this State from tropical Cane.” Hundreds of gallons of cane syrup could be produced from a single acre of sugar cane. In 1879 the Columbus Daily Enquirer reported, “The Berrien County News contends that cane planting can be made as profitable in Southern Georgia as in Mississippi, Louisiana or elsewhere, and that Southern Georgia syrup cannot be excelled by that made anywhere.”

In 1885, Montgomery Folsom, poet/historian of Wiregrass Georgia, wrote about the sweet childhood experience of sugar cane:

The Atlanta Constitution
June 24, 1885 pg 2

Down the River.

Now we have reached the point where the [Little] river widens out, and winds along through interminable swamps.  Here in the autumn the mellow haws hang red on the trees, and in the sweet Indian summer great festoons of wild grapes and “bullaces” hanging in mellow lusciousness from the vines which have twined their tendrils around the topmost boughs of the tall trees.  Fields of yellow corn cover the fertile hillside, the withered stalks rustling and creaking in the whispering breeze.  These farmers have inherited a goodly legacy in these broad acres. The cotton fields are white as snow, and the merry jests and hearty laugh attest the contentment of the laborers. In striking contrast with the brilliant colors of the autumnal foliage is the deep blue green of the sugar cane.  Through long years of cultivation in alien soil it has preserved its identity as a child of the tropics, and holds its green until the great leveler, Jack Frost, chills its sugary sap. Other plants have learned to adapt themselves to the new order of things, and shorten the season of their growth accordingly, but the sugar cane never ripens.  If I have dwelled long on the peculiarities of this plant it is because I have experienced so many perils and pleasures in connection with it.  Is there a south Georgia boy, to-day, who never slipped in at the back of the cane patch, starting nervously as he chanced to snap a blade, picking his way carefully until a selection was made, then cutting down the cane by easy stages, so that it would not crack loudly when it fell; carefully stripping of the blades one, by one, then stealing noiselessly out, ensconcing himself in a fence jamb and then – oh! the delicious taste of the juice! “Trebly sweet when obtained through so much peril. Hark! Ahem!” The boy springs to his feet and trembling in every limb beholds the “old man” leaning his elbow on the fence and watching him intently. “Ahem!” “Is it gittin’ sweet yet sonny?” But the boy is too dumbfounded to answer. ” “Well, I guess I’d better give ye a row, and you musn’t cut any out’n the rest of the patch.” Oh! Joy! In less than ten minutes every child on the place is informed that “pa has give us a row of cane to chaw.” And the old man stalks about in the potato patch in search of a late watermelon, an odd smile on his lips.  He passed the same experience some twenty or thirty years ago.

If you want to learn more about the traditions, practice and science of Georgia cane syrup making, be sure to see Bill Outlaw’s essays at Southern Matters http://www.southernmatters.com/  where he shares family history and research on sugar cane and syrup production, along with other connections to the past.

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Mary “Polly” Futch and John Webb

Mary “Polly” Futch and John Webb were the parents of John Thomas Webb, and the grandparents of previous subjects, Shellie Lloyd Webb and William Crawford Webb. Mary Futch was a sister of Rhoda Futch.

John Webb and Mary Polly Futch.  Image courtesy of Jimmie Webb.

John Webb and Mary Polly Futch. Image courtesy of Jimmie Webb.

Mary “Polly” Futch was born October 14, 1842 in Lowndes County (now Berrien) Georgia.  She was a daughter of daughter of John M. Futch and Phoebe Mathis.  On April  21, 1859 in Berrien County, Georgia she married John Webb,  a landowner and planter of Berrien County, GA.  John Webb, a son of Dawson Webb and Frances Beall, was  born January 22, 1834 in Wilkinson County, Georgia.

Marriage Certificate of John Webb and Mary Futch, April 21, 1859, Berrien County, GA. Image courtesy of Jimmie Webb.

Marriage Certificate of John Webb and Mary Futch, April 21, 1859, Berrien County, GA. Image courtesy of Jimmie Webb.

To any ordained Minister of of Gospel, Judge of the Superior Court, Justice of the Inferior Court, Justice of the Peace or any person by the laws of this state authorized to celebrate:  These are to authorize permit you to join in the Honorable State of Matrimony Mr. John Webb of the one part and Mifs Mary Futch of the other part according to the constitution and laws of this State and according to the Rites of your church; Provided there be no lawful cause to obstruct the same and this shall be your authority for so doing. 

Given under my and Seal this 20th day of April, 1859

John L. Lindsey, Ordinary

I hereby Certify that Mr. John Webb and Mary Futch were duly joined in matrimony by me this 21st day of April, 1859
Reubin Futch, J. I. C.

