A note on the Estate of William Anderson Knight

William Anderson Knight

William Anderson Knight, forefather of the large and influential Knight family of Wiregrass Georgia,  was among the earliest settlers of Lowndes County, GA and the first to settle at Grand Bay near the present day town of Ray City, GA. He and his wife, Sarah Cone Knight, were constituting members of the primitive baptist Union Church which became the mother church of all the primitive baptist congregations in this section of Georgia. He served as a state senator in the Georgia Assembly, and was the father of General Levi J. Knight. William Anderson Knight  died December 8, 1859, the settlement of his estate extending into the years of the Civil War.

Grave of William Anderson Knight, Union Church cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of William Anderson Knight, Union Church cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Allen Jones,  husband of Keziah Knight and son-in-law of William A. Knight,  secured a judgement against lands owned by Dr. John W. Turner to satisfy debts owed to the estate.

Savannah Daily Morning News, December 6, 1862. Transactions on the estate of William Anderson Knight.

Savannah Daily Morning News, December 6, 1862. Legal advertisement for property seizure to satisfy debts owed to the estate of William Anderson Knight.

Savannah Daily Morning News
December 6, 1862

Berrien Sheriff’s Sale

Will be sold, before the Court House door, in Nashville, Berrien county, on the first TUESDAY in January, within the legal hours of sale, the following property, to wit: Lots of Land No. 517, 496 and 497, in the Tenth District of said Berrien county, levied on as the property of John W. Turner, to satisfy a fi. fa. issued from the Superior Court of Clinch county, in favor of Allen Jones, who sues for the use of himself and the heirs of William A Knight, deceased. This November 12, 1862.  

nov 17         JOHN M. FUTCH, Sheriff

The land lots referenced in the legal advertisement were of 490 acres each.   Dr. Turner’s property was seized during the Civil War while he was serving as a private with the Berrien Light Infantry, Company I, 50th Georgia Regiment.  At the time of the seizure, Turner was in Virginia in a hospital with smallpox.

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Georgia Prohibition – No Bottle in the House; No Soda at the Fount

Did Berrien’s own Jonathan P. Knight almost nix Coca Cola in Georgia? Knight grew up at Ray City, GA before moving to the Berrien county seat at Nashville. He was elected to Georgia Assembly first as state representative and later as state senator, and was known for his fiery activism against drinking. He was chairman of the Temperance Committee in the Georgia Senate and was outspoken about the prevalence of drinking in the very halls of the Georgia Assembly.

Jonathan Perry Knight, 1902.

Jonathan Perry Knight, 1902.

J. P. Knight, of Berrien was among the foremost champions for statewide prohibition on the sale of liquor, which was passed in Georgia in July 1907.  Knight didn’t think the law went far enough and was among the first to point out that the law contained very large loopholes, namely, that liquor could continue to be served in social clubs where members kept their own stock in private lockers.  Knight’s bill introduced July 17, 1907 was aimed at closing this loophole.

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Knight to Present Bill to Banish Club Lockers

Those of the clubmen of Georgia who boast a convivial liking for the cocktail, the highball, or the mint julep, as the particular taste may dictate, and have been consoling themselves with the fond belief that, after all, prohibition would not mean such a hardship forthem, as at the worst they would be able to keep their well-stocked lockers, where they would always be easy of access, have a rude jar coming to them, if Senator Knight of the sixth district, chairman of the temperance committee of the upper house, has his way.
     The former representative from Berrien has in his desk a bill the purpose of which is to declare that any place in which liquors are kept for sale or use, whether by individuals or corporations, is a tippling house, and consequently in violation of the prohibition bill which he expects to see entered on the statute books of Georgia.
     If this bill is passed, it will not only be illegal for clubs to supply their members with drinks, but it will be impossible for them to provide lockers in which members may keep their own liquors and mixing materials.  It will then be possible for a man to get a drink only within the confines of his own home.

But some thought the state prohibition laws were too tight – Prohibition could have ended the sales of soft drinks in Georgia as well as alcoholic beverages.

Ocala Star, July 17, 1907 reports J.P. Knight's bill for prohibition

Ocala Star, July 17, 1907 reports J.P. Knight’s bill for prohibition

Ocala Florida
Thursday July 18, 1907

GEORGIA WILL BE A GEM

———–

Of Purest Ray Serene in Prohibition’s Diadem

———-

No Bottle in the House; No Soda at the Fount – The People will be proper to Climb Zion’s Happy Mount

Atlanta, July 16. – Senator J. P. Knight, of the seventh, from Berrien county, chairman of the state temperance committee, says he will introduce a bill tomorrow, not only to prevent the sale of liquor in private clubs but to make it a misdemeanor for any member of any club to keep a bottle in his private locker.  He thinks there is no question about its going through along with state prohibition.


Soft Drinks Will be Scarce

Atlanta, July 16. – It is claimed if the state prohibition bill passes practically all the soft drinks manufactured Georgia will have to go out of business. A small quantity of alcohol is required for the purpose of preserving the syrups, which are the basis of them, and with state prohibition in effect it will be impossible to secure it. – Savannah News.

Georgia’s prohibition law went into effect in 1908, although Knight’s proposal to tighten the prohibition  was not adopted.  For a while at least, alcohol remained available in Georgia’s social clubs, and while the presence of alcohol in sodas became widely known, the demand for soft drinks soared under Prohibition and ever after.

1907-aug-1-bainbridge-dem-prohibition-and-soda

“SOFT DRINKS.”

     Apropos of prohibition, word comes from Washington that the Internal Revenue Bureau has discovered that in many of the so-called soft drinks dispensed from soda fountains there is present alcohol in larger percent than in the same sized drink of beer.
     If the man with the soft thirst could take a deep draught from the onyx covered receptables in which certain extracts and essences are concealed in soda fountains, he would consume a drink probably from 40 to 60 percent alcohol. With the addition of fizz and the other things that are artfully welded to make a soft drink the precentage is cut down considerably.
    Local druggists, it is said, may expect to hear that the internal revenue officers have determined that mixers of these extracts and essences with carbonated water shall pay taxes for the privilege of competing with the regular bars. The internal revenue laws says that before a man may mix a drink containing alcohol he must take out a rectifier’s license.
    Now the soda water man takes essences, extracts and syrups containing alcohol, and adds water to taste to produce a beverage, and is rumored that the internal revenue commissioners will be instructed to issue rules so worded to compel druggists who desire to use the alcoholic essences to become rectifiers and also retail dealers in spirits.
     It is claimed that in some soft drinks served from soda fountains there appears 4 percent of alcohol, while beer is claimed to contain less than 3 percent.  Most of the soda fountains in Bainbridge, however, use almost entirely the fruit juices, which contain not more than a fraction of 1 percent of alcohol.
     Druggists state, however, that some extracts are still used and that in some of them the “spike” is two-thirds of the entire fluid. A small drink of the pure extract would serve much the same purpose as several mint juleps and gin rickeys mixed in the regular bars.

The Georgia legislature turned its attention to taxing the “bring your own bottle” clubs,  thus preserving the revenue of the state, the privilege of the wealthy, the future of Coca Cola, and the appearance of temperance for the lower classes.

For a time the legislature offered the “wets” some loopholes—near-beer saloons serving low-alcohol drinks were permitted, as were alcoholic beverages in locker-clubs—but these were closed in 1915. Georgia ratified the Eighteenth Amendment for national prohibition three years later. It did not vote for repeal of national prohibition, but after that occurred, Georgia repealed its own statewide prohibition in 1935. –New Georgia Encyclopedia

Even after the passage of national Prohibition, the Demon Alcoholmoonshine liquor, the kind that simply makes a man forget himself and everything else – was widely available in south Georgia, and public drunkenness in Ray City led to “free fights and a good deal of threatening and a considerable amount of gun play.” It must have been a personal embarrassment to Jonathan Perry Knight that in his own home county of Berrien the consumption of alcohol remained so rampant.

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An Inquest Into the Death of Jesse Webb

Jesse Webb Murdered by Ben Furlong

As previously told,  Jesse Webb was the last victim of Berrien County desperado Ben W. Furlong.  Webb was  shot, knifed, brutalized and, after three days of agony, finally bludgeoned to death with a sledge hammer on September 9, 1886 at Furlong’s Mill.  The mill was situated at Sniff, GA on the route of the Brunswick & Albany Railroad near the county line between Berrien and Coffee counties.

 

1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-inquest
Alapaha Star

October 2, 1886

THE INQUEST

Wednesday morning  [September 22, 1886] acting coroner J. A. Slater and a jury of eight men repaired to Furlong’s mill, five miles east of Alapaha. On arriving there several witnesses were summoned. Jim Simmons, col., was the first witness sworn. He testified that the down freight on Tuesday, September 7th put a colored man off and the conductor told Furlong to take him and work him. The man said he —- want work there. When —- left the colored man started —- it. Furlong told him if —–not come back he would f— him full of shot, went in — the commissary to get his gun The negro came back and F—ong handcuffed him and put Lo—- – white man, as guard over —. About an hour from night f— — –gro made a break for liberty. —

— ran to a swamp seve— hu—– yards south of —— —— —– —-
Furlong was about the —– tance behind Lofton. The —ness ran after Furlong, hoping to keep him from killing the ——. Soon after the pursuers and -ursued were lost to sight in the swamp. The witness heard a gun or pistol shot and stopped. In the pursuit Furlong carried a double barreled gun. In a few minutes he returned, without the gun, and said to the witness, “If you breathe a word about this I will kill you.” He afterwards told witness, “If you mention a word of this affair to a living being I know three men that will swear you did the shooting, and your neck will snap.” Tuesday night [September 7, 1886] Furlong, Tom Sharon and J. M. Lofton took Simmons down to where the wounded man lay. They were all armed with double-barreled guns. When they reached the wounded man they told Simmons to assist Sharon in getting the handcuffs off him. While they were thus engaged Furlong drew his knife and tried to cut the wounded man’s throat. Simmons caught his arm and begged him not to kill the man. He then made a lunge at Simmons’ — — —– —- —-

1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-inquest-2him. Wednesday morning [September 8, 1886] Simmons took the wounded man a bottle of water. The man begged him to take him to one of the shanties. Furlong refused to let him bring him. Later that day he told Lofton the man ought to have something to eat. He was helpless but could talk. The witness did not see the wounded man after Wednesday night.

