Richard McGowen, Slave Boy of Ray City

Richard McGowen, Slave Boy of Ray City

Richard McGowan (or McGowen), an African-American resident of the Ray City area for nearly 80 years, was born into slavery in Duplin County, NC about 1845.

Research on the ancestry of Richard McGowan conducted by Bryan Shaw resulted in an outline which in large part formed the material of this blog post.  Special thanks to Bryan for his contributions. His sources were the Will of William M. McGowan, Jr. 1792; U.S. Census records from 1790 through 1920 from Duplin County, North Carolina, and Berrien County, Georgia; also the Slave Schedule of 1850, 1866 Duplin County Cohabitation Record, tax digests of Berrien County, Georgia, and the estate papers of Hardeman Sirmans. Additional sources for this post include the 1860 Census  Schedule of Slave Inhabitants of Berrien County, GA; 1866 Marriage of Freed People, Duplin County; 1867 Berrien County Loyalty Oath and Voter Registrations; 1894 Colored Voter Registration, Rays Mill, GA; Roots, rocks and recollections by Nell Patten Roquemore, and the 1930 U.S. Census records of Berrien County, GA.  Information which is stated as fact is documented, and presented as most likely or probably. That which is conjecture is presented as a possibility. The history is presented in chronological order.

The McGowan Family

The origins of the family of the slave boy, Richard McGowan had their roots in Duplin County, North Carolina. Richard McGowan is believed to be the descendant of slaves owned by the William M. McGowan, Jr. family of that county.  Willliam M. McGowan, Jr. was born about 1745, son of William McGowen, Sr. of New Hanover County, North Carolina. William Jr. married Mary Dickson in 1767, and by their union they had 10 children: David (c1770), John (c1772), William (c1773), Robert (c1775), Edward (c1777), Michael (c1779), James (c1781), Joseph (c1782), George (c1789), and Alexander (c1790).

William McGowan, Jr. purchased and settled on land in the Grove Creek Swamp area between today’s Kenansville, North Carolina and North East Cape Fear River, north of Highway 24. One biography suggests his land was south of the swamp, however the McGowen African-American cemetery with many unmarked graves is located on the north side of the swamp, between Highway 11 and Sarecta on the Sarecta Road (GPS Coordinates: 34.810733 N 77.996659 W ). The white McGowen family (sometimes spelled McGowan or McGowin) owned hundreds if not thousands of acres of land in Duplin and Hanover counties, NC.  Based on the small number of slaves owned, it does not appear that they had large tracts of land under cultivation.This was consistent with most North Carolina farmers at that time.

William McGowan, Jr.  died in 1792, leaving a will dated October 5, 1792. The will of William M. McGowan, Jr. divided his estate among his children, including the slaves he owned at the time. He willed that his estate be kept together including the slaves until his children were schooled, and all of his debts were satisfied. However he did specifically identify one of his slaves, Will, to be included in son John’s portion of the estate. He also left a “negro wench named Roze” to his wife Mary. He also “lent” her one negro boy named Dick and one negro girl named Nancy, both to be divided amongst the children upon Mary’s death. His will states all his slaves who were not otherwise identified should also go to Mary to work his estate until his affairs were settled, and to be sold off as his minor children reached the age of majority or were married. Was this boy named Dick the son of Will and the grandfather of Richard “Dick” McGowan?

Thus, following the death of William McGowan, Jr. his children and widow continued as landowners and slaveholders in Duplin County, NC. In the 1800 census, son John McGowen is shown  as the owner of 12 slaves.  Son William McGowen owned 5 slaves, son Robert McGowen owned 4 slaves, and widow Mary McGowan owned 11 slaves.

By 1810, John McGowen had 13 slaves, William McGowen had 8 slaves, Mary McGowan had 9 slaves, and James McGowen had 3 slaves.

In the 1820 census, James McGowen had no slaves, Robert McGowen had 13 slaves, and William McGowen had 3 slaves.

By 1850,  the only McGowen slave owners in Duplin County were the sons of William M. McGowan, Jr.: William McGowen, James P. McGowen, and Joseph McGowen.

On the 1850 Census Slave Schedule, Joseph McGowen owned 26 slaves enumerated  as: a female 65, female 58, male 45, male 44, female 39, male 37, male 26, female 24, female 22, male 19, male 18, male 17, male 16, male 15, female 14, female 14, male 14, male 11, female 7, male 6, female 5, male 5, female 3, female 2, male 2, and a female 9 months. James P. McGowen owned 3 slaves – female 50, male 7, and male 3, and William McGowen owned 1 slave, male 18.

In addition to the slaves enumerated in 1850 in the possession of the McGowens,  it appears that two slave boys, Richard and Peter, had been sold by James, Joseph or William McGowan to a Duplin County neighbor, James Dobson.  James Dobson could have purchased the slave boys from any of the three McGowens, but the most likely would be Joseph McGowen as he had the largest slave population.

Marriages of the McGowan Slaves and the Parents of Slave boy Richard McGowan

The parentage of the slave boys Peter and Richard McGowan cannot be stated with certainty.  Records of the Freedman’s Bureau in post-bellum Duplin County, NC provide evidence that their parents may have been McGowen slaves named Thomas and Malvina.

As an almost universal condition of slavery, the slaves of the William M. McGowan family were denied the civil and religious convention of marriage. According to Reginald Washington, African American genealogy specialist at the National Archives and Records Administration, “Slave marriages had neither legal standing nor protection from the abuses and restrictions imposed on them by slaveowners. Slave husbands and wives, without legal recourse, could be separated or sold at their master’s will. Couples who resided on different plantations were allowed to visit only with the consent of their owners. Slaves often married without the benefit of clergy, and as historian John Blassingame states, “the marriage ceremony in most cases consisted of the slaves simply getting the master’s permission and moving into a cabin together.”

Almost immediately after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, federal authorities decreed that marriages of enslaved African-Americans were legitimate and had legal standing.  In some areas the newly created Freedman’s Bureau began issuing marriage licenses to former slaves. Within a year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation providing for the recognition of the marriages of former slaves.  According to Learn NC“The North Carolina office of the Freedmen’s Bureau published announcements outlining the provisions of the law: Any couple who appeared before a Justice of the Peace or Clerk of the Court and stated when they began living together as husband and wife, would be issued a certificate and would be considered lawfully married. Bureau officers worked to make all freedmen in their districts aware of the new rules and of the deadlines for complying with them. In response, tens of thousands of freed couples reported their marriages to county courts.”

On August 18, 1866,  two former slaves giving their names as Thomas McGowen and Malvina McGowen went before the court of Duplin County, NC  for “Acknowledgement” of their marriage  and registered their date of “commencement” as 1826.

Records of Thomas McGowan in the 1866 Marriage of Freed People, Duplin County, NC

Records of Thomas McGowen in the 1866 Marriage of Freed People, Duplin County, NC

There was also another Thomas McGowen in Duplin County who, on August 11, 1866, registered his marriage to Malvina Pearsall.  For this couple, the date of “commencement” was 1855. This Thomas McGowen appears to be the possible son of Thomas and Malvina McGowen who “commenced” their marriage in 1826. An interesting note about this couple is that in the 1870 U.S. Census they are living on or near the farm of John Quincy McGowen and Alexander D. McGowen, sons of Joseph McGowen and grandsons of William M. McGowan.

Was the older Thomas McGowen actually the father of Richard “Dick” McGowan? It is certainly a possibility.

The Dobson Connection

The first slave owner who can be identified with a high degree of certainty as having owned the slave boy Richard McGowan is James Dobson, of Duplin County, NC.  James Dobson was a son of Hezekiah and Elizabeth Davis Dobson. The Dobson property was just to the southeast of the lands owned by the descendants of William M. McGowan, near Kenansville, NC.  In fact, the Dobson Family cemetery is east of Kenansville on the south side of Highway 24 just east of North Dobson Chapel Road.

The 1850 Slave Schedule for Duplin County enumerated the six slaves owned by James Dobson as: a  female 27, male 12, male 10, male 8 (probably Peter McGowan), male 6 (probably Richard “Dick” McGowan), and a male age 2.  That same year, James Dobson moved his family and slaves to that section of  Lowndes County, Georgia which was later cut into Berrien County.  About that same time, a number of families were relocating “from Duplin to Lowndes. Among these families were those of William J. Lamb, James Carroll, Jesse Carroll, William Godfrey, Andrew J. Liles, William Best, James W. Dixon and others. These all settled in or around the village then called Alapaha but now named Lakeland, Lanier County.”  Among others coming from Duplin to Berrien in the mid-century were Robert Rouse, William Hill Boyett, John Bostick, Treasy Boyett Bostick and Mary C. Bostick.