Recorded May 4th 1860     E. C. Morgan, Ordinary

The census of 1860 enumerates 26-year-old John Webb and 17-year-old Mary in Berrien County.  John was a farmer with $1200 dollars worth of real estate and $450 worth of personal property to his name.  According to the census neither John nor Mary could read or write, but later records would show he could at least sign his name.  Enumerated near the Webbs were John & Elizabeth Baker, and Isham Clyatt.

The following spring,1861, Georgia plunged into the Civil War. By November 1861, Federal troops made their first invasion of Georgia, occupying Tybee Island with designs on Fort Pulaski and Savannah. That winter, John Webb joined the Primitive Baptist congregation at Pleasant church, located a few miles west of his farm. According to church minutes,  John was baptized at Pleasant Church on January 1, 1862.

During the War, John Webb enlisted in Company E, 54th Georgia Regiment, along with his brother Jordan and other men of Berrien County.  John  went off to fight leaving Mary on the farm with a baby on her hip and another on the way. He fought with the 54th Regiment  throughout the war, although he was on furlough home at the time of their surrender in April of 1865.

That October, perhaps in observance of John’s safely reaching the conclusion of the war, Mary Webb joined with Pleasant Primitive Baptist Church. Church minutes show she was baptized October 14, 1865.

Like other men of Berrien County, after the war John Webb swore an oath of allegiance to the United States and to faithfully support the Constitution, and returned to his farming. According to 1867 Berrien County tax records, John Webb owned all 490 acre of land lot 410, 10th Land District.  His brother, Jordan Webb, owned 245 acres on the adjacent lot, 419. To the north, William Walters owned 612 acres on lots 373 and 374. Also on Lot 373 were John Ray, with 122 1/2 acres and David S Robinson with 60 acres. Parts of lot 418 were owned by Mary DeVane and Benjamin M. DeVane owned additional 525 acres of land on lots 418 and 419. John Baker was on 122 acres of lot 419.

The census of 1870, indicates the Webbs were getting by in the post-war period. Their land had a aggregate value of $2800, they had $754 in personal property, and now four young children.

By 1876 John Webb had acquired 1560 acres in lots 372, 409, and 410 in the 10th Land District.  He owned $200 in household  furniture, $454 in livestock,and $90 in plantation and mechanical tools.

The following year, 1877 John Webb had acquired all of lots 372, 409, and 410, 1470 acres in all.  He had $150 in furniture, $335 in livestock, and $80 in tools. His wife, Mary Futch Webb had 180 acres in her own name in Lot 373, with $265 in livestock.  To the south of the Webb place, on half of lot 419, was William Henry Outlaw, a Webb descendant on his mother’s side and a fellow veteran of Company E, 54th Georgia Regiment. Among the Webb’s other neighbors were  David M. Roberson with 212 acres of lot 365 and David S. Roberson with 550 acres on parts of 373 and 364.  William Walters  was on Lot 374 and  David J. McGee had 395 acres on lots 408 and 411. Miller F. DeVane  and George M. DeVane with 165 acres each on 411 and 412. Mary DeVane had 7 acres on 418, Michael B. DeVane with 500 acres on 418 and 419,  William DeVane on parts of 418,  John Baker on 172 acres of 419.

The 1880 census shows the Webb family continuing to grow.  The Webb sons, John Thomas and James, at least,  were “at school”.

In 1890 John Webb  had 1000 acres total on lots 372, 373, and 410 valued at $1500. From 1883 to 1890, a neighbor to the north was Noah Webster Griffin and his family on lot 371.  John Webb’s son, John Thomas Webb was on 200 acres of the neighboring lots, 408 and 409. Son-in-law Malachi W. Jones was on 490 acres that included parts of 409 and 420, and son-in-law Joel J. Carter had 140 acres of lot 372. Elizabeth J. Carter had 240 acres on lots 365 and 366.  George W. Carter had 40 acres straddling 364 and 365.  Isaac S. Weaver was on 375 acres that included parts of 418, 419, and 411. John Ray was on 245 acres of 373, and Thomas W. Ray was on 125 acres of lot 364. Aaron A. Knight  had 155 acres that included part of lot 374.  Sovin J. Knight  was on 365 acres of 364 and 365.    The Devane land to the south was now in the possession of Georgia R. DeVane.  George M. DeVane and Millard F. DeVane had the land to the west o Lots 411 and 412. William E. Fountain Jr. was on Lot 365 with 147 acres.  H.H. Green had a piece of 364.

According to Shaw Family Newsletters, on November 5, 1898, Mary and John Webb deeded 350 acres in section 412 of land district 9 (presently under water at the southwest end of Boyette’s Pond in Cook County) to daughter Luannie Webb as a wedding gift.  She had married Chester D. Shaw earlier that year.

