Final Report of General Julius C. Alford on Actions at the Little River and at Grand Bay, August, 1836

As described in previous posts, the July,1836 actions against Indians in this immediate area (Skirmish at William Parker’s Place and the Battle of Brushy Creek) were preceded and somewhat precipitated by the Indian uprising at Roanoke, GA (May 15, 1836) and the Battle of Chickasawhatchee Swamp (June 3, 1836).

In August, 1836 subsequent local actions were fought  along Warrior Creek, Little River, Alapaha River and at Cow Creek. Levi J. Knight, and other pioneer settlers of Berrien and Lowndes counties, participated in these actions.

The following is the official report of Major Julius C. Alford, addressed to General John W. A. Sanford,  describing these events, which occurred  from August 5 to August 25, 1836:

Federal Union
September 13, 1836

CREEK CAMPAIGN
Lumpkin, August 25, 1836

Major Generel John W. A. Sanford:

Sir – After your departure from Baker county, I continued to scour the swamp and executed the order left by you, for the removal of the troops to the head of Spring creek. Captain [Michael] Hentz’s in obedience to your order, charging him specially with reduction of the Indians fought by me on the fifth of this month, continued his pursuit of their trail to Flint river, where they crossed, near Newton. He sent me back an express stating the fact. In the mean time, I had the same day I received the express from Hentz, before the express arrived, gone in company with Mr. Tompkins and Howard of Baker county, and a considerable number of my own men, and pursued the trail of the Indians from near my battle ground, to where they crossed Spring creek, near where it runs into Chickasahatchie; we found the trail so much larger than we expected, that all expressed astonishment at the fact, that I should have believed I fought only sixty or eighty Indians, as you recollect I verbally reported to you at the time. Who could have induced you to think, general, that there were only fifteen or twenty? I cannot imagine, or is it a matter of any moment. I only mention the fact to correct it, believing as I do, that you would be gratified to know the truth. I requested Mr. Tompkins, Howard, and Greer, with others, to count the principal entering places of the trail as the Indians went into the creek, and there were twelve different trails of at least an average of ten track to a trail, where they crossed. Convinced of the fact, that Hentz was pursuing a body of Indians he could not conquer, I at once determined to follow him and overtake him if possible, although he had been gone several days. On my return to camp, and while I was stating the facts to my officers, his express arrived; it was near night. I issued my order for captains Greer and [Robert H.] Sledge, to prepare to march early next morning. They done so.

We set off on the tenth of this month, went thirty-five miles that night to West’s, near where the Indians had robbed a house on the line of Baker and Thomas counties: here we were joined by captain Everett and his company from Decatur county. We could get no pilot. There were but few people living in the settlement. Mr. West was so much alarmed, he could not tell us the way to his son-in-law’s house, two miles off, the one that was robbed. We started on the eleventh [Aug 11, 1836], as early as we could see, and found our way to the house. – Here we took the trail of a company of horsemen, who had gone up north, to a station, instead of Hentz’s trail, and went twenty miles out of our way. Finding we were wrong, and fearing we should not be able to right ourselves in time to overtake Hentz, I ordered captain Sledge to return to camp Alford. With captains Greer and Everett, and their companies, we took the general course of the Indians, and fortunately landed at night in half a mile of the right trail, but unfortunately only ten miles from where we started; here we camped at a deep steep creek, which I called camp Greer, in honor of my officer, who had that day, when the hope of overtaking the Indians was very faint, still resolved to follow me, if I continued to go ahead. Hentz was a long ways ahead, but so soon as the sign was right, we pursued him with all possible speed. On the 12th we passed two of the Indian camps and several large creeks, the head waters of the Oakalockney [Ochlockonee] and the Okapilca [Okapilco]; joined today by captain Newman and his company from Thomas county. Force increasing, trail warm, men ardent, all anxious for battle. About 3 o’clock in the evening, we saw before us, a house with many people all seemed to be greatly excited; at our approach and when we were still far off, I mentioned to our boys, that from the strange appearance of things all was not right; we galloped up, and the first to salute us was one of captain Hentz’s men, badly wounded. He informed us, that at eleven o’clock that day, they had attacked the enemy in a branch and had been compelled to retreat: the battle ground was four miles off, and captain Hentz, after being reinforced, had gone back about two hours, to try it again. —  Hentz’s defeat, with the sight of his wounded men, created a great sensation in our ranks.– All the men and officers manifested the most ardent wish to retrieve the fortunes of the day and punish the enemy; we strained our horses to the battle ground; the Indians had gone and Hentz after them; we pursued them till night, camped at Fulsom’s [James Folsom’s Place]; heard of Hentz two miles ahead. After we camped, I procured a pilot and found his camp — his men manifested great joy at my arrival, and truly, general, if there was any fight in me, I felt it then. The cowards that had refused to fight that day, had all run home, and here were a few brave fellow encamped near the enemy, mortified at defeat, swearing they would whip the enemy or die in the attempt; the citizens who had joined them in the day, had left them at night; it was now dark and getting late in the night. I ordered them to remain in the morning, until I came up, and returned to my camp. The story of the fight is easily told. The Indians seeing they would be overtaken by captain Hentz, had formed an extended line in a small branch swamp, where two branches ran together, making a narrow swamp of thick bushes, nearly in the shape of a half circle, with an one pine woods to enter it. The line, if straight, would (in the language of all that gave an opinion) have been at least five hundred yards long: of course, as is usual with them, they were in open order to extend their flanks. Their number of warriors must have been at least eighty strong, with the advantage of the cover of the branch swamp, their pick of the ground and superior numbers. That portion of captain Hentz’s company that would fight, could not maintain their ground. — The brave Tinsley, (our pilot in Chickasahatchie, [Chickasawhatchee Swamp] and those that fought with him, were compelled to retreat, after having five men badly wounded. Their number was about thirty, as well as I could learn, and I would mention every name if I could do so, without leaving out any, but I do not know them all, and therefore had better not undertake it, least some brave fellow might have his feelings wounded, by not being known. The balance of the command run and never came back. At three o’clock on the 13th, I was on my horse, with my command; we came up to Hentz’s command before light, on the banks of the Withlacoochy [Withlacoochee River] proper, here called Little river, the eastern branch being called Withlacoochy improperly, (see map of Georgia,) I kept my command in the rear some distance, and so soon as we could see the trail, sent Hentz’s company in pursuit, hoping the Indians would recognize them, and not seeing us, would fight again — we followed near enough to be ready in that event to help. The night before, the enemy had crossed the river, killed two beeves and recrossed and camped on the same side with Hentz, in the river swamp; we of course lost much time in trailing them, on their fox like chase. About ten o’clock, we received news of them going down the river on the west side; we strained off after them, crossed at a bridge where they had just passed. Several companies had now joined us, (to wit.) captains Night [Levi J. Knight],  [John J.] Pike, [Benjamin] Grantham, Burnett and many citizens without officers. The people of Lowndes and Thomas counties, are a gallant set of men, and acted most promptly indeed, submitted themselves to my command most cheerfully, and acted with us like good citizens ought to do, when their country is invaded. Major [Enoch] Hall and [Henry S.] Strickland and colonel [Henry] Blair of Lowndes county was in the field. The pursuit was bold and impetuous. The Indians entered the river swamp about four miles below the bridge, where it is wide and deep; not knowing our ground, we followed on horseback, on the trail made by their horses, (the had stolen three horses the night before the battle with Hentz, and captured eight from his company in the fight.) The Indians crossed the Withlacoochy [Withlacoochee] in the swamp, where there was no ford; so did we.

They penetrated the very thickest parts of the swamp, in hopes to hide; we followed there; they crossed deep Lagoons, which by the time we came along, had no bottom; we floated our horses over after them; finally our advance, and announced the fact that we had overtaken them. I ordered the men to dismount and charge — when we came up, the Indians had thrown away their clothes and provisions and abandoned their horses, and fled in every direction; we retook the horses taken from captain Hentz’s men, as well as from the citizens, and returned them to their owners. The soldiers done what they pleased with the plunder. We could not pursue the enemy any further now: they had scattered and run off in the swamp in every direction, we hunted for them in vain until night — camped at Mr. Vicker’s. The soldiers and citizens put up at houses nearest the swamp; nothing to eat today for man or horse. Today, the 14th, captain Greer and his company rested. I pressed a fresh horse, and with my friend Graves, who never tires, I went back to the swamp, arranged the various companies who had repaired to scour the swamp. Today Capt. [James A.] Newman’s company came upon the rear, or flank guard of the Indians, and in sight of one of their warriors, fired eight or ten guns after him as he run, do not know whether he was hit or not — could see no more of them today. Determined never to desist so long as there was any hope, I issued my order for all to lie as near the swamp as possible, for hunger forced them to go some where to get something to eat, and to be at the swamp by sunrise, and all that were not there by one hour by sun, not to come at all — the order was promptly obeyed and captain Greer’s company and all the other companies were there at the appointed time; we rushed into the swamp, and after plunging for an hour, we heard guns fires at our horses; we supposed at once that the Indians had made an attack on the guard left to take care of the horses; I ordered every man to rush the spot, and on arriving, an express was the occasion of the firing, with information that the Indians were seen that morning four miles below, going towards grand bay, on the eastern branch of Withlocoochy [Withlacoochee River]. We pursued at the top speed of our horses — just before we came to the place where they were seen, there came upon us a heavy thunder shower, and we could not trail them well. I am of the opinion they had separated to meet at grand bay, a most extensive and impenetrable swamp, in the direction of Oakafonokee [Okefenokee] swamp. By the aid of several good trailers, we pursued their sign with much difficulty to the river, and saw where a few of them had crossed, but never could trail them any further that day. All agreed that if they got to grand bay, we could not drive for them successfully, and the citizens urged upon us to desist, and let them watch for their march from the swamp and cut them off between there and Oakafonokee [Okefenokee], be that when it might.  I gave up the chase and returned to Roundtree’s house, where I was kindly treated in my most exhausted and debilitated condition.  My staff was with me — captain Greer was at Hall’s several miles on our return march. In two nights and a whole day, I had one cup of coffee only, my men were but little better off. General, I done all, and suffered all that man can do and suffer, to crush the cruel and the cowardly savage, but I could not make them fight. I left them on the further bank of the distance Withlacoochy [Withlacoochee] bending their course toward the dismal Oakafonokee [Okefenokee] — where captain Night [Levi. J. Knight] of Lowndes county, informed me he believed all that had succeeded in escaping had concentrated, preparatory to their removal to Florida; he is a man of good sense and great energy, and I rely much upon his opinion; indeed, from all that I can learn, I am deliberately of opinion, that not one Indian has gone to Florida. The squaws I have with me informed the people at Thomasville, that the Indians would stop in Oakafonokee [Okefenokee] two moons, and then go to Florida in a body, and I learned in Lowndes, that the signs around the swamp are fresh and infallible. In anticipation of your order, I brought the Indians prisoners with me, on my return march, and met your express at camp. There are thirty-one women and children. Eighteen were taken at the battle of Brushy creek, in Lowndes county, where the men and officers who fought them, distinguished themselves. — These were Beall’s Indians. This battle has been reported in the newspapers, with the officers who commanded. Captain Snelly [Samuel E. Swilley] from Lowndes, with sixteen men, captured on the Allapahaw [Alapaha River] three prisoners and killed ten Indians. Captain Browning of a station in the upper part of Thomas county, captured ten women and children, out of the company of Indians pursued by captain Kendrick. The warriors of this party we could hear of, on our march to our left, pursuing the same general course with all the other Indians I have heard of. These together, composed the party of prisoners in my possession, which will be sent on towards Fort Mitchell this evening. On returning to my camp in Baker, I found that we had left no Indians behind us, and none have come in during our absence. I herewith transmit a certificate of the citizens of Baker county, that the swamps are now more clear of Indians, than they have been for five years. Under this state of affairs, I have left Camp Alford and marched to Lumpkin, preparatory to our being discharged. I am gratified, general, that my battalion has effected at the point of the bayonet, what heretofore no array of force, or parade of men could otherwise accomplish, the total expulsion of the Indians from Chickasahatchie swamp. Our time is nearly out; we now believe we have no more work to do. The opinion is now predicated upon good evidence, and we hope you will order us up immediately and discharge us. We have today, to bury one of the best citizens of Troup county, who died of congestive fever yesterday, Mr. Brittian Evans, a man of great merit at home as well as in camp. Before I close this my final report to you, permit me to make one suggestion. The frontier of Georgia will now be changed from Alabama to Florida. The war in Florida this winter will send the Indians back upon the people of Lowndes, Thomas, Irwin and the other southern counties. Our State ought to prepare for her defense in time, and prevent a useles sacrifice of the lives and property of our gallant brethren of that portion of our State. I forgot to mention that in driving the swamp, we cut off an aged Indian warrior from a body of his people, and in attempting to get round us to rejoin them, he passed a house in the neighborhood, and was there shot and killed by some boys, very much to the honor of these little warriors. I herewith transmit captain Kendrick’s report, of this operations on the trail you ordered him to pursue. Great Briton  In closing this communication, general, you will permit me to subscribe myself your friend and obedient servant,

JULIUS C. ALFORD,
Maj. Com. 3d Battalion mounted men.

Skirmish at Troublesome Ford

In the summer of 1836 squads of Creek Indians fleeing the prospect of forced relocation to western territories were moving from the Georgia-Alabama line through south Georgia to rendezvous in the Okefenokee Swamp. In their flight, some of these Indians were raiding the homes and livestock of the pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia.   Two actions against Indians which occurred in this immediate area included the Skirmish at William Parker’s Place and the Battle of Brushy Creek, which occurred July 12-15th, 1836  in what was then Lowndes County (now Berrien and Cook counties,) Georgia. Captains Levi J. Knight, Hamilton Sharpe, and John Pike led the Lowndes County Militia companies that participated in these engagements.

About that same time , Captain Samuel E. Swilley of Lowndes County was in the field in the southeastern part of the county.  With a company of about sixteen militia men, Captain Swilley engaged a squad of Indians on the Alapaha River near Troublesome Ford (now known as Statenville, GA), killing ten Indians and taking three prisoners. 

Skirmish Near Statenville

The late Hon. James P. Prescott of Echols County, prompted by Mr. [Lasa] Adams‘ communication wrote some of his recollections in The Valdosta Times which were published in the issue of Dec. 1, 1895. We quote from his letter:

“About the time the Brushy Creek battle was fought, a squad of about twenty Indians and Negroes came through Lowndes and crossed the Grand Bay near where Fry’s bridge now stands on the Valdosta-Statenville road.

Soon after crossing the bay they stole two horses from Jesse Carter better know as “Uncle Tigue” Carter, who lived there on the same land now owned and occupied by George A. and Paul Carter of Echols.  This was done in the first part of the night.  Uncle Tigue made great haste to Capt. Samuel E. Swilley’s place, who lived at what is now known as the Capt. Bevill old home place.  Capt. Swilley started runners in all directions and by 12 o’clock next day he with eighteen men was at the Carter place.  They took the trail and about 8 pm overtook them in the bend of the Alapaha River one mile below where Statenville now is, then known as “Troublesome Ford,” making rafts to cross the river.  Soon the ro– were seen in a little scrub to the right.  “Capt. Swilley ordered the men to dismount and tie their horses.  Before the horses were made fast the sharpe rifle and war-whoop were heard all around in the bend of the river.  Capt. Swilley ordered the men to get behind the trees which was done in great haste.  As soon as the firing ceased Capt. Swilley with his men made a charge on the Indians who were in a halfmoon circle under the  banks of the river.  The two Negroes made their escape by swimming the river as soon as the battle commenced.

“Ten warriors were killed on the ground, and three women and four children were taken prisoner; one Indian made his escape down the river.  Levi Arnold was mortally wounded and Wiley Swilley slightly. The wounded men with the Indians captured and the stolen goods in the Indian’s possession (identified as being taken from Roanoke) were all brought to my father’s house.  The wounded remained with us until able to get home. The goods were sold and proceeds of sale divided among the company.

“The women and children were placed under a guard and were started for Thomasville.  One night the mother of the children made a cup of tea and asked permission to step out, which was granted.  As was the custom, the guard after waiting a few minutes, went out to see after them. Failing to find them he made a thorough search but the three women had made their escape in the dark.  Returning to the house they found the children all dead having been poisoned by the mother.

“Capt. Swilley was a brave and considerate man and managed the expedition with great skill and ability.”

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John Gaskins, Pioneer of Old Berrien

John Gaskins (1802 – 1865)

Grave marker of John Gaskins (1802-1865), Riverside Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave marker of John Gaskins (1802-1865), Riverside Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

 John Gaskins was one of the early pioneers of Berrien County, settling along with his father, Fisher Gaskins,  and brothers near present day Bannockburn, GA.  They made their homes on the west side of the Alapaha River about 16 miles distant from today’s Ray City, GA location, settling there about the same time the Knights and Clements were homesteading in the area around Beaverdam Creek.

John Gaskins was born June 29, 1802 in Warren County, GA. He was the eldest child of Fisher Gaskins and Rhoda Rowe, and a grandson of Thomas Gaskins, Revolutionary Soldier.  When John was around four or five years old, his parents  and grandparents  moved  the family back to Beaufort District, South Carolina, from whence they had originated.  The family appears there in Beaufort District in the Census of 1810. By the time of the 1810 enumeration, John Gaskins’ parents had given him four siblings – two brothers and two sisters.

But immediately following the birth of her fifth child, John’s mother died.  He was eight years old at the time.  His widowed father packed up the five young children and moved the family back to Warren County, GA.  There, on January 17, 1811 his father married Mary Lacy. Her father, Archibald Lacy, was also a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and her brother was the Reverend John B. Lacy, who would later become a prominent  Primitive Baptist Minister.  Around this time John’s father was expanding his livestock business and began looking for good grazing land for his growing herds of cattle.

By 1812, John Gaskins’ father moved the family to Telfair County, GA where he acquired good grazing land for his cattle. His father and his uncle, David Gaskins, were very successful in the cattle business and soon had large herds, not only in Telfair County where they were enumerated in 1820, but also in Walton and other surrounding counties where good natural pasturage could be had.

Around 1821, the Gaskins again moved their families and cattle herds to the south, crossing the Ocmulgee River at Mobley’s Bluff and pushing into the new frontier of Appling County,GA.  John, now a young man of 17 or 18 years old, made the move with his family.  His uncle, David Gaskins, halted in an area of Appling County known as “The Roundabout”, situated in present day Atkinson County, where he found good range land for his cattle. John’s father took his herd across the Alapaha River into then Irwin County at a location that for many years was known as the John Ford.

The Fisher Gaskins clan, John’s father and his brothers, settled west of the Alapaha River a little south of present day Bannockburn, GA near the site of Riverside Church. On April 14, 1825  John Gaskins married Mary Pollie Barrow in Irwin County, GA.      This was about 15 miles north of the area where the Knights and Clements were settling their families above Grand Bay, near present day Ray City, GA.  John and Mary Gaskins established their homestead just to the north of his father’s place. By the end of 1825, the Georgia Legislature divided Irwin County and from the southern portion formed the new county of Lowndes.

On August 11, 1826 Mary Gaskins delivered to John his first son, Gideon Gaskins. A second son arrived on February 16, 1828, whom they named Fisher Jackson Gaskins; Fisher – after his paternal grandfather, and Jackson perhaps after Andrew Jackson, the Hero of New Orleans who would be elected President that year.

John Gaskins appeared as a head of household in Lowndes County in the Census of 1830, as did his father, Fisher Gaskins.  About 1829 or 1830, John’s father moved his cattle across the county and settled on Lot 91 of the 9th Land District, which was subsequently known as the Chambliss place, and later became the home of George D. Griffin.

About 1831 a contagious disease struck Fisher Gaskins’ herd, killing off several hundred head of cattle and inciting the elder Gaskins to seek new pastures yet again. With the help of hired hands, among them a young John G. Taylor, he drove his remaining cattle into North Florida to settle in the area of Alachua County, FL.   John and Mary stayed behind in Lowndes County (now Berrien), as well as John’s brothers,  William and Harmon.

