Homecoming for Sergeant Mitchell Moore

Mitchell Haygood Moore (1920-1944)
Killed in Air Combat over Germany,  November 26, 1944, World War II

Grave of Mitchell Haygood Moore, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Mitchell Haygood Moore, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Mitchell Haygood Moore, a young salesman from Sirmans, GA, was a son of Atticus H. Moore and Pearlie Belle Tomlinson.  In 1943, he married Mildred Lorene Clements, of Ray City, GA. His bride was a daughter of Alma and Hosea  “Hod” P. Clements.

Marriage announcement of Mildred Lorene Clements and Mitchell Haygood Moore. Clinch County News.

Marriage announcement of Mildred Lorene Clements and Mitchell Haygood Moore. Clinch County News.

Clinch County News
Friday, December 3,  1943

The marriage of Sgt. Mitchell Haygood Moore of Lanier county, and Miss Mildred Lorene Clements of Ray City, took place recently at the Methodist church in Ray City, Rev. L. D. McConnell officiating.  Sgt Moore is a son of Mr. and Mrs. Atticus H. Moore, former Clinch county residents who were cut off into Lanier when that county was formed in 1920. The bride is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Hosea C. Clements of Ray City.

It was in the midst of WWII and Moore was as a Staff Sergeant in the Army Air Force.  Other Ray City AAF men included B-26 pilot James Swindle, B-24 pilot Max Maurice Johnson, and flying officer Jim Paulk.  Staff Srgt Charles B. Shaw, Jr., Ray City, served as a B-17 mechanic in the 8th Army Air Force, Snetterton Heath, England. Howell Shaw served at Sedalia Army Air Field and William C. Webb served in the Medical Corps of the Army Air Force. Lt. Jamie Connell, of Nashville, served as a  navigator-bombardier. Saunto Sollami served in the Army Air Corp and came to the area after the war.

Sgt. Moore was assigned  to the 854 AAF Bomber Squadron, 491st Bomber Group, flying as a crewman on a B-24 Liberator.  Some say he was a bombardier, others say he was a tail gunner. The 491st was one of seven Heavy Bombardment Groups – 488th through 494th – activated in the autumn of 1943.  By April of 1944, the 491st was  in England, and the group engaged in the long-range strategic bombardment of Germany.

A B-24 Liberator Bomber belonging to the 854 AAF Bomber Squadron. This plane was one of 15 B-24s was shot down on the Misburg Mission, November 26, 1944.

A B-24 Liberator Bomber belonging to the 854 AAF Bomber Squadron, 491st Bombardment Group. Of the 28 B-24s that flew the Misburg Mission, November 26, 1944, 16 were shot down. This plane was one of the losses.

In July 1944 the 491st Bombardment Group supported the Allied breakout at St. Lo and assaulted V-weapon sites and communications lines in France during the summer of 1944.  After August, 1944 the 491st concentrated its attacks on strategic objectives in Germany, striking communications centers, oil refineries, storage depots, industrial areas, shipyards, bridges and other targets in such places as Berlin, Hamburg, Kassel, Cologne, Gelsenkirchen, Bielefeld, Hanover, and Magdeburg; on one occasion the 491st attacked the headquarters of the German General Staff at Zossen, Germany.

The Misburg Mission ~ November 26, 1944

Destroying Germany’s petroleum production was a major Allied strategy to shorten the war.  One of the vital German petroleum plants was the large Misburg refinery with 1,060 workers, located about 5 miles east of Hanover, Germany.   On  November 26, 1944,  the 491st bomber group participated in the ninth bomber mission against the refinery at Misburg, part of a massive air strike against Germany by the American Army Air Force on that day.  Combined with other aerial engagements, the day would mark the second largest air battle of WWII.

WWII aerial reconnaissance photo of bombing of the oil refinery at Misburg, Germany.

WWII aerial reconnaissance photo of bombing of the oil refinery at Misburg, Germany. Image courtesy of San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive.

November 26 was to be a black day for the 491st.  Through a series of unfortunate incidents, the bomber group’s defensive integrity was disrupted and the group fell under heavy attack by large numbers of enemy fighters.  As fighter cover for the bomber group, 47 American P-51 Mustangs engaged with more than 250 Luftwaffe fighters in the German skies.

