1894 African-American Voter Registration at Ray’s Mill, GA

1894 African-American Voter Registration at Ray’s Mill, GA

Given the history of slavery and racial discrimination in the United States, researching African-American genealogy can be a challenging puzzle.  Slave names were not often recorded.  Even after Emancipation, civil records of African-American citizens were often neglected. Further complicating matters,  most of the 1890 census records were lost in a fire and through a series of tragic missteps in the record handling. Fortunately, an 1894 record of the Poll Tax collection in the Rays Mill District (now Ray City, GA) helps to document early African-American residents of the town.    Many of these men were born in slavery and became “Freedmen” after the Civil War and Emancipation. A few were born in northern “Free” states.  After the War, they came  to south Georgia, primarily to work in the naval stores industry, collecting turpentine in the piney woodlands of the Wiregrass. Some lived in turpentine camps, some rented farms or houses, a few became property owners, business men and employers in their own right.

Poll Taxes

After the Civil War, the poll tax evolved regionally to be a complex legal device to disenfranchise African-Americans. Georgia led the way in 1868 (effective in 1871), and by 1900 in every formerly-Confederate state had poll taxes aimed at preventing black citizens from voting.

According to Today in Georgia History,

The poll tax, a bulwark of the Jim Crow era, was one of many roadblocks thrown up to keep African-Americans from exercising their right to vote. Although the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1870, guaranteed former male slaves the right to vote, the poll tax, which all voters had to pay was designed to prevent voting. Georgia’s 1877 constitution authorized the tax, which limited voter participation among both poor blacks and whites. But most whites got around the provision through exemptions for those whose ancestors fought in the Civil War or who could vote before the war. 

Georgia’s “grandfather clause” allowed any adult male whose father or grandfather had voted  prior to the abolition of slavery to vote without paying the tax. Georgia created a cumulative poll tax requirement: men 21 to 60 years of age had to pay a sum of money for every year from the time they had turned 21, or from the time that the law took effect.

Tax Payers
Ray’s Mill District, Colored, 1894

William Adkinson
Dixie Alston

Peter Burges
Thomas Burges
Saul Brown
William Brown, Sr.
John Black
B. B. Brown
Joe Brown

Walter Curt
Jesse Coleman
Len Coleman

James Davis

David Ellison
S. M. Eady
Sam Eady

Brister Hufman

Henry Gowdine
Henry Gilliard
William Grayham
William Gerald

West Kelley

John Livind

Joe Medlay
Carter Moore
William Mathis
Alex McKnight
S. J. Myers
Sandy Murphy
William McGowin
Richard McGowin
Henry McCoy

Preston Richardson
E. L. Rias
Ebb Ross
Randolph Ried
William Smith
Mack Spights
Gilbert Sloan

Wiley Tarrell

A. Vandross

John Wamble
George Williams
Ed Wilson
John Wade
Alex White
James Whitfield
W. D. Williams

SOME NOTES ON THE TAXPAYERS:

DIXIE ALSTON
Dixie Alston was an African-American born during the Civil War, in March of 1862. He was born in South Carolina, as were both his parents.  In 1883 he married Amelia [unknown], also a native of South Carolina.  It appears that Dixie and Amelia moved to south Georgia sometime in the early 1890s.  In 1894, Dixie Alston registered to vote in the Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) District of Berrien County, GA.  He subsequently appears in the census of 1900, enumerated as Dixie Aulston, in the 1148 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County.  His household in 1900 included his wife Amelia (age 46), and children, Sarah (18), Lillie (17), Dixie (10), James A. (7), William (5), and Orie B (1).  The Alstons were living in a rented house, and Dixie was working as a turpentine laborer. In 1910 Dixie Alston and family were enumerated in the 1157 Georgia Militia District where Dixie continued to work as a turpentine laborer.  Whereabouts of Dixie Alston after 1910 are unknown, but his son Dixie Alston, Jr. later lived in Nashville GA where he worked for the Keefe and Bulloch turpentine operation.

ROBERT B. “BB” BROWN
BB Brown was born in South Carolina about 1856 he married Corinna, a South Carolina woman, about 1875 and they made their home in South Carolina until some time after 1881. By October 1886, the Browns moved to Georgia. BB Brown paid the poll tax in 1894 to vote in the Rays Mill District of Berrien County, GA. The census of 1900 shows the Browns owned a farm in the Rays Mill District free and clear of mortgage. They were neighbors of Levi J. Clements, Alfred Hill, and Ben Knight. In 1910 their neighbors on nearby farms were John Miles Clements, Georgia Cooper, Jeff Williams and James W. Williams. The 1920 census shows the Brown farm was situated at Rays Mill on the Willacoochee Road. Their immediate neighbor was Robert E. Lee and his family. Corinna Brown died sometime before 1930. By this time the Brown farm had been cut into Lanier County. The widower Brown continued to work his farm with the assistance of his children.

SOLOMON “SAUL” BROWN
Solomon Brown was born  about 1862 in South Carolina. He apparently came to the Rays Mill, GA area  some time before 1894. The 1910 census shows him in Rays Mill, widowed, living alone in a rented home and working as a farm laborer.

WILLIAM L. BROWN
William L. Brown was a farmer from South Carolina. He was born in May of 1862. About 1882 he married Lessie. They were in Berrien County, GA by the 1890s where William paid the poll tax in the Rays Mill District in 1894. The census of 1900 shows he was working a rented farm near the homes of Richard Eady, William Revell, and Frank Gallagher.

PETER BURGES
Peter Burges, or Burgess, was an African-American born in August of 1865 at the conclusion of the Civil War. He was a native of South Carolina, as were both his parents.  By 1894, Peter Burges made his way to  the Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) District of Berrien County, GA where he was registered to vote. In the census of 1900, he was enumerated in the 1144 Georgia Militia District, the “Ray’s Mill” District, Berrien County. He was single, living alone in a rented house, and working as a turpentine laborer. He subsequently appears in the 1144 G.M.D census of 1910 as a farm laborer, and in 1920 he was renting a farm on the Willacoochee Road.

TOM BURGES
Tom Burges was born about 1850 in Georgia. He was enumerated in 1910 in the 1300 Georgia Militia District. At age 60 he was widowed, living alone in a rented house, and working at a sawmill. He was a neighbor of African-American teacher William M. Clark, sawmill employee Burris Hall, turpentine teamster David Story, turpentine employee John Merritt, and washerwoman Sallie Sanders.