“When he moved to Florida, he [Fisher Gaskins] left much of his herds behind in Georgia to be looked after by his sons, John, William, and Harmon who by that time were grown.  These herds multiplied and in turn, other herds were formed and placed about at various points in what is now Clinch, Echols and Lowndes counties and over in Florida, under the management of herdsmen, who for their services were paid at the end of the year a percentage of the proceeds of the cattle sold that year.  The beef cattle were driven to Savannah and other distant places each year and sold. This arrangement with the herds and herdsmen continued with the elder Gaskins making periodic visits of inspection until his death, after which the three sons in Georgia received the Georgia herds in a division of the estate.”

Cattlemen like John Gaskins sold their Berrien County livestock at points like Savannah, GA or  Centerville on the St. Mary’s River, or Jacksonville, Florida.

John Gaskins fought in the Indian War 1836-1838, serving in Levi J. Knight’s Militia Company.   Georgia historian Folks Huxford wrote,  “His home was visited  by the savages on one occasion while the family was absent, and a good deal of vandalism and theft was committed.”   John Gaskins and his brother William were among those who took part in the Battle of Brushy Creek, one of the last real engagements with the Creek Indians in this region.

At age 38, John Gaskins and family were enumerated in the Census of 1840, still living in the northeast area of old Lowndes county now known as Berrien County. His brother, William, was living next door, and nearby were the homesteads of David Clements and William Clements, and other early settlers.

In 1850 the Gaskins remained in  Lowndes County.  Enumerated nearby the Gaskins home place were the residences of General Levi J. Knight, William Patten, Hardeman Sirmans, David Clements, Moses C. Lee, and other early settlers. John Gaskins was a farmer, with $600 in real estate.

Around 1855 the Gaskins were involved in some sort of public disturbance in Lowndes county.  Hardeman Sirmons, Benjamin S. Garrett, Drewry Garrett, Will Garrett, John Gaskins, William Gaskins, Gideon Gaskins, and Lemuel Gaskins were all brought before the Lowndes Superior Court for their involvement in a riot.  In 1856, however, the Gaskins and their neighbors were cut out of Lowndes county and placed in the new county of Berrien. The defendants were able to have their case  transferred to Berrien County in June of 1856, and apparently escaped serious consequences.

In the Census of 1860 John Gaskins appeared on the enumeration sheets listed next to Thomas M. Ray, who would begin construction of Ray’s Millpond just a few years later.

From 1858 to 1861, John Gaskins served as a Justice of the Peace in Berrien County.

During the Civil War five of his sons joined Georgia Volunteer Infantry regiments: Fisher J. Gaskins, William Gaskins, Lemuel Gaskins, Joseph Gaskins, and Harris Gaskins, .

Children of John Gaskins and Mary Pollie Barrow:

  1. Gideon Gaskins, born 1826, Berrien County, GA; married Sarah Knight (July 17, 1831 – February 03, 1902); buried Riverside Baptist Church, Berrien County, GA.
  2. Fisher J. Gaskins, Sr., born February 16, 1828, Berrien County, GA; married Elizabeth Sirmans, daughter of Abner Sirmans; served in Company I, 50th GA Regiment; died November 14, 1908, Berrien County, GA; Buried at Riverside Baptist Church.
  3. John Gaskins, Jr., born January 16, 1830, Berrien County, GA; married Catherine Calder; died May 6, 1886.
  4. Emily Gaskins, born 1832, Berrien County, GA; married Joseph Newbern.
  5. William Gaskins, born March 5, 1833; married Elizabeth Clements, daughter of David G. Clements; served in Company I, 54th GA Regiment; died August 27, 1910; buried Empire Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.
  6. Lemuel Elam Gaskins, born 1836, Berrien County, GA; married Sarah Ann Sirmans, daughter of Abner Sirmans; served in Company I, 50th GA Regiment;  died October 26, 1862, Richmond, VA; buried Richmond VA, memorial marker at Riverside Baptist Church.
  7. Joseph Gaskins, born April 28, 1840, Berrien County, GA; married Harriet Sirmans, daughter of James Sirmans; served in Company I, 50th GA Regiment; died February 4, 1911; Buried at Riverside Baptist Church.
  8. Harmon Gaskins, born 1842, Berrien County, GA; died young.
  9. Harrison  “Harris” Gaskins, born April 5, 1842, Berrien County, GA.; married Roxanna “Roxie” Sirmans, daughter of James Sirmans, on April 17, 1862; served in Company K, 29th GA Regiment; died January 7, 1926; Buried at Riverside Baptist Church
  10. Bryant Gaskins, born 1846, Berrien County, GA