The 491st dispatched 31 B-24s on that day;  three turned back, 28 reached the target, 16 never returned.  According to the 491st Bomber Group website, Mitchell Moore was flying as a Left Waist Gunner on the Misburg raid.

Although more than half of its planes were destroyed, the group fought through the  German interceptor planes, and successfully bombed the target. For this action the group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation.

Atlanta Constitution reports bombers lost in November 26, 1944 raid on Misburg oil refinery.

Atlanta Constitution reports bombers lost in November 26, 1944 raid on Misburg oil refinery.

Atlanta Constitution
November 27, 1944

U.S. Planes Shoot Down 122 Germans

1,100 Heavy Bombers Blast Misburg Oil; 700 Fighters Along

LONDON, Nov. 26. — At least 122 Nazi fighter planes of approximately 200 which rose to protect Germany’s largest natural oil refinery at Misburg were shot down in aerial combat todayby and American fleet of 700 fighters and 1,100 heavy bombers.

The American fighters reported downing 110 of the Nazi interceptors, while 12 were destroyed by bomber crews. The escort planes also destroyed seven German planes on the ground in strafing attacks.

Thirty-seven American bombers and 13 fighters were reported missing from operations.

But it was the third largest bag of Nazi fighters shot down in combat. Just last Nov. 2, American pilots picked off 134 enemy planes Merseburg oil center – 13 miles west of Leipzig – and Germany sacrificed 117 in the same area on Sept. 11.

A gigantic battle swirled through the skies over Misburg.

Through the dense clouds stained with exploding flak from hundreds of ground guns, American pilots engaged the Germans in temperatures ranging from 40 to 50 degrees below zero.

NINTH ATTACK

Today’s attack was the ninth on the Misburg refinery, which lies 15 miles east of Hannover and has a yearly production of 220,000 tons. It followed up yesterday’s raid by 2,000 American planes on the Leuna works at Merseburg, one of Germany’s largest synthetic oil plants. Only a dozen enemy fighters were encountered on the Merseburg mission

Mitchell’s plane was one of those which did not return from Misburg.  The war raged on, and at home in Ray City, friends and families grieved and waited for word of Mitchell Moore.

The Nashville Herald,
January 4, 1945

Missing In Action

The friends and relatives of S-Sgt. Mitchell H. Moore regret too know that he has been reported missing in action over Germany since November 26, 1944.
Sgt. Moore was an aerial (torn) receiving his training at (torn) Miss., Loredo, Texas, (torn), later leaving for overseas (torn) peka, Kansas in September (torn).
His wife if the former (torn) red Clements of Ray City (torn) the present time is with her (torn) Mr. and Mrs. H.P. Clements.

On April 11, 1945, The Atlanta Constitution reported that Sergeant Mitchell H. Moore had been classified as killed in action.

The following month, on May 8, 1945 Germany surrendered – It was Victory in Europe day.   After the surrender, a memorial service was held for Staff Sergeant Mitchell H. Moore.

The Nashville Herald
July 19, 1945

Memorial Service For S. Sgt. M.H. Moore

According to an announcement made this week by the family of the late S. Sgt. Mitchell H. Moore, a Memorial Service will be held in his honor on Sunday afternoon, July 22, at 3:30 o’clock at the Unity Methodist church near Lakeland.
S. Sgt. Moore was killed in action over Germany November 26, 1944. He was well and favorably known in this section and has many friends who regret his untimely death. All friends of the family and others desiring to do so may attend the services.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker

It would be four more years before Moore’s body was returned to the United States.  The return of the living and the dead was the post-war mission of  the U.S. Merchant marines, ships worked by men like J.B. Mitchell Sirmans aboard the armed merchantman SS Wheaton Victory or Brocy Sirmans on  S.S. William G. Lee.   Moore’s final voyage was aboard the SS Haiti Victory.

