Berrien Minute Men and the Shoupades

During the summer of 1864, the Berrien Minute Men and the 29th Georgia volunteer Regiment participated in the last defense of Atlanta following the retreat from Kennesaw Mountain. On July 4, 1864 they were in the line of battle at Marietta, GA. After withdrawing in the middle of the night ,  the campfires of the Berrien Minute Men were made on July 5 at a new defensive line on the the Chattahoochee River.

The actions of the Berrien Minute Men, a Confederate infantry raised in Berrien County, GA by Ray City settler, General Levi J. Knight, are documented in part in the Civil War letters of John William Hagan.  In a lettter to his wife, Hagan wrote about the Confederate retreat to the Chattahoochee and his confidence in the defensive works of General Joseph E. Johnston’s River Line.   These earthwork fortifications along the north bank of the Chattahoochee, some of the most elaborate field fortifications of the Civil War, were constructed under the direction of Artillery Commander, Brig. General Francis A. Shoup.

 

Battle Field near Chattahoochee River Ga
July 7th 1864

My Dear Amanda
I this morning write you a short letter in answer to yours jest receved dated July 2nd. This leaves E. W. and myself in fair health. I have nothing of enterest to write you. We are now in line of battle near the river I recon we are about 13 miles from Atlanta. I wrote to James on the morning of the 4th & at 1 or 2 Oclock on the night of the 4th we retreated to this place. Here we have got splendid works & can make a splended fight, if the yanks will only attack us in our works I do not know wheather Gen Johnston intends to make this a perminint stand. Our lines runs to the river on the left & across the river on the right. I do not know how long the line is but it is tolerabley lenghtty. I am told that we will have some reinforcements in a few days & according to the yankee accounts we can handle them much better than we could have handled them at Dalton. The yankees acknowledge a loss of 45 thousand in kiled wounded missing & sickened & sent away since the left Dalton & by puting our loss at high figurs our loss in evry way will not exceed ten thousand, so you see they are weaker 45,000 & we are weaker only 10,000, & since we reached this place we have got the malistia of Ga which is 10,000 effective men & Ala is ordered to send her malitia forward at once which will add to our strength 8 or 10 thousand more. So I think we will be able to handle them very well &c. We are glad to know you are going to send us something to eat not that we are suffering but we want something besides cornbread & bacon. You must send us a bottle or two of syrup & be careful to pack the box well & stop the bottles well also. You must not send us any cloths. Jest send us a box of something to eat by D. P. McDowell if you get this in time to do so. You must make us some rich cakes & if you have any honey we would like to have a little bottle of it. Cousin D. P. McDowell to bring the box through as soon as posable so that the tricks will not spoil. You must have the box well bound & nailed up well. You must excuse this short letter & write us a long one. Nothing more E.W. sends his love to all. I am as ever yours affectsionately

J. W. H.

Remnants of the Confederate earthworks at the Chattahoochee River Line  still exist today and can be viewed at Shoupade Park.  “Shoupade” was a term coined by Gustavus Woodson Smith,  Major General of the Georgia state militia, who remarked that the design would make Shoup famous.

 

Shoupade

Shoupade

According to the Civil War Trust,

On the night of July 4-5, the Confederates marched back to a line that once again had already been prepared. Two weeks earlier, when the army was at Kennesaw, work had begun under the direction of Joseph E. Johnston’s chief of artillery, Brig. Gen. Francis A. Shoup. According to Shoup, Johnston had told him “it was but a question of time, and that a short time” before the army would retreat across the Chattahoochee River. Chagrined, Shoup asked whether he might supervise construction of fortifications on the north bank of the river at the railroad bridge. Johnston, eager for anything that would delay his inevitable retreat across the Chattahoochee, agreed. Thereupon Shoup directed the army’s engineers and hundreds of slaves in tree-cutting, digging, building log-and-earth infantry forts. There were some three dozen of these “Shoupades” (Gen. G.W. Smith’s term), which were connected by log palisades for more infantry and studded with artillery redans, all arced in an almost six-mile line around where the Western & Atlantic Railroad bridge crossed the river near Peachtree Creek. During the night of July 4-5, Johnston’s troops marched into these defenses.

Each shoupade was a log-and-earth fort shaped like an arrowhead pointed at the enemy. The outside walls were almost vertical, built with logs laid horizontally up to a height of sixteen feet. Dirt ten to twelve feet thick was packed in between the outer and inner log walls. Inside was a banquette, or firing platform, for infantry. Each fort was intended to be manned by 80 riflemen. The 36 shoupades were built 60 to 175 yards apart. Between them was constructed earthen redans for artillery, two guns in each. Log stockades eight feet high connected shoupades and redans. The key defensive element, to Shoup, was that shoupades and redans were placed so that troops in each position could pour enfilading fire toward the next, all the way down the line.

 

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The “Valdosta Special” opened Georgia & Florida Railroad, October 1, 1908

Georgia & Florida Railroad

The Section Foreman in Ray City was Cauley May.

EXCURSION TO OPEN RAILROAD - The "Valdosta Special" came through Ray City October 1, 1908 to open the main line of the Georgia & Florida Railroad. The picture was made in Nashville, GA, showing passengers to first ride the new line.

EXCURSION TO OPEN RAILROAD – The “Valdosta Special” came through Ray City October 1, 1908 to open the main line of the Georgia & Florida Railroad. The picture was made in Nashville, GA, showing passengers to first ride the new line.