JESSE COLEMAN
Jesse Coleman appears in the Berrien County tax records of 1884. His taxable property included $5 worth of livestock and $5 worth of furniture. In 1890 Jesse Coleman paid the poll tax in the 1329 Georgia Militia District, the Connells Mill District just west of Rays Mill. He had $57 in livestock, $15 in furniture, $10 in tools, and $2 in other property.

JOHN L. LAVIND
John L. Lavind was an African-American farmer from South Carolina. He was born in 1868. About 1886 he married Sarah Sloan, a woman from South Carolina. John and Sarah appear in the 1900 Census in Berrien County where they were neighbors of Arch Parrish. The Lavinds were working a rented farm in the 1145 Georgia Militia District, the Adel District. Living with the Lavinds and assisting with the farm labor were Sarah’s siblings, Alicia A Sloan and Davis Sloan. It appears that Sarah Sloan died sometime in the early 1900s. Census records indicate that John Lavind (enumerated as John Lavine) married a second time in 1908 to a widow woman named Kerene. In 1910, he was making payments on a farm at Adel and working as a self-employed farmer. His neighbors were sawmill workers Beacher Ward and Charlie Beland. In 1920, John and Karene were renting a farm on the Adel and Nashville Road which John was working on his own account. The were neighbors of Theresa Devane Hutchinson, widow of James Henry Hutchinson; her son, Vaude McIntyre Hutchinson was a school teacher.

HENRY MELVIN
Henry Melvin was born in North Carolina about 1863. He apparently came to live in the Rays Mill, GA district some time before 1894. In 1900, he was enumerated in the Mud Creek District of Clinch County, GA where he was renting a house and working as a turpentine laborer. On September 14, 1901 Henry Melvin and Delia Jenkins were joined in Holy Matrimony in Clinch County, GA in a ceremony performed by Joseph Powell, Justice of the Peace. The 1910 census shows Henry and Delia were renting a farm in the 586 Militia District of Clinch County, where they raised crops and children. Some time before 1920 Henry Melvin returned to Ray City, bringing his family to live on the Ray City & Willacoochee Road, on a rented farm which he worked on his own account. Henry Melvin died November 1, 1920 in Berrien County, GA. Anna remarried, probably about 1921, to Emanuel Smith. The Smiths rented a farm near Ray City, where they were neighbors of Walter H. Knight, John S. Fender, J. Mancil Ray and James F. Ray, James R. Johnson, and Lucian H. Grissett. Sometime before 1935 the Smiths moved to Lakeland, GA

HENRY MCCOY
Henry McCoy was born in October 1859 in North Carolina. About 1886 he married Anna. Some time before 1894 they came to Rays Mill, GA where Henry rented and worked a farm. Most of the McCoy’s neighbors were turpentine workers including Odum Wiley, D.D. Oxendine, Peter Burges, and Isham Hill. In 1910, Henry and Anna owned a home on North Street in Ray City. Henry worked as a drayman; Anna worked as washerwoman. Among their neighbors were hotelier Wilson W. Fender, merchant Louis Levin, telegraph operator Ralph E. Spear, blacksmith Rollie N. Warr, policeman Henry Hodges, carpenter Gordon J. Knight, and postmaster Charles H. Anderson. Henry McCoy died sometime after 1910. His widow married Sam B. Cooper on April 22, 1918 in Berrien County in a ceremony performed by Justice of the Peace J. W. Moore. Sam Cooper worked in a shop as a tailor and owned a home in Ray City, in the “Negro Quarters” according to 1920 Census records.

RICHARD MCGOWAN
Richard “Dick” McGowan was born a slave in North Carolina in the 1840s. He was brought to Berrien County (then Lowndes) as a young man, and lived most his life near Ray City, GA.  Freed after the Civil War, he continued to live for a while on the plantation of his former owner, Hardeman Sirmans.

JOSEPH MEDLEY
Joseph Medley was born about 1856 in the state of New York. In 1883, he married a Virginia woman named Jane. By 1885 The Medleys had moved from New York to South Carolina, and by 1888 they were in Georgia. Joseph paid the poll tax in the Rays Mill District of Berrien County, GA in 1894. The 1900 Census shows the Medley family in the neighboring Georgia Militia District 1300, the Milltown District, where Joseph owned a farm free and clear of mortgage. The census appears to show that the Medleys also rented a farm in addition to the farm they owned. Joseph farmed while Jane worked as a laundress. Both were enumerated as literate. They were neighbors of Joseph Dedge, Edwin Powell, and John Ed Thigpen brother of Robert Silas Thigpen. In 1910, the Medleys continued to farm in the 1300 GMD. Their son, William Medley, worked as a sawmill fireman, and son Aulie Medley assisted with the farm labor. Next door were Elmore Medley and Rainey Medley who were both employed in turpentine production. Other neighbors included John D. Patten and Matthew G. Patten. In 1920, Joe Medley, age 76, was no longer working. The Medleys rented a house at Milltown on the the Nashville Road. Their son William worked as a farm laborer and Henry worked as a truck driver at a cross tie camp.

SAM JULIAN “JIM” MYERS
Sam Julian “Jim” Myers was born October 1870 in South Carolina. By 1894 he came to Berrien County, GA to work as a turpentine chipper. He paid the 1894 poll tax in the Rays Mill District. In 1897 he married Rosa Sloan and they acquired a home on payments in the 1145 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County. Rosa’s brother, Sydney Stone, lived with them and also worked as a turpentine chipper. Also boarding in the Myers household was Dr. Ervin Green; the 1900 Census taker added the notation “Quack” by Green’s occupation. By 1910 Jim Myers took up the ministry in the Methodist faith and moved his family to Adel, GA to a home on Maple Street. By 1920, Reverend Myers took his family to Fitzgerald, GA where they lived on Lemon Street.

