1894 African-American Voter Registration at Ray’s Mill, GA

1894 African-American Voter Registration at Ray’s Mill, GA

Given the history of slavery and racial discrimination in the United States, researching African-American genealogy can be a challenging puzzle.  Slave names were not often recorded.  Even after Emancipation, civil records of African-American citizens were often neglected. Further complicating matters,  most of the 1890 census records were lost in a fire and through a series of tragic missteps in the record handling. Fortunately, an 1894 record of the Poll Tax collection in the Rays Mill District (now Ray City, GA) helps to document early African-American residents of the town.    Many of these men were born in slavery and became “Freedmen” after the Civil War and Emancipation. A few were born in northern “Free” states.  After the War, they came  to south Georgia, primarily to work in the naval stores industry, collecting turpentine in the piney woodlands of the Wiregrass. Some lived in turpentine camps, some rented farms or houses, a few became property owners, business men and employers in their own right.

Poll Taxes

After the Civil War, the poll tax evolved regionally to be a complex legal device to disenfranchise African-Americans. Georgia led the way in 1868 (effective in 1871), and by 1900 in every formerly-Confederate state had poll taxes aimed at preventing black citizens from voting.

According to Today in Georgia History,

The poll tax, a bulwark of the Jim Crow era, was one of many roadblocks thrown up to keep African-Americans from exercising their right to vote. Although the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1870, guaranteed former male slaves the right to vote, the poll tax, which all voters had to pay was designed to prevent voting. Georgia’s 1877 constitution authorized the tax, which limited voter participation among both poor blacks and whites. But most whites got around the provision through exemptions for those whose ancestors fought in the Civil War or who could vote before the war. 

Georgia’s “grandfather clause” allowed any adult male whose father or grandfather had voted  prior to the abolition of slavery to vote without paying the tax. Georgia created a cumulative poll tax requirement: men 21 to 60 years of age had to pay a sum of money for every year from the time they had turned 21, or from the time that the law took effect.

Tax Payers
Ray’s Mill District, Colored, 1894

William Adkinson
Dixie Alston

Peter Burges
Thomas Burges
Saul Brown
William Brown, Sr.
John Black
B. B. Brown
Joe Brown

Walter Curt
Jesse Coleman
Len Coleman

James Davis

David Ellison
S. M. Eady
Sam Eady

Brister Hufman

Henry Gowdine
Henry Gilliard
William Grayham
William Gerald

West Kelley

John Livind

Joe Medlay
Carter Moore
William Mathis
Alex McKnight
S. J. Myers
Sandy Murphy
William McGowin
Richard McGowin
Henry McCoy

Preston Richardson
E. L. Rias
Ebb Ross
Randolph Ried
William Smith
Mack Spights
Gilbert Sloan

Wiley Tarrell

A. Vandross

John Wamble
George Williams
Ed Wilson
John Wade
Alex White
James Whitfield
W. D. Williams

SOME NOTES ON THE TAXPAYERS:

DIXIE ALSTON
Dixie Alston was an African-American born during the Civil War, in March of 1862. He was born in South Carolina, as were both his parents.  In 1883 he married Amelia [unknown], also a native of South Carolina.  It appears that Dixie and Amelia moved to south Georgia sometime in the early 1890s.  In 1894, Dixie Alston registered to vote in the Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) District of Berrien County, GA.  He subsequently appears in the census of 1900, enumerated as Dixie Aulston, in the 1148 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County.  His household in 1900 included his wife Amelia (age 46), and children, Sarah (18), Lillie (17), Dixie (10), James A. (7), William (5), and Orie B (1).  The Alstons were living in a rented house, and Dixie was working as a turpentine laborer. In 1910 Dixie Alston and family were enumerated in the 1157 Georgia Militia District where Dixie continued to work as a turpentine laborer.  Whereabouts of Dixie Alston after 1910 are unknown, but his son Dixie Alston, Jr. later lived in Nashville GA where he worked for the Keefe and Bulloch turpentine operation.

ROBERT B. “BB” BROWN
BB Brown was born in South Carolina about 1856 he married Corinna, a South Carolina woman, about 1875 and they made their home in South Carolina until some time after 1881. By October 1886, the Browns moved to Georgia. BB Brown paid the poll tax in 1894 to vote in the Rays Mill District of Berrien County, GA. The census of 1900 shows the Browns owned a farm in the Rays Mill District free and clear of mortgage. They were neighbors of Levi J. Clements, Alfred Hill, and Ben Knight. In 1910 their neighbors on nearby farms were John Miles Clements, Georgia Cooper, Jeff Williams and James W. Williams. The 1920 census shows the Brown farm was situated at Rays Mill on the Willacoochee Road. Their immediate neighbor was Robert E. Lee and his family. Corinna Brown died sometime before 1930. By this time the Brown farm had been cut into Lanier County. The widower Brown continued to work his farm with the assistance of his children.

SOLOMON “SAUL” BROWN
Solomon Brown was born  about 1862 in South Carolina. He apparently came to the Rays Mill, GA area  some time before 1894. The 1910 census shows him in Rays Mill, widowed, living alone in a rented home and working as a farm laborer.

WILLIAM L. BROWN
William L. Brown was a farmer from South Carolina. He was born in May of 1862. About 1882 he married Lessie. They were in Berrien County, GA by the 1890s where William paid the poll tax in the Rays Mill District in 1894. The census of 1900 shows he was working a rented farm near the homes of Richard Eady, William Revell, and Frank Gallagher.

PETER BURGES
Peter Burges, or Burgess, was an African-American born in August of 1865 at the conclusion of the Civil War. He was a native of South Carolina, as were both his parents.  By 1894, Peter Burges made his way to  the Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) District of Berrien County, GA where he was registered to vote. In the census of 1900, he was enumerated in the 1144 Georgia Militia District, the “Ray’s Mill” District, Berrien County. He was single, living alone in a rented house, and working as a turpentine laborer. He subsequently appears in the 1144 G.M.D census of 1910 as a farm laborer, and in 1920 he was renting a farm on the Willacoochee Road.

TOM BURGES
Tom Burges was born about 1850 in Georgia. He was enumerated in 1910 in the 1300 Georgia Militia District. At age 60 he was widowed, living alone in a rented house, and working at a sawmill. He was a neighbor of African-American teacher William M. Clark, sawmill employee Burris Hall, turpentine teamster David Story, turpentine employee John Merritt, and washerwoman Sallie Sanders.

JESSE COLEMAN
Jesse Coleman appears in the Berrien County tax records of 1884. His taxable property included $5 worth of livestock and $5 worth of furniture. In 1890 Jesse Coleman paid the poll tax in the 1329 Georgia Militia District, the Connells Mill District just west of Rays Mill. He had $57 in livestock, $15 in furniture, $10 in tools, and $2 in other property.

JOHN L. LAVIND
John L. Lavind was an African-American farmer from South Carolina. He was born in 1868. About 1886 he married Sarah Sloan, a woman from South Carolina. John and Sarah appear in the 1900 Census in Berrien County where they were neighbors of Arch Parrish. The Lavinds were working a rented farm in the 1145 Georgia Militia District, the Adel District. Living with the Lavinds and assisting with the farm labor were Sarah’s siblings, Alicia A Sloan and Davis Sloan. It appears that Sarah Sloan died sometime in the early 1900s. Census records indicate that John Lavind (enumerated as John Lavine) married a second time in 1908 to a widow woman named Kerene. In 1910, he was making payments on a farm at Adel and working as a self-employed farmer. His neighbors were sawmill workers Beacher Ward and Charlie Beland. In 1920, John and Karene were renting a farm on the Adel and Nashville Road which John was working on his own account. The were neighbors of Theresa Devane Hutchinson, widow of James Henry Hutchinson; her son, Vaude McIntyre Hutchinson was a school teacher.

HENRY MELVIN
Henry Melvin was born in North Carolina about 1863. He apparently came to live in the Rays Mill, GA district some time before 1894. In 1900, he was enumerated in the Mud Creek District of Clinch County, GA where he was renting a house and working as a turpentine laborer. On September 14, 1901 Henry Melvin and Delia Jenkins were joined in Holy Matrimony in Clinch County, GA in a ceremony performed by Joseph Powell, Justice of the Peace. The 1910 census shows Henry and Delia were renting a farm in the 586 Militia District of Clinch County, where they raised crops and children. Some time before 1920 Henry Melvin returned to Ray City, bringing his family to live on the Ray City & Willacoochee Road, on a rented farm which he worked on his own account. Henry Melvin died November 1, 1920 in Berrien County, GA. Anna remarried, probably about 1921, to Emanuel Smith. The Smiths rented a farm near Ray City, where they were neighbors of Walter H. Knight, John S. Fender, J. Mancil Ray and James F. Ray, James R. Johnson, and Lucian H. Grissett. Sometime before 1935 the Smiths moved to Lakeland, GA

HENRY MCCOY
Henry McCoy was born in October 1859 in North Carolina. About 1886 he married Anna. Some time before 1894 they came to Rays Mill, GA where Henry rented and worked a farm. Most of the McCoy’s neighbors were turpentine workers including Odum Wiley, D.D. Oxendine, Peter Burges, and Isham Hill. In 1910, Henry and Anna owned a home on North Street in Ray City. Henry worked as a drayman; Anna worked as washerwoman. Among their neighbors were hotelier Wilson W. Fender, merchant Louis Levin, telegraph operator Ralph E. Spear, blacksmith Rollie N. Warr, policeman Henry Hodges, carpenter Gordon J. Knight, and postmaster Charles H. Anderson. Henry McCoy died sometime after 1910. His widow married Sam B. Cooper on April 22, 1918 in Berrien County in a ceremony performed by Justice of the Peace J. W. Moore. Sam Cooper worked in a shop as a tailor and owned a home in Ray City, in the “Negro Quarters” according to 1920 Census records.

RICHARD MCGOWAN
Richard “Dick” McGowan was born a slave in North Carolina in the 1840s. He was brought to Berrien County (then Lowndes) as a young man, and lived most his life near Ray City, GA.  Freed after the Civil War, he continued to live for a while on the plantation of his former owner, Hardeman Sirmans.

JOSEPH MEDLEY
Joseph Medley was born about 1856 in the state of New York. In 1883, he married a Virginia woman named Jane. By 1885 The Medleys had moved from New York to South Carolina, and by 1888 they were in Georgia. Joseph paid the poll tax in the Rays Mill District of Berrien County, GA in 1894. The 1900 Census shows the Medley family in the neighboring Georgia Militia District 1300, the Milltown District, where Joseph owned a farm free and clear of mortgage. The census appears to show that the Medleys also rented a farm in addition to the farm they owned. Joseph farmed while Jane worked as a laundress. Both were enumerated as literate. They were neighbors of Joseph Dedge, Edwin Powell, and John Ed Thigpen brother of Robert Silas Thigpen. In 1910, the Medleys continued to farm in the 1300 GMD. Their son, William Medley, worked as a sawmill fireman, and son Aulie Medley assisted with the farm labor. Next door were Elmore Medley and Rainey Medley who were both employed in turpentine production. Other neighbors included John D. Patten and Matthew G. Patten. In 1920, Joe Medley, age 76, was no longer working. The Medleys rented a house at Milltown on the the Nashville Road. Their son William worked as a farm laborer and Henry worked as a truck driver at a cross tie camp.

SAM JULIAN “JIM” MYERS
Sam Julian “Jim” Myers was born October 1870 in South Carolina. By 1894 he came to Berrien County, GA to work as a turpentine chipper. He paid the 1894 poll tax in the Rays Mill District. In 1897 he married Rosa Sloan and they acquired a home on payments in the 1145 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County. Rosa’s brother, Sydney Stone, lived with them and also worked as a turpentine chipper. Also boarding in the Myers household was Dr. Ervin Green; the 1900 Census taker added the notation “Quack” by Green’s occupation. By 1910 Jim Myers took up the ministry in the Methodist faith and moved his family to Adel, GA to a home on Maple Street. By 1920, Reverend Myers took his family to Fitzgerald, GA where they lived on Lemon Street.

ELIOTT RIAS
Eliott Rias was an African-American citizen of Rays Mill, GA for 40 years. He was a son of Pompy and Clarender Rias, born about 1863 in South Carolina. After the Civil War and Emancipation, he and his brothers and sisters grew up helping his parents work their farm in Laws Township, near Kingstree, Williamsburg County, SC. Some time after 1880, Eliott left South Carolina and came to Georgia to work as a turpentine laborer. He appears in the property tax digest of Clinch County as a Freedman, paying the poll tax for 1887 in the 586 Georgia Militia District, the Mud Creek District. About 1892, Eliott married a South Carolina woman named Henrietta. By 1900, Eliott and Henrietta were living at Rays Mill with their four children. They were renting a house and Eliott was working as a turpentine laborer. In 1910 Eliott Rias was renting a farm, which he was farming on his own account. Henrietta was keeping house and minding their seven children. Pauline Hodges, an African-American school teacher, was boarding with them. Among Rias’ neighbors were John L. and Cassie Hall, Babe Baldree, Barney Chism, John Whitfield, Tom Burgess and Mack Speights. By 1920, Eliott and Henrietta were working a rented farm at Rays Mill on their own account.  Some time before 1930, Henrietta Rias passed away. All of Eliott’s children were grown and moved away. Eliatt Rias was left alone, living in Rays Mill in a home he rented for $3.00 a month. He worked as a carpenter. He was a neighbor of Sherrod Fender, Henry Studstill, Arrin H. Guthrie, Perry Guthrie, Herman Guthrie, and Ivory Wright.

EBENEZER ROSS
Ebenezer “Ebb” Ross was an African-American farm laborer born in Georgia about 1857. The 1870 census shows Ebenezer, age 23, and his wife Fannie, age 17, living in Berrien County, Georgia Militia District 1144, the Rays Mill District. Ebenezer Ross had a net worth of $30. In the 1870s and 1880s the Rosses were neighbors of William and Frances Giddens, Mary and Richard Anthony, Jesse and Margaret Carroll, John T. and Catherine Carroll, Peter and Josephine Best, and Nancy Parker. The 1875 Berrien Property Tax Digest shows Ebenezer Ross paid the poll tax, and his entire taxable property was valued at $20.00. The following year the value of his estate had dropped to just $2.00. In 1880, the Rosses home enumerated in the 1300 GMD. Living next door with the Carrolls was mail rider Everet Roberts. The 1890 tax digest shows the Rosses were faring slightly better. Eb was working for J. H. Wright, one of 58 freedmen employed by Wright.

MACK SPEIGHTS
Mack Speights was an African-American turpentine laborer who lived for about 40 years at Rays Mill (now Ray City), GA. According to family members, he was born June 14, 1867 in Ridge, Williamsburg County, South Carolina, a son of Elias McBride Speights and Norah Speights. He married Martha Ellen Cooper in South Carolina on August 14, 1889. He apparently brought his young family from South Carolina to Rays Mill about 1893 and appears on the list of voters in the Rays Mill District in 1894. Like many young African-American men, he came to work in the naval stores industry, turpentining the piney woodlands of the Wiregrass. By 1910, Mack Speights was renting a farm at Rays Mill where he and Martha were raising their eight children His oldest sons, Elias and William, worked as farm labor. The Speights were neighbors of Joseph S. Clements, Brodie Shaw, Bruner Shaw, Bryant Fender, and Frank Gallagher. By 1930, Mack and Martha had moved to Gainesville, FL with several of their children and grandchildren.

ABRAHAM L. VANDROSS
Abraham L. Vandross , an African-American turpentine laborer, was born about 1867 in South Carolina. He was on the list of voters in the Rays Mill District in 1894. About that same time he married a woman named Hannah. By 1900, Abraham and Hannah had moved to the Dry Lake District of Brooks County, GA where they lived in a rented home. By 1910 Hannah and Abraham returned to Berrien County to the 1300 Georgia Militia District, where they acquired a home which they owned free and clear of mortgage. Abraham continued to work for wages as a turpentine worker; Hannah worked as a washerwoman. They also took in a boarder, Albert Johnson, who was a sawmill employee. In 1910, the Vandrosses were neighbors of William M. Clark, an African-American school teacher. The 1920 Census shows Abraham and Hannah’s home was on Oak Street, Milltown (now Lakeland), GA. Their boarder in 1920 was Reverend Jordan R. Gay.

JOHN WAMBLE
John Wamble was a widowed African-American farmer. He was born about 1850 in Georgia.  At the time of the 1900 Census, he was living near Rays Mill, GA with his two teenaged sons. The Wambles were neighbors of Richard Morehead, Benjamin Moorehead, David C. Clements and Rubin Knight.  His son, Horace, married about 1907 and made his home on the Nashville & Valdosta Road near Cat Creek.

JOHN WADE
John Wade was a Freedman living in Rays Mill, GA with his wife, Emma, and their large family. John Wade was born about 1824. The property tax digest of 1887 shows his taxable property consisted of $7 dollars worth of livestock and $20 in household and kitchen furniture. The 1880 census shows the Wades living and farming in Lowndes County, GA.

JAMES WHITFIELD
James Whitfield may have been an African-American farmer who later lived in Grooverville, Brooks County, GA.  He was born about 1868. This James Whitfield cannot be definitively placed in Rays Mill, however, his son, James Whitfield, Jr. lived in Nashville, GA in the 1920s.

GEORGE WILLIAMS
The 1900 census shows George Williams  in the 1145 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County. He was working as a log turner at a sawmill.  He was born in North Carolina about 1858.  In 1900, he was living alone, apparently in housing at the sawmill.

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Widow Clements was a Planter of Berrien County, GA

Nancy Patten Clements (1822-1887)

Nancy Patten Clements was the wife of John Franklin Clements, and mother of his ten children. For 23 years after his death, she was the head of household on the Clements farm. She led her family through the Reconstruction period in the South. She acted as a strong and capable matriarch of her family, under whose management the farm and family prospered.

Born Nancy Patten, she was a daughter of James M. Patten and Elizabeth Lee, and sister of Jehu Patten.  Her paternal grandfather, William Patten of Camden District, S.C., was a Revolutionary Soldier.  Her maternal grandfather, Joshua Lee, was a veteran of the War of 1812. About 1830, her grandfather Joshua built an earthen berm across the northern outflow of Grand Bay, and constructed a grist mill at Allapaha, GA (now Lakeland), the first in the area to serve the original settlers of Ray City, GA. This mill run later became the site of Banks Mill.

Nancy Patten was born October 7, 1822. According to Folks Huxford, her parents married about 1819 and were among the first settlers of this area in what was then Irwin County, GA. They settled on Land Lot 400, in the 10th district of old Irwin County. Lot 400 was situated on Big Creek, about four miles above the community then known as Allapaha, now Lakeland, GA.  (The James M. Patten home-place was cut out of Irwin into Lowndes county,1825; from Lowndes into Berrien, 1856; and from Berrien into Lanier in 1920.) In 1825, Nancy’s parents, Elizabeth and James Patten, and maternal grandparents, Martha and Joshua Lee, along with William A. Knight, Sarah Knight, Jonathan Knight, Elizabeth Knight, Mary Knight, Josiah Sirmans, and Matthew Albritton constituted the primitive baptist Union Church, on the banks of the Alapaha River.

In the latter half of 1840, Nancy Sirmans married John F. Clements in Lowndes County. Records of the marriage were lost when the Lowndes County courthouse burned in 1858.  Upon her marriage Nancy was about 18 years old; John F. Clements was 30.  His household in the enumeration of 1840 included another white  male, age 40-something, a young slave woman and a slave girl, but as yet, the Lowndes County tax records did not show that he was a land owner.  His neighbors included John Lee, John Roberts, Benjamin Sirmans and John Knight.

At the time of the wedding, the Indian War (Second Seminole War) was under way.  In this conflict John served as a private in Captain Levi J. Knight’s Independent Company of  volunteer militia. This unit saw action in 1836 in the skirmish at William Parker’s place, actions along Warrior Creek, and the skirmish at Cow Creek.

Children of John Franklin Clements and Nancy Patten:

  1.     Rhoda C Clements (1843–1920) married William J. Lee
  2.     Martha Elizabeth Clements (1844–1926) married W. M. Adams
  3.     William Clements (1846– )
  4.     Nancy R Clements (1849–  ) married Levi W. Sirmans
  5.     Mary Mollie Clements (1851–1932)
  6.     Missouri Clements (1854–1928) married Thomas J. Futch
  7.     Sara Amanda Clements (1855–1931) married Moses C. Lee
  8.     Winnie Annie Clements (1855–1893) married William H. Studstill
  9.     David C Clements (1857–1902) married Martha Baskin
  10.     John Miles Clements (1859–1937)

By 1844, Nancy’s husband John F. Clements had acquired 245 acres in the 10th  District of Lowndes County.

By 1850, the Clements’ land had increased to 980 acres in Lowndes County, 50 of which were improved. The cash value of the farm was assessed at $500, and John Clements owned another $50 in equipment and machinery. The livestock included 4 horses, 37 milch cows, 87 other cattle, 21 sheep, and 100 swine, valued at $1000 taken all together. They had on hand 300 bushels of Indian corn, 40 bushels of wheat, 1 bale of cotton at 400 pounds, 20 bushels of sweet potatoes, 50 lbs of butter, and $125 worth of meat. Their neighbors were the families of Aaron Knight, Aden Boyd, Henry Tison and William Giddings.

In 1856, the Clements and their neighbors were cut out of Lowndes county and into the newly created Berrien County.

On September 23, 1864 Nancy’s husband John F. Clements died at age 54. She buried him at Union Church, the church her parents had helped to found at Milltown (now Lakeland, GA).

Levi J. Knight assisted the widow Nancy Clements with the administration of the estate. The usual notice was published in the Milledgeville Confederate Union.

Milledgeville Confederate Union
January 3, 1865

    And whereas, Levi J. Knight and Nancy Clements applies to me for letters of administration on the estate of John F. Clements, deceased.
These are therefore to cite and admonish all persons interested to be and appear in my office within the time prescribed by law, and file objections if they have any why said letters should not be granted.
Witness my hand officially, November 7, 1864 [pd$3025 5t.] W.E. CONNELL Ord’y

At the time of John’s death, the Clements farm place was on six hundred and six acres of land situated on parts of Lots of Land No. 381, 356, and 335 in the 10th District of Berrien. There, the Clements family had raised corn, oats, sweet potatoes, and other food crops, and livestock including milk cows, beef cattle, sheep and hogs, and of course, cotton.  Nancy Clements was left to run the farm, provide for the six of their children who were still at home, and care for her aged mother.  According to the 1866 map of Berrien County, GA, Lot 356 is situated square on the confluence of Allapacoochee Creek (now Ten Mile Creek) and Camp Creek (now Five Mile Creek), which combine to form Big Creek. To the north, Lot 335 straddles Camp Creek; to the south, Lot 381 lies between Big Creek and the pocosin that formed the headwaters of Beaverdam Creek. This wetland was impounded with an earthen dam by Thomas M. Ray and Levi J. Knight in 1863, who constructed a grist mill at the outflow which became known as Ray’s Mill.

Under prevailing law, Nancy Clements had to apply to the courts for appointment to see to the affairs of her own children.

Milledgeville Federal Union
December 4, 1866

    And whereas, Nancy Clements applies to me for letters of guardianship on the persons and property of the minor heirs of John F. Clements, deceased.
These are therefore to cite and admonish all persons interested to be and appear in my office within the time prescribed by law, and file objections if they have any why said letters should not be granted.
Witness my hand officially, November 5, 1866
15 5c                              W.E. CONNELL Ord’y

The estate of John Franklin Clements was finally liquidated in 1867.

Milledgeville Federal Union, April 2, 1867 — page 4
GEORGIA, Berrien County.

Two months after date, application will be made to the Court of Ordinary, for leave to sell the lands belonging to the estate of John F. Clements, deceased.
LEVI J. KNIGHT, Adm’r.
NANCY CLEMENTS, Adm’rx

January 18th, 1867   (w.e.c.) 26 9

 Milledgeville Federal Union, July 16, 1867 — page 4
Administrator’s Sale.
Will be sold at the Court House door in the town of Nashville, Berrien county, Ga on the first Tuesday in SEPTEMBER next, within legal hours of sale, six hundred and six acres of land being parts of Lots of Land No. 381, 356, and 335 in the 10th District of said county. Two improvements on the land. Sold as the property of John F. Clements, deceased. Sold for distribution. Terms twelve months credit, small notes and approved security.
LEVI J. KNIGHT. Adm’r
NANCY CLEMENTS, Admr’x
July 2, 1867.     W E C    49 tds

John’s widow, Nancy Patten Clements, continued to reside in Berrien County. She was assessed for taxes in the 1144th Georgia Militia District of Berrien County in 1867 as the administratrix of the estate of J.F. Clements and and the Guarantor for John’s eldest son, William W. Clements. There were 303 acres of land under her name on Land Lots 356 and 381, 10th Land District. Under the name of William W. Clements there were 677 acres on parts of Lots 356, 381, and 335. Her neighbor on Lot 335 was Jasper Cook.

In the census of 1870 her homeplace was enumerated in the 1144 Georgia Militia District, the Ray’s Mill District, with her children Martha E. Clements, Missouri Clements, Winnie Ann Clements, David C. Clements, John Miley Clements, and Amanda Clements. Nancy’s 78-year-old mother, Elizabeth Patten Thornton, was living with them; after the death of Nancy’s father in 1846, her mother had re-married to William Thornton of Ware County. Also in Nancy’s household was nine-month old William L. Clements . Nancy’s boys helped with the farming while the girls kept house.

Nancy’s farm was described in the 1870 Non-population Agricultural census as 400 acres, with 60 acres improved and 340 acres woodlands. The farm was valued at $300,  equipment and machinery worth an additional $50, and livestock valued at $821. She had 3 horses, 1 mule, 10 milch cows, 2 oxen, 45 other cattle, 30 sheep, and 35 hogs. Her stores included 120 bushels of Indian Corn, 180 bushels of oats, 1 bale of cotton at 450 lbs, 75 lbs of wool, 1 bushel of peas and beans, 4 bushels of Irish potatoes, 150 bushels sweet potatoes, $6 dollars worth of “orchard products”, 120 gallons of molasses, $30  dollars worth of “house manufactures”, and $170 dollars of meat production. Nancy’s total real estate was valued at $500 and her personal estate was valued at $1442. Among her neighbors were Jesse Lee, John Lee, and John W. Peeples.

The 1872 Berrien County tax digest shows Nancy had acquired an additional 200 acres of land on Lots 356 and 381. By 1877 she had acquired 700 acres additional land on Lots 380 and 426, bringing her total acreage up to 1300 acres

The 1880 agricultural census show Nancy Clements’ land holdings at 1040 acres with 40 acres under cultivation and 1000 acres in woodlands and forest. Her farm was valued at $1000, with $10 in implements and machinery.  She spent $5 on building and repairing fences, but no money on fertilizer. Her costs for board and wages for farm labor was $48.  Her $241 in livestock included 1 horse, 13 milch cows, and 27 other cattle. There were 8 calves dropped on her farm in 1879; two cattle were slaughtered, and four more were lost to disease, stolen or strayed. She had 8 sheep on hand; seven lambs were dropped, seven sheep were sold, and one died of disease.  Eight fleeces were sheared, for 19 pounds of wool. She had 10 hogs and 9 barnyard chickens. Her total farm production was estimated at $500.

Berrien County tax digests show that between 1880 and 1887 Nancy Clements executed a number of additional land deals with her children and others of the Clements family connections. She eventually consolidating her personal holdings to all 490 acres of Lot 380, situated on the east side of Ray’s Mill Pond, and disposed of all of her livestock.  Her neighbors included John Lee on parts of Lot 356; George W. Knight on parts of Lots 357 and 358; and her son, John M. Clements on parts of Lots 381 and 356.

Nancy Patten Clements died on October 30, 1887. She was buried at Union Church Cemetery, Lakeland, GA.

