Me and Mrs. Jones: Harmon Gaskins Had A Thing Going On – Twice

Over the course of his life, Harmon Gaskins twice married widows named Mrs. Jones.  He first married Melissa Rouse Jones, widow of Clayton Jones, and second married Mary McCutchen Jones, widow of Matthew Jones. For nearly forty years, Harmon Gaskins and his family lived near Five Mile Creek, about six or seven miles northeast of present day Ray City, GA.

Graves of Melissa and Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Graves of Melissa and Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Harmon Gaskins was one of the early pioneers of Berrien County, originally settling along with his father, Fisher Gaskins, and brothers John and William near present day Bannockburn, GA. They made their homes on the west side of the Alapaha River about 16 miles distant from today’s Ray City, GA location.

Born in Beaufort, South Carolina around 1808, Harmon Gaskins was the youngest son of Rhoda Rowe and Fisher Gaskins, and a grandson of Thomas Gaskins, Revolutionary Soldier.  Fisher Gaskins and his family appear there in Beaufort District in the Census of 1810.  That same year, when Harmon was perhaps two years old, his mother died.   His widowed father packed up the five young children and moved the family back to Warren County, GA, where the family had lived prior to 1807.  There, on January 17, 1811 his father remarried.  Harmon’s new step-mother was Mary Lacy.  Her father, Archibald Lacy, was also a veteran of the Revolutionary War. His stepmother’s brother, the Reverend John B. Lacy, would later become a prominent Primitive Baptist Minister

It was about this time that Harmon’s father, Fisher Gaskins,  began to expand his livestock operations. Soon he was looking to acquire good land on which to raise his growing herds of cattle. By 1812,  Harmon’s father had moved the family to Telfair County, GA where there was good grazing land for his cattle. His father was very successful in the cattle business and soon had large herds, not only in Telfair County, but also in Walton and other surrounding counties where good natural pasturage could be had.

Around 1821, Harmon’s father moved his family and cattle yet again, this time to the newly created Appling County, GA, south of the Ocmulgee River.  Harmon Gaskins, now a lad of 12 or 13 years, moved with the family.

By the end of 1825, the Georgia Legislature formed the new county of Lowndes out of the southern half of Irwin County. It was around that time or shortly thereafter, Harmon’s father brought his cattle herds and family father south into that portion of Lowndes County that would later be cut into Berrien County.  Fisher Gaskins (Sr.) brought his family into Lowndes County and settled west of the Alapha River perhaps a little south of the present day Bannockburn, GA, and about 15 miles north of the area where William A. Knight, Isbin Giddens,  and David Clements were settling their families above Grand Bay.

Around 1832, Harmon’s father moved farther south into Florida where it was said that there was even better pasture land for cattle. Harmon stayed behind, as well as his brothers, William and John.

Harmon Gaskins married about 1835 and first established his own home place on the Gaskins land near Gaskins cemetery.  Harmon Gaskins, and his brothers William and John, were among Captain Levi J. Knight’s Company of men who fought in the Indian Wars of 1836.  Many published accounts of the pioneer skirmishes with Native Americans at  William Parker’s place on the Alapaha River and at Brushy Creek have been related on the Ray City History Blog.

In the late 1830s, Harmon Gaskins moved his family to a location near Five Mile Creek, about six or seven miles from present day Ray City, GA.  The Census of 1850 shows the Harmon Gaskins place was located next to the farm of Mark Watson, which was  in the area of Empire Church.  Harmon Gaskins kept his residence here until 1875, when he decide to build a place nearer the Alapaha River. Just two years later, Harmon Gaskins died and was buried at the Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Sixty years after his death, the Clinch County News ran an account of Harmon Gaskins life in Berrien County:

The Clinch County News
April 23, 1937

Harmon Gaskins – 1808-1878

    This the youngest of the three sons of Fisher and Rhoda Rowe Gaskins, was born in 1808, and began life for himself as a laborer on the farm of a neighbor, Mrs. Clayton Jones.  He was about grown when his father decided to move to Florida; and ere long he was in love with Mrs. Melissa Jones, widow of Clayton Jones.  Mrs. Jones’ husband had moved to this county from Emanuel County along with the Sirmans family of Clinch and Berrien counties.  Her husband died about 1830 or 1832 and left her with three children, viz; Irving Jones and Henry Jones and Harriet who later married Wm. M. Avera.  The daughter Harriet was only about two or three years old when her father died, she being born in 1829.  Mrs. Melissa Jones was an illegitimate daughter of Miss Martha (Patsy) Rouse who later became the wife of Jonathan Sirmans of this [Clinch] county. The father of this illegitimate child was named Rowland, a fair-haired, blue-eyed Scotch-Irish man of handsome mien and who deceived the youthful maiden and went away never to return.  This illegitimate child grew up and married Clayton Jones in Emanuel county, and they came to Berrien county about 1825, and he died about 1830-2 as already stated, leaving his widow possessed of a home and farm and with five children to take care of.  Harmon Gaskins, about her age, but a little younger, after working for her on the farm a year or two, proposed marriage and was accepted and they were married about 1835.
    Their first child Rhoda was born Jan. 17, 1837, at the old homestead which was located on the Willacoochee Road leading east from Nashville by way of Avera’s Mill 7 miles east of Nashville and near the Gaskins Graveyard.
    The early life of Harmon Gaskins was not  different from that of other pioneers’ sons growing up in the atmosphere of frontier life.  He was reared to live the chase and many were the conquests made by him in company with his father and brothers of the wild beasts that then abounded and roamed through the country.  Like his father and brothers, he became the owner of a vast herd of cattle, and from the proceeds of sales of his beef-cattle each year he was able to save up gold and silver which in his hands stayed out of the channels of trade for years at the time. He was inured to the hardships of life as it then existed.  His only mode of travel was horseback unless he had to make a trip to a distant trading-point for supplies that could not be produced on the farm.  In such event of a trip, the horse was hitched to a two-wheeled cart of his own construction he being an excellent blacksmith and wheelright; and journey made in company with two or three neighbors situated like himself.  They drove their carts sitting astride their horses, and took rest-spells by occasionally walking by the side of the horse.  Such trips had to be made to St. Marks, Fla., or to old Center Village in what is now Charlton county.  An occasional trip would be made to Savannah but most of the trips were made to the other points named; these trips were usually about once a year, and would last a week or ten days.
  After the birth of two or three children the homesite of Harmon Gaskins was moved to a different location on the same lot of land and for many years he lived near Five-Miles Creek just east of his first location. This was  his home until about 1875 when he decided to locate on a lot of land which he had owned for several years lying nearer the Alapaha River and east of his old home.  Here he constructed a plain log dwelling and began the work of making a new home for himself and family, renting out the old home-place. He died at his last location.
    After the death of his first wife, Mr. Gaskins was married to Mrs. Mary Jones, widow of Matthew Jones and daughter of Robert and Cornelia McCutcheon, pioneer citizens of Irwin and Berrien counties.  By his two marriages, Mr. Gaskins had fourteen children – nine by his first wife and five by the second wife.
     Harmon Gaskins’ death was sudden and was deemed by his older children to appear to have been surrounded with peculiar circumstances.  A suspicion arose that he was poisoned by his wife.  This suspicion was nursed and grew in the minds of the children until it was determined several weeks later to have the body exhumed and a post mortem examination of the stomach made.  The State Chemist failed to find any trace of poison and the decision reached that he came to his death by natural causes.  This however engendered much bitterness and ill-feeling between the widow and her step children, and she entered suit for damages for slander.  She was given a verdict for $1600.00.  She later married Alfred Richardson by whom she had four children, and with whom she lived until a few years before her death in 1918.
    Harmon Gaskins enjoyed but few and limited opportunities for obtaining an education.  Nevertheless he was one of the best-posted men on political issues and economics of his time.  He was a liberal subscriber to the newspapers of his day, and he had a good collection of books on history and other subjects of all of which he was a great student. His counsel was found to be safe and his judgement sound; he was often sought after by others.  He was appointed one of the first judges of the Inferior Court of Berrien County, serving many years.  After the court was abolished he served many years as Justice of the Peace.  However, he never sought political office but rather preferred to stay home.  He labored with his own hands as long as he lived, and put in a good day’s work the day before he died.
At the death of his father in Columbia county, Fla., he inherited a large stock of cattle from the estate which ranged in Volusia and St. Johns counties, Fla., and until a few years preceding his death he made trips down there once a year for the purpose of rounding up the cattle, marking and branding the calves, and talking over his business affairs with those he had arranged to look after the herds.  The men were usually men living in the neighborhood there and under their contract were to look personally after the cattle and pen them about three months in the spring and each summer in order to keep them tradable, and sell the beef steers in the summer, and bring the money from the sales to the owner. For this service the herder was to receive every fifth calf raised and these calves were marked and branded for the herder at the April round-up.
I
ncompetent and probably dishonest herders in due time began to appear among those entrusted with the care of the Florida herds, and this with the gradual failing of the range and the development of the country there and the influx of people, all worked to the detriment of the enterprise. The income from the cattle grew less each year until Mr. Gaskins decided to sell what he had left and let Florida cattle growing alone. Thus he sold out about 15 or 20 years before he died. After his death some sixteen hundred dollars in gold and silver coin and several hundred dollars in paper money was divided among his heirs after having lain in his trunk for many years.
    The children by the first wife were:
    (1) Rhoda, born Jan. 17, 18–, married first to Francis Mobley and after his death in the civil war she married Wm. M. Griner.
    (2) Martha, married first to Thomas Connell who was killed in the civil war; second to William Parker who died three months later; third husband, Hardeman Giddens, was a first cousin on her mother’s side.
(3) Nancy, married Solomon Griffin of Berrien county.