ELIOTT RIAS
Eliott Rias was an African-American citizen of Rays Mill, GA for 40 years. He was a son of Pompy and Clarender Rias, born about 1863 in South Carolina. After the Civil War and Emancipation, he and his brothers and sisters grew up helping his parents work their farm in Laws Township, near Kingstree, Williamsburg County, SC. Some time after 1880, Eliott left South Carolina and came to Georgia to work as a turpentine laborer. He appears in the property tax digest of Clinch County as a Freedman, paying the poll tax for 1887 in the 586 Georgia Militia District, the Mud Creek District. About 1892, Eliott married a South Carolina woman named Henrietta. By 1900, Eliott and Henrietta were living at Rays Mill with their four children. They were renting a house and Eliott was working as a turpentine laborer. In 1910 Eliott Rias was renting a farm, which he was farming on his own account. Henrietta was keeping house and minding their seven children. Pauline Hodges, an African-American school teacher, was boarding with them. Among Rias’ neighbors were John L. and Cassie Hall, Babe Baldree, Barney Chism, John Whitfield, Tom Burgess and Mack Speights. By 1920, Eliott and Henrietta were working a rented farm at Rays Mill on their own account.  Some time before 1930, Henrietta Rias passed away. All of Eliott’s children were grown and moved away. Eliatt Rias was left alone, living in Rays Mill in a home he rented for $3.00 a month. He worked as a carpenter. He was a neighbor of Sherrod Fender, Henry Studstill, Arrin H. Guthrie, Perry Guthrie, Herman Guthrie, and Ivory Wright.

EBENEZER ROSS
Ebenezer “Ebb” Ross was an African-American farm laborer born in Georgia about 1857. The 1870 census shows Ebenezer, age 23, and his wife Fannie, age 17, living in Berrien County, Georgia Militia District 1144, the Rays Mill District. Ebenezer Ross had a net worth of $30. In the 1870s and 1880s the Rosses were neighbors of William and Frances Giddens, Mary and Richard Anthony, Jesse and Margaret Carroll, John T. and Catherine Carroll, Peter and Josephine Best, and Nancy Parker. The 1875 Berrien Property Tax Digest shows Ebenezer Ross paid the poll tax, and his entire taxable property was valued at $20.00. The following year the value of his estate had dropped to just $2.00. In 1880, the Rosses home enumerated in the 1300 GMD. Living next door with the Carrolls was mail rider Everet Roberts. The 1890 tax digest shows the Rosses were faring slightly better. Eb was working for J. H. Wright, one of 58 freedmen employed by Wright.

MACK SPEIGHTS
Mack Speights was an African-American turpentine laborer who lived for about 40 years at Rays Mill (now Ray City), GA. According to family members, he was born June 14, 1867 in Ridge, Williamsburg County, South Carolina, a son of Elias McBride Speights and Norah Speights. He married Martha Ellen Cooper in South Carolina on August 14, 1889. He apparently brought his young family from South Carolina to Rays Mill about 1893 and appears on the list of voters in the Rays Mill District in 1894. Like many young African-American men, he came to work in the naval stores industry, turpentining the piney woodlands of the Wiregrass. By 1910, Mack Speights was renting a farm at Rays Mill where he and Martha were raising their eight children His oldest sons, Elias and William, worked as farm labor. The Speights were neighbors of Joseph S. Clements, Brodie Shaw, Bruner Shaw, Bryant Fender, and Frank Gallagher. By 1930, Mack and Martha had moved to Gainesville, FL with several of their children and grandchildren.

ABRAHAM L. VANDROSS
Abraham L. Vandross , an African-American turpentine laborer, was born about 1867 in South Carolina. He was on the list of voters in the Rays Mill District in 1894. About that same time he married a woman named Hannah. By 1900, Abraham and Hannah had moved to the Dry Lake District of Brooks County, GA where they lived in a rented home. By 1910 Hannah and Abraham returned to Berrien County to the 1300 Georgia Militia District, where they acquired a home which they owned free and clear of mortgage. Abraham continued to work for wages as a turpentine worker; Hannah worked as a washerwoman. They also took in a boarder, Albert Johnson, who was a sawmill employee. In 1910, the Vandrosses were neighbors of William M. Clark, an African-American school teacher. The 1920 Census shows Abraham and Hannah’s home was on Oak Street, Milltown (now Lakeland), GA. Their boarder in 1920 was Reverend Jordan R. Gay.

JOHN WAMBLE
John Wamble was a widowed African-American farmer. He was born about 1850 in Georgia.  At the time of the 1900 Census, he was living near Rays Mill, GA with his two teenaged sons. The Wambles were neighbors of Richard Morehead, Benjamin Moorehead, David C. Clements and Rubin Knight.  His son, Horace, married about 1907 and made his home on the Nashville & Valdosta Road near Cat Creek.

JOHN WADE
John Wade was a Freedman living in Rays Mill, GA with his wife, Emma, and their large family. John Wade was born about 1824. The property tax digest of 1887 shows his taxable property consisted of $7 dollars worth of livestock and $20 in household and kitchen furniture. The 1880 census shows the Wades living and farming in Lowndes County, GA.

JAMES WHITFIELD
James Whitfield may have been an African-American farmer who later lived in Grooverville, Brooks County, GA.  He was born about 1868. This James Whitfield cannot be definitively placed in Rays Mill, however, his son, James Whitfield, Jr. lived in Nashville, GA in the 1920s.

GEORGE WILLIAMS
The 1900 census shows George Williams  in the 1145 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County. He was working as a log turner at a sawmill.  He was born in North Carolina about 1858.  In 1900, he was living alone, apparently in housing at the sawmill.

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Obituary of Jay Sirmans, September 29, 1916

Jay Sirmans was born April 16, 1864 and lived all of his life in the vicinity of Ray City, GA.

Jay Sirmans of Ray City, GA. Image detail courtesy of berriencountyga.com

Jay Sirmans of Ray City, GA. Image detail courtesy of berriencountyga.com

Jay Sirmans was the youngest son of Elizabeth Knight and Hardeman Sirmans, the eighth of their twelve children. His sister Martha Elizabeth Sirmans married Joe S. Clements, who was treasurer at the Clements Sawmill and later served as Mayor of Ray City. His sister Clara Sirmans married Irishman Frank Gallagher and they had a farm east of Ray City. His sister Annie B. Sirmans (1872 – 1963) married John Chilton Matheny; she was later the owner of Ray’s Mill. His sister Valeria Sirmans (1874 – 1961) married James Isaac Lee

On 22 March 1893 Jay Sirmans married Rachel Allifar Smith (born July 30, 1869)  a daughter of Mary Jane Smith and  John Woods Smith.