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Georgia & Florida Railroad No. 100 passenger car

Georgia & Florida Railroad No. 100 passenger car

Georgia and Florida Railroad, January, 1955. Wendell and Necie Rogers with Engine 507 at the Nashville, GA depot. Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

Georgia and Florida Railroad, January, 1955. Wendell and Necie Rogers with Engine 507 at the Nashville, GA depot. Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

 

T.J. Sutton and Ed Benton with Georgia and Florida Railroad Engine No. 507 at the depot in Nashville, GA, March 24, 1955. Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

T.J. Sutton and Ed Benton with Georgia and Florida Railroad Engine No. 507 at the depot in Nashville, GA, March 24, 1955. Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

Nashville Herald
Thursday, February 16, 1956

Main Line of Ga. & Fla. Railroad Opened in 1908.

          The Georgia & Florida Railroad (now Railway) is a part of the rich history of this section of Georgia, and in a large measure has contributed to the growth and expansion of Berrien County, and the counties adjacent.
      This railroad furnished a more stable means of transportation than was available in the early days, despite the multiplicity of small log lines.

Organized in 1906
         The Georgia & Florida was organized by Mr. John Skelton Williams in 1906 and at that time consisted of the following roads:
         The Augusta and Florida Railroad, 49 miles in length from Keysville to Swainsboro.
         The Millen & Southwestern Railroad of 42 miles between Millen and Vidalia.
         The Douglas, Augusta & Gulf Railroad, 76 miles between Hazlehurst and Nashville, via Broxton.
         The Nashville & Sparks Railroad twelve miles from Nashville to Sparks, GA.
         The Sparks Western twenty miles of log road between Sparks and Kingwood.

No Shops

         None of the roads had any shops except the Millen & Southwestern, other than a pair of heavy jacks and such hand tools as were needed in doing the general repair work in the operation of trains.
         The rolling stock was an odd assortment of all sorts of engines, a few log cars, a few box cars and two to four passengers cars.
         Out of this hodge podge assortment of rail lines and equipment the work of creating a going railroad business was started.
         Financial conditions of the railway became critical in 1913 and on March 27, 1915, receivers were appointed, which receivership continued until January 1, 1927 when the Georgia & Florida Railway was sold and deeded to The Georgia & Florida Railroad. Due to disastrous floods and heavy costs the Railroad again was ordered into receivership by the District Court of the United States.
         Despite it’s financial troubles the receivers have done a good job of increasing the rolling stock, installing Diesel engines, etc. and the road now ships the largest percentage of tobacco, turpentine and watermelons than any other road of it’s size.

Nashville Proud of G. & F.

         The Georgia & Florida Railroad continues to be well thought of in Berrien county and Nashville. For Nashville it is the only surviving rail link to the outside world, though passenger and mail service have long since been discontinued.
        The road serves as the principal freight hauler of merchandise and manufactured goods. Since the coming of the Tobacco Market it has to be especially valuable, and goes all out to give service to it’s patrons.
        It’s contributions to the growth of the section through which it traverses have been great, and though at times the railroad itself was in financial jam, there has been no movement that would develop this part of Georgia but the Georgia & Florida railroad could be depended upon to do it’s part.
         The first tobacco market in Georgia was on the Georgia & Florida railroad in 1917, when the farmers as well as railroads were asking for a market. A meeting of business men was held at Douglas and in just one hour the capital was subscribed. When the season opened in the late summer, the Red Warehouse with a floor space of 90×140 was doing business on the Georgia & Florida. The first tobacco was sold for 20 cents per pound, but today tobacco is gold in Georgia.

Georgia and Florida Railroad

Georgia and Florida Railroad

Aubrey Sizemore

During WWII, Aubrey Sizemore served in the US Navy. Before the War he worked for Harveys Supermarket in Nashville, GA driving a “rolling store” on a route that served rural customers of Berrien County, GA.

Grave marker of Aubrey Sizemore, Mount Paron Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Alapaha, GA

Grave marker of Aubrey Sizemore, Mount Paron Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Alapaha, GA

Aubrey Sizemore and Maude Griner

Aubrey Sizemore and Maude Griner

Aubrey Sizemore in Navy Uniform

Aubrey Sizemore in Navy Uniform

Aubrey Sizemore - USNR

Aubrey Sizemore – USNR

John Guthrie Tells Story of Berrien Tiger

John Guthrie, folk musician and merchant of Ray City, GA relates the story of the Berrien Tiger.

John Elwood Guthrie (1911-1985) , folk musician and merchant of Ray City, GA. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

John Elwood Guthrie (1911-1985) , folk musician and merchant of Ray City, GA. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

The legendary Berrien Tiger was a large panther that attacked two Wiregrass victims in 1849, before the creation of Berrien county, GA.  Guthrie was a nephew of Hamp Guthrie, who was mauled by the big cat, and grandson of Martha Newbern Guthrie, who was an eyewitness.

John Elwood Guthrie was a son of Arren H. Guthrie and Elizabeth Lucinda “Lucy” Newbern Guthrie.  He moved with his family to Ray City in 1922 and attended the Ray City School. He and his parents and siblings resided on the the farm of his sister, Effie Guthrie Knight on Park Street.  As a boy he attended the Primitive Baptist Church but later attended the Ray City Methodist Church.  He married Madge Sellers and they made their home on North Street in Ray City.

John Elwood Guthrie (1911-1985)
Ray City, Georgia,
August 20, 1977

I was borned out on the Alapaha River.

You want me to tell you a little story about the Alapaha River?

OK. Now, believe it or not, now…if you want do a little research you can go back and find this story.