John Webb died December 15, 1900 in Rays Mill, GA (now Ray City).  He was buried in Futch Cemetery in present day Cook County, GA.

Children of Mary “Polly” Futch and John Webb:

  1. Martha Mary Webb, b. April 10, 1861, Berrien County, GA; d. January 30, 1929, Berrien County, GA buried in Pleasant Church Cemetery; m. (1) Joel J. Carter, January 27, 1878, Berrien County GA; m. (2) William W. Parrish, August 10, 1899, Berrien County GA.
  2. John Thomas Webb, b. January 15, 1863, Berrien County, GA; d. March 16, 1924, Ray City, GA buried in Pleasant Cemetery; m.  Mary Jane “Mollie” Patten, November 2, 1882, Berrien County, GA.
  3.  Frances “Fannie” A. Webb, b. May 6, 1866, Berrien County, GA; d. October 3, 1909, Adel, GA buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Cook County, GA; m. Malachi “Mallie” W. Jones, December 24, 1885, Berrien County, GA.
  4. Phoebe Jane Webb,  b. May 23, 1869; d. October 10, 1870.
  5. James Alfred Webb, b. July 03, 1871, Berrien County GA; d. September 30, 1938, Berrien County GA; m. Pearl “Pearlie” Register, January 18, 1894, Berrien County, GA from Marriage Certificate.
  6. Mary Delann Webb,  b. November 1, 1873; d. February 13, 1879.
  7. Luther Americus Webb, b. October 5, 1875, Berrien County, GA; d. April 30, 1909, Berrien County, GA, buried in Pleasant Cemetery, Berrien County GA; m. Mary Jane Albritton, January 24, 1897, Berrien County, GA from Marriage Certificate.
  8. Leona Webb, b. 1877, Berrien County, GA.
  9. Louannie T. Webb, b. August 7, 1880; d. June 8, 1902, Lenox, GA from Typhoid Fever, buried in Pleasant Cemetery; m. Chester D. Shaw, March 16, 1898, Berrien County Georgia from Marriage Certificate.

The Valdosta Daily Times 
March 11, 1926

Mrs. Webb Died at Ray City

Mrs. Mary Webb, widow of the late John Webb, died Wednesday evening at 7 o’clock at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Martha Carter, Ray City, after a short illness.
      Mrs. Webb was eighty-three years of age and until she suffered from an attack of flu, four or five days ago, had been in her usual good health. However, owing to her advanced age, she was unable to withstand the attack.
      Her husband preceded her to the grave twenty-six years ago and she has since made her home with her daughter, Mrs. Carter. Besides Mrs. Carter, she is survived by one son, Mr. J.A. Webb, of Ray City. The deceased was one of the pioneers of her section, and the family is well and favorably known throughout all of this section. 
      Mrs. Webb was for more than 60 years a consistent member of the Pleasant Primitive Baptist church, near Ray City, and during her days of activity, was famed for her kindly acts and generous disposition, and her death brings great sorrow to her friends and those of the family. In addition to the surviving son and daughter, Mrs. Webb leaves thirty-five grand children. The funeral services were conducted this afternoon at 3:30 by Rev. Mr. McCranie at the Futch cemetery, near Ray City.

Transcript courtesy of Skeeter Parker

Special thanks to Jimmie Webb for contribution images and portions of the content for this article.

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Cane Grinding Time Meant Syrup, Candy and Cane Beer

On October 31, 1882, the Quitman Free Press opined, “Syrup making will soon commence. Drinking cane juice is better than talking politics.”

In the fall, from October through the end of the year was “cane-grinding time” – the time that the cane was cut and cane syrup was produced. Every farmer had a small cane mill on his farm for pressing the cane to extract the juice, which was cooked down in kettles to make syrup.  Production of quality cane syrup could be quite profitable for local farmers. (See Cane Syrup Comes to Berrien County)

Cane grinding in Berrien County, GA circa 1913 on the farm of Simmie King.  Image courtesy of berriencountyga.com.

Cane grinding in Berrien County, GA circa 1913 on the farm of Simmie King. Image courtesy of berriencountyga.com.

Syrup, sugar, candy, and cane “beer” could all be produced right on the farm.  J. L. Herring’s Saturday night sketches: stories of old wiregrass Georgia, published in 1918, illustrates how central this harvest “chore” was to the farming community.

CANE GRINDING TIME

It is cane-grinding time in South Georgia, by some miscalled sugar-boiling time — although little sugar is made, and by others called syrup-boiling time, but it is not the syrup that draws the crowds. The cotton has been picked, the corn is in the crib, the potatoes have been banked and with the heavy work of the harvest over, the manufacture of the sugar cane into the year’s supply of syrup is made the occasion of a merry making among the young folks.

