Tales from the Swamp: Snakes and Skeeters of Berrien County

The editors of Berrien County’s early newspapers were always up for a story that brought attention to their district.

The tall tale was an art form which seemed to required an outrageous allegation and an unimpeachable, civic-minded witness.

One community supporter was William K. Roberts, merchant of Nashville, GA. W. K. “Bill” Roberts was a son of Bryan J. Roberts, pioneer and Indian fighter of old Lowndes county.

Another unabashed promoter of Alapaha, GA was Dr. James A. Fogle:  veteran, physician, innkeeper, Mason, and Justice of the Peace.  Dr. Fogle was a public figure of Berrien County, well known to the citizens of Ray’s Mill. In 1884, he challenged Hardeman Giddens for bragging rights to the fastest horse in Berrien County.

Later that same year, the names of Dr. James A. Fogle and William K. Roberts, among others, were invoked to assure readers of the veracity of a summer tale of Berrien County swamps, snakes and mosquitoes.

June 12, 1884 Leavenworth Weekly Times Attending physician Dr. J. A. Fogle reports "mosquitoe cure" for snake bite in Berrien swamp.

June 12, 1884 Leavenworth Weekly Times. Attending physician Dr. J. A. Fogle, of Alapaha, GA reports “mosquito cure” for snake bite in Berrien swamp.

Leavenworth Weekly Times
June 12, 1884

The Story of a Rattler and a Prominent Citizen of Georgia.

Berrien (Ga.), News.

On last Friday, the 28th ult., Messers. R. Q. Houston, B.R. Johnson, George McMillan, and W. K. Roberts went on a deer hunt in the Alapaha river swamp, about three miles from town. After taking their respective “stands,” Mr. Houston went below about three miles to “drive” up the swamp. When he was near the Brunswick and Western railway bridge which crosses the Alapaha three miles east of this place, on his return, an immense rattlesnake sprang from the bush and buried its fangs in the calf of his leg. He at once called for help, and fortunately Mr. J. P. Loyd, section master, who was having some work done near, heard and responded to his call. By the time Mr. Loyd reached him Mr. Houston’s leg below the knee was swollen to twice its natural size and he was suffering great pain. Mr. L. bound a ligature around the leg above the knee, and then boarded his hand car to come to Alapaha for a physician. Dr. Fogle was soon found and hastened to the scene of suffering. When they reached Mr. Houston’s side, wonderful to relate he was found sweetly sleeping and the swelling was almost gone from his leg. Around him were lying dead nearly a half bushel of mosquitoes, who had drawn the poison from him. The gentlemen, in great surprise, aroused Mr. Houston, who, barring a little weakness from the loss of blood was as well as he ever was. This is a wonderful story, and some may be inclined, just as we were, to doubt it at first, be we are personally acquainted with all the parties mentioned, except Mr. Houston, and we do not believe they would vouch for a story not true in every particular. The snake was killed by the section hands and measured five feet and four inches in length, and had nineteen rattles and a button.

 

 

Logging Ten Mile Bay

The early sawmill operations of Wiregrass Georgia required a constant supply of  timber to maintain production and profitability. Smaller sawmill operations could be moved close to the timber tracts where logs were being cut. For larger operation, such as the Clements Sawmill on the tracks of the Georgia & Florida Railroad at Ray City,  logging timber typically involved transporting cut logs to the sawmill by skidder and tram.

Skiddermen like Claudie RoyalRobert Christopher Powell and Lawrence Cauley Hall used two wheel “Perry” carts pulled by a team of horses or mules to drag  or skid felled logs.  According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 1918 publications, in Georgia a typical skidderman worked a 60 hour workweek, for a wage of 22.5 cents an hour, or $13.50 per week. The skiddermen dragged logs from where they were cut the short distance to the tracks of the railway tram, where they were loaded and hauled to the sawmill.  Oxen could be used pull skidders in areas too wet for horses or mules,  but even oxen couldn’t skid logs out of the deepest swamps.

Ten Mile Bay northeast of Ray City was one of the first places in this section where logs were hauled out of the swamp by overhead skidder.

At Southernmatters.com, Bill Outlaw relates how the deep swamp of Ten Mile Bay provided a hide out for Confederate deserters and draft dodgers during the Civil War. You can read Bill’s observations on Ten Mile Bay at http://www.southernmatters.com/image-database/upload/Nashville/Nashville-051.html The fact was, there were significant numbers of Southerners who did not support Secession or the war. Outlaw describes Ten-mile Bay as lying east of a line drawn between Alapaha and Nashville. William M. Avera, son of Daniel Avera and Tobitha Cook Avera, constructed an earthen dam from 1880 to 1884 across the lower end of Ten Mile Bay.  This impoundment at the southern outfall of the bay created the Avera Mill Pond (now known as Lake Lewis), the mill run forming the Allapacoochee Creek (now known as Ten-mile Creek), which is the eastern boundary of the W.H. Outlaw Farm. Beyond the actual bay, a considerable area of land is quite swampy.

Bill Outlaw cites the unpublished papers of W.H. Griffin Jr., (1863-1932) in which Griffin describes the Ten Mile Bay as a deserter’s stronghold:

“Lying in the Northeastern portion of orginal Berrien county, four miles southeast of Allapaha, and six miles northeast of Nashville,lies an almost impenetrable swamp known far and wide as the ‘Ten Mile Bay.’ It is the sourse of Ten mile Creek, a stream running southward through the flat woods of eastern Berrien, flanked by numerous flat ponds and fed by sluggish pond drains until it mingles its wine colored waters with those of the Fivemile Creek,  near where Empire church is located when together they form Big creek, as stream of no mean importance in the county and which, harboring thousands of perch, pike, jack and trout, to say nothing of the unlimited nimber of catfish, winds its tortuos and limpid way on past Milltown to mingle its leave stained waters with those of the Alapaha river…Its denseness, its dreary solitudes, its repulsiveness on these accounts and on account of the numerous wild animals rattle snakes that frequented its fastnesses rendered it a place which the ordinary mortal dredded to enter. It covers an area of about twenty square miles, being about six miles from North to South and a average with of three to four miles. It is covered in water for a portion of the winter and spring season with a depth of anywhere from one to three feet deep, and interspersed with numerous elevated hummocks which lift their surfaces anywhere from six inches to a foot and a half above the water and from a quarter to a half acre in extent.  These hummocks are overgrown with vines and brambles, Ty Ty other swamp growth and thickly dotted with the tall growing huckleberry or blue berry bushes anywhere from three to ten feet high and from which every year thousands of berries are gathered by the neighboring citizens, who often go from a distance of ten miles away to gather berries.  It  takes a stout heart and brave resolution, to say nothing of intrepid courage and a power of endurance to hardships to get a tenderfoot into that swamp a second time. Only the person who has been through the swamp under the direction of native guides is willing to undertake an excursion into this ‘No man’s Land,’ for the chances are that he will become lost and consequently experience the greatest difficulty in finding his way out of the dreary wilderness of bog and fen, bramble and thicket. This dreary place became the rendezvous of many deserters during the war…”

When the Bootle & Lane sawmill brought overhead skidding to Berrien County in 1917 to log Ten-mile Bay, the news was reported in the Lumber Trade Journal.

1917-logging-ten-mile-bay

The Lumber Trade Journal
September 15, 1917

Complete Construction Work

Savannah, Ga. – Bootle & Lane, who moved to Nashville, Ga., from Charleston, S. C.. a short time ago to embark in the sawmill business, have just completed the work of erecting their mill, six miles east of Nashville, on the Georgia & Florida railroad, and are beginning to make their first shipments of lumber to the markets.  This firm purchased a large quantity of swamp timber in that county.  They are now taking logs out of the Ten-Mile Bay with overhead skidders.  This is an innovation in this country as no such powerful skidders were ever seen there before.  There is a large quantity of valuable timber in this swamp, but no one has ever thought it feasible to get it out.

