Obituary of Mrs. Babe Patten

Sarah E. Patten

Sarah E. Lee was born in 1838 in that part of Lowndes County, GA which was cut into Berrien County in 1856.  She was a daughter of Moses C. Lee (1808-1884) and Jincy Register, and grew to womanhood on her father’s farm east of Ray City, GA.  In 1883 she married William C. “Babe” Patten in Berrien County, GA.

The couple made their home and farm in the 1300 Georgia Militia District, at Watson Grade.

William C. Patten (1849-1944) was a son of William Patten and Elizabeth “Betsey” Register. He was a Notary Public and Ex Officio Justice of the Peace.


Mrs. W. C. (Babe) Patten died at her home at Watson Grade Wednesday night about seven o’clock.  She had been confined to her bed with a severe stroke of paralysis for the past two months.  Mrs. Patten was fifty-five years of age and had been married to Mr. Patten for twenty years, no children ever came to bless the union.  – Milltown News.

Sarah Lee Patten died on Wednesday, January 27, 1909.  She was buried at Union Church Cemetery near Milltown, GA (now Lakeland).

W.C. “Babe”  Patten, after the death of his first wife, married Sam Watson’s sister, Laura Watson.

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Wiregrass Babes in Sugarland

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

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

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

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

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

The Atlanta Constitution
June 24, 1885 pg 2

Down the River.

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

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

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Tragedy at Possum Creek

The brief paragraphs that appeared in newspapers could hardly convey the tragedy of a murder-suicide, but there it was.  The incident occurred at the farm of Francis Marion Shaw on Possum Creek Road near Ray City, GA on a late Friday afternoon 112 years ago today, September 21.  James Merritt shot and killed his wife, then took his own life.

The following day an account of the incident appeared in the Richmond, VA Dispatch:

Richmond Dispatch
Richmond, Virginia
September 23, 1900, Page 17

Wife-Murder and Then Suicide

    RAY’S MILL, GA., September 22. – James Merritt (white), aged about 47, killed his wife this morning, with a repeating rifle, and immediately turned the weapon upon himself and sent a bullet into his chest.
     Mrs. Merritt was walking home with a woman neighbor, when her husband arose from a clump of bushes bu the side of the road, and with barely a word of warning shot her through the heart.  Death was instantaneous.
Merritt then shot himself. The theory is that the woman and Merritt were not actually man and wife, but had eloped, leaving other families, and that officers were after them.

The Atlanta Constitution published a brief account with a few additional details:

1900 Murder/suicide in Berrien County, GA

1900 Murder/suicide in Berrien County, GA

The Atlanta Constitution
September 23, 1900


Tragedy Near Ray’s Mill on Last Friday Afternoon.

Nashville, Ga., September 22. — (Special.) On Friday afternoon. near Ray’s Mill, a man named Merritt shot and killed a woman named Hutchinson and then shot himself, both dying side by side. It seems they had been living together for some time, and hearing that the sheriff had warrants for them both, he tried to get her to leave with him. She would not. He then went off for a week, then returned, ambushed and shot her. He then told Mrs. F. M. Shaw, with whom they worked that he was going to kill himself. She ran to tell Mr. Shaw, but before she reached the house the rifle fired, and when Mr. Shaw reached him he was dying.

Bryan Shaw, descendant of Rachel and F.M. Shaw, has researched this tragic episode and published an article on the subject, Witness to Murder,  in the Shaw family newsletter.

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Burial of the Otranto Victims

The Jasper news. (Jasper, Mo.) 1898-1924, December 05, 1918, Image 10 – Chronicling America – The Library of Congress


Fifty Years of Methodist Ministers ~ Ray City, GA

To go along with the previous post on the history of Ray City Methodist Church, here is a list of the first 50 years of Methodist pastors in Ray City, GA:

W.E. Hightower 1910-11
Rev. Lewis L. Barr  1911-15   – later served as pastor of the Nashville Methodist Church
John Sharpe 1915-20
Joseph Frank Snell  1921-22
J.J. Sanders 1923-23
J.C. McCord 1925
C.E. Smith 1926-27
J.M. Hancock 1928-30
Unknown  1931-32
A.L. Green 1933
F.A. Ratcliff 1934
Marvin Vincent 1935-36
J.P. Touchton 1937-40
Robert C. Carter 1940-42
J.W. Herndon 1943-44
C.E. Croft  1945
Pledger Parker 1946-47
P.T. Holloway 1948-49
D.R. Dixon 1950-57
Burell Dinkins 1958-59
Carroll Crosby 1960

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A Brief History of the Ray City Methodist Church

A brief history of the Methodist Church in  Ray City, GA is excerpted from a  document composed about 1988. (See also Fifty Years of Methodist Ministers ~ Ray City, GA).

Ray City Methodist Church

The Church was organized by brother F.D. Ratcliff on October 29, 1910.  The Rev. W.E. Hightower of Remerton, Georgia served as the first pastor. Originally the services were held in a tent on the north side of town near the homestead of Mr. and Mrs. Will Clements.  Among the first members were Mr. and Mrs. W.F. Luckie, Will Terry, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Turner, Mrs. Julia Dudley, Annie Lee Dudley, and Marie Dudley.

Shortly after the Church was organized, Rev. Ratcliff held a revival in the Masonic Hall. Five Church members were present and twenty-one new members joined.  This made the total membership twenty-nine persons.  During the time Brother Hightower served as pastor, he was originally on the Remerton Charge. He was later transferred to the Milltown Charge.  At this time Brother Langston was the presiding elder and lived at Sparks, Georgia.

The church services were held in the Masonic Hall until it burned. Since the faithful Methodists helped the members of the Christian Church to erect their building, the Methodist were invited to hold their services in the new Christian Church building each second Sunday.

Land for a Church was donated in 1912 by R.D. Swindle, father of Henry A. and R.P. Swindle. In 1917, a tent meeting was held on the site of the present Church and plans were formulated to construct a new Church. Brother Barr was pastor and leader of the movement. A committee consisting Lucious Clements, W.M. Creech, Will Terry, J.M. Tyler and Mr. Patterson drew up the plans for and constructed a wooden building which was used until replaced by the existing block building in 1954.  The new block building consisted of an auditorium, three Sunday school rooms and a kitchen.  William Guthrie, a cabinet maker from Nashville, Georgia, made the pews for the new sanctuary.  The social hall was added in 1964 and bears the name “Swindle Hall” in honor of Mr. Henry A. Swindle who was a long-standing, faithful member of the Church.

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Arson and Evangelism in Rays Mill, GA

Continuing with this weeks theme of fire in the Wiregrass, a  hundred year old tale of arson and evangelism in Rays Mill, GA.

Valdosta Times, Dec 1, 1909, Vol 4, No.41, Pg 8

Miscreant Did Dirty Piece of Work at Rays Mill
    News of the burning of a gospel tent in which a woman evangelist has been preaching at
Ray’s Mill was received here yesterday afternoon.
    Mrs. Rebecca J. Fox, who has traveled extensively over the United States doing rescue  and evangelistic work for a number of years, went to Ray’s Mill about ten days ago and began a series of services. Good crowds attended the meeting, but apparently certain parties in that section who are unknown, were opposed to the meetings and began to harass the woman preacher. First the ropes to the tent were cut to pieces, but repairs were made and the services continued. Between midnight Sunday night and daylight on Monday the tent was set on fire, presumably by the same parties who had cut the ropes before. The tent, seats, and an organ used in the services were all burned.
    The people there are said to be greatly incensed over the affair, and we understand a reward of $200 has been offered for the detection of the guilty parties, with evidence sufficient to convict.
    A letter which The Times has received from the evangelist states that land has been donated on which to build a church or assembly hall. Mrs. Fox is undaunted by the burning of the tent and proposes to continue the  meetings. She writes that a shack of some kind will be built at once and that she will continue to preach.
    It is understood that Mrs. Fox is a member of the Holliness [sic] or “Unknown tongue” faith.

While the gospel tent of Rebecca J. Fox was burned in Ray City, GA, there also was her passion kindled. Before the year was out she married Ray City resident Manassah W. Henderson. (See 1910 Valdosta Train Wreck for more on Henderson)

Kate Nobles ~ Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle

In 2006 during the remodeling of the house at 507 Jones street, Ray City, Georgia a small cache of sooty, crumbling documents were retrieved from where they had fallen behind the fireplace mantel.  Among these items was a 1917 form letter from Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle, addressed to Kate Fountain Nobles, wife of Jasper Nobles. 

Woodmen of the World Aug 1917 notification of non-payment of "grove assessment" addressed to Kate Nobles.


According to Dr. David Beito, Professor of History at the University of Alabama,  fraternal organizations were among the largest organizations of any type in late 19th and early 20th century America.  By some estimates nearly one out of every three American men belonged to a fraternal organization in 1910. There were fraternal organizations for every ethnic and religious group in American.  

At that time, Woodmen of the World and its sister organization Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle were fraternal insurance organizations that particularly appealed to white, native born Americans. Both organizations were national fraternal insurance organizations founded by Joseph Cullen Root.  

Beito writes: 

“A notable accomplishment of fraternal orders was to spread life insurance among the masses. Between 1890 and 1910, the number of people belonging to societies offering death benefits increased from 1.3 million to 8.5 million. By the end of this period, fraternal policies represented nearly half the value of all life insurance.” 

“A key reason for the strength of fraternal networks of trust and cooperation was a shared code of values among the members. Although the details varied, nearly all societies trumpeted the virtues of thrift, self-reliance, reciprocity, self-government, and civility. Taken together, these and related ideals constituted a kind of fraternal consensus.” 

 The distinctive headstones of Woodmen of the World members in local cemeteries are public testimonies to the historical presence of  fraternal organizations in Ray City and Berrien County, GA.   Documents like the one above attest that at least some Ray City,GA women were members of these organizations as well. 

For more on Ray City History and the Nobles Family, see 

For more on the impact of fraternal organizations in America, read:

To Advance the “Practice of Thrift and Economy”: Fraternal Societies and Social Capital, 1890-1920
David T. Beito
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 29, No. 4, Patterns of Social Capital: Stability and Change

Jasper Nobles ~ Ticket to the Past

In 2006 during the remodeling of the house at 507 Jones street, Ray City, Georgia a small cache of sooty, crumbling documents were retrieved from where they had fallen behind the fireplace mantel. 

Among these items was the booklet cover of a ticket on the Atlantic Coastline Rail Road issued October 20, 1918 for  Jasper Nobles.

See additional images and Ray City, GA history at

Ray City Baseball


Just found the following in the sports page of the Atlanta Georgian and News, July 1, 1909 edition:

Milltown, Ga., July 1. – in a hotly contested bame [sic] of baseball Milltown won its second victory from Rays Mill by the score of 5 to 4. The game was played on Milltown’s new diamond. Schucker and Shaw did the
battery work for the home team, while Sellman and Shaw did the same duties for the visitors. Schucker, for the home team, only gave up three hits, struck out fifteen men and did on walk but one man. Sellman, of the visitors, gave up seven hits, walked two men and struck out nine men. Milltown has played three games with Rays Mill, winning the first , 16 to 2, and the second game went to Rays Mill by the score of 5 to 6 in ten innings. The milltown team was composed of all home players.

A hundred years ago, every small town had its baseball team.   Ray City sported a baseball team that played match games with Nashville, Milltown, Willacoochee, and other communities in the area.  As above, reports of the home team’s prowess occasionally even reached the Atlanta newspapers.

Later on, games were played on the baseball diamond at Mayhaw Lake.  After the small Ray City resort closed, the local team played on a field located near the tracks of the Georgia & Florida Railroad and Jones Street.

Ray City Baseball Team circa 1920


Top row far left to right, Elmer Shaw, James Swindle, Henry Swindle, unknown, unknown. Bottom row left to right, unknown, Charlie Shaw, unknown, unknown.

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