The case of Joe Wilmot

In January of 1911, word came of bloodshed at the  West Bay Company near Chipley, Florida.  The first mention of the violence was in the local paper:

The Chipley Banner, January 12, 1911

A Mr. May at a turpentine still at West Bay was shot and instantly killed Monday by a negro.  Another man was also wounded. We have been unable to hear any of the particulars.

The company was described by The  Americus Times-Recorder in 1907   as  “the West Bay Naval Stores and Lumber Company, of Florida, the syndicate which recently bought from the J. P. Williams Land Company, of Tallahassee, 44,000 acres of virgin pine and cypress near St. Andrews.  The syndicate is largely composed of Georgia men. ” Headquartered  in Florida, the West Bay Company  was “one of the most extensive timber companies in the South.”

West Bay Naval Stores and Lumber Company, of Florida

West Bay Naval Stores and Lumber Company, of Florida

Valdosta resident Dr. Elbert Pinkney Rose  was a prominent timber man with business interests in the Chipley, FL area.   His involvement in the story  which was reported in The Valdosta Times:

The Valdosta Times
January 17, 1911  Page 5

NEGRO KILLED 2 WHITE MEN

One of Them Locked Him in a Room to Whip Him When he Drew Gun and Fired.

Dr. E. P. Rose returned on Saturday morning  from Point Washington , Fla., where he has been for a week or more looking after his interest in that section.  Dr. Rose was in Point Washington when R. S. Mays, of West Bay, and a bookkeeper for the West Bay Naval Stores Company, named Gooding were shot to death by a negro named Joe Wilbur.

       The tragedy occurred at West Bay some distance above Point Washington.  It seems that there were three or four negroes working for the West Bay Naval Stores Company,  who were going to move to Point Washington and work  for Rose and Dasher.  Mr. Mays went to Point Washington to see Dr. Rose about transferring the hands and Dr. Rose paid him the amount that was due his company by three of the negroes.  Mr. Mays told Dr. Rose not to pay him Wilbur’s  account until the wagon was sent to move the negro, as Wilbur was a married negro and Mays said that he could keep matters straighter by settling when he started to move.  A day or two later a wagon was sent to West Bay to move the negroes.  A white man named Postell was in charge of it. After settling with Mays for Wilbur’s account, May told Postell that he wanted to see Wilbur, who at that time was at his shanty packing up his effects.  Postell told Mays that he thought Wilbur was afraid of him and that he didn’t want to come about him.  It is said that Mays became angry and told Postell to move out as quick as he could and not to feed his horses around there.  Mays then started down to the shanty where Wilbur was, the bookkeeper for the West Bay Company following him and begging him not to get in a fuss with the negro or any one else, as he might get hurt.  Mays is said to have remarked that he would look out for that, and went on to the shanty.

      When he reached the shanty he walked in and closed the door behind him and began to strike at the negro who was packing up his goods.  The negro drew his revolver and shot five times, either one of four of the bullets being sufficient to cause death.  The negro then reloaded his revolver and pulled open the door.  Gooding was standing on the steps and fired at the negro, but the negro returned the fire inflicting a wound that caused Gooding’s death.  Gooding was paralyzed by the first shot and in trying to shoot the negro again his pistol fired aimlessly,  the bullet hitting a mule in the thigh.   The animal did not appear to be very badly hurt, but died before reaching Point Washington.  The negro who did the shooting fled from the scene immediately afterwards.  Dr. Rose does not think there would have been any trouble at all if Mr. Mays had not gone to the shanty and began fighting the negro.

An article in the May 18, 1911 edition of the Atlanta Constitution reported on the arrest of the fugitive Willmont at Ray City, Ga.

NEGRO IS ARRESTED FOR DOUBLE MURDER

Willmont Shot Overseer Who It Was Said Was Trying to Whip Him.

Valdosta, Ga., May 17. -(Special.)- Joe Willmont, alias Will Nelson, a negro, charged with the murder of two white men near Chipley, Fla., is in jail here. The man is charged with the killing of Superintendent Mays, of the West Bay Naval Stores Company, of West Bay, Fla., and another employee of the company, a Mr. Goodwin, who were shot to death by the negro last January. Immediately after the tragedy Willmont or Nelson made his way to this section of the state and has been working for a turpentine operator at Ray’s Mill, Ga., for several months. The killing of Mays and Goodwin came about as a result of a whipping Mays tried to administer to the negro when he learned that Willmont was going to quit the employ of his firm. Goin to the negro’s cabin, Mays let himself in and locked the door, when he was shot to death. Goodwin was killed as the negro threw the door open and fired at him.