Thursday night [September 9, 1886] Furlong set for Simmons and told him he wanted him to go with him that night. Simmons told him he was too sick to go.

Several other witnesses were examined, but we have only space for the most important.

Mr. James Cross, white, testified that he came at night Tuesday the 7th, and that Furlong asked him to go and stay at his house that night, as his wife was frightened about something. He did so. About 9 o’clock Furlong came in but remained only a minute. Wednesday night [September 8, 1886] Furlong, Lofton and Sharon stayed out nearly all night. Thursday night they left about 8 o’clock, returned about 9 o’clock, changed clothes, putting on their worst clothes and old shoes, and left again. They were absent until three o’clock. Witness did not –e —- — — morning their pants were wet and muddy to their knees and Sharon’s coat was wet to the pockets. He questioned them but they would not tell where they had been or what they had done.

None of the witnesses saw the man after he died, nor were any of them willing to say that he had been killed, although they felt satisfied that such was the case. The main actors in this brutal tragedy were absent, one in his grave and the other two had fled.

After hearing the testimony of the coroner, the jury and a number of white and colored men scoured the woods and bays and branches for miles, in search of the missing man, but without success. Not a trace was found as to where his body had been hidden.

When the party returned to the mill, it was given as a rumor that the man had been buried in the horse lot, just back of the commissary

Several men, with iron rods, went to the lot and probed it. In one place the rod went down 1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-5— feet in loose earth, but it was not thought at the time it be the man’s grave. It being late in the afternoon [Wednesday, September 22, 1886] the jury adjourned to Saturday, to await the arrival of important witnesses. Just as Alapaha was reached Mr. James Cross came galloping in and announced that the body had been found in the horse lot where the iron rod had sunk in the ground. Several colored men were sent back to guard the body till Thursday morning.

Thursday [September 23, 1886] about nine o’clock the coroner and jury returned to Furlong’s mill. The jury at once repaired to the horse lot and were soon at work exhuming the body of Jesse Webb, this being the name by which the murdered man was said to be known.

After digging a depth of two —and a half or three feet, in the —- –st corner of the lot, between —- — —d and the forage house —- — -ands near the railroad —- —- body was re—– —– —- on his —- — —- —————————- out property. Decomposition had set in and his flesh would peel off at a touch. With the aid of crocus sacks, which were placed under him, the end of which extended out on either side, he was lifted out of the grave and placed in a box.  On examination the skull was found crushed in on the left side just above the ear, seemingly with a large hammer, perhaps a sledge-hammer. On the right side, a short distance from the forehead, and about an inch from the center of the head the skull was also crushed in, the hole being fully an inch and a half in circumference. In the man’s mouth was a roll of waste, such as is used for packing the boxes on car wheels.  The evidence showed that Furlong, Lofton and Sharon were at the commissary about midnight Thursday night, when Furlong asked first Gammage and then Simmons to go with him that night.  What they did after that is left to conjecture, but the presumptive evidence is that they prepared themselves and proceeded to where the wounded negro lay, rammed the waste into his mouth and down his throat, so that he could not cry out when struck, and then crushed in his skull, dragged him a hundred yards through the woods — buggy, hauled him to the lot and buried him.  1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-6All this was done inside of three hours.

The jury of the inquest will sit in Alapaha to-day, when doubtless a verdict will be reached.

This is beyond doubt the most brutal murder that has ever darkened the annals of out county.  This unoffending negro was handcuffed and when he made an effort to regain his freedom, was pursued and shot after he was caught. Paralyzed in every limb, he lay in a dense swamp from about an hour before sundown, Tuesday evening, September 7th, until the following Thursday night at 12 o’clock. During all this time he had one drink of water and one meal, notwithstanding he was less than four hundred yards from several houses. Thursday night, at midnight, three white demons, braced with whiskey, which was the real cause of the crime, advanced through the gloomy swamp to where the helpless man lay and murdered him in the manner already stated.

Furlong, the leader in this horrible murder, is in his grave, but his accomplices are still at large. No time should be lost in bringing them to justice.

The first part of this article was — — would be an inquest.

Nathan Bridges and Jesse Woolbright, two colored men of this place, deserve honorable mention for their unceasing efforts to aid the jury in finding the body and for their attention to the jury while hearing evidence.

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The Ghost of Ben Furlong, Berrien County Desperado

More on Berrien County, GA Desperado, Benjamin William Furlong

Back Story on Benjamin William Furlong

The Vanceville Affair

Ben Furlong’s Ghost Haunted Conscience of Berrien Residents

Southern Georgia: Railroad Pamphlet

The Haints of Berrien County

More Haints of Berrien County

Alapaha Star Reports 1886 Demise of Ben Furlong

Ben Furlong (circa 1854-1886),
Desperado of Berrien County, GA

Ben Furlong was perhaps the most notorious outlaw ever known in Berrien County, GA. Furlong, a sawmill man when he wasn’t on the bottle, frequented the communities along the tracks of the Brunswick & Western Railroad – Sniff, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Enigma and Vanceville.

brunswick-and-western

The Brunswick & Western Railroad linked the communities of northern Berrien County with Brunswick, GA to the east and Albany GA to the west, and connected with the larger Plant Railway.

Furlong was a philandererwife beater and a killer, wanted for dozens of criminal charges including the shooting of B&W engineer Chuck Brock and passenger Will Harrell, and cutting the throat of another passenger.  It was said he committed his first murder at the age of 15. Some said after his demise his ghost haunted the scene of his final, heinous crime.

After his September 24, 1886 death  Furlong’s infamy was literally told around the world. But the most detailed accounting of  Furlong’s final days was published in the Alapaha Star, Berrien County’s own “splendid newspaper” edited by Irishman J. W. Hanlon (Hanlon had previously served as editor of the Berrien County News,  Albany Medium, and later edited the Quitman Sun and wrote humorous works under the pen name Bob Wick).

 

1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-1a

Alapaha Star

October 2, 1886

MURDER AND SUICIDE

A Negro and — the Body In His Stock Lot – Suicide —- The Negroe’s Body Found —- —- – Inquest – A Horrified —- Etc.

Friday evening of last week [September 24, 1886], after the Star had gone to press news reached town that B. W. Furlong, who has been conducting a saw mill at sniff in this county, was dead, from the effects of a dose of laudanum, taken with suicidal intent. Before going to his room about twelve o’clock he asked his wife to forgive him for all he had ever done, and told her that he would go away from there in a few days and begin a new life. He called his children to him and spoke kindly to them and asked them not to disturb him, as he wanted to take a long sleep. He then went to his room, closed the door and, it is supposed, took the fatal dose. Later in the afternoon some one entered the —m, on hearing a strange —– — —– — dead.

Mr. Furlong had been drinking heavily for some weeks, and his creditors, knowing his business to be in a shaky condition, a day or two before his death had his property attached. Mr. Silas O’Quin, of this place, went down Friday morning to levy on some of his property, and found him rational, but wild-looking. He informed Mr. O’Quin that he had shot a negro about two weeks previous to that time and it was supposed that he was dead. This conversation occured about 11 a. m.

Mr. Furlong’s body was taken to Waresboro Sunday morning [September 26, 1886] for interment.

Immediately after his death rumors of the killing of the negro began to circulate, and on Friday evening [September 24, 1886], for the first time, they reached Alapaha. It seems that Furlong had been short of hands for several weeks.  A negro boarded the B. & W. R. R. at some point and stated that he was hunting work, and that he had no1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-2a money. The conductor, knowing that Furlong needed hands, took the negro to Sniff and turned him over to —- was taking to Furlong got off —-Willachoochee,
where he had work. The negro objected strenuously to being put off, and refused to work. Shortly after the train left, the negro walked off in the direction of Willacoochee, but was soon discovered by Furlong, who brought him back, handling him pretty rough in doing so.

Furlong then handcuffed him. That evening, after dark, according to report, the negro slipped out of the commissary and had gone some distance out on the tram-road when he was missed. He was still handcuffed. Lofton, a white man, in Furlong’s employ, discovered the fleeing negro and showed Furlong the direction he had taken. Furlong pursued him with a double-barreled gun, and in a short time the report of the gun was heard. Furlong returned without the negro. Before he reached the mill he met a mulatto who was a trusted employe, who had started after Furlong, hoping to prevent him from shooting the negro. Furlong told him that he had shot the negro and that if he divulged it, he, Furlong, had men there who would swear that he, the mulatto, did the shooting. Later in the night Lofton and the mulatto were sent by Furlong to the wounded man —- — ——— –. — ——- was shot through the neck and was completely paralyzed, except his tongue. When he saw Lofton he said: “if it hadn’t been for you Mr. Furlong would not have shot me.” This mulatto says he carried the wounded man something to eat later in the night. This was Tuesday night. It is reported that the negro lay there until Thursday night, when he disappeared. That night Furlong ordered out three mules, one for a wagon and two to be saddled. Where they went is not known, but the supposition is that the mission was to take the body to some deep water, weight it and sink it out of sight.

Lofton has fled, and his whereabouts are unknown. It is said that he is well connected in Atlanta. The mulatto is named Jim Simmons and is here.

Last Sunday [September 26, 1886] a crowd of whites and blacks went down to the Alapaha river and dragged for the body of the missing 1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-3anegro at the bridge at Moore’s old mill, but without success.