The overhead skidder was powered by a steam engine which could be moved from place to place on a logging railroad flatcar. The steam engine drove a drum around which there was a steel cable which would draw in the logs to drier land where they could be loaded and conveyed to the sawmill. The steam-powered rig could drag logs from the swamp up to 900 feet in all directions.  Where this equipment was used to pull logs along the ground it was referred to as a “ground skidder” or “possum dog skidder.” But when the system of steel cables and pulleys were rigged from trees allowing logs to be suspended and hauled out above the muddy swamp, it was called an overhead skidder. Operating steam powered skidders was dangerous work.  The logs being pulled in would sometimes encounter obstructions.  Then the flying logs could move in erratic and unpredictable direction.  The steam skidders were worked by teams of men, and communications were passed from the crews to the skidder operator by flagmen, such as Henry Howard Thompson of Ray City, who signaled when the logs were ready to pull. The men knew to stay away from a log on the skidder line.

Advertisement for overhead skidders manufactured by Lidgerwood Mfg. Co. appearing in the Lumber World Review, November 10, 1921. Overhead skidders were used by the Bootle & Lane Sawmill to extract timber from Ten Mile Bay, about seven miles northeast of Ray City, GA.

Advertisement for overhead skidders manufactured by Lidgerwood Mfg. Co. appearing in the Lumber World Review, November 10, 1921. Overhead skidders were used by the Bootle & Lane Sawmill to extract timber from Ten Mile Bay, about seven miles northeast of Ray City, GA.

Advertisement for steel cable used in overhead skidder operations, manufactured by Williamsport Wire Rope Company, appearing in the Lumber World Review, November 10, 1921. Overhead skidders rigged with pulleys and steel cables were used by the Bootle & Lane Sawmill to harvest timber from Ten Mile Bay, about seven miles northeast of Ray City, GA.

Advertisement for steel cable used in overhead skidder operations, manufactured by Williamsport Wire Rope Company, appearing in the Lumber World Review, November 10, 1921. Overhead skidders rigged with pulleys and steel cables were used by the Bootle & Lane Sawmill to harvest timber from Ten Mile Bay, about seven miles northeast of Ray City, GA.

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John A. Gaskins Thrown by a Mule

John A. Gaskins (1854-1926)

John A. Gaskins, a son of Harmon Gaskins and Melissa Jones and grandson of Fisher Gaskins, was born September 8, 1854 in Old Lowndes, now Berrien County, GA.

John A. Gaskins, son of Harmon Gaskins, born 8 September 1854, died 22 June 1926. Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

John A. Gaskins, son of Harmon Gaskins, born 8 September 1854, died 22 June 1926. Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

In 1905, when John A. Gaskins was a gentleman of 50 years, the Tifton Gazette noted as a human interest item that he had been thrown by his mule. He was treated by Dr. Pleasant H. Askew of Nashville, GA.

John A. Gaskins thrown by a mule.

John A. Gaskins thrown by a mule.

Tifton Gazette
April 28, 1905

A mule threw John A. Gaskins Tuesday afternoon and broke his collar bone on the right side. He was out feeding hogs in the woods when his mule became frightened and threw him to the ground. Dr. Askew dressed his wounds and he is getting on as well as could be expected. -Herald.

The item was newsworthy in part because the Gaskins  were prominent Wiregrass land owners and cattlemen.  They were one of the early pioneer families of Berrien County.  The patriarch, Fisher Gaskins,  and  his sons  Harmon, William and John, had originally settled on the west side of the Alapaha River,  near present day Bannockburn, GA.,  about 16 miles distance from today’s Ray City, GA location.  Harmon Gaskins, and his brothers William and John, were among Captain Levi J. Knight’s Company of men who fought in the Indian Wars of 1836.

Just a year before John A. Gaskins’ mule bolted, in 1904, the papers noted that he had closed a big timber deal. The transaction was for 3,400 acres of timber to be cut at a sawmill on the Ocilla, Pinebloom & Valdosta railroad.

John A. Gaskins sells timber, 1904

John A. Gaskins sells timber, 1904

 

Tifton Gazette
February 19, 1904

Gaskin Sells Timber.

Nashville, GA. Feb. 12. – Messrs. Barfield and Brewer, of Unadilla, Ga. have closed a deal with John A. Gaskin, by which they come in posession of 3,400 acres of timbered lands, buying the timber only. The price paid was $34,000.
The purchasers will erect a splendid mill two miles out on the O.P. & V. railroad at an early date.

 About John A. Gaskins

John A.  Gaskins grew up at his father’s homestead near Five Mile Creek, about six or seven miles northeast of present day Ray City, GA..  John’s mother died when he was about 10 years old,  and his father remarried to  Mary McCutchen Jones, widow of Matthew Jones.

In 1877, John A. Gaskins married Mary Elizabeth Bostick. She was born 1859, a daughter of Sarah Ann Knight and Jesse S. Bostick . When Mary was about three years old  in 1862 her father  enlisted in the Clinch Volunteers, which mustered in as Company G, Georgia 50th Infantry Regiment.  His Regiment was involved in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Civil War at the Battle of  South Mountain and at the Battle of Cedar Creek.  He was taken prisoner and spent the rest of the war in the POW camp at Point Lookout, along with fellow POWs John T. Ray, Benjamin Harmon Crum, Benjamin T. Cook and Aaron Mattox.  Just a year after Mary’s father marched off to the Civil War, her mother died of measles.  When the War ended and  her father returned home, he married Mrs. Nancy Corbitt Lastinger. She was the widow of James G. Lastinger, who served in the 29th Georgia Regiment (with the Berrien County Minute Men) and died in a Union hospital in 1864. Thus, Mary Elizabeth Bostick was raised by her step-mother Nancy Corbitt Bostick.

Children of John A. Gaskin and Mary Elizabeth Bostick are:

  1. William M Gaskins  – born April 3, 1878; died August 26, 1905
  2. Lucious Butler Gaskins  – born January 17, 1880 in  Berrien, GA; married Lessie L. Parrish, February 21, 1904; died April 13, 1934
  3. Reason Batie Gaskins – born May 23, 1882 in Berrien County, Georgia; married Blanche P. Giddens; died December 24, 1912
  4. Jesse Swinson Gaskins  – born 1884 in Georgia; married Florence Courson
  5. Laura M Gaskins – born June 15, 1887; died November 15, 1898
  6. James Henry Gaskins, – born February 18, 1890;  married Hattie M. Roberson; died December 25, 1979
  7. John Bullock Gaskins  – born July 9, 1892 at Weber, Berrien County, GA;  served in WWI with US 1st Division; died December 3, 1954 at Miami, FL

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Henry Blair’s Account of the Skirmish at Cow Creek

In August, 1836 the pioneers of Lowndes and surrounding counties were engaged in local actions against Creek Indians along Warrior Creek, Little River, Alapaha River and at Cow Creek. These Indians were fleeing to Okefenokee Swamp and Florida to escape from forced relocation to the West and presumably to join up with Seminole Indians in Florida.  On the 27th of August, 1836 militia companies commanded by Col. Henry Blair, Captain Lindsay and Captain Levi J. Knight, caught up with a band of Creek Indians at Cow Creek, near present day Statenville, GA (then known as Troublesome Ford.)

Three days later, Col. Henry Blair made his report to Governor Schley, his letter subsequently published in state newspapers:

Milledgeville Federal Union
September 20, 1836

Lowndes County, August 30th, 1836.

His Excellency Governor Schley:

Sir — I have to inform you that a party of Indians were seen in the upper part of this county on Wednesday evening, 24th instant.–
Next morning, an hour by sun, there was a company of eighteen or twenty men of us in pursuit of them. We trailed them about three miles when we came to their camp where they encamped for the night and appeared to have collected together at that place. We supposed from the sign that there were about sixty-five of seventy of them. We pursued their trail, after dispatching an express to captain Knight at his post to join us with his company, which he did forthwith. We pursued them until Saturday, 27th instant, about half past two o’clock in the evening we came in sight of them where they had stopped to refresh themselves near the line of Ware and Lowndes counties on the side of a large cypress swamp, known by the name of the Cow Creek. When we first saw them at the distance of three or four hundred yards they were running some for the swamp and some from the swamp. As we were marching by heads of companies, a charge was ordered at full speed, which soon brought us within forty or fifty paces of their line where they had posted themselves in the swamp — a battle ensued which lasted for ten or fifteen minutes, which was fought with much bravery on the part of the whites. We completely routed the enemy and gained the victory. The loss on our side was one man wounded and one horse killed.–
On the part of the enemy, was two killed in the field that we got, one woman wounded that we captured that died the next day about eleven o’clock. There were signs seen where there were two more dragged into the swamp that we supposed were killed. We succeeded in taking six prisoners with the one that died; the other remaining five, for their better security and safe keeping, I have sent to Thomasville jail, Thomas county, Georgia, where your excellency can make that disposition of them that is thought most requisite.