Sheriff I. C. Avera

Sheriff I. C. Avera

The Valdosta Times gave a more detailed account of the arrest.  After informants reported the whereabouts of the fugitive to Valdosta Chief of Police Calvin Dampier,  Willmont was apprehended in Rays Mill, GA by Berrien County Sheriff I.C. Avera. Willmont was working in Rays Mill in the employ of turpentine operator David Asa Sapp.

The Valdosta Times
May 20, 1911  Page 9

 DAMPIER  GETS $500 REWARD

 Negro who Killed two White Men in Florida is in Prison in Valdosta

       Locked in prison here is a negro murderer for whose arrest a reward  of $500 is outstanding.
      The negro is charged with killing two white men, R. S. Mays and D. J. Goodwin, of the West Bay Naval Stores Company, near Chipley, Fla., early in January.   The news of the tragedy was published in the Times at the time and is remembered by the readers of this paper.
      The negro’s name is Joe Willmont, but he has been going by the name of Will Nelson in this section.  He was located at Rays Mill last Friday or Saturday by Chief of Police Dampier.  He was driving a wagon for a turpentine operator, Mr. Sapp, and he was located by accident, though Chief Dampier has received a number of letters in regard to him from Sheriff C. G. Allen, of Chipley, Fla.
       Last Friday Chief Dampier sent a “spotter” to Rays Mill to see if he could not locate a negro who was accused of reckless shooting in this city and who, it was hoped, could by landed in time for the grand jury  to consider him after Recorder Varnedoe finished with him.   This negro could not be found, but the chief’s “spotter” told him that he saw a negro there who was a fugitive from Florida.  The “spotter” knew his name as well as his alias.
      Chief Dampier looked in his “rogue’s gallery” and found the descriptions, as well as the letters which he had received from Florida in regard to the negro.  He then telephoned Sheriff Avera, of Berrien, and asked him if he would not catch him and bring him to Valdosta.  The sheriff replied that he would be glad to do so, as he had business that day at Rays Mill.
     Yesterday morning the Berrien sheriff dropped off at Rays Mill, found Willmont driving a wagon and took him in charge.  Arriving here the sheriff was told who the negro was and what he was wanted for, and that there was a reward of $150 for him, that being the amount which the state of Florida had offered.  Chief Dampier immediately wired to Sheriff Allen and informed him of the negro’s arrest.  The sheriff wired back that the reward for him was  five hundred dollars and that he would come for him at once. 

Charges Against the Negro.

     The negro admits that he shot both of the men and also that he killed Mays, but he does not know whether Goodwin died or not.  He says that Mays came to his shanty, and locked the door on him for the purpose of whipping him and that he shot him because he had done nothing to be whipped for.  He says that he was going to leave Mays employ, but that it was satisfactory to Mays, he thought, but when the wagon came to move him Mays seemed to get mad and decided to beat him.
      At the time of the tragedy The Times learned that the negro had been working for the West Bay Naval Stores Company under Mays, who was superintendent.  Rose and Dasher made a trade with the West Bay people under which several hands were to be exchanged, Willmont being among the number.  Several days after the agreement was made Rose and Dasher’s wagon went over to the West Bay quarters to get Willmont and his effects.  Mays , it is said, wrote them a letter showing that the transfer was all right, but stated to the driver of wagon that he wanted to give Willmont a “beating before he left.”  Mays is said to have gone to the negro’s  house and locked himself in it with the negro. The shooting followed and Mays was killed.
     The negro  ran from the house and Goodwin fired at him, the bullet hitting the door.  The negro shot him down and continued his flight.  Goodwin died a few days later.
     An officer will come from Florida as soon as requisition papers can be secured for the fugitive.  The negro shot him down and continued his flight.  Goodwin died a few days later.
     It is said that the slayer has been living in this section ever since then, though the fact was not known until Chief Dampier got onto him last Friday.
     An officer will come from Florida as soon as requisition papers can be secured for the fugitive.  The negro is between twenty-five and thirty years of age, is of medium size, black, not bad looking, but is said to be desperate.  He does not like the idea of going back to Florida, as he is afraid of being lynched.

Sheriff Charles G. Allen, of Chipley, FL, came to Valdosta to take custody of Willmont.

The Chipley Banner., May 18, 1911

Sheriff Allen left last night for Valdosta, Ga., to get Joe Wilmot, the negro who murdered Messrs Mays and Godwin, at West Bay, a few months ago.