    (4) Fisher H., married Polly Ann Griner.
    (5) Harmon Jr.  Never married, died a young man during the war.
    (6) Rachel, married William Griffin.
    (7) Sarah C., married Samuel Griner.
    (8) Thomas H., married Rachel McCutcheon.
    (9) John A., married Mary Bostick.
    The children by the second wife were: Wayne and Jane who died in childhood; Harmon E. Gaskins, never married, living single in east Berrien county; William H. Gaskins  and David D. Gaskins, The latter married Elsie Hughes.

Grave of Melissa Gaskins, 1810-1864, wife of Harmon Gaskins, buried at Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Melissa Gaskins, 1810-1864, wife of Harmon Gaskins, buried at Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave of Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Etheldred Dryden Newbern ~ Pioneer Settler

Etheldred Dryden Newbern was a pioneer settler of Berrien County and a noted participant in the last Indian encounters in Berrien County (see Martha Guthrie: Babe of the Indian Wars).

Monument for Etheldred Dryden Newbern, buried at Wayfare Church Cemetery near Statenville, GA. Newbern was one of the pioneer settlers of Berrien County.

Monument for Etheldred Dryden Newbern, buried at Wayfare Church Cemetery near Statenville, GA. Newbern was one of the pioneer settlers of Berrien County.

The Newbern’s homestead was located on the east bank of Five Mile Creek, perhaps about eight miles northeast of Ray City. This was probably somewhere in the present day vicinity of the Highway 168 bridge over Five Mile Creek.

The Newberns were the nearest neighbors of Short-arm Billy Parker. The Parker place was located a few miles further to the east, at a spring on the Alapaha River. When marauding Indians  came by the Parker place in 1836, Mrs. Parker and her daughters fled to the Newberns:

…the women ran through the field , a back way, a distance of five miles to the home of Dread Newborn.

Arriving there she related what she had seen, as fast as her fright and exhaustion would allow, for she had run every step of the way, and she was almost overcome with heat and fatigue. On learning this Mr. Newbern realized that the cause of their own experiences of the night before when the horses had become greatly frightened, snorting and breaking out of the horse lot and coming back the next morning. It was supposed that they had become frightened at the sight of the Indians who were prowling around the neighborhood to steal.

A company of men soon collected together, under the command of George Peterson, Dread Newborn, William Parker, and others. The Indians were overtaken at the Allapaha river and three were killed, others made their escape but were overtaken at the St. Illa river [Satilla], at what is now known as Indian Lake, about two miles northeast of the town of Axson, Ga. They were all shot and killed, except one squaw; it was reported that she was captured and shot. Dread Newborn, the son of Dread Newborn, who followed the Indians, informs me that the Indian woman was kept in prison for a while and then by direction of the government was returned to her own people.

Etheldred Dryden Newbern, called Dryden or Dred by some, was born 1794 in South Carolina. He was the eldest son of Thomas Newbern.  Folks Huxford said the name of Dryden’s mother was not known, but some Internet genealogies indicate she was Nancy Christian.   Dryden’s grandfather, also called Thomas Newbern, was a revolutionary soldier.

About 1798 Dryden’s father, Thomas Newbern, brought the family from South Carolina to Georgia,  Thomas Newbern served as a lieutenant and captain in the Bulloch County militia.

Dryden’s mother died about 1803 when he was a boy, probably nine or ten years of age.  His father, a widower with seven young children, quickly remarried and Dryden was raised into manhood by his stepmother,  Kizzie Collins.  Some time prior to 1815, Thomas Newbern moved the family to Tatnall County, where he was elected Justice of the Peace.

It is said that Dryden Newbern served in the War of 1812, although no documentation is known to exist other than the testimony of his son, Dred Newbern. Dryden would have been 18 years old at the time the war broke out, and considering the military legacy of his father and grandfather,  his  service in the Georgia Militia seems reasonable.  In 1814, the British forces occupied St. Marys, GA, which would have disrupted the economy of the entire region. The British occupation certainly interrupted trade on the Alachua Trail which ran from the Altamaha River through Centerville, GA, then across the St. Marys River and into  East Florida. The resistance of the Georgia Militia against the British and St. Marys and other coastal Georgia incursions is described  in the New Georgia Encyclopedia  article on the War of 1812.

About 1823, Thomas Newbern relocated the family again, this time moving to  Appling County and homesteading on a site about five miles northwest of present day Blackshear, GA. Dryden Newbern, now a man of 29, apparently came along with his father to Appling county for there, in 1823, Dryden married.  His bride was Elizabeth  “Betsy” Sirmans, a daughter of Artie Hardeman and Josiah Sirmans, Sr.  Of her father, Huxford wrote, “According to the best available information, the first permanent white settlers in what is now Clinch County were Josiah Sirmans, Sr., and his family.”

About Dryden’s father, Huxford’s History of Clinch County relates the following:

 OF the Clinch County Newberns, Thomas Newbern was the progenitor. This old pioneer came to this section from South Carolina and settled in what is now Ware County, about 1820. He was married twice. By his first marriage he had three children, viz. : John, William C, and Dryden Newbern. By his second marriage he had five children, viz. : George W. Newbern ; Cassie, who first married Martin Nettles and later Chas. A. Griffis; Lucretia, who married Jack Lee ; also a daughter who married James Sweat, and one who married John Sweat. Thomas Newbern was a prominent citizen of his time. He was elected surveyor of Ware County and commissioned February nth, 1828.  Two years later he was elected a justice of the Inferior Court of Ware County, to which he was commissioned April 28th, 1830. He was also commissioned justice of the peace of the 451 district of Ware County, April 3d, 1833. He is the fore-father of many of Clinch’s prominent citizens.

After their marriage in 1823, it appear that Betsy and Dryden Newbern for a time made their home in Appling County, near the homestead of Dryden’s parents. In 1825, their farms were cut into Ware County into the 584th  Georgia Militia District. From 1825 to 1827 Dryden Newbern served as the First Lieutenant of the militia in the 584th district.

About 1828, Betsy and Dryden moved their young family to Lowndes County (now Berrien) to a site on Five Mile Creek.  They established a homestead about  seven or eight miles northeast of the home of Levi J. Knight,  who had settled a few years earlier on Beaver Dam Creek at the site of present day Ray City, GA. In Lowndes County, Dryden was elected First Lieutenant of the militia in the 664th district. Levi J. Knight was the Justice of the Peace in this district.

At that time the land was still unsettled ,  and the Native Americans who had occupied the territory for so long in advance of white settlers were  being driven out of their ancestral lands.  As Wiregrass historian Montgomery Folsom said, ” The Indians were goaded into madness.”  When open conflict with the Indians emerged in 1836,  Dryden Newbern was one of the first responders in the area.  Sending out the alarm when the Parker place on the Alapaha River was raided, he was among the leaders in the skirmish that routed the Indians (see Short-Arm Bill Parker and the Last Indian Fight In Berrien County). In the Indian Wars,  Ethedred Dryden Newbern served as a  private in Captain Levi J. Knights Independent Militia Company.

Huxford says the land on Five Mile Creek where  Betsy and Dryden Newbern established their Berrien County homestead later became the property of John Fender.  The Newberns then  acquired land a few miles to the east and moved there, making a home on the west side of the Alapaha River.   About 1865 they sold this property, which later came into the hands of George N. Sutton, and moved east to Clinch County. They purchased Lot 256 in the 10th Land District and made their home there for  several years.  When their youngest daughter, Sarah “Sallie” Newbern, and  and her husband, William Franklin Kirkland, moved to Echols County, the elderly Newberns moved with them.  In Echols county, the Newberns purchased land and a herd of cattle; the late 1860s and early 1870s were a time of expansion in Georgia livestock production.

In 1874 Etheldred Dryden Newbern suffered a “rupture” and died.  He was buried in an unmarked grave at Wayfare Church, Echols county, GA.  A monument has been placed in the cemetery in his memory.

Children of Etheldred Dryden Newbern and Elizabeth “Betsy” Sirmans:

  1. Benjamin Newbern (1824-1895) married Nancy Griffin, daughter of Noah H. Griffin. In the Civil War enlisted in 9th FL Regiment. Burial at Wayfare Church Cemetery.
  2. Rachel Newbern (1826-) married Ashley Winn and moved to Florida. Burial at New River Cemetery, Bradford County, GA
  3. Thomas “Tom” Newbern (1828-1877) married Elizabeth Moore, daughter of John Moore. In the Civil War enlisted in Company G, 29th GA Regiment as a private in 1861.
  4. Caroline Newbern (1829-1891) married Edward Morris. Burial  at Arna Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Atkinson County, GA.
  5. Joseph Newbern (1834 – ) married Emily Gaskins, daughter of John Gaskins.
  6. Martha Newbern (1836-1925) married Samuel Guthrie. Burial at Guthrie Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.
  7. John Ashley Newbern (1839-1864) married Mrs. Sarah Ann Sirmans Gaskins, widow of John Elam Gaskins. In the Civil War joined Company H, 29th GA Regiment. Killed in action near Atlanta, GA in 1864. Burial at Arna Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Atkinson County, GA..
  8. Etheldred Dred Newbern (1844-1933) married Wealthy Corbitt, daughter of Elisha Corbitt. In the Civil War enlisted in Company I, 50th GA Regiment.  Burial at Arna Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Atkinson County, GA..
  9. Berrien A. Newbern (1845-1863) never married. In the Civil War enlisted in Company H, 29th GA Regiment. Died of wounds received in battle in Benton, MS on 26 June 1863. Burial at Arna Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Atkinson County, GA.
  10. Sarah “Sallie” Newbern (1848-1921), born November 7, 1849; married William Franklin Kirkland. Died July 13, 1921. Burial at North Cemetery, Dupont, Clinch County, GA.

