Widow Clements was a Planter of Berrien County, GA

Nancy Patten Clements (1822-1887)

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

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

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

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

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

Children of John Franklin Clements and Nancy Patten:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milledgeville Confederate Union
January 3, 1865

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

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

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

Milledgeville Federal Union
December 4, 1866

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

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

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

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

January 18th, 1867   (w.e.c.) 26 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ray’s Mill Founder’s Day ~ November 7, 1863

About 1863, Thomas M. Ray  and Levi J. Knight observed that pioneers had settled southern Berrien County, GA to the extent that  the establishment of a grist mill to serve the local community was warranted.  With the assistance of slave labor, an earthen dam and concrete spillway was constructed to impound a millpond on the swampy headwaters of Beaverdam Creek. The mill house itself was constructed from the local timber; “The ceiling rafters were hand hewed and wood pegs were used instead of nails.” 

Ray's Mill, Ray City, Berrien County, GA

Ray’s Mill, Ray City, Berrien County, GA

On November 7, 1863 Mr. Ray began operation of the mill, then known as Knight & Ray’s Mill. Powered by water from the pond, the mill could grind meal and hominy grits from corn.

The old mill hopper and mill rock at Ray's Mill.  Image source:  Colquitt Electric Membership Newsletter (full article available at www.southermatters.com

The old mill hopper and mill rock at Ray’s Mill. Image source: Colquitt Electric Membership Newsletter (full article available at http://www.southermatters.com

Ray’s Mill was the first commercial enterprise of historic Ray City. At one time the mill was the central gathering place of this part of Berrien County, as men would take their corn there to be ground. “People would travel for miles by horsedrawn wagons to have several months supply of meal or grits ground for their family. This generally resulted in a a outing for the whole family.”

As Ray’s Mill was the best known landmark of the immediate vicinity, the growing community became known by that name also.  The area’s first postal station was established as early as 1863. The 1864 Census for the Reorganization of the Georgia Militia shows that AK Harmon was then serving as a postmaster for the 1144th Georgia Militia District, which was centered on Ray’s Mill.

The location of the mill also became the site of the community’s first post office. In 1885,  The Official Register of the United States listed  H.H. Knight   as Post Master of “Ray’s Mills”, Berrien County, Georgia.  By 1886, The Atlanta Medical and Surgical Journal reported that the community had a doctor, serving a population of 150 people. During the decade of the 1890’s Berrien county was one of the top ten fastest growing counties in Georgia. In the late 1890s and early 1900s David Rigell operated a general merchandise store located near the old mill. Rigell’s merchantile may have been only the second retail establishment  at Ray’s Mill (now Ray City), although it is often incorrectly cited as the first.

The grist mill ceased operation in 1954 after 91 years of operation.  Even though the town was incorporated as Ray City in 1909, it was still being marked on maps as Rays Mill as late as 1952.

The millhouse has since been torn down, but Rays Millpond remains as one of the eduring landmarks of Ray City, GA.

An old news photo showing remants of original equipment at Ray's Mill.

An old news photo showing remants of original equipment at Ray’s Mill.

The Family of Aden Boyd and Nancy Sykes

Aden Boyd and Nancy Sykes Boyd were among the  pioneer settlers of  Berrien County, GA.

According to Huxford, the children of Aden and Nancy were:

1. Blansett “Blanche” Boyd, born 1823, married Henry Tison.
2. David Boyd, born 1827, married Anna Ford, October 27, 1858.
3. Aden Boyd, Jr. born  1829, married Maxie Cook, daughter of Elijah Cook and Sarah “Sallie” Webb.
4. Lucinda Boyd, born  1832, married William Baldree, September 9, 1857.
5. Sarah Boyd,  born 1835, married Robert Lewis Taylor.
6. Mary E. Boyd,  born 1836, married Elbert J. Chapman.
7. Eliza H. Boyd, born 1838, married William J. Taylor, Jr., July 29, 1862.
8. William H. Boyd, born 1841, married – Tyson in Florida.

 Aden Boyd(1784-1864) was a son of David Boyd and Sarah Dabney. His father “was a Revolutionary soldier, enlisting in Culpepper County, VA, in Captain Ladson’s company, later being tranferred to Captain Clark’s company and serving under General Benjamin Lincoln at Charleston and Augusta” in the 1780’s.

After the Revolution, David Boyd RS settled in Old Washington County, GA. His property there was later cut into Montgomery and Tattnall counties.

“Aden Boyd was born in Georgia in 1800 according to the 1850 census, but in 1784 according to his tombstone.”

When Aden Boyd was about 12 years old his father was convicted of stealing a cow from a neighbor and received a severe sentence which included 117 lashes and being branded with an “R” for Rustler. (In 1999 David Boyd’s descendants were able to secure a full and unconditional pardon for David Boyd.  See 1999 Pardon for Revolutionary Soldier Balances Scales of Justice  for the complete story.)

“His wife, Nancy, was born 1802 in this state according to the 1850 census, but her tombstone shows she was born 1790. They were married in Tattnall County, GA on December 19, 1819 by J.A. Tippins, Justice of the Peace.  The bride was formerly Nancy Sykes, daughter of Arthur Sykes (she had a brother of the same name), and had previously been married, so that her name in the marriage license appears as Nancy Jones.”

“Aden Boyd and wife immediately after their marriage, proceeded to Appling County and made their home there until about 1828-30, 

Aden and Nancy Boyd made their home in Appling county, and are documented as residents of Appling County in the Census of 1820.  In 1823 the couple had their first child, a daughter they named  Blansett. Around that same time Aden’s parents both died, passing within a month of each other in Tatnall County, Ga. When the Georgia legislature created Ware County in December, 1824 Aden Boyd’s home was cut into the new county. On July 11, 1826, Aden Boyd purchased lot #155 in the 8th land district of Ware County, near a railroad stop known as “Old Nine” or “Number Nine”- a lot now within the city limits of Waycross, GA.  Aden Boyd sold this lot to Jeremiah Walker on Sept. 24, 1827.

About 1827, a son was born to Aden and Nancy Boyd. They named the boy David Boyd, after his paternal grandfather. Around 1828, Aden Boyd moved his family  to Old Lowndes County, where he established a home in the portion of the 10th land district which in 1856 was cut into Berrien County.  It appears that Aden’s brother, Bani J. Boyd, and nephew, Henry Boyd came to Lowndes from Tatnall County about this same time and settled nearby. In 1829, Nancy delivered another boy and the couple named him Aden Boyd, Jr.

In 1830, Aden Boyd and his young family are enumerated in Lowndes County.   They were originally members of Union Church which they joined on professions of faith, he being baptized November 12, 1831, and she on January 7, 1832.