The Valdosta Times
May 30, 1911  Page 3

 CARRIED BACK TO FLORIDA

Sheriff Allen Came up Today and got the Murderer of Mays and Gooding.

 (From  Fridays Daily)

       Sheriff Allen of Washington county, Florida, reached this city [Valdosta, GA] this morning with requisition papers authorizing him to get Joe Wilmont, the negro who is wanted for the murder of R.D. Mays and D. J. Gooding, near Chipley, Fla.
      Sheriff Allen says that it is a very small county, but that this negro makes eight murderers in jail there to be tried at the next term of court.
      He also says that from what he understands the killing of the two men was  almost unprovoked and that there is a serious case against the negro.
      It is learned from another source that the reward for the negroe is about $500 of which $200 of the amount was offered by the widow of the dead man.  The company for which he worked also offered a reward and the state offered a reward of $150.
      It is said that May had $5000, accident insurance on his life, but the company will not pay the claim until the negro has been tried and it has been proven whether or not the killing was due to recklessness on the part of Mays or was a case of pure murder.  If the evidence shows that Mays was murdered the Company will be liable for the insurance, but if it is found that he was killed by the negro in self defense it will claim that it is not liable.
      It is said that the negro shot Mays three times after Mays had fallen to the ground.  The negro does not claim that Mays  tried to whip him but he says that he thought Mays was going to try it and that is the reason that he killed him.

The trial of Joe Willmont was not concluded until March of 1912

The Chipley Banner
March 28, 1912 Pg 8

Joe Welmont, the negro who murdered Mr. Mays on West Bay about a year ago, was convicted of murder in the first degree last week and will probably be given a life sentence.

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James B. Griner Once Deputy Sheriff of Berrien County

James Benjamin “Jim” Griner, born June 22, 1874, was the husband of Mary Catherine Hill Griner (see A Christmas Wedding for Mary Catherine Hill).

As a young man Jim Griner tried his hand at farming, but by the early 1900’s he had turned to a career in law enforcement serving as Deputy Sheriff of Berrien County and as the Chief of Police in Nashville, GA. In the 1930s the Griners moved to Ray City, GA  where Jim returned to farming. But by the 1940s Jim Griner put his badge back on to serve as Ray City Police Chief. A fellow lawman of Ray City at that time was  State Patrolman Perry Lee Pittman.

J. B. Griner, Berrien County deputy sheriff with prisoner B. A. Bryant, who killed his father near Nashville, Georgia, 1906. From a newspaper clipping. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

J. B. Griner, Berrien County deputy sheriff with prisoner B. A. Bryant, who killed his father near Nashville, Georgia, 1906. From a newspaper clipping. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

In 1915, Deputy James B Griner and Sheriff I. C. Avera were embroiled in a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

It all started when T. J. Luke got a judgement against Moses and Joseph Bembry for debts they owed him. Taking his execution order to the Sheriff, Luke identified certain property owned by the Brembrys  that could be sold to satisfy the debt.  The Brembry property was duly advertised for sale by the Sheriff’s office.

Deputy Sheriff James B. Griner had in mind to obtain the property for himself and sought to borrow the money to make the purchase.  But on the day of the sale the loan fell through.

Frustrated in receiving his money, T.J. Luke demanded satisfaction from the Sheriff’s Office. Luke took the case to court in Berrien County.  On  March 23, 1914 The court directed the Sheriff and his deputy to sell the property immediately with the proceeds payable to Luke. Should the Sheriff’s Office fail to execute the sale, they were directed to appear before the next term of the court.

But a year later, Luke was still waiting for his money.  He took the case to the Supreme Court of Georgia, asserting that the lower court erred in not calling for immediate satisfaction of the debt by the Sheriff’s office.   Fortunately for J.B. Griner and Sheriff I.C.  Avera, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled there was no error.

Read the syllabus of the court, LUKE  vs AVERA, et al.

 

A Christmas Wedding for Mary Catherine Hill

Mary Catherine Hill was born about 1875, and was a lifelong resident of Berrien County.  She first appears in census records in the Census of 1880, as a child in the household of her parents, Betty Newbern and William J. Hill in the 1148th Georgia Militia District.  Her father was a farmer, as were his neighbors Mack Bullard and William Avera.

On Christmas Day 1891,  M. C. Hill married J. B. Griner  in Irwin County, GA.

Mary Catherine Hill and James B. Griner were married Christmas Day, Dec 25, 1891 in Irwin County, GA.