Remains of S Sgt Mitchell Moore returned aboard SS Haiti Victory, 1949

Remains of S Sgt Mitchell Moore returned aboard SS Haiti Victory, 1949

 

May 8, 1949, four years to the day after Victory in Europe was declared, the U.S. Army announced the body of S. Sgt Mitchell Moore was among those of 104 Georgians being returned by the SS Haiti Victory.

May 8, 1949, four years to the day after Victory in Europe was declared, the U.S. Army announced the bodies of 104 Georgians were being returned aboard the SS Haiti Victory, among them the body  of S. Sgt Mitchell Moore.

Atlanta Constitution
May 8, 1949

Bodies of 104 Georgians On Way Home From Europe

Remains of 104 Georgians, including 14 Atlantans, who lost their lives during World War II are being returned to the United States from Europe aboud the U. S. Army transport Haiti Victory, the Department of the Army announced.
Armed forces dead originally buried in temporary military cemeteries in France, Holland and Belgium are among those being returned. Next of kin will be notified in advance of the arrival of the remains at the Regional Distribution Center of the American Graves Registration Service.

Funeral services for Mitchell Moore were held at Unity Methodist Church, and the remains were re-interred at Union Church Cemetery (Burnt Church) near Lakeland, GA.

The Nashville Herald
June 16, 1949

S-Sgt. Mitchell Moore Returned to States for Burial

Funeral services will be held Sunday at the Unity Methodist Church of Crisp Community for Staff Sergeant Mitchell Moore, who was killed with his entire crew when their plane was shot down over Hanover, Germany, November 26, 1944. Sgt. Moore will be laid to rest at the Burnt Church cemetery.

Services will begin at 4:30 Sunday afternoon with the Rev. J. W. Herndon of Norman Park, and the Rev. Bishop of Lakeland, officiating.

Sgt. Moore is survived by two brothers, W.W. Moore of Nashville, and J.P. Moore of Stockton, and three sisters, Miss Rosa Lee Moore, Mrs. Shelton Davis, and Mrs. G.E. West, all of Stockton.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker

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The Nashville Herald
June 23, 1949

Sgt. Mitchell Moore Laid To Rest Sunday

Staff Sergeant Mitchell H. Moore was laid to rest Sunday at the Unity Methodist Church of Crisp Community in Lanier County.

A military burial was given to the air forceman, who was killed over Hanover, Germany in 1944, by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Club of Lakeland. The Rev. J.W. Herndon of Norman Park and the Rev. Bishop of Lakeland officiated.

Sgt. Moore is survived by his wife, the former Miss Mildred Clements of Ray City, two brothers, W.W. Moore of Nashville, and J.P. Moore of Stockton, and three sisters, Miss Rosa Lee Moore, Mrs. Shelton Davis, and Mrs. G.E. West, all of Stockton.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker

Application for WWII headstone for Mitchell H. Moore.

Application for WWII headstone for Mitchell H. Moore.

The widow, Mildred C. Moore applied for a monument for her husband;  A stark white marble marker to mark the grave of a young man who gave his life in the service of his country.

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Old Union Primitive Baptist Church, also known as Burnt Church

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

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

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

Union Church, Lanier County, GA

Union Church, Lanier County, GA

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

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

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

HISTORY OF OLD UNION CHURCH
Established 1825

Chapter I

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

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

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

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

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 Union Church had been constituted under the auspices of the Piedmont Primitive Baptist Association, but by 1827 the establishment of a number of new churches prompted a desire to divide the association.  According to a history thesis by Michael Otis Holt,

On August 24, 1827, a council met in Thomas County, Georgia to determine the feasibility of forming a new association in the region. The council arranged for another meeting at Mt. Gilead Church in September and requested that all interested churches send messengers with a statement of faith and the date of their constitution together with names of the ministers taking part in it. The careful attention to detail was necessary, because many churches in the area had cut corners in their organization. An example is Shiloh Church in Ware County. In 1833, the Ochlocknee Association would not accept Shiloh Church because it was constituted “illegally.” However, the association did offer instruction on how to craft a new constitution, which Shiloh did. The council decided to go ahead with the plans for a new association. In October, 1827, the Piedmont Association, “received and read a petition from seven Baptist churches situated between the Alapaha and Flint River praying ministerial aid to constitute them into a new association.” The Piedmont set Matthew Albritton and Fleming Bates to oversee the organization of the Association. Both were members of Union Church, near present day Lakeland, Georgia, which requested and received dismission from the Piedmont to join the new association.