It is now rumored that the —- was concealed in a branch — of the mill.

But those rumors would turn out to be wrong, the mill branch concealed no body. An inquest into the fate of Jesse Webb was about to uncover the ultimate cause of death and the true location of the body.

 

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Richard McGowen, Slave Boy of Ray City

Richard McGowen, Slave Boy of Ray City

Richard McGowan (or McGowen), an African-American resident of the Ray City area for nearly 80 years, was born into slavery in Duplin County, NC about 1845.

Research on the ancestry of Richard McGowan conducted by Bryan Shaw resulted in an outline which in large part formed the material of this blog post.  Special thanks to Bryan for his contributions. His sources were the Will of William M. McGowan, Jr. 1792; U.S. Census records from 1790 through 1920 from Duplin County, North Carolina, and Berrien County, Georgia; also the Slave Schedule of 1850, 1866 Duplin County Cohabitation Record, tax digests of Berrien County, Georgia, and the estate papers of Hardeman Sirmans. Additional sources for this post include the 1860 Census  Schedule of Slave Inhabitants of Berrien County, GA; 1866 Marriage of Freed People, Duplin County; 1867 Berrien County Loyalty Oath and Voter Registrations; 1894 Colored Voter Registration, Rays Mill, GA; Roots, rocks and recollections by Nell Patten Roquemore, and the 1930 U.S. Census records of Berrien County, GA.  Information which is stated as fact is documented, and presented as most likely or probably. That which is conjecture is presented as a possibility. The history is presented in chronological order.

The McGowan Family

The origins of the family of the slave boy, Richard McGowan had their roots in Duplin County, North Carolina. Richard McGowan is believed to be the descendant of slaves owned by the William M. McGowan, Jr. family of that county.  Willliam M. McGowan, Jr. was born about 1745, son of William McGowen, Sr. of New Hanover County, North Carolina. William Jr. married Mary Dickson in 1767, and by their union they had 10 children: David (c1770), John (c1772), William (c1773), Robert (c1775), Edward (c1777), Michael (c1779), James (c1781), Joseph (c1782), George (c1789), and Alexander (c1790).

William McGowan, Jr. purchased and settled on land in the Grove Creek Swamp area between today’s Kenansville, North Carolina and North East Cape Fear River, north of Highway 24. One biography suggests his land was south of the swamp, however the McGowen African-American cemetery with many unmarked graves is located on the north side of the swamp, between Highway 11 and Sarecta on the Sarecta Road (GPS Coordinates: 34.810733 N 77.996659 W ). The white McGowen family (sometimes spelled McGowan or McGowin) owned hundreds if not thousands of acres of land in Duplin and Hanover counties, NC.  Based on the small number of slaves owned, it does not appear that they had large tracts of land under cultivation.This was consistent with most North Carolina farmers at that time.

William McGowan, Jr.  died in 1792, leaving a will dated October 5, 1792. The will of William M. McGowan, Jr. divided his estate among his children, including the slaves he owned at the time. He willed that his estate be kept together including the slaves until his children were schooled, and all of his debts were satisfied. However he did specifically identify one of his slaves, Will, to be included in son John’s portion of the estate. He also left a “negro wench named Roze” to his wife Mary. He also “lent” her one negro boy named Dick and one negro girl named Nancy, both to be divided amongst the children upon Mary’s death. His will states all his slaves who were not otherwise identified should also go to Mary to work his estate until his affairs were settled, and to be sold off as his minor children reached the age of majority or were married. Was this boy named Dick the son of Will and the grandfather of Richard “Dick” McGowan?

Thus, following the death of William McGowan, Jr. his children and widow continued as landowners and slaveholders in Duplin County, NC. In the 1800 census, son John McGowen is shown  as the owner of 12 slaves.  Son William McGowen owned 5 slaves, son Robert McGowen owned 4 slaves, and widow Mary McGowan owned 11 slaves.

By 1810, John McGowen had 13 slaves, William McGowen had 8 slaves, Mary McGowan had 9 slaves, and James McGowen had 3 slaves.

In the 1820 census, James McGowen had no slaves, Robert McGowen had 13 slaves, and William McGowen had 3 slaves.

By 1850,  the only McGowen slave owners in Duplin County were the sons of William M. McGowan, Jr.: William McGowen, James P. McGowen, and Joseph McGowen.

On the 1850 Census Slave Schedule, Joseph McGowen owned 26 slaves enumerated  as: a female 65, female 58, male 45, male 44, female 39, male 37, male 26, female 24, female 22, male 19, male 18, male 17, male 16, male 15, female 14, female 14, male 14, male 11, female 7, male 6, female 5, male 5, female 3, female 2, male 2, and a female 9 months. James P. McGowen owned 3 slaves – female 50, male 7, and male 3, and William McGowen owned 1 slave, male 18.

In addition to the slaves enumerated in 1850 in the possession of the McGowens,  it appears that two slave boys, Richard and Peter, had been sold by James, Joseph or William McGowan to a Duplin County neighbor, James Dobson.  James Dobson could have purchased the slave boys from any of the three McGowens, but the most likely would be Joseph McGowen as he had the largest slave population.

Marriages of the McGowan Slaves and the Parents of Slave boy Richard McGowan

The parentage of the slave boys Peter and Richard McGowan cannot be stated with certainty.  Records of the Freedman’s Bureau in post-bellum Duplin County, NC provide evidence that their parents may have been McGowen slaves named Thomas and Malvina.

As an almost universal condition of slavery, the slaves of the William M. McGowan family were denied the civil and religious convention of marriage. According to Reginald Washington, African American genealogy specialist at the National Archives and Records Administration, “Slave marriages had neither legal standing nor protection from the abuses and restrictions imposed on them by slaveowners. Slave husbands and wives, without legal recourse, could be separated or sold at their master’s will. Couples who resided on different plantations were allowed to visit only with the consent of their owners. Slaves often married without the benefit of clergy, and as historian John Blassingame states, “the marriage ceremony in most cases consisted of the slaves simply getting the master’s permission and moving into a cabin together.”

Almost immediately after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, federal authorities decreed that marriages of enslaved African-Americans were legitimate and had legal standing.  In some areas the newly created Freedman’s Bureau began issuing marriage licenses to former slaves. Within a year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation providing for the recognition of the marriages of former slaves.  According to Learn NC“The North Carolina office of the Freedmen’s Bureau published announcements outlining the provisions of the law: Any couple who appeared before a Justice of the Peace or Clerk of the Court and stated when they began living together as husband and wife, would be issued a certificate and would be considered lawfully married. Bureau officers worked to make all freedmen in their districts aware of the new rules and of the deadlines for complying with them. In response, tens of thousands of freed couples reported their marriages to county courts.”

On August 18, 1866,  two former slaves giving their names as Thomas McGowen and Malvina McGowen went before the court of Duplin County, NC  for “Acknowledgement” of their marriage  and registered their date of “commencement” as 1826.

Records of Thomas McGowan in the 1866 Marriage of Freed People, Duplin County, NC

Records of Thomas McGowen in the 1866 Marriage of Freed People, Duplin County, NC

There was also another Thomas McGowen in Duplin County who, on August 11, 1866, registered his marriage to Malvina Pearsall.  For this couple, the date of “commencement” was 1855. This Thomas McGowen appears to be the possible son of Thomas and Malvina McGowen who “commenced” their marriage in 1826. An interesting note about this couple is that in the 1870 U.S. Census they are living on or near the farm of John Quincy McGowen and Alexander D. McGowen, sons of Joseph McGowen and grandsons of William M. McGowan.

Was the older Thomas McGowen actually the father of Richard “Dick” McGowan? It is certainly a possibility.

The Dobson Connection

The first slave owner who can be identified with a high degree of certainty as having owned the slave boy Richard McGowan is James Dobson, of Duplin County, NC.  James Dobson was a son of Hezekiah and Elizabeth Davis Dobson. The Dobson property was just to the southeast of the lands owned by the descendants of William M. McGowan, near Kenansville, NC.  In fact, the Dobson Family cemetery is east of Kenansville on the south side of Highway 24 just east of North Dobson Chapel Road.

The 1850 Slave Schedule for Duplin County enumerated the six slaves owned by James Dobson as: a  female 27, male 12, male 10, male 8 (probably Peter McGowan), male 6 (probably Richard “Dick” McGowan), and a male age 2.  That same year, James Dobson moved his family and slaves to that section of  Lowndes County, Georgia which was later cut into Berrien County.  About that same time, a number of families were relocating “from Duplin to Lowndes. Among these families were those of William J. Lamb, James Carroll, Jesse Carroll, William Godfrey, Andrew J. Liles, William Best, James W. Dixon and others. These all settled in or around the village then called Alapaha but now named Lakeland, Lanier County.”  Among others coming from Duplin to Berrien in the mid-century were Robert Rouse, William Hill Boyett, John Bostick, Treasy Boyett Bostick and Mary C. Bostick.

James Dobson settled his family and slaves on land lot 333 of the 10th District, just west of Ten Mile Creek in what is now Lanier County. The 1856 Berrien County Tax Digest shows James Dobson owning 7 slaves, with a total value of approximately $4500. That same year, November 11, 1856, Dobson sold two negro boys, Peter, about 13 years old, and Dick, about 11 years old, to Hardeman Sirmans who lived on the connecting land lot number 339 near present day Ray City, GA. In a bill of sale in possession of the Berrien Historical Foundation, James Dobson warrants that the two boys are of sound body and mind. The sale price was $1900.

1856 Slave Bill of Sale<br> Bill of Sale from James Dobson to Hardeman Sirmans for tw.o slave boys, Dick and Peter, dated November 11, 1856. Image courtesy of the Berrien County Historical Foundation.

1856 Slave Bill of Sale
Bill of Sale from James Dobson to Hardeman Sirmans for two slave boys, Dick and Peter, dated November 11, 1856. Image courtesy of the Berrien County Historical Foundation.