Children of Rachel Smith and Jay Sirmans:

  1. John Hardeman Sirmans, born February 23, 1899 in Georgia;  died April 28, 1966 in Berrien County, Georgia
  2. J B Mitchell Sirmans, born January 19, 1905 in Berrien County, GA; died July 13, 1983 in Lanier County, Georgia; buried Empire Cemetery.

In 1899, Jay Sirmans gained a bit of local attention after his attempt to capture a large alligator for exhibition in the western states.

Obituary of Jay Sirmans

Jay Sirmans died rather unexpectedly at the age of 52.

Obituary of Jay Sirmans, Ray City, GA

Obituary of Jay Sirmans, Ray City, GA
Tifton Gazette, Sep. 29, 1916 — page 2

Tifton Gazette
September 29, 1916 — page 2

J. Sirmans, Ray City

Mr. J. Sirmans, a well known resident of Berrien county, living about a mile and a half from Ray City, died at his home Wednesday night at 9 o’clock, says the Valdosta Times.
Mr. Sirmans had been ill for about 10 days but his condition was not thought to be serious. His death came as a great surprise.
Mr. Sirmans is survived by his wife and two sons.

Sirmans was buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA. He was a member of Woodmen of the World, and insurance through the fraternal organization provided a large and distinctive monument to mark his grave.

Gravemarker of Jay Sirmans, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA. Died September 20, 1916

Gravemarker of Jay Sirmans, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA. Died September 20, 1916

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Double Jeopardy for Rachel Sirmans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 May 3d, 1873    

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

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

† † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † †

July 5, 1873

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

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

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

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

Epilogue:

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

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

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Levi J. Knight ~ in the Antebellum Wiregrass

Antebellum Wiregrass

By the early 1840s Levi J. Knight, pioneer settler of Ray City, GA, was well known across the state for his military and political leadership, and had been noted in the national press for his actions in the Indian Wars. In his home county of Lowndes, (now Berrien), GA Knight  had a well established estate and was consolidating his real property.   On April 11, 1842 he  purchased 9 lots in the 10th District.  These Lots were available for purchase to anyone with the cost of the $18 survey fee. The Digest of the Taxes of Lowndes County for the Year 1844 shows the following about the property held by the Knight family:

Levi J. Knight owned 7350 acres of pines in the 10th district, Lowndes County, 40 acres of “oak & hickory” on Lot No. 830 in the 18th District, Cherokee county, and seven slaves.

William A. Knight, father of Levi J. Knight, owned 2940 acres of pine land in the 10th district  in Lowndes county, this land improved with bridges and ferries valued at $200. Also three slaves and 250 acres of pine land on Lot 250 in the 7th District in Early County. His tax liability for the year was $15. 26.

John Knight owned Lot No. 453 in the 10th District, Lowndes county, with 490 acres of pine land. No slaves were assessed, with his total property tax being $0.85.

Aaron Knight owned the adjacent Lot No. 454, with all 490 acres in pines. No slaves were assessed, with his total property tax being $0.85.

1844-property-taxes-family-of-levi-j-knight-thumb

In 1846, Lowndes County Deputy Sheriff Jesse W. Carter advertised a Sheriff’s sale which included Levi J. Knight’s property in Lot No. 292 in the 10th district. The land was sold to satisfy a debt Knight owed to Elias Roberts.

The Milledgeville Federal Union, April 28, 1846 — page 3 Lowndes Sheriff’s Sale. Will be sold on the first Tuesday in June next, within the legal hours of sale, before the Court house door in the town of Troupville, Lowndes county, the following property, to wit:… …at the same time and place, will be sold 490 acres of land, known as lot No. 292, in the 10th district of originally Irwin now Lowndes county; levied on as the property of Levi J. Knight, to satisfy a fi fas from Lowndes Superior Court-Elias Roberts vs. Levi J. Knight: property pointed out by defendant. JESSE W. CARTER, D.S. April 16, 1846.

Elias Roberts, plaintiff in the above case, was a fellow veteran of the Indian Wars. He had settled a home place in western Lowndes county bordering on Mule Creek.  About him, historian William Harden wrote,

Elias Roberts, having bought land bordering Mule creek, first built a house of round logs to shelter his family. Then his slaves laboriously whip-sawed boards from the native timber and with a skilled house-joiner and carpenter to direct the operations, a commodious two-story dwelling was erected. The boards were two and a half inches thick, were dove-tailed together at the ends, and were fastened to the studding with wooden -dowel-pins in lieu of nails. When finished, and for some years afterward, this was the most pretentious residence in all this countryside…  Before coming into this part of Georgia, he had served under General Jackson in the Florida Indian wars, and after coming here was a member of a company organized for protection against the Indians over the border, the company being several times called out to drive the red men back to their reservations. During such troublous times the Roberts homestead above described became the place of refuge for the women and children of the settlement, so that it served both as a residence and a fort. Elias Roberts had been a participant in the battle of Brushy Creek in 1836, when the Indians made their last great stand in defense of their hunting grounds.

In 1847, L. J. Knight’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth,  married Hardeman Sirmans.  According to historian Folks Huxford, “Mr. Sirmans served in the Indian War as a private in a volunteer company of Lowndes County militia commanded by his father-in-law, Capt. (afterwards General) Levi J. Knight, August 15th to Oct 15 1838. He was 1st Lieutenant of the 664th militia district, Lowndes County, 1845-46, then served as Captain in same district 1847-1851. Folks Huxford also states in his sketch of Levi J. Knight that when the Mexican War broke out in 1848,  Knight enlisted and served as a captain of volunteers the greater part of that war. About this service, little else is known. In 1850 Levi J. Knight resigned his commission as Major General of the 6th Division of the Georgia Militia, an office he held since 1840. He tendered his resignation in a simple letter to Governor George W. Towns posted September 16, 1850 from Troupville, GA. (see The Commission of Major General Levi J. Knight.) Resignation notwithstanding, state newspapers continued at least through 1854 to report Maj. General Knight as in command of the 6th Division, Georgia Militia with his Head Quarters at Troupville, GA . The 1850 census of Lowndes County, Georgia showed Levi J. Knight’s real estate holdings by that time had amassed a value of $5000. At the time of enumeration his occupation was listed as farming. The  Knight household in 1850 included Levi J. Knight (47)  Ann D. Knight (48), and children William Washington Knight (21), John Knight (18), Mary A. Knight (14), Levi A. Knight (12), Jonathan D. Knight (10), Keziah A. Knight (7).  Also in the Knight home was Elizabeth Clements, age 80, blind, born in Ireland.  Sons William and John assisted their father with farming, The General’s neighbors were his son-in-law Hardeman Sirmans, and William Patton, who was Justice of the Peace. These were difficult and contentious political times. The threat of southern rebellion over the constitutionality of slavery, the fugitive slave law, and the admission of free states to the Union was imminent. In November of 1850, Levi J. Knight  was selected by “the People of Lowndes county, believing that no just cause of resistance now exists” as the Whig delegate to a state Convention that had been called “to resist past aggression – the admission of California into the Union.”  In light of the Compromise of 1850 which had been passed by the U.S. Congress the previous month, Knight pledged that he believed the people of Georgia could honorably acquiesce  in reference to the subject of slavery;  that he would exercise “Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation” at the Convention; and that he would  commit no act nor give his vote for any measure that would tend directly or indirectly to subvert the Constitution of Georgia, or the United States. As one of the most educated men in the county, L. J. Knight was frequently called upon by his neighbors to handle legal affairs. In 1850 he acted with power of attorney for Thomas Giddens, an illiterate veteran of the Seminole Wars, to receive 80 acres of land due Giddens as compensation for eight months of military service. 1850-ljknight-power-of-attorney In the election of 1851, Levi J. Knight was re-elected to the State Assembly as the Senator from Lowndes, Ware, and Clinch counties. Following his retirement from the Georgia Militia, General Levi J. Knight engaged in the construction of Georgia railroads.  He became one of the principals in the Brunswick & Florida Railroad, apparently as both a commercial venture and as a strategy in response to looming military conflict  (see General Levi J. Knight ~ Railroad Tycoon and General Knight’s Railroad Rolls Into Civil War ). In 1856 L. J. Knight was instrumental in the laying out and establishing of Berrien County, newly created from portions of Lowndes, Irwin and Coffee counties. One of Knight’s unhappy senatorial duties in 1856 was  to serve as chair of the legislative delegation sent to pay last respects to Andrew J. Miller, a member of the Georgia Legislature for 20 years and twice president of the state senate.  

The joint committee of the Senate and House appointed to attend the funeral could not reach this city [Augusta] in time. The Mayor received the following dispatch from the chairman : — Macon, February 5. Hon. W. E. Dearing, Mayor: — A joint committee of both Houses came this far on their way to attend the funeral of the Hon. A. J. Miller; but the trains failed to connect, and we cannot reach Augusta in time. Levi J. Knight, Chairman.

In the fall of 1857, Levi J. Knight suffered the passing of his wife, Ann D. Herrin Knight, she having died on October 14, 1857.  The burial was at Union Church cemetery, in present day Lanier County, GA.

Grave of Ann D. Knight, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Ann D. Knight, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

On Sept 1, 1858, the General’s youngest daughter, Keziah, married her cousin, James A. Knight.  The Census of 1860 shows the couple living in the General’s household. November, 1859 Levi J. Knight was among the gentlemen “appointed by the Governor, Delegates from the State at Large, and from the several Congressional Districts, to represent the State of Georgia in Southern Commercial Convention, to be held in the City of Savannah, on the 8th of December next.” In the winter of 1859 Levi J. Knight’s mother and father both passed away.  His mother, Sarah Cone Knight, died of old age in November 1859 at the age of 80. The following month his father William Anderson Knight, revered Primitive Baptist minister, also succumbed at the age of 82.  Their deaths are recorded in the 1860 Berrien County Mortality Schedule under the names William Knyte and Sarah Knyte. The year came to a close with Levi J. Knight disposing of some of his Lowndes county property:          

Weekly Georgia Telegraph. Dec. 13, 1859. Advertisement. Pg. 1 FOR SALE! In Lowndes County – fourteen hundred and seventy (1470) acres land – particularly desirable for planting and conveniently located in one body. For description, apply to Gen. Levi J. Knight. Milltown, Berrien county, Ga., or to W. COWLES nov 12              at E.L. Strohecker & Co.

The 1860 United States Federal Census lists Levi J.Knight’s occupation as a farmer, with real estate valued at $5000, and a personal estate of $1500. Related Posts:

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

Related Posts:

Levi J. Knight ~ Wayne County Beginnings

  1. Wayne County Beginnings 1803-1827
  2. Settling Lowndes County 1827-1836
  3. Seminole Wars 1836 – 1842
  4. Antebellum Wiregrass 1843 -1860
  5. Civil War 1861-1865
  6. Wiregrass Reconstruction 1866-1870

In November of 1827 Levi J. Knight  became the original settler at Beaverdam Creek, Lowndes County, GA (now Berrien county). At the age of 24, he was already a leader,  experienced in military matters and in civil service. He was a man of action, an Indian fighter, and he was among the earliest pioneers to settle in the Wiregrass area of southern Georgia.    To this newly opened land he brought his new bride, Ann D. Herrin Knight. The couple had married just a few days earlier, on Nov 14, 1827 in an area of Wayne County that is now Brantley County, Georgia.

Levi’s parents, Sarah and William Anderson Knight, brothers Aaron Knight, William C. Knight, Jonathan Knight and others of the family connection had preceded them, having settled in Lowndes County two years earlier.  Levi J. Knight’s homestead became the nucleus of a community first known simply as Knight,  that later grew into present day Ray City, GA.

Wayne County Beginnings

Levi was born on the first of September, 1803 in Wayne County, Georgia.  His mother was Sarah Cone Knight; his father, Elder William Anderson Knight.  Levi grew up in Wayne County at the southern frontier of the young American nation. Wayne county had only been officially created by the Georgia General Assembly just three months before he was born. This land had been the ancestral home of the Creek Indians, and there was continuing conflict between the Native Americans and encroaching settlers. Despite efforts of the state of Georgia to take the Creek land by treaty,  conflicts continued as the Georgia Land Lotteries brought more settlers to the area.

Levi J. Knight’s family had been among the first to settle in Wayne county, his parents having arrived there in 1803 prior to his birth.  The Knights were well positioned in the community, and already had a long tradition of military service.  Both of Levi’s grandfathers were veterans of the Revolutionary War. His paternal grandfather, John Knight, had been a  sergeant in the 1st Georgia Battalion of Continental Troops in the American Revolution and had received several land grants in South Carolina, Georgia, and in Spanish Florida.  On his mother’s side, his grandfather was William Cone,  a Baptist pastor and Revolutionary soldier who served as a captain  in McLean’s Regiment of Georgia Troops, under General Francis Marion.  William Cone served as a major in the 1st Battalion of the Richmond County Militia  (see Levi J. Knight’s Military Heritage).