The association held an organizational meeting at Bethel Church in what is now Brooks County, Georgia, in November, 1827. Six churches took part in the constitution of the Association. Union Church, was almost certainly the church that joined at the first session of the new association, which called itself Ochlocknee. In the first year of its existence, the Ochlocknee Association claimed 138 members among its seven churches. The initial meeting went well and Bates and Albritton reported to Union Church that, ‘much harmony and love abounded.’ 

The new association grew quickly. By 1833, the Ochlocknee had thirty-­five churches with 1,010 members. Though migration to the region was steadily increasing during this time, it did not account for all of the increase. In 1833, 179 were baptized into the association’s churches. Fourteen new churches applied for membership during the same year. So many neophytes comprised the new churches that the association appointed William Knight to instruct them on the proper duties of churches to the association. The rapid expansion expanded the Ochlocknee’s borders to extend from the Piedmont Association to the St. John’s Association. The expansive size of the association prompted a proposal to divide at the 1833 meeting.

In 1834, Friendship, Union, and Elizabeth churches in Georgia, and Providence, New Zion, Concord, Newington, and New River in Florida, were dismissed from the Ochlocknee Association to form a new association.  In a reflection of the intense territorialism of the associations of the period, the new body was given a boundary that extended up the Suwannee, Withlacoochee, and Little River. The association took the name Suwannee River and scheduled a constitutional meeting at Concord Church for December, 1834.  The delegates duly arrived at the meeting, but the ministers failed to show. At a  rescheduled meeting held in September, 1835, only one appointed minister showed, so the delegates co­opted William A. Knight as the other member of the presbytery and proceeded to formally organize the association.

The Suwannee River Association did not experience rapid growth like the Ochlocknee. The Second Seminole War was the primary cause for the association’s slow growth and sparse representation. The 1838 session recommended that the churches increase their days of fasting and prayer, ‘that the Lord might divert the judgments which seem to hang over us.’ They also suggested they put off any general business of the association, “by reason of the unsettled affairs of our country.”  The 1839 session met in the safer Georgia territory and again suggested more prayer and fasting, “so that the warwhoop of a savage foe, might not be heard any longer in our land to the great disturbance of our fellow citizens, while numbers of our women and infant children are falling victims to their relentless hands.”  Nearby associations “lamented the situation of the Suwannee Association, on account of the Indian War in that vicinity.” 

By the beginning of the 1840s, tensions in the region had eased and the Suwannee was experiencing growth. The 1840 minutes of the Suwannee Association speak of a revival that was strongest among its congregations in Georgia. However, this period of growth and expansion would eventually produce discord and division among the Baptists of South Georgia.

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In 1856 the Union Association was constituted with twelve churches formerly belonging to the Suwannee Associationmost of whose churches were in Florida.  A division was agreed to, making the State line the dividing line between the two Associations The constituting presbytery  was composed of Elders J. E. W. Smith, William A. Knight and J. B. Smith met at Union Church. Her ministers were Elders William A. Knight, Moses Westberry, Ansel Parrish, J. D. Hutto and E. J. Williams, with perhaps two licentiates. Harmony prevailed for a number of years, and the progress of the Association was upward and onward.

Clinch County News
September 20, 1929

HISTORY OF OLD UNION CHURCH
Established 1825

Chapter XIII.

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

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

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

Church Clerks

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

Elected

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

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

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

Deacons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treasurers

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

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

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

Some other members of Union Church:

  • George Harris – received August 7, 1841, dismissed by letter March 12, 1842; joined Providence Primitive Baptist Church near their home soon after that church was constituted in 1844
  • Julia Ann Westberry Harris – received August 7, 1841, dismissed by letter March 12, 1842; joined Providence Primitive Baptist Church near their home soon after that church was constituted in 1844
  • William Hughes  – joined by letter, December 8, 1838
  • William Wesley Johnson – baptized August 10, 1839
  • Amelia Sherley Johnson – baptized June 13, 1840
  • John Lee – joined by letter, June 8, 1839
  • Elender Wetherington Lee – joined by letter, June 8, 1838
  • Joshua Lee – constituting member, October 1, 1825
  • Martha Ford Lee – constituting member, October 1, 1825
  • Moses C. Lee – baptized September 11, 1841
  • Jincey Register Lee – baptized September 10, 1854
  • Thomas Mathis – united 1839, dismissed by letter December 12, 1840
  • Eady Mathis – united 1839, dismissed by letter December 12, 1840
  • Tyre Mathis – joined by letter April 12, 1828, dismissed by letter December 11, 1847
  • Nancy Lee Mathis – joined by letter April 12, 1828, dismissed by letter December 11, 1847
  • Mehala Rice Monk – joined by letter 1838
  • Elizabeth Skinner Register – received by letter into Union Church, September 13, 1828, from Fellowship Baptist Church, Appling County, and dismissed by letter April 10, 1841 from Union to participate in constituting Wayfare Church
  • William Patten – baptized September 9, 1848, dismissed by letter March 11, 1854 to organize Empire Church

 

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Thomas M Ray Founded Ray’s Mill in 1863

Thomas Marcus Ray, founder of Ray’s Mill, came to the area in 1855 prior to the formation of Berrien County, GA.

Gravemarker of Thomas Marcus Ray, founder of Rays Mill, GA.

Gravemarker of Thomas Marcus Ray, founder of Rays Mill, GA.
Epitaph of Thomas Marcus Ray
The pains of death are past.
Labor and sorrow cease.
and Life’s long warfare closed at last.
His soul is found in peace.

Thomas Marcus Ray was born on September 20, 1822,  in the area of Georgia that would later be known as Griffin, Monroe County, GA.  His parents were Thomas and Mary Ray.  Little is known of his early life.

The 1850 census  shows at age 28 Thomas M. Ray was working as a mechanic in Twiggs County, GA.  He  married Mary Jane Albritton on March 3, 1852  in Houston County, GA. She was the daughter of Allen and Rebecca Albritton, and the sister of Matthew H. Albritton.

Marriage Certificate of Thomas Marcus Ray and Mary Jane Albritton, March 3, 1852, Houston County, GA.

Marriage Certificate of Thomas Marcus Ray and Mary Jane Albritton, March 3, 1852, Houston County, GA.

The newlyweds moved to the area of Lowndes County that was later cut into present day Berrien County, GA.  A little more than a year later, Mary Jane gave birth to a son, John William Allen Ray, on May 10, 1853.

Sadly, just six days later Mary Jane died and Thomas, a 31 year old widower,  was left to raise the infant on his own. Thomas buried Mary Jane in the cemetery at Union Primitive Baptist Church, which was the only church in the area. Union Church, now known as Burnt Church, is located on the Alapaha River in present day Lakeland, Lanier County, Georgia.

Gravemarker of Mary Jane Albritton Ray, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

Gravemarker of Mary Jane Albritton Ray, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

In 1853 this section of the state was only sparsely populated, and most of the settlers in the area gathered at least once a month at Union Church for services.  Thomas Ray was among those who attended.  It may be there that he met the 17 year old Mary Adelaide Knight.   She was the daughter of Levi J. Knight, a renowned Indian fighter and prominent planter in the area.  She was also the granddaughter of the Reverend William A. Knight, one of the founders of the Union Church and the first state senator elected to represent Lowndes County.  The following year, on August 22, 1854 Thomas M. Ray and Mary Adelaide Knight were married.

Thomas and Mary established their homestead on lot #516 in the 10th district of Lowndes County near Grand Bay, on land that Thomas purchased from his wife’s grandfather, William A. Knight, in 1855.  This land was soon to be cut into Berrien County in 1856 (and later into Lanier county).  Thomas’ father-in-law, Levi J. Knight, was instrumental in laying out the boundaries of the newly formed Berrien county.

On this land, the newlywed couple settled down to raise a family. In 1855, a daughter was born,  whom they named Mary Susan Ray. In 1858 a son was born to the couple, Thomas M. Ray, Jr.  and in the spring of 1860 Mary A. delivered another son, Charles F. Ray.

The Census of 1860 shows that Thomas M. Ray was clearly a wealthy man in his day.  On the census form his occupation  is listed as merchant.  At that time owned $2000 in real estate, and held $10,400 in personal estate. If he had a comparable net worth in 2007, he would certainly have been a multimillionaire.

The 1860 Census indicates that, in addition to the Ray children, two other youngsters were living with the Ray’s.  John T. Ray, Thomas Ray’s 15 year old nephew, lived with the family and attended school along with his cousins.  John T. Ray would be killed in a train wreck in 1888 (see Railroad Horror! 1888 Train wreck kills John T. Ray and 30-odd others.) A young girl  nine-year-old Efare Hayes (aka Ellifare Hayes), who was also living in the Ray household did not attend school.  Later census forms show that she was a domestic servant for the Rays. The census records show Ray’s neighbors were John Gaskins and Louie M. Young. The 1860 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules show in that year Thomas M. Ray also was a slave owner, with one black female slave and one slave house enumerated.

Together, Thomas M. Ray and Mary Adelaide Knight had nine more children between 1855 and 1876, their last son being born in the year of Thomas’ death.

In the early 1860’s Thomas Ray partnered with his father-in law Levi J. Knight to build a grist mill and mill pond (now known as Ray’s Millpond) on Beaverdam Creek on land owned by L. J. Knight.  Mr. Knight would provide the land for the project, Mr. Ray would be mechanic and operator.    With the assistance of slave labor, the Ray family began the work to construct the earthen dam that would create an impoundment on Beaverdam Creek. In her later years, Mary Susan Ray, daughter of Thomas and Mary A. Ray, recalled that she helped build the dam when she was young child. ” Each day the family would load all equipment into the wagon, go over and work all day on the dam.”  In the age before power equipment the construction of the earthen dam that created the millpond was a massive undertaking. The dam is 1200 feet long with an average height of 12 feet, 12 feet wide at the top and 20 feet wide at the base.  It took approximately 10,800 tons of earth, dug and moved by human muscle to construct the dam.

It was while the dam was under construction that the initial hostilities of the Civil War broke out. On  April 12, 1861 at 4:30 a.m. Confederate  forces opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.  During the Civil War, Thomas Ray’s father-in-law, Levi J. Knight, and his future son-in-law Henry H. Knight both served in the 29th Georgia Volunteer Infantry.  Thomas himself, was a major in the 138th Battalion, 6th Military District, Lowndes, County, GA. There is no record that this unit saw active duty during the war.

Thomas M. Ray was apparently at his home near Grand Bay in the fall of 1861, for Mary delivered another daughter the following spring: Sarah Jane “Sallie” Ray was born May 23, 1862.  According to a history of the Wiregrass area published by the Coast Plain Area Planning & Development Commission, Thomas M. Ray began operation of the grist mill, known as “Knight and Ray’s Mill”  on November 7, 1863.

Ray's Mill, Ray City, Berrien County, GA

Ray’s Mill, Ray City, Berrien County, GA

Thomas Ray was still at home in the late summer to early fall of 1864, for in the spring of 1865 James David Ray was born on April 30, 1865, just days after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.

After the war, in 1866 Thomas Ray bought land from his partner and father-in-law, Levi J. Knight, where the Rays constructed a new home and moved their family. This land was 225 acres of  lot #424 in the 10th district of Berrien County,  on the west side of Beaver Dam Creek right next to the grist mill.  Nearby were the homes of his mother- and father-in-law, Levi J. and Ann Knight, and his wife’s cousin Henry H. Knight.  To the west of the Ray farm was the property of William Gaskins.

Even after the Civil War ended slavery, cotton was the major agricultural concern in the south.  In 1869, Thomas Ray and William Roberts set up a mill for ginning and carding cotton on Beaverdam Creek downstream from Ray’s Mill.  From that point on the creek came to be known as both Beaverdam Creek and Card Creek.   The cotton mill was situated on land purchased from the estate of William Washington Knight, deceased brother-in-law of T. M. Ray.   (W.W. Knight died of disease during the Civil War; see The Poetry of Mary Elizabeth Carroll.)  The mill site included 30 acres on lot #452 and the right to impound water on lot #451, just east of #452. “This operation was apparently taking advantage of a small pond and dam already put in place by John Knight whose property it adjoined…” The dam site was on Beaverdam Creek about 20 yards just east of present day Pauline Street in Ray City, GA..