Received of Hardeman Sirmons One thousand nine hundred dollars in full payment for two negro boys, one named Peter about thirteen years old the other named Dick about eleven years old which negroes I warrant to be sound and healthy both in body and mind and I further warrant and  defend the right and titles from of the aforesaid negro boys from and against the claim or claims of myself my heirs executors administrators and assigns and from the claim of all and any other person in witness whereof I the said James Dobson have herewith set my hand and seal this 11th day of November 1856.

James Dobson

The Sirmans Connection

The slave boy Richard McGowan was purchased by Hardeman Sirmans on November 11, 1856.  This was just days before  Berrien county was created from lands cut out of Lowndes County, GA including the lands of Hardeman Sirmans which lay just north of present day Ray City, GA.  By the time Berrien County was created, Hardeman Sirmans was already a prominent citizen of the area.  According to historian Folks Huxford, “Mr. Sirmans served in the Indian War as a private in a volunteer company of Lowndes County militia commanded by his father-in-law, Capt. (afterwards General) Levi J. Knight, August 15th to Oct 15 1838. He was 1st Lieutenant of the 664th militia district, Lowndes County, 1845-46, then served as Captain in same district 1847-1851. Mr. Sirmans was a member of the Masonic order, receiving his degrees in Butler Lodge, No. 211, F. & A.M. at old Milltown (now Lakeland) in 1858. He was the brother of  Rachel Sirmans Mattox; she was the widow of Samuel Mattox who was hanged at Troupville in 1843. In 1847, Hardeman Sirmans married Elizabeth Knight,  eldest daughter of General Levi J. Knight.  General Knight was a neighbor of Mr. Sirmans and the original settler of Ray City.

The 1860 Census Schedule of Slave Inhabitants in Berrien County, GA shows Hardeman Sirmans owned three slaves: Male Mulatto, 25; Male Black, 16 (probably Peter McGowan); Male Black, 14 (probably Richard McGowan). The Slave schedule showed Sirmans provided one “slave house” for his slaves. None of his slaves had escaped and none had been freed.

1860 Census schedule of slave inhabitants of Berrien County, GA enumerating the slaves owned by Hardeman Sirmans.

1860 Census schedule of slave inhabitants of Berrien County, GA enumerating the slaves owned by Hardeman Sirmans.
https://archive.org/stream/acpl_slavecensus_01_reel01#page/n134/mode/1up

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Hardeman Sirmans, a State Militia veteran of the Indian Wars, enlisted in the Confederate Army with the Clinch County Greys. Sirmans spent most of the Civil War in South Georgia patrolling the southern counties in search of deserters. He probably had opportunities to visit his farm and oversee it to some degree. It appears that Richard McGowan remained with the Sirmans throughout the duration of the War.

Hardeman Sirmans Home just north of Ray City, about 1910. The photo was taken after the death of Hardeman, however his wife, Betsy Knight Sirmans is seated at the table, center. Photo courtesy of Patricia Sirmans Miller and the Berrien County Historical Foundation http://berriencountyga.com/

Hardeman Sirmans Home just north of Ray City, GA about 1910. The photo was taken after the death of Hardeman, however his wife, Betsy Knight Sirmans is seated at the table, center. Photo courtesy of Patricia Sirmans Miller and the Berrien County Historical Foundation http://berriencountyga.com/

Richard McGowan, Freedman

After the war, Richard McGowan remained on the Hardeman Sirmans place. The 1867 Berrien County tax digest shows the “Freedman” Richard McGowan was self-employed and that he paid the $1.00 poll tax.  The Reconstruction Act of 1867  allowed all freedmen the right to vote and required states to draft documents providing for black male suffrage. But the poll tax quickly became a device for disenfranchising black voters.  It was not until 1966 that Supreme Court rulings on the Twenty-fourth Amendment, ratified in 1964, outlawed the use of this tax (or any other tax) as a pre-condition for voting in federal or state elections.

It seems odd, but former slaves could exercise their civil right to vote they were also required to take the same Oath of Allegiance as former Confederate soldiers.   Among 0ther former slaves of Berrien County who took the Oath of Allegiance were Moses Riley, Edward Ross, William Adams, Joseph Wilcox, Timothy Wilcox, Edmund Jones, James A. Adams, Alexander Wright, Allen Lewis, Richard Lewis, John Smith, Seaborn Hubbard, Rolin Alexander, Edward Swain, Benjamin Neasmith, Thomas Udderback, Richard Morehead, Henry Brown, John Thomas, George Houston, Frank Head, Hilliard Armstead, Samuel Rose, Jacob Thomas, William Watts, Aaron Wright, Austin Freeman, Daniel Freeman, Madison Daniels, Sandy Thomas, Andrew Wilson, and Thomas Howard.

1867 Oath of Allegiance completed by Richard McGowen in Berrien County, GA.

1867 Oath of Allegiance completed by Richard McGowan in Berrien County, GA.

State of Georgia
County of Berrien

Personally appeared before me this 22nd day of July, 1867, Richard McGowan who states that he resides in the 3d Election Precinct of Berrien County, Georgia, and who makes oath as follows:

“I Richard McGowan do solemnly swear in the presence of Almighty God, that I am a citizen of the State of Georgia; that I have resided in said State for 19 years months next preceding this day, and now reside in the County of Berrien in said State; that I am 21 years old; that I have not been disfranchised for participation in any rebellion or civil war against the United States, nor for felony committed against the laws of any State or the United States; that I have never been a member of any State Legislature, nor held any executive or judicial office in any State, and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof; that I have never taken an oath as a member of Congress of the United States, or as an officer of the United States, and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid and comfort to the enemies thereof; that I will faithfully support the Constitution and obey the laws of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, encourage others so to do. So help me, God.”

The said Richard McGowan further swears that he has not been previously registered under the provisions of “An act supplementary to ‘an act to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States’ – passed March 2, 1867 – and to facilitate restoration,” under this or any other name, in this or any other Election District; and further, that he was born in ______ and naturalized by ___________ on the day of ________________,18__ in the ___________

Richard McGowan

Sworn to and subscribed before me date precinct & county aforesaid

A. Marochetti
Register of the Sixth Registration District

The 1870 census shows Richard McGowan, 23, and another African-American man,  Tony Smith, 24, residing at the Sirmans residence.  Both men were working as farm laborers.

1870 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

1870 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA
https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0135unit#page/n453/mode/1up

About 1871, Richard had met and married Sally Thomas and they started their family with the birth of their son, Billy followed by Jesse, Henry, Aaron, and Minerva.

What became of the slave boy Peter is not known, however the 1870 census lists a Peter McGowen, age 80 and his wife Polly, age 60, living nearby.  Furthermore, an 1867 Oath of Allegiance and voter registration  completed by a Peter McGowan in Berrien County indicates he came from North Carolina to Georgia around 1849. This may be the father or relative of Peter and Richard McGowan, as he would have been about 55 at the time of Richard’s birth. The 1870 Census shows Polly was born in Georgia and the 1880 Census records her birthplace as South Carolina; either way she is most likely not kin to the boys.

By the 1880 census Richard, age 30 (probably 34) and Sally, 25 were still living near the Sirmans and Knight family farms, but in a separate household in Enumeration District 1144.

1880 Census enumeration of Richard McGowen and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

1880 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA
https://archive.org/stream/10thcensusl0134unit#page/n380/mode/1up

There is no 1890 census record of Richard McGowan; most of the 11th census records were lost after a 1921 fire, and a series of tragic missteps in the record handling left nothing. However, Richard McGowan is listed in the 1894  Colored Voter Registration for Ray’s Mill, GA, indicating that he  remained in the community.

The 1900 census lists the members of the Richard McGowan household as: Richard, age 66 born July, 1833 (probably 54 and born c1845); Sallie, age 55 born March, 1845 (probably 45 and born c1855); Minerva, age 25 born February, 1875; Barney age 9 born March, 1891; Maggie, age 7 born December, 1892; Charlie, age 5 born December, 1894; Fannie, age 3 born March, 1897; and Richard Jr., age 7 months born October, 1899. Sallie had given birth to 13 children, ten of whom survived. She probably lost three children sometime between the birth of Minerva and Barney. Richard and Sallie were living next door to their son Jessie and his wife and step children, still in the Rays Mill District. Other neighbors included Moses Lee,  J. J. and Catherine Beagles, Hiram Beagles, and Elizabeth Beagles.

https://archive.org/stream/12thcensusofpopu179unit#page/n764/mode/1up

1900 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA
https://archive.org/stream/12thcensusofpopu179unit#page/n764/mode/1up

 

In 1910 the McGowan household consisted of: Richard, age 62 (see note regarding ages); Sallie, age 52; Barney, age 20; Maggie, age 18; Charlie, age 16; and Fannie, age 14. The McGowans  were renting a home about 6 miles east of Ray City and just north of Highway 129, next door to Mary Elizabeth “Mollie” Truett and James R. Johnson, Sr. Richard, Barney and Charlie were farm laborers working as wage employees.    The Beigles were still among the neighbors;  ex-convict Thomas J. Beigles and his wife Mary Elizabeth Pearson Beigles owned a nearby farm. It was reported that Richard and Sallie McGowan had been married 30 years (actually 40) and she had given birth to 16 children, only 8 surviving. Richard Jr. appears to be among those who did not survive.

https://archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po172unit#page/n654/mode/1up

1910 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA.
https://archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po172unit#page/n654/mode/1up

In the 1920 census, Richard, enumerated as Dick McGowen, age 76, was still renting in the Ray City area, farming and living with Sallie, 64; Maggie, 25; Fannie, 23; and a granddaughter, Florrie, 4. They were living next door to Martha J. Baskin Clements, widow of David C. Clements, and her adult children Grover C. Clements, Albert B. Clements and his wife Connie, and Alma Clements. Nearby was the household of Elick Wright, brother of Moses Wright.

https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n322/mode/1up

1920 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA.
https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n322/mode/1up

 

At the time of the 1930 Census, Richard and Sallie McGowan and several of their children and descendants were still living near Ray City, GA. The family was enumerated April 25, 1930 in the 1300 Georgia Militia District of Lanier County, GA, which was cut out of Berrien County in 1920.  Richard, enumerated as age 99, was probably about 86 years old.  Sallie was reported as 76 years old. Residing with them was their daughter Fannie, reported as age 39, actually 33. The McGowans were renting a home near Ray City. Fannie was working as a farm laborer.  Among the nearby neighbors were Americus McGee, Floyd Green, Caulie Pevy, Lucius J. Knight, and John and Wealthy Lee.  Richard McGowan is enumerated as a veteran of the Civil War.