While Levi J. Knight was a young boy, his uncle Jonathan Knight was sheriff of Wayne County from 1810-1812 and became Captain of the Wayne County militia in 1813.  No doubt Captain Knight regaled his young nephew with pioneer tales- true stories all – of cattle ranching, tracking run-away slaves, and fighting privateers in Spanish Florida. At just 15 years old,  Levi J. Knight served as a private in the Wayne County militia. The militia was engaged in defending the frontier settlers from Indian attacks that continued even after the Creek War of 1814.

On May 3rd, 1824 extant legal records note that Levi J. Knight, along with Robert Stafford posted sureties in the amount of $500 for Sibbiah O’Neil [or O’Neal] for the guardianship of Martha and Mary T. O’Neil. The O’Neals were friends of the Knights.  Later, Sarah Amanda “Sallie” O’Neal,  daughter of Henry O’Neal and Jane Dowden, would marry Levi J. Knight’s nephew, Levi J. Knight, Jr. (son of John and Sarah Knight).

Before he was 21, on June 16, 1824 Levi was appointed as Sheriff of Wayne County to serve out an unexpired term. Shortly after that, his parents relocated to the soon-to-be-created Lowndes County area.  His father, William A. Knight, was elected as the first state senator from the new county, and his brother Jonathan was elected as the first representative.  Levi J. Knight served on the jury in the first Superior Court of the new county.

According to state records, in 1826 Levi J. Knight was working  as a state surveyor mapping land in north Georgia newly ceded by the Creek natives.  The Official Register of Land Lottery of Georgia, 1827 shows he was a “fortunate drawer” in the land lottery of 1827, having received Lot 223, District 23, Section 1 (Lee County, GA),  in the drawing of April 24,  1827.

It was in this situation that Levi courted and smartly married the former Mrs. Ann Donald Herrin. She was the 25 year-old daughter of  William and Elizabeth Clements, a well-to-do family of Wayne County. Levi J. Knight and Ann Herrin were wed on November 14, 1827 in Wayne County, Georgia.  Jonathan Knight, Justice of the Peace completed the marriage license.   Just days later, the newlywed pioneers headed south to settle on Beaverdam Creek in Lowndes County (now Berrien), Georgia.

From 1832 to 1840 Levi J. Knight was elected six times to the Georgia Assembly as the Senator from Lowndes County. His father had served in the same office before him.  L. J. Knight was a contemporary of John M. Berrien, for whom Berrien county was named.

Children of Levi J. Knight and Ann D. Clements Herrin:

  1. William Washington Knight – born about 1829 Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA; married Mary Elizabeth Carroll; died December 27 , 1863 Berrien County, Georgia
  2. Elizabeth Knight – born  April 14, 1830, Lowndes County, Georgia; married Hardeman Sirmans; died September 6, 1912, Berrien County, GA
  3. John Graham Knight – born June 23, 1832 Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA; married 1) Eliza B. Carter, 2) Mary Ann Davis; died May 8, 1908 Ray’s Mill, Berrien County, Georgia
  4. Sarah “Sally” Knight – born April 6, 1831 Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA; married Gideon Gaskins; died April 13, 1903
  5.  Mary Adelaide Knight – born about 1836 Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA; married Thomas M. Ray; died November 11, 1923
  6. Levi A. Knight – born about 1838 Lowndes County, GA; died about 1856
  7. Jonathan David Knight – born April 2, 1840 Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA; married Emily E. Brandon; died March 9, 1884
  8. Keziah A. Knight –  born about 1843 Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA; married James Aaron Knight

Sources:

  1. Huxford, F. (1922). Marriage Licenses Wayne County, Ga. in The South Georgia historical and genealogical quarterly A quarterly magazine devoted to the history and genealogy of southern Georgia and its settlers. Homerville, Ga: [s.n.]. Copied from Book “C” of transcribed records, pages 176 to 204, Covering Years 1809 to 1850. Available online at http://www.archive.org/details/southgeorgiahist00huxf
  2. Huxford, F. 1951. Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia, Vol 1. pg 159
  3. Hill, L. 2005. The CONE FAMILY HISTORY and its Variants such as MacCone, Kohn, Coan: Scotland/Ireland immigrants to USA. pgs 1822-1823
  4. http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~soup/Campbell/ps36/ps36_337.htm
  5. Huxford, F. (1916). History of Clinch County, Georgia, , comp. and ed. by Folks Huxford. Macon, Ga: J.W. Burke. pg. 265
  6. OLD RECORDS BOOK “H” OF BONDS, WAYNE COUNTY, GEORGIA, COURT OF ORDINARY, FIRST 77 PAGES in THE SOUTH GEORGIA HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL QUARTERLY. , VOL. 1, JULY 1922, NO. 3, pp. 03-05.
  7. Houston, M. L. (1929). Reprint of Official register of land lottery of Georgia, 1827. Columbus, Ga: Printed by the Walton-Forbes.
  8. Huxford, F. (1922). Marriage Licenses Wayne County, Ga. in The South Georgia historical and genealogical quarterly A quarterly magazine devoted to the history and genealogy of southern Georgia and its settlers. Homerville, Ga: [s.n.]. Copied from Book “C” of transcribed records, pages 176 to 204, Covering Years 1809 to 1850. Available online at http://www.archive.org/details/southgeorgiahist00huxf
  9. Georgia. (1927). Georgia’s official register. Atlanta: The Dept.
  10. New Georgia Encyclopedia. John Macpherson Berrien (1781-1856). http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-3239

WWI Registration Certificate of James Isaac Lee

James Isaac Lee (1876 – 1953)

James Isaac Lee was born in Berrien, Georgia, USA on 4 Feb 1876,  a son of Mary Eleanor Parrish (1849-1909) and John Lee (1842-1902).

His father, John Lee, was a Confederate veteran, having served with Company K, 5th Georgia Regiment and with Company E, 54th Georgia Regiment. His mother, Mary Eleanor Parrish, was a daughter of Molcy Knight and the Primitive Baptist minister, Elder Ansel Parrish.

James grew up on his father’s farm, located ” in the forks of Five Mile Creek and  Ten Mile Creek in what was then Berrien Co, GA (since 1920 in Lanier),”  about six or seven miles northeast of present day Ray City, GA.

James I Lee married Valeria Sirmans on November 19, 1902.  She was a daughter of Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight, and a granddaughter of General Levi J. Knight.  In fact, James I Lee and Valorie Sirmans were cousins, both being great-grandchildren of William Anderson Knight. In 1910, James and Valeria were working the farm they owned in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Rays Mill district. In 1920 Valeria Sirmans and James I Lee were living at Ray City, GA. They owned a farm next to Martha Sirmans. 

At the time of the 1918 draft registration for WWI, James I Lee gave the address of their farm as located on the RFD #2 mail route out of Milltown, GA.  (this was prior to the formation of Lanier County). James was 42 years old at the time of registration.  While he had been too old for the earlier registrations which sought men between the ages of 21 and 31, the third registration, conducted on September 12, 1918, required men up to age 45 to appear before the draft board.  James’ draft card shows that he was a self-employed farmer of medium height and build, with grey eyes and dark hair. He was physically disqualified for the draft as a result of “heart failure.”  However, James was issued a registration certificate. All men who registered were given bluish green certificates to prove they had registered. The certificate was embossed with an eagle at the top and merely stated the name of the registrant, date, and location of draft board. The Thomasville Daily Times-Enterprise admonished, “If you have reached the age of 18 years and not yet 46, you must register on September 12…you will be given a Registration Certificate to show you have complied with the law.  This certificate should always be carried.”

1918 Registration Certificate of James Isaac Lee. Image courtesy of Edith Mayo.

1918 Registration Certificate of James Isaac Lee. Image courtesy of Edith Mayo.

 Draft Registration

Related Posts:

Portrait of Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight

Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight

Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight , Berrien County, GA

Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight , Berrien County, GA

Ray City History
Hardeman Sirmans (1821 – 1896)  Elizabeth Knight (1830 – 1912)

Hardeman Sirmans was born October 25, 1821 in Appling County, Georgia, the son of Jonathan Sirmans and Martha “Patsy” Rouse.

During the Indian War in 1838-39 Hardeman Sirmans and his father served as privates under Captain Levi J. Knight (later General Knight) in the Lowndes County militia. They both appear on the 1838 Muster Roll of Captain Knight’s Independent Company.

In 1847 Hardeman married Elizabeth Knight, daughter of General Levi J. Knight and Ann D. Herrin. She was born in 1830.

According to Folks Huxford,

“Mr. Sirmans served in the Indian War as a private in a volunteer company of Lowndes County militia commanded by his father-in-law, Capt. (afterwards General) Levi J. Knight, August 15th to Oct 15 1838. He was 1st Lieutenant of the 664th militia district, Lowndes County, 1845-46, then served as Captain in same district 1847-1851. For nearly twenty years Mr. Sirmans was a member of the Masonic order, receiving his degrees in Butler Lodge, No. 211, F. & A.M. at old Milltown (now Lakeland) in 1858. He withdrew and was granted a demit Dec. 8 1877, on account of his church’s attitude toward secret orders. He united in 1877 with Empire Primitive Baptist Church and was baptized. On Jan. 21, 1888 he withdrew from the church, but was restored Nov. 21, 1888. On Nov. 26, 1892, charges were preferred against him in his church for voting the Populist ticket in the preceding General Election; however, the church minutes state he ‘satisfied’ the church, Dec. 24, 1892, and the charges were dropped. He remained a member until his death Sept. 21, 1896. His children seemed to have disagreed over the division of his estate, and it was finally divided by arbitration in Berrien Superior Court, March 8, 1897. Mrs. Sirmans died Sept. 6, 1912, and was buried by her husband in the cemetery at Empire Church.”

Before the Civil War, Hardeman Sirmans was a slave owner. One of his slaves was Richard McGowan. For a time after the war, Richard McGowan continued to live on the Sirmans farm, working as a farm laborer.

Children of Elizabeth Knight and Hardeman Sirmans:

  1. Levi Winfield Sirmans 1848 –  married Nancy R. Clements
  2. Jonathan D Sirmans 1850 – 1926 married Nancy Elizabeth Clements
  3. Sarah Malissa Sirmans 1852 – 1898
  4. Lott W. Sirmans 1854 – 1898 married Josephine Knight
  5. Thomas Hardyman Sirmans 1860 – 1931
  6. Martha Elizabeth Sirmans 1862 – 1935 married Joe S. Clements
  7. Joseph O Sirmans 1862 – 1848 married Olive Pearl Matheny
  8. Jay Sirmans 1864 – 1916 married Rachel Allifar Smith
  9. Clara Sirmans 1868 – 1928 married Frank Gallagher
  10. Christiana Sirmans 1869 – 1943 married Joseph Bartow Gaskins
  11. Annie B. Sirmans 1872 – 1963 married John Chilton Matheny
  12.  Valeria Sirmans 1874 – 1961 married James Isaac Lee

Related Posts:

Ray City Masons Celebrated Saint John the Baptist Day In 1936

Masons Lodge 553, Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia

Masons Lodge 553, Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia

A 1936 newspaper clipping commented on the activities of the Ray City Masonic lodge No. 553,

Atlanta Daily World
July 8, 1936 Pg 2
Valdosta, Ga.

St. John’s Day was held at Ray City last Sunday. Prof. C.O. Davis was the speaker. Prof. Davis is the Deputy Grand Master of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Georgia.

Masons have been a part of Ray City, GA history since the beginning of the town.   The lodge in Ray City was constituted in 1909. In 1910, as the Methodist church was being organized in Ray City, a revival was held in the Masonic hall.

Ray City founder Thomas M. Ray was a Mason, as were Perry Thomas Knight, A. J. Pert, James Henry Swindle, Caswell Yawn, Dr. Pierce Hubert, Hod Clements, D. Edwin Griner and Lucius Jordan Clements among others.   In 1909, Lacy Lester Shaw served treasurer of Ray City lodge No. 553. From 1858 to 1878 Hardeman Sirmans was a member Butler Lodge, No. 211 in Milltown.

At the time of his death in 1907 Judge A. H. Hansell, of the Southern Circuit, was the oldest living Mason in the state of Georgia.

A marble stone set in the only remaining commercial brick building in Ray City, designates it as the “Masonic Building,” one time home of the Free & Accepted Masons Lodge No. 553.  At Brian Brown’s  Vanishing South Georgia blog, Ray City residents have commented on the history of this building, which once was home to the Ray City drugstore and later, the Victory Soda Shop.

Lucius Jordan Clements and Eugenia Watkins Clements in Masonic garb.

Lucius Jordan Clements and Eugenia Watkins Clements in Masonic garb. Image courtesy of http://www.yatesville.net/

The Free and Accepted Masons were active in the Wiregrass long before the formation of the lodge at Ray City in 1909.   Lodge No. 211 was incorporated 50 years earlier at Milltown (nka Lakeland, GA) in 1858.  Somewhat earlier, St. John the Baptist Lodge No. 184 was constituted at Troupville on November 2, 1854.   Circuit riding Methodist reverend John Slade was a member there,  as were Norman Campbell, and William C. Newbern.   Andrew J. Liles,  postmaster of Milltown, was a member. The Masonic lodge at old Troupville met on the first and third Tuesday nights upstairs in Swains Hotel, situated on the banks of Little River and owned by Morgan G. Swain.

According to the History of Lowndes County, GA, the officers  of St. John the Baptist Lodge No. 184 were:

Reverend Thomas W. Ellis, Worshipful Master;
Ephriam H. Platt, Senior Warden;
Benjamin C. Clay, Junior Warden;
Charles H. Howell, Secretary;
John Brown, Treasurer;
William H. Dasher, Senior Deacon;
J. T. C. Adams, Junior Deacon;
John B. Cashan, Tyler.

Other founding members in addition to  those mentioned above were:

William T. Roberts, James H. Carroll, Adam Graham, Thomas Moore, William Dees, Daniel Mathis, Thomas D. Wilkes, S. D. Smith, James Harrell, J. N. Waddy. William J. Mabry, George Brown, William Jones, J. C. Pautelle, J. R. M. Smith, Reverend F. R. C. Ellis, Robert B. Hester, , William Godfrey, W. D. M. Howell, Hustice Moore, J. Harris, W. H. Carter,  William A. Sanford, Willis Allen, Jeremiah Williams, William A. Carter, John R. Walker, William D. Martin, J. E. Stephens, R. W. Leverett, L. M. Ayers, S. Manning, James Carter, Willis Roland, John W. Clark, James A. Darsey,  the Entered Apprentices Judge Richard A. Peeples, William Ashley, J. J. Goldwire, snd Fellowcrafts William T. Roberts and Moses Smith.

Troupville lodge member William J. Mabry, moved in 1856 to Nashville, GA, seat of the newly created Berrien County, where he built the first Berrien court house in 1857 and also became the first Worshipful Master of Duncan Lodge No. 3. Later, the St. John the Baptist Lodge No. 184 was moved from Troupville to Valdosta, GA.

A post on the Masonic Traveler Blog by mason and artist, Greg Stewart explains the significance of Saint John the Baptist Day.

The Saint’s Johns appear to Freemasons in several places in our catechisms. Their proximity and use in our rituals have been questioned for many years as to their use and placement. Looked at together, saint John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist serve to represent the balance in Masonry between zeal for the fraternity and learned equilibrium. The Saints John, stand in perfect parallel harmony representing that balance.

From a historical approach, The Saint John’s festival is said to be a widely celebrated Masonic holiday. Traditionally June 24th (or the summer Solstice) is taken to be John the Baptist’s day, which is celebrated in many cultures around the world. According to McCoy’s Masonic Dictionary, the Festival of St. John in summer is a duty of every Mason to participate in, and should serve to be a renewal and strengthening of fraternal ties and a celebration of Masonry from “olden-times”. It functions as a connection between the past and the future.

More on St. John’s Day via Masonic Traveler: Saint John the Baptist Day, Duality in One. June 24th.

Other Ray City Masons:

  • Eddie D. Boyette
  • Philip Dewitt Carter
  • Lorenzo D. Carter
  • William I. Barker
  • Dr. B. F. Julian
  • William Lawrence Swindle

Related Posts:

Jay Sirmans ~ Gator Man of Rays Mill, GA

Jay Sirmans of Rays Mill, GA circa 1899

Jay Sirmans of Rays Mill, GA circa 1899

Jay Sirmans (1864 – 1916)

Jay Sirmans was born during the Civil War, April 16, 1864 in the vicinity of present day Ray City, GA . His father was Hardiman Sirmans, well known Confederate veteran and planter of Berrien County.

On 22 March 1893 Jay Sirmans married Rachel Allifar Smith (born July 30, 1869) daughter of Mary Jane Whitehurst and John Woods Smith.

The couple made their home near Rays Mill (nka Ray City), GA next door to Jay’s father, and Jay engaged in farming.

In February 1899 a son arrived in the Sirmans household. Perhaps it was fatherhood that encouraged  Jay Sirmans to seek enterprising opportunities for supplemental income, or perhaps it was the renowned exploits of his father.

Homeplace of Rachel Smith and Jay Sirmans. Left to right: John Hardeman Sirmans, Jay Sirmans, Jay Mitchell Sirmans, and Rachel Smith Sirmans. The Jay Sirmans home was located about 3 miles out of Ray City on what is now Cherokee Rose Road. Image courtesy of http://berriencounty.smugmug.com/

Homeplace of Rachel Smith and Jay Sirmans. Left to right: John Hardeman Sirmans, Jay Sirmans, Jay Mitchell Sirmans, and Rachel Smith Sirmans. The Jay Sirmans home was located about 3 miles out of Ray City on what is now Cherokee Rose Road. Image courtesy of http://berriencounty.smugmug.com/

What ever the reason, in the summer of 1899, it might be said that Jay Sirmans was up to his armpits in alligators.  The Valdosta Times reported the story.

Valdosta Times
Tuesday, July 25, 1899
A Big ‘Gator

Nashville. – A monster Alligator nine feet and nine inches in length was brought to town the first of the week by Mr. Jay Sirmans who with others captured him in Ray’s Pond after a hard fight during which his gatorship was severely gigged in the side.  Mr. Carson, the cattle buyer, had offered a good round sum for a large one to ship West alive, and it was for this purpose the ‘gator was brought here, but the wound in his side was of such a serious nature that he died from its effect soon after reaching here. No doubt he would have been a genuine curiosity in the land of the Rancheros.  – Berrien County News.

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