Double Jeopardy for Rachel Sirmans

In Berrien County, GA in the summer of 1873  there arose a dispute between Burrell Hamilton Bailey and Bradford Ray over what has been described as  “some family matters.” On June 23, 1873, while the two men were in the community of Alapaha, GA  the argument turned violent. The exact nature of the dispute between Bradford Ray and B.H. Bailey has not been known these many years, but the research of Phil Ray may now shed some additional light on the matter.

B. H. Bailey was the second husband of Rachel Sirmans Mattox.  She was the widow of Samuel Mattox who was hanged at Troupville in 1843. She was a daughter of Jonathan Sirmans and Martha “Patsey” Rouse, and sister of Hardeman Sirmans.

Bradford Ray, son of Hiram Ray and Rachel Jeffcoat (1817-1865), was the husband of Martha J. Swan. She was a daughter of  Sarah King and Benjamin Swan.

Marriage Certificate of Bradford Ray and Martha Swann, January 5, 1865, Berrien County, GA

Marriage Certificate of Bradford Ray and Martha Swann, January 5, 1865, Berrien County, GA

Up until 1873, everything seemed cozy between the Rays and the Baileys. In 1872,  Bradford’s father made a land swap with Burrell Hamilton Bailey,  trading the Ray place near Cat Creek for  another farm in the 1307 Georgia Militia District, Lowndes County, GA.  Bradford Ray remained behind to work for Bailey as a tenant farmer.   That same year Bradford’s brother, Josiah Ray, married Martha M. Bailey,  a daughter of Rachel and B.H. Bailey. 

In addition to these family connections Bradford and Martha Ray  and Rachel Bailey were connected in faith, as well, all being members of the Primitive Baptist church at Flat Creek, then known as Emmaus Church.

Flat Creek Primitive Baptist Church, Berrien County, GA. Bradford Ray, Martha J Ray, and Rachel Sirmans Bailey were among the members of the church. Flat Creek was the site at which Berrien County was organized, February 25, 1856 following the creation of the county by the state legislature. Image courtesy of

Flat Creek Primitive Baptist Church, Berrien County, GA. Bradford Ray, Martha J Ray, and Rachel Sirmans Bailey were among the members of the church. Flat Creek was the site at which Berrien County was organized, February 25, 1856 following the creation of the county by the state legislature. Image courtesy of

It was in the church minutes that Phil Ray found indications that trouble was brewing between the Rays and the Baileys:   I believe Bradford’s murder by Burrell Bailey was a result of this church incident regarding Bradford’s wife and the accusations by Rachel Bailey against Martha Swan Ray at Emmaus Primitive Baptist, May 3rd 1873. It festered and led to the murder. This is all speculation of course but it does seem to have played a part in it.”

The church minutes have been transcribed  by W. Henry Griffin, and entries of May 3, 1873 and July 5, 1873 are of particular note:

Emmaus Church (Flat Creek), A review of her history
The Griffin Papers,  Vol III, Pgs 78 – 79

 May 3d, 1873    

Martha Ray is reported in disorder and committee is appointed as follows Daniel N. McMillian, W. M. Avera and William Luke. Committee relies on statement of Mrs. Rachel Bailey and on her statement Mrs. Martha Ray is expelled.

Bradford Ray, her husband demands dismission. D. N. McMillian, Solomon Griffin and D. P. Luke are appointed as a committee to labor with him.

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July 5, 1873

Bradford Ray having died the case on the church books against him was dismissed.

While the contention among the women played out in the church, the men fought in the streets. The cause of Bradford Ray’s death was a confrontation with Burrell H. Bailey which occurred in the early morning hours of June 23, 1873, while the two men were in Alapaha, GA.  When the standoff turned violent, Ray pulled a knife; Bailey pulled a gun. Bailey shot Ray in the stomach, inflicting a wound which proved fatal two weeks later.

 “Ray lived until Sunday morning, 1 o’clock, 29th ult. [June 29, 1873], when the spirit of the unfortunate man passed away.  Thus were the hearts of two families made to mourn over an irreparable loss.”

 Burrell H. Bailey was indicted for murder.  For Rachel Sirmans Bailey, it was a sort of double jeopardy.  Her first husband, Samuel Mattox, had stood trial for the September 7, 1843 murder of William Slaughter and was hanged for the crime.  Her second husband, Burrell Hamilton Bailey, tried for the 1873 murder of Bradford Ray, was acquitted.  Later, the Baileys relocated to Florida.


  • Rachel Sirmans Bailey died Apr. 14, 1876 and is buried at Fellowship Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Sirmans, Madison County, FL.
  • Burrell Hamilton Bailey, after the death of Rachel Sirmans, married Mahala M. Taylor Boatwright. He died March 22, 1885 in Lafayette County, FL. His grave is at Salem Cemetery, Taylor County, FL.
  • Martha Swan Ray’s whereabouts after the death of Bradford Ray are unknown.
  • Bradford Ray died June 29, 1873. His final resting place is not known.

