Captain J. D. Evans was Skulking and Hiding Out

Desertion of J. D. Evans

Johnathan D. Evans before the Civil War was residing at Nashville, GA. In the Census of 1860  he was enumerated there as a mechanic and slave owner. At the outbreak of the war, he became Captain of one of the four companies of Confederate soldiers that went forth from Berrien County, GA.

J. D. Evans’ name appears on a March 1862 list of Berrien County men subject to do military duty. He enlisted with other men of Berrien County and was mustered into Company E, 54th Georgia Regiment Volunteer Infantry March 4, 1862. On May 6, 1862, J. D. Evans was elected Captain of Company E. Among other Berrien County men serving in Company E, 54th Georgia Regiment were Jehu and James Patten, George Washington Knight , Matthew Hodge Albritton, James Lee, Jesse Lee, John LeeGeorge Washington KnightJames Madison BaskinWilliam Varnell NixStephen Willis AveraWilliam J. Lamb, Thomas L. Lamb, Samuel Guthrie,  William Henry Outlaw, John Webb, Jordan Webb and Benjamin Sirmans, Jeremiah MayRufus Ray, and Samuel SandersDr. Hamilton M. Talley was Evans’ second in command.

But after a year of service, J. D. Evans deserted his post.

According to the New Georgia Encylopedia, ”

Desertion plagued Georgia regiments during the Civil War (1861-65) and, in addition to other factors, debilitated the Confederate war effort. Deserters were not merely cowards or ne’er-do-wells; some were seasoned veterans from battle-hardened regiments….   Whereas the sixty-three plantation-belt counties in the lowlands provided more than 50 percent of the volunteer infantry companies, desertion rates among soldiers hailing from this region were among the lowest in the state…This phenomenon may be partially accounted for by the fact that Confederate social and military authority remained reasonably intact in the lowlands for most of the war, making it perilous for would-be deserters from the area to flee home…The economic structure of the plantation belt and the widespread use of slave labor also allowed lowland Georgians to remain in the Confederate army without worries for the safety of their homes and families. [Furthermore] wealthy plantation owners in the lowlands were able to apply for exemptions. While 3,368 Georgians deserted to Union lines throughout the war, approximately 11,000 affluent Georgia men received exemptions and were able to remain in their communities and maintain social and economic stability. 
Berrien County men, like J. D. Evans, did desert, though. Men deserted from  Company E (Berrien County), 54th GA Regiment, from the Berrien Minute Men (companies G & K, 29th GA regiment),  and from the Berrien Light Infantry (Company I, 50th GA Regiment).
Companies routinely sent patrols back to their home counties to round up deserters and stragglers who had overstayed their leaves.  Sergeant William W. Williams was sent in 1864 to hunt skulkers in Lowndes and Berrien County, GA. N. M. McNabb, a soldier of Company D, 12th Georgia Regiment, was pressed into service hunting fugitive deserters in Berrien County in September 1864.
It was not unusual for Confederate soldiers to go absent without having been granted leave.  John W. Hagan, sergeant of the Berrien Minute Men, wrote about having to “run the blockade”  – to slip past sentries and sneak out of camp for a few hours when he didn’t have a pass.  Isaac Gordon Bradwell, a soldier of the 31st Georgia Regiment, wrote from Camp Wilson about his regiment being called to formation in the middle of the night to catch out those men who were absent without leave.  The men returned before dawn, but  “There was quite a delegation from each company to march up to headquarters that morning to receive, as they thought, a very severe penalty for their misconduct. Our good old colonel stood up before his tent and lectured the men, while others stood armed grinning and laughing at their plight; but to the surprise and joy of the guilty, he dismissed them all without punishment after they had promised him never to run away from camp again.”
The men sometimes gave themselves unofficial leave for more than just a night on the town – French leave, they called it.
Desertion was common from the beginning of the war, but, until early in 1862, it was not always defined as such. When the war unexpectedly lasted past the first summer and fall, … recruits began taking what many called “French leave” by absenting themselves for a few days or longer in order to visit friends and family (the term comes from an eighteenth-century French custom of leaving a reception without saying a formal good bye to the host or hostess). Officers pursued these men with varying degrees of diligence, but because most returned in time for the spring campaigns, few were formally charged with and punished for desertion. – Encyclopedia Virginia
In July 1862 a number of men from the 29th Georgia Regiment were detached to Camp Anderson, near Savannah, for the formation of a new sharpshooter battalion. Desertion became a problem; by the end of the year 29 men would desert from Camp Anderson.  At least one deserter killed himself rather than be captured and returned to Camp Anderson. Another, after firing a shot at Major Anderson, was court-martialed and executed by firing squad. Three more deserters were sentenced to death but were released and returned to duty under a general amnesty and pardon issued by Jefferson Davis.
In October 1862 Elbert J. “Yaller” Chapman took  “French leave” when the Berrien Minute Men were returning by train from a deployment in Florida:
“Yaller” stepped off the train at the station on the Savannah, Florida, and Western  [Atlantic & Gulf] railroad nearest his home — probably Naylor, and went to see his family. He was reported “absent without leave,” and when he returned to his command at Savannah, he was placed in the guard tent and charges were preferred against him. It was from the guard tent that he deserted and went home the second time. After staying home a short while he joined a cavalry command and went west.  It is said that he was in several engagements and fought bravely.  
Albert Douglas left the Berrien Minute Men “absent without leave” in December 1862 and was marked “deserted.”  Actually Douglas enlisted in the 26th Georgia Infantry and went to Virginia, where his unit was engaged in the Battle of Brawners Farm. He subsequently served in a number of units before deserting and surrendering to the U. S. Army.  He was inducted into the U. S. Navy, but deserted that position in March 1865.