James Dobson settled his family and slaves on land lot 333 of the 10th District, just west of Ten Mile Creek in what is now Lanier County. The 1856 Berrien County Tax Digest shows James Dobson owning 7 slaves, with a total value of approximately $4500. That same year, November 11, 1856, Dobson sold two negro boys, Peter, about 13 years old, and Dick, about 11 years old, to Hardeman Sirmans who lived on the connecting land lot number 339 near present day Ray City, GA. In a bill of sale in possession of the Berrien Historical Foundation, James Dobson warrants that the two boys are of sound body and mind. The sale price was $1900.

1856 Slave Bill of Sale<br> Bill of Sale from James Dobson to Hardeman Sirmans for tw.o slave boys, Dick and Peter, dated November 11, 1856. Image courtesy of the Berrien County Historical Foundation.

1856 Slave Bill of Sale
Bill of Sale from James Dobson to Hardeman Sirmans for two slave boys, Dick and Peter, dated November 11, 1856. Image courtesy of the Berrien County Historical Foundation.

Received of Hardeman Sirmons One thousand nine hundred dollars in full payment for two negro boys, one named Peter about thirteen years old the other named Dick about eleven years old which negroes I warrant to be sound and healthy both in body and mind and I further warrant and  defend the right and titles from of the aforesaid negro boys from and against the claim or claims of myself my heirs executors administrators and assigns and from the claim of all and any other person in witness whereof I the said James Dobson have herewith set my hand and seal this 11th day of November 1856.

James Dobson

The Sirmans Connection

The slave boy Richard McGowan was purchased by Hardeman Sirmans on November 11, 1856.  This was just days before  Berrien county was created from lands cut out of Lowndes County, GA including the lands of Hardeman Sirmans which lay just north of present day Ray City, GA.  By the time Berrien County was created, Hardeman Sirmans was already a prominent citizen of the area.  According to historian Folks Huxford, “Mr. Sirmans served in the Indian War as a private in a volunteer company of Lowndes County militia commanded by his father-in-law, Capt. (afterwards General) Levi J. Knight, August 15th to Oct 15 1838. He was 1st Lieutenant of the 664th militia district, Lowndes County, 1845-46, then served as Captain in same district 1847-1851. Mr. Sirmans was a member of the Masonic order, receiving his degrees in Butler Lodge, No. 211, F. & A.M. at old Milltown (now Lakeland) in 1858. He was the brother of  Rachel Sirmans Mattox; she was the widow of Samuel Mattox who was hanged at Troupville in 1843. In 1847, Hardeman Sirmans married Elizabeth Knight,  eldest daughter of General Levi J. Knight.  General Knight was a neighbor of Mr. Sirmans and the original settler of Ray City.

The 1860 Census Schedule of Slave Inhabitants in Berrien County, GA shows Hardeman Sirmans owned three slaves: Male Mulatto, 25; Male Black, 16 (probably Peter McGowan); Male Black, 14 (probably Richard McGowan). The Slave schedule showed Sirmans provided one “slave house” for his slaves. None of his slaves had escaped and none had been freed.

1860 Census schedule of slave inhabitants of Berrien County, GA enumerating the slaves owned by Hardeman Sirmans.

1860 Census schedule of slave inhabitants of Berrien County, GA enumerating the slaves owned by Hardeman Sirmans.
https://archive.org/stream/acpl_slavecensus_01_reel01#page/n134/mode/1up

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Hardeman Sirmans, a State Militia veteran of the Indian Wars, enlisted in the Confederate Army with the Clinch County Greys. Sirmans spent most of the Civil War in South Georgia patrolling the southern counties in search of deserters. He probably had opportunities to visit his farm and oversee it to some degree. It appears that Richard McGowan remained with the Sirmans throughout the duration of the War.

Hardeman Sirmans Home just north of Ray City, about 1910. The photo was taken after the death of Hardeman, however his wife, Betsy Knight Sirmans is seated at the table, center. Photo courtesy of Patricia Sirmans Miller and the Berrien County Historical Foundation http://berriencountyga.com/

Hardeman Sirmans Home just north of Ray City, GA about 1910. The photo was taken after the death of Hardeman, however his wife, Betsy Knight Sirmans is seated at the table, center. Photo courtesy of Patricia Sirmans Miller and the Berrien County Historical Foundation http://berriencountyga.com/

Richard McGowan, Freedman

After the war, Richard McGowan remained on the Hardeman Sirmans place. The 1867 Berrien County tax digest shows the “Freedman” Richard McGowan was self-employed and that he paid the $1.00 poll tax.  The Reconstruction Act of 1867  allowed all freedmen the right to vote and required states to draft documents providing for black male suffrage. But the poll tax quickly became a device for disenfranchising black voters.  It was not until 1966 that Supreme Court rulings on the Twenty-fourth Amendment, ratified in 1964, outlawed the use of this tax (or any other tax) as a pre-condition for voting in federal or state elections.

It seems odd, but former slaves could exercise their civil right to vote they were also required to take the same Oath of Allegiance as former Confederate soldiers.   Among 0ther former slaves of Berrien County who took the Oath of Allegiance were Moses Riley, Edward Ross, William Adams, Joseph Wilcox, Timothy Wilcox, Edmund Jones, James A. Adams, Alexander Wright, Allen Lewis, Richard Lewis, John Smith, Seaborn Hubbard, Rolin Alexander, Edward Swain, Benjamin Neasmith, Thomas Udderback, Richard Morehead, Henry Brown, John Thomas, George Houston, Frank Head, Hilliard Armstead, Samuel Rose, Jacob Thomas, William Watts, Aaron Wright, Austin Freeman, Daniel Freeman, Madison Daniels, Sandy Thomas, Andrew Wilson, and Thomas Howard.

1867 Oath of Allegiance completed by Richard McGowen in Berrien County, GA.

1867 Oath of Allegiance completed by Richard McGowan in Berrien County, GA.

State of Georgia
County of Berrien

Personally appeared before me this 22nd day of July, 1867, Richard McGowan who states that he resides in the 3d Election Precinct of Berrien County, Georgia, and who makes oath as follows:

“I Richard McGowan do solemnly swear in the presence of Almighty God, that I am a citizen of the State of Georgia; that I have resided in said State for 19 years months next preceding this day, and now reside in the County of Berrien in said State; that I am 21 years old; that I have not been disfranchised for participation in any rebellion or civil war against the United States, nor for felony committed against the laws of any State or the United States; that I have never been a member of any State Legislature, nor held any executive or judicial office in any State, and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof; that I have never taken an oath as a member of Congress of the United States, or as an officer of the United States, and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid and comfort to the enemies thereof; that I will faithfully support the Constitution and obey the laws of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, encourage others so to do. So help me, God.”

The said Richard McGowan further swears that he has not been previously registered under the provisions of “An act supplementary to ‘an act to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States’ – passed March 2, 1867 – and to facilitate restoration,” under this or any other name, in this or any other Election District; and further, that he was born in ______ and naturalized by ___________ on the day of ________________,18__ in the ___________

Richard McGowan

Sworn to and subscribed before me date precinct & county aforesaid

A. Marochetti
Register of the Sixth Registration District

The 1870 census shows Richard McGowan, 23, and another African-American man,  Tony Smith, 24, residing at the Sirmans residence.  Both men were working as farm laborers.

1870 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

1870 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA
https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0135unit#page/n453/mode/1up

About 1871, Richard had met and married Sally Thomas and they started their family with the birth of their son, Billy followed by Jesse, Henry, Aaron, and Minerva.

What became of the slave boy Peter is not known, however the 1870 census lists a Peter McGowen, age 80 and his wife Polly, age 60, living nearby.  Furthermore, an 1867 Oath of Allegiance and voter registration  completed by a Peter McGowan in Berrien County indicates he came from North Carolina to Georgia around 1849. This may be the father or relative of Peter and Richard McGowan, as he would have been about 55 at the time of Richard’s birth. The 1870 Census shows Polly was born in Georgia and the 1880 Census records her birthplace as South Carolina; either way she is most likely not kin to the boys.

By the 1880 census Richard, age 30 (probably 34) and Sally, 25 were still living near the Sirmans and Knight family farms, but in a separate household in Enumeration District 1144.

1880 Census enumeration of Richard McGowen and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

1880 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA
https://archive.org/stream/10thcensusl0134unit#page/n380/mode/1up

There is no 1890 census record of Richard McGowan; most of the 11th census records were lost after a 1921 fire, and a series of tragic missteps in the record handling left nothing. However, Richard McGowan is listed in the 1894  Colored Voter Registration for Ray’s Mill, GA, indicating that he  remained in the community.

The 1900 census lists the members of the Richard McGowan household as: Richard, age 66 born July, 1833 (probably 54 and born c1845); Sallie, age 55 born March, 1845 (probably 45 and born c1855); Minerva, age 25 born February, 1875; Barney age 9 born March, 1891; Maggie, age 7 born December, 1892; Charlie, age 5 born December, 1894; Fannie, age 3 born March, 1897; and Richard Jr., age 7 months born October, 1899. Sallie had given birth to 13 children, ten of whom survived. She probably lost three children sometime between the birth of Minerva and Barney. Richard and Sallie were living next door to their son Jessie and his wife and step children, still in the Rays Mill District. Other neighbors included Moses Lee,  J. J. and Catherine Beagles, Hiram Beagles, and Elizabeth Beagles.

https://archive.org/stream/12thcensusofpopu179unit#page/n764/mode/1up

1900 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA
https://archive.org/stream/12thcensusofpopu179unit#page/n764/mode/1up

 

In 1910 the McGowan household consisted of: Richard, age 62 (see note regarding ages); Sallie, age 52; Barney, age 20; Maggie, age 18; Charlie, age 16; and Fannie, age 14. The McGowans  were renting a home about 6 miles east of Ray City and just north of Highway 129, next door to Mary Elizabeth “Mollie” Truett and James R. Johnson, Sr. Richard, Barney and Charlie were farm laborers working as wage employees.    The Beigles were still among the neighbors;  ex-convict Thomas J. Beigles and his wife Mary Elizabeth Pearson Beigles owned a nearby farm. It was reported that Richard and Sallie McGowan had been married 30 years (actually 40) and she had given birth to 16 children, only 8 surviving. Richard Jr. appears to be among those who did not survive.

https://archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po172unit#page/n654/mode/1up

1910 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA.
https://archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po172unit#page/n654/mode/1up

In the 1920 census, Richard, enumerated as Dick McGowen, age 76, was still renting in the Ray City area, farming and living with Sallie, 64; Maggie, 25; Fannie, 23; and a granddaughter, Florrie, 4. They were living next door to Martha J. Baskin Clements, widow of David C. Clements, and her adult children Grover C. Clements, Albert B. Clements and his wife Connie, and Alma Clements. Nearby was the household of Elick Wright, brother of Moses Wright.

https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n322/mode/1up

1920 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA.
https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n322/mode/1up

 

At the time of the 1930 Census, Richard and Sallie McGowan and several of their children and descendants were still living near Ray City, GA. The family was enumerated April 25, 1930 in the 1300 Georgia Militia District of Lanier County, GA, which was cut out of Berrien County in 1920.  Richard, enumerated as age 99, was probably about 86 years old.  Sallie was reported as 76 years old. Residing with them was their daughter Fannie, reported as age 39, actually 33. The McGowans were renting a home near Ray City. Fannie was working as a farm laborer.  Among the nearby neighbors were Americus McGee, Floyd Green, Caulie Pevy, Lucius J. Knight, and John and Wealthy Lee.  Richard McGowan is enumerated as a veteran of the Civil War.

1930-richard-mcgowen-census

1930 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1300 Georgia Militia District, Lanier County, GA.
https://archive.org/stream/georgiacensus00reel372#page/n520/mode/1up

On August 6, 1930, just a few months after the 15th census, the Atlanta Constitution reported the death of Richard McGowanThe article even further exaggerated the longevity of the former slave, giving his age as 106.  The article also unfortunately confuses Richard McGowen with his grandson, Philmore McGowan, who was the late husband of Molly Reddick McGowan Hall, a Ray City psychic of widespread fame.

It is understood that both Richard McGowan and Sallie Thomas McGowan are buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery at St John Baptist Church in the Barretts community, five miles south of Ray City, GA .

A Note on the Ages of Former Slaves as Reported in Census Records

Because slaves were deprived of civil and human rights  – education, literacy, personal property –  records of slave birth dates, marriage dates, family relations, genealogy or even place of residence may be very difficult to document. Remembering dates, and counting years  was not easily achieved. It was quite common over the course of eight or nine decades for those vital dates to be forgotten, mistaken or erroneously changed for no particular reason especially if not recorded in a family Bible.  Census enumeration of slaves was typically only a count of heads.  Furthermore, the ages and birth dates of any persons were not of particular consequence prior to the passage of the Social Security act in 1935.

Now regarding the age of Richard, Sallie and their children, It appears that the most definable age of Richard was when he was about 11 years of age in the 1856 bill of sale. He was certainly not born in 1833 as listed in the 1900 census. Probably 1845 is the more accurate birth date. He was listed as 24 in 1870, which appears to be about right. It is more probable that Richard was about 54 in 1900, and that he probably died about the age of 84 in 1930. Ages of Richard’s children are probably more accurate if figured from the date of their earliest recording in the census.

Related Posts

 

 

Advertisements

Obituary of Jay Sirmans, September 29, 1916

Jay Sirmans was born April 16, 1864 and lived all of his life in the vicinity of Ray City, GA.

Jay Sirmans of Ray City, GA. Image detail courtesy of berriencountyga.com

Jay Sirmans of Ray City, GA. Image detail courtesy of berriencountyga.com

Jay Sirmans was the youngest son of Elizabeth Knight and Hardeman Sirmans, the eighth of their twelve children. His sister Martha Elizabeth Sirmans married Joe S. Clements, who was treasurer at the Clements Sawmill and later served as Mayor of Ray City. His sister Clara Sirmans married Irishman Frank Gallagher and they had a farm east of Ray City. His sister Annie B. Sirmans (1872 – 1963) married John Chilton Matheny; she was later the owner of Ray’s Mill. His sister Valeria Sirmans (1874 – 1961) married James Isaac Lee

On 22 March 1893 Jay Sirmans married Rachel Allifar Smith (born July 30, 1869)  a daughter of Mary Jane Smith and  John Woods Smith.

Children of Rachel Smith and Jay Sirmans:

  1. John Hardeman Sirmans, born February 23, 1899 in Georgia;  died April 28, 1966 in Berrien County, Georgia
  2. J B Mitchell Sirmans, born January 19, 1905 in Berrien County, GA; died July 13, 1983 in Lanier County, Georgia; buried Empire Cemetery.

In 1899, Jay Sirmans gained a bit of local attention after his attempt to capture a large alligator for exhibition in the western states.

Obituary of Jay Sirmans

Jay Sirmans died rather unexpectedly at the age of 52.

Obituary of Jay Sirmans, Ray City, GA

Obituary of Jay Sirmans, Ray City, GA
Tifton Gazette, Sep. 29, 1916 — page 2

Tifton Gazette
September 29, 1916 — page 2

J. Sirmans, Ray City

Mr. J. Sirmans, a well known resident of Berrien county, living about a mile and a half from Ray City, died at his home Wednesday night at 9 o’clock, says the Valdosta Times.
Mr. Sirmans had been ill for about 10 days but his condition was not thought to be serious. His death came as a great surprise.
Mr. Sirmans is survived by his wife and two sons.

Sirmans was buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA. He was a member of Woodmen of the World, and insurance through the fraternal organization provided a large and distinctive monument to mark his grave.

Gravemarker of Jay Sirmans, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA. Died September 20, 1916

Gravemarker of Jay Sirmans, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA. Died September 20, 1916

Related Posts:

Levi J. Knight ~ in the Antebellum Wiregrass

Antebellum Wiregrass

By the early 1840s Levi J. Knight, pioneer settler of Ray City, GA, was well known across the state for his military and political leadership, and had been noted in the national press for his actions in the Indian Wars. In his home county of Lowndes, (now Berrien), GA Knight  had a well established estate and was consolidating his real property.   On April 11, 1842 he  purchased 9 lots in the 10th District.  These Lots were available for purchase to anyone with the cost of the $18 survey fee. The Digest of the Taxes of Lowndes County for the Year 1844 shows the following about the property held by the Knight family:

Levi J. Knight owned 7350 acres of pines in the 10th district, Lowndes County, 40 acres of “oak & hickory” on Lot No. 830 in the 18th District, Cherokee county, and seven slaves.

William A. Knight, father of Levi J. Knight, owned 2940 acres of pine land in the 10th district  in Lowndes county, this land improved with bridges and ferries valued at $200. Also three slaves and 250 acres of pine land on Lot 250 in the 7th District in Early County. His tax liability for the year was $15. 26.

John Knight owned Lot No. 453 in the 10th District, Lowndes county, with 490 acres of pine land. No slaves were assessed, with his total property tax being $0.85.

Aaron Knight owned the adjacent Lot No. 454, with all 490 acres in pines. No slaves were assessed, with his total property tax being $0.85.

1844-property-taxes-family-of-levi-j-knight-thumb

In 1846, Lowndes County Deputy Sheriff Jesse W. Carter advertised a Sheriff’s sale which included Levi J. Knight’s property in Lot No. 292 in the 10th district. The land was sold to satisfy a debt Knight owed to Elias Roberts.

The Milledgeville Federal Union, April 28, 1846 — page 3 Lowndes Sheriff’s Sale. Will be sold on the first Tuesday in June next, within the legal hours of sale, before the Court house door in the town of Troupville, Lowndes county, the following property, to wit:… …at the same time and place, will be sold 490 acres of land, known as lot No. 292, in the 10th district of originally Irwin now Lowndes county; levied on as the property of Levi J. Knight, to satisfy a fi fas from Lowndes Superior Court-Elias Roberts vs. Levi J. Knight: property pointed out by defendant. JESSE W. CARTER, D.S. April 16, 1846.