Grave of Nancy Patten Clements, wife of John Franklin Clements. Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

Grave of Nancy Patten Clements, wife of John Franklin Clements. Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image source: Randy Merkel

 

John Franklin Clements

John Franklin Clements (1810 – 1864)

Grave of John F. Clements, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

Grave of John F. Clements, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

John F. Clements, his parents, and brother David C. Clements were among the earlier pioneer families that settled the vicinity of Georgia now known as Ray City, Berrien County. The Clements arrived here some time around 1832.  “The Knights were no doubt responsible for their coming, since they and the Clementses had been neighbors in Wayne County (now Brantley County), and Ann, [John F. Clements’] sister in 1827 had married Levi J. Knight, whose parents had moved to this area a couple of years earlier” – Nell Patten Roquemore

John F. Clements was born October 7, 1810 in Wayne County, GA , a son of William and Elizabeth Clements. As he was growing up his family lived in a part of Wayne county that was later cut into Brantley County. The Clements farm was situated near the Old Post Road, one of the early roads in south Georgia.

Next door to the Clements’ farm lived their friends and future in-laws, the Knights. William Clements had settled his family on land adjacent to the farm of William Anderson Knight, and the two became good friends. William A. Knight, patriarch of the Knight family, was among the very first settlers of Wayne County, having arrived there just after the creation of the county, about 1803.  Knight was one of five commissioners empowered by the Georgia Legislature to determine the site of the county seat in the new county, and “when it was done it was located on lands owned by Mr. Knight and by William Clements.” The county seat was named Waynesville.

John F. Clements and his siblings grew up with the sons and daughters of William A. Knight. In late 1827 John F. Clements’ widowed sister, Mary Ann Clements Herrin, married Levi J. Knight in Wayne CountyMr. and Mrs. L.J. Knight set out to homestead in Lowndes county (now Berrien) on Beaverdam creek, at the present site of Ray City, GA.

In Wayne County, John F. Clements served as Tax Collector  for the two year term from 1830-32. He was elected February 12, 1830, with his father William Clements putting up a surety bond along with William Flowers.   Shortly after John’s term as tax collector expired, the entire Clements family followed the Knights and made the move west to Lowndes County, GA.  He took up residence in Mattox’s District, although tax records do not show he acquired land of his own there. Other Lowndes County settlers in this district included David Bell, James Price, Aaron Mattox, Etheldred Newbern, John Jones, Jr., Michael Peterson, John Peacock, Thomas Giddens, George Hunt, and Frederic McGiddery. In 1832, John F. Clements was a fortunate drawer in the Cherokee Land Lottery, drawing Lot 124, 28th District, 3rd Section, Cherokee County.  Lowndes county tax records from 1834-1844 show John F. Clements owned 400 acres of oak and hardwood land in Cherokee County.

During the Indian Wars (Second Seminole War) John F. Clements served in Levi J. Knight’s Independent Company of Lowndes County, appearing on a company muster roll from August 15 to October 15,  1838. Knight’s Company fought at the Skirmish at William Parker’s Place, and Actions on Little River, among other local engagements.

John’s father, William Clements, died in March of 1837. It is said that he is buried in an unmarked grave  in Union Church Cemetery, (now in Lanier County, GA).  John served as the administrator of his father’s estate.

1837-oct-21-southern-recorder-john-f-clements_administrator

John F. Clements appointed administrator of the estate of William Clement.

Southern Recorder
October 31, 1837

Four Months after date, application will be made to the honorable the Inferior Court of Lowndes county, when sitting for ordinary purposes, for leave to sell the land and negroes belonging to the estate of William Clements, late of said county, deceased.  John F. Clements, Adm’r.

 

In 1840, John F. Clements was enumerated in Lowndes County. He was 30 years old. His household included another white  male, age 40-something, a young slave woman and a slave girl.  Neighbors included John Lee, John Roberts, Benjamin Sirmans and John Knight. Later that year he married Nancy Patten, a daughter of James M. Patten and Elizabeth Lee, sister of Jehu Patten. 

John F. Clement served on the Lowndes County Grand Jury of 1841 which was convened in Troupville, GA, seat of Lowndes County, in May, 1841 under Judge Carlton B. Cole. Levi J. Knight served as foreman of the jury.   The jury criticized the condition of roads in the county and the past-due collections for the sale of lots in the town of Troupville. The jury allowed tax collector Norman Campbell thirty dollars, forty-two-cents and three mills for his insolvent list for the year 1839.

By 1844, John F. Clements had also acquired 245 acres in the 10th  District of Lowndes County. He was also administering 490 acres in Rabun County and 550 acres in Wayne County on behalf of his father

By 1850, John F. Clements owned 980 acres in Lowndes County, 50 of which were improved. The cash value of the farm was assessed at $500, and Clements owned another $50 in equipment and machinery. His livestock included 4 horses, 37 milch cows, 87 other cattle, 21 sheep, and 100 swine, valued at $1000 taken all together. He had on hand 300 bushels of Indian corn, 40 bushels of wheat, 1 bale of cotton at 400 pounds, 20 bushels of sweet potatoes, 50 lbs of butter, and $125 worth of meat. His neighbors were Aaron Knight, Aden Boyd, Henry Tison and William Giddings.

In 1856, the Clements and their neighbors were cut out of Lowndes county and into the newly created Berrien County.

When the Civil War started, John F. Clements was about 49 years old. The 1864 Census for Reorganizing the Georgia Militia  enumerated John F. Clements in the 1144th Georgia Militia District.  His age was given and 52 years, 7 months.  The 1864 Census for Re-organizing the Georgia Militia was a statewide census of all white males between the ages of 16 and 60 who were not at the time in the service of the Confederate States of America. Based on a law passed by the Georgia Legislature in December 1863 to provide for the protection of women, children, and invalids living at home,  the 1864 census was a list of  men who were able to serve in local militia companies and perform such home-front duties as might be required of them. Possibly John F. Clements was mustered into the 5th Georgia Reserves, Company L.  Military records show a J. F. Clements, 1st corporal of Company L paroled May 1, 1865 following the Confederate surrender.

john-f-clements-5-georgia-reserves

John F. Clements died on September 23, 1864 at age 54. He was buried at Union Church Cemetery, Milltown (now Lakeland, GA).  Levi J. Knight assisted the widow Nancy Clements with the administration of the estate. At the time of his death, the Clements farm place was on six hundred and six acres of land situated on parts of Lots of Land No. 381, 356, and 335 in the 10th District of Berrien. His widow, Nancy Clements, was left to run their farm, provide for the six of their children who were still at home, and care for her aged mother.

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W. C. Patten and the Chattanooga Evaporator

Fall in South Georgia from October through the end of the year is still syrup making time -the time that sugar cane is cut and cane syrup produced. In the 1890s, one of the biggest producers of cane syrup and cane sugar in Berrien County was William C. Patten. His production was noted for the use of the Chattanooga Evaporator, which allowed for continuous processing of the juice into syrup, rather than the “batch processing” done in the broad iron kettle of the home farmer.

 

Almost hidden in the steam, the cooker stands over a Chattanooga evaporator and dips his ladle here and there to skim the scum. Occasionally he tests the boiling syrup as it drips from the skimmer and when it "acts right" he lets it out. He doesn't need a saccharometer, and instrument commonly used for the purpose, to know when the syrup is done. His eye is keen and his judgement ripe and he knows when the sweetsome flood is ready. This interesting process is taking place in South Georgia where the natives insist upon sugar-cane syrup and cannot see the taste of a Tennessean, for instance, who has to have his sorghum, which is thicker but not any sweeter. All the same, either goes with flapjacks and hot biscuits - and what would the kids do without old-fashioned molasses candy? There is a Chattanooga cane mill nearby that crushes the stalks as they come from the field and presses out the juice, which then is piped to the evaporator where the cooker keeps a wary eye on the sugar content while the fire is taking out the water.

Almost hidden in the steam, the cooker stands over a Chattanooga evaporator and dips his ladle here and there to skim the scum. Occasionally he tests the boiling syrup as it drips from the skimmer and when it “acts right” he lets it out. He doesn’t need a saccharometer, and instrument commonly used for the purpose, to know when the syrup is done. His eye is keen and his judgement ripe and he knows when the sweetsome flood is ready.

This interesting process is taking place in South Georgia where the natives insist upon sugar-cane syrup and cannot see the taste of a Tennessean, for instance, who has to have his sorghum, which is thicker but not any sweeter. All the same, either goes with flapjacks and hot biscuits – and what would the kids do without old-fashioned molasses candy?

There is a Chattanooga cane mill nearby that crushes the stalks as they come from the field and presses out the juice, which then is piped to the evaporator where the cooker keeps a wary eye on the sugar content while the fire is taking out the water.

 

The Harvester, May, 1921

It is said that  sugar cane cultivation was first introduced into south Georgia by John Moore  when he moved to Lowndes County around 1828. By 1876, Sugar cane became one of the staple crops of Wiregrass Georgia, Berrien County, and of Ray City.   Every farmer had a small cane mill on his farm for pressing the cane to extract the juice, which was cooked down in a cast iron kettle to make syrup. Hundreds of gallons of cane syrup could be produced from a single acre of sugar cane.

Local syrup producers over the years have included the likes of Jehu Patten (1838-1907), farmer of the Rays Mill (now Ray City) District, who in 1896 had “300 gallons of syrup jugged and sealed,” as well as his home produced cane sugar; Levi J. Clements (1851-1924, patriarch of the Clements family and founder of the Clements Lumber Company at Ray City; David C. Clements (1857-1902) who shipped his Georgia cane syrup from Ray City to markets as far as Texas; Moses C. Lee (1853-1926), exemplary farmer of Ray City, who in a year “jugged and barreled 750 gallons of syrup, of the finest that can be made”; Della Outlaw (1891-1932) made cane syrup on what is today the W. H. Outlaw Centennial Farm near Ray City, and bottled it for sale in Nashville, GA (Today, her grandson, Bill Outlaw, makes cane syrup in the family tradition);  David Jackson Skinner (1898-1962), a farmer of the Ray City, GA area and a Deacon of New Ramah Church put up his syrup in cans;  Wiley Chambless (1832-1888) was a Berrien county farmer who grew “red” and “red ribbon” cane; J. McMillan, J.J. McMillan and J.L. Harper, of Alapaha together produced 25 barrels of cane syrup for shipment in 1885; J.N. Bray,  of Berrien County, in 1908 produced 2000 gallons of cane syrup; George W. Leggett (1846-1922) shared the use of his syrup making equipment with family and friends.

The December 14, 1894 the Tifton Gazette reported about William C. Patten’s cane syrup processing:

Tifton Gazette, December 14, 1894. W.C. Patten was one of the largest sugar cane growers in Berrien County, GA

Tifton Gazette, December 14, 1894.W.C. Patten was one of the largest sugar cane growers in Berrien County, GA

 

Mr. W. C. Patten is perhaps the largest sugar cane producer in Berrien County. He uses a Chattanooga Evaporator and it takes about a month to convert his cane crop into sugar and syrup. He lives about five miles north of Milltown. He produces a plenty and to spare of “hog and hominy.”

William C. “Babe” Patten (1849-1944),  was a resident of the “Watson Grade” community, near Empire Church just  northeast of Ray’s Mill, GA .  Watson Grade was the location of the Watson family farm and the home of Sam I. Watson, among others

William C. Patten was a son of William Patten and Elizabeth “Betsey” Register.    He married Sarah Lee, who was the daughter of Moses Corby Lee and Jincy Register. A prominent farmer of Berrien County, GA, William C. Patten was a Notary Public and Ex Officio Justice of the Peace. When his wife’s niece, Jennie Lee, married Samuel I Watson in 1900, it was W. C.  Patten who performed the ceremony.  W.C. Patten, after the death of his first wife, married Sam Watson’s sister,  Laura Watson.

The Chattanooga Evaporator

The evaporator is generally placed down hill from the cane mill so that gravity can be used to get the juice from the mill to the evaporator. The evaporator is a shallow pan about three and one-half feet wide by from five to fifteen feet long. Chattanooga evaporators have partitions about nine inches apart, with a small opening or gate at alternate ends to make the juice flow back and forth across the evaporator.

The evaporator rests on a furnace made of steel or brick. Pine wood is considered the best fuel, as it makes a quick, flashing fire and gives more uniform heat the full length of the pan. The aim is to keep a constant flow of juice into, and from, the evaporator. About thirty minutes after the juice enters the evaporator it leaves it as a clear, delicious syrup.

The picture [above] shows a real South Georgia syrup maker. The quality of the syrup depends a great deal on the skill of the “cooker.” As the juice begins to boil a thick, slimy, green scum rises, bringing with it all the impurities. This is skimmed off and thrown into a barrel.

Just a word about that barrel. Sometimes it becomes the focal point of a great deal of attention, such as might arouse the curiosity of the uninitiated. After the skimmings have stood a while a certain amount of juice settles at the bottom, and that juice develops a kick that would bring happiness to prohibition sufferers could they get a chance at it.

On account of the rapid evaporation, the vapor or “steam” sometimes completely hides the outfit, but the cooker plies his ladle, skimming the juice, dipping and throwing back and occasionally raising the ladle and allowing the syrup from the finishing end of the evaporator to drip off. If the “cooker” is an old hand he knows from the way the syrup “acts” when it is done. The inexperienced cooker tests the syrup with a type of hydrometer known as a saccharometer. – The Harvester, May, 1921

1920 advertisement for Chattanooga cane mills, evaporators, furnaces and accessories.

1920 advertisement for Chattanooga cane mills, evaporators, furnaces and accessories.

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Feb 22, 1905 Marriage of Mollie Bell Clements

Remember Mollie Bell Clements Lee?  She and her husband, Bill Lee, ordered their home from the Sears Catalog about 1917 (see Ray City’s Mail Order House).  Mollie Bell Clements and William David “Bill” Lee were married on Wednesday, February 22, 1905.   Presented here,  the wedding announcement that appeared in The Valdosta Times.

The bride was a daughter of Martha J. Baskin and David Clements. The groom was a son of Moses C. Lee and Amanda Clements.

1905 Wedding announcement of Mollie Bell Clements, of Ray City, and William David Lee, of Milltown.

1905 Wedding announcement of Mollie Bell Clements, of Ray City, and William David Lee, of Milltown. The announcement appeared in the Saturday, February 25, 1905 edition of The Valdosta Times.

The Valdosta Times
Saturday, February 25, 1905

A Wedding Near Ray’s Mill.

      The home of Mrs. Martha Clements, near Ray’s Mill, was the scene of a very pretty wedding Wednesday afternoon, the contracting parties being Miss Mollie Clements and Mr. William David Lee, of Milltown. The ceremony was performed by Rev. L. R. Christie and was witnessed by a large number of friends of the contracting parties. The bride is a very popular as well as pretty young woman, and is a daughter of the late David Clements. The groom is a prominent merchant and naval stores operator at Milltown.
      The couple received many handsome presents and are receiving many congratulations and good wishes from their host of friends.

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Feb 4, 1911 Ray’s Mill News Items

Rays Mill news items appearing in the Feb 4, 1911 Valdosta Times were about the business and social scene in the new town.

The Valdosta Times
 Saturday, February 4, 1911, page 7,
Rays Mill News Items

     Mr. A.L. Bridges has moved into his new building here.
     Mr. W. L. Swindle, of Nashville, has accepted a position with his brother, Mr. J.S. Swindle, of this place.
     Miss Leslie Langford returned to Rays Mill Wednesday night from Vidalia.
Mrs. L.  J. Clements is spending a few days in Milltown this week.
    Mr. G. V. Hardee, druggist of this place, moved in his new building Wednesday.
    Mr. I. Burkhalter made a business trip to Nashville Wednesday.
    Mr. Floyd Fender, of Tifton, is visiting Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Fender for a few days.
    Mrs. Baskin, Mrs. Terry, Mrs. Dr. Clements, Miss Fannie Clements and Miss Lessie Carter represented Beaver Dam Missionary Society at the missionary rally in Valdosta last Tuesday, January 31, and lunch was served at the Tabernacle. They report a good meeting, also a pleasant time for all who attended.
    Mr. A. L. Taylor, of Nashville, has bought Mr. J.T. Webb’s store.
    Mr. W. M. Carter, of Rays Mill, visited Tifton last Saturday returning Sunday night.
    Mr. W. H. Terry made a business trip to Valdosta Wednesday.
    Mr. George Norton spent a few days in Macon last week returning Monday night.

Ray City News appeared in The Valdosta Times, Feb 4, 1911.

Ray City News appeared in The Valdosta Times, Feb 4, 1911.

Austin Lawrence Bridges was a merchant from who came to Ray City in 1909 with his bride, Della Pope.  He bought a house on Jones Street and opened a dry goods store.

William Lawrence Swindle was a farmer of the Ray City area and former Sheriff of Berrien County.  He was a brother of James S. Swindle, and son of James Swindle, Pioneer Settler.

Leslie Alma Langford was the daughter of William E. Langford and Mary Virginia Knight, and sister of Luther Etheldred Langford. In 1918 she married Walter Greene Altman. At the time he was a clerk working for Nix & Miller Company, a sawmill in Ray City, GA, but shortly thereafter he became an ice dealer.  Later Walter owned a cafe where Leslie worked as a waitress.

Mrs. L. J. Clements was Eugenia  Watkins Clements, wife of Lucius J. Clements. Her parents were Sarah and Thomas H. Watkins, of Whitesburg, Carroll County, GA.  She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from La Grange College in 1907.

Gordon Vancie Hardie was a druggist and entrepreneur of Ray City.

Isaac Burkhalter, Jr was born 1863 in Clinch County, GA just weeks before his father, Captain Isaac Burkhalter was killed at Gettysburg. Isaac Burkhalter, the son, made his home at Rays Mill some time before 1900 with his wife, Marentha Sirmans, where he engaged in farming until his death.

Wilson W. Fender was the owner of the Fender Hotel in Ray City.  His wife Lena Fender was in millinery. His eldest son was telephone lineman Floyd Fender, of Tifton, and his younger son’s were Ike and Lutie. Ike Fender was a telephone operator and Lutie Fender was a soda jerk.

The Ladies of the Beaver Dam Missionary Society

  • Mrs. Baskin mentioned in the story could have been one of several Baskin women: Mary Ann Harrell Baskin, second wife of James B. Baskin; her step-daughter, Fannie Ellen Hagan Baskin; or another of the Baskin wives.  The Baskin family  helped found the Baptist Church at Ray City.
  • Mrs. Terry was Nebbie Luckie Terry. She was a daughter of William F. Luckie and wife of W. H. E. Terry, also mentioned in the article.
  • Mrs. Dr. Clements was Pauline Nelson Clements, wife of Dr. Henry Warren Clements. Dr. Clements owned  the second gasoline powered automobile in Berrien County, a Maxwell Doctor’s Roadster.
  • Miss Fannie Lola Clements was a daughter of Martha J. Cements and David C. Clements.
  • Miss Lessie E. Carter was a daughter of Lorenzo D. Carter and Anna Eliza Fender.

Jesse Thomas Webb, who sold his store in Rays Mill, was a son of Mary and John L. Webb, of the Connells Mill District. After selling his store in Rays Mill he moved to Tifton, GA and opened a store there.

William Manson Carter was a son of Lorenzo D. Carter and Anna Eliza Fender, and brother of Lessie E. Carter. In 1917 he worked as a druggist for C. O. Terry.

William Henry Edward Terry came to Ray City about 1910 and built the first brick building in the new town.

James Madison Baskin Settled at Beaver Dam Creek.

James Madison Baskin, first of the Baskin family to settle in the Ray City area, came to Berrien county about the time it was created in 1856.  He was the grandfather of Armstrong B. Baskin, and great grandfather of Mary Frances Baskin. James M. Baskin was born 6 April 1829 in Houston County, GA, one of thirteen children born to Sarah Goode and James G. Baskin.  His father was born 1792 in Abbeville District, SC.  and came to Georgia as a child.

When grown to adulthood, James M. Baskin left his family home with two slaves given to him by his father.  These slaves were experienced in construction, and James went into business as a building contractor.

While on a stay in Atlanta, James M. Baskin resided at the Bell House, a boarding house said to be the first hotel in Atlanta. There, he met the proprietor’s daughter, Frances Bell Knox.  She was  a widow with a three-year-old son, Alton Knox.  (The 1850 Dekalb County census  records show that by the age of 17 she was married to Joseph Knox, age 28, and that the couple had a one year old son named Alton.)

About 1852, Frances Bell Knox and James Madison Baskin were married  in Houston County.  In 1853, Frances gave James a daughter,  Fannie E. Baskin.  Another daughter, Sarah “Sallie” E., followed in 1856.

James M. Baskin’s father died in 1856.  About that time he decided to move his family from their home in Houston County.  His adopted son was now seven years old, his daughter three. His wife was probably either pregnant or was caring for their second infant daughter Sarah “Sallie” E., who was born that same year.   Who knows his reasons for uprooting his young family?  The Indian wars were over – south Georgia was secure. The Coffee Road provided a migration route and there was a steady southward flow of settlers.  Perhaps the disposition of his father’s estate incited him to move.  Perhaps he foresaw the coming war and wanted his family farther from north Georgia military objectives, or perhaps he saw more opportunities in the new counties being opened in southern Georgia.

It was in 1856 that Berrien County was cut out of Lowndes County; Levi J. Knight and others were setting boundaries and surveying the new county. James M. Baskin brought his family to the area of Beaverdam Creek in the southernmost part of the new county.  He settled about a mile outside of present day Ray City, GA  on land Lots 470 and 471 in the 10th land district. Tax records from the 1870s show James M. Baskin owned 1080 acres pf land in Berrien county,  relatively valuable land appraised at $1.85 per acre.

1869 Berrien County Map detail showing location of land lots #470 and 471.

1869 Berrien County Map detail showing location of land lots #470 and 471.

Over the next five years three more daughters were added to the Baskin family: Georgia Ann (1857), Martha J. (1859), and Mary J. (1861)

The Civil War came along and James M. Baskin joined the Confederate army, enlisting as a private in the 54th Georgia Infantry. He fought throughout the war and was wounded in the Battle of Atlanta.

After the war, James Baskin returned to farm life.  Over the next ten years he and Frances had five more children.  In all,  James M. Baskin and Frances Bell had 11 children. James and Frances Baskin, and some of their children, were active in the formation of Beaver Dam Baptist church, now known as Ray City Baptist Church.

Children of James Madison Baskin and  Frances Bell:

  1. Baskin, Fannie E. (1853 – 1892) m. William A. K. Giddens
  2. Baskin, Sarah “Sallie” E. (1856 – ) m. Thomas M. Ray, Jr.
  3. Baskin, Georgia Ann (1857 – 1934) m. Leonard L. Roberts
  4. Baskin, Martha J. (1859 – 1950) m. David C. Clements, Dec. 22, 1881
  5. Baskin, Mary J. (1861 – 1902) m. Ulysses A. Knight
  6. Baskin, James B. (1864 – 1943) m. Fannie Ellen Hagan, dau. of John W. Hagan, Dec. 15, 1887
  7. Baskin, Callie D. (1866 – 1890)  m. John T. Smith
  8. Baskin, William H. (1869 – ) m. Mamie Harrell, dau. of John W.
  9. Baskin, Emma (1872 – ) m. George T. Patten
  10. Baskin, Maggie May (1874 – 1898) m. Robert L. Patten
  11. Baskin, Ollie (1876 – ) m. L. H. Dasher

Frances Bell Knox Baskin died on June 3, 1885 at Rays Mill (now Ray City), Berrien County, Georgia.

James Baskin was a widower, 56 years old, the youngest of his 11 children just 9 years old. He decided to re-marry. Just six months later, on Dec 30 1885 he wed Mary Ann Harrell. She was a native of Lowndes County, born in  Nov. 29, 1859. At 27, she was a prominent citizen experienced in public service, and a former Ordinary (probate judge) of Lowndes county.

Children of James Madison Baskin and Mary Ann Harrell, – m. 30 DEC 1885 in Lowndes County, Georgia

  1. Baskin, Alonzo L. (1886 – ) b.   Nov. 17, 1886, m. Corine Rodriguez
  2. Baskin, Verdie (1888 – ) b.   Dec. 17, 1888, m. James W. Lovejoy
  3. Baskin, Infant (1891 – 1891)
  4. Baskin, Ruby (1893 – ) b.   May 16, 1893, m. Walter M. Shaw
  5. Baskin, Ruth (1894 – 1922) b.   Dec. 15, 1894, died single, age 22 years
  6. Baskin, John Holmes (1897 – ) b.   Oct. 8, 1897, m. Mrs. Laura Hall Sweat of Waycross

James Madison Baskin lived on his land near Ray City with his second wife until his death on July 7, 1913. Mary Ann Harrell Baskin  died April 29, 1917.

He and both of his wives are buried in the Ray City Cemetery.

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Ray City’s Mail Order House

In the early 1900s rural consumers found they could purchase almost anything from mail-order catalogs, including homes.  About 1917, one Ray City couple did just that.

The Avondale, Sears mail-order home ordered by Mollie and Bill Lee, of Ray City, GA in 1917.

The Avondale, Sears mail-order home ordered by Mollie and Bill Lee, of Ray City, GA in 1917.

 Sears Catalog Homes (sold as Sears Modern Homes) were ready-to-assemble houses sold through mail order by Sears Roebuck and Company. Over 70,000 of these kit homes were sold in North America between 1908 and 1940. Shipped via railroad boxcars, the kit included all the materials needed to build a house.  Many were assembled by do-it-yourself homeowners with the help of friends, relatives, and neighbors, in a fashion similar to the traditional barn-raisings of farming families.

As an add-on, Sears offered the latest technology available to house buyers in the early part of the twentieth century. Central heating, indoor plumbing, and electricity were all new developments in-house design that “Modern Homes” incorporated, although not all the houses were designed with these conveniences. Central heating, for example, not only improved the livability of houses with little insulation but also improved fire safety, a worry in an era when open flames threatened houses and even entire cities, as in the Great Chicago Fire (1871).

As demand decreased, Sears expanded the product line to feature houses that varied in cost to meet the budgets of various buyers. Sears began offering financing plans in 1916. However, the company experienced steadily rising payment defaults throughout the Great Depression, resulting in increasing strain for the catalog house program. More than 370 designs of Sears Homes were offered during the program’s 32-year history. The mortgage portion of the program was discontinued in 1934 after Sears was forced to liquidate $11 million in defaulted debt. Sears closed their Modern Homes department in 1940. A few years later, all sales records were destroyed during a corporate house cleaning. The only way to find these houses today is literally one by one.

One Sears mail-order home was purchased by Mollie and  Bill Lee of Ray City, GA.

Mollie  Bell Clements and William David  “Bill” Lee both grew up near Ray City, GA.  Mollie was a daughter of  Martha J. Baskin and David C. Clements. Bill was a son of Moses C. Lee and Amanda Clements.  He was educated at the Green Bay School near Ray City, where he was a member of the Advanced Literary Society.

Mollie and Bill were married February 22, 1905 in Berrien County, Georgia. As newlyweds, they made their home in a two-room log cabin.  The Census of 1910 shows William and Mollie living  in Georgia Militia District 1144, the Rays Mill District, with their two young children, Vivian  Lee and Fannie Lee.  Bill was farming on his own account. By 1917, the Lees had four more children,  Ruth Amanda Lee, Willie E. Lee, Mary E. Lee, and Moses Clements Lee.  Clearly, it was time for a bigger house.

About 1917,  Bill and Mollie ordered a “Modern Home,”  The Avondale, No. 151, from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog.  The materials were probably shipped via the Georgia and Florida Railroad to Ray City, then carried by wagon to the construction site.  The Lees purchased additional interior components to complete the house from the Sears & Roebuck store in Valdosta, Ga.  The home would have been assembled completely by manual labor, as electric power was not yet available in Ray City in 1917. The house had seven rooms, and the common features of the time, like 12 foot ceilings, plaster walls, wood floors, and bay windows.  Over the years the Lees modified the original floor plan of their Sears home, adding on to the back of the house to enlarge the kitchen and rear bedrooms, and adding a sun room off the master bedroom.

Nearly 100 years later, the house still stands near Ray City.

Houseplans for The Avondale, mail-order house sold by Sears & Roebuck.

House plans for The Avondale, mail-order house sold by Sears, Roebuck & Co.

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