Mr. and Mrs. Boyd were neighbors of Dred Newbern and Jonathan Sirmans. Nearby were the homesteads of  Bani J. Boyd, and Henry Boyd. The census shows that Aden Boyd did not own any slaves at this time. Over the next eight years, four more daughters were born to the couple, Lucinda B. (1832), Sarah B. (1835), Mary E. (1836), and Eliza (1838).   County deed records show that on February 22, 1839, Aden Boyd purchased land from Levi J. Knight, original settler of Ray City, GA . This land was a part of lot 356, 10th district of what was then Lowndes but now Berrien County.

By about 1845, Aden and Nancy’s eldest daughter,  Blansett Boyd, married Henry Tison and settled with her husband on a farm next door to her parents.

The Agricultural Census of 1850 shows Aden Boyd owned 735 acres of land, 40 acres of it improved. The cash value of his farm was $400, and he owned another $50 in farming implements and machinery. His livestock included 3 horses, 20 milch cows, 24 other cattle, and 100 swine. The total value of his live stock was $460 dollars. He had 300 bushels of Indian corn and 40 bushels of oats.  He had 1 bale, 400 lbs, of ginned cotton; 50 bushels of peas and beans; 20 bushels of sweet potatoes, 50 lbs of butter, and $125 dollars’ worth of slaughtered animals. His neighbors were John F. Clements and Henry Tison.  Nearby was the farm of Aaron Knight, and his family.

 

About 1852, son Aden Boyd, Jr married Maxie Cook, daughter of Elijah Cook and Sarah “Sallie” Webb.  Aden and Maxie settled on a place next to Stephen W. Avera, father of William Greene Avera, and the neighboring farms of William H. Boyett, Moses G. Sutton, Elijah Cook, and Mark R. Watson.

According to Folks Huxford, Aden  and Nancy Boyd had continued as members of  Union Church but in 1854, with their children marrying and settling around them, “a meeting-house was erected on the Boyd lands called Boyd’s Meeting House. Aden Boyd gave land for a church and cemetery, and  a new church called Empire was organized there.  Empire Church is located near Five Mile Creek,  about six miles northeast of Ray City out the Sam I. Watson Highway, on Empire Road.

“Aden Boyd donated the land for Empire Church and Cemetery in Land Lot # 335, Lowndes County on 26 May 1855. The church lands were later cut into Berrien and Lanier counties. This deed transferring property from Aden to Empire is registered on page 369, Book A, Berrien County, GA deeds. Aden and Nancy were among the charter members of Empire Primitive Baptist Church, which was previously known as Boyd’s Meeting House. Aden’s tombstone inscription also states that he donated the ground for this cemetery. Minutes from the first church Conference held on Saturday, 27 May 1854 referred to the church as Boyd’s Meeting House, which was now to be called Empire.”

Mr. and Mrs. Boyd became charter-members of Empire Church by letter of transfer from Union Church dated March 11, 1854.” He and his wife continued as members at Empire for the rest of their lives.

On Feb 4, 1856, Aden Boyd and his sister, Mrs. Blansett Jones (wife of Abner Jones of Berrien County) Filed an application in Lowndes county for a pension as orphans of a deceased Revolutionary Soldier. Their pension application was denied since they were both adults with families of their own at the time of their father’s death.

Aden Boyd was one of the early rice growers of Berrien county. The Berrien County agricultural and manufacturing records  for 1860 show he had on hand 80 pounds of rice, along with 50 bushels of corn, 10 bushels of oats and 5 bushels of peas and beans.  By 1860, Aden Boyd kept a farm of just 100 acres for himself. Of this, 15 acres were improved and 85 unimproved. The land was assessed at $400, and his home furnishing were worth $5. His livestock consisted of one mule, two sheep, and ten swine, altogether valued at $100.

In 1860, Adin Boyd and his wife Nancy were living in Berrien County. His daughters Sarah, and Eliza H., and son William H. were enumerated in his household. His neighbors were William G. Aiken and Henry Tison.

Aden Boyd died in April 1864, and was  buried in the cemetery at the church he helped to found.  Nancy Sykes Boyd died in April, 1872 and was buried in the cemetery at the church.

aden-boyd-nancy-sykes

Grave marker of Nancy Sykes and Aden Boyd, Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image detail courtesy of CT Zeigler http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=37125179

 ~

aden-boyd-nancy-sykes-detail

Inscription detail, grave marker of Nancy Sykes and Aden Boyd, Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

In 1857,  daughter Lucinda Boyd married William Baldree,  and the couple made their home adjacent to her parents and siblings.  The following year, David Boyd married Anna Ford and they also made their farm near his parents’ home place.

1860-boyd-family1

1860 census pages showing households of Aden Boyd and Nancy Sykes Boyd; Henry Tison and Blansett Boyd Tison; William; William Baldree and Lucinda Boyd Baldree; and David Boyd and Anna Ford Boyd.

Source: https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu111unit#page/n394/mode/1up

In June of 1859, Aden Boyd’s daughter Mary Boyd, married Elbert J. Chapman who was known locally as “Old Yeller” because of his pale complexion.  During the Civil War Old Yeller enlisted with Levi J. Knight’s company of Berrien Minute Men, and served in the 29th Georgia Regiment along with William Washington KnightJohn W. Hagan and other men of Berrien County.  But Chapman grew frustrated with relegation to a rear position and  abandoned his unit to seek action with  a westbound cavalry unit.  Although Chapman fought bravely with his new unit, he was eventually shot for his desertion from the 29th Georgia Infantry. Mary Boyd Chapman was later denied a Confederate Widow’s pension.

Sarah Boyd and Eliza Boyd married two brothers, Robert Lewis Taylor and William J. Taylor, respectively. They were brothers of Jemima Taylor, who married William Boyette.

The youngest son, William H. Boyd, married around the end of the Civil War or shortly thereafter.  According to Folks Huxford, he married a Tison woman in Florida.  The 1870 census provides her given name as “Georgia A.”, but no Georgia Tison has been located.  In 1870, William H. Boyd and wife Georgia, along with their sons Henry Harrison Boyd and Thomas H. Boyd, were making their household in the 1144 Georgia Militia District, the “Rays Mill” District of Berrien County, GA.  They were next door to William’s sister Blansett “Blanchy” and her husband, Henry Tison. Also living on the next farm was William’s widowed sister Mary Boyd Chapman, with her 8-year old daughter Mary A C Chapman and an infant daughter, 7-month-old Cressey Chapman.

Pages 91-92 of the 1870 Census of Berrien County, GA showing the adjacent households of Blansett Boyd Tison & Henry Tison; Jasper Tison; William H. Boyd & wife Georgia with sons Henry H Boyd and Thomas Boyd; and Mary Boyd Chapman with daughters Mary A C Chapman and Cressey Chapman.