Elias Roberts, plaintiff in the above case, was a fellow veteran of the Indian Wars. He had settled a home place in western Lowndes county bordering on Mule Creek.  About him, historian William Harden wrote,

Elias Roberts, having bought land bordering Mule creek, first built a house of round logs to shelter his family. Then his slaves laboriously whip-sawed boards from the native timber and with a skilled house-joiner and carpenter to direct the operations, a commodious two-story dwelling was erected. The boards were two and a half inches thick, were dove-tailed together at the ends, and were fastened to the studding with wooden -dowel-pins in lieu of nails. When finished, and for some years afterward, this was the most pretentious residence in all this countryside…  Before coming into this part of Georgia, he had served under General Jackson in the Florida Indian wars, and after coming here was a member of a company organized for protection against the Indians over the border, the company being several times called out to drive the red men back to their reservations. During such troublous times the Roberts homestead above described became the place of refuge for the women and children of the settlement, so that it served both as a residence and a fort. Elias Roberts had been a participant in the battle of Brushy Creek in 1836, when the Indians made their last great stand in defense of their hunting grounds.

In 1847, L. J. Knight’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth,  married Hardeman Sirmans.  According to historian Folks Huxford, “Mr. Sirmans served in the Indian War as a private in a volunteer company of Lowndes County militia commanded by his father-in-law, Capt. (afterwards General) Levi J. Knight, August 15th to Oct 15 1838. He was 1st Lieutenant of the 664th militia district, Lowndes County, 1845-46, then served as Captain in same district 1847-1851. Folks Huxford also states in his sketch of Levi J. Knight that when the Mexican War broke out in 1848,  Knight enlisted and served as a captain of volunteers the greater part of that war. About this service, little else is known. In 1850 Levi J. Knight resigned his commission as Major General of the 6th Division of the Georgia Militia, an office he held since 1840. He tendered his resignation in a simple letter to Governor George W. Towns posted September 16, 1850 from Troupville, GA. (see The Commission of Major General Levi J. Knight.) Resignation notwithstanding, state newspapers continued at least through 1854 to report Maj. General Knight as in command of the 6th Division, Georgia Militia with his Head Quarters at Troupville, GA . The 1850 census of Lowndes County, Georgia showed Levi J. Knight’s real estate holdings by that time had amassed a value of $5000. At the time of enumeration his occupation was listed as farming. The  Knight household in 1850 included Levi J. Knight (47)  Ann D. Knight (48), and children William Washington Knight (21), John Knight (18), Mary A. Knight (14), Levi A. Knight (12), Jonathan D. Knight (10), Keziah A. Knight (7).  Also in the Knight home was Elizabeth Clements, age 80, blind, born in Ireland.  Sons William and John assisted their father with farming, The General’s neighbors were his son-in-law Hardeman Sirmans, and William Patton, who was Justice of the Peace. These were difficult and contentious political times. The threat of southern rebellion over the constitutionality of slavery, the fugitive slave law, and the admission of free states to the Union was imminent. In November of 1850, Levi J. Knight  was selected by “the People of Lowndes county, believing that no just cause of resistance now exists” as the Whig delegate to a state Convention that had been called “to resist past aggression – the admission of California into the Union.”  In light of the Compromise of 1850 which had been passed by the U.S. Congress the previous month, Knight pledged that he believed the people of Georgia could honorably acquiesce  in reference to the subject of slavery;  that he would exercise “Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation” at the Convention; and that he would  commit no act nor give his vote for any measure that would tend directly or indirectly to subvert the Constitution of Georgia, or the United States. As one of the most educated men in the county, L. J. Knight was frequently called upon by his neighbors to handle legal affairs. In 1850 he acted with power of attorney for Thomas Giddens, an illiterate veteran of the Seminole Wars, to receive 80 acres of land due Giddens as compensation for eight months of military service. 1850-ljknight-power-of-attorney In the election of 1851, Levi J. Knight was re-elected to the State Assembly as the Senator from Lowndes, Ware, and Clinch counties. Following his retirement from the Georgia Militia, General Levi J. Knight engaged in the construction of Georgia railroads.  He became one of the principals in the Brunswick & Florida Railroad, apparently as both a commercial venture and as a strategy in response to looming military conflict  (see General Levi J. Knight ~ Railroad Tycoon and General Knight’s Railroad Rolls Into Civil War ). In 1856 L. J. Knight was instrumental in the laying out and establishing of Berrien County, newly created from portions of Lowndes, Irwin and Coffee counties. One of Knight’s unhappy senatorial duties in 1856 was  to serve as chair of the legislative delegation sent to pay last respects to Andrew J. Miller, a member of the Georgia Legislature for 20 years and twice president of the state senate.  

The joint committee of the Senate and House appointed to attend the funeral could not reach this city [Augusta] in time. The Mayor received the following dispatch from the chairman : — Macon, February 5. Hon. W. E. Dearing, Mayor: — A joint committee of both Houses came this far on their way to attend the funeral of the Hon. A. J. Miller; but the trains failed to connect, and we cannot reach Augusta in time. Levi J. Knight, Chairman.

In the fall of 1857, Levi J. Knight suffered the passing of his wife, Ann D. Herrin Knight, she having died on October 14, 1857.  The burial was at Union Church cemetery, in present day Lanier County, GA.

Grave of Ann D. Knight, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Ann D. Knight, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

On Sept 1, 1858, the General’s youngest daughter, Keziah, married her cousin, James A. Knight.  The Census of 1860 shows the couple living in the General’s household. November, 1859 Levi J. Knight was among the gentlemen “appointed by the Governor, Delegates from the State at Large, and from the several Congressional Districts, to represent the State of Georgia in Southern Commercial Convention, to be held in the City of Savannah, on the 8th of December next.” In the winter of 1859 Levi J. Knight’s mother and father both passed away.  His mother, Sarah Cone Knight, died of old age in November 1859 at the age of 80. The following month his father William Anderson Knight, revered Primitive Baptist minister, also succumbed at the age of 82.  Their deaths are recorded in the 1860 Berrien County Mortality Schedule under the names William Knyte and Sarah Knyte. The year came to a close with Levi J. Knight disposing of some of his Lowndes county property:          

Weekly Georgia Telegraph. Dec. 13, 1859. Advertisement. Pg. 1 FOR SALE! In Lowndes County – fourteen hundred and seventy (1470) acres land – particularly desirable for planting and conveniently located in one body. For description, apply to Gen. Levi J. Knight. Milltown, Berrien county, Ga., or to W. COWLES nov 12              at E.L. Strohecker & Co.

The 1860 United States Federal Census lists Levi J.Knight’s occupation as a farmer, with real estate valued at $5000, and a personal estate of $1500. Related Posts:

Levi J. Knight ~ Settling Lowndes County 1827-1836

  1. Wayne County Beginnings 1803-1827
  2. Settling Lowndes County 1827-1836
  3. Seminole Wars 1836 – 1842
  4. Antebellum Wiregrass 1843 -1860
  5. Civil War 1861-1865
  6. Wiregrass Reconstruction 1866-1870

Settling in Lowndes County

About 1827 Levi J. Knight and his new bride Ann Herrin Clements homesteaded  on land on Beaverdam Creek, near the present day site of Ray City, GA.  In their first year on Beaverdam Creek, the Knights established a household and prepared to begin a family.

The Knight homestead was situated in Lowndes County (present day Berrien County).  When the first Superior Court in Lowndes County was convened at Sion Hall’s Inn on the Coffee Road, Levi J. Knight served as foreman of the Grand Jury. At that time, the only post office in Lowndes County (which then encompassed present day Lowndes, Berrien, Cook, Brooks, Lanier, and parts of Tift, Colquitt, and Echols counties) was  at the home of Daniel McCranie on the newly opened Coffee Road.   When Franklinville, GA became the first town in Lowndes County in 1828, the post office was moved there.  Located west of the Withlacoochee River about 9 miles southwest of the Knight property, Franklinville served as the first county seat of Lowndes County and a courthouse of hewn logs was constructed there at a cost of $215. According to Huxford’s “Sketch of the Early History of Lowndes County, Georgia“, Franklinville was a small trading community of one or two stores and a few houses. Hamilton W. Sharpe, a fellow Whig, regarded Franklinville a place of intemperance. Settlers in Lowndes County did most of their trading at Tallahassee, St. Marks or Newport, Florida, or traveled to Centerville on the St. Marys River.

In 1829, Levi  was Justice of the Peace for the 658th District, Lowndes County:

Digest of Georgia, 1837. Establishment of election districts in Lowndes County, GA

Digest of Georgia, 1837. Establishment of election districts in Lowndes County, GA

Election Districts and Elections. Courts and elections to be held at the house of Sion Hall,  1825, vol. iv. 128 –  Removed to the house of Francis Roundtree, 1826, vol. iv. 134 –  Elections in the  15th district to be held at the house of Daniel Burnett; in the 16th, at the house of Silas Overstreet, 1828, vol. iv. 179 –  At Jesse Goodman’s, the place of justices’ courts in Capt. Williams’ district; at Sion Hall’s, the place of justices’ courts in Capt. Pike’s district; at John Townsend’s, being the court ground in Studhill’s district; at Levi Knight’s, the court place in Knight’s district; at Lewis Roberts’, the justices’ court place in Johnson’s district; and at Mr. Davis’, in Cowart’s district, 1829, vol. iv. 185—One dollar to the presiding magistrate for attending at the court-house to consolidate the returns, 1829, vol. iv. 409

Levi J. Knight received power of attorney from his father-in-law, William Clements, of Wayne County, on 19 Nov. 1830, “to appear for him in the Courts in Alabama and to sue for and collect all demands he has against Angus McDonald…” Angus McDonald had served as deputy clerk of the superior court of Wayne County. Georgia.  On December 24, 1822 William Clements had put up surety on the $1000 bond of Angus McDonald, guardian of Sidney Pilcher who was the orphan of Harriet Burney. Apparently, Clements had to make good on the surety, and he wanted Levi J. Knight to get his money back.

Ann gave birth to their first son,  William Washington Knight in 1829. Three more children were born over the next three years; Elizabeth (1830), John G. (1832), and Sarah (1833). During this period Levi J. Knight served out  his term (1829-1833) as Justice of the Peace, and returned to his experience as a surveyor, again mapping lands the state had gained from the Indians. As the state surveyor of Cherokee lands, Section 3, District 13, he took field notes  recording the distances and points demarcating the district and land lots, land features, roads, and watercourses. These field notes, along with those of other surveyors, were conducted prior to the distribution of lands in the 1832 Land Lotteries in Georgia.

Career in Public Service
“Levi, J. Knight, a planter of Berrien County…held several county offices; for a number of years he represented the county and was senator from his district in the general assembly.”
“He was commissioned a justice of the peace of the 658th district of Lowndes County in 1829, and served until 1832, when he was elected State senator from Lowndes County. He was again elected justice of the peace and commissioned October 15th, 1838. He served again as senator through the sessions of 1834-35 and 1837 to 1841. In 1845 he was again elected justice of the peace and served four years. In 1851 he was elected State senator from the 5th district, which then included Berrien County, and served through the session of 1851-52.”
Levi J. Knight was Sheriff of Wayne County (1824), Justice of the Peace of Lowndes County (1829-1833), State Senator from Lowndes County (1832, 1834, 1837, 1841). He was Senator from 5th District (1851-1856). He was Justice of the Berrien Inferior Court 1861, and a Delegate to the State Constitutional Convention in 1868.
Levi J. Knight or one of his sons occupied a seat in the Georgia General Assembly for a period of forty years.

 Levi J. Knight was elected to the State Assembly as  Senator from Lowndes County in 1832 and 1834.  It was in this time that the Whig Party was rising against what was seen as executive excesses of “King Andrew” Jackson.  The Whigs favored national development and over time built an unlikely coalition of  anti-slavery, pro-slavery, and anti-masonic supporters. Levi J. Knight became a strong supporter of the Whig party and served as the Lowndes delegate to the Whig state conventions on several occasions.

In 1835, Levi J. Knight gave the Fourth of July oration at the county courthouse at Franklinville to a large crowd and enthusiastic crowd, “We have come up on the jubilee of our country’s liberty, to honor the day that gave birth to the greatest republic in the world.”  The celebration was followed by a banquet with a round of regular toasts to Washington, Jefferson, LaFayette, and to former Georgia Governor, George Michael Troup, as well as some to denounce the excesses of President Andrew Jackson.

Some time in the 1830s the Lowndes County center of government moved from Franklinville to the growing settlement of Lowndesville. Located about twenty miles south of the Knight homestead, Lowndesville was near the confluence of the Withlacoochee and Little Rivers. This location was touted by some to become a riverboat landing and the prospect of river transportation was hoped to foster a pioneer boom period for the community, but according to Montgomery M. Folsom  that dream was never realized.

When the community had grown to about 25 families, the name of the town was changed to Troupville in honor of Georgia Governor George M. Troup.  Troup was an outspoken proponent of the State Rights theory, which asserted that individual states were not bound by Federal law. Levi J. Knight and many other pioneers of old Lowndes County were Troup supporters, and in 1834 Levi J. Knight and his father William A. Knight were instrumental in forming the  the State Rights Association of Lowndes County, GA.  Troupville quickly became the leading town in the region. In Troupville there were stores, hotels, churches, doctors, lawyers, newspapers, entertainment, even a bowling alley. The Knights were among the planters of Lowndes County who made Troupville their center of trade  (Map of Old Troupville, GA with Notes on the Residents).

In 1836 another daughter was born to the Knights, Mary Adelaide Knight. As a young woman, Mary would become the bride of Thomas M. Ray who, along with her father, founded the original grist mill at Ray City.

In the spring of 1836 there were reports and rumors of Indians attacking pioneers in other parts of the state. The Seminole War was brewing… and that summer the original settlers of Ray City, GA were engaged in Indian skirmishes.

  1.  (1942). History of Lowndes County: Georgia, 1825-1941. Valdosta, Ga.: General James Jackson chapter, D.A.R. Pg 5-6.
  2. Georgia. 1837. A digest of the laws of the state of Georgia: containing all statutes and the substance of all resolutions of a general and public nature, and now in force, which have been passed in this state, previous  to the session of the General assembly of Dec. 1837.pg 995
  3. THE SOUTH GEORGIA HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL QUARTERLY, VOL. 1, JULY 1922, NO. 3, pp. 03-05.OLD RECORDS BOOK “H” OF BONDS, WAYNE COUNTY, GEORGIA, COURT OF ORDINARY, FIRST 77 PAGES.
  4. Huxford,F. 1971. Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia, Volume VI, The Jesup Sentinel, Jesup, Georgia 1971. pg 139.’
  5. Huxford,F. 1954. Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia, Volume II, Press of the Patten Publishers, Adel, Georgia, pg 176.
  6. Huxford, F. 1975, Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia, Volume VII, Jesup Sentinel, Jesup, Georgia. pg 226.
  7. Huxford, F. 1967. Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia, Volume V, Herrin’s Print Shop, Waycross, GA. pg 162.
  8. Georgia Surveyor General. 1832 – SURVEY RECORDS – FIELD NOTE BOOKS – Cherokee, Section 3, District 13, Levi J. Knight, 1832. http://find.sos.state.ga.us/archon/?p=collections/findingaid&id=324&q=&rootcontentid=231131#id231131
  9. Memoirs of Georgia, Volume I, Southern Historical Association, Atlanta, Georgia, 1895, Book, page 316
  10. Huxford, F. (1916). History of Clinch County, Georgia, , comp. and ed. by Folks Huxford. Macon, Ga: J.W. Burke. pg. 265
  11. Loyless, T. W. (1902). Georgia’s public men 1902-1904. Atlanta, Ga: Byrd Print. Pp 166.

Levi J. Knight ~ Wayne County Beginnings

  1. Wayne County Beginnings 1803-1827
  2. Settling Lowndes County 1827-1836
  3. Seminole Wars 1836 – 1842
  4. Antebellum Wiregrass 1843 -1860
  5. Civil War 1861-1865
  6. Wiregrass Reconstruction 1866-1870

In November of 1827 Levi J. Knight  became the original settler at Beaverdam Creek, Lowndes County, GA (now Berrien county). At the age of 24, he was already a leader,  experienced in military matters and in civil service. He was a man of action, an Indian fighter, and he was among the earliest pioneers to settle in the Wiregrass area of southern Georgia.    To this newly opened land he brought his new bride, Ann D. Herrin Knight. The couple had married just a few days earlier, on Nov 14, 1827 in an area of Wayne County that is now Brantley County, Georgia.

Levi’s parents, Sarah and William Anderson Knight, brothers Aaron Knight, William C. Knight, Jonathan Knight and others of the family connection had preceded them, having settled in Lowndes County two years earlier.  Levi J. Knight’s homestead became the nucleus of a community first known simply as Knight,  that later grew into present day Ray City, GA.

Wayne County Beginnings

Levi was born on the first of September, 1803 in Wayne County, Georgia.  His mother was Sarah Cone Knight; his father, Elder William Anderson Knight.  Levi grew up in Wayne County at the southern frontier of the young American nation. Wayne county had only been officially created by the Georgia General Assembly just three months before he was born. This land had been the ancestral home of the Creek Indians, and there was continuing conflict between the Native Americans and encroaching settlers. Despite efforts of the state of Georgia to take the Creek land by treaty,  conflicts continued as the Georgia Land Lotteries brought more settlers to the area.