Deserter Benjamin S. Garrett was later shot for being a spy.

By the spring of 1863 when the 29th Georgia Regiment was stationed at Camp Young near Savannah, GA, twenty men were reported as deserters. Four of the deserters were from Company K, the Berrien Minute Men, including  Albert Douglas, Benjamin S. Garrett, J. P. Ponder and Elbert J. Chapman,. Colonel William J. Young offered a reward of $30 for each Confederate deserter apprehended, $600 for the bunch.  From the weeks and months the reward was advertised, one can judge these were not men who just sneaked off to Savannah,  but were long gone.

When the 29th Georgia Regiment and the Berrien Minute Men, Company K were sent to Mississippi in May of 1863 they encountered deserter Elbert J. Chapman serving in another regiment. The case became one of the most notorious of the war.  [Chapman’s] desertion  consisted in his leaving [the Berrien Minute Men,] Wilson’s Infantry Regiment, then stationed on the coast of Georgia, and joining a Cavalry Regiment at the front—a “desertion” of a soldier from inactive service in the rear to fighting at the front.  Although Chapman was fighting with another company in Mississippi, he was charged with desertion from the 29th Georgia Regiment and court-martialed.  Despite appeals by his commanding officers Chapman was executed by firing squad. After the war, his indigent wife was denied a Confederate pension.
While Berrien Minute Men Company G was detached at the Savannah River Batteries, the papers of commanding officer Col. Edward C. Anderson indicate desertions from the Savannah defenses were a common occurrence.

It was in July 1863 that Captain J. D. Evans deserted from Company E, 54th Georgia Infantry Regiment.  Given that the 54th Georgia Infantry was engaged in repelling Federal assaults on the defenses of Charleston, his punishment was remarkably light.

Just a few days after J. D. Evans went absent without leave,  Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, issued a general pardon to deserters.

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

His proclamation, issued on August 1, 1863, admitted Confederate defeats, the horrific death toll, and the pending invasion of Georgia by overwhelming U.S. forces. Davis claimed the goal of the U.S. government is a slave revolt and the genocide or enslavement of Southern whites. He assuaged the guilt of deserters and asserted that Confederate victory could still be pulled from defeat, if all the Confederate deserters would but return to their camps. Finally, Davis “conjures” the women of Georgia not to shelter deserters from disgrace.

Jefferson Davis’ proclamation of pardon and amnesty for Confederate deserters was published in newspapers all over the South.