In early August of 1870 when the census was enumerated for the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the household of Thomas M. and Mary Ray  included  their children  William A.,  Mary  S., Thomas M. Jr., Charles F., Sarah J., James D., and one year old Elizabeth Texas Ray.  Also living with the family was Thomas Ray’s mother, Mary Ray, 78 years of age. Ellifare Hayes, the family maid was now a young woman of 19. Eight year old Ellin Jones  was an African-American domestic servant also living in the Ray household.  In 1870  Thomas M. Ray’s personal estate was valued at $5000 and his real estate at $2714.   His neighbors included  Robert A. Elliott and Annis Lastinger Elliott, and their children.  Robert A. Elliott was a mechanic and a hand at the wool mill. Another neighbor was Isaac J. Edmonsen.

General Levi J. Knight, long time friend, partner and father-in-law of Thomas Ray, died on  February 23, 1870 in the community where he lived (nka Ray City) in Berrien County, Georgia.  Afterwards, Thomas Ray bought out L. J. Knight’s interests  in the grist mill and the land, including water-flow rights, from the General’s estate.  Over time the mill became the focal point of a community which came to be known as Ray’s Mill, GA.

Willis Allen Ray was born in 1871, and Robert Jackson Ray in 1873.

The 1874 tax digest show that Thomas M. Ray was an employer; working for him was Andrew Wilkins, a Freedman and farmhand who lived near Rays Mill.

In 1874 when Mercer Association missionary Reverend J. D. Evans came to Ray’s Mill, Thomas M. Ray was deeply moved by the baptist’s message.  Thomas M. Ray must have attended the church meetings in the old log school house and the big revivals that were held in May and July, for he became instrumental in the formation of a Baptist Church at Ray’s Mill (see Men at Beaver Dam Baptist Church.)  On September 20, 1874 a small group of followers met with Reverend J. D. Evans  at  the  home of Thomas and Mary Ray to organize the church.  Thomas M. Ray. and David  J. McGee were elected to represent the new church to the Mercer Baptist Association and were sent as messengers to the Valdosta Church. The Reverend J. D. Evans wrote a petitionary letter which they carried to the association. In November 1874 Thomas M. Ray was appointed to a church building committee along with James M. Baskin and D. J. McGee. He served on the committed that selected and procured the site for the construction of the church building. He continued to serve on the building committee until his death.

In 1876, Joseph Henry Ray was born.

Children of Thomas Marcus Ray and Mary Jane Albritton (1836 – 1853)

  1.  John William Allen Ray (1853 – 1934)

Children of Thomas Marcus Ray and Mary A Knight (1836 – 1923)

  1. Mary Susan Ray (1855 – 1926)
  2. Thomas Marcus Ray, Jr (1858 – 1923)
  3. Charles Floyd Ray (1860 –
  4. Sarah Jane (Sally) Ray (1862 – 1938)
  5. James David Ray (1865 – 1937)
  6. Elizabeth Texas Ray (1869 – 1952)
  7. Willis Allen Ray (1871 – 1901)
  8. Robert Jackson Ray (1873 – 1954)
  9. Joseph Henry Ray (1876 – 1907)

Thomas M. Ray died June 14, 1876.  His death was announced in The Valdosta Times:

The Valdosta Times
Saturday, July 1, 1876
Thomas M. Ray

Maj. T.M. Ray, a prominent citizen of Berrien County, died last week, after a long spell of illness.

His lodge brothers in Butler Lodge No. 211 Free and Accepted Masons provided this tribute:

The Valdosta Times
Saturday Aug 26. 