This is down where the wiregrass covers the sloping hillsides and the pines still murmur and sigh in the passing breeze. The first frost has touched the waving blades of the tall sugar cane and given warning to the watchful husbandman.

First the cane mill, which has lain idle for a year is overhauled. It is a crude affair, two big iron rollers set vertically on a pine log frame.

The forest has been searched for a stooping sapling with just the right crook and this is cut and fitted in place for a lever, the lower end almost touching the ground, the upper swinging in the air as a balance. The iron kettle — like the mill rollers a product of a Georgia foundry — is set in a furnace of clay.

Another day is spent in preparation. With wooden paddles, sharpened on one edge, the leaves are stripped from the standing cane. A stroke with a butcher or drawing-knife takes off the top and with an adz or hoe the stalks are cut. Then they are loaded on the handy ox-cart and dumped at the mill.

The first shafts of coming dawn are aslant the horizon and the air is keen and cold when the faithful mule is led out and by means of the plow gear hitched to the lever’s end. Then for the animal begins the weary tread-mill round, which lasts far into the night. A lad of the family, too young for heavy work, Is selected to feed, and with home-made mits to temper the cold stalks, grasps a cane as the mule Is started. Between the slowly turning rollers he thrusts the smaller end; there are creaks and groans from the long unused mill, a snap of splitting stalk and the juice gushes forth. Along a small trough In the mill frame It runs Into a barrel, covered with layers of coarse sacking to catch the Impurities.

On the other side of the mill the cane pulp (pummy) falls and this is carried off by the feeder’s assistant, who also keeps the pile of cane replenished. When there is a kettle full of juice a fire of lightwood Is started in the furnace and soon the flames, like a beckoning banner, surmount the short chimney’s mouth. As the juice boils the foreign matter arises in scum, and this is carefully skimmed off. Untiring vigilance in the boiling is the price of good syrup. Gradually the color changes from a dirty green to a rich amber and then to a golden red. The aroma arising suggests the confectioner’s workshop and soon tiny, bursting bubbles attest that the work is done.

Then help is called and the fire drawn; hastily two men dip the boiling liquid into pails which are emptied into a trough (hewn from a cypress log) . As soon as the syrup is out, fresh juice which is ready at hand is poured into the kettle and the work goes on.

As the shades of night fall, the neighbors, young and old, gather, for no man grinds cane alone.

True, about as much is sometimes chewed, drunk in juice or eaten as syrup “foam” as the owner retains for his own use, but who would live for himself alone and what matter, so long as there is plenty for all?

The first visit of the young people is to the juice-barrel. There, with a clean fresh gourd, deep draughts are taken of the liquid, ambrosial in its peculiar delicious sweetness. Then to the syrup trough, with tiny paddles made from cane peels is scooped up the foam which has gathered in nooks in candied form.

Then, until the late hours of the night, the older folks sit around the front of the blazing furnace and swap yarns or crack jokes. By the light of a lightwood-knot fire near by the young ones play “Twistification,” “London Bridge” and many kindred games, while on the pile of soft “pummies” there is many a wrestle and feat of strength among the young athletes. The bearded men grouped around the furnace, the steaming kettle and its attendant, from whose beard and eyebrows the condensed moisture hangs; the shouts of laughter from the young merry-makers; the plodding mule making his weary rounds, the groaning mill and gushing juice form a scene not soon forgotten.

In a few days when the “skimmings” ferment — there is cane beer, delicious with its sweet-sour taste, and still later “buck” from the same stuff, now at a stage when only the initiated can appreciate it, ready for the hard drinker or the wild-cat still.

1908 Valdosta Times advertisement.

1908 Valdosta Times advertisement.

Although the prominence of the cane-grinding social event waned over time, on-the-farm production of cane syrup was a common practice well into the 1900s. One local Berrien producer was David Jackson Skinner (1898-1962).  Skinner was a resident of the Ray City, GA area for most of his adult life, a Deacon of New Ramah Church,  and spent his life farming in Berrien and Lanier counties.

David Jackson Skinner with his sugar cane mill and bucket of Georgia cane syrup produced for market. In the 1920s David Skinner lived in the household of his father, Payton Shelton Skinner, located on the Upper Ray City – Milltown Road.

For more about the southern tradition of cane syrup production, you really should see the entertaining and educational essays of Bill Outlaw at http://www.southernmatters.com/sugarcane/   Bill writes that his ” great grandfather W.H. Outlaw was a small farmer/landowner just on the outskirts of Ray City (Lot 419). He was born in Dale Co. Alabama and after his mother died, he was ‘given’ to his maternal grandparents, the Dawson Webbs (general area of Pleasant, where he is buried).”

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