An Inquest Into the Death of Jesse Webb

Jesse Webb Murdered by Ben Furlong

As previously told,  Jesse Webb was the last victim of Berrien County desperado Ben W. Furlong.  Webb was  shot, knifed, brutalized and, after three days of agony, finally bludgeoned to death with a sledge hammer on September 9, 1886 at Furlong’s Mill.  The mill was situated at Sniff, GA on the route of the Brunswick & Albany Railroad near the county line between Berrien and Coffee counties.

 

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Alapaha Star

October 2, 1886

THE INQUEST

Wednesday morning  [September 22, 1886] acting coroner J. A. Slater and a jury of eight men repaired to Furlong’s mill, five miles east of Alapaha. On arriving there several witnesses were summoned. Jim Simmons, col., was the first witness sworn. He testified that the down freight on Tuesday, September 7th put a colored man off and the conductor told Furlong to take him and work him. The man said he —- want work there. When —- left the colored man started —- it. Furlong told him if —–not come back he would f— him full of shot, went in — the commissary to get his gun The negro came back and F—ong handcuffed him and put Lo—- – white man, as guard over —. About an hour from night f— — –gro made a break for liberty. —

— ran to a swamp seve— hu—– yards south of —— —— —– —-
Furlong was about the —– tance behind Lofton. The —ness ran after Furlong, hoping to keep him from killing the ——. Soon after the pursuers and -ursued were lost to sight in the swamp. The witness heard a gun or pistol shot and stopped. In the pursuit Furlong carried a double barreled gun. In a few minutes he returned, without the gun, and said to the witness, “If you breathe a word about this I will kill you.” He afterwards told witness, “If you mention a word of this affair to a living being I know three men that will swear you did the shooting, and your neck will snap.” Tuesday night [September 7, 1886] Furlong, Tom Sharon and J. M. Lofton took Simmons down to where the wounded man lay. They were all armed with double-barreled guns. When they reached the wounded man they told Simmons to assist Sharon in getting the handcuffs off him. While they were thus engaged Furlong drew his knife and tried to cut the wounded man’s throat. Simmons caught his arm and begged him not to kill the man. He then made a lunge at Simmons’ — — —– —- —-

1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-inquest-2him. Wednesday morning [September 8, 1886] Simmons took the wounded man a bottle of water. The man begged him to take him to one of the shanties. Furlong refused to let him bring him. Later that day he told Lofton the man ought to have something to eat. He was helpless but could talk. The witness did not see the wounded man after Wednesday night.

Thursday night [September 9, 1886] Furlong set for Simmons and told him he wanted him to go with him that night. Simmons told him he was too sick to go.

Several other witnesses were examined, but we have only space for the most important.

Mr. James Cross, white, testified that he came at night Tuesday the 7th, and that Furlong asked him to go and stay at his house that night, as his wife was frightened about something. He did so. About 9 o’clock Furlong came in but remained only a minute. Wednesday night [September 8, 1886] Furlong, Lofton and Sharon stayed out nearly all night. Thursday night they left about 8 o’clock, returned about 9 o’clock, changed clothes, putting on their worst clothes and old shoes, and left again. They were absent until three o’clock. Witness did not –e —- — — morning their pants were wet and muddy to their knees and Sharon’s coat was wet to the pockets. He questioned them but they would not tell where they had been or what they had done.

None of the witnesses saw the man after he died, nor were any of them willing to say that he had been killed, although they felt satisfied that such was the case. The main actors in this brutal tragedy were absent, one in his grave and the other two had fled.

After hearing the testimony of the coroner, the jury and a number of white and colored men scoured the woods and bays and branches for miles, in search of the missing man, but without success. Not a trace was found as to where his body had been hidden.

When the party returned to the mill, it was given as a rumor that the man had been buried in the horse lot, just back of the commissary

Several men, with iron rods, went to the lot and probed it. In one place the rod went down 1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-5— feet in loose earth, but it was not thought at the time it be the man’s grave. It being late in the afternoon [Wednesday, September 22, 1886] the jury adjourned to Saturday, to await the arrival of important witnesses. Just as Alapaha was reached Mr. James Cross came galloping in and announced that the body had been found in the horse lot where the iron rod had sunk in the ground. Several colored men were sent back to guard the body till Thursday morning.

