Smith and Jones Open Bank at Ray’s Mill

In 1911, B. P. Jones, President of the Valdosta Bank and Trust, and Clarence L. Smith, Vice President, came to Rays Mill, GA on business. Jones’ wife was a daughter of Jonathan Knight, and a granddaughter of Reverend William A. Knight.

Valdosta Times, May 23, 1911 news item,

Valdosta Times, May 23, 1911 news item, “Organized bank at Rays Mill”

The Valdosta Times
May 23, 1911

Organized Bank at Rays Mill

Messrs B. P. Jones and C. L. Smith went up to Rays Mill this morning for the purpose of organizing a Bank at that place to be known as the Bank of Rays Mill.  It will have a capital stock of $25,000.

The Ray City investors received a State Bank Charter and opened for business on August 14, 1911.  The other investors were: J.S. Swindle, J.H. Swindle, M.T. Bradford, W.H.E. Terry, Riley M. Green, and J. F. Sutton, all of Berrien county; and Charles Lee Jones and  J.B. Griffin, of Lowndes county. The Bank of Ray’s Mill  would later be known as the Citizens Bank of Ray City.

The principal banker, Benjamin Perry Jones, was a former resident of Berrien County, and had operated mercantile at Milltown where he also had a liquor dealer’s license.  In 1868, during Reconstruction, Benjamin Jones, along with H. T. Peeples and James E. Williams, represented Berrien County at the organization of the Democratic Convention of the First Congressional District, convened at Blackshear, Pierce County, Georgia on September 16, 1868.

In 1913, a biographical sketch of Benjamin P. Jones was included in A history of Savannah and south Georgia:

Harden, William,. A history of Savannah and south Georgia. Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1913.

p. 747-749

   BENJAMIN P. JONES, the president of the Valdosta Bank and Trust Company has had a long career in business, has won prosperity and influence much above that of the average man, and yet began with little or nothing and for a number of years had a hard struggle with the obstacles of business life. Mr. Jones is one of the prominent citizens of south Georgia, and has been identified with Valdosta from the time it was a small village.

   Mr. Benjamin P. Jones was born, June 25, 1837, in that part of Camden now Charlton county, Georgia. His grandfather was James Jones, thought to have been a native of Georgia, who was a Camden county planter, having a number of slaves, and died there at the age of seventy-five, his remains now reposing in the Buffalo churchyard. He married a Miss Davis, who was upwards of eighty when she died, and they reared a large family of children. They were Primitive Baptists in religion.

   Burrell Jones, father of the Valdosta banker, was born in Wayne county, Georgia, April 29, 1803. About the time of his marriage he bought land near Folkston, living there a few years, and about 1840 returned to Wayne county and located on a farm near the present site of Lulaton, where he made his home until his death in 1877. He married Mary Margaret (known as Peggy) Mizell, who was born in Bulloch county, August 9, 1809. Her father, Jesse Mizell, of English stock and a native of North Carolina, was a soldier of the Revolution under Jasper at Savannah and with Marion during that leader’s valorous excursions against the British. He was with the command when it crossed the Peedee river, first lay blankets on the bridge to deaden the sound of the horses’ hoofs, and in this way surprised the enemy. Some years after the Revolution Jesse Mizell came to Georgia, living two years in Camden county, and then moved into the interior, settling near the present site of Folkston in Charlton county, where he bought land and was engaged in farming and stock raising until his death at the age of about sixty. He married a Miss Stallings, a native of North Carolina and of Dutch ancestry. Mary M. Mizell, the mother of Mr. Jones, spent her early life on the Georgia frontier, and for the lack of educational advantages she compensated by her great natural ability and force of character. Her husband was for many years an invalid, and the care of the children devolved entirely upon her. She reared them to habits of industry and honor, and they paid her all filial reverence. Her death occurred in 1885. Her nine children were named as follows: Harley, Joseph, Benjamin P., Margaret, James B., Nancy C., Harriet, Jasper N. and Newton J.   Harley and Joseph were Confederate soldiers and died during their service for the southern cause.

   Though in his youth he had little opportunity to obtain an education, Benjamin P. Jones managed to obtain an education largely through his own efforts at self-improvement and an ingrained habit of close observation. When he was seventeen he became a teacher, and while he did good service while in this occupation it may be remembered that qualifications for teaching were not very high at that period. Anyone could teach who could find others who knew less than himself, and there was no formality of examination. Intellectual curiosity was a passion with him from an early age, and the time most children give to play with their comrades he devoted to association in company with his elders, thus learning by listening. When he was twelve years old he once attended a court session, listening attentively to the evidence and the charge to the jury. At recess the judge asked why he was so absorbed in the proceedings. The boy replied that it was because he wanted to learn, and then asked the judge why he charged the jury as he did. That was equity, responded the judge, and after explaining the meaning of that word told the boy that if he ever had occasion to make out papers to make them out in accordance with equity and justice and he would sanction them if brought before his court. Chopping cotton at twenty-five cents a day and board was the means by which Mr. Jones earned his first money. A little later he became clerk in a general store at Lulaton, and after a time engaged in business for himself at Stockton, Georgia. Hardly had his trade started when a panic paralyzed all business, and he found himself in debt fifteen hundred dollars, which took him some time to pay off.