1930-richard-mcgowen-census

1930 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1300 Georgia Militia District, Lanier County, GA.
https://archive.org/stream/georgiacensus00reel372#page/n520/mode/1up

On August 6, 1930, just a few months after the 15th census, the Atlanta Constitution reported the death of Richard McGowanThe article even further exaggerated the longevity of the former slave, giving his age as 106.  The article also unfortunately confuses Richard McGowen with his grandson, Philmore McGowan, who was the late husband of Molly Reddick McGowan Hall, a Ray City psychic of widespread fame.

It is understood that both Richard McGowan and Sallie Thomas McGowan are buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery at St John Baptist Church in the Barretts community, five miles south of Ray City, GA .

A Note on the Ages of Former Slaves as Reported in Census Records

Because slaves were deprived of civil and human rights  – education, literacy, personal property –  records of slave birth dates, marriage dates, family relations, genealogy or even place of residence may be very difficult to document. Remembering dates, and counting years  was not easily achieved. It was quite common over the course of eight or nine decades for those vital dates to be forgotten, mistaken or erroneously changed for no particular reason especially if not recorded in a family Bible.  Census enumeration of slaves was typically only a count of heads.  Furthermore, the ages and birth dates of any persons were not of particular consequence prior to the passage of the Social Security act in 1935.

Now regarding the age of Richard, Sallie and their children, It appears that the most definable age of Richard was when he was about 11 years of age in the 1856 bill of sale. He was certainly not born in 1833 as listed in the 1900 census. Probably 1845 is the more accurate birth date. He was listed as 24 in 1870, which appears to be about right. It is more probable that Richard was about 54 in 1900, and that he probably died about the age of 84 in 1930. Ages of Richard’s children are probably more accurate if figured from the date of their earliest recording in the census.

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On the Home Front, Ray City, GA, 1918

WWI HOMEFRONT

As the late summer of 1918 wore on many young men of Ray City and Berrien County, GA were in training, preparing for overseas deployment in World War I. Others had already shipped out, among them Rossie O. KnightHod Clements, Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter, Lorton W. Register, Private Carlie Lawson, Carlos Boggs, Joe Roberson, John W. Faison, Claudie Whitford and Gordon Williams of Ray City; and many other WWI soldiers and sailors of Ray City, GA.

WWI Inductees at Nashville, GA Courthouse, 1918.

WWI Inductees at Nashville, GA Courthouse, 1918.

By mid- August, over one and half million and doughboys were overseas and another million and a half were in training.  The tragic sinking of the HMS Otranto and the drowning of 29 of Berrien County’s finest young men, along with hundreds of other soldiers, was still weeks away.

The headlines were full of war news, including casualty reports. But the tide had turned and the newspapers were focused on the string of Allied victories. The German offensive against  Paris had failed. The Germans were on the defensive, disorganized, demoralized and rapidly retreating.  As the Allies advanced, thousands of German troops were captured.

Atlanta Constitution August 22, 1918 reports route of German army as Georgia soldiers parade before King George.

Atlanta Constitution August 22, 1918 reports route of German army as soldiers from Camp Gordon, GA parade before King George.

In the Wiregrass, many people bowed their heads each day “for it is a [patriotic] duty which is being observed in many towns and cities throughout our grand United States of America; for when the whistle blows every afternoon at  at six o’clock, it is the duty of every citizen … who is able to walk, to uncover their heads and stop still wherever they may be and no matter what they may be doing to ask God’s guidance on our armies on land and sea and to give us a speedy victory.”

In many ways, life in Ray City, GA went on as usual. People tended their crops and worked at  their businesses, children went to school and families went to church.  Business was good; in Ray City, the Clements Lumber Company was experiencing a war boom, and,  other than the waste laid to the cotton by the dreaded Boll Weevil which had invaded the state three years earlier, the “hog and hominy” farming was good, too.

A letter from Ray City resident Josh Jones, published in the Walker County Messenger, August 23, 1918 reported on every day events of the home front.  Jones, apparently a native of Walker County, on the Tennessee-Georgia line, who had removed to Berrien County and was writing to the folks back home.

 

Walker County Messenger, August 23, 1918

A Ray City report in the Walker County Messenger, August 23, 1918

Walker County Messenger
LaFayette, GA
August 23, 1918

Ray City, GA

Mrs. A. L. Fowler is able to be up at present.

Ray City is a very promising little town, a good many useful industries being located here.
    Nashville is the county seat of Berrien county, and as Berrien was such a large county it was divided a few days ago, and Cook county was cut off the west side, Adel being made the county seat.  So I am still in Berrien. Valdosta is our nearest market.
    We have a bumper crop of corn, and a fine crop of peanuts. The boll weevil ruined all of the Long Island cotton, and the short staple will average about half a crop.  The melon crop was fine, several cars shipped from here.  This is a fine hog-raising section of the country. Moultrie and Tifton both have branch packing houses of Armour & Co.
    Rev. and Mrs. J. W. Shumate, of Cooper Heights, have the Ray City School, and we cordially welcome them into our midst.
    I received a long letter from Pat McClaskey, which I enjoyed very much.  The Messenger reaches here on Saturday.
     Best wishes to the correspondents and Messenger and staff.

JOSH JONES

Additional Notes:

  • Ray City School, 1918
    At the time Reverend John Wesley Shumate, Jr.and Mrs. Harriet “Hattie” Mudget Shumate came to Ray City, the Ray City School was a wood frame, three-room school, teaching students through the eighth grade. The brick school building, which has been preserved in Ray City and which now houses the Joe Sizemore Community Library, was constructed 1920-1922.
  • Creation of Cook County, GA
    An Act proposing the creation of Cook County from parts of Berrien County was passed by the Georgia General Assembly on July 30, 1918.
  • The Boll Weevil in Berrien County, GA
    The Boll Weevil had already reached Brooks and Thomas Counties by the summer of 1915. The following summer, 1916, Boll Weevils were found in Berrien  on the farms of Dr. Lovett and Jim Patterson at Sparks, GA. The arrival of the Boll Weevil ended the reign of cotton as the county’s main industry, and forced farmers to shift more to feed and sustenance, or “hog and hominy,” farming.
  • Armour & Co.
    In 1918, both Armour & Co. and Smith & Co. were expanding meat packing facilities in South Georgia, Smith & Co. at Moultrie and Armour & Co. at Tifton, GA.  As the prevailing chaos in the cotton market drove sharply increasing hog production, there was a rush to increase the local capacity of meat packing plants.

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History of Ray City School

In 1918, a contract for a new school building in Ray City, GA was let out by the Board of Education. Plans for the building were drawn by Valdosta architect Lloyd B. Greer. The contract for materials went to A. H. Miller Hardware Store in Ray City.

Industrial Development and Manufacturers Record, September 25, 1919, announcement of construction at Ray City, GA

Industrial Development and Manufacturers Record, September 25, 1919, announcement of construction at Ray City, GA

Construction on the brick school building, which has been preserved in Ray City and which now houses the Joe Sizemore Community Library, began in 1920.  The Ray City School opened in 1922.

Ray City School, March 11, 1927. In 1918, the Berrien County School Board put out a contract for a new school building in Ray City, GA. Plans for the building were drawn by Valdosta architect Lloyd B. Greer. Materials were supplied by A. H. Miller Hardware Store in Ray City. The school opened in 1922.

Ray City School, March 11, 1927.

The brick school building at Ray City, GA was designed by Valdosta architect Lloyd Greer.  Among other buildings designed by Greer were:  Federal Building and Post Office, Valdosta, GA; Carnegie  Library, Valdosta,GA; First Church of Christ, Scientist, Tallahassee, FL; James Price McRee House, Camilla, GA; Dasher High School, Valdosta, GA; Barney School, Barney, GA; Barber-Pitman House, Valdosta, GA; Lanier County Auditorium and Grammar School, Lakeland, GA; Ilex Theater, Quitman,GA; Moultrie Theater, Moultrie, GA; United Cigar Store Building, Jacksonville, GA; Quitman Library, Quitman, GA; Echols County High School, Statenville, GA; Barrow Hall, Emory Junior College, Valdosta, GA; Pine Grove School, Fitzgerald, GA; Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, GA; Douglas Negro High School and Douglas White High School, Douglas, GA; Nichols House,Valdosta, GA; Berrien High School, Nashville, GA. The Lyric Theater, Waycross,GA was designed by Greer.

Old Wooden School at Ray City, GA

The Ray City High School Class of 1949 wrote, “The school of our community was begun long before our town received its present name having been known as Rays Mill. “

Among those early teachers of Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) was  Henry Harrison Knight (1840-1898).  These teachers   taught in the little one room log house schools  of Berrien county, and were often paid in “found” – bartered, homegrown commodities such as ham, chickens, eggs, or butter.

The first school building was located on the east side of town. This building was destroyed by fire. Then a log cabin called the Alliance Building was constructed in 1898, and was used for about two years.