Now my grandmother…she was about ninety year old when she first began to come to our house. She’d sit in a rockin’ chair and all of us kids would gather up around her, and she would begin to tell us stories about the Civil War and things that happened back during that time.

Here’s a story…now you can believe it or not. Now, it did appear in the Valdosta paper, the Valdosta Times, and also in the Berrien Press. If you want to do a little research you can look it up. But, it happened.

A young boy back in those days, he went down on the Alapaha River a lookin’ for some hogs down there at was lost. And whiles he was down there they was some animal. Now, they said it was a tiger – now you can believe it or not – they said it was a tiger. But it appeared, now, in both these papers. They said it was a tiger.

He jumped on this boy’s back, and he clawed him up, and bit ‘im, and he thought he had killed ‘im. And he tried to drag ‘im back in the river swamps down there. But he’s too heavy. He couldn’t carry ‘im. Instead, he covered ‘im up with leaves. Covered ‘im up with leaves.

So this boy, when he came concious again, he was almost dead, but he got back ta house an he told his brothers and sisters and his parents an’ everything about it. Well, they formed a search party and they went down there lookin’ for this animal. They had their dogs, and their guns, and everything. That’s on Alapaha River, now, right over here.

When they got down to the swamp, the dogs, the first thing, they began to bark, you know, and run all down the river swamps. Well, it wasn’t very long before all them dogs came back, and their hair was standin’ right straight up on their backs, up there, and they just whimperin’, the dogs.

So, the men decided they’d go down there an’ see what had happened. Well, they went down there, and an ol’ uncle o’ mine, his name was Hamp -now, this is history, now if you don’t believe it you can go back and search. His name was Hamp.  And, he was a little bit behind all the rest. Well, this animal, whatever it was, jumped on his back. Jumped on his back and he began to claw ‘im an’ bite ‘im, an’ almost killed ‘im.

Some of the rest of the fellas in the search party looked around back there, and they saw what was happenin’ and they had a gun and they just shot whatever it was, if it was a tiger or whatever it was. They shot ‘im and killed ‘im. And when they killed ‘im, they had to pull his claws out of Uncle Hamp’s back, back there.

Now, this is history, now if you won’t believe it, all right. If you don’t, you can go back an’ search the records, and that’s part of the history.

Adler, T. A. & Guthrie, J. (1977) John Guthrie tells stories and plays guitar, Ray City, Georgia. Ray City, Georgia. [Audio] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/afc1982010_afs20900/ .

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Lucious Norman Gillham

Lucious Norman Gillham was a veteran of World War II and came to Ray City, GA with his wife after the war. He was born in Jackson County, GA on January 5, 1908, a son of George Washington Gillham and Estelle Mae Gillham.

Lucious N. Gillham enlisted April 24, 1943 at Ft. McPherson, Atlanta, GA.  At the time of enlistment he was living in Fulton County, GA, and was employed as a textile mill worker.  His father and older siblings had all been mill workers at the Porterdale Mill at Newton County, GA since before 1920s.  Lucious was only educated through the 5th grade, after which he left school to take up work. After the death of his father in 1925, Lucious went to work at a textile mill in Varennes, SC but by 1935 he was back at the Porterdale Mill working as a doffer.

Porterdale Mill belonged to the Bibb Manufacturing Company,  one of the largest employers in the state.  “The City of Porterdale is located 35 miles east of Atlanta on the Yellow River in Newton County, Georgia.  In 1899 the Bibb Manufacturing Company built a twine mill on the river and named it Porterdale Mill after a founder of the community, Oliver Porter.  The community of mill homes attracted workers looking for jobs and a better life.”

Porterdale Mill, Georgia

Porterdale Mill, Georgia

People came from all over the state to work in the Porterdale mill.  Among the many workers enumerated at Porterdale in the 1940 census  were Pasco Olandro Hall, of Ray City, GA; Tom Sirmans Jones, of Nashville, GA;  Grady Bloodworth, from the upper 10th District of Berrien County; Jesse Franklin Bennett of Adel, GA; Lois, Jessie Mae, James and Elmer Black, four teenage siblings from Lowndes County, GA.  One wonders if Lucious Gillham and the mill workers from South Georgia knew each other, and if their association later influenced Lucious to come to Ray City. At any rate, Lucious  and Jeanette Gillham moved about 1947 to Ray City,  where for 18 years they worked a farm on Route 1.

Lucious Gillham died on May 28, 1965 and was buried at Pleasant Cemetery, near Ray City, GA.  His obituary appeared in the Nashville Herald.

 

Obituary of Lucious Norman Gillham, of Ray City, GA

Obituary of Lucious Norman Gillham, of Ray City, GA

Nashville Herald
June 3, 1965

Lucious Gillham Dies On Friday Morning

        Lucious N. Gillham, who made his home on Route One, Ray City, and was for the past eighteen years a resident of that area, succumbed to a lengthy illness early Friday morning, May 28. Mr. Gillham was confined to Berrien County Hospital at the time of his passing.
        Born on January 5, 1908, the deceased was 57 years of age.  A native Georgian, he was the son of the late George W. and Stella Mae Lowrey Gillham. He was married on December 31, 1935 to the former Miss Jeanette Dorsey, by whom he is survived. Mr. Gillham saw service in the United States Army during World War II, and before declining health curtailed his activity he was a farmer.
        Funeral services were conducted from the Pleasant Primitive Baptist Church at 2 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, May 30, with Elder Howard Weaver officiating. In accordance with Primitive Baptist doctrine, an unaccompanied choir sang three time-honored hymns of consolation, Amazing Grace, Rock of Ages, and In the Sweet Bye and Bye. Laid to rest in the churchyard cemetery, Mr. Gillham was accompanied to his place of last repose by a cortege of military men from nearby Moody Air Force Base.
        Besides his widow, Mr. Gillham leaves three sisters, Mrs. Doris Dix, of Griffin, and Mrs. Mildred West and Mrs. Beatrice Goode, both of Douglasville. There are also a number of nices and nephews.
       All details were completed under the direction of Lovein Funeral Home.