Levi J. Knight’s family had been among the first to settle in Wayne county, his parents having arrived there in 1803 prior to his birth.  The Knights were well positioned in the community, and already had a long tradition of military service.  Both of Levi’s grandfathers were veterans of the Revolutionary War. His paternal grandfather, John Knight, had been a  sergeant in the 1st Georgia Battalion of Continental Troops in the American Revolution and had received several land grants in South Carolina, Georgia, and in Spanish Florida.  On his mother’s side, his grandfather was William Cone,  a Baptist pastor and Revolutionary soldier who served as a captain  in McLean’s Regiment of Georgia Troops, under General Francis Marion.  William Cone served as a major in the 1st Battalion of the Richmond County Militia  (see Levi J. Knight’s Military Heritage).

While Levi J. Knight was a young boy, his uncle Jonathan Knight was sheriff of Wayne County from 1810-1812 and became Captain of the Wayne County militia in 1813.  No doubt Captain Knight regaled his young nephew with pioneer tales- true stories all – of cattle ranching, tracking run-away slaves, and fighting privateers in Spanish Florida. At just 15 years old,  Levi J. Knight served as a private in the Wayne County militia. The militia was engaged in defending the frontier settlers from Indian attacks that continued even after the Creek War of 1814.

On May 3rd, 1824 extant legal records note that Levi J. Knight, along with Robert Stafford posted sureties in the amount of $500 for Sibbiah O’Neil [or O’Neal] for the guardianship of Martha and Mary T. O’Neil. The O’Neals were friends of the Knights.  Later, Sarah Amanda “Sallie” O’Neal,  daughter of Henry O’Neal and Jane Dowden, would marry Levi J. Knight’s nephew, Levi J. Knight, Jr. (son of John and Sarah Knight).

Before he was 21, on June 16, 1824 Levi was appointed as Sheriff of Wayne County to serve out an unexpired term. Shortly after that, his parents relocated to the soon-to-be-created Lowndes County area.  His father, William A. Knight, was elected as the first state senator from the new county, and his brother Jonathan was elected as the first representative.  Levi J. Knight served on the jury in the first Superior Court of the new county.

According to state records, in 1826 Levi J. Knight was working  as a state surveyor mapping land in north Georgia newly ceded by the Creek natives.  The Official Register of Land Lottery of Georgia, 1827 shows he was a “fortunate drawer” in the land lottery of 1827, having received Lot 223, District 23, Section 1 (Lee County, GA),  in the drawing of April 24,  1827.

It was in this situation that Levi courted and smartly married the former Mrs. Ann Donald Herrin. She was the 25 year-old daughter of  William and Elizabeth Clements, a well-to-do family of Wayne County. Levi J. Knight and Ann Herrin were wed on November 14, 1827 in Wayne County, Georgia.  Jonathan Knight, Justice of the Peace completed the marriage license.   Just days later, the newlywed pioneers headed south to settle on Beaverdam Creek in Lowndes County (now Berrien), Georgia.

From 1832 to 1840 Levi J. Knight was elected six times to the Georgia Assembly as the Senator from Lowndes County. His father had served in the same office before him.  L. J. Knight was a contemporary of John M. Berrien, for whom Berrien county was named.

Children of Levi J. Knight and Ann D. Clements Herrin:

  1. William Washington Knight – born about 1829 Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA; married Mary Elizabeth Carroll; died December 27 , 1863 Berrien County, Georgia
  2. Elizabeth Knight – born  April 14, 1830, Lowndes County, Georgia; married Hardeman Sirmans; died September 6, 1912, Berrien County, GA
  3. John Graham Knight – born June 23, 1832 Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA; married 1) Eliza B. Carter, 2) Mary Ann Davis; died May 8, 1908 Ray’s Mill, Berrien County, Georgia
  4. Sarah “Sally” Knight – born April 6, 1831 Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA; married Gideon Gaskins; died April 13, 1903
  5.  Mary Adelaide Knight – born about 1836 Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA; married Thomas M. Ray; died November 11, 1923
  6. Levi A. Knight – born about 1838 Lowndes County, GA; died about 1856
  7. Jonathan David Knight – born April 2, 1840 Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA; married Emily E. Brandon; died March 9, 1884
  8. Keziah A. Knight –  born about 1843 Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA; married James Aaron Knight

Sources:

  1. Huxford, F. (1922). Marriage Licenses Wayne County, Ga. in The South Georgia historical and genealogical quarterly A quarterly magazine devoted to the history and genealogy of southern Georgia and its settlers. Homerville, Ga: [s.n.]. Copied from Book “C” of transcribed records, pages 176 to 204, Covering Years 1809 to 1850. Available online at http://www.archive.org/details/southgeorgiahist00huxf
  2. Huxford, F. 1951. Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia, Vol 1. pg 159
  3. Hill, L. 2005. The CONE FAMILY HISTORY and its Variants such as MacCone, Kohn, Coan: Scotland/Ireland immigrants to USA. pgs 1822-1823
  4. http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~soup/Campbell/ps36/ps36_337.htm
  5. Huxford, F. (1916). History of Clinch County, Georgia, , comp. and ed. by Folks Huxford. Macon, Ga: J.W. Burke. pg. 265
  6. OLD RECORDS BOOK “H” OF BONDS, WAYNE COUNTY, GEORGIA, COURT OF ORDINARY, FIRST 77 PAGES in THE SOUTH GEORGIA HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL QUARTERLY. , VOL. 1, JULY 1922, NO. 3, pp. 03-05.
  7. Houston, M. L. (1929). Reprint of Official register of land lottery of Georgia, 1827. Columbus, Ga: Printed by the Walton-Forbes.
  8. Huxford, F. (1922). Marriage Licenses Wayne County, Ga. in The South Georgia historical and genealogical quarterly A quarterly magazine devoted to the history and genealogy of southern Georgia and its settlers. Homerville, Ga: [s.n.]. Copied from Book “C” of transcribed records, pages 176 to 204, Covering Years 1809 to 1850. Available online at http://www.archive.org/details/southgeorgiahist00huxf
  9. Georgia. (1927). Georgia’s official register. Atlanta: The Dept.
  10. New Georgia Encyclopedia. John Macpherson Berrien (1781-1856). http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-3239

Knights Come to Lowndes County, GA

In the winter of 1824-25 a group of Revolutionary War “Baby Boomers” came west from Wayne County, Georgia to settle in what was then Irwin County, near the area that would one day become known as Ray City, Georgia.  They were  politically connected and probably had full knowledge that the huge area of Irwin county, occupying the central third of the southern Georgia, was about to be divided into smaller counties.

Among the leaders of this small band of settlers were William Anderson Knight and wife Sarah Cone Knight, his brother Samuel Knight, and his son-in-law Isben Giddens. They brought with them their families, children, livestock, and their possessions to make a new home in the new county of Lowndes, which was created from parts of Irwin County in 1826. These pioneers were experienced at opening up a new county. They were frontiersmen with militia experience, and also experienced at carving farms and plantations from the wilderness of the Wiregrass. In a sense, they were the first ‘Americans’, born between the time of the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the Constitution of the United States. They were raised in a time of war; their fathers served as Revolutionary Soldiers. Like the baby boomers of later wars, they grew up in a sort of post-war boom period, where Americans were celebrating their new-found independence and freedom.

The Knights were true Wiregrass pioneers. They came to this section from Wayne County, where William A. Knight had been among the very first settlers, arriving there about 1803. The Knight’s Wayne County place was situated near the Old Post Road, one of the earliest roads in Georgia. On the land adjacent to Knight’s, another Wiregrass pioneer, William Clements, had settled his family.  The Knights and the Clements became steadfast friends with many family and business dealings; William Knight and William Clements served together on the Wayne county Grand Jury of 1813 and worked together in other civic capacities.

Old Post Road Historic Marker, Glynn County, GA

Old Post Road Historic Marker, Glynn County, GA

The Old Post Road…was originally an Indian trail extending from St. Augustine, Florida, northward through south Georgia into the rolling country known as the Sand Hill section. Mitchell’s map of 1756, now in the Library of Congress in Washington, shows this trail. During the Revolutionary War the American forces marched along it on their way to attack a British contingent at Fort Tonyn, which was somewhere south of [U.S. Hwy 84]. Historians have not been able to determine the exact site. The road continued to be used as a stagecoach route and post road between Savannah and Florida until the War between the States.

When Wayne County had been created in 1803, William A. 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 Wayne county seat became known as Tuckersville, after resident John Tucker who served as the first postmaster there. (Waynesville was not officially designated as the county seat until 1829.) William A. Knight served as a post master after John Tucker, and William Clements served as a Wayne County road commissioner. Tuckersville  was located  somewhere north of Waynesville on the Post Road near the Buffalo Swamp, once the home and feeding grounds of herds of Georgia buffalo. The town disappeared from maps after 1850 and its exact location remains a mystery. wayne-historic-marker In its first twenty years, Wayne County was slow in developing.  William A. Knight served as the tax collector for 1806 and 1807, but no monies were returned to the state Comptroller General’s office for those years. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia “The area contained hundreds of acres of pine barrens and wiregrass country. Much of the land was undesirable for settlement… Many of the early white settlers were families who, having lost their bids to win richer land in Baldwin or Wilkinson counties in the 1805 land lottery, settled for the isolation and less desirable land offered by Wayne County.”   Perhaps the lack of economic development in Wayne County finally discouraged the Knights. For whatever reason, it appears they decided there were better opportunities in opening up a new county than remaining behind in Wayne County.