Pages 91-92 of the 1870 Census of Berrien County, GA showing the adjacent households of Blansett Boyd Tison & Henry Tison; Jasper Tison; William H. Boyd & wife Georgia with sons Henry Harrison Boyd and Thomas Boyd; and Mary Boyd Chapman with daughters Mary A C Chapman and Cressey Chapman.

By 1880 William H. and Georgia Boyd had moved to the 1058 Georgia Militia District in Echols County, GA. They were enumerated there with their son Harrison.  Also in the Boyd household was William’s sister, Mary Chapman, and her daughter Cressey Chapman.

1880 Census, Echols County, GA, enumeration of the household of William H. Boyd & wife Georgia with son Henry Harrison Boyd, sister Mary Boyd Chapman, and niece Cressey Chapman.

1880 Census, Echols County, GA, enumeration of the household of William H. Boyd & wife Georgia with son Henry Harrison Boyd, sister Mary Boyd Chapman, and niece Cressey Chapman.

https://archive.org/stream/10thcensus0145unit#page/n58/mode/1up

It appears that Georgia Boyd died shortly after 1880 and that William H. Boyd remarried.   William H. Boyd, himself, apparently died before 1900, but his second wife, Penny Boyd, appears in the Valdosta, GA household of his adult son, Harrison Boyd, along with her minor children in the  census of 1900.

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Family of Lester Griffin

Lester Griffin, born July 30, 1890, was a son of Lillian Melissa Knight and Noah Webster Griffin, grandson of  Mary Elizabeth Carroll and William Washington Knight, and great grandson of Levi J. Knight, pioneer settler of Ray City, GA. He was a brother of Bessie Griffin.

Lester Griffin, age 18, son of Noah Webster Griffin and Lillian Melissa Knight.  Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester Griffin, age 18, son of Noah Webster Griffin and Lillian Melissa Knight. Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester’s parents grew up in the 1144 Georgia Militia District (Rays Mill District) but moved to the Lower Fork district  of Lowndes county (Georgia Militia District 658) before his birth in 1890.   There, Lester Griffin grew to manhood and took up farming on his own account on rented land.

Sometime before 1917, Lester Griffin moved to Irwin County, where he took a wage job farming for James O. Sutton, who owned a farm on the Ocilla-Lax Road. Sutton’s mother was a Griffin.

On August 12, 1917 in Irwin County, GA, Lester Griffin married Margaret Elizabeth “Lizzie” Griffin.   She was a daughter of Rachel McMillan and Bartow B. Griffin, keeping it all in the family. The blushing bride was 18 years old; the 26-year old groom was of medium height, slender, with dark hair and blue eyes.

According to Griffin family members, “Lester Griffin and Margaret Elizabeth (Lizzie) Griffin were distant cousins.  Lester’s Great-Grandfather Thomas Griffin and Lizzie’s Great-Grandfather Joshua Griffin were sons of James Griffin, Revolutionary Soldier, and Sarah Lodge Griffin, early settlers of that part of Irwin County.”

Lester Griffin and Lizzie Griffin, 1917.  Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester Griffin and Lizzie Griffin, 1917. Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Marriage Certificate of Lester Griffin and Mary Elizabeth Griffin, Irwin County, GA

Marriage Certificate of Lester Griffin and Mary Elizabeth Griffin, Irwin County, GA

Lester Griffin and Lizzie Griffin had five children:

  1. Bonita Griffin
  2. Noah Webster Griffin
  3. Audrey Griffin
  4. Ommie  Griffin
  5. Cecil Lester Griffin

Descendant Alan K. Griffin shares the following:

From what we were told, mostly by Daddy’s oldest sister, Bonita, Lester Griffin took a job in Fort Lauderdale, Florida as a carpenter/builder when she was a child.  This corresponds to the South Florida real estate boom of that time (see Obituary of Dr. L.S. Rentz).  She vividly recalled travelling by wagon and walking on their move to that area and coming home.”

Lester Griffin and Children, circa 1925-1926. (L to R) Noah Webster "Webb" Griffin, Lester holding daughter Ommie, and Audrey. Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester Griffin and Children, circa 1925-1926. (L to R) Noah Webster “Webb” Griffin, Lester holding daughter Ommie, and Audrey. Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lizzie Griffin and Children.  Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lizzie Griffin and Children. Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

“There was a violent hurricane that hit the Miami area on September 18, 1926, with winds estimated between 131 and 155 MPH  (see Ray City Residents Among Refugees from 1926 Hurricane).  Because there was little warning or understanding of hurricanes at that time, more than 370 lives were lost and 35,000 were made homeless in Southern Florida.   Some thought the storm was over when the eye passed over and were outside when the second part of the storm hit (the eye reached the coast at Coral Gables about 6AM and lasted 35 minutes).  The highest winds and storm surge (up to 10 feet) was in the second part of the hurricane.  Fort Lauderdale, just to the North also had severe storm surge from the Hurricane.  Prior to the hurricane, Grandmamma Lizzie and the children had travelled home, apparently for a visit.  Both of Lizzie’s parents had birthdays in August, Bartow Beauregard Griffin (August 18, 1861 – August 12, 1929) and Rachel McMillan Griffin (August 12, 1860 – October 29, 1938) so perhaps the visit home was to celebrate their 65th and 66th birthdays, respectively.  In any event, they were fortunate not to have been in Ft. Lauderdale.  As Bonita related, Lester remained  and rode out the storm in their house, which overturned in the storm (similar to photo below), nearly taking his life.  Whether they would have all survived is doubtful, had they remained with him. 

Fort Lauderdale, FL building destroyed by hurricane. Photographed on September 18, 1926. Image courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/3048

Fort Lauderdale, FL building destroyed by hurricane. Photographed on September 18, 1926. Image courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/3048

“They never returned to live in South Florida, instead buying a house on 5th Street in Ocilla, GA near the home of Lizzie’s brother, John Griffin.  Lester  became a night watchman, or deputy policeman in Ocilla sometime after returning.  He became sick with flu and pneumonia sometime in late 1928 and was under the care of Dr. G. L. McElroy and Dr. G. W. Willis from December 17 till he died on News Years Eve, December 31, 1928.    The information on the death certificate was provided by Lizzie’s brother, John. 

 

Lester Griffin (left) and friend.  Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester Griffin (left) with ‘a friend’ (as noted on the back of photo).  Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

 

Death Certificate of Lester Griffin, Irwin County, GA.  Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Death Certificate of Lester Griffin, Irwin County, GA. Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

 “Lester Griffin died December 31, 1928 at the age of 38.  He died of pneumonia leaving his widow and children at a tough time with the depression and all they faced.

“Bonita was 10 years old at his death, Webb 9, Audrey 7, Ommie 5, and Cecil was 1 year and 8 months old. So, here was Lizzie at 30 years old, with five young children to raise on her own, and a house with a mortgage.  By the Grace of God, the Woodmen of the World covered Lester’s mortgage, so the home became Lizzie’s outright.  She had many of her family nearby, but being a proud lady, went to work as a seamstress to support them, and worked her whole life.  (She still worked at A. S. Harris Department Store in Ocilla when my brothers and I would spend weeks there during summers in the 1960’s.) Bonita helped with the younger children and home chores, and Webb worked to support the family as well.

“Odd thing is, Lester’s Father, Noah Webster Griffin,  similarly died in 1897 at the age of 41 , leaving his widow, Lillian Melissa Knight Griffin, to raise 8 children (one, William Howard Griffin, that she was about 6  months pregnant with at Noah’s death).   Noah Webster Griffin actually died from Typhoid fever, possible due to contaminated well water at the farm they had moved to about a year earlier.

“I recently found the only photo I know of Lillian at about age 80, still looking very strong with daughter-in-law, Lizzie Griffin (Lester’s widow), Lizzie’s daughter Audrey Griffin Fletcher with baby daughter, Faye, Sarah Catherine Griffin (daughter of WH and Carrie Griffin),  Carrie May Kelly Griffin (wife of Lillian’s son, William Howard Griffin), Charles Harold Griffin (son of WH and Carrie Griffin), and Ommie Griffin (daughter of Lizzie) .

“Lillian Melissa Knight Griffin (1862-1947) as you may know, was the sister of Walter Howard Knight (1859-1934) and Mary Virginia Knight Langford (1856-1916).  Another sister, Margaret Ann Knight, b. 1858 died in 1863 at the tender age of 5 years.  This is documented in one of the Civil War letters of William Washington Knight to his wife, Mary Elizabeth Carroll Knight.”

Family of Lester Griffin

Family of Lester Griffin
Left to Right: Lillian Melissa Knight Griffin at about age 80, still looking very strong; Margaret Elizabeth “Lizzie” Griffin (Lester Griffin’s widow); Lester’s daughter Audrey Griffin Fletcher  (in rear) with baby daughter, Faye Fletcher; Lester’s daughter Ommie Griffin (front, center); Sarah Catherine Griffin (daughter of Lester’s brother, William Howard Griffin); Carrie May Kelly Griffin (wife of WH Griffin); Charles Harold Griffin, son of WH and Carrie Griffin (front, right). Image courtesy of Alan K. Griffin.

Lester and Lizzie Griffin are buried at Brushy Creek Cemetery, Ocilla, GA with many others of the Griffin family connection.

 

Related Posts:

 

Post Offices of the Old Berrien Pioneers

EARLY POSTAL SERVICE

In was not until after the Civil War that mail service  at Rays Mill (Ray City, GA) became available.  But the mail was one of the earliest public services provided in the Wiregrass frontier of Georgia and the postal service for the region of present day Ray City stretches back more than 185 years.

Access to this early postal service was hardly convenient.  When pioneers like Levi J. Knight brought their families to Beaverdam Creek in the 1820s, this area of what was then Lowndes County was on the remote southern frontier.   A small frontier community was beginning to grow about ten miles to the east, near the Alapaha River where Lakeland now is, where a settler named Joshua Lee had established a grist mill a few years earlier.   Joshua Lee and his brother Jesse had come to the area in 1820 , and in 1821 began using slave labor and free labor to construct a dam to impound Banks Lake for a mill pond.

But, in 1825  no postal service had been established at the Lee Mill  nor anywhere else in the region. In 1827, when an official post office finally was established, it was situated on the Coffee Road, some 25 miles from where the Knights homesteaded on Beaverdam Creek.

McCRANIE’S POST OFFICE
The first post office in Lowndes County (which then encompassed present day Lowndes, Berrien, Cook, Brooks, Lanier, and parts of Tift, Colquitt, and Echols counties) was established on  March 27, 1827, at the home of Daniel McCranie on the newly opened Coffee Road.  Coffee’s Road was the first road in Lowndes County, but it was only a “road”  in the sense that it was a path cleared through the forest with tree stumps cut low enough for wagon axles to clear them.  Officially,    McCranie’s Post Office was designated simply as “Lowndes.”

The Waycross Journal-Herald
April 8, 1952 Pg 3

The McCranie Family

Daniel McCranie settled on the Coffee Road on lot of land No. 416, 9th District of present Cook County, according to the writer’s information.  It was at his home there that the first post office in Lowndes County was established March 27, 1827, and he became the first postmaster; was also there that the first term of Lowndes Superior Court was held in 1826.  The next year 1828, the post office was moved down Little River to a new place called ‘Franklinville’  which had been designated the county seat, and there William Smith became the postmaster.  The mail in those days was carried by the stage coach except to those offices off the main lines of travel when it was carried in saddlebags on horseback.

1830 Georgia map detail - original Lowndes County, showing only a conceptual location of Coffee Road, Franklinville, Withlacoochee River, and Alapaha River.

1830 Georgia map detail – original Lowndes County, showing only a conceptual location of Coffee Road, Franklinville, Withlacoochee River, and Alapaha River.

SHARPE’S STORE POST OFFICE
The Milledgeville Southern Recorder, May 17, 1828 announced that Hamilton W. Sharpe had opened a post office at Sharpe’s Store, Lowndes County, GA.

Hamilton W. Sharpe announces post office at Sharpe's Store, Lowndes County, GA. The Milledgeville Southern Recorder, May 17, 1828.

Hamilton W. Sharpe announces post office at Sharpe’s Store, Lowndes County, GA. The Milledgeville Southern Recorder, May 17, 1828.

Milledgeville Southern Recorder
May 17, 1828

A Post Office has been recently established at Sharpe’s Store, in Lowndes county, Geo. on the route from Telfair Courthouse to Tallahassee – Hamilton W. Sharpe, Esq. P.M.

Hamilton W. Sharpe served as Postmaster at Sharpe’s Store until 1836.  At that time the name of the post office was briefly changed to Magnum Post Office, with John Hall appointed as Postmaster.

FRANKLINVILLE POST OFFICE
Franklinville, having been selected in 1827 as the public site new county of Lowndes, was situated near  the Withlacoochee River at a location about 10 miles southwest of  Levi J. Knight’s homestead (see Reverend William A. Knight at old Troupville, GA; More About Troupville, GA and the Withlacoochee River.)

…the post office was moved down the Withlacoochee River to the home of William Smith on lot of land No. 50, 11th district of present Lowndes where the court house commissioners had only recently decided to locate the first court house and name the place ‘Franklinville.’  On July 7, 1828, the Post Office Department changed the name of the post office to ‘Franklinville’ and appointed Mr. Smith as postmaster.

Postmaster Smith’s annual salary in 1831 was $16.67.

FRANKLINVILLE
    The erstwhile town of Franklinville did not exist long –  only about four years.  At its best, it could only boast one store and three or four families and the court house.

    The court house was built there in 1828-29, and was a small crude affair, costing only $215.00.  The first term of court in it was held in the fall of 1829.

    William Smith was the first one to settle there, and was living there when the site was chosen.  The only other families to ever live there, so far as can be determined were John Mathis, James Mathis and Sheriff Martin Shaw.  After a short residence there the three last named moved to that part of Lowndes cut off into Berrien in 1856.

    There began to be dissatisfaction about the location of the court house.  It was off the Coffee Road which was the main artery of traffic and communication, and from the beginning was not an auspicious location.  The legislature in 1833 changed the county-site to lot of land No. 109 in the 12th district, about three miles below the confluence of Little River and the Withlacoochee River.  It was named ‘Lowndesville.”  The post office however was not moved there, but the little court house was torn down and moved there.”

Newspaper accounts of the time indicate the courthouse remained at Franklinville at least as late as 1835, when a big Fourth of July celebration was held there.  Among the speakers celebrating the “Declaration of American Independence” at Franklinville that day were Levi J. Knight, Hamilton Sharpe, Reverend Jonathan Gaulden, William Smith, John Blackshear, James Williams and John Dees.

By 1836, the federal government acted to ensure reliable postal routes to the post office at Franklinville to serve the residents of Lowndes County (although the county seat had been removed to Lowndesville.)

 CHAP. CCLXXI.- An Act to establish certain post roads, and to alter and discontinue others, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the following be established as post roads:

***

In Georgia—From Franklinville, Lowndes county, Georgia, via Warner’s Ferry, to Townsend post office, in Madison county, Territory of` Florida.From Jacksonville, Telfair county, via Holmesville, in Appling county, and Wearesboro, in Weare county, to Franklinville, in Lowndes county.

***

Approved July 2, 1836

This post road, built with slave labor, ran through Allapaha (now Lakeland), passed just south of L. J. Knight’s place, and continued west to Franklinville. With a public road established, a stagecoach route went into service from Thomasville, via Frankinville, to Waycross.

Detail of J.H. Young's 1838 Tourist Pocket Map of the State of Georgia showing the route from Waresboro to Thomasville, GA.

Detail of J.H. Young’s 1838 Tourist Pocket Map of the State of Georgia showing the route from Waresboro to Thomasville, GA.

Detail of Burr's 1839 map showing the route from Waresboro to Thomasville via Franklinville and Magnum, Lowndes County, GA

Detail of Burr’s 1839 postal map showing the route from Waresboro to Thomasville via Franklinville and Magnum, Lowndes County, GA

TROUPVILLE POST OFFICE
Only a year after the clearing of the post roads to Franklinville, it was decided to move the Lowndes county seat  yet again, this time from Lowndesville to a new site, named Troupville, at the confluence of the Withlacoochee and the Little River  (Map of Old Troupville, GA with Notes on the Residents).

November 10, 1841 letter from Samuel Swilley to Charles J. McDonald, Governor of Georgia, posted at Troupville, GA

November 10, 1841 letter from Samuel E. Swilley to Charles J. McDonald, Governor of Georgia, posted at Troupville, GA and reporting Indian activity in the area. Captain Samuel E. Swilley was a militia leader in the 1836-1842 Indian Wars in Lowndes County, GA.

1845 letter sent from Troupville, GA had franked by Postmaster William Smith. Image source: http://www.cortlandcovers.com/

1845 letter sent from Troupville, GA hand franked by Postmaster William Smith. Image source: http://www.cortlandcovers.com/

In 1837, the transfer of the post office and Postmaster William Smith from Franklinville to Troupville inconvenienced many residents of north Lowndes county, possibly prompting the resumption of postal service at Sharpe’s Store on Coffee Road.  The name of Magnum Post Office reverted to Sharpe’s Store Post Office, and Hamilton W. Sharpe was again Postmaster.

H. W. Sharpe re-opened the post office at Sharpe's Store. Southern Recorder, April 18, 1837

H. W. Sharpe re-opened the post office at Sharpe’s Store on the Coffee Road, Lowndes County, GA. Southern Recorder, April 18, 1837.

Unfortunately,  Sharpe’s Store was even farther distant from Beaverdam Creek;  the Knights, Clements, and their neighbors were left with a forty mile round trip to Troupville fetch the mail.  Sharpe himself served as Postmaster 1837 to 1848.  James Perry took over as Postmaster at Sharpe’s store from 14 December, 1848 to 16 August, 1849, when Sharpe returned to the position. John G. Polhill took the position 5 July, 1850, and Norman Campbell took over 21 August, 1850 to 21 July 1853 when the post office was moved to Morven, GA.

By 1838, Postmaster William Smith at Troupville was receiving weekly mail via routes from Waresboro and Bainbridge, and from San Pedro, Madison County, FL. In 1847 weekly mail was coming and going from Irwinville and Bainbridge, GA, and from Madison, FL.  William Smith continued as the Troupville Postmaster until  October 30, 1848 when attorney Henry J. Stewart took over.  On  August 16, 1849 William Smith resumed as Postmaster at Troupville.

Weekly service extended in 1851 to Waresboro, Albany and Irwinville, and to Columbus, FL.

Travel in the South in the 1830s

Travel in the South in the 1830s

 ALLAPAHA POST OFFICE
By the late 1830s, Allapaha (now Lakeland, GA), had grown into a bustling trade center with several mills and businesses. Ten miles east of Knight’s farm, Allapaha was situated at the point where the Franklinville-Jacksonville Post Road crossed the Alapaha River. In 1838 a post office was established there , and Benjamin Sirmans was the first postmaster.  Weekly mail service berween Waresboro or Waynesville and Troupville came by Allapaha.

Early Postmasters of Allapaha (now Lakeland, GA)

Benjamin Sermons Postmaster 06/27/1838
Isaac D. Hutto Postmaster 05/03/1841
James S. Harris Postmaster 03/05/1842
Samuel H. Harris Postmaster 09/12/1846
Peter Munford Postmaster 01/28/1848
James S. Harris Postmaster 02/09/1849
Andrew J. Liles Postmaster 11/27/1849

While Andrew J. Liles was Postmaster, the name of the town was changed from Allapaha to Milltown, GA.

FLAT CREEK POST OFFICE
Another early  Berrien post office was located at Flat Creek, about 15 miles north of present day Ray City, GA. This post office was established on August 9th, 1847. At that time, Flat Creek was a growing community located on one of the first roads in Berrien County, and warranted the establishment of a post office. The community center was built largely by Noah Griffin with the aid of his sons and African-American slaves.  “At the time of the establishment of the post office there was a saw mill, grist mill, cotton gin, a country store and farm, all owned and run by Noah Griffin and his sons…”   The J. H. Colton Map of Georgia, 1855 shows the Flat Creek community situated on Lyons Creek, a tributary of the Alapaha River now known as Ten Mile Creek. The store at Flat Creek was located on a road that connected Irwinville and points north to the town then known as Allapaha (now known as Lakeland, GA).

HAHIRA POST OFFICE
On May 7, 1852, a post office was opened at Hahira, GA and Barry J. Folsom was appointed as the first postmaster. Randal Folsom took over as postmaster in 1858. The post office at Hahira was closed in 1866, and postal service did not resume there until 1873.

STAR ROUTES
When Berrien County was created in 1856, there were still very few post offices in the area. “These were supplied by star routes, the carrier rode horseback.”   Prior to 1845, in areas inaccessible  by rail or water transportation delivery of inland mail was let out to bid by contractors who carried mail by stagecoach.  On March 3, 1845 Congress  established an Act which provided that the Postmaster General should grant contracts to the lowest bidder who could provide sufficient guarantee of faithful performance, without any conditions, except to provide for due celerity, certainty and security of transportation.  These bids became known as “celerity, certainty and security bids” and were designated on the route registers by three stars (***), thus becoming known as “star routes.”  In rural areas, a bidder who could provide delivery by wagon, or even horseback, could win a Star Route mail contract.

NASHVILLE POST OFFICE
With the creation of the new county of Berrien in 1856, a public site was selected and Nashville was established as the county seat. The site was near the geographic center of the county and located on the Coffee Road, one of the earliest public roads in Georgia. “Previous to the creation of Berrien County there had been for many years a farm and public inn located at this point on the Coffee Road.” “The new county site had been laid out and christened and stores, shops and eating houses and other industries had been launched, where only a few months before there had been a farm and cow pens.”  In 1857 a post office was established at Nashville to serve the new town and the county residents. The early road from Nashville to Milltown passed through the Rays Mill community by way of the residences of General Levi J. Knight, Isben Giddens, and John M. Futch. Although Levi J. Knight’s farm was situated at the midpoint on the Nashville – Milltown(Lakeland) road, it probably became a matter of convenience to post mail at Nashville as that was where the business of the county was conducted.

CONFEDERATE POSTAL SERVICE
With Secession, the services of the U.S. Post Office were lost to the South and to Berrien County. The Southern Recorder, Dec 29, 1863 reported on Acts passed by the [Confederate] Legislature and signed by the Governor, Joseph E. Brown, which included an act, “Requesting the establishment of a mail route between Milltown and Nashville in Berrien county.”  The 1864 Census for the Reorganization of the Georgia Militia shows that A. K. Harmon was then serving as a postmaster for the 1144th Georgia Militia District, which was centered on Ray’s Mill. After the war, Nathan W. Byrd, a Nashville farmer and father-in-law of Matthew H. Albritton, served as the mail carrier on the route between Nashville and Milltown (Lakeland), GA.

RAY CITY POST OFFICE

After the Civil War postal service was established at the present site of Ray City, GA.  The previous post, Posting Mail at Ray City, describes how the grist mill built by General Levi J. Knight and his son-in-law Thomas M. Ray on Beaverdam Creek became the first post station here.

Related Posts:

The Ray’s Mill District

Georgia Militia Districts

Many census records, land records, genealogies and histories refer to historical locations in terms of militia districts. The districts defined areas of military and civil authority. Each district provided for the leadership and organization of a militia company, and also for one Notary Public and one Justice of the Peace.  An examination of the history and function of Georgia Militia Districts is provided by the Georgia Bar Journal.

Historically, the  counties of Georgia were divided into Georgia Militia Districts (GMD) for the purpose of organizing local militia companies to defend against Indian raids or other threats. With the formation of new counties in Wiregrass Georgia, new Militia Districts were organized as required by law.  Every able-bodied man between the ages of 15 and 50 who lived within the district was required to serve in the militia, and the company of men in each district elected a captain by whose name the district and company was known, e.g. Captain Knight’s District.  Although since 1804, all militia districts in Georgia were assigned a number, the practice of referring to the districts by the captain’s name persisted for quite some time. 

Here is a detail of Georgia Militia Districts showing the Ray’s Mill District, which includes Ray City, GA, and the surrounding districts. Considering the shape of the 1144th district, it is easy to understand why nearby citizens in the 1329 (Connell’s Mill), 1307 (Cat Creek), and 1300 districts considered themselves residents of Ray City.

Georgia Militia Districts, circa 1950

Georgia Militia Districts, circa 1950

Related information:

Annie B. Sirmans Once Owned Ray’s Mill

Image detail: Ann Sirmans Matheny, circa 1915. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Image detail: Ann Sirmans Matheny, circa 1915. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Annie B. Sirmans was the granddaughter of Anne Donald Clements and General Levi J. Knight, and the daughter of Elizabeth Knight and Hardeman Sirmans. About 1931, she inherited Ray’s Mill which had been founded by her grandfather and her uncle Thomas M. Ray almost 70 years earlier.

Annie B. Sirmans was born on Christmas day, 25 December 1872 in Berrien County, GA.

In 1880, seven-year-old Annie Sirmans was living with her parents and eight brothers and sisters in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Ray’s Mill district. Also boarding in the Sirmans home were two young girls, Eliza and Mary Hays. Annie’s father was a farmer, and her older brothers assisted with the farm labor.

In 1890, her brother,  Hardy Sirmans, Jr. purchased Ray’s Mill, the grist mill originally constructed on Beaver Dam Creek by his uncle Thomas M. Ray and grandfather, General Levi J. Knight.  Assisted by Mitch Fountain, Hardy Sirmans, Jr. operated the mill until his death in 1931.

As Annie grew older, she continued to live on her parent’s farm. On Sept 21, 1896 her father died leaving her brother, Thomas Hardeman “Hardy” Sirmans, to become the head of the household. The census of 1900 shows Annie Sirmans was still at home in her brother’s household. Her mother and siblings, Bellaria and Joseph, and nephew Daniel Walker Sirmans also shared the house.

In 1905 while in Tennessee, Annie’s brother Joe Sirmans married Olive Pearl Matheny, the daughter of Judith L. Craft and James W. Matheny.  Joe Sirmans brought his bride back to make their home in Willacoochee, GA about 20 miles north of Ray’s Mill.  No doubt it was through this family connection that Annie Sirmans came to know John Chilton Matheny, brother of Olive P. Matheny.  John C. Matheny was thirty-something , with blue eyes and dark hair, average in height and build.  He was a farmer and since age 22 when his father died,  head of the Matheny family, responsible for his mother and siblings.

Four years later, On October 5, 1909 Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny were wedded  in Berrien County, GA.  She was 37, he 35.  It was the first marriage for both.  At first, the newlyweds made their home near the Ray’s Mill community (now Ray City, GA) on the Sirmans home place, now the farm of Annie’s bachelor brother, Hardy Sirmans.  Annie’s mother was still there  at the Sirmans place, as well as her Aunt Mary Ray and nephew Daniel Walker. The census of 1910 shows Hardy Sirmans and John C. Matheny both farming on their own account.

Infant son of Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny, grave marker, October 7, 1912.

Infant son of Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny, grave marker, October 7, 1912. Empire Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Annie may have married late, but within  couple of years she was pregnant.  On October 7, 1912 she gave birth to a baby boy. Sadly, the child died the same day.   The infant was buried near his grand parents, Elizabeth and Hardeman Sirmans,  at Empire Church cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

The following year Annie was again pregnant, and on May 23, 1914 she presented  John C. Matheny with a son, Thomas Hardeman Matheny. The image detail above is from a photograph of Annie and the boy (view the full image), probably taken around 1915, and clearly portrays her great affection for  the child.  But tragedy struck the family again when Thomas died at age two on September 15, 1916.

Thomas Hardeman Matheny, 1914-1916, Empire Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Thomas Hardeman Matheny, 1914-1916, Empire Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Perhaps  the loss was too much for John Matheny to bear;  A notation  on the bottom of his 1917 draft registration written by Perry Thomas Knight observed that John had just returned from the insane asylum.  Annie and John would remain childless for the rest of their lives.

At that time the draft card notes, the Mathenys were making their home in Nashville, GA 10 miles above Ray City, but by the census of  1920  Annie and John Matheny were back at Ray City where they owned a farm on “Settlement Roads” that John worked on his own account.  Annie’s older brother, Hardy Sirmans (Thomas Hardeman Sirmans), lived with the couple and also farmed.  The farm next door was rented by  Annie’s nephew, Daniel Walker Sirmans and his young family.

In the census of 1930,  the Mathenys were still living in the Ray’s Mill Precinct, the 1144th Georgia Militia District.  They owned a home valued at $1000.00.  John continued to work the farm on his own  account: Annie assisted with the farm labor. Annie’s brother Hardy, now 70, still resided with the couple but no longer worked.  The Mathenys had also taken in a boarder, Matthew F. Fender, who worked as a farm laborer.

But the 1930s brought hard times in the life of Annie Sirmans Matheny. Annie’s brother, Hardy Sirmans, died on July 27, 1931.  In 1932, Ann lost her husband: John Chilton Matheny died December 15, 1932. Both men were buried at Empire Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

After the death of Hardy Sirmans, Annie inherited ownership of her family’s gristmill, Ray’s Mill.  Later, the widowed Ann Matheny sold Ray’s Mill to Pollard Fountain, the son of Mitch Fountain who had operated the grist mill with her deceased brother.

Ray's Mill, Ray City, Berrien County, GA

Ray’s Mill, Ray City, Berrien County, GA

Annie Sirmans Matheny died in 1963 and was buried next to her husband at Empire Church Cemetery.

Grave marker of Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny, Empire Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave marker of Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny, Empire Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Related Posts:

Horace Cox and the Burning of Bank’s Mill

Horace Cox was born April 2, 1849, a son of Samuel D. Cox.  He married Sarah Ann Green on Dec 3, 1868.

In 1870 Horace Cox was enumerated in Georgia Militia District 1144, the Ray’s Mill district, in Berrien County, Georgia. Living in his household and keeping house was his wife Sarah Cox, age 16, and the 8 month old baby boy Lorenzo A. Cox.   The census taker noted Horace Cox “works in carriage shop”.  His real estate was valued at $200, and personal estate at $78.  His neighbors were the wheelwright, William J. Wilkinson, and  James H. Carroll, who before the war had been one of the wealthiest men in Berrien County.[1]

In later life, Horace Cox became a notorious man.

He was living in the Milltown, GA area in 1896 when the historic Bank’s Mill burned to the ground.

It was on Leap Day,  February 29, 1896 that the burning of Bank’s Mill was reported. The brief story ran the following day in the Atlanta Constitution.

 News was received here [Valdosta, GA] this morning of the destruction of Bank mill [sic] on Bank pond [sic], several miles above this city. The mill and ginnery caught fire from forest fires and the whole business was consumed, causing a loss of about $4,000.  Banks mill was the oldest establishment of the kind in this part of the country, having been in operation before the war and being very valuable at the time. It could not be learned whether the building was insured or not.

Banks Mill, Milltown (nka Lakeland), Georgia

Horace Cox was accused of setting the fire that burned Banks Mill. He stood trial for the crime and was acquitted.

In later litigation, S.L. Lewis would testify under oath about the character of Horace Cox: ” From the talk of the people in that neighborhood, I do not think that his character was very good; he was alleged to have burned two or three houses over there, and accusations were brought against him.” In the same legal action J.T. Asbury testified: “Have known Cox for 12 or 14 years; his general character in the neighborhood where I live is a little sort of bad; he was accused of burning houses in Milltown; he was accused of burning Bank’s gin, about a mile and a quarter from Milltown, and there was some talk that he was accused of burning the building of DeLoaches.”

Studstill added: “I have known Horace Cox since he was quite small. I do not know that I ever knew his general character there when I lived in that neighborhood, but I have heard a great deal of talk about him; he was accused of burning Bank’s mill there; he was tried for it and came clear; he was tried for burning Bank’s mill-house. I went on his bond in that case. I do not know of my own knowledge of anything against his character; it is just hearsay.”  Also testifying was J. B. Strickland: ” I have known Horace Cox a good many years. Cox’s general character in the neighborhood where he lived before he moved to his present place was pretty bad.”

Accusations of arson would continue to follow Horace Cox in Clinch County.

In April of 1896, Horace Cox brought a suit of libel against 110 citizens of Clinch and Berrien counties, and the Valdosta Times, “alleging that he has been damaged in the sum of $50,000, by reason of certain alleged false and defamatory publications of and concerning him, contained in certain resolutions published in the Valdosta Times…”

The Atlanta Constitution reported it with a Brunswick, Ga., April 6, 1896. dateline:

 SUIT FOR $50,000 DAMAGES

Brought Against  110 Citizens of Church [sic] County.

     Brunswick, Ga., April 6.-(Special.)-A damage suit for $50,000 brought by Horace Cox, of Clinch county, against J. B. Strickland, one hundred and ten citizens of Clinch county and the Valdosta Times Publishing Company, for alleged libel committed June 19, 1894, to be tried at Clinch county court this term, is set for a hearing on April 13th.  By reason of the prominence and number of the persons involved, the peculiar nature of the libel charged, being committed, the liability of a newspaper for publishing a damaging card under the head of “advertisement,” and other minor acts connected therewith, the case is attracting unusual interest and will attract the attention of hundreds of relatives and friends of the defendants as well as publishers and the public generally.

    In brief the petitioner, Horace Cox, claims that the following named persons J.W. Powell, C. C. Bridges, W. JJ. Tomberling, H. N. McWhite, James Browning,  J. J. Grooms, John King, John B.  Tomilson, E. D. Williams, J. Browning, L. Johnson, J. Wilcox, M. Eddy, C.C. Hannah, J. Rodgers, J. Jerold, March Brown,  F. M. Bradford, C. M. Sharp, Bea Sirmans, Lewis Browning, R. L. Bradford, M. Love, J. B. Bradford, R. Brogdan, J. M. Moore, H. J. Bridges, H. R. Bridges, F. S. Thornton, C.S. Vining,  J. B. Strickland, B. McEddy, Robert Jackson, J. S. Sirmans, M. T. Tomilson, L. H. Howell, Moses Smith, J. S. Moore, M. D. Fiveash, H. H. Smith, V. Tomilson, W. E. Smith, J. M. Williams, L.F. Siler, A. M. Tomilson, E. M. Williams, S. Harris, B. Fender, Alfred Brogdon, C. W. Cameron, Isaac Sirmans, Joe Browning, S. Wilcox, J. P. Fiveash, R. L. Reeves, B. S. Hannah, P. McKnight, V. Cooper, E. Long, M. Sirmans,  H. H. Gruss, M. T. Tullis, E. L. Roberts, William Browning, L. T Pafford, J. M. Wilson, C. M. D. Howell, W. Fanner, Ben Smith, W. J. Knight, A. H. Mathews, J. D. Corbett, W. M. Bridges. G. B. Conine, J. F. Pafford, M. Phillips, W. T. Howell, B. L. Thornton, D. J. Connie, B. J. Giddings, J. E. Sirmans, P. J. Giddings, P. Williams, J. L. Anderson, M. Tomilson, J. F. Simans,  H. L. Langford, G. J. Smith, J.W. Hall, Abner Sirmans, B. B. Johnson, H. H. Jackson, F. B. Simmons, R. R> Howell, and S. C. Townsend, of Clinch county; C. S. Strickland, of Berrien, and The Valdosta Times Publishing Company, of Lowndes county, signed a false and malicious set of resolutions which were published in The Valdosta Times under the head of “Advertisement,”  which damaged him some $50,000 worth. The resolutions referred to were offered, adopted and signed at a mass meeting of indignant people under the direction of State Senator F. B. Sirmans, who assembled in Clinch county on June 19, 1894, to take action in regard to an incendiary fire which destroyed the ginhouse of Citizen Strickland.

    They stated, in substance, that the object of the meeting was to eradicate an evil existing in the community, said evil being the first clandestine burning of property that had occurred in the community; that the citizens felt thoroughly outraged and were firmly of the opinion that Horace Cox was either directly or indirectly connected with the fire, because Cox had been accused of numerous cases of like nature in Berrien county, from where he came, and because of strong circumstantial evidence in the Clinch county case. The signers pledged themselves to abstain from violence in the Cox case, and stated that they were acting free from malice or prejudice, but with a view to protecting the property of themselves and neighbors they asked that Cox’s employer remove him from his premises, as he was obnoxious and detrimental to them in the highest degree, also that they would hold their patronage from him until Cox was removed. A clause was also added to furnish Cox with a copy of the resolutions.

    After these resolutions were passed and published Cox did not leave the county but instead employed counsel and entered suit against the signers and participants for $50,000 damages. He alleges in this suit that the mass meeting was at the instigation of Strickland, a business rival, who lives in Berrien county near him, and that Strickland aided and abetted in passing the resolutions from business and personal enmity, but did not sign them alleging non-residence in Clinch county as his reasons, thus expecting to escape any possible damage suit, but that he was really the prime mover in it all and was acting through malice in his efforts to hold Cox up to public hatred, contempt and ridicule.

    Cox admits the “freedom of the press” but denies the right of any publisher to private person to insert or allow to be inserted into papers, statements which are libelous, even though they be under the head of “advertisement.” Cox’s petition concludes with a complete denial of the charges against him and also asks for a judgment in the sum named.

    In answer to this the defendants plead complete justification and the case is liable to draw a big crowd to the trial. Cox’s attorneys are Meyers & Hitch, of Waycross, while the defendants are represented by Attorneys Denmark of Valdosta, and Brantley of Brunswick.

    Judge Sweat being disqualified from presiding by reason of relation to some of the defendants, a visiting judge will preside.

One of the signers, Cawley Strickland, was a previous victim of an arsonist that struck in Milltown, Ga. in the spring of 1886:

 Fire in Berrien County.
Atlanta Constitution . Apr 14, 1886.

Nashville, Ga., April 13. -{Special}-On Saturday morning, a little after midnight the gin house of Cawley Strickland, of Milltown, in the eastern portion of the county, was discovered to be on fire, the work of an Incendiary, as the fire was in the upper story and roof when discovered. There was in the gin house a 12-horse power engine, three long cotton gins, and one short, 1 sixteen horse boiler,  one thousand bushels of cotton seed – all a total loss. Insurance $2,000, loss about $3,000. The flames reached the academy and Masonic hall, a large and commodious building, which was also entirely consumed, with contents, save the Masonic furniture.

The lawsuit Cox vs. Strickland, et al.  was a drawn-out and dramatic affair that went all the way to the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia and involved some of the most prestigious legal talent in the state.  Among the scandalous testimony was the statement of John King about  “a conversation between himself and one Burkhalter, in which conversation Burkhalter offered to procure for defendants a witness who would swear anything they desired him to swear.”

Because of several errors in the first trial the decision was reversed and the case went back to the lower courts.

The  lawsuit continued into Superior Court in 1903:

HE SUES FOR $50,000 DAMAGES

Horace Cox Brings Suit for Defamation of Character.

    Quitman, Ga., April 22. -(Special.)- One of the cases on docket for the May term of the superior court, which will convene in a few days is the suit of Horace Cox versus J.B. Strickland and others for damages in the sum of $50,000 for defamation of character. The prosecution claims that Strickland and about a hundred others, who are made parties to the suit, promulgated a set of resolutions reflection on his character and caused them to be published in The Valdosta Times, which is also made a party to the suit.  By these allegations, which he says are untrue, he claims to be damaged to the amount named. The resolutions are said to have been drawn in 1894 and were signed by some of the most prominent men in Clinch county, one of them being state senator at the time.  The attorneys for the plaintiff are Hon. C. M. Hitch, of  Atlanta; Hitch & Moyers,  S. F. Burkhalter and S. S. Bennet, and those for the defense are W. S. Humphreys, Denmark & Ashley and Congressman Brantley.

    With such legal talent on both sides the trial is looked forward to with much interest here as well as in Lowndes and Clinch counties.

By 1904 the case made its way to the Southern Circuit of the Supreme Court of Georgia.

Horace Cox died March 27, 1922.