Special thanks to Phil Ray for research and contributions to this post.

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Dog Day Duel Brings Death

Horace Luke, son of Estell Nash and Perry Luke, was the second fatality of the Johnson-Luke Feud in the Summer of 1926.  On a Saturday afternoon, August 28, 1926 the young boy was riding with his parents to pick up his grandmother, Lucretia “Cresie”  Luke, at her home near Ray City, GA when the family was accosted by an “in-law.”   In the ensuing gun battle, the boy’s parents were both wounded,  his uncle Lonnie Johnson was killed with a shotgun blast, and Horace was fatally wounded in the chest.  He died on Sunday, August 29, 1926.

Horace Luke, age 6, was a victim of the 1926 Johnson-Luke fued in Berrien County, GA

Horace Luke, age 6, was a victim of the 1926 Johnson-Luke feud in Berrien County, GA

The Atlanta Constitution
August 30, 1926   Pg 11


    Nashville, Ga., August 29.   Perry Luke, Jr. aged about six years, died during the night of a gunshot wound received yesterday in the gun battle staged in the Johnson-Luke family feud.

   The boy was wounded in the chest by bullets fired during a gunshot battle staged on a highway near here in which Lonnie Johnson,  35, of Daytona, Fla., formerly of Berrien county, was killed, Perry Luke was shot in the shoulder and Mrs. Perry Luke was shot through the neck, the bullet coming out at the mouth.

    Lonnie Johnson, just back from Florida, who was in an automobile with his wife, is said to have driven to the home of Walter Luke, informing him that he was going to wipe out the family of Walter’s brother, Perry, on sight.

    At the time, according to information in the hands of county officers, Lonnie Johnson, who married a sister of Mrs. Perry Luke, ascertained that Perry Luke had gone to the home of his mother, to get her to spend Sunday with them.  The mother resides on the highway between Adel and Ray City.

    As Johnson drove away rapidly in the direction of the residence of his mother, Walter Luke, cranked up his truck and obtained his shotgun and started in pursuit, but the automobile outran the truck in the chase.

   When approaching the residence of his mother, Walter Luke found Lonnie Johnson’s car turned across the highway, blocking traffic, while he said Lonnie Johnson was shooting into the car containing his brother and the members of his family.

    As he climbed out of the truck Walter Luke says that Lonnie Johnson turned his pistol upon him, but Walter Luke opened fire with his shotgun and killed Johnson almost instantly.

The Survivors and the Dead

Lonnie Johnson was killed on August 28, 1926 by a shotgun blast fired by his brother-in-law Walter Luke.  Father-in-law Edward C. Nash was the informant on Johnson’s death certificate.  The location of Lonnie Johnson’s grave is not known.

Death Certificate of Lonnie Johnson, August 28, 1926.

Death Certificate of Lonnie Johnson, August 28, 1926.

Horace Luke, shot in the chest by Lonnie Johnson, died the following day, on Sunday, August 29, 1926.  Horace Luke was buried at Flat Creek Cemetery, north of Nashville, GA.

Grave marker of Horace Luke, Flat Creek Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave marker of Horace Luke, Flat Creek Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Bessie Nash Johnson was uninjured in the feud. She contracted tuberculosis and went to the State Tuberculosis Sanitarium at Alto, GA.  She died less than a year after the gun battle, passing from this life on June 7, 1927.

Death certificate of Bessie Nash Johnson, State Tuberculosis Sanitarium, Alto, GA

Death certificate of Bessie Nash Johnson, State Tuberculosis Sanitarium, Alto, GA

Fannie Estell Nash Luke, wife of Perry Luke, was “shot in the neck, the bullet coming out at the mouth.”  She died ten years later and was buried at Flat Creek Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

The Nashville Herald
Mrs. W.P. Luke Is Called By Death

   Mrs. W. P. Luke, well known and highly esteemd [sic] Berrien county lady, died Tusday [sic] morning at 11 o’clock at her home 14 miles south of Nashville on the Nashville-Valdosta highway.  She had been ill since September. The deceased, who was 33 years of age, was a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ed C. Nash, who reside near Lake Park, but former Berrien county citizens.  Mrs. Luke was born and reared in this county, and was married to Mr. Luke about 15 years ago.
     Funeral services were held Wednesday morning at 11 o’clock at Flat Creek church, conducted by Rev. A.H. Giddens and Elder John Harris of Valdosta, and lasting tributes were paid to the life of the deceased.
     The pall-bearers were Messrs T.B. McDonald, John Stalvey, Jim Willer, John Chason, J.A. Sapp and J.T. Herring.
    Arrangements and burial were in charge of the Giddens Funeral Home of  Nashville.
    Surviving are the husband, three sons, two daughters, two brothers and one sister.

Perry Luke, shot in the shoulder,  survived and lived to age 63. He died  September 26, 1963 and was buried at Flat Creek Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Walter Luke was not injured in the battle. He died June 8, 1975 in Lowndes County, GA.

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Four Dead in a Week

D. Edwin Griner lived many years in Ray City, Berrien County, GA and is buried there at New Ramah Cemetery.  He was the eldest son of Sarah C. Gaskins  and  Samuel J. Griner and as a young man he lived with his parents and siblings near Nashville, GA.   When D. Edwin Griner was a young man of 17,  his family suffered tragic loss.  In the spring of 1889 in the weeks just before Easter,  four  of the Griner children, Edwin’s siblings, died of measles.

The Berrien County Pioneer
Friday, April 5, 1889
Nashville, Ga.

Mr. Samuel Griner, living some two miles from here, lost three of his children last week from measles. Two of them were twin boys some twelve years of age. The other a little girl some younger which died last Friday night. There seemed to be something miraculous about the little girl’s death, she was neither sick nor cold on Sunday morning, or thirty-six hours after death. Another of Mr. Griner’s children is very low and not expected to live. Mr. and Mrs. Griner has the sincere sympathy of the entire community in their sorrowful bereavement.

The Berrien County Pioneer
Friday, April 12, 1889
Nashville, Ga.

Mr. Sam Griner, of Nashville, lost another one of his children this week from measles. This is the fourth child he has lost from this disease. The bereaved parents have the sympathy of all.

 The Valdosta Times,
Valdosta, Georgia
Saturday, April 13, 1889

Four Dead in a Week. In writing soothing words for a bereaved family after the loss of some of the loved ones, we seldom have to mention more than one or at the most two who have departed this eventful and flickering spark of mortality. But in this instance four of the precious pets of the home of Samuel J. and Sarah C. Griner are gone to answer the summons of the Grand Master of the Universe to be with Him in His kingdom that they may be the more able to behold his glory. In His sojourn on the vale of sorrow He said “suffer little children to come unto me,” and though his will may conflict with the will of frail humanity we must bow in humble submission to Him in all patience, knowing that “the Lord giveth and that the Lord taketh away.” and Job, said “and blessed be the man of the Lord.” Truly our children are jewels in our households but they are only entrusted to care for a very short period by the creator, our Heavenly friend.  Then surely we can of ready mind, restore the jewels to their owner whose loan has caused us so much pleasure. The first of this lovely quarto to obey the death call was little Archie, one of the petted twins who had been the especial pets of his parents and friends for ten years.  Just before his death and when the sweet life was fast going he called his pa and gave his dying instructions concerning a pet dog he and his little brother claimed. “Pa” said he “feed my dog and take good care of him?” And then his eyes closed in the sweet sleep of death. The next to go was little Arthur who died just thirty-six hours later. Like his little twin brother he too had a dying message. The little dog kept constant vigil at the bedside of the little boys and after Archie was gone he knew very well something was not as it use to be. A few minutes before the last little master went away the little pet dog got up, and looked around, reared up on the bedside and wagged his tail and looked at the dying boy’s face who reached out his hand and the dog kissed it a last good by. Turning to his pa he said, “pa there is two boys gone.” On being asked who he replied “us.” He was then asked if he wished to see anybody he said “nobody but Archie.”  And then he called his pa to come near. Soon all was over, and his spirit joined that of his dear brother in paradise.

Next came little Martha aged about seven. She died on the third day after little Arthur. Then the baby remained. Little Rhoda, aged about two years. Faint hopes were expressed that she might recover.  And then the poor almost broken hearted parents were so anxious.

It does seem as if our Heavenly Father is severe on us sometimes when He in His wisdom intends good. Perhaps it is so in this case. For two days her life hung in the balance and did not seem to turn either way. But the hungry pain prayed ceaselessly on her weak vitals and third day after her little sister died she passed away. Oh, what sorrow now dragged upon the poor parents hearts. In one short week they had witnessed the death of four of their precious darlings, and it is only they who’ve felt such pain that can understand their sorrow. May God in His mercy bless them with soothing comfort.

In the Churchyard at Flat Creek Church are four new graves where the loved ones will rest until the morn of the resurrection when they shall rise to be with the general assembly and Church of the first born.

Dear parents, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends, let us prepare to go us there too.

Their cousin,
    W. Henry Griffin

Edwin’s mother, Sarah Gaskins Griner,  could not long survive the loss of four children.  She had suffered with a disability at least since 1880.  Did she fall victim to the measles, did her own health just give out,  or was she simply overcome by grief?  Whatever the cause she, too, had died before the end of 1889.

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