The information obtained from the prisoners, with regard to the number of Indians, was thirty three warriors, thirty-five women and children — sixty-eight in the whole. Our forces consisted of about sixty or sixty-five men; the advance commanded by captain Lindsey, and right flank by captain Levi J. Knight, and left by myself.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

HENRY BLAIR
Colonel Commanding 81st Regiment, G. M.

Historical Marker: Skirmish at Cow Creek.  Source: David Seibert.  http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=27036

Historical Marker: Skirmish at Cow Creek. Source: David Seibert. http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=27036

SKIRMISH AT COW CREEK

Near here, on August 27, 1836, Georgia Militia companies commanded by Col. Henry Blair, Captain Lindsay and Capt. Levi J. Knight, fought a skirmish with Creek Indians and routed them, killing two and taking several prisoners. During this summer the Indians had committed many raids and massacres as they traversed the border counties on their way to Florida to join the Seminoles. Georgia troops had been following them for weeks, and overtook this band in the cypress swamp on the edge of Cow Creek.

Final Report of General Julius C. Alford on Actions at the Little River and at Grand Bay, August, 1836

As described in previous posts, the July,1836 actions against Indians in this immediate area (Skirmish at William Parker’s Place and the Battle of Brushy Creek) were preceded and somewhat precipitated by the Indian uprising at Roanoke, GA (May 15, 1836) and the Battle of Chickasawhatchee Swamp (June 3, 1836).

In August, 1836 subsequent local actions were fought  along Warrior Creek, Little River, Alapaha River and at Cow Creek. Levi J. Knight, and other pioneer settlers of Berrien and Lowndes counties, participated in these actions.

The following is the official report of Major Julius C. Alford, addressed to General John W. A. Sanford,  describing these events, which occurred  from August 5 to August 25, 1836:

Federal Union
September 13, 1836

CREEK CAMPAIGN
Lumpkin, August 25, 1836

Major Generel John W. A. Sanford:

Sir – After your departure from Baker county, I continued to scour the swamp and executed the order left by you, for the removal of the troops to the head of Spring creek. Captain [Michael] Hentz’s in obedience to your order, charging him specially with reduction of the Indians fought by me on the fifth of this month, continued his pursuit of their trail to Flint river, where they crossed, near Newton. He sent me back an express stating the fact. In the mean time, I had the same day I received the express from Hentz, before the express arrived, gone in company with Mr. Tompkins and Howard of Baker county, and a considerable number of my own men, and pursued the trail of the Indians from near my battle ground, to where they crossed Spring creek, near where it runs into Chickasahatchie; we found the trail so much larger than we expected, that all expressed astonishment at the fact, that I should have believed I fought only sixty or eighty Indians, as you recollect I verbally reported to you at the time. Who could have induced you to think, general, that there were only fifteen or twenty? I cannot imagine, or is it a matter of any moment. I only mention the fact to correct it, believing as I do, that you would be gratified to know the truth. I requested Mr. Tompkins, Howard, and Greer, with others, to count the principal entering places of the trail as the Indians went into the creek, and there were twelve different trails of at least an average of ten track to a trail, where they crossed. Convinced of the fact, that Hentz was pursuing a body of Indians he could not conquer, I at once determined to follow him and overtake him if possible, although he had been gone several days. On my return to camp, and while I was stating the facts to my officers, his express arrived; it was near night. I issued my order for captains Greer and [Robert H.] Sledge, to prepare to march early next morning. They done so.

We set off on the tenth of this month, went thirty-five miles that night to West’s, near where the Indians had robbed a house on the line of Baker and Thomas counties: here we were joined by captain Everett and his company from Decatur county. We could get no pilot. There were but few people living in the settlement. Mr. West was so much alarmed, he could not tell us the way to his son-in-law’s house, two miles off, the one that was robbed. We started on the eleventh [Aug 11, 1836], as early as we could see, and found our way to the house. – Here we took the trail of a company of horsemen, who had gone up north, to a station, instead of Hentz’s trail, and went twenty miles out of our way. Finding we were wrong, and fearing we should not be able to right ourselves in time to overtake Hentz, I ordered captain Sledge to return to camp Alford. With captains Greer and Everett, and their companies, we took the general course of the Indians, and fortunately landed at night in half a mile of the right trail, but unfortunately only ten miles from where we started; here we camped at a deep steep creek, which I called camp Greer, in honor of my officer, who had that day, when the hope of overtaking the Indians was very faint, still resolved to follow me, if I continued to go ahead. Hentz was a long ways ahead, but so soon as the sign was right, we pursued him with all possible speed. On the 12th we passed two of the Indian camps and several large creeks, the head waters of the Oakalockney [Ochlockonee] and the Okapilca [Okapilco]; joined today by captain Newman and his company from Thomas county. Force increasing, trail warm, men ardent, all anxious for battle. About 3 o’clock in the evening, we saw before us, a house with many people all seemed to be greatly excited; at our approach and when we were still far off, I mentioned to our boys, that from the strange appearance of things all was not right; we galloped up, and the first to salute us was one of captain Hentz’s men, badly wounded. He informed us, that at eleven o’clock that day, they had attacked the enemy in a branch and had been compelled to retreat: the battle ground was four miles off, and captain Hentz, after being reinforced, had gone back about two hours, to try it again. —  Hentz’s defeat, with the sight of his wounded men, created a great sensation in our ranks.– All the men and officers manifested the most ardent wish to retrieve the fortunes of the day and punish the enemy; we strained our horses to the battle ground; the Indians had gone and Hentz after them; we pursued them till night, camped at Fulsom’s [James Folsom’s Place]; heard of Hentz two miles ahead. After we camped, I procured a pilot and found his camp — his men manifested great joy at my arrival, and truly, general, if there was any fight in me, I felt it then. The cowards that had refused to fight that day, had all run home, and here were a few brave fellow encamped near the enemy, mortified at defeat, swearing they would whip the enemy or die in the attempt; the citizens who had joined them in the day, had left them at night; it was now dark and getting late in the night. I ordered them to remain in the morning, until I came up, and returned to my camp. The story of the fight is easily told. The Indians seeing they would be overtaken by captain Hentz, had formed an extended line in a small branch swamp, where two branches ran together, making a narrow swamp of thick bushes, nearly in the shape of a half circle, with an one pine woods to enter it. The line, if straight, would (in the language of all that gave an opinion) have been at least five hundred yards long: of course, as is usual with them, they were in open order to extend their flanks. Their number of warriors must have been at least eighty strong, with the advantage of the cover of the branch swamp, their pick of the ground and superior numbers. That portion of captain Hentz’s company that would fight, could not maintain their ground. — The brave Tinsley, (our pilot in Chickasahatchie, [Chickasawhatchee Swamp] and those that fought with him, were compelled to retreat, after having five men badly wounded. Their number was about thirty, as well as I could learn, and I would mention every name if I could do so, without leaving out any, but I do not know them all, and therefore had better not undertake it, least some brave fellow might have his feelings wounded, by not being known. The balance of the command run and never came back. At three o’clock on the 13th, I was on my horse, with my command; we came up to Hentz’s command before light, on the banks of the Withlacoochy [Withlacoochee River] proper, here called Little river, the eastern branch being called Withlacoochy improperly, (see map of Georgia,) I kept my command in the rear some distance, and so soon as we could see the trail, sent Hentz’s company in pursuit, hoping the Indians would recognize them, and not seeing us, would fight again — we followed near enough to be ready in that event to help. The night before, the enemy had crossed the river, killed two beeves and recrossed and camped on the same side with Hentz, in the river swamp; we of course lost much time in trailing them, on their fox like chase. About ten o’clock, we received news of them going down the river on the west side; we strained off after them, crossed at a bridge where they had just passed. Several companies had now joined us, (to wit.) captains Night [Levi J. Knight],  [John J.] Pike, [Benjamin] Grantham, Burnett and many citizens without officers. The people of Lowndes and Thomas counties, are a gallant set of men, and acted most promptly indeed, submitted themselves to my command most cheerfully, and acted with us like good citizens ought to do, when their country is invaded. Major [Enoch] Hall and [Henry S.] Strickland and colonel [Henry] Blair of Lowndes county was in the field. The pursuit was bold and impetuous. The Indians entered the river swamp about four miles below the bridge, where it is wide and deep; not knowing our ground, we followed on horseback, on the trail made by their horses, (the had stolen three horses the night before the battle with Hentz, and captured eight from his company in the fight.) The Indians crossed the Withlacoochy [Withlacoochee] in the swamp, where there was no ford; so did we.

They penetrated the very thickest parts of the swamp, in hopes to hide; we followed there; they crossed deep Lagoons, which by the time we came along, had no bottom; we floated our horses over after them; finally our advance, and announced the fact that we had overtaken them. I ordered the men to dismount and charge — when we came up, the Indians had thrown away their clothes and provisions and abandoned their horses, and fled in every direction; we retook the horses taken from captain Hentz’s men, as well as from the citizens, and returned them to their owners. The soldiers done what they pleased with the plunder. We could not pursue the enemy any further now: they had scattered and run off in the swamp in every direction, we hunted for them in vain until night — camped at Mr. Vicker’s. The soldiers and citizens put up at houses nearest the swamp; nothing to eat today for man or horse. Today, the 14th, captain Greer and his company rested. I pressed a fresh horse, and with my friend Graves, who never tires, I went back to the swamp, arranged the various companies who had repaired to scour the swamp. Today Capt. [James A.] Newman’s company came upon the rear, or flank guard of the Indians, and in sight of one of their warriors, fired eight or ten guns after him as he run, do not know whether he was hit or not — could see no more of them today. Determined never to desist so long as there was any hope, I issued my order for all to lie as near the swamp as possible, for hunger forced them to go some where to get something to eat, and to be at the swamp by sunrise, and all that were not there by one hour by sun, not to come at all — the order was promptly obeyed and captain Greer’s company and all the other companies were there at the appointed time; we rushed into the swamp, and after plunging for an hour, we heard guns fires at our horses; we supposed at once that the Indians had made an attack on the guard left to take care of the horses; I ordered every man to rush the spot, and on arriving, an express was the occasion of the firing, with information that the Indians were seen that morning four miles below, going towards grand bay, on the eastern branch of Withlocoochy [Withlacoochee River]. We pursued at the top speed of our horses — just before we came to the place where they were seen, there came upon us a heavy thunder shower, and we could not trail them well. I am of the opinion they had separated to meet at grand bay, a most extensive and impenetrable swamp, in the direction of Oakafonokee [Okefenokee] swamp. By the aid of several good trailers, we pursued their sign with much difficulty to the river, and saw where a few of them had crossed, but never could trail them any further that day. All agreed that if they got to grand bay, we could not drive for them successfully, and the citizens urged upon us to desist, and let them watch for their march from the swamp and cut them off between there and Oakafonokee [Okefenokee], be that when it might.  I gave up the chase and returned to Roundtree’s house, where I was kindly treated in my most exhausted and debilitated condition.  My staff was with me — captain Greer was at Hall’s several miles on our return march. In two nights and a whole day, I had one cup of coffee only, my men were but little better off. General, I done all, and suffered all that man can do and suffer, to crush the cruel and the cowardly savage, but I could not make them fight. I left them on the further bank of the distance Withlacoochy [Withlacoochee] bending their course toward the dismal Oakafonokee [Okefenokee] — where captain Night [Levi. J. Knight] of Lowndes county, informed me he believed all that had succeeded in escaping had concentrated, preparatory to their removal to Florida; he is a man of good sense and great energy, and I rely much upon his opinion; indeed, from all that I can learn, I am deliberately of opinion, that not one Indian has gone to Florida. The squaws I have with me informed the people at Thomasville, that the Indians would stop in Oakafonokee [Okefenokee] two moons, and then go to Florida in a body, and I learned in Lowndes, that the signs around the swamp are fresh and infallible. In anticipation of your order, I brought the Indians prisoners with me, on my return march, and met your express at camp. There are thirty-one women and children. Eighteen were taken at the battle of Brushy creek, in Lowndes county, where the men and officers who fought them, distinguished themselves. — These were Beall’s Indians. This battle has been reported in the newspapers, with the officers who commanded. Captain Snelly [Samuel E. Swilley] from Lowndes, with sixteen men, captured on the Allapahaw [Alapaha River] three prisoners and killed ten Indians. Captain Browning of a station in the upper part of Thomas county, captured ten women and children, out of the company of Indians pursued by captain Kendrick. The warriors of this party we could hear of, on our march to our left, pursuing the same general course with all the other Indians I have heard of. These together, composed the party of prisoners in my possession, which will be sent on towards Fort Mitchell this evening. On returning to my camp in Baker, I found that we had left no Indians behind us, and none have come in during our absence. I herewith transmit a certificate of the citizens of Baker county, that the swamps are now more clear of Indians, than they have been for five years. Under this state of affairs, I have left Camp Alford and marched to Lumpkin, preparatory to our being discharged. I am gratified, general, that my battalion has effected at the point of the bayonet, what heretofore no array of force, or parade of men could otherwise accomplish, the total expulsion of the Indians from Chickasahatchie swamp. Our time is nearly out; we now believe we have no more work to do. The opinion is now predicated upon good evidence, and we hope you will order us up immediately and discharge us. We have today, to bury one of the best citizens of Troup county, who died of congestive fever yesterday, Mr. Brittian Evans, a man of great merit at home as well as in camp. Before I close this my final report to you, permit me to make one suggestion. The frontier of Georgia will now be changed from Alabama to Florida. The war in Florida this winter will send the Indians back upon the people of Lowndes, Thomas, Irwin and the other southern counties. Our State ought to prepare for her defense in time, and prevent a useles sacrifice of the lives and property of our gallant brethren of that portion of our State. I forgot to mention that in driving the swamp, we cut off an aged Indian warrior from a body of his people, and in attempting to get round us to rejoin them, he passed a house in the neighborhood, and was there shot and killed by some boys, very much to the honor of these little warriors. I herewith transmit captain Kendrick’s report, of this operations on the trail you ordered him to pursue. Great Briton  In closing this communication, general, you will permit me to subscribe myself your friend and obedient servant,

JULIUS C. ALFORD,
Maj. Com. 3d Battalion mounted men.

Skirmish at Troublesome Ford

In the summer of 1836 squads of Creek Indians fleeing the prospect of forced relocation to western territories were moving from the Georgia-Alabama line through south Georgia to rendezvous in the Okefenokee Swamp. In their flight, some of these Indians were raiding the homes and livestock of the pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia.   Two actions against Indians which occurred in this immediate area included the Skirmish at William Parker’s Place and the Battle of Brushy Creek, which occurred July 12-15th, 1836  in what was then Lowndes County (now Berrien and Cook counties,) Georgia. Captains Levi J. Knight, Hamilton Sharpe, and John Pike led the Lowndes County Militia companies that participated in these engagements.

About that same time , Captain Samuel E. Swilley of Lowndes County was in the field in the southeastern part of the county.  With a company of about sixteen militia men, Captain Swilley engaged a squad of Indians on the Alapaha River near Troublesome Ford (now known as Statenville, GA), killing ten Indians and taking three prisoners. 

Skirmish Near Statenville

The late Hon. James P. Prescott of Echols County, prompted by Mr. [Lasa] Adams‘ communication wrote some of his recollections in The Valdosta Times which were published in the issue of Dec. 1, 1895. We quote from his letter:

“About the time the Brushy Creek battle was fought, a squad of about twenty Indians and Negroes came through Lowndes and crossed the Grand Bay near where Fry’s bridge now stands on the Valdosta-Statenville road.

Soon after crossing the bay they stole two horses from Jesse Carter better know as “Uncle Tigue” Carter, who lived there on the same land now owned and occupied by George A. and Paul Carter of Echols.  This was done in the first part of the night.  Uncle Tigue made great haste to Capt. Samuel E. Swilley’s place, who lived at what is now known as the Capt. Bevill old home place.  Capt. Swilley started runners in all directions and by 12 o’clock next day he with eighteen men was at the Carter place.  They took the trail and about 8 pm overtook them in the bend of the Alapaha River one mile below where Statenville now is, then known as “Troublesome Ford,” making rafts to cross the river.  Soon the ro– were seen in a little scrub to the right.  “Capt. Swilley ordered the men to dismount and tie their horses.  Before the horses were made fast the sharpe rifle and war-whoop were heard all around in the bend of the river.  Capt. Swilley ordered the men to get behind the trees which was done in great haste.  As soon as the firing ceased Capt. Swilley with his men made a charge on the Indians who were in a halfmoon circle under the  banks of the river.  The two Negroes made their escape by swimming the river as soon as the battle commenced.

“Ten warriors were killed on the ground, and three women and four children were taken prisoner; one Indian made his escape down the river.  Levi Arnold was mortally wounded and Wiley Swilley slightly. The wounded men with the Indians captured and the stolen goods in the Indian’s possession (identified as being taken from Roanoke) were all brought to my father’s house.  The wounded remained with us until able to get home. The goods were sold and proceeds of sale divided among the company.

“The women and children were placed under a guard and were started for Thomasville.  One night the mother of the children made a cup of tea and asked permission to step out, which was granted.  As was the custom, the guard after waiting a few minutes, went out to see after them. Failing to find them he made a thorough search but the three women had made their escape in the dark.  Returning to the house they found the children all dead having been poisoned by the mother.

“Capt. Swilley was a brave and considerate man and managed the expedition with great skill and ability.”

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Col. Thomas E. Blackshear’s Report on the Battle of Brushy Creek

Col. Thomas Edward Blackshear

Col. Thomas Edward Blackshear made an official report to Governor Schley about the engagement between whites and Indians that took place on Brushy Creek on July 14, 1836 in what is now Cook County, GA  but at that time in Lowndes County.  Image source:  http://thomascountyhistory.org/antebellum-1825-1860/

Col. Thomas Edward Blackshear made an official report to Governor Schley about the engagement between whites and Indians that took place on Brushy Creek on July 14, 1836 in what is now Cook County, GA but at that time in Lowndes County. Image source: http://thomascountyhistory.org/antebellum-1825-1860/

Historian Folks Huxford said the Battle of Brushy Creek was, “An engagement between the whites and Indians took place on Brushy Creek in what is now Cook County  but at that time (1836) in Lowndes County.  This battleground is well known locally in Cook and Berrien counties and the whites consisted of the settlers who were serving in the militia, most of them living within 20 of 25 miles of where the battle took place.”

The Battle of Brushy Creek, GA in the summer of 1836 was part of the larger conflict between the Creek Indians and pioneer settlers of the Georgia frontier. Lasa Adams, who joined the Thomas county Militia in 1836 the week after the engagement at Brushy Creek, gave this synopsis of the escalation:

Mr. Adams gave a different origin of the War of 1836 than that generally understood, and wrote thus:  “The Government was to send the Indians west; between three and five hundred of them were dissatisfied with the treaty and withdrew and though they would go and unite with the Seminoles in Florida near Tampa Bay; so they started and crossed over the Chattahoochee River and burned up a town called Roanoke, Georgia. The whites formed companies and went in pursuit and had a fight with them in Chickasawhatchee Swamp near Albany.  The Indians were scattered and between 100 and 300 were in the gang in the Brushy Creek battle.  Several more small squads went through the country, from fifteen to twenty in the squad, each in a different direction.”

A more immediate and local prelude to the Brushy Creek battle was the Skirmish at William Parker’s place on the Alapaha River, where Levi J. Knight’s company of militia fought  with Indians on July 13, 1836.  Knight’s company then marched toward Brushy Creek to join with militia companies there under the leadership of Major Michael Young (Thomas County),  Capt. James A. Newman (Thomas County),  Capt. John Pike (Lowndes County), Capt. Hamilton Sharpe (Lowndes County), and Capt. Henry Crawford Tucker. By the time Knight’s Company arrived at Brushy Creek, the fighting there had concluded and the burial of the dead (Pennywell Folsom) was in progress.  Levi J. Knight’s official letter informing Governor Schley about the Skirmish at William Parker’s place was transcribed in a previous post; Levi J. Knight Reports Indian Fight of July 13, 1836.

The  official report of the Battle of Brushy Creek was written by Col. Thomas E. Blackshear in a letter (transcribed below) to Governor William Schley on July 19, 1836, just days after the engagement was fought.

Col. Thomas E. Blackshear's letter to Governor Schley reporting the Battle of Brushy Creek.

Col. Thomas E. Blackshear’s letter to Governor Schley reporting the Battle of Brushy Creek.

Milledgeville Federal Union
July 26, 1836

INDIANS IN THOMAS COUNTY

The following is a copy of a letter received by the Governor, on the 24th instant.

“His Excellency, Governor Schley,

“I have to inform your Excellency that on the night of the 11th inst., authentic information reached Thomasville that a party of Indians about fifteen in number were seen in the upperpart of Thomas County marching in the direction of Florida.  By seven o’clock A. M. the next day, a company of men, forty-six in number, under the command of captain James A. Newman, was dispatched in pursuit of them. On Thursday thereafter, this company was joined by a company of about forty men from Lowndes County under the command of captain [John] Pike, when the companies elected Michael Young to take command of the battalion.

“Scouting parties being dispatched, the Indians, fifteen in number, were discovered in the fork of the Big Warrior creek and Little River.  The Battalion immediately proceeded across the River and scoured a very thick, muddy swamp about two miles wide and three long without making any discovery.  A company of thirty-one men from Thomas County under the command of  Captain Luckee  and of thirty-one men, from Lowndes, commanded by Captain  [Hamilton W] Sharpe then joined the battalion. The next morning Captain Sharpe was sent up the east side of the river to ascertain whether or not the Indians had crossed the river and left the swamp.  Having found their trail he dispatched a messenger to the Battalion and proceeded to follow after the Indians.  After pursuing them about three miles he came up with them, about sixty warriors and their families, a battle ensued in which he lost one killed (Mr. P. Folsom) and one wounded when he was forced to retreat.

“The Battalion hastened to his assistance, and in about three miles came up with them again, posted in a very advantageous position on a pine ridge, their rear protected by a cypress pond and in their front a wide, open, boggy meadow.  A general engagement commenced about 9 o’clock A. M., and after a severe fight for about two hours, the Indians were completely routed, with a loss of twenty-two Indians and two negroes killed, that were seen, many wounded and eighteen of the women and children were taken prisoners.–

“The battle was fought over a distance of three miles, through several cypress ponds and bays and a very thick hurricane.  The loss on the part of the whites were two killed (Barton Ferrell of Thomas county and Edmund Shanks of Lowndes,) and nine wounded.  Several horses were killed, several ran off during the engagement and have not since been heard of.  The prisoners have been confined in the county jail under a guard for their safety.  Your Excellency will please direct what disposition to make of them.  The expenses of the detachment will be furnished you as soon as the Quartermaster can make out his account.”

Your’s Respectfully,

THOMAS E. BLACKSHEAR
Colonel commanding 69th R.G.M.

Lasa Adams, who joined the Thomas county Militia the week after the engagement at Brushy Creek listed among the wounded “Daniel McLean of Thomasville, William Drew of Lowndes (now Brooks), James Blackshear of Thomas County, Capt. Charles Screven Gaulden of Lowndes (now Brooks), and Robert N. Parrish of Lowndes (now Cook) County. Mr. Adams could not recall the others who were wounded, saying they were from Lowndes County and he did not know them personally.  Mr. Adams said the Indians who were captured were kept in jail at Thomasville about a month and then sent west.  He said there were eight or ten women and children.”

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Alapaha Alligator Tale Hard To Swallow

This 1896 tale of an alligator in the Alapaha river is a bit farfetched, but there is no doubt about alligators in Berrien county or about early residents’ interest in the beasts.  In 1899, Jay Sirmans  tried to capture a live one at Ray’s Mill.  Today, gator watching is still a part of any visit to  the Ray’s Millpond Café.

Roping  a gator - vintage studio photo postcard.  Image source:  http://postcardiva.blogspot.com/2012_04_01_archive.html

Roping a gator – vintage studio photo postcard. Image source: http://postcardiva.blogspot.com/2012_04_01_archive.html

Tifton Gazette
March 13, 1896

Correspondence

In a Bad Fix.

“The other day,” said my informant, changing his tobacco to the other side of his mouth, “I was lying on the green sward on the bank of the beautiful Alapaha river, just thinking of nothing at all, when my attention was attracted by a noise not far from me.  Turning my eyes in that direction, I saw a large aligator run a short distance, probably thirty yards, then run back the same distance, tail in front.  This was kept up for about fifteen or twenty minutes, when the ‘gator lay down apparently exhausted, and rolled over on its back.  Then I noticed for the first time that four hog’s feet protruded through the covering of the saurian’s bread basket.  Saurians don’t eat bread, but that’s a good name for it anyway.  It dawned upon me in an instant that the ‘gator had swallowed the hog without taking the precaution to kill it, and that the porker in its frantic efforts to regain its liberty, had worked its feet through the tender underpart of its captor.  Having swallowed the hog head-formost, of course the ‘gator’s way was not the hog’s way, and when the ‘gator traveled a short distance and paused to rest, the hog, with that instinct which warns us to flee from danger, would take up the line of march in the opposite direction, and go until the ‘gator got a foot-hold and called a halt.  Did I cut the ‘gator open and give the hog its liberty? No.  The ‘gator turned its head around, sized a leg at a time and bit them off even with its surface.  When a leg came off, I could hear a far-away squeal, and I know that the hog appreciated the situation.  When the last leg disappeared down the ‘gator’s throat, that beast turned over on its stomach, winked one eye at me, as much as to say, “I know how to save my bacon,” then toddled off to the river, plunged in and disappeared.”

Bon Wick.

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Old Union Primitive Baptist Church, also known as Burnt Church

   Located in present day Lanier County, GA, the old Union Church lies about 10 miles east of where Levi J. Knight settled on Beaver Dam Creek (now Ray City, GA).  It was the first church to serve the pioneer settlers of this region.  L. J. Knight’s parents, Sarah and William Anderson Knight , were among the organizing members of the church.  Built on land provided by Jesse Carter, the church was originally referred to as Carter’s Meeting House, and later designated Union Church.

The church and cemetery  were on a trail used by the Creek Indians traveling between the Chattahoochee River and the Okefenokee Swamp.  During the Indian Wars, 1836-1838,  the church building was partially burned.  The fire-damaged timbers were used in the reconstruction, and since that time Union Church has also been known as Burnt Church.

  “Union Baptist Church, on the Alapaha River ….was constituted October 21, 1825, the first church in the old area of Irwin County.  The original members William A. Knight; his wife, Sarah; Jonathan Knight; his wife, Elizabeth; Joshua Lee; his wife, Martha; James Patten; his wife, Elizabeth; Mary Knight; Josiah Sirmans, deacon.  The Rev. Matthew Albritton served the church as its first minister.”

Union Church, Lanier County, GA

Union Church, Lanier County, GA

In Pines and pioneers: A history of Lowndes County, Georgia, 1825-1900,  author J. T. Shelton gave the following description described a Big Meeting at Union church:

“The old church had a door on every side for easy access, a rostrum along one wall with seats facing it from three directions. The arrangement allowed the seating of slaves on one side. With feet planted firmly on the wide floor boards, the congregation sat on the pews, each a single plank. The women of the church had scrubbed down with potash and homemade soap both pews and flooring, and the wood had a soft, silvery sheen. The pulpit was seven feet long, twelve inches wide and two inches thick; three to five preachers sat on a long bench behind the  pulpit until each had his turn to address the assembly. The exhorter then paced up and down the generous space provided, and he held forth for two hours before the next preacher had his chance. Listeners came and went; mothers carried out crying babies; little boys believed that they would starve to death before they could get outside to the loaded dinner tables that were as much a part of Big Meeting as the preaching.”

In 1928-30, The Clinch County News published a series of articles on the history of Union Church, portions of which are excerpted below:

HISTORY OF OLD UNION CHURCH
Established 1825

Chapter I

Union Primitive Baptist Church, the mother of all the churches of this faith in this immediate section of Georgia, was organized or constituted October 1st, 1825.  The presbytery consisted of Elders Fleming Bates and Mathew Albritton.

As is well known, the church is located on the banks of the Alapaha River about 1 1/2 miles south of Lakeland formerly old Milltown.  It stands to-day where it has always stood for the past 108 years (1933). The cemetery close by contains the graves of many pioneers and old citizens of east Lowndes, southeast Berrien and western Clinch counties.  Baptisms have always taken place in the nearby river, it not being over one hundred yards from the church to the river.  A high bluff with a sharp bend in the river’s course is the visitor’s introduction after he has passed the church.  Several steady-flowing springs of fine drinking water are to be found on the banks, and eminating from the walls of the bluff.  Part of the bluff slopes off to the river’s edge at the river bend thus making an ideal place for baptism purposes.

The little log-house which was the first building on the site of the present church, had come to be known as Carter’s Meeting House prior to the organization of the church.  For some months prior it had been the scene of monthly meetings or services, and it was the expression of the desire of the settlers to have some kind of divine services in their midst, for there was not a church to be found of any denomination from the Altamaha River to the Florida and Alabama lines.  The settlers in this immediate vicinity were more numerous than in most of the settlements, and many of them Carters.  The meeting-house took its name from old man Jesse Carter and he probably gave the land and his boys had a hand in building the original log house to hold services in.   The earliest settlers had only been living here four years at the time, while the most of them had not living here hardly a year.  Knights, Carters, Giddens and Lees made up most of the settlers west of the river while on the east side of the river were to be found Tomlinsons, Sirmans and Fenders, Corbitts and Mathises.  Further down the river could be found the Wetheringtons, Swilleys, Peters, Walkers, and Roberts.

Elder William A. Knight, at that time a layman, was one of the leading spirits in the formation of the church.  As already stated it was Elders Bates and Albritton who presided at the organization of the church, but to “Old Father Knight” as many people called him in his lifetime, may be attribute more than anyone else the religious activities of the community in those days when the first settlers were moving in.  He led in prayer and in song, and when the preacher failed to keep an appointment because of lurking Indians, high waters or other providential hindrances it was Bro. Knight who took charge and carried on the service. Five years after the church was organized he was licensed to preach the Gospel and two years later (1832) he was ordained to the full Gospel ministry.

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

 Union Church had been constituted under the auspices of the Piedmont Primitive Baptist Association, but by 1827 the establishment of a number of new churches prompted a desire to divide the association.  Fleming Bates and Matthew Albritton, of  Union Church, were appointe to lead the local organization of  “seven Baptist churches situated between the Alapaha and Flint River” into the new Ochlocknee Primitive Baptist Association.  The Ochlocknee Association grew rapidly and by 1833 included 35 churches and 1,010 members.   William A. Knight was appointed to travel these new churches to instruct them on their duties and responsibilities to the Association. By 1835,  when Union Church and other churches of south Georgia and north Florida again sought to divide from the Ochlocknee Primitive Baptist Association, Knight served on the presbytery in the organization of the new Suwannee  Primitive Baptist Association.

Clinch County News
September 20, 1929

HISTORY OF OLD UNION CHURCH
Established 1825

Chapter XIII.

As has been stated before, the minutes of the church from the beginning in 1825 to 1832 have been lost.  We understand, however, that Rev. William A. Knight was the first pastor as well as the guiding hand of the church during these early years.  It is certain that he was one of the charter members and the only ordained minister holding his membership with the church during that time. Assuming that he was pastor during those seven years, the list of pastors up to recently [1929], is as follows:

  • William A. Knight                          1825-1832
  • Matthew Albritton (died)              1832-1850
  • William A. Knight (died)               1850-1860
  • Ansel Parrish                                1860-1865
  •                               (No record, 1865 to 1873)
  • Timothy William Stallings            1873-1888
  • Wm. H. Tomlinson                       1888-1900
  • Timothy William Stallings           1900-1902
  • A. A. Knight                                     1902-1907
  • J. A. Chitty                                       1907-1911
  • Aaron A. Knight                                1911-1913
  • Isham Albert Wetherington                        1913-1915
  • Orville A. Knight                          1915-1916
  • E. R. Rhoden                                1916-1918
  • I. A. Wetherington (died)         1918-1923
  • Wm. H. Tomlinson                    1923-1925
  • Orville A. Knight                        1925-1927

If the writer could properly write the life of these earnest consecrated servants of the Lord, it would be equal to writing an account of the religious life of this section in the Primitive Baptist denomination.  Fearless in fighting sin and bold in preaching Christ and faithful in contending for the Faith, they have served nobly and well and unborn generations will bear witness to the fruits of their work.  With few exceptions the writer has not sufficient biographical data at hand now to write of their individual lives, but we know of their godly records.  We hope to write later of the lives of these great preachers.

Church Clerks

The clerks of the church likewise contain a list of fine men, known throughout their communities and  counties for their good, upright lives, and their staunch Christian characters. We do not know who the first clerk was.

Elected

  • Owen Smith              September 7, 1832
  • Joshua Sykes              January 12, 1839
  • Isaac D. Hutto                  April 13, 1845
  • William Patten                  May 10, 1851
  • William Lastinger              July 8, 1854
  • John Studstill                       Jan 9, 1858
  • William Giddens                May 7, 1863
  • E. R. Rhoden                 October 8, 1891
  • W. R. Rhoden         November 10, 1894
  • J. L. Robertson        February 12, 1898
  • Wm. J. Knight                  May 12, 1900
  • J. A. Weaver                 August 10, 1901
  • G. L. Robinson      September 12, 1924
  • J. A. Weaver          September 12, 1925
  • J. S. Shaw                     October 8, 1926

A good portion of the minutes is in the handwriting of assistant clerks.  These assistant clerks were generally elected by the church, but of late years there have been no assistants.  The list of assistant clerks is as follows:

  • William A. Knight          1834-1837
  • Levi Drawdy                  1837-1848
  • James Walker                1853-1854
  • Richard H. Burkhalter 1861-1862
  • John P. Tomlinson       1887-1900
  • John T. Watson            1900-1902

Deacons

The church has had but few deacons during its 105 years [as of 1929] of existence.  There were apparently never over two at the time, and when elected they served for life unless sooner dismissed by letter or otherwise.  The list given below is full of as fine men as ever lived in this section.  We do not in the list make any attempt to show how long they served except in those cases where they died members of the church.  We do not know who the first deacons of the church were.  List follows:

Bro. Edmund Mathis, one of the deacons, having removed his membership, Bro. Joshua Lee was elected in his place March 10, 1833, and ordained April 13, 1833 by Elders Peacock, Friar and Knight.

September 6, 1839, Bro. Edmund Mathis was received back into the membership by letter from Concord church, Hamilton County, Fla., and acted as a deacon until dismissed again by letter April 10, 1841.

On June 13, 1841, brethren Jacob Hughes and John Lee were ordained deacons.  Members of the presbytery not shown by minutes.

March 13, 1852, brethren Richard H. Burkhalter and J. D. Peters were elected deacons.  They were ordained June 12, 1852 but the minutes do not show who constituted the presbytery.  Bro. Burkhalter died in 1862 and Bro. Peters also died a member but we do not know when.

The minutes do not show any further ordination of deacons until 1891 when Bro. John P. Tomlinson was elected on May 9th.  On June 13, 1891 he was ordained by Elders J. A. O’steen and T. W. Stallings.

On December 9, 1899, Bro. James L. Robinson was elected a deacon but was never ordained.

On November 10, 1906 Bro. Israel G. Carter was elected a deacon and ordained January 12, 1907 by Elders B.P. Lovett from Salem Church, I. A. Wetherington from Unity church,  A. A. Knight , the pastor.

On October 9, 1909, Bro. J. A. Weaver was elected deacon, and ordained February 12, 1910 by Elders Wetherington, Chitty and A. A. Knight .

Treasurers

The minutes do not disclose that the church ever had any treasurer until 1909 whem on October 9th, Bro. J. A. Weaver was elected as such.

Historic Marker - Union Church, organized 1825. Sarah and William A. Knight were founding members.

Historic Marker – Union Church, organized 1825. Sarah and William A. Knight were founding members.

Some other members of Union Church:

  • William Hughes  – joined by letter, December 8, 1838
  • William Wesley Johnson – baptized August 10, 1839
  • Amelia Sherley Johnson – baptized June 13, 1840
  • John Lee – joined by letter, June 8, 1839
  • Elender Wetherington Lee – joined by letter, June 8, 1838
  • Joshua Lee – constituting member, October1, 1825
  • Martha Ford Lee – constituting member, October1, 1825
  • Moses C. Lee – baptized September 11, 1841
  • Jincey Register Lee – baptized September 10, 1854
  • Thomas Mathis – united 1839, dismissed by letter December 12, 1840
  • Eady Mathis – united 1839, dismissed by letter December 12, 1840
  • Tyre Mathis – joined by letter April 12, 1828, dismissed by letter December 11, 1847
  • Nancy Lee Mathis – joined by letter April 12, 1828, dismissed by letter December 11, 1847
  • Mehala Rice Monk – joined by letter 1838
  • William Patten – baptized September 9, 1848, dismissed by letter March 11, 1854 to organize Empire Church

 

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John Gaskins, Pioneer of Old Berrien

John Gaskins (1802 – 1865)

Grave marker of John Gaskins (1802-1865), Riverside Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave marker of John Gaskins (1802-1865), Riverside Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

 John Gaskins was one of the early pioneers of Berrien County, settling along with his father, Fisher Gaskins,  and brothers near present day Bannockburn, GA.  They made their homes on the west side of the Alapaha River about 16 miles distant from today’s Ray City, GA location, settling there about the same time the Knights and Clements were homesteading in the area around Beaverdam Creek.

John Gaskins was born June 29, 1802 in Warren County, GA. He was the eldest child of Fisher Gaskins and Rhoda Rowe, and a grandson of Thomas Gaskins, Revolutionary Soldier.  When John was around four or five years old, his parents  and grandparents  moved  the family back to Beaufort District, South Carolina, from whence they had originated.  The family appears there in Beaufort District in the Census of 1810. By the time of the 1810 enumeration, John Gaskins’ parents had given him four siblings – two brothers and two sisters.

But immediately following the birth of her fifth child, John’s mother died.  He was eight years old at the time.  His widowed father packed up the five young children and moved the family back to Warren County, GA.  There, on January 17, 1811 his father married Mary Lacy. Her father, Archibald Lacy, was also a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and her brother was the Reverend John B. Lacy, who would later become a prominent  Primitive Baptist Minister.  Around this time John’s father was expanding his livestock business and began looking for good grazing land for his growing herds of cattle.

By 1812, John Gaskins’ father moved the family to Telfair County, GA where he acquired good grazing land for his cattle. His father and his uncle, David Gaskins, were very successful in the cattle business and soon had large herds, not only in Telfair County where they were enumerated in 1820, but also in Walton and other surrounding counties where good natural pasturage could be had.

Around 1821, the Gaskins again moved their families and cattle herds to the south, crossing the Ocmulgee River at Mobley’s Bluff and pushing into the new frontier of Appling County,GA.  John, now a young man of 17 or 18 years old, made the move with his family.  His uncle, David Gaskins, halted in an area of Appling County known as “The Roundabout”, situated in present day Atkinson County, where he found good range land for his cattle. John’s father took his herd across the Alapaha River into then Irwin County at a location that for many years was known as the John Ford.

The Fisher Gaskins clan, John’s father and his brothers, settled west of the Alapaha River a little south of present day Bannockburn, GA near the site of Riverside Church. On April 14, 1825  John Gaskins married Mary Pollie Barrow in Irwin County, GA.      This was about 15 miles north of the area where the Knights and Clements were settling their families above Grand Bay, near present day Ray City, GA.  John and Mary Gaskins established their homestead just to the north of his father’s place. By the end of 1825, the Georgia Legislature divided Irwin County and from the southern portion formed the new county of Lowndes.

On August 11, 1826 Mary Gaskins delivered to John his first son, Gideon Gaskins. A second son arrived on February 16, 1828, whom they named Fisher Jackson Gaskins; Fisher – after his paternal grandfather, and Jackson perhaps after Andrew Jackson, the Hero of New Orleans who would be elected President that year.

John Gaskins appeared as a head of household in Lowndes County in the Census of 1830, as did his father, Fisher Gaskins.  About 1829 or 1830, John’s father moved his cattle across the county and settled on Lot 91 of the 9th Land District, which was subsequently known as the Chambliss place, and later became the home of George D. Griffin.

About 1831 a contagious disease struck Fisher Gaskins’ herd, killing off several hundred head of cattle and inciting the elder Gaskins to seek new pastures yet again. With the help of hired hands, he drove his remaining cattle into North Florida to settle in the area of Alachua County, FL.   John and Mary stayed behind in Lowndes County (now Berrien), as well as John’s brothers,  William and Harmon.

“When he moved to Florida, he [Fisher Gaskins] left much of his herds behind in Georgia to be looked after by his sons, John, William, and Harmon who by that time were grown.  These herds multiplied and in turn, other herds were formed and placed about at various points in what is now Clinch, Echols and Lowndes counties and over in Florida, under the management of herdsmen, who for their services were paid at the end of the year a percentage of the proceeds of the cattle sold that year.  The beef cattle were driven to Savannah and other distant places each year and sold. This arrangement with the herds and herdsmen continued with the elder Gaskins making periodic visits of inspection until his death, after which the three sons in Georgia received the Georgia herds in a division of the estate.”

Cattlemen like John Gaskins sold their Berrien County livestock at points like Savannah, GA or  Centerville on the St. Mary’s River, or Jacksonville, Florida.

John Gaskins fought in the Indian War 1836-1838, serving in Levi J. Knight’s Militia Company.   Georgia historian Folks Huxford wrote,  “His home was visited  by the savages on one occasion while the family was absent, and a good deal of vandalism and theft was committed.”   John Gaskins and his brother William were among those who took part in the Battle of Brushy Creek, one of the last real engagements with the Creek Indians in this region.

At age 38, John Gaskins and family were enumerated in the Census of 1840, still living in the northeast area of old Lowndes county now known as Berrien County. His brother, William, was living next door, and nearby were the homesteads of David Clements and William Clements, and other early settlers.

In 1850 the Gaskins remained in  Lowndes County.  Enumerated nearby the Gaskins home place were the residences of General Levi J. Knight, William Patten, Hardeman Sirmans, David Clements, Moses C. Lee, and other early settlers. John Gaskins was a farmer, with $600 in real estate.

Around 1855 the Gaskins were involved in some sort of public disturbance in Lowndes county.  Hardeman Sirmons, Benjamin S. Garrett, Drewry Garrett, Will Garrett, John Gaskins, William Gaskins, Gideon Gaskins, and Lemuel Gaskins were all brought before the Lowndes Superior Court for their involvement in a riot.  In 1856, however, the Gaskins and their neighbors were cut out of Lowndes county and placed in the new county of Berrien. The defendants were able to have their case  transferred to Berrien County in June of 1856, and apparently escaped serious consequences.

In the Census of 1860 John Gaskins appeared on the enumeration sheets listed next to Thomas M. Ray, who would begin construction of Ray’s Millpond just a few years later.

From 1858 to 1861, John Gaskins served as a Justice of the Peace in Berrien County.

During the Civil War five of his sons joined Georgia Volunteer Infantry regiments: Fisher J. Gaskins, William Gaskins, Lemuel Gaskins, Joseph Gaskins, and Harris Gaskins, .

Children of John Gaskins and Mary Pollie Barrow:

  1. Gideon Gaskins, born 1826, Berrien County, GA; married Sarah Knight (July 17, 1831 – February 03, 1902); buried Riverside Baptist Church, Berrien County, GA.
  2. Fisher J. Gaskins, Sr., born February 16, 1828, Berrien County, GA; married Elizabeth Sirmans, daughter of Abner Sirmans; served in Company I, 50th GA Regiment; died November 14, 1908, Berrien County, GA; Buried at Riverside Baptist Church.
  3. John Gaskins, Jr., born January 16, 1830, Berrien County, GA; married Catherine Calder; died May 6, 1886.
  4. Emily Gaskins, born 1832, Berrien County, GA; married Joseph Newbern.
  5. William Gaskins, born March 5, 1833; married Elizabeth Clements, daughter of David G. Clements; served in Company I, 54th GA Regiment; died August 27, 1910; buried Empire Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.
  6. Lemuel Elam Gaskins, born 1836, Berrien County, GA; married Sarah Ann Sirmans, daughter of Abner Sirmans; served in Company I, 50th GA Regiment;  died October 26, 1862, Richmond, VA; buried Richmond VA, memorial marker at Riverside Baptist Church.
  7. Joseph Gaskins, born April 28, 1840, Berrien County, GA; married Harriet Sirmans, daughter of James Sirmans; served in Company I, 50th GA Regiment; died February 4, 1911; Buried at Riverside Baptist Church.
  8. Harmon Gaskins, born 1842, Berrien County, GA; died young.
  9. Harrison  “Harris” Gaskins, born April 5, 1842, Berrien County, GA.; married Roxanna “Roxie” Sirmans, daughter of James Sirmans, on April 17, 1862; served in Company K, 29th GA Regiment; died January 7, 1926; Buried at Riverside Baptist Church
  10. Bryant Gaskins, born 1846, Berrien County, GA

Clinch County News
April 23, 1937

John Gaskins – 1802-1865

Oldest son of Fisher Gaskins by his first wife. Came to Berrien while a youth, grew to manhood here. His wife was a daughter of Joseph Barrow… Immediately after their marriage John Gaskins and his wife settled on the Alapaha River a short distance north of the old home of his father and near where Bannockburn now is, and there they spent their entire married life together.   The death of John Gaskins occurred at this home July 18, 1865; and 23 years later, January 6, 1888 his widow joined her husband in the spirit-land, at the age of 83.  Both are buried at Riverside Cemetery and their graves are substantially marked. They were the parents of a large family of sons and daughters and their living descendants in this county to-day are very numerous.

John Gaskins was a man who spent his life at home and gave his time and attention to his avocation.  The farm was made self-sustaining; work was the rule and grim want never came to stare the inmates of this farm-home in the face.  Food for family and stock was well and abundantly supplied and the excellence of the range went a long way in helping him to provide meat for family and lay up money from the sales of beef-cattle.  Deer and turkeys were plentiful and could be taken at any time. Fish abounded in the river and with all of these good things around life on the frontier was not so bad after all.  Hogs grew almost wild in the hammocks and only required a few weeks’ finishing off with corn or field crops to be ready for slaughter. Cattle were let to go at large all the time except they were penned regularly for about six weeks during the months of April and May so that they may be marked and branded and kept under control; and the annual sale of these beef-cattle brought the gold in their homes against the rainy-day and old age.

John Gaskins took part in driving the last of the wandering bands of Indians from Georgia soil, and one of the last engagements with the redskins fought on Berrien county soil took place near the home of this old pioneer.  His home suffered from Indian predations to the extent that the feather beds were taken out, the ticks ripped open, the feathers emptied and scattered and the ticks carried away with some other articles of the household.  Some of these articles were recovered, among which was a beautiful pitcher which had been treasured as an heirloom for many years.  The place where the pitcher was recovered after it had been cast aside by the Indians in their flight across the Alapaha River, is known to this day among the local inhabitants as “Pitcher Slough.”

Following the death of John Gaskins in 1865 his sons Fisher J. and John, Jr. served as the administrators of his estate.

Milledgeville Federal Union
August 21, 1866 — page 4

Georgia, Berrien County.
Two months after date application will be made to the Court of Ordinary of said county for leave to sell the lands belonging to the estate of John Gaskins, Sen., deceased, for the benefit of the heirs and creditors of said deceased.
F. J. Gaskins,
John Gaskins, Jr.   Adm’r’s.
July 2d, 1866.        WEC       50 9c

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