As a member of the state Legislature, William A. Knight undoubtedly knew of the impending division of the vast Irwin County into smaller counties. The military road constructed by John Coffee and Thomas Swain in 1823 had opened up the south central Georgia territory to pioneer settlers (see Daniel McCranie). Coffee’s road, as it was soon known, passed from Jacksonville, GA through the site of present day Nashville, GA and on southward to the Florida line.

Coffee Road Historic Marker, Nashville GA

Coffee Road Historic Marker, Nashville GA

When the Knights left their farms and came to south central Georgia to build their “log cabin in the wilds of the Wiregrass”, this area of Georgia was all part of the huge Irwin county. Lowndes was created from 2080 square miles carved out of Irwin, which had been plotted into Land Districts. Located on the center of Georgia’s southern border with Florida, Lowndes was still a quite large county. It would later be further divided into six present day counties; Lowndes, Brooks, Cook, Tift, Clinch, Lanier, and Berrien counties.

William Anderson Knight chose a home site on the northwest edge of Grand Bay in what was soon to be Lowndes County. This area, in the 10th land district of Irwin County, had good water and better soil than the typical pine barrens of Wayne County. It was situated between the Alapaha River to the east and the Withlacoochee and its tributaries to the west.

Children of William A. Knight and Sarah Cone:

  1. Thomas Knight, born February 6, 1799
  2. Kezia Knight, born November 20, 1801
  3. Levi J. Knight, born September 1, 1803
  4. William Cone “Big Billie” Knight, born October 8, 1805
  5. John Knight, born July 7, 1807
  6. Sarah Knight, born October 10, 1809
  7. Elizabeth Knight, born September 23, 1811
  8. Aaron Knight, born July 17, 1813
  9. Jonathan Knight, born January 16, 1817

William A. Knight’s place was near the route, such as it was, from Waynesville to Thomasville, GA. About nine miles to the west was Coffee’s Road; equidistant to the east was the site of Union Church, the Primitive Baptist church organized in 1825 by Reverend Fleming Bates and Reverend Matthew Albritton with the Knights, Pattens, Lees and Sirmans as founding members.

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

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

Knight and Union Church played a significant role in the rapid growth of Primitive Baptist churches throughout the Wiregrass region.  Union Church was at the head of the local organization of these churches into a Primitive Baptist Association, then known as the Ochlocknee Association. In 1833, Knight was appointed to travel these new churches to instruct them on their duties and responsibilities to the Association. By 1835,& when Union Church and other churches of south Georgia and north Florida sought to divide from the Ochlocknee Primitive Baptist Association, Knight served on the presbytery in the organization of the new Suwannee Primitive Baptist Association.

The Knight’s were influential in the development of Lowndes county from the very beginning, from the  convening of the first superior court to the representation in state politics. William A. Knight became the first state senator elected from Lowndes county to serve in the Georgia Assembly, and his son Jonathan Knight became the first state representative.

Following his parents , Levi J. Knight  brought his new bride, Ann Clements Herrin Knight, to homestead in Lowndes County in 1827. Anne was the daughter of the Knights’ Wayne County neighbors,  William and Elizabeth Clements.  L. J. Knight chose a spot not far from Grand Bay, on Beaverdam Creek,   where he established his  home site.  Perhaps even then he saw that the headwaters of Beaverdam Creek could some day be impounded to provide water power for a settlement.  Levi J. Knight’s homestead became the nucleus of a community, first known simply as Knight, GA that later grew into present day Ray City, GA.

Related Posts:

Smith and Jones Open Bank at Ray’s Mill

In 1911, B. P. Jones, President of the Valdosta Bank and Trust, and Clarence L. Smith, Vice President, came to Rays Mill, GA on business. Jones’ wife was a daughter of Jonathan Knight, and a granddaughter of Reverend William A. Knight.

Valdosta Times, May 23, 1911 news item,

Valdosta Times, May 23, 1911 news item, “Organized bank at Rays Mill”

The Valdosta Times
May 23, 1911

Organized Bank at Rays Mill

Messrs B. P. Jones and C. L. Smith went up to Rays Mill this morning for the purpose of organizing a Bank at that place to be known as the Bank of Rays Mill.  It will have a capital stock of $25,000.

The Ray City investors received a State Bank Charter and opened for business on August 14, 1911.  The other investors were: J.S. Swindle, J.H. Swindle, M.T. Bradford, W.H.E. Terry, Riley M. Green, and J. F. Sutton, all of Berrien county; and Charles Lee Jones and  J.B. Griffin, of Lowndes county. The Bank of Ray’s Mill  would later be known as the Citizens Bank of Ray City.

The principal banker, Benjamin Perry Jones, was a former resident of Berrien County, and had operated mercantile at Milltown where he also had a liquor dealer’s license.  In 1868, during Reconstruction, Benjamin Jones, along with H. T. Peeples and James E. Williams, represented Berrien County at the organization of the Democratic Convention of the First Congressional District, convened at Blackshear, Pierce County, Georgia on September 16, 1868.

In 1913, a biographical sketch of Benjamin P. Jones was included in A history of Savannah and south Georgia:

Harden, William,. A history of Savannah and south Georgia. Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1913.

p. 747-749

   BENJAMIN P. JONES, the president of the Valdosta Bank and Trust Company has had a long career in business, has won prosperity and influence much above that of the average man, and yet began with little or nothing and for a number of years had a hard struggle with the obstacles of business life. Mr. Jones is one of the prominent citizens of south Georgia, and has been identified with Valdosta from the time it was a small village.

   Mr. Benjamin P. Jones was born, June 25, 1837, in that part of Camden now Charlton county, Georgia. His grandfather was James Jones, thought to have been a native of Georgia, who was a Camden county planter, having a number of slaves, and died there at the age of seventy-five, his remains now reposing in the Buffalo churchyard. He married a Miss Davis, who was upwards of eighty when she died, and they reared a large family of children. They were Primitive Baptists in religion.

   Burrell Jones, father of the Valdosta banker, was born in Wayne county, Georgia, April 29, 1803. About the time of his marriage he bought land near Folkston, living there a few years, and about 1840 returned to Wayne county and located on a farm near the present site of Lulaton, where he made his home until his death in 1877. He married Mary Margaret (known as Peggy) Mizell, who was born in Bulloch county, August 9, 1809. Her father, Jesse Mizell, of English stock and a native of North Carolina, was a soldier of the Revolution under Jasper at Savannah and with Marion during that leader’s valorous excursions against the British. He was with the command when it crossed the Peedee river, first lay blankets on the bridge to deaden the sound of the horses’ hoofs, and in this way surprised the enemy. Some years after the Revolution Jesse Mizell came to Georgia, living two years in Camden county, and then moved into the interior, settling near the present site of Folkston in Charlton county, where he bought land and was engaged in farming and stock raising until his death at the age of about sixty. He married a Miss Stallings, a native of North Carolina and of Dutch ancestry. Mary M. Mizell, the mother of Mr. Jones, spent her early life on the Georgia frontier, and for the lack of educational advantages she compensated by her great natural ability and force of character. Her husband was for many years an invalid, and the care of the children devolved entirely upon her. She reared them to habits of industry and honor, and they paid her all filial reverence. Her death occurred in 1885. Her nine children were named as follows: Harley, Joseph, Benjamin P., Margaret, James B., Nancy C., Harriet, Jasper N. and Newton J.   Harley and Joseph were Confederate soldiers and died during their service for the southern cause.

   Though in his youth he had little opportunity to obtain an education, Benjamin P. Jones managed to obtain an education largely through his own efforts at self-improvement and an ingrained habit of close observation. When he was seventeen he became a teacher, and while he did good service while in this occupation it may be remembered that qualifications for teaching were not very high at that period. Anyone could teach who could find others who knew less than himself, and there was no formality of examination. Intellectual curiosity was a passion with him from an early age, and the time most children give to play with their comrades he devoted to association in company with his elders, thus learning by listening. When he was twelve years old he once attended a court session, listening attentively to the evidence and the charge to the jury. At recess the judge asked why he was so absorbed in the proceedings. The boy replied that it was because he wanted to learn, and then asked the judge why he charged the jury as he did. That was equity, responded the judge, and after explaining the meaning of that word told the boy that if he ever had occasion to make out papers to make them out in accordance with equity and justice and he would sanction them if brought before his court. Chopping cotton at twenty-five cents a day and board was the means by which Mr. Jones earned his first money. A little later he became clerk in a general store at Lulaton, and after a time engaged in business for himself at Stockton, Georgia. Hardly had his trade started when a panic paralyzed all business, and he found himself in debt fifteen hundred dollars, which took him some time to pay off.