TO THE SOLDIERS OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES.
After more than two years of a warfare scarcely equaled in the number, magnitude and fearful carnage of its battles; a warfare in which your courage and fortitude have illustrated your country and attracted not only gratitude at home but admiration abroad, your enemies continue a struggle in which our final triumph must be inevitable. Unduly elated with their recent successes they imagine that temporary reverses can quell your spirit or shake your determination, and they are now gathering heavy masses for a general invasion, in the vain hope that by a desperate effort success may at length be reached.
You know too well, my countrymen, what they mean by success. Their malignant rage aims at nothing less than the extermination of yourselves, your wives and children. They seek to destroy what they cannot plunder. They propose as the spoils of victory that your homes shall be partitioned among the wretches whose atrocious cruelties have stamped infamy on their Government. The design to incite servile insurrection and light the fires of incendiarism whenever they can reach your homes, and they debauch the inferior race hitherto docile and contented, by promising indulgence of the vilest passions, as the price of treachery. Conscious of their inability to prevail by legitimate warfare, not daring to make peace lest they should be hurled from their seats of power, the men who now rule in Washington refuse even to confer on the subject of putting an end to outrages which disgrace our age, or to listen to a suggestion for conducting the war according to the usages of civilization. Fellow citizens, no alternative is left you but victory, or subjugation, slavery and the utter ruin of yourselves, your families and your country. The victory is within your reach. You need but stretch forth your hands to grasp it. For this and all that is necessary is that those who are called to the field by every motive that can move the human heart, should promptly repair to the post of duty, should stand by their comrades now in front of the foe, and thus so strengthen the armies of the Confederacy as to ensure success. The men now absent from their posts would, if present in the field, suffice to create numerical equality between our force and that of the invaders— and when, with any approach to such equality, have we failed to be victorious? I believe that but few of those absent are actuated by unwillingness to serve their country; but that many have found it difficult to resist the temptation of a visit to their homes and the loved ones from whom they have been so long separated; that others have left for temporary attention to their affairs with the intention of returning and then have shrunk from the consequences of their violation of duty; that others again have left their post from mere restlessness and desire of change, each quieting the upbraidings of his conscience, by persuading himself that his individual services could have no influence on the general result.
These and other causes (although far less disgraceful than the desire to avoid danger, or to escape from the sacrifices required by patriotism, are, nevertheless, grievous faults, and place the cause of our beloved country, and of everything we hold dear, in imminent peril. I repeat that the men who now owe duty to their country, who have been called out and have not yet reported for duty, or who have absented themselves from their posts, are sufficient in number to secure us victory in the struggle now pending.
I call on you, then, my countrymen, to hasten to your camps, in obedience to the dictates of honor and of duty, and summon, those who have absented themselves without leave, or who have remained absent beyond the period allowed by their furloughs, to repair without delay to their respective commands, and I do hereby declare that I grant a general pardon and amnesty to all officers and men within the Confederacy, now absent without leave, who shall, with the least possible delay, return to their proper posts of duty, but no excuse will be received for any deserter beyond twenty days after the first publication of this proclamation in the State in which the absentee may be at the date of the publication. This amnesty and pardon shall extend to all who have been accused, or who have been convicted and are undergoing sentence for absence without leave or desertion, excepting only those who have been twice convicted of desertion.
Finally, I conjure my countrywomen —the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of the Confederacy— to use their all-powerful influence in aid of this call, to add one crowning sacrifice to those which their patriotism has so freely and constantly offered on their country’s alter, and to take care that none who owe service in the field shall be sheltered at home from the disgrace of having deserted their duty to their families, to their country, and to their God.
Given under my band, and the Seal of the Confederate States, at Richmond, this 1st day of August, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three.

JEFFERSON DAVIS.
By the President:
J. P. Benjamin, Sec’ry of State.

Johnathan D. Evans did not return to his post, however.  On Oct 23, 1863, his Colonel wrote to General Samuel Cooper that Evans was a skulker and hiding from duty. (Cooper was the highest ranking officer of the Confederate States Army, outranking Robert E. Lee and all other officers of the Confederacy.)

Hed. Qrs. 54th Ga. Infantry
James Island, S.C.
Oct. 20th, 1863

Gen’l S. Cooper
Adj’t Insp’r Gen’l
Richmond,

Gen’l
I have the honor to request that you will drop in disgrace from the Army rolls, the name of Captain J. D. Evans of Company “E” 54th Ga. Infantry.
This officer has been absent from his command for a period of sixty days without leave. On the 27th day of July last, the Regiment being ordered to Morris Island, Capt Evans reported sick, and at his own request was sent, by the Surgeon, to the hospital in Charleston. He was subsequently transferred to Columbus, S.C., and thence to Augusta, Ga., since which time he has never reported.
I regret to state that all the circumstances surrounding this case indicate, but too clearly, that he never intends to rejoin his command – at least while it is in active service; (nor from all the reports which reach me) can I be induced to believe that he is sick – on the contrary, I am forced unwillingly to think that he is skulking and hiding from duty. If a more charitable construction could be placed upon his conduct, I should be the last one to suggest so harsh a proceeding in his case.
Where he is – what he is doing – when he intends to return – and where to reach him with an order are questions which no one can answer.
Verbal reports reach me that he is at home with his family – that he is engaged in a Government workshop – but all parties report him well. His influence with his command is lost. For the good of the service, and as a proper example to deter others from adopting a similar course, I earnestly recommend that his name be dropped from the Army Rolls.

I have the honor to be, Gen’l,
Very Respectfully,
Yr Ob’t Sv’t
Charlton H. Way

Col. Charlton H. Way letter of October 10, 1863 requesting Capt. J. D. Evans be dropped in disgrace from Army rolls.

Col. Charlton H. Way letter of October 10, 1863 requesting Capt. J. D. Evans be dropped in disgrace from Army rolls.

 

Col. Charlton H. Way letter of October 10, 1863 requesting Capt. J. D. Evans be dropped in disgrace from Army rolls.

Evans never did return to his unit. He was dropped from the rolls of Confederate officers for desertion.

The most significant wave of desertion among Georgia soldiers began in late 1863 following the Battle of Chickamauga,…the biggest battle ever fought in Georgia, which took place on September 18-20, 1863.  With 34,000 casualties, Chickamauga is generally accepted as the second bloodiest engagement of the war; only the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, with 51,000 casualties, was deadlier.

Lt. H. M. Talley assumed command of Company E, 54th GA Regiment.  By the spring of 1864, Company E and the rest of the 54th Georgia Regiment were back at Savannah, GA serving on river defenses under the command of Edward C. Anderson. Anderson’s command also included the Berrien Minute Men, Company G, 29th Georgia Regiment. Col. E. C. Anderson’s frustrations with Confederate desertion included the embarrassment of having his personal boat stolen by three deserters from the Confederate tugboat CSS Resolute on the night of April 15, 1864.

By the summer of 1864, the Confederate States Army was again in pursuit of skulkers.  Colonel Elijah C. Morgan of the  Georgia Militia, wrote from Valdosta, GA to his superior officer requesting a guard to conduct skulkers back to their units. Col. E. C. Morgan had served as Captain of the Berrien Light Infantry, Company I, 50th GA regiment  from the formation of the company in 1862  until April 14, 1863 when he resigned because of tuberculosis; before the war he had been a Berrien County, GA attorney.

Colonel Elijah C. Morgan requests a guard to conduct skulkers from Valdosta, GA back to their Confederate units, August 16, 1864.

Colonel Elijah C. Morgan requests a guard to conduct skulkers from Valdosta, GA back to their Confederate units, August 16, 1864.

Valdosta, Ga   Aug 16th 1864

General,

I again urge the necessity of sending Sergt Wm W Williams back to use as a guard in sending forward skulkers who will not do to trust without a guard.

E. C. Morgan
Col. & ADG
6th Dist GM

According to historian Ella Lonn, of the approximately 103,400 enlisted men who deserted the Confederacy by war’s end, 6,797 were from Georgia.

After the war, J. D. Evans became a Baptist preacher. In 1874 he came to Ray’s Mill, GA (now Ray City) where he was instrumental in organizing a missionary Baptist Church.

 

Related Posts:

Thomas M Ray Founded Ray’s Mill in 1863

Civil War Service of James Madison Baskin

A Brief History of Beaver Dam Baptist Church

In 1874 when Mercer Association missionary Reverend J. D. Evans came to Ray’s Mill, Thomas M. Ray was deeply moved by the baptist’s message.  Evans and Ray were both Confederate veterans and former slave owners.

During the Civil War, Evans had been Captain of the Berrien Light Infantry until he deserted in the summer of 1863.  After the war Evans took up the gospel as a layman. In 1871 he organized a Sunday School at a log house near Morven, GA and was a founding member of Philadelphia Church there.  Shortly afterwards he was ordained by Philadelphia Church, and took up missionary work helping to found a number of Wiregrass baptist churches. In 1874 this work brought him to Ray’s Mill.

At first the missionary baptist church meetings were held in the old log school house and  big revivals that were held at Ray’s Mill in May and July, 1874. Thomas M. Ray must have attended the events for he became instrumental in the formation of a Baptist Church at Ray’s Mill (see Men at Beaver Dam Baptist Church.)  On September 20, 1874 a small group of followers met with Reverend J. D. Evans  at  the  home of Thomas and Mary Ray to organize the church.  Thomas M. Ray and David J. McGee were elected to represent the new church to the Mercer Baptist Association and were sent as messengers to the Valdosta Church. The Reverend J. D. Evans wrote a petitionary letter which they carried to the association. In November 1874 Thomas M. Ray was appointed to a church building committee along with James M. Baskin and David J. McGee. He served on the committed that selected and procured the site for the construction of the church building. He continued to serve on the building committee until his death.

The original wooden church building at Beaver Dam was constructed by William A. Bridges and James M. Baskin (see Baskin Family Helped Found Ray City Baptist Church).  Construction began in  January of 1875.  Baskin and Bridges hand hewed the timbers to frame the church.   Sawn lumber was purchased but had to be dressed by hand. The building was finished with windows and siding. The pulpit, table and pews were all built on site. J. M. Baskin made the doors himself.

Pastors of Ray City Baptist Church

John D. Evans 1874-1875
William E. Morris 1875-1876
George M. Troupe Wilson 1876-1876
John D. Evans 1876-1878
T. W. Powell 1878-1880
William Adolphus Pardee 1884-1887
John D. Evans 1887-1889
William Henry Dent 1890-1898
Malcolm Augustus Grace 1898-1900
J. L. Milner 1900-1901
H. C. Strong 1901-1903
W. J. Odom 1903-1903
W. J. Ballew 1903-1903
A. J. Gross 1905-1906
E. L. Todd 1906-1913
Perry Thomas Knight 1913-1917
M. L. Lawson 1917-1917
N. C. Wilkes 1917-1918
Clayton Samuel Yawn 1918-1921
W. Harvey Wages 1921-1922
J. C. Moore 1924—1925
A. W. Smith 1925-1925
Walter Branch 1925-1935
Carl W. Minor 1936-1937
C. . Schwall 1937-1940
John W. Harrell 1941-1945
P. T. Peavy 1945-1945
John W. Harrell 1946-1953
Claude Tuten 1954-1958
C. C. Lynch 1959-1962
J. Ray Allen 1962-1963
Bob M. Brown 1964-1967
Allen Bates 1967-1972
Wiley Vickers 1973-1977
Dr. William Rathburn 1978-1990
Lee Graham 1990-2006
John E. Patten 2006 –

 

Men at Beaver Dam Baptist Church

Baskin Family Helped Found Ray City Baptist Church

Pearl Todd Baptist Retreat

Wilmont Pierce and the Valdosta Baptist Association

Perry Thomas Knight Attended Oaklawn Baptist Academy

Mixon Graves at New Bethel Baptist Church Cemetery

Owen Clinton Pope, Reconstruction Teaching and Preaching

Spanish-American War Vet Rests at Ray City, GA

Mary & Saunto Sollami Buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery

Thomas M Ray Founded Ray’s Mill in 1863

Thomas Marcus Ray, founder of Ray’s Mill, came to the area in 1855 prior to the formation of Berrien County, GA.

Gravemarker of Thomas Marcus Ray, founder of Rays Mill, GA.

Gravemarker of Thomas Marcus Ray, founder of Rays Mill, GA.
Epitaph of Thomas Marcus Ray
The pains of death are past.
Labor and sorrow cease.
and Life’s long warfare closed at last.
His soul is found in peace.

Thomas Marcus Ray was born on September 20, 1822,  in the area of Georgia that would later be known as Griffin, Monroe County, GA.  His parents were Thomas and Mary Ray.  Little is known of his early life.

The 1850 census  shows at age 28 Thomas M. Ray was working as a mechanic in Twiggs County, GA.  He  married Mary Jane Albritton on March 3, 1852  in Houston County, GA. She was the daughter of Allen and Rebecca Albritton, and the sister of Matthew H. Albritton.

Marriage Certificate of Thomas Marcus Ray and Mary Jane Albritton, March 3, 1852, Houston County, GA.

Marriage Certificate of Thomas Marcus Ray and Mary Jane Albritton, March 3, 1852, Houston County, GA.

The newlyweds moved to the area of Lowndes County that was later cut into present day Berrien County, GA.  A little more than a year later, Mary Jane gave birth to a son, John William Allen Ray, on May 10, 1853.

Sadly, just six days later Mary Jane died and Thomas, a 31 year old widower,  was left to raise the infant on his own. Thomas buried Mary Jane in the cemetery at Union Primitive Baptist Church, which was the only church in the area. Union Church, now known as Burnt Church, is located on the Alapaha River in present day Lakeland, Lanier County, Georgia.

Gravemarker of Mary Jane Albritton Ray, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

Gravemarker of Mary Jane Albritton Ray, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

In 1853 this section of the state was only sparsely populated, and most of the settlers in the area gathered at least once a month at Union Church for services.  Thomas Ray was among those who attended.  It may be there that he met the 17 year old Mary Adelaide Knight.   She was the daughter of Levi J. Knight, a renowned Indian fighter and prominent planter in the area.  She was also the granddaughter of the Reverend William A. Knight, one of the founders of the Union Church and the first state senator elected to represent Lowndes County.  The following year, on August 22, 1854 Thomas M. Ray and Mary Adelaide Knight were married.

Thomas and Mary established their homestead on lot #516 in the 10th district of Lowndes County near Grand Bay, on land that Thomas purchased from his wife’s grandfather, William A. Knight, in 1855.  This land was soon to be cut into Berrien County in 1856 (and later into Lanier county).  Thomas’ father-in-law, Levi J. Knight, was instrumental in laying out the boundaries of the newly formed Berrien county.