 

 

Grave of Lucious N. Gillham and Jeanette Dorsey Gillham, Pleasant Cemetery near Ray City, GA

Grave of Lucious N. Gillham and Jeanette Dorsey Gillham, Pleasant Cemetery near Ray City, GA

Harveys Supermarket Served Rural Residents with Rolling Stores

In the 1940s Aubrey Sizemore, of Nashville, GA, worked as a truck driver and salesman on a “rolling store” for Harveys Supermarket.

Aubrey Sizemore

Aubrey Sizemore (1910-1974)

Census records show that Aubrey Sizemore worked as a grocery salesman during that time period.  At the time of enumeration he was living with his wife, Maude Griner, and sons, Joe Sizemore and Bobby Sizemore in Nashville, GA. Also residing in the Sizemore household was his mother-in-law, Sarah Griner.

The 1940 census enumeration of Aubrey Sizemore confirms he worked as a grocery salesman.

The 1940 census enumeration of Aubrey Sizemore shows he worked as a grocery salesman.

Family members recall that Aubrey Sizemore drove a rolling store for Harveys Supermarket.

Harveys Supermarket, Nashville, GA. Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.org

Harveys Supermarket, Nashville, GA. In addition to the location in Nashville, Harveys served rural residents with “rolling stores.” Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.org

The Harveys Supermarket chain was founded by J. M. and Iris Harvey in Nashville, GA in 1924. Their son, Joe H. Harvey, took over the chain in 1950.  The rolling stores served rural residents all over the area, including the families residing in the Ray City area.

Harveys Supermarket once operated a fleet of "rolling stores" - trucks that brought groceries and dry goods to shoppers in rural areas.

The Harveys Fleet
Harveys Supermarket once operated a fleet of “rolling stores” – trucks that brought groceries and dry goods to shoppers in rural areas.

The Rolling Store, once a celebrated fixture in town and country alike, has also been a victim of these dramatically changing times.

A rolling store is exactly what its name suggests.  Although mobile vendors have existed since well before the nation’s founding, these vendors were limited by the distance their horses or feet could carry them. That changed with the spread of the diesel engine in the early 20th century. Rural families who lacked access to these mechanized forms of rapid transportation could still only make it into town maybe three or four times in an entire year to do their essential shopping, but now the store could come to them, often in the form of a brightly painted truck or retrofitted bus that would stop at the same places at the same time each week.

Everything was available from a rolling store’s efficiently stocked shelves: fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, canned goods, wheat flour, lard, kerosene and tools, pre-made underwear, overalls, shirts. Come early Spring, the trucks would be stocked with Easter dresses for little girls, and come autumn, that same shelf space would be filled with school supplies for the new academic year. Even with their hodge-podge of goods, these moving stores could easily sell out of everything each time they hit the country roads, which could amount to some 9,000 to 10,000 pounds of goods in a single day.  — Time Magazine

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In Berrien County, GA Aubrey Sizemore drove a daily route of 50 miles or more, stopping at houses all along the way. Many of these people didn’t have any way of getting to town unless they walked. He would slow and blow the horn and people came running out.  He would stop and let up the sides of the truck where you could see in to see the merchandise. 

The children came running for the penny candy the rolling store carried. They sold little syrup candies wrapped in wax paper.  The chewy candy was made from sugar cane and had a distinct taste. 

Some of the women would ask for goods and if the driver didn’t have them on the rolling truck he would bring them on the next round.

If you had something you wanted to barter, if you had a chicken, or eggs, or butter you could trade out for goods or for a “due bill” – a promissory note you could use for store credit at Harveys store in Nashville or from the rolling store. 

The Harveys rolling store had groceries and some dry goods.  You could buy needle and thread and other sewing supplies. You could buy yard goods – cloth – in three yard bundles.  A woman could make a dress from three yards.  Anything Harveys had in their store in Nashville you could find on the rolling store.   – Sizemore Recollections

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Many a rolling store’s motto was also “We Buy Anything, We sell Everything,” meaning rural families could also barter with the store, trading “eggs, chickens and pecans” for items like flour, shoes, or chewing tobacco. As a result, in addition to the children’s joyful cries of “Here it comes! Here it comes!” and the honking of the store’s horn, a municipality could often tell if a rolling store was on its way by the cacophony of squawking emanating from the overloaded chicken coops on the top or back of the truck. (This bartering policy also meant that many a child raided their family’s chicken house the morning of the rolling store’s scheduled arrival for an egg or two to exchange for a stick of gum or a piece of candy.)  While those who grew up running to greet the drivers of rolling stores remember these enterprises with great fondness, these endeavors could not withstand the rise of the personal automobile. – Time Magazine

 

During WWII, Aubrey Sizemore entered the US Navy.

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Ray City Christmas 1959

Rossie Futch celebrates Christmas 1959 with his grand daughter Lee, and her new baby doll.

Rossie Futch and his granddaughter on Christmas Day, 1959 at Tallahassee, FL

Rossie Futch and his granddaughter on Christmas Day, 1959.