In 1900 the interested people of the community decided to make an improvement in the school plant. Trees were cut from their lands and carried to Sutton’s Sawmill to be made into lumber, for the purpose of erecting a frame building. That stood where our present building is now standing. It consisted of one large room. Some of the interested patrons who helped with this building were: J. S. Swindle, W. E. Langford, Isaac Burkhalter, Redding Swindle, and W. M. Knight. With the aid of other patrons they completed the first Ray City School. -History of Ray City School (1948-49 Yearbook)

The town experienced a boom period when the Georgia & Florida Railroad came to Ray City in 1909.The increased population made it necessary to make an addition of two more rooms to the school.” -History of Ray City School (1948-49 Yearbook)

The January 19, 1911 edition of the Valdosta Times reported news of the school in Rays Mill (now Ray City).   Husband and wife team James Marcus Patten and Ida Lou Hall Patten were running the school. Professor J.M. Patten was college educated, having completed the teacher education program at North Georgia Agricultural College, and had twenty years experience teaching in the common schools of Berrien County.

In 1918,  the Reverend John W. Shoemate and Mrs. Harriet M. Shoemate came to Ray City to take charge of the school.   Reverend Shoemate was a native of Tennessee, and a Baptist minister.  Mrs. Shoemate was a native of South Dakota, and college educated. In Ray City, they were the neighbors of Professor and Mrs. J. M. Patten.  Mrs. Patten was also then occupied teaching public school.  The Ray City School was then still held in the three-room, wood frame building, and educated  students through the eighth grade. One student from this time period was Claudey Belle Hester, who wrote well enough for publication in Progressive Farmer.

According to the Annual Report of the Department of Education, in 1920 the public high school in Ray’s Mill was a 2-year Junior High School. Sankey Booth was Superintendent of the school and later served on the Berrien County Board of Education. One of the teachers in old Ray City was Louannie Eudell Webb (1902-1972), who started teaching by age 17.  She was a daughter of Luther Webb and Mary J. Albritton, and had only an 8th grade education herself. She married Leroy Lorenzo Carter on August 3, 1922. Another teacher at Ray City in 1920 was Lucile Fountain; she taught the fourth grade class. According to later census records, she herself had only attended school through the 4th grade.  It was the talk of the town when her beau, Calvin Simmons, came and got her out of class  and took her to get married on February 13, 1923. Maria Antoniette Poblete Knight worked as an art teacher at the Ray City School in the 1920s.

The Brick School

That [multi-room wood school house] was used until 1920 when work on the present building was started. -History of Ray City School (from the 1948-49 Yearbook)

Ray City School, 1948-49, C. W. Schmoe, Principal.

Ray City School, 1948-49, C. W. Schmoe, Principal.

Wilma Harper began her 60 year teaching career at the Ray City School in 1928 at the age of 18.  There she met and fell in love with Prentice M. Shultz, who taught and was principal at Ray City School. A year later they were married.

The Great Depression took a great toll on Berrien County, and Ray City struggled with funding to keep the school open. Only through the generous contributions of local citizens and by charging students a tuition, was the school able to continue for the full term. In 1930, the school could not even afford to hold graduation exercises.

In the 1930s many schools in smaller communities were consolidated. In 1936, Pleasant Vale and Sappling Grove schools were closed and the students sent to Ray City.

The Ray City School held a junior high school rating until 1936, when it became an accredited senior high school. Another classroom building was added that year to the school plant. -History of Ray City School (from the 1948-49 Yearbook)

By the 1940-41 school term, New Lois High School was also consolidated with Ray City High School.

In the early days students at Ray City School brought their own lunches to school and ate outside on the school grounds, as there was no lunchroom or kitchen to prepare food.  David Miley recalled a sow that used to come into the playground, and snatch the lunch bags of unsuspecting kids. The school grounds were fenced and had a cattle gap to keep free ranging livestock from entering the schoolyard.  Even so, livestock could and did occasionally get into the school yard.  By 1941, the school had a lunch room serving 150 students a day.

 

Fence and cattle gap in front of the Ray City School kept livestock out of the schoolyard, 1949.

Fence and cattle gap in front of the Ray City School kept livestock out of the schoolyard, 1949.

During WWII, Ray City School did its part.   Vocational agriculture teacher St. Elmo Lee gave up his classrooms at Ray City  and New Lois, GA for the U.S. Army. Graduates and former students left Ray City to go to war. Some never came back.  Hubert Comer (RCHS 1940) joined the Navy and was killed in the D-Day invasion of Normandy Beach. Harry Elmore Devane (RCHS 1938) also joined the Navy.  On D-Day Devane was a boat officer on a tank landing craft at Omaha Beach. He was killed in an accident aboard the aircraft carrier USS FDR after the war. James A. Swindle (RCHS 1936) captained a B-26 Marauder and flew 75 bombing missions; he was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross. Maurice “Max” Johnson (RCHS 1940) served as a B-24 pilot during WWII from 1942 to 1945. Leland E Langford (RCHS 1939) enlisted on June 12, 1941, serving as an Army pilot until he was killed in a plane crash in 1949.   J.I. Clements (RCHS 1938) joined the Army and fought in Germany. Many other alumni of Ray City School served as well.

William R. “Mac” McClure was principal of the school in the mid 1940s. Charles Woodrow “Woody” Schmoe served as principal in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His wife, Nancy Young Schmoe, taught 5th Grade.

In 1947 a fifteen thousand dollar gymnasium was constructed by the patrons, a building in which the whole community justly takes pride (1948-49 Yearbook).  The town dedicated the building with a big dance celebration and the crowning of the Queen of the Harvest.

In 1948, a vocational building was erected by the veterans of World War II, at the end of five years this … [became] a part of Ray City School.

It was in 1949 that veterans of World War II built  a “very modern and up-to-date lunchroom” for the school.

In 1954, Ray City High School and all other white high schools in the county were combined into Nashville High School.  The brick school building at Ray City continued to serve as an elementary and middle school until 1994, when all county schools were consolidated into facilities in Nashville.

Children of Edwin and Sallie Griner

Children of Edwin and Sallie Griner

In the 1930’s D. Edwin Griner  was a miller working at a grist mill in Ray City, GA.  He and his wife grew up in Berrien County, GA and lived for many years in and around Ray City.

As a boy D. Edwin Griner suffered tragic loss, watching his siblings die of measles in the spring of 1889 – four dead in a  week – and in the winter of that same year his mother, Sarah Gaskins Griner, was taken.

In adulthood, Edwin Griner married Sarah “Sallie” Rouse, daughter of Robert and Kizzia Rouse. The couple made their home in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Rays Mill District where the census of 1900 shows they owned a farm near Sallie’s parents and others of the family connection.

But tragedy was not over for Edwin; he and Sallie would have to endure the painful loss of four of their own precious children, and the loss their daughter-in-law.

The four lost children of  Sarah Rouse Griner and D. Edwin Griner rest at Empire Cemetery. Their son, Bill, the only child who survived to adulthood, was buried next to his parents at New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

 

Grave of Carl Griner, born September 11, 1894; died November 5, 1900; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Carl Griner, born September 11, 1894; died November 5, 1900; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

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Grave of Eugene Griner, born May 26, 1896; died November 3, 1900, buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Eugene Griner, born May 26, 1896; died November 3, 1900, buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

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Grave of Lona Belle Griner, born April 15, 1899; died November 11, 1909; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Lona Belle Griner, born April 15, 1899; died November 11, 1909; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

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Grave of Willie "Bill" Edwin Griner, born December 5, 1902; died April 21, 1984, buried New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, GA. Image source: Robert Strickland

Grave of Willie “Bill” Edwin Griner, born December 5, 1902; died April 21, 1984, buried New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, GA. Image source: Robert Strickland

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Grave of Sarah V Griner, born 1905; died some time before 1930; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Sarah V Griner, born 1905; died some time before 1930; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

 

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William Jackson Taylor, Sr.

William Jackson Taylor, Sr.

Special appreciation goes to Linda Ward Meadows, 3rd great grand daughter of William Jackson Taylor, Sr. and Samantha Jane Rogers Taylor, and 2nd great grand daughter of Benjamin Thomas Cook and Samantha Jane Taylor Cook, for her avid research and contributions to this post.

William Jackson Taylor, Sr. (1801-1885) was a settler of that part Lowndes County, GA which was cut into Berrien County in 1856. He came to the area about 1851, first renting land from William J. Lamb and later establishing a homeplace on the Indian Ford Road (Upper Mud Creek Road).

Grave of William Jackson Taylor, Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image source: ShelbyGT2011

Grave of William Jackson Taylor, Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

William Jackson Taylor was the subject of a biographical sketch compiled about 1927 by William H. Griffin, an early historian of Berrien County, GA.  Griffin described how William J. Taylor came from South Carolina to settle in Georgia:

William J. Taylor
The subject of this sketch was born in Marion Township, South Carolina, January 4, 1801 and died at his home in Berrien county, Georgia, July 18, 1885.

In the year 1851 he decided to cast his fortunes in the state of Florida, consequently he set out by private conveyance to reach that state but for some cause halted at the village of Alapaha, later known as Milltown [now Lakeland, GA], and rented land from William Lamb remaining there a short period when he moved over into what is known as the Upper Tenth district and bought land, cleared up a farm and remained there until his death.  The farm he cleared is a portion of the land [later] owned by E. B. Taylor, a grandson, on the Indian Ford or Upper Mud Creek road.

