Berrien County Paid Terrible Toll on the Otranto

When the troopship Otranto went down on October 6, 1918 near the end of World War I,  Ray City and Berrien County, GA paid a heavy toll. Among the hundreds of Otranto dead were dozens of soldiers from Berrien.  For weeks news of the disaster trickled into American newspapers. Facts were sketchy at best –  In some cases, soldiers who perished in the sinking were incorrectly reported as survivors. The article below incorrectly reported the Irish coast as the site of the sinking. In actuality, the ship went down off the coast of the Isle of Islay, Scotland.  It would nearly two months before the names of the lost were known to the folks at home…

Atlanta Constitution
November 28, 1918

Berrien County Paid Big Toll On The Otranto

Nashville, Ga., November 27.- (Special.) – Berrien county paid a terrible toll in the loss of her young men when the ill-fated Otranto went down off the Irish coast a few weeks ago [October 6, 1918];  in today’s list seven new names of dead from here were added the to already heavy toll.  The names of the dead in today’s list include:

Joe Wheeler, son of John Wheeler, of this city; Lester Handcock, son of Joe Handcock, of Enigma;
William P. Hays, father unknown [George Robert Hayes, died 1914], of Enigma; James M. McMillen, son of Jake McMillen, of Alapaha; Ben F. McCranie, son of Neil McCranie, of Adel. Mr. McCranie had heretofore lost his son-in-law, Gordon Flowers, killed in action some weeks ago. Shelby [Shellie] L. Webb, son of Thomas Webb, of Ray City; Arthur Harper, son of Peter Harper, of Alapaha.
     Those Berrien county boys reported lost prior to this report include Jim Boyett, son of Jack Boyett, of Milltown; Guy Coppage, son of Guy G. Coppage, of Cecil; Lafayette Gaskins, son of Bart Gaskins, of Ray City; Bennie E. Griner, son of Ben Griner, of this city; Robert J. Hancock, son of J. J. Hancock, of Lenox, George H. Hutto, son of Luke Hutto, of Adel; Mack Easters, son of Benjamin Easters, of Lenox; George B. Faircloth, son of Colon Easters, of Milltown; Thomas H. Holland, son of K. H. Holland, of Adel; Ralph Knight, son of Walt Knight, of Ray City; William McMillen, son of B. [Burrell] McMillen of Enigma; John F. Moor, son of Frank Moor, of Adel; Charley Railey, son of John Railey, of Alapaha; William C. Zeigler, son of J. W. [Jesse] Zeigler, of Sparks; Thomas J. Sirmans, son of Mose Sirmans, of this city; Richard [Rufus] Davis, father unknown [Elisha E. Davis].
     The dead from this accident bring Berrien county’s total to about 45 fatalities from all causes during the war. Based upon population, this county has undoubtedly suffered greater loss in men dead than any other county in this state, because of so many of her boys on board the Otranto.  The people here will take steps to preserve the memory of these boys by appropriate construction on the public square, it is said.

Atlanta Constitution, November 28, 1918 - Berrien County Paid Big Toll on the Otranto

Atlanta Constitution, November 28, 1918 – Berrien County Paid Big Toll on the Otranto

 

Otranto Stories in Ray City History

Bryan J. Roberts ~ Lowndes Pioneer

Bryan (or Bryant) John Roberts (1809-1888)

In 1827, eighteen-year-old Bryan J Roberts arrived in the newly created Lowndes County, GA with his parents and siblings.  His father, John Roberts, settled the family on a plot of land situated near the Cat Creek community, eventually establishing a large plantation there.

Bryan J. Roberts

Bryan J Roberts 1809-1888. Cat Creek Cemetery, Lowndes County, GA.

According to Folks Huxford, Bryan J. Roberts was born in Wayne County, GA on June 4, 1809, a son of Phoebe Weeks Osteen and John R.  Roberts.

In Lowndes County, on January 26, 1832 Bryan J. Roberts married Wealthy A. Mathis (1813 – 1888). As a young woman, she had come from Bulloch County, GA with her parents, Rhoda Monk and James Mathis, to settle at the site of present day Cecil, GA in Cook County.

Wealthy and Bryan J. Roberts established their home place on the land that had been settled by his father in 1827.  Of B. J. Roberts, Huxford says. “He had a large plantation and lived in comfortable circumstances.”     Roberts may have been among the earliest  planters to introduce pecans in Georgia, as pecans are mentioned in a Civil War letter written by John Hagan, of Berrien County, dated June 2, 1862.  Hagan wrote to his wife, Amanda Roberts:

 ”Give my respects to your Uncle Bryant J. Reoberts…Tel him I would like to heare how his little cob corn is doing. Also letter me know if Capt Martin has paid his cotoe [quota] of the precans [pecans] for introductsion.”

Children of Wealthy Mathis and Bryan J. Roberts:

  1.  John Jackson Roberts (1832 – 1907), married: (l) Susan Vickers daughter of Lewis Vickers; (2) Mrs. Catherine Gaskins widow of John Gaskins of Coffee County.
  2. James W. Roberts (1834 – 1900), married Elizabeth “Eliza” Edmondson daughter of David Adam Edmondson .
  3. Mary Ann Roberts (1835-1919), married Archibald Duncan Wilkes of Berrien County.
  4. Stephen N. Roberts (1837 – 1863), never married; joined the Berrien Minute Men in 1861 and served at Brunswick, Sapelo Island and Savannah; died of pneumonia January 6, 1863 in Lowndes County, GA; buried at Owen Smith Cemetery, Hahira, GA.
  5. Jemima Roberts (1839-1913), married William H. Burgsteiner son of John R. Burgsteiner.
  6. Rachel Roberts (1841-1867), married Jacob Dorminy son of John Bradford Dorminy, Jr. of Irwin County.
  7. Nancy Roberts (1843- ),  married William S. Phillips of Stockton.
  8. Warren H. Roberts (1846-1908), married: (1) Virginia S. “Jennie” Edmondson daughter of Rev. John Edmondson; (2) Isabella Strickland, daughter of Charles Strickland.
  9. William K. Roberts (1847-1908), married Phyllis McPherson Oct 27, 1888 in Berrien County, GA.
  10. Leonard L Roberts (1849-1919 ),  married Georgia Ann Baskin, daughter of James Madison Baskin
  11. Elizabeth “Betty” Roberts (1851-1933), married Daniel D. Andrew Jackson Dorminy, son of John Bradford Dorminy, Jr. of Irwin County.
  12. Martha Roberts  (1854-1898), married Frank Moore son of Levi Moore.

From 1827 to 1829, Bryan J. Roberts served as an ensign in the 663rd district of the Lowndes County militia. He was elected Justice of the Peace in the 658th district, Lowndes County, for the 1834-1837 term. He served in the Indian War of 1836-1838 as a private in Captain Levi J. Knight’s company of Lowndes County militia, and was one of those present at the skirmish with Indians at William “Short-arm Billy” Parker’s place preceding the Battle of Brushy Creek.

Prior to his death, Bryan J. Roberts divided his property among his children. This “self-administration” of his estate was reported in The Valdosta Times, August 8, 1885.

The Valdosta Times
August 8, 1885

His Own Administrator.

      Mr. Bryant Roberts is 77 years old, and he moved to this county in 1827.  He has reared 10 children and there are numerous grand-children.  The old gentleman lost his wife last year, and since that time he has been lonely at the old homestead.  Last week he summonsed all his children together and made up and inventory of all he owned.  It footed up $10,000.  Six thousand of his property was divided up into ten equal parts, and each child drew for his or her share.  The old gentleman reserved $4,000 for his own use for the balance of his life.  The homestead was included in the property divided, and the old gentleman will break up housekeeping and spend the remainder of his declining years around among his children.
      Mr. Roberts has taken this step because he feels that the silken cord has weakened under the weight of years and he prefers to be his own administrator.  We trust his children will make it pleasant for the old gentleman during the remainder of his sojourn with them.

According to the above newspaper clipping, Wealthy Mathis Roberts died about 1884. on July 8, 1888 Bryan J. Roberts followed her in death. They were buried at Cat Creek Primitive Baptist Church.

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