John Gaskins, Pioneer of Old Berrien

John Gaskins (1802 – 1865)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children of John Gaskins and Mary Pollie Barrow:

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

Clinch County News
April 23, 1937

John Gaskins – 1802-1865

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

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

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

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

Milledgeville Federal Union
August 21, 1866 — page 4

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

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Old Yaller’s Widow Was Denied Pension

In 1891 Mary A. Chapman, widow of “Old Yaller” Elbert J. Chapman , was destitute and applied for a Conderate Widow’s Pension from the State of Georgia. The pension was denied on the grounds that Chapman was a deserter.

Born Mary Ann Boyd in Lowndes County in the year 1836, she was a daughter of Aden Boyd and Nancy Sykes.  Her parents were neighbors of Dred Newbern and Jonathan Sirmans. County deed records show that on February 22, 1839, Aden Boyd purchased land from Levi J. Knight. This land was a part of lot 356, 10th district of what was then Lowndes but now Berrien County. Her parents were Primitive Baptists, and her father donated the land for Empire Church, which was originally known as Boyd’s Meeting House.

Mary Ann Boyd married Elbert J. Chapman in June of 1859.

Mary A. Chapman’s application for a Confederate Widow’s Pension was based on his service in Levi J. Knight’s Berrien Minute Men, but across the cover of the application was scrawled in large letters and underlined for emphasis – “Refused.” Further notations included, “husband shot for desertion.”

The application included an Affidavit made by the Widow Chapman.

According to Mary Chapman’s sworn statement, E. J. Chapman enlisted in the Berrien Minute Men in mid-September, 1861. “Some time during the war he was killed by his own men for deserting one company and going to another company of our own Army, and to the best of applicants knowledge, he was killed in North Ga in the year 1863.

This statement was corroborated by Harris Gaskins, Jesse Hodges, and Joseph S. Morris.

The three witnesses stated, “He was on or about the 15th day of Oct. 1863 killed by his own men for leaving his own company & joining the Artillery in the Western Army.  he was brought back from Jackson Mississippi and shot by Court Martial in Northern Georgia  witnesses state further, that E. J. Chapman was in a cavalry co in Mississippi when he was brought back, court martialed and killed.”

Later newspaper accounts of Old Yaller, Elbert J. Chapman, added the following:

“During the  administration of Governor Atkinson  Hon. F. M. Shaw, who was a member of the Legislature, saw in person the Governor and our Pension Commissioner, Mr. Lindsey, in regard to Mrs. Chapman drawing a pension, which had been rejected because her husband was a deserter. The fact that he only quit one command and went to another, that he had, in fact, deserted neither his flag nor his country, but was serving both faithfully and well when found in Canton, did not change the conclusion reached by the Pension Commissioner, and Mr. Shaw’s efforts to secure her a pension were in vain. She was an invalid and living in poverty.”

NOTE: The F.M. Shaw referred to above is usually known as F.M. Shaw, Jr.  to distinguish him from the Francis Marion Shaw who lived at Ray City.  F.M. Shaw, Jr. was from the Adel community:

“Francis Marion Shaw, Jr. owned large tracts of land east of Adel, much of which was later deeded to his children. He served in various civic positions, including that of Chairman of the Berrien County Board of Education, County Commissioner for several terms, and state Representative, the latter an office to which he was elected in 1894.”

Civil War Bullet Dodger Hardeman Giddens Finally Catches One in 1887

Found an article in the Columbus Enquirer-Sun about the shooting of Hardeman Giddens that complements a previous finding  in the Valdosta Times.

Hardeman Giddens survived the Civil War unscathed, but on December 25, 1887  while attending a Christmas party he was shot by John Newbern.

Columbus Enquirer-Sun, Jan 5, 1887 –page 3
Christmas night there was a dance at Harris Gaskin’s in the southeastern portion of Berrien County. Quite a crowd were in attendance. Some time while the dancing was in progress John Ashley Newbern who, with others, was outside of the house, began firing his pistol. Hard Giddins asked him to cease firing, and attempted to take the pistol from him. Three shots were fired and the third one struck Mr. Giddins in the left side and ranged around and lodged in the right side. The wound is not dangerous. 

The Valdosta Times Saturday, January 8, 1887
A Good Soldier.
Mr. Hardy Giddens, of this county, went into the army at the commencement of the war and fought through till the close. In the Battle of Chickamauga his clothing was torn in twenty-seven places by bullets, only two of which touched his flesh, cutting the skin on the left hip and grazing the little finger on the left hand. One bullet cut  a shoe-string in two, another burst his canteen, one cut his cartridge belt in two, one tore the leaf of his cap off and one cut the breach of his gun in two while shooting. His regiment, the Twenty-Ninth, Georgia, went into the fight with about 700 men and came out with twenty-seven. His company, Company K, were all killed, wounded and captured, except one and his clothing was riddled with bullets. Mr. Giddens is now 46 years old, is hale and hardy, and is one of Berrien’s solid farmers.
-Alapaha Star.

We learn that since the above started on the rounds, Mr. Giddens has fallen a victim at last to a bullet fired by some one at a country frolic in Berrien County.

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Portrait of Hardeman Giddens and Martha Gaskins

Hardeman Giddens and the Big Fishing Frolic

Georgia Gossip about Hardeman Giddens

Berrien County’s Oldest Resident Dies at Ray City

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