Rossie Futch (1899-1968) was a native of Berrien County and a resident of Ray City, GA for 50 years.  His second wife was Lessie Guthrie Miley.  After 1950, the Futch Residence was at 406 J0nes Street (now 507 Jones Street).

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Ray City, GA ~ Town is Smaller Now

A sign on the tracks of the Georgia & Florida Railroad indicates the town of Ray City, GA to passing trains. The trains no longer stop at Ray City, although the town once had a bustling depot.

ray-city-ga_old-news-clipping

Times Union
1978

Ray City
The town is smaller now, but folks are coming back home

RAY CITY, Ga. – Before the turn of the century there were more than 27 businesses, five doctors, a pharmacy, corn mill, sawmill and several thousand people.

Ray City has changed.

The town now has a population of 725. What remains are a few stores and churches, the remnants of the corn mill – now a restaurant and fish camp – and Victory Soda Shop and General Store, where people meet to exchange news and gossip.

Billy Clements, owner of The Victory and long-time Ray City resident, said the closing of the sawmill and the Depression drove most of the people away, but old residents are “gradually creeping back.”

People come from all over to listen to John Guthrie play his guitar or just talk.
“I could talk all day about music, Guthrie said.

Guthrie teaches music to anyone who wants to learn, and musicians from all over the country meet in Ray City for jam sessions.

Lamar Booth, who runs the fish camp, points out that the Old Mill Pond draws a number of out-of-town fishermen during the summer. The lake is more than a mile wide but only 5 to 7 feet deep.

Booth’s mother, Mrs. Ann Campbell, owns a cafe, which is the main attraction at the pond. People say she serves the best fish dinners in the area.

The original post office and general store were at the lake during the late 1800s, and the corn mill (it opened in 1863) was once the heart of Ray City’s economy.

The town limits form a one-mile circle, located on Highway 37, 15 miles east of Adel between Nashville and Valdosta.

Farming is the main occupation in Ray City now, though many of the town’s people travel to Valdosta, Adel, Lakeland and Nashville for work, according to Mrs. Don Wilson, the town clerk said. Many residents also own or work in local businesses, she said.

Clements said there is not much for people to do after work except hunt or fish and many young people go to other places for entertainment.

He said he likes it there, because “people care for each other and pitch in and help each other when they need it, like a big family.”

1894 African-American Voter Registration at Ray’s Mill, GA

1894 African-American Voter Registration at Ray’s Mill, GA

Given the history of slavery and racial discrimination in the United States, researching African-American genealogy can be a challenging puzzle.  Slave names were not often recorded.  Even after Emancipation, civil records of African-American citizens were often neglected. Further complicating matters,  most of the 1890 census records were lost in a fire and through a series of tragic missteps in the record handling. Fortunately, an 1894 record of the Poll Tax collection in the Rays Mill District (now Ray City, GA) helps to document early African-American residents of the town.    Many of these men were born in slavery and became “Freedmen” after the Civil War and Emancipation. A few were born in northern “Free” states.  After the War, they came  to south Georgia, primarily to work in the naval stores industry, collecting turpentine in the piney woodlands of the Wiregrass. Some lived in turpentine camps, some rented farms or houses, a few became property owners, business men and employers in their own right.

Poll Taxes

After the Civil War, the poll tax evolved regionally to be a complex legal device to disenfranchise African-Americans. Georgia led the way in 1868 (effective in 1871), and by 1900 in every formerly-Confederate state had poll taxes aimed at preventing black citizens from voting.

According to Today in Georgia History,

The poll tax, a bulwark of the Jim Crow era, was one of many roadblocks thrown up to keep African-Americans from exercising their right to vote. Although the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1870, guaranteed former male slaves the right to vote, the poll tax, which all voters had to pay was designed to prevent voting. Georgia’s 1877 constitution authorized the tax, which limited voter participation among both poor blacks and whites. But most whites got around the provision through exemptions for those whose ancestors fought in the Civil War or who could vote before the war. 

Georgia’s “grandfather clause” allowed any adult male whose father or grandfather had voted  prior to the abolition of slavery to vote without paying the tax. Georgia created a cumulative poll tax requirement: men 21 to 60 years of age had to pay a sum of money for every year from the time they had turned 21, or from the time that the law took effect.

Tax Payers
Ray’s Mill District, Colored, 1894

William Adkinson
Dixie Alston

Peter Burges
Thomas Burges
Saul Brown
William Brown, Sr.
John Black
B. B. Brown
Joe Brown

Walter Curt
Jesse Coleman
Len Coleman

James Davis

David Ellison
S. M. Eady
Sam Eady

Brister Hufman

Henry Gowdine
Henry Gilliard
William Grayham
William Gerald

West Kelley

John Livind

Joe Medlay
Carter Moore
William Mathis
Alex McKnight
S. J. Myers
Sandy Murphy
William McGowin
Richard McGowin
Henry McCoy

Preston Richardson
E. L. Rias
Ebb Ross
Randolph Ried
William Smith
Mack Spights
Gilbert Sloan

Wiley Tarrell

A. Vandross

John Wamble
George Williams
Ed Wilson
John Wade
Alex White
James Whitfield
W. D. Williams

SOME NOTES ON THE TAXPAYERS:

DIXIE ALSTON
Dixie Alston was an African-American born during the Civil War, in March of 1862. He was born in South Carolina, as were both his parents.  In 1883 he married Amelia [unknown], also a native of South Carolina.  It appears that Dixie and Amelia moved to south Georgia sometime in the early 1890s.  In 1894, Dixie Alston registered to vote in the Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) District of Berrien County, GA.  He subsequently appears in the census of 1900, enumerated as Dixie Aulston, in the 1148 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County.  His household in 1900 included his wife Amelia (age 46), and children, Sarah (18), Lillie (17), Dixie (10), James A. (7), William (5), and Orie B (1).  The Alstons were living in a rented house, and Dixie was working as a turpentine laborer. In 1910 Dixie Alston and family were enumerated in the 1157 Georgia Militia District where Dixie continued to work as a turpentine laborer.  Whereabouts of Dixie Alston after 1910 are unknown, but his son Dixie Alston, Jr. later lived in Nashville GA where he worked for the Keefe and Bulloch turpentine operation.

ROBERT B. “BB” BROWN
BB Brown was born in South Carolina about 1856 he married Corinna, a South Carolina woman, about 1875 and they made their home in South Carolina until some time after 1881. By October 1886, the Browns moved to Georgia. BB Brown paid the poll tax in 1894 to vote in the Rays Mill District of Berrien County, GA. The census of 1900 shows the Browns owned a farm in the Rays Mill District free and clear of mortgage. They were neighbors of Levi J. Clements, Alfred Hill, and Ben Knight. In 1910 their neighbors on nearby farms were John Miles Clements, Georgia Cooper, Jeff Williams and James W. Williams. The 1920 census shows the Brown farm was situated at Rays Mill on the Willacoochee Road. Their immediate neighbor was Robert E. Lee and his family. Corinna Brown died sometime before 1930. By this time the Brown farm had been cut into Lanier County. The widower Brown continued to work his farm with the assistance of his children.

SOLOMON “SAUL” BROWN
Solomon Brown was born  about 1862 in South Carolina. He apparently came to the Rays Mill, GA area  some time before 1894. The 1910 census shows him in Rays Mill, widowed, living alone in a rented home and working as a farm laborer.

WILLIAM L. BROWN
William L. Brown was a farmer from South Carolina. He was born in May of 1862. About 1882 he married Lessie. They were in Berrien County, GA by the 1890s where William paid the poll tax in the Rays Mill District in 1894. The census of 1900 shows he was working a rented farm near the homes of Richard Eady, William Revell, and Frank Gallagher.

PETER BURGES
Peter Burges, or Burgess, was an African-American born in August of 1865 at the conclusion of the Civil War. He was a native of South Carolina, as were both his parents.  By 1894, Peter Burges made his way to  the Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) District of Berrien County, GA where he was registered to vote. In the census of 1900, he was enumerated in the 1144 Georgia Militia District, the “Ray’s Mill” District, Berrien County. He was single, living alone in a rented house, and working as a turpentine laborer. He subsequently appears in the 1144 G.M.D census of 1910 as a farm laborer, and in 1920 he was renting a farm on the Willacoochee Road.

TOM BURGES
Tom Burges was born about 1850 in Georgia. He was enumerated in 1910 in the 1300 Georgia Militia District. At age 60 he was widowed, living alone in a rented house, and working at a sawmill. He was a neighbor of African-American teacher William M. Clark, sawmill employee Burris Hall, turpentine teamster David Story, turpentine employee John Merritt, and washerwoman Sallie Sanders.

JESSE COLEMAN
Jesse Coleman appears in the Berrien County tax records of 1884. His taxable property included $5 worth of livestock and $5 worth of furniture. In 1890 Jesse Coleman paid the poll tax in the 1329 Georgia Militia District, the Connells Mill District just west of Rays Mill. He had $57 in livestock, $15 in furniture, $10 in tools, and $2 in other property.

JOHN L. LAVIND
John L. Lavind was an African-American farmer from South Carolina. He was born in 1868. About 1886 he married Sarah Sloan, a woman from South Carolina. John and Sarah appear in the 1900 Census in Berrien County where they were neighbors of Arch Parrish. The Lavinds were working a rented farm in the 1145 Georgia Militia District, the Adel District. Living with the Lavinds and assisting with the farm labor were Sarah’s siblings, Alicia A Sloan and Davis Sloan. It appears that Sarah Sloan died sometime in the early 1900s. Census records indicate that John Lavind (enumerated as John Lavine) married a second time in 1908 to a widow woman named Kerene. In 1910, he was making payments on a farm at Adel and working as a self-employed farmer. His neighbors were sawmill workers Beacher Ward and Charlie Beland. In 1920, John and Karene were renting a farm on the Adel and Nashville Road which John was working on his own account. The were neighbors of Theresa Devane Hutchinson, widow of James Henry Hutchinson; her son, Vaude McIntyre Hutchinson was a school teacher.

HENRY MELVIN
Henry Melvin was born in North Carolina about 1863. He apparently came to live in the Rays Mill, GA district some time before 1894. In 1900, he was enumerated in the Mud Creek District of Clinch County, GA where he was renting a house and working as a turpentine laborer. On September 14, 1901 Henry Melvin and Delia Jenkins were joined in Holy Matrimony in Clinch County, GA in a ceremony performed by Joseph Powell, Justice of the Peace. The 1910 census shows Henry and Delia were renting a farm in the 586 Militia District of Clinch County, where they raised crops and children. Some time before 1920 Henry Melvin returned to Ray City, bringing his family to live on the Ray City & Willacoochee Road, on a rented farm which he worked on his own account. Henry Melvin died November 1, 1920 in Berrien County, GA. Anna remarried, probably about 1921, to Emanuel Smith. The Smiths rented a farm near Ray City, where they were neighbors of Walter H. Knight, John S. Fender, J. Mancil Ray and James F. Ray, James R. Johnson, and Lucian H. Grissett. Sometime before 1935 the Smiths moved to Lakeland, GA