On this land, the newlywed couple settled down to raise a family. In 1855, a daughter was born,  whom they named Mary Susan Ray. In 1858 a son was born to the couple, Thomas M. Ray, Jr.  and in the spring of 1860 Mary A. delivered another son, Charles F. Ray.

The Census of 1860 shows that Thomas M. Ray was clearly a wealthy man in his day.  On the census form his occupation  is listed as merchant.  At that time owned $2000 in real estate, and held $10,400 in personal estate. If he had a comparable net worth in 2007, he would certainly have been a multimillionaire.

The 1860 Census indicates that, in addition to the Ray children, two other youngsters were living with the Ray’s.  John T. Ray, Thomas Ray’s 15 year old nephew, lived with the family and attended school along with his cousins.  John T. Ray would be killed in a train wreck in 1888 (see Railroad Horror! 1888 Train wreck kills John T. Ray and 30-odd others.) A young girl  nine-year-old Efare Hayes (aka Ellifare Hayes), who was also living in the Ray household did not attend school.  Later census forms show that she was a domestic servant for the Rays. The census records show Ray’s neighbors were John Gaskins and Louie M. Young. The 1860 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules show in that year Thomas M. Ray also was a slave owner, with one black female slave and one slave house enumerated.

Together, Thomas M. Ray and Mary Adelaide Knight had nine more children between 1855 and 1876, their last son being born in the year of Thomas’ death.

In the early 1860’s Thomas Ray partnered with his father-in law Levi J. Knight to build a grist mill and mill pond (now known as Ray’s Millpond) on Beaverdam Creek on land owned by L. J. Knight.  Mr. Knight would provide the land for the project, Mr. Ray would be mechanic and operator.    With the assistance of slave labor, the Ray family began the work to construct the earthen dam that would create an impoundment on Beaverdam Creek. In her later years, Mary Susan Ray, daughter of Thomas and Mary A. Ray, recalled that she helped build the dam when she was young child. ” Each day the family would load all equipment into the wagon, go over and work all day on the dam.”  In the age before power equipment the construction of the earthen dam that created the millpond was a massive undertaking. The dam is 1200 feet long with an average height of 12 feet, 12 feet wide at the top and 20 feet wide at the base.  It took approximately 10,800 tons of earth, dug and moved by human muscle to construct the dam.

It was while the dam was under construction that the initial hostilities of the Civil War broke out. On  April 12, 1861 at 4:30 a.m. Confederate  forces opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.  During the Civil War, Thomas Ray’s father-in-law, Levi J. Knight, and his future son-in-law Henry H. Knight both served in the 29th Georgia Volunteer Infantry.  Thomas himself, was a major in the 138th Battalion, 6th Military District, Lowndes, County, GA. There is no record that this unit saw active duty during the war.

Thomas M. Ray was apparently at his home near Grand Bay in the fall of 1861, for Mary delivered another daughter the following spring: Sarah Jane “Sallie” Ray was born May 23, 1862.  According to a history of the Wiregrass area published by the Coast Plain Area Planning & Development Commission, Thomas M. Ray began operation of the grist mill, known as “Knight and Ray’s Mill”  on November 7, 1863.

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

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

Thomas Ray was still at home in the late summer to early fall of 1864, for in the spring of 1865 James David Ray was born on April 30, 1865, just days after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.

After the war, in 1866 Thomas Ray bought land from his partner and father-in-law, Levi J. Knight, where the Rays constructed a new home and moved their family. This land was 225 acres of  lot #424 in the 10th district of Berrien County,  on the west side of Beaver Dam Creek right next to the grist mill.  Nearby were the homes of his mother- and father-in-law, Levi J. and Ann Knight, and his wife’s cousin Henry H. Knight.  To the west of the Ray farm was the property of William Gaskins.

Even after the Civil War ended slavery, cotton was the major agricultural concern in the south.  In 1869, Thomas Ray and William Roberts set up a mill for ginning and carding cotton on Beaverdam Creek downstream from Ray’s Mill.  From that point on the creek came to be known as both Beaverdam Creek and Card Creek.   The cotton mill was situated on land purchased from the estate of William Washington Knight, deceased brother-in-law of T. M. Ray.   (W.W. Knight died of disease during the Civil War; see The Poetry of Mary Elizabeth Carroll.)  The mill site included 30 acres on lot #452 and the right to impound water on lot #451, just east of #452. “This operation was apparently taking advantage of a small pond and dam already put in place by John Knight whose property it adjoined…” The dam site was on Beaverdam Creek about 20 yards just east of present day Pauline Street in Ray City, GA..