Mary Catherine Hill and James B. Griner were married Christmas Day, Dec 25, 1891 in Irwin County, GA.

The couple made their home in Nashville, GA where  Jimmy engaged first in farming, then took a position as  deputy for Berrien County Sheriff,  I.C. Avera.

Some time after 1930 Jimmy and Catherine  moved to Ray City, GA.  Mary Catherine Hill Griner remained a resident of Ray City, until her death in 1940.

Obituary of  Mrs. J. B.  “Jimmy”  Griner

Mrs. J. B. “Jimmy” Griner, 65, died June 24, 1940 at her home in Ray City,  GA.  She was a daughter of the late William J. and Betty Newbern Hill.  Mary Catherine Hill married Jimmy Griner in 1891. Burial was in Flat Creek Cemetery. Survivors: Her husband and the following children: Lucius E. Griner of Lake Wales, Fla.; J.R. Griner of Ocilla; Mrs. Vinnie Robertson of Illinois; Mrs. Emma Overstreet of Tifton; Mrs. Ethel Sutton of Hollywood, Fla; Miss Mimmie Griner of Ray City; Mrs. Cleo Allen of Ray City.  She is also survived by three brothers and two sisters.

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More on William Green Avera & Family

Image Detail: William Green Avera, circa 1913

Found a bit more on William Green Avera (1855-1944), life-long educator  and Superintendent of Berrien County Schools, who lived near Ray City, GA.

William Green Avera was the eldest child of Stephen Willis Avera and Martha Elizabeth Akins. When an infant,  his parents brought him to the newly formed Berrien County, where his father engaged in farming.

During the war he [Stephen Willis Avera] enlisted and became a soldier of Company E of the Fifty-fourth Georgia Infantry. His command joined the western army under Generals Joseph E. Johnston and Hood, and stubbornly resisted Sherman’s advance all the way from Dalton to Atlanta. After the fall of the latter city he went to Hood’s army, participating in the battles at Jonesboro, Franklin, Murfreesboro and Nashville, and after the last named engagement he was sent home on detached duty, the war closing before his recall to the front.”

“Laying aside the musket he again put his hand to the plow, and was engaged in farming in Berrien county until 1887, when he sold out and bought a farm in Colquitt county which he still occupies, having reached the good old age of seventy-six years. He married Martha Elizabeth Aikins, who was born in Clinch county, a daughter of William Green and Winnie Ann (Moore) Aikins. Stephen W. Avera and wife reared eleven children, whose names are William Green, Winnie Ann, Polly Ann, Sarah O’Neal, Daniel M., Lyman H., Phebe V., Lou, Junius H., Cordelia and Martha.”

The image detail above is from a family photo taken circa 1913:

The Avera family photo appeared in the 1956 Berrien Centennial edition of the Nashville Herald with the following caption:

MEN IN HISTORY – Above are four men who played a part in the history of Berrien County.  Top left is the late W. G. Avera, better known as “Uncle Billy,” who spent his life working for better education, serving as a teacher and County School Superintendent.  He was also a leader in religious fields. Lower left is Willis Avera, father of W. G. Avera. He fought in the War Between the States. Upper right is I. C. Avera, sheriff of Berrien County for 16 years. Lower right is Daniel Griner, father of Mrs. I. C.  Avera, whose family settled on lands in the eastern part of Berrien County, now part of Nashville. The land was first farmed and later sold as home sites.  The baby is Phin Avera, grandson of the four. The two on left are his maternal grandparents, and the other two his paternal grandparents.

Photo as it appeared in the 1956 centennial edition of the Nashville Herald.

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Professor Avera Lived Near Ray City, GA

 

 

Image detail: William Green Avera, circa 1905. Image courtesy of Berrien County Historical Society, http://berriencounty.smugmug.com/

William Green “Bill” Avera

 

Bill Avera was a lifelong educator of Berrien county who lived in the vicinity of Ray City, GA. He was born August 1, 1855, in  Clinch County Georgia. His father was Stephen Willis Avera and his mother was Martha Elizabeth Aikins. William Green Avera was the oldest of eleven children, his brothers and sisters being  Winnie Ann, Polly Ann, Sarah O’Neal, Daniel M., Lyman H., Phebe V., Lou, Junius H., Cordelia and Martha.