HENRY MCCOY
Henry McCoy was born in October 1859 in North Carolina. About 1886 he married Anna. Some time before 1894 they came to Rays Mill, GA where Henry rented and worked a farm. Most of the McCoy’s neighbors were turpentine workers including Odum Wiley, D.D. Oxendine, Peter Burges, and Isham Hill. In 1910, Henry and Anna owned a home on North Street in Ray City. Henry worked as a drayman; Anna worked as washerwoman. Among their neighbors were hotelier Wilson W. Fender, merchant Louis Levin, telegraph operator Ralph E. Spear, blacksmith Rollie N. Warr, policeman Henry Hodges, carpenter Gordon J. Knight, and postmaster Charles H. Anderson. Henry McCoy died sometime after 1910. His widow married Sam B. Cooper on April 22, 1918 in Berrien County in a ceremony performed by Justice of the Peace J. W. Moore. Sam Cooper worked in a shop as a tailor and owned a home in Ray City, in the “Negro Quarters” according to 1920 Census records.

RICHARD MCGOWAN
Richard “Dick” McGowan was born a slave in North Carolina in the 1840s. He was brought to Berrien County (then Lowndes) as a young man, and lived most his life near Ray City, GA.  Freed after the Civil War, he continued to live for a while on the plantation of his former owner, Hardeman Sirmans.

JOSEPH MEDLEY
Joseph Medley was born about 1856 in the state of New York. In 1883, he married a Virginia woman named Jane. By 1885 The Medleys had moved from New York to South Carolina, and by 1888 they were in Georgia. Joseph paid the poll tax in the Rays Mill District of Berrien County, GA in 1894. The 1900 Census shows the Medley family in the neighboring Georgia Militia District 1300, the Milltown District, where Joseph owned a farm free and clear of mortgage. The census appears to show that the Medleys also rented a farm in addition to the farm they owned. Joseph farmed while Jane worked as a laundress. Both were enumerated as literate. They were neighbors of Joseph Dedge, Edwin Powell, and John Ed Thigpen brother of Robert Silas Thigpen. In 1910, the Medleys continued to farm in the 1300 GMD. Their son, William Medley, worked as a sawmill fireman, and son Aulie Medley assisted with the farm labor. Next door were Elmore Medley and Rainey Medley who were both employed in turpentine production. Other neighbors included John D. Patten and Matthew G. Patten. In 1920, Joe Medley, age 76, was no longer working. The Medleys rented a house at Milltown on the the Nashville Road. Their son William worked as a farm laborer and Henry worked as a truck driver at a cross tie camp.

SAM JULIAN “JIM” MYERS
Sam Julian “Jim” Myers was born October 1870 in South Carolina. By 1894 he came to Berrien County, GA to work as a turpentine chipper. He paid the 1894 poll tax in the Rays Mill District. In 1897 he married Rosa Sloan and they acquired a home on payments in the 1145 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County. Rosa’s brother, Sydney Stone, lived with them and also worked as a turpentine chipper. Also boarding in the Myers household was Dr. Ervin Green; the 1900 Census taker added the notation “Quack” by Green’s occupation. By 1910 Jim Myers took up the ministry in the Methodist faith and moved his family to Adel, GA to a home on Maple Street. By 1920, Reverend Myers took his family to Fitzgerald, GA where they lived on Lemon Street.

ELIOTT RIAS
Eliott Rias was an African-American citizen of Rays Mill, GA for 40 years. He was a son of Pompy and Clarender Rias, born about 1863 in South Carolina. After the Civil War and Emancipation, he and his brothers and sisters grew up helping his parents work their farm in Laws Township, near Kingstree, Williamsburg County, SC. Some time after 1880, Eliott left South Carolina and came to Georgia to work as a turpentine laborer. He appears in the property tax digest of Clinch County as a Freedman, paying the poll tax for 1887 in the 586 Georgia Militia District, the Mud Creek District. About 1892, Eliott married a South Carolina woman named Henrietta. By 1900, Eliott and Henrietta were living at Rays Mill with their four children. They were renting a house and Eliott was working as a turpentine laborer. In 1910 Eliott Rias was renting a farm, which he was farming on his own account. Henrietta was keeping house and minding their seven children. Pauline Hodges, an African-American school teacher, was boarding with them. Among Rias’ neighbors were John L. and Cassie Hall, Babe Baldree, Barney Chism, John Whitfield, Tom Burgess and Mack Speights. By 1920, Eliott and Henrietta were working a rented farm at Rays Mill on their own account.  Some time before 1930, Henrietta Rias passed away. All of Eliott’s children were grown and moved away. Eliatt Rias was left alone, living in Rays Mill in a home he rented for $3.00 a month. He worked as a carpenter. He was a neighbor of Sherrod Fender, Henry Studstill, Arrin H. Guthrie, Perry Guthrie, Herman Guthrie, and Ivory Wright.