In early August of 1870 when the census was enumerated for the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the household of Thomas M. and Mary Ray  included  their children  William A.,  Mary  S., Thomas M. Jr., Charles F., Sarah J., James D., and one year old Elizabeth Texas Ray.  Also living with the family was Thomas Ray’s mother, Mary Ray, 78 years of age. Ellifare Hayes, the family maid was now a young woman of 19. Eight year old Ellin Jones  was an African-American domestic servant also living in the Ray household.  In 1870  Thomas M. Ray’s personal estate was valued at $5000 and his real estate at $2714.   His neighbors included  Robert A. Elliott and Annis Lastinger Elliott, and their children.  Robert A. Elliott was a mechanic and a hand at the wool mill. Another neighbor was Isaac J. Edmonsen.

General Levi J. Knight, long time friend, partner and father-in-law of Thomas Ray, died on  February 23, 1870 in the community where he lived (nka Ray City) in Berrien County, Georgia.  Afterwards, Thomas Ray bought out L. J. Knight’s interests  in the grist mill and the land, including water-flow rights, from the General’s estate.  Over time the mill became the focal point of a community which came to be known as Ray’s Mill, GA.

Willis Allen Ray was born in 1871, and Robert Jackson Ray in 1873.

The 1874 tax digest show that Thomas M. Ray was an employer; working for him was Andrew Wilkins, a Freedman and farmhand who lived near Rays Mill.

In 1874 when Mercer Association missionary Reverend J. D. Evans came to Ray’s Mill, Thomas M. Ray was deeply moved by the baptist’s message.  Thomas M. Ray must have attended the church meetings in the old log school house and the big revivals that were held in May and July, for he became instrumental in the formation of a Baptist Church at Ray’s Mill (see Men at Beaver Dam Baptist Church.)  On September 20, 1874 a small group of followers met with Reverend J. D. Evans  at  the  home of Thomas and Mary Ray to organize the church.  Thomas M. Ray. and David  J. McGee were elected to represent the new church to the Mercer Baptist Association and were sent as messengers to the Valdosta Church. The Reverend J. D. Evans wrote a petitionary letter which they carried to the association. In November 1874 Thomas M. Ray was appointed to a church building committee along with James M. Baskin and D. J. McGee. He served on the committed that selected and procured the site for the construction of the church building. He continued to serve on the building committee until his death.

In 1876, Joseph Henry Ray was born.

Children of Thomas Marcus Ray and Mary Jane Albritton (1836 – 1853)

  1.  John William Allen Ray (1853 – 1934)

Children of Thomas Marcus Ray and Mary A Knight (1836 – 1923)

  1. Mary Susan Ray (1855 – 1926)
  2. Thomas Marcus Ray, Jr (1858 – 1923)
  3. Charles Floyd Ray (1860 –
  4. Sarah Jane (Sally) Ray (1862 – 1938)
  5. James David Ray (1865 – 1937)
  6. Elizabeth Texas Ray (1869 – 1952)
  7. Willis Allen Ray (1871 – 1901)
  8. Robert Jackson Ray (1873 – 1954)
  9. Joseph Henry Ray (1876 – 1907)

Thomas M. Ray died June 14, 1876.  His death was announced in The Valdosta Times:

The Valdosta Times
Saturday, July 1, 1876
Thomas M. Ray

Maj. T.M. Ray, a prominent citizen of Berrien County, died last week, after a long spell of illness.

His lodge brothers in Butler Lodge No. 211 Free and Accepted Masons provided this tribute:

The Valdosta Times
Saturday Aug 26. 

     Tribute Of Respect , Butler Lodge No. 211 F.A.M.  Milltown, Ga., Aug. 12th, 1876. Whereas, it hath pleased the Grand Architect of the Universe, in His wise Providence, to remove from labor, in the lodge on earth, to refreshment (as we trust) in the Great Grand Lodge in Heaven, or brother Thomas M. Ray

Therefore be it

     Resolved, 1st. That, in his death Masonry has lost a worthy brother, the neighborhood an upright and honest citizen; his family a kind husband, and indulgent father and a good provider.

     Resolved, 2nd. That while we mourn his loss and miss his association, we bow with meek submission to the will of Him who doeth all things well.

     Resolved, 3rd. That we cherish his memory and recommend to the emulation of the Craft Iris virtues and the uprightness and integrity of his character.

     Resolved, 4th. That we extend to the family an relatives of our deceased brother our heartfelt sympathies, praying upon them the guidance and protection of our common Heavenly  Father.

     Resolved, 5th. That a blank page in our minute book be inscribed to his memory, and that a copy of this preamble and resolution be furnished the family of brother Ray, and a copy furnished the Berrien County News, for publication and the Valdosta Times requested to copy.

By order of Butler Lodge No. 211 F. &A.M.