     Tribute Of Respect , Butler Lodge No. 211 F.A.M.  Milltown, Ga., Aug. 12th, 1876. Whereas, it hath pleased the Grand Architect of the Universe, in His wise Providence, to remove from labor, in the lodge on earth, to refreshment (as we trust) in the Great Grand Lodge in Heaven, or brother Thomas M. Ray

Therefore be it

     Resolved, 1st. That, in his death Masonry has lost a worthy brother, the neighborhood an upright and honest citizen; his family a kind husband, and indulgent father and a good provider.

     Resolved, 2nd. That while we mourn his loss and miss his association, we bow with meek submission to the will of Him who doeth all things well.

     Resolved, 3rd. That we cherish his memory and recommend to the emulation of the Craft Iris virtues and the uprightness and integrity of his character.

     Resolved, 4th. That we extend to the family an relatives of our deceased brother our heartfelt sympathies, praying upon them the guidance and protection of our common Heavenly  Father.

     Resolved, 5th. That a blank page in our minute book be inscribed to his memory, and that a copy of this preamble and resolution be furnished the family of brother Ray, and a copy furnished the Berrien County News, for publication and the Valdosta Times requested to copy.

By order of Butler Lodge No. 211 F. &A.M.

Ogden H. Carroll, T.O. Norwood, Jesse Carroll,  Com.

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Update on Perry Thomas Knight

Perry Thomas Knight

Found a new bio of Perry Thomas Knight in the Georgia Official and Statistical Register, 1955-1956 – page 134 (below), and new photo at Berrien County Historical Photos Collection.  Prior to attending Southern Normal University, P.T. Knight attended the Green Bay School near Ray City, and the Oaklawn Academy at Milltown, GA  (now Lakeland, GA).  In 1923, he led the fundraising effort to pay for the Doughboy Monument in Nashville, GA.

PERRY THOMAS KNIGHT, Atlanta, Dec’d. Associate Public Service Commissioner Emeritus. Born Mar. 7. 1877 at Rays Mill, Berrien co., Ga. Graduated Southern Normal University, LL.B. degree, 1901.

Advertisement for Southern Normal University, 1901.

Advertisement for Southern Normal University, 1901.

Began the practice of law in 1901. Baptist. Democrat. Mason. WW I —Chaplain & 1st Lt. Former member, Berrien County Board of Education; W. & A. Railroad Commission, 1925-27. Member, house of rep., Berrien co., 1921-22, 1923-23 Ex.-24. Senator, 6th dist., 1925-26. Ex.-26 2nd Ex. Public Service Commissioner, Jan. 25, 1928 – July 21. 1933 removed by Governor Eugene Talmadge; re-elected Nov. 16, 1936–continuously served until Apr. 1, 1953 (vice-chairman 1949 until date of retirement, April 1 1953). Retired under Legislative Act, and became Associate Public Service Commissioner for life. Dec’d Sept. 17 1955.

Family details: Married July 19, 1903 in Milltown (know Lakeland) Ga., Annie Lota Duggar, daughter of Wiley J. and Sallie (Bowen) Duggar. Children: James Perry, married and has 5 children; Elwin Thomas, married and has 4 children. Perry T. Knight was the son of George Washington Knight and Rhoda (Futch) Knight, and the grandson of Aaron and Nancy (Sloan) Knight, and of John M. and Phoebe (Mathis) Futch.

 

According to 1917 draft records in Berrien County,  P. T. Knight also engaged in farming operations and was an employer.  One of his  workers was Charles Anthony Ray, a one-eyed farm laborer from Wayne County.

 

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Primitive Baptists at Ray City

A recent document discovery at Ray City Community Library, Ray City, GA was the minutes of the 1962 Union Primitive Baptist Association.

The settlers of the Wiregrass in Lowndes and Berrien county, Georgia were predominantly of the Primitive Baptist faith.  Union Church (aka Burnt Church) on the Alapaha River served the families of early settlers like William A. Knight and his son Levi J. Knight. Primitive Baptist churches became a part of many communities. In 1913, the Knight descendants built New Ramah Primitive Baptist church at Ray City.

Just a few of the Ray City People who were Primitive Baptists:
Cassie Lee Hall, Arrin Horn Guthrie, Effie Shaw Clements, Alfred F. Fender, Minnie Clements Sirmans, Aden Boyd, Elizabeth Skinner Register.

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