   Early in 1861 Mr. Jones enlisted in Company D of the Twenty-sixth Georgia Infantry, and was with that command in the coast defense until the regiment was ordered to Virginia, when he secured a substitute. Confederate money was then plentiful but away below par, and he bought a farm for three thousand dollars, at war-time prices, going in debt for the greater part of this amount. He was busily engaged in farming until 1864, when he enlisted with the Georgia Reserves, being commissioned first lieutenant and being in actual command of his company. The Reserves went to the defense of Atlanta, but from Griffin his company was sent back to recruit and apprehend deserters, and he was on detached duty until the close of the war. After making three crops on his farm he sold the land for four hundred dollars, and with that money and what he had realized from his crops engaged in the mercantile business at Milltown in Berrien county. Nine days after opening his store an epidemic of smallpox broke out, he was quarantined fifty-two days, and at the end of that time offered to sell his entire stock for three hundred dollars but could not find a buyer. Owing to this circumstance he went on with his business, at the same time buying cotton and dealing in live stock, and in four years had so reversed the current of his previous fortunes that he had cleared up fourteen thousand dollars. Then selling out at Milltown he went to southern Florida, where he opened two stores and established a grist and saw mill, and was engaged in business there until 1874, when ill health compelled him to make a change. He sacrificed eight thousand dollars by the move, and then came to Valdosta, which was then a village. Here he bought an established general store and a home for three thousand dollars, and was prosperously identified with the mercantile enterprise of this city for twenty years. In 1894 Mr. Jones organized the Valdosta Guano Company, and in 1906 the Valdosta Bank & Trust Company, of which he has since been president, with his son C. L. as cashier.

   On June 25, 1862, Mr. Jones married Miss Elizabeth Knight, who was born in Clinch county, October 18, 1843, representing an old family of southern Georgia. Her grandfather, Rev. William Knight, was a pioneer preacher in this part of the state. He married a Miss Cone. Jonathan Knight, the father of Mrs. Jones, was born in that part of Lowndes now Berrien county, and spent his life as a farmer in Clinch and Berrien counties. Mr. and Mrs. Jones reared thirteen children, named as follows: Jonathan H., Charles Lee, Frances M. McKenzie; Lillie Roberts, Samuel W., Elizabeth Fry, Benjamin U., Jimmie Staten Green, Eulah Norris, Pearl Mashburn, Lloyd E., Lotta and Audrey Terry.

   Mr. Jones has been identified with the Masonic order since he was twenty-seven years old. He is a member of the Economic League of Boston, Massachusetts, a society for the betterment of mankind. He has been one of the influential men in political life for many years. His first presidential vote was cast for John C. Breckenridge in 1860. He was opposed to secession, in a speech in which he said that if the sixteen southern states would all go out in a body, taking the constitution in one hand and the flag in the other, he would favor the movement with his vote, but not otherwise. In subsequent years he has served as delegate to many county and state conventions, was a delegate to the national conventions that nominated General Hancock and Grover Cleveland, and was also one of the sound-money Democratic delegates of 1896 who nominated Palmer and Buckner. Since 1898 he has not been allied with any party, and as a free lance has supported the individual who best represents his ideas of government.

Me and Mrs. Jones: Harmon Gaskins Had A Thing Going On – Twice

Over the course of his life, Harmon Gaskins twice married widows named Mrs. Jones.  He first married Melissa Rouse Jones, widow of Clayton Jones, and second married Mary McCutchen Jones, widow of Matthew Jones. For nearly forty years, Harmon Gaskins and his family lived near Five Mile Creek, about six or seven miles northeast of present day Ray City, GA.

Graves of Melissa and Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Graves of Melissa and Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Harmon Gaskins was one of the early pioneers of Berrien County, originally settling along with his father, Fisher Gaskins, and brothers John and William 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.