Ogden H. Carroll, T.O. Norwood, Jesse Carroll,  Com.

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Men at Beaver Dam Baptist Church

A group of men assembled at Beaver Dam Baptist Church (now known as Ray City First Baptist Church), Ray City, GA.  This was before the present brick church was built.

A group of men assembled at Beaver Dam Baptist Church (now known as Ray City First Baptist Church), Ray City, GA. The church building was the original wooden structure that served before the present brick church was built. (Identifications Needed.)

Walter Howard Knight, photographed at Beaver Dam Baptist Church (now known as Ray City Baptist Church), Ray City, GA.

Walter Howard Knight, photographed at Beaver Dam Baptist Church (now known as Ray City Baptist Church), Ray City, GA.

Walter Howard Knight, a son of William Washington Knight (1829 – 1863) and  Mary E Carroll (1839 – 1906), is the only identified individual in the photo above.  He was born November 28, 1859 in Berrien Co., GA and died June 13, 1934.  Walter Howard Knight is buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

BEAVER DAM BAPTIST CHURCH
In 1874 when Mercer Association missionary Reverend J. D. Evans came to Ray’s Mill, GA  Thomas M. Ray was deeply moved by the Baptist’s message.  Thomas M. Ray must have attended the church meetings in the old log school house and the big revivals that were held in May and July, 1874, for he became instrumental in the formation of a Baptist Church at Ray’s Mill.  On September 20, 1874 a small group of followers met with Reverend J. D. Evans  at  the  home of Thomas and Mary Ray to organize the Beaver Dam church.  Thomas M. Ray. and David J. McGee were elected to represent the new church to the Mercer Baptist Association and were sent as messengers to the Valdosta Church. The Reverend J. D. Evans wrote a petitionary letter which they carried to the association. In November 1874 Thomas M. Ray was appointed to a church building committee along with James M. Baskin and David J. McGee. He served on the committed that selected and procured the site for the construction of the church building. He continued to serve on the building committee until his death.

The original wooden church building at Beaver Dam was constructed by W.A. Bridges and James M. Baskin (see Baskin Family Helped Found Ray City Baptist Church).  Construction began in  January of 1875.  Baskin and Bridges hand hewed the timbers to frame the church.   Sawn lumber were purchased but had to be dressed by hand. The building was finished with windows and siding. The pulpit, table and pews were all built on site. J.M. Baskin made the doors himself.

Baskin Family Helped Found Ray City Baptist Church

Baskin monument, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Baskin monument, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

 

Frances Bell and James Madison Baskin were among the pioneer families that settled in the Ray City, GA area.

Frances was a member of the Troupville Baptist Church (now the First Baptist Church of Valdosta).  After the New Bethel Church, Lowndes County, was organized 1871, Frances and James were united with it.

Three of their daughters, Georgia Ann Baskin, Martha J. Baskin, and  Sarah E. Baskin were among founding members of Beaverdam Church  who met in the home of Mary and Thomas M. Ray, Sr. with Reverend J. D. Evans on September 20, 1874 to organize the church. While the minutes of that September meeting do not show their father, James Madison Baskin, present at the organizational meeting, he is listed on the plaque honoring charter members along with W.A. Bridges.    James and Frances remained members of the Ray City church for life.

In October 1874 J.M. Baskin was elected first deacon of the church , becoming ordained on March 21, 1875. He served on the committee that selected and procured the site for the construction of the church building.  According to notes written by Mary A. Ray, James M. Baskin and W.A. Bridges were the builders of the church building. Construction began in  January of 1875. Baskin and Bridges hand hewed out all the timber to frame the church. Windows and sawn lumber were purchased but had to be dressed by hand. The pulpit, table and pews were all built on site. J.M. Baskin made the doors himself.  He continued to serve as a deacon of the church until 1903 when dismissed by letter.

Frances Bell Baskin died on June 3, 1885 in Rays Mill, Berrien County, Georgia.  James Baskin was a widower, 56 years old, the youngest of his 11 children just 9 years old. He decided to re-marry. Just six months later, on Dec 30 1885 he married Mary Ann Harrell. She was a native of Lowndes County, born in  Nov. 29, 1859. At 27, she was a prominent citizen experienced in public service, and a former Ordinary (probate judge) of Lowndes county. This union produced six children.

James Madison Baskin lived on his land near Ray City with his second wife until his death on July 7, 1913 .  He and both of his wives are buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery in Ray City.

The graves of James Madison Baskin (1829-1913) and his two wives, Frances J. Baskin (1833-1885) and Mary A. Baskin (1859-1917). The obelisk marking the three graves is the largest monument in Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.