EBENEZER ROSS
Ebenezer “Ebb” Ross was an African-American farm laborer born in Georgia about 1857. The 1870 census shows Ebenezer, age 23, and his wife Fannie, age 17, living in Berrien County, Georgia Militia District 1144, the Rays Mill District. Ebenezer Ross had a net worth of $30. In the 1870s and 1880s the Rosses were neighbors of William and Frances Giddens, Mary and Richard Anthony, Jesse and Margaret Carroll, John T. and Catherine Carroll, Peter and Josephine Best, and Nancy Parker. The 1875 Berrien Property Tax Digest shows Ebenezer Ross paid the poll tax, and his entire taxable property was valued at $20.00. The following year the value of his estate had dropped to just $2.00. In 1880, the Rosses home enumerated in the 1300 GMD. Living next door with the Carrolls was mail rider Everet Roberts. The 1890 tax digest shows the Rosses were faring slightly better. Eb was working for J. H. Wright, one of 58 freedmen employed by Wright.

MACK SPEIGHTS
Mack Speights was an African-American turpentine laborer who lived for about 40 years at Rays Mill (now Ray City), GA. According to family members, he was born June 14, 1867 in Ridge, Williamsburg County, South Carolina, a son of Elias McBride Speights and Norah Speights. He married Martha Ellen Cooper in South Carolina on August 14, 1889. He apparently brought his young family from South Carolina to Rays Mill about 1893 and appears on the list of voters in the Rays Mill District in 1894. Like many young African-American men, he came to work in the naval stores industry, turpentining the piney woodlands of the Wiregrass. By 1910, Mack Speights was renting a farm at Rays Mill where he and Martha were raising their eight children His oldest sons, Elias and William, worked as farm labor. The Speights were neighbors of Joseph S. Clements, Brodie Shaw, Bruner Shaw, Bryant Fender, and Frank Gallagher. By 1930, Mack and Martha had moved to Gainesville, FL with several of their children and grandchildren.

ABRAHAM L. VANDROSS
Abraham L. Vandross , an African-American turpentine laborer, was born about 1867 in South Carolina. He was on the list of voters in the Rays Mill District in 1894. About that same time he married a woman named Hannah. By 1900, Abraham and Hannah had moved to the Dry Lake District of Brooks County, GA where they lived in a rented home. By 1910 Hannah and Abraham returned to Berrien County to the 1300 Georgia Militia District, where they acquired a home which they owned free and clear of mortgage. Abraham continued to work for wages as a turpentine worker; Hannah worked as a washerwoman. They also took in a boarder, Albert Johnson, who was a sawmill employee. In 1910, the Vandrosses were neighbors of William M. Clark, an African-American school teacher. The 1920 Census shows Abraham and Hannah’s home was on Oak Street, Milltown (now Lakeland), GA. Their boarder in 1920 was Reverend Jordan R. Gay.

JOHN WAMBLE
John Wamble was a widowed African-American farmer. He was born about 1850 in Georgia.  At the time of the 1900 Census, he was living near Rays Mill, GA with his two teenaged sons. The Wambles were neighbors of Richard Morehead, Benjamin Moorehead, David C. Clements and Rubin Knight.  His son, Horace, married about 1907 and made his home on the Nashville & Valdosta Road near Cat Creek.

JOHN WADE
John Wade was a Freedman living in Rays Mill, GA with his wife, Emma, and their large family. John Wade was born about 1824. The property tax digest of 1887 shows his taxable property consisted of $7 dollars worth of livestock and $20 in household and kitchen furniture. The 1880 census shows the Wades living and farming in Lowndes County, GA.

JAMES WHITFIELD
James Whitfield may have been an African-American farmer who later lived in Grooverville, Brooks County, GA.  He was born about 1868. This James Whitfield cannot be definitively placed in Rays Mill, however, his son, James Whitfield, Jr. lived in Nashville, GA in the 1920s.

GEORGE WILLIAMS
The 1900 census shows George Williams  in the 1145 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County. He was working as a log turner at a sawmill.  He was born in North Carolina about 1858.  In 1900, he was living alone, apparently in housing at the sawmill.

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Rays Mill Public Service Company Electrified Hahira

The Rays Mill Public Service Company was formed about 1912 to provide local public utilities services, including electric and telephone service.

America's Electrical Week

America’s Electrical Week

The week of December 2 to 9, 1916 was celebrated throughout the country as America’s Electrical Week. During this time electricity and electrical goods were in the spotlight to an unusual extent. Thousands of manufacturers, dealers and agents in every state of the Union were booming the celebration. December 2, 1916 was the first time the Statue of Liberty was illuminated. The Western Electric Company celebrated the big week.

Coincidentally, the Western Electric News, December, 1916 edition included a note about the Rays Mill Public Service company.

Despite its name, the Rays Mill Public Service company apparently first offered service in Hahira, GA.   The article below indicates that the company established electrical service at Hahira in 1912 (Electrification would not be established in Ray City until 1923).  The company was proud of its record of uninterrupted service in Hahira and of the fact that its power plant was so simply designed that it could be operated by an illiterate.

Rays Mill clipping from December, 1916 edition of the Western Electric News.

Rays Mill clipping from December, 1916 edition of the Western Electric News.

Western Electric News
December, 1916

As Others See Us

Four years ago we sold the Rays Mill Public Service Western Electric equipment for an electric light plant to supply Hahira, Georgia, with electricity. Our Atlanta office recently received an unsolicited letter from the Manager of the Public Service that says in part:
“We have a record with our plant that I am certain very few others have, and that is – we have never had a “dark” night since. Mr. Pinch turned the juice on something like three or four years ago – and furthermore we have never had a man that run our plant that we paid more than $50.00 per month, and he is now running it and cannot read his own name in print! Now if that is not some RECORD for Western Electric goods I will that some man to trot out one better.

The company was later renamed the Ray City Public Service company.

 

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