Clinch County News
April 23, 1937

John Gaskins – 1802-1865

Oldest son of Fisher Gaskins by his first wife. Came to Berrien while a youth, grew to manhood here. His wife was a daughter of Joseph Barrow… Immediately after their marriage John Gaskins and his wife settled on the Alapaha River a short distance north of the old home of his father and near where Bannockburn now is, and there they spent their entire married life together.   The death of John Gaskins occurred at this home July 18, 1865; and 23 years later, January 6, 1888 his widow joined her husband in the spirit-land, at the age of 83.  Both are buried at Riverside Cemetery and their graves are substantially marked. They were the parents of a large family of sons and daughters and their living descendants in this county to-day are very numerous.

John Gaskins was a man who spent his life at home and gave his time and attention to his avocation.  The farm was made self-sustaining; work was the rule and grim want never came to stare the inmates of this farm-home in the face.  Food for family and stock was well and abundantly supplied and the excellence of the range went a long way in helping him to provide meat for family and lay up money from the sales of beef-cattle.  Deer and turkeys were plentiful and could be taken at any time. Fish abounded in the river and with all of these good things around life on the frontier was not so bad after all.  Hogs grew almost wild in the hammocks and only required a few weeks’ finishing off with corn or field crops to be ready for slaughter. Cattle were let to go at large all the time except they were penned regularly for about six weeks during the months of April and May so that they may be marked and branded and kept under control; and the annual sale of these beef-cattle brought the gold in their homes against the rainy-day and old age.

John Gaskins took part in driving the last of the wandering bands of Indians from Georgia soil, and one of the last engagements with the redskins fought on Berrien county soil took place near the home of this old pioneer.  His home suffered from Indian predations to the extent that the feather beds were taken out, the ticks ripped open, the feathers emptied and scattered and the ticks carried away with some other articles of the household.  Some of these articles were recovered, among which was a beautiful pitcher which had been treasured as an heirloom for many years.  The place where the pitcher was recovered after it had been cast aside by the Indians in their flight across the Alapaha River, is known to this day among the local inhabitants as “Pitcher Slough.”

Following the death of John Gaskins in 1865 his sons Fisher J. and John, Jr. served as the administrators of his estate.

Milledgeville Federal Union
August 21, 1866 — page 4

Georgia, Berrien County.
Two months after date application will be made to the Court of Ordinary of said county for leave to sell the lands belonging to the estate of John Gaskins, Sen., deceased, for the benefit of the heirs and creditors of said deceased.
F. J. Gaskins,
John Gaskins, Jr.   Adm’r’s.
July 2d, 1866.        WEC       50 9c

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Wiregrass Babes in Sugarland

To children of Wiregrass Georgia, sugar cane was the homegrown candy of choice.  The harvest of the cane crop, and cane grinding time was anticipated by children of all ages.

Children of the Cane. Children in Berrien County, as in other Wiregrass Georgia counties, looked forward to the sugar cane cutting with great anticipation. Pictured here are children of the Liles and Edson families together on the Leggett farm, Berrien County, GA. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Children of the Cane. Children in Berrien County, as in other Wiregrass Georgia counties, looked forward to the sugar cane cutting with great anticipation. Pictured here are children of the Liles and Edson families together on the Leggett farm, Berrien County, GA. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Sugar cane has been an integral part of Wiregrass culture since it was introduced into South Georgia in around 1828.  John Moore began the cultivation of cane when he settled near the Grand Bay swamp in Lowndes County.  By 1876 sugar cane was one of the staple field crops of South Georgia, and an important staple in the farming and agriculture of Ray’s Mill (now Ray City), and the section. “Sugar, Syrup, and Molasses are made on a considerable scale in the southern part of this State from tropical Cane.” Hundreds of gallons of cane syrup could be produced from a single acre of sugar cane. In 1879 the Columbus Daily Enquirer reported, “The Berrien County News contends that cane planting can be made as profitable in Southern Georgia as in Mississippi, Louisiana or elsewhere, and that Southern Georgia syrup cannot be excelled by that made anywhere.”

In 1885, Montgomery Folsom, poet/historian of Wiregrass Georgia, wrote about the sweet childhood experience of sugar cane:

The Atlanta Constitution
June 24, 1885 pg 2

Down the River.

Now we have reached the point where the [Little] river widens out, and winds along through interminable swamps.  Here in the autumn the mellow haws hang red on the trees, and in the sweet Indian summer great festoons of wild grapes and “bullaces” hanging in mellow lusciousness from the vines which have twined their tendrils around the topmost boughs of the tall trees.  Fields of yellow corn cover the fertile hillside, the withered stalks rustling and creaking in the whispering breeze.  These farmers have inherited a goodly legacy in these broad acres. The cotton fields are white as snow, and the merry jests and hearty laugh attest the contentment of the laborers. In striking contrast with the brilliant colors of the autumnal foliage is the deep blue green of the sugar cane.  Through long years of cultivation in alien soil it has preserved its identity as a child of the tropics, and holds its green until the great leveler, Jack Frost, chills its sugary sap. Other plants have learned to adapt themselves to the new order of things, and shorten the season of their growth accordingly, but the sugar cane never ripens.  If I have dwelled long on the peculiarities of this plant it is because I have experienced so many perils and pleasures in connection with it.  Is there a south Georgia boy, to-day, who never slipped in at the back of the cane patch, starting nervously as he chanced to snap a blade, picking his way carefully until a selection was made, then cutting down the cane by easy stages, so that it would not crack loudly when it fell; carefully stripping of the blades one, by one, then stealing noiselessly out, ensconcing himself in a fence jamb and then – oh! the delicious taste of the juice! “Trebly sweet when obtained through so much peril. Hark! Ahem!” The boy springs to his feet and trembling in every limb beholds the “old man” leaning his elbow on the fence and watching him intently. “Ahem!” “Is it gittin’ sweet yet sonny?” But the boy is too dumbfounded to answer. ” “Well, I guess I’d better give ye a row, and you musn’t cut any out’n the rest of the patch.” Oh! Joy! In less than ten minutes every child on the place is informed that “pa has give us a row of cane to chaw.” And the old man stalks about in the potato patch in search of a late watermelon, an odd smile on his lips.  He passed the same experience some twenty or thirty years ago.

If you want to learn more about the traditions, practice and science of Georgia cane syrup making, be sure to see Bill Outlaw’s essays at Southern Matters http://www.southernmatters.com/  where he shares family history and research on sugar cane and syrup production, along with other connections to the past.

Related Posts:

Cane Syrup Comes to Berrien County

Ray City History
Sugar Cane

Sugar cane cultivation was introduced into south Georgia by John Moore when he moved to Lowndes County around 1828. John Moore established his home in the sparsely populated area north of the Grand Bay swamp. At that time, the nearest village to the Moore homestead was called Allapaha, a community which later came to be called Milltown, and in 1920 became the city of Lakeland, GA. The Moores were among the earliest pioneers in this section of the country.

By 1876 sugar cane was one of the field crops of south Georgia, and an important staple in the farming and agriculture of Ray’s Mill (nka Ray City), and the section. “Sugar, Syrup, and Molasses are made on a considerable scale in the southern part of this State from tropical Cane.” Hundreds of gallons of cane syrup could be produced from a single acre of sugar cane. “Mr. John J. Parker, of Thomas County, produced in 1874, on 1 acre, 694 gallons of Cane Syrup, worth, at 75 cents per gallon, $520.87; total cost of production, $77.50—net profit, $443.37.”

In 1879 the Columbus Daily Enquirer reported, “The Berrien county News contends that cane planting can be made as profitable in Southern Georgia as in Mississippi, Louisiana or elsewhere, and that Southern Georgia syrup cannot be excelled by that made anywhere.”

See more about  Ray City History at Ray City, GA. / Sugar Cane.

For more about the historical and modern production of cane syrup in south Georgia, see http://www.southernmatters.com/