Mr. Taylor in addition to being a farmer was an expert blacksmith and maker of bells, trivets, etc.  It was his custom to make a lot of these useful articles and take them on the old fashioned two-wheeled horse cart and peddle them out among the people of the surrounding country, often going into other counties in the sale of his wares. Among the stock raisers of South Georgia, and almost every resident in that day was engaged in stock raising, it was an easy matter to make a sale of one or more bells of different sizes at every house, while the housewife who did her cooking on the open fireplace never failed to barter with him for one or two trivets for use under her cooking utensils.  A trivet, as its name implies, is a 3 legged utensil for use under the pots, spiders and ovens to raise the pot or oven up from the hearth so as to give room for building the fire underneath.  It is formed by welding three legs on to an iron ring about eight inches in diameter, the legs being about four inches in length.  It was a great help to the housewife in her primitive method of cooking. Other articles of Mr. Taylor’s man——- —— —— ———- —– fireplace and on which the pots and kettles were suspended while boiling.  Mr. Taylor’s approach was always heralded by a ringing of his bells of different tones in unison and his quaint method of showing off the merits of his bells were always a source of great amusement to the children who would leave their tasks and gather about his cart while he was bartering with the father and mother.

South Carolina Beginnings

William Jackson Taylor was born January 14, 1801 in South Carolina.  His lineage is uncertain, but his presence is well established in the Census records of  Marion County, SC, along with others of the Taylor family connection.

William J. Taylor first married Samantha J. Rogers. She was born in South Carolina February 3, 1800.  In the 1850 census of William Taylor’s household, his wife “Mantha” and eight children are enumerated by name, all of whom moved with their parents to Lowndes County, GA (now Berrien) in 1851.

1850 census enumeration of William J. Taylor and family in Marion County, South Carolina

1850 census enumeration of William J. Taylor and family in Marion County, South Carolina

In 1850 in Marion County, SC, William Taylor’s neighbors  were Robert Taylor, age 75, and Thomas Taylor, age 50.

A William Taylor appears in the 1840 census of Marion County, SC, with the same neighbors Robert Taylor and Thomas Taylor. Although names of spouses and children were not recorded in the 1840 census or earlier, this enumeration  shows three female children and one male child in William Taylor’s household, as would be expected from the ages given in the 1850 census.  Despite some discrepancies in ages of William, his wife and children, it seems almost certain that the  William Taylor in the 1850 and in the 1840 census of Marion County, SC are one and the same person.

William Taylor also appears as a head of household in the 1830 census of Marion County, SC , as do Robert Taylor and Thomas Taylor. In William Taylor’s household in 1830 there are his spouse and  three children, two boys and one girl. But all of the children named in the 1850 census were born after 1830. If this is the same William Taylor, which seems most likely,  then these three children all left their father’s household before 1850. Given their ages were at least twenty-something by then, it is entirely reasonably that they should have married and established their own households.

In 1820, William Taylor and Robert Taylor both appear as heads of households  in Marion County, SC. William’s household includes his spouse and two children.   William Jackson Taylor and Samantha J. Rogers in 1820 would have been 19 and 20 years old, respectively. If this was indeed their household, then their marriage must have occurred about 1817.  Unfortunately, no documentation of their marriage date has been located.

From Federal Census records, though,  it seems that by 1820  William Taylor and Samantha J. Rogers had established their household in Marion County, SC.  The names of the three eldest Taylor children are not known, and it appears that they had left their father’s household by the time of the 1850 census, but the names of the known children of Samantha J. Rogers and William J. Taylor are listed below.  All of these children were born in South Carolina. The reported dates of birth of the children show typical variances found in 19th century census records; where given below the dates of birth are taken from  grave marker inscriptions.

  1. unknown male Taylor, born about 1818 in South Carolina
  2. unknown female Taylor, born about 1819 in South Carolina
  3. unknown male Taylor, born about 1826 in South Carolina
  4. Fannie R. Taylor, born January 21, 1832; died June 30, 1904; never married; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.
  5. Mary Taylor, born 1833; at home with her parents in Berrien County, GA in 1860
  6. Thomas L. Taylor, born November 7, 1838; married Fairiby Cook (b. 1846), daughter of Elijah Cook;   died June 18, 1922; buried Poplar Springs Missionary Baptist Church, Berrien County, GA.
  7. Emeline Taylor, born about 1839, in South Carolina; married Joseph Lewis, January 28, 1866 in Berrien County, GA.
  8. Jemima Taylor, born January 22, 1842; married on December 25, 1856 to William Hill Boyett, who was born July 27, 1834 and died December 16, 1897; Jemima died June 28, 1926; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA
  9. Robert Lewis Taylor, born 1845; married 1st Nancy Tison, daughter of Henry Tison, on June 22, 1834; married 2nd Sallie Boyd, daughter of Aden Boyd; said to be buried in an unmarked grave at Empire Church Cemetery
  10. William Jackson Taylor, Jr. born 1847; married Eliza H. Boyd, daughter of Aden Boyd, on July 29, 1862.
  11. Samantha Jane Taylor, born December 28, 1848; married Benjamin Thomas Cook in Berrien County on December 14, 1865; Jane died June 7, 1888; Ben died October 5, 1924; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

The 1860 Federal Census of Berrien County, GA lists two other children living in William J. Taylor’s household.  They were Martha, age 3, and Harriet, age 1. Both girls were born in South Carolina.

William Jackson Taylor and his wife, Samantha, joined with the Primitive Baptist congregation of Empire Church.  Their future in-laws, Nancy Sykes and Aden Boyd, gave land in 1854 to establish Empire Church,  located on Empire Road near Five Mile Creek,  about six miles northeast of Ray City out the Sam I. Watson Highway.

The Sons of William Jackson Taylor

According to W. H. Griffin, all three sons saw service in the Confederate army. The sons were:

  • Thomas Lang Taylor who married Ferraby Cook, a daughter of Elijah Cook, and they were the parents of George M., E.B., William J., Archie and Arthur, twins, and the three daughters. Thomas Lang Taylor enlisted in Company I, 50th Georgia Regiment on March 22, 1862, and mustered out on February 15, 1863 at Camp Winder, Richmond, VA. He was enumerated at age 23 in Berrien County, in the 1864 Census for Re-organizing the Georgia Militia. His profession as “shoemaker”  was critical to the war effort; “keeping the troops adequately shod was a problem that plagued Confederate authorities from first to last.” Thomas L. Taylor later served as  Justice of the Peace in Berrien County.
  • Lewis Robert Taylor, who married first Nancy Tison and after her death Sallie Boyd, a daughter of Aiden Boyd. Pvt L. R. Taylor enlisted in Company E, 50th Georgia Regiment on January 28, 1863 at Coffee Bluff near Savannah, GA.
  • William J. Taylor Jr. was too young for service when the Civil War started. He was enumerated at age 16 in Berrien County in the 1864 Census for Reorganization of the Georgia Militia. William J. Jr., [was] still living [in 1927] and was married to Eliza Boyd, another daughter of Aiden Boyd.  William J. Jr., [was then] in his eightyeth year.

Widower and Groom in a Month

Samantha J. Rogers Taylor,  scarcely survived the end of the Civil War.  William J. Taylor was left a widower on November 6, 1865; Samantha was buried at Empire Church Cemetery, near Ray City, GA.

Samantha Jane Taylor tombstone

Grave of Samantha J. Taylor, Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

William J. Taylor was not in mourning for long. Within days following the death of his first wife, Mr. Taylor married Mrs. Mary Ford. She was the young widow  of William A. Ford, who apparently died at home in Berrien County, GA about 1864. Born Mary Patience Ellen Musselwhite, she was daughter of Asa Musslewhite, of Lowndes County.   Mrs. Ford had four young children:  Mary Ann E. Ford, age 7; Nancy E. Ford, age 5; John S. Ford, age 3; and Anna Ford, age 1.

There seems to be some confusion of the military records of William A. Ford with those of William D. Ford.

William D. Ford (1839-1862)
William D. Ford, of Berrien County, GA was the husband of Lydia M. Baker.  Military records show he served with The Berrien Light Infantry, Company I, 50th Georgia Regiment.  He enlisted on March 4, 1862 at Nashville, GA and died on October 26, 1862 at Winchester, Frederick County, VA. Extensive research on the 50th Georgia Regiment by James W. Parrish, author of Wiregrass to Appomattox, indicates William D. Ford died of disease at Winchester Hospital and was buried at Stonewall Confederate Cemetery, Winchester VA.

William A. Ford (abt 1825 -abt 1864)
William A. Ford, married Mary P. E. Musselwhite in 1851 in Dooly County, GA and moved to Berrien County, GA before 1860. He  did not serve in the Civil War, claiming the equivalent of “conscientious objector” status.  William A. Ford was enumerated in the 1864 Census for the Re-organization of the Georgia Militia  at age 42 years and 7 months.  His occupation was farming but he was also a preacher, which was the basis of his exemption from Confederate service. Apparently William A. Ford died shortly after the 1864 Georgia census; the date of death and place of burial is not known.

 

William J. Taylor, Sr. and Mary Musslewhite Ford were married in Berrien County on November 30, 1865.  The groom was 64;  The bride was exactly half his age, at 32.

William J. Taylor, Sr and Mary Ford, Certificate of Marriage, November 3, 1865, Berrien County, GA

William J. Taylor, Sr and Mary Ford, Certificate of Marriage, November 3, 1865, Berrien County, GA

The Taylor children’s position on their father’s remarriage so soon after the death of their mother, and to a much younger woman, is unknown.  The wedding ceremony was performed by the widower’s son, Thomas L. Taylor, who was Justice of the Peace.  On the other hand, William J. Taylor’s youngest daughter, Samantha J. Taylor, left the home of her father and new step-mother just two weeks later, to be married to Benjamin Thomas Cook.

On October 27, 1866  William J. Taylor was expelled from the Empire Primitive Baptist Church, presumably on account of his association with a Missionary Baptist church.  According to W. H. Griffin, “Mr. Taylor was a member of the Missionary Baptist church and was a co-temporary and fellow worker with Moses G. Sutton and other pioneer citizens in the establishment of Poplar Springs church out ten miles east of Nashville…”

In 1867,  William Taylor  signed the Oath of Allegiance to the United States in order to have his national citizenship restored and to qualify for the right to vote.  The Oath of Allegiance was required of all southern men whose national citizenship had been renounced by way of the Ordinance of Secession, oaths of  abjuration of national citizenship, oaths of allegiance to Confederate states,  or acceptance of Confederate citizenship.

In 1867 William J. Taylor signed an oath of allegiance to the United States and sought to have his civil rights restored.

In 1867 William J. Taylor signed an oath of allegiance to the United States and sought to have his civil rights restored.

William  and Mary made their home in Berrien County in the 10th Land District.  The children of William J. Taylor and Mary  P. E. Musselwhite were:

  1. Moses A. Taylor, born about 1868
  2. Sarah Ann Taylor, born August, 1870
  3. Ephraim Taylor, born about 1872

The 1870 Census shows William J. Taylor and Mary PE Musselwhite Taylor were enumerated on their farm in the 1148 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA. In their household were their children Moses and Sarah Ann, and Mary’s children by her former marriage, Mary A., Nancy, John and Ann.  Their neighbors were the families of John Sapp, William Garrett, William Gaskins, and Emily Gaskins Newbern, widowed daughter-in-law of Etheldred Newbern.

1870 Census enumeration of William J. Taylor and Mary P E Musselwhite Taylor in Berrien County, GA https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0135unit#page/n501/mode/1up

1870 Census enumeration of William J. Taylor and Mary P E Musselwhite Taylor in Berrien County, GA https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0135unit#page/n501/mode/1up

In 1880, William  and Mary were still in the 1148 th District of Berrien County. In their household were their minor children Moses , Sarah, and Ephriam, and Mary’s daughter, Nancy Ford.  Enumerated at age 81, William Taylor was still working as a blacksmith.  On neighboring farms were the families of his son, Thomas Taylor, and of James Sirmans.

 

1880 Census enumeration of William J. Taylor and Mary P E Musselwhite Ford in Berrien County, GA. https://archive.org/stream/10thcensusl0134unit#page/n432/mode/1up

1880 Census enumeration of William J. Taylor and Mary P E Musselwhite Ford in Berrien County, GA. https://archive.org/stream/10thcensusl0134unit#page/n432/mode/1up

William J. Taylor, Sr. is buried by his first wife Samantha in Empire Church Cemetery. Several of their children are buried nearby.  His second wife Mary survived him by many years.

SOURCES:
Griffin Papers, by William Henry Griffin; Taylor Family folder found in Huxford Library; 1820, 1830, 1840,1850 Federal Census for Marion County, SC; 1860, 1870, and 1880 Federal Census for Berrien County, GA; Tombstone inscriptions in Empire Cemetery; Berrien County marriage records.

 

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John C. Sirmons Fought Graft in Atlanta Police Department

John C. Sirmons, a native of Berrien County, GA , made a lifetime career in education. In 1917 he was teaching at Tech High School in Atlanta.  There, he suffered the indignity of having his car  stolen.

His car was recovered by Atlanta police and in attempting to claim his property, John encountered some difficulty which sparked an investigation into municipal graft.

The February 17, 1917 Atlanta Constitution reported on the incident:

February 23, 1917 Atlanta Constitution reports charges of police graft brought by John C. Sirmons

February 17, 1917 Atlanta Constitution reports charges of police graft brought by John C. Sirmons

Atlanta Constitution
February 17, 1917

Board Will Probe Charges of Graft

Rewards Demanded by Policemen for Recovery of Automobiles, According to Professor J. C. Sirmons.

    A special meeting of the police board will be called to investigate Professor J. C. Sirmons’ charges that policemen charged him a reward of $25 to recover his stolen Ford car.
    This course of action was decided upon by Chairman Andy King after a conference held by Mayor Asa G. Candler, Chief of Police W. M. Mayo and the board chairman, in the mayor’s office Friday afternoon.
    “Of course, Professor Sirmons must make his verbal charges to Mayor Candler against the two policemen in writing,” said Chairman King, “before they can be tried before the police board.
    “Chief Mayo has detailed Captain L. S. Dobbs to investigate Professor Sirmons’ charges tomorrow, and if the captain finds that there is sufficient grounds for a further investigation by the police board, I will call a special meeting immediately, and the matter will be sifted out thoroughly.

Rights of Policemen.
    “Policemen have a right to receive rewards for cars stolen out of the city and recovered in Atlanta, but they have no right to demand rewards for cars stolen in Atlanta, and recovered here.”
    When Mayor Candler received information from Professor Sirmons indicating graft in the police department in connection with the recovery of stolen automobiles, he asserted that Professor Sirmons’ case had the appearance of an “outrageous offense” by the police.
    Professor Sirmons laid the case plainly before Mayor Candler, and later told the newspaper men of his grievance as follows:
    “My car was stolen from in front of the Lyric theater last Saturday night. I notified the city detective department on Sunday.
    “Several unsuccessful efforts were made to get me by telephone on Monday and Tuesday. I was teaching classes and could not answer the phone at Tech High. Early Tuesday afternoon I answered a call at the school and was informed that it was a policeman. The policeman wanted me to offer a reward for the recovery of my car.  Finally, at his insistence, I agreed to give $25 for it.
    “‘Come down to the police station this afternoon and get it,’ he said.
   “I went down, taking a fellow teacher with me.

Wanted $25 Reward.
    “When I asked concerning the car, the station sergeant told me that there was my man over there, point to an officer in knickerbockers.
    “The officer pointed to my car outside.
    “‘What are the charges.'” I asked.
    “‘You said you’d give me $25 reward,’ he said.
    “I said I’d pay the next day, as I did not have the money with me.
    “‘Leave the car here until then.’ answered the policeman.
    “I then gave a check, made payable to Chief Mayo, in compliance with his request.
    “As I came through up town, I didn’t think I ought to be made to pay for my car, so I stopped at my bank, and ordered payment stopped on the check.
    “Later I informed Chief Mayo of my action. I made no explanation of the details to the chief, but laid the matter before Mayor Candler today.”
     Chief Mayo said the officers’ names were Barfield and Fain.
    Mr. Sirmons said he did not remember any of the names of the policemen he talked with.
    “It’s an outrageous offense,” said Mayor Candler, after receiving the facts as laid before him by Professor Sirmons. “I shall insist upon a probe at once.”
     The mayor was given facts in a similar case where an insurance man recently had his car stolen, but refused to pay any reward for the recover of his car. The facts were given by a local newspaper man who stated his friend, the insurance man, did not want his named mentioned, but would present his grievances to the police board.
     The police board has a rule against policemen receiving rewards, but it is always laid aside and special resolutions passed granting rewards to policemen whenever rewards are offered.

The following week the police officers involved in the case were exonerated of all charges,  but John C. Sirmons got his car back and his $25 dollars.  The practice of officers collecting rewards for the return of stolen property was abolished by Atlanta mayor Asa Candler.

Atlanta police practice of charging a "reward" to return stolen property to victims, reported Atlanta Constitution, February 23, 1917.

Action by John C. Sirmons brought an end to Atlanta police practice of charging a “reward” to return stolen property to victims, reported Atlanta Constitution, February 23, 1917.

Atlanta Constitution
February 23, 1917

Reward System To Be Abolished

Mayor Candler Tells Commissioners That It “Will Pervert Police Force” if It Is Continued.

There will be no more rewards for Atlanta policemen for recovery of property stolen from citizens of Atlanta, or any property stolen in Atlanta, and recovered here, if the wishes of the police board, as expressed at the meeting last night, are respected.
    Mayor Asa G. Candler declared that the “reward system would pervert the police force.” He urged that the system of granting rewards be abolished, and the police board, from expressions of the members, would have taken favorable action on his suggestion at once if City Attorney Samuel A. Hewlett had not informed the commissioners that he was at present drawing up a city ordinance, at the request of a councilman, the purpose of which will be to put an end to the practice of rewarding officers who are paid by the city. Attorney Hewlett informed the board that this proposed ordinance would be introduced at the next meeting of council, and further discussion was dropped.
    After hearing numerous witnesses in the cases of Call Officers Barfield and Fain, charged by Professor J. C. Sirmons of the Tech High school, with extorting a $25 reward for the recovery of his stolen Ford machine, the board exonerated the officers on motion of Mayor Candler, which was seconded by Commissioner W. A. Vernory.
    On motion of Commissioner Poole, the action of the board at its former meeting in granting the Sirmons reward to the two call officers was rescinded. This made it obligatory upon the call officers to return Professor Sirmons his check, on which the professor Sirmons his check, on which the professor had stopped payment after issuing it, claiming that he did not think he was obligated to pay a reward for his car.
    “I do not think these two officers are to blame for taking this reward,” said Mayor Candler.  “It is the system. I know the officers are honest men – have known Officer Barfield’s family for many years, and trust him. But a city policeman has no right to expect a reward from a citizen of Atlanta, or for property stolen in this city and recovered here.
    “The reward system will pervert the police force, and I am zealous to see the force a good force. Citizens of Atlanta have said to me that the police force is more anxious to catch the stolen car than the thief who stole it. I have several similar complaints to that of Professor Sirmans, and I do not wish that these officers will be allowed to be put in positions where they will bring discredit upon the police department.”
    Attorney J. A. Branch, of Moore & Branch, represented Fain and Barfield.
    The commissioners present were: Mayor Candler, Chairman Andy King, Commissioners J. Lee Barnes, Poole, B. F. Styron, Maddox, Vernoy, McGee, J. C. Vaughan and Foster.

It appears that after the 1916-1917 academic year at Tech High School, John C. Sirmons had had enough of Atlanta. He sought a chance to return to higher education and an opening at his former institution, Cherokee Junior College, San Saba County, TX provided the opportunity.

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John C. Sirmons, Big Man On Campus

 

 

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