Thursday [September 23, 1886] about nine o’clock the coroner and jury returned to Furlong’s mill. The jury at once repaired to the horse lot and were soon at work exhuming the body of Jesse Webb, this being the name by which the murdered man was said to be known.

After digging a depth of two —and a half or three feet, in the —- –st corner of the lot, between —- — —d and the forage house —- — -ands near the railroad —- —- body was re—– —– —- on his —- — —- —————————- out property. Decomposition had set in and his flesh would peel off at a touch. With the aid of crocus sacks, which were placed under him, the end of which extended out on either side, he was lifted out of the grave and placed in a box.  On examination the skull was found crushed in on the left side just above the ear, seemingly with a large hammer, perhaps a sledge-hammer. On the right side, a short distance from the forehead, and about an inch from the center of the head the skull was also crushed in, the hole being fully an inch and a half in circumference. In the man’s mouth was a roll of waste, such as is used for packing the boxes on car wheels.  The evidence showed that Furlong, Lofton and Sharon were at the commissary about midnight Thursday night, when Furlong asked first Gammage and then Simmons to go with him that night.  What they did after that is left to conjecture, but the presumptive evidence is that they prepared themselves and proceeded to where the wounded negro lay, rammed the waste into his mouth and down his throat, so that he could not cry out when struck, and then crushed in his skull, dragged him a hundred yards through the woods — buggy, hauled him to the lot and buried him.  1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-6All this was done inside of three hours.

The jury of the inquest will sit in Alapaha to-day, when doubtless a verdict will be reached.

This is beyond doubt the most brutal murder that has ever darkened the annals of out county.  This unoffending negro was handcuffed and when he made an effort to regain his freedom, was pursued and shot after he was caught. Paralyzed in every limb, he lay in a dense swamp from about an hour before sundown, Tuesday evening, September 7th, until the following Thursday night at 12 o’clock. During all this time he had one drink of water and one meal, notwithstanding he was less than four hundred yards from several houses. Thursday night, at midnight, three white demons, braced with whiskey, which was the real cause of the crime, advanced through the gloomy swamp to where the helpless man lay and murdered him in the manner already stated.

Furlong, the leader in this horrible murder, is in his grave, but his accomplices are still at large. No time should be lost in bringing them to justice.

The first part of this article was — — would be an inquest.

Nathan Bridges and Jesse Woolbright, two colored men of this place, deserve honorable mention for their unceasing efforts to aid the jury in finding the body and for their attention to the jury while hearing evidence.

Related Posts:

The Ghost of Ben Furlong, Berrien County Desperado

More on Berrien County, GA Desperado, Benjamin William Furlong

Back Story on Benjamin William Furlong

The Vanceville Affair

Ben Furlong’s Ghost Haunted Conscience of Berrien Residents

Southern Georgia: Railroad Pamphlet

The Haints of Berrien County

More Haints of Berrien County

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The Vanceville Affair

Reader comments on this blog have expressed further interest in the life and death of Benjamin William Furlong, perhaps Berrien County’s most infamous desperado of all time.

See The Ghost of Ben Furlong, Berrien County DesperadoMore on Berrien County, GA Desperado, Benjamin William Furlong, and   Back Story on Benjamin William Furlong

In particular, there have been questions about what became of the children  of Ben W. Furlong and his wife, Pocahontas, after his death in 1886.

Their youngest son, Jack Alsea “Joe” Furlong was born in February, 1886 just months, before his death. The mid decade birth of Joe Furlong explains his early childhood absence from census records –  he was born after the 1880 census, and the 1890 census records for Georgia were lost in a fire.

The father, Benjamin William Furlong, desperado of Berrien County, GA, died in 1886 by his own hand. Afterward, it appears that the children of Ben and Pocahontas were divided among other family members for care.  Jack Alsea “Joe” Furlong went to live with his Aunt, Ellen Furlong Gray, and her husband, Benjamin B. Gray. Benjamin Gray operated a sawmill at Pinebloom about a mile from Willacoochee, GA. He was also the owner of the Ocilla, Pinebloom & Valdosta Railroad, and principal owner of the Nashville Sparks Railroad.

Jack Alsea “Joe” Furlong is enumerated as Josie A Furlong  in the census of 1900 in the household of B.B. Gray and Ellen Gray residing at Willacoochee, GA.

Later, Jack Alsea “Joe” Furlong regarded and referred to his Gray foster parents, “Ben and Ellen,” as his real parents, and his cousins with whom he was raised, as his siblings. You can view photos of B.B. Gray and Ellen Gray at the Berrien County Historical Foundation: Historical Photos website.

The transcripts of 1883 news clippings below provide further details on the Benjamin William Furlong and the brutal beating of his wife, Pocahontas,  which roused the citizens of Wiregrass Georgia.  The news stories establish that Benjamin B. Gray is the brother-in-law of Benjamin William Furlong.

“Vanceville, at the 125 mile-post, is a new and bright looking little settlement. Here Furlong Bros. have a sawmill which cuts 15,000 feet of lumber per day. They have a tramway started, the engine and iron on the ground. The country is rolling and beautiful. There are many lovely building sites on this road Nature has made them beautiful, and in a few short years our eyes may be permitted to see beautiful gardens, vineyards and orchards, where now the wiregrass flourishes. Lawrence & Guest have here a turpentine farm. Vanceville is their postoffice. They run twenty crops. Mayo & Sons have also a turpentine farm of twenty crops.” – Railroad Advertising Pamphlet

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Brunswick Advertiser and Appeal
August 4, 1883 pg 6

Wife Beating.

A disgraceful affair occured at Vanceville, on the B. & W. road, the past week.  Mr. Ben Furlong, becoming enraged with his, chastised bere severely with a whip, and because she attempted to get away, struck her with the butt of the whip, knocking her senseless.  He then stood in his doorway with a double-barrel gun and told all outsiders to keep off or he would kill the first man who attempted to enter.  He remained master of the situation for several days, and finally surrendered.  Meanwhile his poor wife was lying extremely ill without attention.     Later. – He has had a preliminary trial and been bound over in the sum of $2500.

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Americus Weekly Republican
August 10, 1883  Pg 2

The Albany News and Advertiser says that Furlong, the man who beat his wife near Tifton last week, was tried before a committal court Wednesday and bound over in the sum of $2,500 for assault with intent to murder.  Judge G. J. Wright, of that city, was retained by the prosecution.

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Albany Weekly News and Advertiser
August 11, 1883  Pg 3

The more we hear of the Furlong wife beating, at Furlong’s Mill, the more diabolical it appears.  Furlong, it is said, most brutally beat his wife, and stamped her to such an extent that it is thought she will die.  We have heard related the particulars of her injuries, and they are of such a nature that we can not publish them.  The idea of such a brute being out under bond is perfectly horrible.

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Americus Weekly Republican
August 17, 1883  Pg 3

Ben Furlong was in the city to consult with his lawyer – Col. W. A. Hawkins and Ed. G. Simmons, Esq.,  – Friday.

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Americus Weekly Republican
August 17, 1883 Pg 2

The Vanceville Affair.

Worth Star.

     We have so far abstained from mentioning the Vanceville affair, because we have heard several versions of it, and feared we might publish the wrong one.  We hoped to get a correct report of the matter in last week’s Berrien News, but as it was not mentioned, we must confine ourself to what we know to be true, i.e., that Furlong beat his wife unmercifully, that he was arrested, that a committal trial was held and that he was bound over to the Superior Court in the sum of $2,500.     We have no plea to make in behalf of Furlong, for there is none that could be made, but we want to place the blame for this brutal outrage where it properly belongs – at the door of whiskey. Had Ben Furlong not been drunk, his hand would never have been raised against his defenseless wife.  A gentleman who lived neighbor to him a number of years said to us the other day: “I have known Ben Furlong a number of years, and I never had a better neighbor and friend in my life, and all the time I lived near him I never heard of him mistreating any one.”     No, it was not Ben Furlong who beat and bruised his wife, it was a hellish demon created within him by a too free indulgence in whiskey – that great and towering curse, the priviledge to sell which, according to some of the whiskey advocates, was purchased by the blood of our ancestors.  Out upon such a blasphemous charge against the honored dead! An intelligent people will never believe that our ancestors shed a single drop of blood in order to bequeath such a blighting, withering curse to their posterity.     We point to the bruised and bleeding wife of Ben Furlong, and charge the crime to WHISKEY.

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Albany Weekly News and Advertiser
October 20, 1883 Pg 3

On the Rampage Again.

Furlong, the Wife Beater, Jumps His Bond.

    B. W. Furlong, who will be remembered by the readers of the NEWS AND ADVERTISER as the man who beat his wife o mercilessly at his home in Berrien county, on the B. & W. railroad, some time ago, and who spent several days in jail in this city, has been on the rampage again for the last week or two, and although under bond to keep the peace and for his appearance at the next term of Berrien Superior Court, has been into two or three more difficulties and making himself a nuisance generally.     Upon learning that Furlong was not keeping his promise to them, and that he was behaving badly again three of his bondsmen, Messrs. W.J. Nelson, of Alapaha, B. B. Gray, of Gray’s Mills, and Col. L. J. Boyt, of Dougherty county, notified the Sheriff of Berrien county that they would not remain on his bond any longer.  The Sheriff refused to relieve the of their responsibility, however, until Furlong was delivered to him.     With the intention of arresting Furlong and delivering him over to the Sheriff, Mr. Nelson, accompanied by Mr. A. J. McCrea, Marshal of Alapaha, started Sunday night to Albany, where the expected to find Furlong.  They met him at Sumner, however, and started back to Alapaha with him.  They did not tell him what their purpose was, but he evidently suspected that something was wrong, and just after the train started, jumped off, and has since been making himself scarce.

LATER.

    Furlong came to the city on Tuesday night, and was jailed  between 10 and 11 o’clock.  He got drunk and  ‘rared round’ considerably, abusing his best friends and making himself disagreeable generally.  Some of his bondsmen were in the city and had him arrested for the purpose of giving him up and getting released from his bond. Marshal Westbrook and Policeman Bennet made the arrest, and carried him to jail.  He swore at first that he would not go to jail, but he went all the same.     Furlong is wanted in Berrien county, but will not be turned over to the authorities of that county until he is either tried on three indictments which stand against him in Dougherty, or gets his cases continued and makes a new bond.  Two indictments for carrying concealed weapons were found against him at the last April term of Dougherty Superior Court, and Messrs. C. M. Mayo and John Ray became his bondsmen.  There is also an indictment against him here for assault and battery. Wednesday morning Messrs. Mayo and Ray notifed Sheriff Edwards that they desired to be relieved as his bondsmen.  This leaves him without bond in the cases standing against him here, and he will be kept in jail until tried unless he succeeds in giving a new bond.  He will probably be tried for his offenses here at the present term of the Superior Court.
We learn that his brother-in-law, Mr. B.B. Gray, who is also one of his bondsmen in the case that grew out of his assault upon his wife, desires to get him back to Berrien county for the purpose of having him committed to the lunatic asylum – he being satisfied that the man’s reason has been destroyed by strong drink.  It matters not whether his conduct be due to insanity or to liquor, something ought to be done with him, for he has gotten to be a man of such violent disposition and habits that he is not only a nuisance to his friends, but a terror to the community.

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Brunswick Advertiser and Appeal
October 20, 1883 pg 6

B. W. Furlong, who will be remembered as the man who beat his wife so severely some time since in Berrien county, and who was in our city a few weeks since raising quite a stir, has been behaving so badly of late that his bondsmen concluded to give him up, and started with him to the Sheriff, but he jumped from the train, and, up to this writing, has not put in his appearance.  His bondsmen in Brunswick will feel somewhat uneasy, as he will be wanted here at the next term of court to answer certain charges.     Later. – He has since been captured in Albany, and is now in jail.

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