   Early in 1861 Mr. Jones enlisted in Company D of the Twenty-sixth Georgia Infantry, and was with that command in the coast defense until the regiment was ordered to Virginia, when he secured a substitute. Confederate money was then plentiful but away below par, and he bought a farm for three thousand dollars, at war-time prices, going in debt for the greater part of this amount. He was busily engaged in farming until 1864, when he enlisted with the Georgia Reserves, being commissioned first lieutenant and being in actual command of his company. The Reserves went to the defense of Atlanta, but from Griffin his company was sent back to recruit and apprehend deserters, and he was on detached duty until the close of the war. After making three crops on his farm he sold the land for four hundred dollars, and with that money and what he had realized from his crops engaged in the mercantile business at Milltown in Berrien county. Nine days after opening his store an epidemic of smallpox broke out, he was quarantined fifty-two days, and at the end of that time offered to sell his entire stock for three hundred dollars but could not find a buyer. Owing to this circumstance he went on with his business, at the same time buying cotton and dealing in live stock, and in four years had so reversed the current of his previous fortunes that he had cleared up fourteen thousand dollars. Then selling out at Milltown he went to southern Florida, where he opened two stores and established a grist and saw mill, and was engaged in business there until 1874, when ill health compelled him to make a change. He sacrificed eight thousand dollars by the move, and then came to Valdosta, which was then a village. Here he bought an established general store and a home for three thousand dollars, and was prosperously identified with the mercantile enterprise of this city for twenty years. In 1894 Mr. Jones organized the Valdosta Guano Company, and in 1906 the Valdosta Bank & Trust Company, of which he has since been president, with his son C. L. as cashier.

   On June 25, 1862, Mr. Jones married Miss Elizabeth Knight, who was born in Clinch county, October 18, 1843, representing an old family of southern Georgia. Her grandfather, Rev. William Knight, was a pioneer preacher in this part of the state. He married a Miss Cone. Jonathan Knight, the father of Mrs. Jones, was born in that part of Lowndes now Berrien county, and spent his life as a farmer in Clinch and Berrien counties. Mr. and Mrs. Jones reared thirteen children, named as follows: Jonathan H., Charles Lee, Frances M. McKenzie; Lillie Roberts, Samuel W., Elizabeth Fry, Benjamin U., Jimmie Staten Green, Eulah Norris, Pearl Mashburn, Lloyd E., Lotta and Audrey Terry.

   Mr. Jones has been identified with the Masonic order since he was twenty-seven years old. He is a member of the Economic League of Boston, Massachusetts, a society for the betterment of mankind. He has been one of the influential men in political life for many years. His first presidential vote was cast for John C. Breckenridge in 1860. He was opposed to secession, in a speech in which he said that if the sixteen southern states would all go out in a body, taking the constitution in one hand and the flag in the other, he would favor the movement with his vote, but not otherwise. In subsequent years he has served as delegate to many county and state conventions, was a delegate to the national conventions that nominated General Hancock and Grover Cleveland, and was also one of the sound-money Democratic delegates of 1896 who nominated Palmer and Buckner. Since 1898 he has not been allied with any party, and as a free lance has supported the individual who best represents his ideas of government.

Portrait of Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight

Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight

Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight , Berrien County, GA

Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight , Berrien County, GA

Ray City History
Hardeman Sirmans (1821 – 1896)  Elizabeth Knight (1830 – 1912)

Hardeman Sirmans was born October 25, 1821 in Appling County, Georgia, the son of Jonathan Sirmans and Martha “Patsy” Rouse.

During the Indian War in 1838-39 Hardeman Sirmans and his father served as privates under Captain Levi J. Knight (later General Knight) in the Lowndes County militia. They both appear on the 1838 Muster Roll of Captain Knight’s Independent Company.

In 1847 Hardeman married Elizabeth Knight, daughter of General Levi J. Knight and Ann D. Herrin. She was born in 1830.

According to Folks Huxford,

“Mr. Sirmans served in the Indian War as a private in a volunteer company of Lowndes County militia commanded by his father-in-law, Capt. (afterwards General) Levi J. Knight, August 15th to Oct 15 1838. He was 1st Lieutenant of the 664th militia district, Lowndes County, 1845-46, then served as Captain in same district 1847-1851. For nearly twenty years Mr. Sirmans was a member of the Masonic order, receiving his degrees in Butler Lodge, No. 211, F. & A.M. at old Milltown (now Lakeland) in 1858. He withdrew and was granted a demit Dec. 8 1877, on account of his church’s attitude toward secret orders. He united in 1877 with Empire Primitive Baptist Church and was baptized. On Jan. 21, 1888 he withdrew from the church, but was restored Nov. 21, 1888. On Nov. 26, 1892, charges were preferred against him in his church for voting the Populist ticket in the preceding General Election; however, the church minutes state he ‘satisfied’ the church, Dec. 24, 1892, and the charges were dropped. He remained a member until his death Sept. 21, 1896. His children seemed to have disagreed over the division of his estate, and it was finally divided by arbitration in Berrien Superior Court, March 8, 1897. Mrs. Sirmans died Sept. 6, 1912, and was buried by her husband in the cemetery at Empire Church.”

Before the Civil War, Hardeman Sirmans was a slave owner. One of his slaves was Richard McGowan. For a time after the war, Richard McGowan continued to live on the Sirmans farm, working as a farm laborer.

Children of Elizabeth Knight and Hardeman Sirmans:

  1. Levi Winfield Sirmans 1848 –  married Nancy R. Clements
  2. Jonathan D Sirmans 1850 – 1926 married Nancy Elizabeth Clements
  3. Sarah Malissa Sirmans 1852 – 1898
  4. Lott W. Sirmans 1854 – 1898 married Josephine Knight
  5. Thomas Hardyman Sirmans 1860 – 1931
  6. Martha Elizabeth Sirmans 1862 – 1935 married Joe S. Clements
  7. Joseph O Sirmans 1862 – 1848 married Olive Pearl Matheny
  8. Jay Sirmans 1864 – 1916 married Rachel Allifar Smith
  9. Clara Sirmans 1868 – 1928 married Frank Gallagher
  10. Christiana Sirmans 1869 – 1943 married Joseph Bartow Gaskins
  11. Annie B. Sirmans 1872 – 1963 married John Chilton Matheny
  12.  Valeria Sirmans 1874 – 1961 married James Isaac Lee

Related Posts:

Frank Gallagher ~ Early 1900s Irish Optician of Ray’s Mill, GA

For more about the Gallagher family, and the history of Ray City, GA  see http://www.raycity.pbworks.com

Frank Gallagher was born June 24, 1867 in Northern Ireland.  About 1882, at age 16 he immigrated to the United States, and by the 1890s had made his way to the south Georgia town of Ray’s Mill, GA (nka Ray City).

On March 26, 1899, he married Clara  Sirmans, daughter of Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight.  She was born on April 25, 1868 in Berrien County, Georgia.

The Gallaghers made their home just a short distance to the east of Ray’s Mill.

Frank Gallagher Home, circa 1907, located just north of Ray City, GA. Left to right, Michael Gallagher, Clara Knight Sirmans Gallagher holding Ann Gallagher, Elizabeth Gallagher, and Frank Gallagher. Image courtesy of http://berriencounty.smugmug.com/

According to later census records, Frank Gallagher was educated with three years of high school. He was occupied most of his life in farming, but in the 1900 census of Ray’s Mill, GA he gave his occupation as “Optician.”

Did Frank Gallagher set himself up as an Optician with a Sears catalog?  Optometry was an unregulated business at that time. Anyone could purchase a mail order “Opticians’ Outfit’ and instantly become an optician. Advertisements of the time boasted, “no previous experience required,” and promised large profits.   The complete kit with instructional manual  sold for under $30.

1902 Advertisement for “Opticians’ Outfit,” Sears, Roebuck & Co.

By 1910, Frank Gallagher’s optometry career was over,  well before the state of  Georgia officially regulated the practice in 1916.

Clara Sirmans Gallagher died March 27, 1928. She was buried in Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, Georgia.

Grave of Clara Sirmans Gallagher, Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

Grave of Clara Sirmans Gallagher, Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

A tender mother and a faithful friend
Faithful to her trust even unto death

Children of Clara Sirmans and Frank Gallagher:

  1. Michael Gallagher 1900 – 1985, married December 26, 1936 to Niza T. Martin, Lowndes County, GA
  2. Ann Gallagher 1902 – 1995
  3. Elizabeth Gallagher 1906 – 1989

The census of 1940 shows 72-year-old Frank Gallagher living in the household of his widowed daughter, Ann Gallagher, and her children.  Also in the Gallagher household was lodger John Starling. Their neighbors were Elzie and Elizabeth Miller, and William Ernest Gaskins.

Frank Gallagher died April 12, 1846 and was also buried at Empire.

 

Grave of Frank Gallagher, Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

Grave of Frank Gallagher, Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

Related Posts: