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.

Short-Arm Bill Parker and the Last Indian Fight In Berrien County

In 1836, a band of Indians raided the homestead of William Parker, pioneer settler of Berrien County.  Since the spring of that year, pioneers all across Wiregrass Georgia had been facing increasing hostilities from the Native Americans who were being forced out of their ancestral lands.

A previous post recounted a story by Martha Guthrie, and the role of her family in the last Indian encounters in Berrien County (see Martha Guthrie: Babe of the Indian Wars).  Her parents, Dred Newbern and Bettsy Sirmons, were the nearest neighbors of William Parker. 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 Parker place was located a few miles further to the east, at the Alapaha River.

Coffee County historian Warren Preston Ward gave the following 1922 account of the raid on the Parker place, which was a prelude to the Battle of Brushy Creek.   According to Ward, the timing of the event was in the winter of 1836, but the letters of Levi J. Knight state the engagement occurred on July 12, 1836:

Short-Arm Bill Parker and the Last Indian Fight In Berrien County

The Atlanta Constitution
Warren Preston Ward
December 6, 1922 pg F15

About the year 1836 William Parker, (Short-Arm Bill) as he was called, and the father of C.G.W. Parker, and later a well-known doctor, was living in Berrien county on the old Patterson place. 

One winter day when Mr. Parker was away from home, several Indians appeared at the foot of the hill, at a spring, where the family got water. It is said that the Indians began to beat on logs, thereby attracting the attention of the people.  It appears that the Indians meant to rob and not to murder, but as there were no men at home the women ran through the field , a back way, a distance of five miles to the home of Dread Newborn. The Indians robbed the house, broke open a trunk and got $300 in cash, cut the feather beds open, emptied the feathers out and took the ticks with them.  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, 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. About this time a whole family by the  name of Wilds was killed by the Indians, near Waresboro, Ga.  One little boy, Reuben Wilds, made his escape.  Of course there are a great many Indian stories, but the narratives I have given you are facts testified to by living witnesses and most worthy tradition, for the first time they are put into history of the Wiregrass country.

1927 Atlanta Journal account of the massacre of the Wildes family, 1832.

1927 Atlanta Journal account of the massacre of the Wildes family, July 22, 1838.

The Wildes Family Massacre

I will tell you one more incident, because it puts the ingenuity of white men to test against the cunningness of the Indians.  It is only through tradition that I have been able to get this story, which  runs thus: 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.  The Indians robbed and killed a good many of these people going to market, at a point near the Okefenokee swamp.  A company [under Captain Elias Waldron] of brave pioneers decided to put a stop to this nefarious business, and, if possible, make it safe for people to go to market.  And so with guns and such other necessaries as they would need, they went to the point near the Okefenokee swamp and pitched their camp, they cut small logs into pieces five or six feet long, about the length of a man. They laid the logs around the camp fire and covered them over with quilts and blankets. On the ends of the logs they placed hats and fixed it up in such a manner as to make it look very much like a bunch of travelers lying around the camp fire.  The men, with their guns, went a short distance from the camp fire and concealed themselves in the woods.  Away in the midnight hour, as the fire burned low, the pioneers saw the heads of Indians beginning to peep out from behind trees and stumps and from over logs. In a minute there was a volley of shots fired and the Indians sprang to their feet and with the war-whoop charged upon the campfire. As they pulled off the hats at the end of the logs, instead of finding the heads of white men they saw the joke.  For a moment they stood still in bewilderment; at that moment every Indian was shot dead, not one of them made his escape.  Every hat had a bullet hole in it. That was the last of the robberies committed at Centerville by the Indians…
By the year 1841 there was not an Indian in Georgia, who had a right to be here.  The people of Georgia, and especially south Georgia, were happy indeed to be rid of the Indians and to have the Wiregrass land without fear of molestation.  Some one wrote a song, about this time, which reads as follows:

“No more shall the sound of the war whoop be heard
The ambush and slaughter no longer be feared,
The tommy hawk buried shall rest in the ground.
And peace and good will to the nation round.”

More about the Wildes Family