Related articles

Early Berrien Settlers Traded at Centerville, Georgia

Way back in the early days people living in south Georgia had no markets near and so the people would gather their little plunder together, go in carts to Centerville on the St. Maria river, in Camden county, Ga.

Early settlers of  Ray City, Berrien County and the surrounding area traveled about 95 miles to trade at Centerville, also known as Center Village or Centreville, in present day Charlton County, GA.

1864 map detail showing locations of General Levi J. Knight's residence (Ray City), Nashville, Troupville and Center Village (Centerville), with route from Berrien County to Centerville highlighted.

1864 map detail showing locations of General Levi J. Knight’s residence (Ray City), Nashville, Troupville and Center Village (Centerville), with route from Berrien County to Centerville highlighted.

Berrien county cattleman Harmon Gaskins, who from about 1835 to 1875 resided at Five Mile Creek near present day Ray City, GA, was among the local residents who conducted business with the merchants at Centerville.  In his 1932 History of Charlton County, Alexander McQueen observed of Centerville, “…Those merchants bought the produce brought in by the farmers and sold in exchange flour, sugar, shot, powder, coffee, nutmeg, etc. and every store sold whiskey. One could buy New England rum for $1.00 per gallon or foreign whiskey for $1.25 per gallon. In those days no store was complete without several barrels of whiskey.”

Centerville truly was at the center of an important crossroads of commerce for Wiregrass Georgia.  Located on the St. Mary’s River about two miles east of Folkston, GA, Centerville was situated with convenient river access to the harbor at St. Mary’s and the Atlantic trade,  the Kings Road, and also  the Alachua Trail, an ancient and important commerce route from the Altamaha River, in Georgia, down into East Florida.

THE BAKER COUNTY PRESS
Thursday, July 31, 1980 Pg 2

THE WAY IT WAS – Gene Barber

“The Alachua Trail was until the latter years of the nineteenth century one of east Florida’s most heavily traveled routes. It brought pioneers and mail down from the Centre Village-Camp Pinckney – Traders Hill-Fort Alert area (all in the neighborhood of the present Folkston) into central Florida and took Territorial Florida planters’ products and Indian traders back to the busy Saint Mary’s River for shipping and trading. In the 1840’s into the ’70’s, stage coaches coursed its ruts with mail and visitors…”

According to the Georgia Genealogy Trails: Charlton County History website:

Center Village, a town downriver from Trader’s Hill and established in 1800, was a border town devoted to defense and trade. Camp Pinckney housed border soldiers, and a ferry provided service across the St. Marys between Georgia and Florida and merchants. Tradesmen and other Crackers bartered, bought, and sold their wares on the town streets, settled disputes in public “fist and skull” fights, and wagered on horse racing. Waresboro, a hub for passenger, mail, and freight service on the Okefenokee’s north side, was established in 1824. It was fairly isolated initially, depending on mail service from the distribution station at Camp Pinckney, but gained population and prominence as Ware County’s seat during the antebellum period. All four of these towns faded away as the larger cities of Folkston (Charlton County) and Waycross (Ware County) became rail-road junctions in the postbellum era. But in the years before 1860, they were thriving trading centers and sites of sociability for the area’s white residents.

A historic marker on US1 in Folkston, GA  commemorates the old trading village:

Two miles Northeast of here is the site of old Center Village, or Centerville, settled about 1800 and for many years an important trading center. To this village came the inhabitants of Ware, Pierce, Clinch, Coffee and Appling Counties, bring staple cotton, beeswax, honey, jerked venison, hides, furs, etc., to exchange for flour, sugar, coffee, shot, powder and other commodities they did not produce. Here, too, disputes were settled and sports enjoyed. A regular stop for stage coaches traveling the King`s Road, old Center Village went out of existence after the coming of the railroad.

Historic Marker for Centerville, GA

Historic Marker for Centerville, GA. Image source: http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=12993

  A 1976 article, CENTER VILLAGE, GHOST OF THE PAST, by Carolyn DeLoach, Charlton County Herald, provides further reading.