Upon the organization of Berrien County,  Stephen and Martha Avera brought their young son to establish the family homestead in the new county in 1856. During the Civil War, Bill’s father enlisted and became a soldier of Company E of the Fifty-fourth Georgia Infantry. Stephen Avera saw action defending Atlanta from Sherman’s approach and later in the battles at Jonesboro, Franklin, Murfreesboro and Nashville. The war ended while he was at home in Berrien County on detached duty.  After the war, Bill’s father continued to farm in Berrien County.  In 1877 Bill Avera married and established a household of his own near Ray City, GA.

The home of William Green Avera was located about five miles northeast of Ray City, GA.

In addition to his work as a teacher and superintendent William Green Avera worked for teacher education, being frequently involved in the organization and presentation of “teacher institutes.” In the spring of 1895, Avera co-presented with James Rembert Anthony at a teacher institute held at Sparks, GA, on Saturday, March 16, 1895, their presentation: “Grammar, the Actual and Relative Importance of Parsing and Diagramming.” J. R. Anthony was a teacher from Valdosta, GA. Among others on the program was Marcus S. Patten, who presented “Reading: Teaching to read using Holmes as the text.”

In his 1913 work, A History of Savannah and South Georgia, Volume 2, author William Harden gave the following account of William Green Avera:

   PROF. WILLIAM GREEN AVERA. The career of a man who for the greater part of a life time has been identified with the training and education of the youth is always one of the most valuable assets of a community. Probably no educator in south Georgia has been so long or so closely connected with educational progress and the practical work of the schools as the present superintendent of the Berrien county schools, Prof. William Green Avera. He belongs to a family of pioneer Georgians, and was born on a farm in Clinch county, the 1st of August, 1855.

*****

  Reared in a good home and trained to habits of industry, William G. Avera early manifested special inclination for study and the pursuit of knowledge, and made the best of his early opportunities of schooling. He has been a lifelong student, and when he was eighteen he was entrusted with his first school, located three miles east of Nashville. For thirty-three years, an entire generation, he was in the active work of the schoolroom, and he taught children and children’s children during that time. The aggregate length of his service out of those thirty-three years was twenty-five full years, a third of a long lifetime. In 1907  professor Avera was elected superintendent of the Berrien county schools, and by re-elections has since served continuously in that office. His administration has been marked by many improvements in the county educational system.

   In 1877 Professor Avera was united in marriage with Miss Eliza J. Sirmans. Mrs. Avera was born in Berrien county, daughter of Abner and Frances (Sutton) Sirmans. She died at Sparks in 1905. In 1911 Professor Avera married Margaret McMillan, a native of Berrien county and daughter of Randall McMillan. The following children were born to Professor Avera by his first marriage, namely: Sirman W., Marcus D., Bryant F., Aaron G., Alice J., Homer C., Abner J., Willis M., Lona, and Lula. Marcus D., Homer C., Abner J., and Lula are now deceased. Aaron G. married Fannie Key, now deceased, and has one son, William. Sirman W. married Annie Young and has a daughter named Georgia. Bryant F. married Mary Patton. Alice J. is the wife of William T. Parr, and has four children, J. W.,Stella, Saren and Gladys. Lona married Austin Avera, son of I. C. Avera, sheriff of Berrien county.

   In 1878 Professor Avera settled on a farm eight miles southeast of Nashville, and that was the home of his family until 1904, when it was temporarily removed to Sparks that the children might have the benefit of the superior educational advantages available in the Sparks Collegiate institute there. Prof. Avera’s present home is at Nashville, the county seat of Berrien county. He still owns the old home where all of his children were born and reared, and where his beloved deceased wife and children are buried. Sacred is the memory of this home to the man who has given the best years of his life to the educational and moral upbuilding of this section of Georgia. 

   Professor Avera and wife are members of the Primitive Baptist church, and in politics he is a Democrat.

 

Who was John Studstill?

This blog has previously posted on a number of the Studstill family connection.

A recently reviewed article in the 3 Dec 1912 Atlanta Constitution recounts the death of one John Studstill.  But who was this man? who were his relatives? Perhaps a reader can tell…

BAILIFF KILLS MAN HELD FOR BEATING BOARD BILL

Nashville, Ga., December 2 –(Special.) — John Studstill was shot and killed at Robinson’s mill, 7 miles south of this city, by Bailiff  William Knight. Studstill was charged with jumping a board bill, and when Knight attempted to arrest him he (Studstill) fled. Knight chased him for some distance and, after calling for Studstill to halt, fired.  Knight claims that he shot to frighten the fleeing man, but not to harm him. The dead man was brought here in Sheriff Avera’s auto. Knight is at liberty here.

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