Born in Beaufort, South Carolina around 1808, Harmon Gaskins was the youngest son of Rhoda Rowe and Fisher Gaskins, and a grandson of Thomas Gaskins, Revolutionary Soldier.  Fisher Gaskins and his family appear there in Beaufort District in the Census of 1810.  That same year, when Harmon was perhaps two years old, his mother died.   His widowed father packed up the five young children and moved the family back to Warren County, GA, where the family had lived prior to 1807.  There, on January 17, 1811 his father remarried.  Harmon’s new step-mother was Mary Lacy.  Her father, Archibald Lacy, was also a veteran of the Revolutionary War. His stepmother’s brother, the Reverend John B. Lacy, would later become a prominent Primitive Baptist Minister

It was about this time that Harmon’s father, Fisher Gaskins,  began to expand his livestock operations. Soon he was looking to acquire good land on which to raise his growing herds of cattle. By 1812,  Harmon’s father had moved the family to Telfair County, GA where there was good grazing land for his cattle. His father was very successful in the cattle business and soon had large herds, not only in Telfair County, but also in Walton and other surrounding counties where good natural pasturage could be had.

Around 1821, Harmon’s father moved his family and cattle yet again, this time to the newly created Appling County, GA, south of the Ocmulgee River.  Harmon Gaskins, now a lad of 12 or 13 years, moved with the family.

By the end of 1825, the Georgia Legislature formed the new county of Lowndes out of the southern half of Irwin County. It was around that time or shortly thereafter, Harmon’s father brought his cattle herds and family father south into that portion of Lowndes County that would later be cut into Berrien County.  Fisher Gaskins (Sr.) brought his family into Lowndes County and settled west of the Alapha River perhaps a little south of the present day Bannockburn, GA, and about 15 miles north of the area where William A. Knight, Isbin Giddens,  and David Clements were settling their families above Grand Bay.

Around 1832, Harmon’s father moved farther south into Florida where it was said that there was even better pasture land for cattle. Harmon stayed behind, as well as his brothers, William and John.

Harmon Gaskins married about 1835 and first established his own home place on the Gaskins land near Gaskins cemetery.  Harmon Gaskins, and his brothers William and John, were among Captain Levi J. Knight’s Company of men who fought in the Indian Wars of 1836.  Many published accounts of the pioneer skirmishes with Native Americans at  William Parker’s place on the Alapaha River and at Brushy Creek have been related on the Ray City History Blog.

In the late 1830s, Harmon Gaskins moved his family to a location near Five Mile Creek, about six or seven miles from present day Ray City, GA.  The Census of 1850 shows the Harmon Gaskins place was located next to the farm of Mark Watson, which was  in the area of Empire Church.  Harmon Gaskins kept his residence here until 1875, when he decide to build a place nearer the Alapaha River. Just two years later, Harmon Gaskins died and was buried at the Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Sixty years after his death, the Clinch County News ran an account of Harmon Gaskins life in Berrien County:

The Clinch County News
April 23, 1937

Harmon Gaskins – 1808-1878

    This the youngest of the three sons of Fisher and Rhoda Rowe Gaskins, was born in 1808, and began life for himself as a laborer on the farm of a neighbor, Mrs. Clayton Jones.  He was about grown when his father decided to move to Florida; and ere long he was in love with Mrs. Melissa Jones, widow of Clayton Jones.  Mrs. Jones’ husband had moved to this county from Emanuel County along with the Sirmans family of Clinch and Berrien counties.  Her husband died about 1830 or 1832 and left her with three children, viz; Irving Jones and Henry Jones and Harriet who later married Wm. M. Avera.  The daughter Harriet was only about two or three years old when her father died, she being born in 1829.  Mrs. Melissa Jones was an illegitimate daughter of Miss Martha (Patsy) Rouse who later became the wife of Jonathan Sirmans of this [Clinch] county. The father of this illegitimate child was named Rowland, a fair-haired, blue-eyed Scotch-Irish man of handsome mien and who deceived the youthful maiden and went away never to return.  This illegitimate child grew up and married Clayton Jones in Emanuel county, and they came to Berrien county about 1825, and he died about 1830-2 as already stated, leaving his widow possessed of a home and farm and with five children to take care of.  Harmon Gaskins, about her age, but a little younger, after working for her on the farm a year or two, proposed marriage and was accepted and they were married about 1835.
    Their first child Rhoda was born Jan. 17, 1837, at the old homestead which was located on the Willacoochee Road leading east from Nashville by way of Avera’s Mill 7 miles east of Nashville and near the Gaskins Graveyard.
    The early life of Harmon Gaskins was not  different from that of other pioneers’ sons growing up in the atmosphere of frontier life.  He was reared to live the chase and many were the conquests made by him in company with his father and brothers of the wild beasts that then abounded and roamed through the country.  Like his father and brothers, he became the owner of a vast herd of cattle, and from the proceeds of sales of his beef-cattle each year he was able to save up gold and silver which in his hands stayed out of the channels of trade for years at the time. He was inured to the hardships of life as it then existed.  His only mode of travel was horseback unless he had to make a trip to a distant trading-point for supplies that could not be produced on the farm.  In such event of a trip, the horse was hitched to a two-wheeled cart of his own construction he being an excellent blacksmith and wheelright; and journey made in company with two or three neighbors situated like himself.  They drove their carts sitting astride their horses, and took rest-spells by occasionally walking by the side of the horse.  Such trips had to be made to St. Marks, Fla., or to old Center Village in what is now Charlton county.  An occasional trip would be made to Savannah but most of the trips were made to the other points named; these trips were usually about once a year, and would last a week or ten days.
  After the birth of two or three children the homesite of Harmon Gaskins was moved to a different location on the same lot of land and for many years he lived near Five-Miles Creek just east of his first location. This was  his home until about 1875 when he decided to locate on a lot of land which he had owned for several years lying nearer the Alapaha River and east of his old home.  Here he constructed a plain log dwelling and began the work of making a new home for himself and family, renting out the old home-place. He died at his last location.
    After the death of his first wife, Mr. Gaskins was married to Mrs. Mary Jones, widow of Matthew Jones and daughter of Robert and Cornelia McCutcheon, pioneer citizens of Irwin and Berrien counties.  By his two marriages, Mr. Gaskins had fourteen children – nine by his first wife and five by the second wife.
     Harmon Gaskins’ death was sudden and was deemed by his older children to appear to have been surrounded with peculiar circumstances.  A suspicion arose that he was poisoned by his wife.  This suspicion was nursed and grew in the minds of the children until it was determined several weeks later to have the body exhumed and a post mortem examination of the stomach made.  The State Chemist failed to find any trace of poison and the decision reached that he came to his death by natural causes.  This however engendered much bitterness and ill-feeling between the widow and her step children, and she entered suit for damages for slander.  She was given a verdict for $1600.00.  She later married Alfred Richardson by whom she had four children, and with whom she lived until a few years before her death in 1918.
    Harmon Gaskins enjoyed but few and limited opportunities for obtaining an education.  Nevertheless he was one of the best-posted men on political issues and economics of his time.  He was a liberal subscriber to the newspapers of his day, and he had a good collection of books on history and other subjects of all of which he was a great student. His counsel was found to be safe and his judgement sound; he was often sought after by others.  He was appointed one of the first judges of the Inferior Court of Berrien County, serving many years.  After the court was abolished he served many years as Justice of the Peace.  However, he never sought political office but rather preferred to stay home.  He labored with his own hands as long as he lived, and put in a good day’s work the day before he died.
At the death of his father in Columbia county, Fla., he inherited a large stock of cattle from the estate which ranged in Volusia and St. Johns counties, Fla., and until a few years preceding his death he made trips down there once a year for the purpose of rounding up the cattle, marking and branding the calves, and talking over his business affairs with those he had arranged to look after the herds.  The men were usually men living in the neighborhood there and under their contract were to look personally after the cattle and pen them about three months in the spring and each summer in order to keep them tradable, and sell the beef steers in the summer, and bring the money from the sales to the owner. For this service the herder was to receive every fifth calf raised and these calves were marked and branded for the herder at the April round-up.
I
ncompetent and probably dishonest herders in due time began to appear among those entrusted with the care of the Florida herds, and this with the gradual failing of the range and the development of the country there and the influx of people, all worked to the detriment of the enterprise. The income from the cattle grew less each year until Mr. Gaskins decided to sell what he had left and let Florida cattle growing alone. Thus he sold out about 15 or 20 years before he died. After his death some sixteen hundred dollars in gold and silver coin and several hundred dollars in paper money was divided among his heirs after having lain in his trunk for many years.
    The children by the first wife were:
    (1) Rhoda, born Jan. 17, 18–, married first to Francis Mobley and after his death in the civil war she married Wm. M. Griner.
    (2) Martha, married first to Thomas Connell who was killed in the civil war; second to William Parker who died three months later; third husband, Hardeman Giddens, was a first cousin on her mother’s side.
(3) Nancy, married Solomon Griffin of Berrien county.

    (4) Fisher H., married Polly Ann Griner.
    (5) Harmon Jr.  Never married, died a young man during the war.
    (6) Rachel, married William Griffin.
    (7) Sarah C., married Samuel Griner.
    (8) Thomas H., married Rachel McCutcheon.
    (9) John A., married Mary Bostick.
    The children by the second wife were: Wayne and Jane who died in childhood; Harmon E. Gaskins, never married, living single in east Berrien county; William H. Gaskins  and David D. Gaskins, The latter married Elsie Hughes.

Grave of Melissa Gaskins, 1810-1864, wife of Harmon Gaskins, buried at Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Melissa Gaskins, 1810-1864, wife of Harmon Gaskins, buried at Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave of Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA