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.

Annie B. Sirmans Once Owned Ray’s Mill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Burrell Hamilton Bailey Sells Out in 10th

Burrell Hamilton Bailey was a Wiregrass pioneer in the vicinity of present day Ray City, GA in the early 1800s. He was born 19 October 1826 in Irwin Co., Georgia, the son of Burrell Henry Bailey and Mary “Polly” Land.

According to the research of Phil Ray, Burrell Henry Bailey, the father, was appointed as a commissioner for superintending the first elections in Irwin County and was himself elected as an Inferior Court Justice in those elections held in March of 1820.  The very  first action of the Irwin Inferior Court was to authorize the Clerk of the Court to issue licenses to “tavern-keepers and retailers of spirituous liquors.”  Burrell Henry Bailey resigned from the court in May, 1821.

That July, Burrell Bailey and Isham Jordan were appointed by the Irwin county Inferior Court to survey and mark a portion of the first public road in Irwin county. Two years later, Isham Jordan would serve as a trailblazer and hunter for General John Coffee during the construction of a military road passing through the site of present day Nashville, GA and on southward to the Florida line (see Coffee Road Led to Creation of Lowndes County). Burrell Henry Bailey also served on the first Grand Jury in Irwin county in September 1820, and served as a Corporal in Company H, 4th Georgia cavalry.

After his father died in 1845, Burrell Hamilton Bailey sold his claim to Lot 241, a land grant of 490 acres in the 10th Land District,  Lowndes County (formerly Irwin County), GA.  This district covered a large area of Berrien county  including the present day area of Ray City, GA. Land records show that he sold this land to Bryan Edmondson in 1851.

(See Transcript below)

Burrell Hamilton Bailey 1851 land transaction with Bryan Edmondson, Lowndes County, GA (now Berrien County). Image courtesy of Phil Ray.

Burrell Hamilton Bailey 1851 land transaction with Bryan Edmondson, Lowndes County, GA (now Berrien County). Image courtesy of Phil Ray.

Georgia
Lowndes County

This indenture made and entered into the fifteenth day of September Eighteen hundred and fifty one between Burrell H. Bailey of the County and State aforesaid of the one part and Bryan Edmondson of the same place of the other part witnefseth that the said Burrel H Bailey for and in consideration of the sum of Two hundred and fifty Dollars to him in hand paid at and before the sealing and delivery of these presents the receipt where of is here by acknowledged hath granted bargained sold conveyed and confirmed unto the said Bryan Edmondson his heirs and afsigns all that tract & or parcel of Land situate lying and being in the Tenth District originally of Irwin now Lowndes County and known in the plan of said District by the number (241) Two hundred and forty One containing according to this plat is the Grant four hundred and ninety acres be the same more or lefs to have and to hold the said bargained premises to the only proper use benefit and behest of him the said Bryan Edmondson his heirs and afsigns forever in Fie Simple And I the said Burrell H. Bailey do by sinture of these presents warrant and find the aforesaid bargained prin Land from and against the claim or claims of myself my heirs executors administrators and afsigns and from the claim or claims of all and every other person or persons whatever unto the said Bryan Edmondson his heirs and afsigns forever in witnefs whereof I the said Burrell H. Bailey have herewith set my hand and seal this day and date above written signed sealed and acknowledged in presence of

Jesse Touchton                    Burrell H. Bailey
(2nd witness signature
not legible)

Enhanced detail of 1869 map of Berrien County, GA land lots in the 10th Land District, showing relative locations of Nashville, GA, Land lot 241, and homeplace of Levi J. Knight. Comparison with modern maps shows that the placement of rivers and streams is clearly distorted. Furthermore, this map shows General Knight's place located west of Cat Creek, when historical accounts indicate that the Knight homestead was east of the creek.

Enhanced detail of 1869 map of Berrien County, GA land lots in the 10th Land District, showing relative locations of Nashville, GA, Land lot 241, and homeplace of Levi J. Knight. Comparison with modern maps shows that the placement of rivers and streams is clearly distorted. Furthermore, this map shows General Knight’s place located west of Cat Creek, when historical accounts indicate that the Knight homestead was east of the creek.

In 1847 in Lowndes County, GA Burrell Hamilton Bailey married Rachel Sirmans Mattox.  She was the widow of Samuel Mattox who was hanged at Troupville in 1843, and had two children: Mary Mattox, born about 1843, and Aaron Mattox, born about 1844 in Georgia.  Rachel was the daughter of Jonathan Sirmans and Matha “Patsey” Rouse, and sister of Hardeman Sirmans.

After marriage, Rachel Sirmans and  Burrell H. Bailey lived at her father’s old home place.

In the 1850 Census  Rachel and Burrell are enumerated there in Lowndes County, with her two children and now with two daughters of their own;  Lavicey, age 3, and Winnifred H., age 1.  Living nearby is Rachel’s widowed mother, Martha Sirmans, age 59, head of her own household with her son, Abner (19).  Burrell H Bailey’s brother, Cullen Dean Bailey,  and sister-in-law, Elizabeth Ruth Herrin,  also had a farm nearby.

In 1856,  the Bailey’s land was cut out of Lowndes County,  with the creation of Berrien County.  Reader Sheri Felts contributes that Rachel’s mother moved sometime before 1860 to a place next to her son Mark R. Watson, where she farmed and cared for the children of her deceased son James Lemuel Kirkland. These children were Elizabeth Kirkland, John A. Kirkland, William O. Kirkland, and Rachel Kirkland;  Hardeman Sirmons was given actual guardianship of the children by his half brother James.

Rachel’s  brother, Abner Sirmans, took over her mother’s farm.  Rachel and Burrell continued to raise crops and children on their own place. The 1860 Census shows Rachel and Burrell H. Bailey and their children living on the farm adjacent to Abner Sirmans and his family.

Children of Burrell Hamilton Bailey and Rachel Sirmans:

  1. Luvicey L. Bailey, born April 26, 1848 in Georgia
  2. Winnifred H. Bailey, born about 1849 in Georgia died before 1860
  3. Lemuel H. Bailey, born March, 1851 in Laurens Co., Georgia married Mary Ann Gaskins on October 9, 1873. She was a daughter of Fisher J. Gaskins.
  4. Aurelius H. Bailey, born 1853 in Berrien Co., Georgia  probably died young.
  5. Martha M. Bailey, born March 14, 1854 in Georgia  married first Josiah Ray, this marriage ended in  divorce. She later married William Howard of Taylor County, Fl.
  6. Rachael Bailey, born April 1, 1856 in Taylor Co., Florida married John Slone of Madison County, FL
  7. Burrell H. Bailey Jr, born June 11, 1857 in Taylor Co., Florida married a  McLeod and moved to Madison County, FL
  8. Annie Eliza Bailey, born January 8, 1860 in Taylor Co., Florida married a Rowell and moved to Madison County, FL
  9. William Colonel Bailey, born April 10, 1862 in Berrien Co., Georgia
  10. John A. Bailey, born April 09, 1864 in Berrien Co., Georgia
  11. Sarah Almisy Bailey, born 1868 in Georgia
  12. Joseph S. Bailey, born May 30, 1870 in Georgia

Special thanks to Phil Ray for research contributing to this article.

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Frank Gallagher ~ Early 1900s Irish Optician of Ray’s Mill, GA

For more about the Gallagher family, and the history of Ray City, GA  see http://www.raycity.pbworks.com

Frank Gallagher was born June 24, 1867 in Northern Ireland.  About 1882, at age 16 he immigrated to the United States, and by the 1890s had made his way to the south Georgia town of Ray’s Mill, GA (nka Ray City).

On March 26, 1899, he married Clara  Sirmans, daughter of Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight.  She was born on April 25, 1868 in Berrien County, Georgia.

The Gallaghers made their home just a short distance to the east of Ray’s Mill.

Frank Gallagher Home, circa 1907, located just north of Ray City, GA. Left to right, Michael Gallagher, Clara Knight Sirmans Gallagher holding Ann Gallagher, Elizabeth Gallagher, and Frank Gallagher. Image courtesy of http://berriencounty.smugmug.com/

According to later census records, Frank Gallagher was educated with three years of high school. He was occupied most of his life in farming, but in the 1900 census of Ray’s Mill, GA he gave his occupation as “Optician.”

Did Frank Gallagher set himself up as an Optician with a Sears catalog?  Optometry was an unregulated business at that time. Anyone could purchase a mail order “Opticians’ Outfit’ and instantly become an optician. Advertisements of the time boasted, “no previous experience required,” and promised large profits.   The complete kit with instructional manual  sold for under $30.

1902 Advertisement for “Opticians’ Outfit,” Sears, Roebuck & Co.

By 1910, Frank Gallagher’s optometry career was over,  well before the state of  Georgia officially regulated the practice in 1916.

Clara Sirmans Gallagher died March 27, 1928. She was buried in Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, Georgia.

Grave of Clara Sirmans Gallagher, Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

Grave of Clara Sirmans Gallagher, Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

A tender mother and a faithful friend
Faithful to her trust even unto death

Children of Clara Sirmans and Frank Gallagher:

  1. Michael Gallagher 1900 – 1985, married December 26, 1936 to Niza T. Martin, Lowndes County, GA
  2. Ann Gallagher 1902 – 1995
  3. Elizabeth Gallagher 1906 – 1989

The census of 1940 shows 72-year-old Frank Gallagher living in the household of his widowed daughter, Ann Gallagher, and her children.  Also in the Gallagher household was lodger John Starling. Their neighbors were Elzie and Elizabeth Miller, and William Ernest Gaskins.

Frank Gallagher died April 12, 1846 and was also buried at Empire.

 

Grave of Frank Gallagher, Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

Grave of Frank Gallagher, Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

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Home of Hardeman Sirmans

The Berrien County Historical Society recently published this photo, circa 1910, of the home of Hardeman Sirmans, subject of earlier posts.  The Sirmans home was located just north of Ray City, GA.  Elizabeth “Betsy” Knight Sirmans is seated at center. Hardeman Sirmans died in this home in 1896 (see Hardeman Sirmans Obituary).  Visit Berrien County Historical Society to view larger image.

For more on Hardeman and Elizabeth Sirmans, see the Ray City History website.

Home place of Hardeman and Betsy Sirmans, circa 1910.

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Berrien County’s Oldest Resident Dies at Ray City

The August 7, 1930 edition of the Atlanta Constitution reported the following:

 Georgia Negro, 106, Dies in Ray City

Ray City, Ga., Aug 6 – “Uncle” Dick McGowan, a negro man believed to be Berrien county’s oldest resident died near here. He was 106 years of age.

McGowan was known to have been a slave, owned by the late Hardy Sirmons, of Ray City.  Hardy Sirmons died several years ago at an advanced age, and it was known that McGowan was at least 35 years old when Mr. Sirmons was born, giving a very authentic idea of the validity of the claim that the negro was 106 years of age at the time of his death.  McGowan had lived in the Ray City section of Berrien County all of his life and was known to all of the older residents of that section.

For a number of years McGowan was given a home and shelter at the home of Molly Hall, a negress who is known throughout this section of south Georgia as claiming to have supernatural powers as a “seeress.” The home of the Hall woman is a mecca to which literally thousands of white people journey every year in efforts to fathom mysteries of the past. Many wonderful stories are in circulation regarding the accuracy with which the woman draws away the mysterious veil for her clients.

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Hardeman Sirmans Obituary

Hardeman Sirmans died  September 21, 1896 in Ray’s Mill, Berrien County, Georgia

The Valdosta Times Saturday, September 26, 1896

 Mr. Hardy Sirman, an old and esteemed citizen of Berrien County, died at his home near Ray’s Mill on Monday night of last week, after an illness of only a couple of days. He was taken violently ill Saturday evening with something like cramp colic and found little relief until death ended his sufferings. He was sixty odd years old and leaves a wife and a large family of children and other relatives to lament his death.

Burial: September 23, 1896 Empire Church Cemetery, Berrien County, Georgia.

Hardeman Sirmans, Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

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