Charlie Parker was a Splendid Soldier

Charlie Parker (1919-1945)

In Lakeland, GA there is an official military headstone marking the grave of Charlie Parker, who was a resident of Ray City. Charlie Parker enlisted in the army days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  He was in the first African American military unit to arrive in England, and he was the first African-American from Berrien County to die in WWII. Like the Army in which he served, the cemetery where he was buried was racially segregated  –  the Lakeland Colored Cemetery. Today this burial ground is known as the Charles Knight Cemetery.

Grave of Charlie Parker (1919-1945), Lakeland, GA <br> CPL 65 ORD AM CO <br> World War II

Grave of Charlie Parker (1919-1945), Lakeland, GA
CPL 65 ORD AM CO
World War II

Charlie Parker, a son of Will Parker and Girtrude “Trudie” Reddick, lived most of his short life at Ray City, GA. He was a nephew of Stella Reddick Wright and Mose Wright.

His father, Will Parker, was born August 8, 1884.  As a man, Will Parker  was medium height and build, with black eyes and black hair.  His mother was Girtrude Reddick; She was a daughter of Albert and Sylvia Reddick. His parents were married  in Coffee County, GA on November 4, 1916 in a ceremony performed by Reverend R. N. Thompson.

By 1918, Charlie’s parents were residing in Berrien County, GA. Will Parker,  was employed by Samuel I. Watson as a farmer, working Watson’s property on RFD #2 out of Milltown (now Lakeland), GA. By 1920, Will  and Girtrude Parker had  relocated to Ray City, GA, renting a house in the “Negro Quarters” which were located between Hwy 129 and Cat Creek in the present day vicinity of the Ray City Senior Citizen Center. Will Parker had taken a job with the Georgia & Florida Railroad, and Gertrude was working as a laundress.  Will  and Gertrude had started a family, with their firstborn son Albert Parker born March 1917, and Charlie Parker born January 9, 1919.  Matthew Parker was born in 1921 and Mary Parker in 1922, followed by Stella, Mack, and the twins, Ethel Mae and Willie both of whom died young.  The Parkers neighbors were men like Charlie Palmer, Joe Davis, and Jerry Mullin, all of whom worked for the railroad, and their wives Henrietta Palmer and Essie Davis, who, like Gertrude, worked as laundresses, and Annie Mullin, who was employed as a domestic cook.

1920 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker and his family in Ray City, GA https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n293/mode/1up

1920 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker and his family in Ray City, GA
https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n293/mode/1up

Charlie Parker and his siblings attended grade school, Charlie completing the 5th grade according to his later military records. Of course, at the time schools were segregated. It wasn’t until 1954 that the supreme court ruled on segregation and the 1964 Civil Rights Act compelled the desegregation of schools. Yet segregated schools persisted in the South; In 1965, “In Berrien County, Georgia, 32 Negro parents chose white schools for their children, but the school Superintendent told the U.S. Office of Education that all 32 parents came to him before school opened and said that their names had been forged on the choice forms.”

Charlie’s mother, Girtrude Reddick Parker, died some time in the 1920s.  The 1930 census shows Will Parker, widower, raising Charlie and his siblings alone, although Girtrude’s sisters also mothered the children. Will was renting a house in Ray City for two dollars a month and  continued to work for the railroad. Charlie’s older brother, Albert, quit school and went to work as a farm laborer to help support the family.  The Parkers also took in boarders to help with family expenses; Census records show Eugene and Luvicy Thomas Campbell living in the Parker household. Their neighbors were the widow Nina Dowdy and Charlie Phillips.  Down the street was the residence of Henry Polite, who later married Queen Ester Wright.

1930 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker, his father and siblings in Ray City, GA

1930 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker, his father and siblings in Ray City, GA
https://archive.org/stream/georgiacensus00reel338#page/n354/mode/1up

In 1939, Charlie Parker was working on the Guthrie farm on Park Street extension. When the men were cropping tobacco in the summer of 1939, one of Charlie’s tasks was to go into town to get ice. The Guthries had a mule that pulled a sled which was used to haul the tobacco from the field to the tobacco barn for curing. At lunch time, when the tobacco croppers were taking a break, Charlie would take the mule and sled down the dirt road into Ray City to the ice house.  Ferris Moore kept a little ice house by the railroad track in front of Pleamon Sirman’s grocery store. The ice was shipped into Ray City from an ice plant in Nashville. Sometimes seven-year-old Diane Miley, one of the Guthrie grandchildren, would ride in the sled with Charlie for the trip into town and back.

Sometime in late 1939, Charlie Parker and his cousin, Dan Simpson,  left Ray City and went to Florida to try their hand at working for the Wilson Cypress Company. Dan was a son of Charlie’s aunt Luvicy Reddick and her first husband, John H. Simpson.

1940 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker at the Wilson Cypress Sawmill Camp, Crows Bluff, FL

1940 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker at the Wilson Cypress Sawmill Camp, Crows Bluff, FL

The 1940 census enumerated Charlie Parker and Dan Simpson in Lake County, FL, working  at the Crows Bluff Camp of the Wilson Cypress Sawmill. Each rented a place to live at the camp for $2.00 a month.

Crows Bluff on the St. Johns River, was about 65 miles up stream from the Wilson Sawmill at Palatka, FL. At one time, the Wilson sawmill was the largest cypress sawmill in the world.

Parker and Simpson worked as “rafting laborers.” The cypress trees were cut and hauled to the river. They were dumped into the water and assembled into rafts which were floated down the river to the sawmill.

Wilson Cypress Company dumping logs into the Saint Johns River. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/38983

Wilson Cypress sawmill camp in Lake County, FL, dumping logs into the Saint Johns River.
Charlie Parker and Dan Simpson, of Ray City, GA found work with Wilson Cypress Company in the late 1930s as “rafting laborers.”
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/38983

Wilson Cypress Company logging operation on a tributary of the St. Johns River. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/38992

Wilson Cypress Company logging operation on a tributary of the St. Johns River. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/38992

Timber rafting on a tributary of the St. Johns River, Florida. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/27761

Timber rafting on a tributary of the St. Johns River, Florida. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/27761

Wilson Cypress Sawmill. Charlie Parker worked for the Wilson Cypress Sawmill prior to WWII. At the time, the sawmill was the largest producer of red-heart tidewater cypress lumber in the world.

Wilson Cypress Sawmill.
Charlie Parker worked for the Wilson Cypress Sawmill prior to WWII. At the time, the sawmill was the largest producer of red-heart tidewater cypress lumber in the world.

The Palatka sawmill operation of the Wilson Cypress Company was shut down December 5, 1945 during WWII.  Later, the chairman of the company board remarked, “There just was no more marketable timber. We had cut it all.”   Over the next 37 years,  the company’s assets were sold off piece by piece, including 100,000 acres of cut over cypress wetlands.

But the war drew Charlie Parker away before the end came for the sawmill.    His elder brother, Albert Parker, had joined the Army nearly a year before the U.S. entered the war, enlisting at Fort Benning, GA on January 21, 1941.

U.S. Army records show that Charlie Parker enlisted with the Army on November 26, 1941, eleven days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He entered the service at Camp Blanding, FL. His physical description at induction was 5’9″ tall and 151 pounds.  His cousin Dan Simpson would be inducted at Camp Blanding the following year.

Camp Blanding was established in 1939 and by 1941, the camp had grown to be the fourth largest city in Florida with more than 10,000 buildings to accommodate two divisions, about 60,000 trainees.  In addition to housing and mess halls, maintenance buildings, PXs, field artillery and rifle ranges, the camp had a 2,800-bed hospital, enlisted men’s and officer’s clubs, bowling alleys, four theaters, and five chapels… The camp had separate training and induction centers for soldiers of both races, although they remained in separate areas of the post…During World War II, approximately one million men received basic training here, the largest of Florida’s 142 military installations built in the 1940s.

Following training, Charlie Parker was initially assigned to the 60th Ordnance Ammunition Company and later transferred to the 65th Ordnance Ammunition Company.

“The 65th Ordnance Company were the first Aviation ammunition Unit to arrive in the UK. They were set to immediate work establishing the first Aviation Ordnance Section in a General Service Depot, at Burtonwood. They were briefly transferred to Barnham before being moved to Wortley, Yorkshire to man the first depot to accept AF munitions in quantity from the US. This Unit was the first African American Unit to arrive in England!  Its arrival being the subject of an FBI document, relating to a press release, downplaying the arrival of ‘negro’ troops.”

“The all black 65th Ordnance Company who arrived from Fort Dix, New Jersey in the middle of July 1942 at the nearby small village of Wortley. They were joined the following month by a further 98 black GIs. They had come to service an aerial bomb depot in the vicinity, and were barracked at Wortley Hall, the home of Lord Wharncliffe. According to the detailed account of this by Graham Smith, the locals of Wortley and Sheffield got on very well with the black soldiers, apart from some young men who resented them having relations with local young women. They were resented too by Lord Wharncliffe, who didn’t like having them milling around his living quarters.”

When America entered the war, there were fewer than 4000 African Americans in the armed services; by the war’s end more than 1.2 million African Americans would serve in uniform. Like Charlie Parker, many black soldiers served in segregated units in support roles:

“While most African Americans serving at the beginning of WWII were assigned to non-combat units and relegated to service duties, such as supply, maintenance, and transportation, their work behind front lines was equally vital to the war effort, serving behind the front lines…By 1945, however, troop losses virtually forced the military to begin placing more African American troops into positions as infantrymen, pilots, tankers, medics, and officers in increasing numbers.  In all positions and ranks, they served with as much honor, distinction, and courage as any American soldier did.  Still, African American MPs stationed in the South often could not enter restaurants where their German prisoners were being served a meal. ”  

The 65th Ordnance Ammunition Company served in campaigns in Algeria-French Morocco, Tunisia, Naples-Foggia, and Rome-Arno. By 1945, the 65th Ordnance Ammunition Company (munitions supply) was assigned to Mondolfo Airfield, Italy.  USAAF units known to have been stationed at Mondolfo were:

307th; 308th; 309th Fighter Squadrons, P-51D/K Mustang
Primary mission was to escort B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers on missions into Northern Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia and Austria.
317th; 319th Fighter Squadrons, P-51D/K Mustang
Primary mission was to fly ground air support missions for advancing Allied ground forces in Italy.

Part of Charlie Parker’s job while serving in Italy as a corporal in the 65th Ordnance Ammunition Company was handling toxic bombs.  According to the textbook Medical Aspects of Chemical Warfare published by the U.S. Army, the US Army Air Force in WWII:

had 100-lb mustard agent bombs; 500-lb phosgene or cyanogen chloride bombs; and 1,000-lb phosgene, cyanogen chloride, or hydrocyanic acid bombs… None of these chemical weapons was used on the battlefield during the war, but the prepositioning of chemical weapons in forward areas resulted in one major disaster and several near mishaps. The disaster occurred December 2, 1943, when the SS John Harvey, loaded with 2,000 M47A1 mustard agent bombs, was destroyed during a German air raid at Bari Harbor, Italy. The only members of the crew who were aware of the chemical munitions were killed in the raid. As a result of the ship’s destruction, mustard agent contaminated the water in the harbor and caused more than 600 casualties, in addition to those killed or injured in the actual attack.

Just days before the German surrender and the declaration of Victory in Europe, Parker suffered his own chemical weapons mishap, a fatal exposure to the toxic gas from a poison gas bomb . His death was reported in the Nashville Herald.

The Nashville Herald
May 31, 1945

Cpl. Parker, Negro, Passes In Italy

        Cpl. Charlie Parker, colored, of Ray City, died in Italy April 26, in a United States Army Station Hospital, located in Southern Italy, where he had been stationed nearly two years.
        While working with toxic bombs, Cpl. Parker inhaled a concentration of the gas. After reporting to the Medical Aid Station he was admitted to the Station Hospital for further treatment. Reports stated that everything possible was done to save his life but to no avail.
        His burial services were conducted on Sunday, April 29, attended by all officers and men of his company except those on duty. Burial was in an American cemetery in Southern Italy. The letter from his commanding officer stated that Parker was a splendid soldier and well liked by those of his company.
        The deceased volunteered in the U.S. Army about three years ago, having in Italy. He was the son of Will Parker and a nephew of Frances Goff, both of Ray City. So far as known at this time, he was the first Berrien county colored person to make the supreme sacrifice in World War II.

(transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker)

After the end of World War II, Charlie Parker’s body was returned to the United States.  The U.S. government mandated a program to return the bodies of servicemen who had been buried in temporary military cemeteries overseas. Following surveys to the population, the government decided that about three fifths of the 289,000 personnel involved would be returned in accordance with family wishes. Between 1946 and 1951, over 170,000 servicemen were returned.

After WWII, the body of Charlie Parker, of Ray City, GA was returned to Georgia aboard the U.S. Army Transport Cpl. Eric G. Gibson.

After WWII, the body of Charlie Parker, of Ray City, GA was returned to Georgia aboard the U.S. Army Transport Cpl. Eric G. Gibson.

The body of Charlie Parker was returned to America aboard the U.S. Army Transport Cpl. Eric G. Gibson, originally built as a Liberty Ship.  As a funeral ship, the USAT Eric G. Gibson was painted white with a large purple mourning band. The ship arrived at the Brooklyn Army Base, NY, in February, 1949, with the bodies of 92 Georgians along with the bodies of more than 5000 war dead from other states.

Ironically, in the 1960s, the Army loaded the S.S. Corporal Eric G. Gibson with chemical weapons of mass destruction- rockets armed with VX nerve gas – and sank it off the coast of  New Jersey to dispose of the deadly weapons. Today, the sunken ship and its deadly cargo remain one of the most dangerous chemical weapons dump sites  in U.S. waters.

In 1949, Francis Reddick Goff applied for a flat marble military headstone to mark the grave of her nephew.

Application for military headstone for Charlie Parker, WWII veteran.

Application for military headstone for Charlie Parker, WWII veteran.

 

Grave of Charlie Parker. Charles Knight Cemetery, Lakeland, GA.

Grave of Charlie Parker. Charles Knight Cemetery, Lakeland, GA.

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Tommie Guthrie and the Korean War

Perry Thomas “Tommy” Guthrie, Jr  (1932-2010)

The Korean War began at 4:40am on June 25, 1950.

Perry Thomas

Perry Thomas “Tommie” Guthrie, Jr., standing in front of a Chinese dugout where he had captured two Chinese during the Korean War. Image courtesy of Jan Purvis McCaskill.

Perry Thomas “Tommie” Guthrie was born in Ray City, GA, a son of Perry Thomas Guthrie, Sr and Rachel Mae Taylor.  Tommie spent his childhood on his father’s farm and in Ray City, GA.

Lucinda Elizabeth Guthrie and grandson Tommy Guthrie, son of Perry Guthrie. Ray City, Berrien County, GA.

Lucinda Elizabeth Guthrie and grandson Tommy Guthrie, son of Perry Guthrie. Photo taken at a carnival in Ray City, Berrien County, GA.

Tommie Guthrie attended the Ray City School along with other local children.

Tommy Guthrie, Grade 2, Ray City School, Ray City, GA.

Tommy Guthrie, Grade 2, Ray City School, Ray City, GA.

It was in June of 1950, when Tommie Guthrie was 18 years old, that North Korea invaded South Korea.  The North Korean Army crossed the 38th Parallel beginning the Korean War on June 25, 1950 at 4:40 am.

Rather than waiting to be drafted, Tommie decided to volunteer. After completing his basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Tommie was assigned to the 45th Infantry Division, Oklahoma National Guard.  The Thunderbirds were one of only two National Guard divisions to see combat in the Korean War; the other being the 40th of California.

The 45th Infantry Division began training for Korea at Camp Polk, Louisiana and in March of 1951 the division shipped out for Hokkaido, Japan for a continuation of their training. The move to Korea was made in December, 1951. The division served in the Yonchon-Chorwon area, and in sectors fronting Old Baldy, Pork Chop Hill, Heartbreak Ridge, and Luke’s Castle. The majority of the 45th Division’s Guardsmen began returning to the States in the spring of 1952, but the division remained in Korea until the end of the conflict in 1953. In all the 45th Division saw 429 days in battle, participating in 4 campaigns.

In 2010, just prior to his death, Tommie Guthrie shared the following story about his training, deployment and first days in Korea with his niece, Jan Purvis McCaskill.  If after sixty years his  account of the dates varies slightly from the official record, we can make some allowances for the memory of an aged veteran.

Tommie Guthrie’s Korean War story began September 1, 1950…

I was 20 years old when drafted into the army, as were most of the draftees. We were living in Lakeland, GA when I got my Draft notice from Stockton, GA.

On September 1st I was in the field pulling leaves off of corn stalks for my horse when a good friend of mine came by for a visit, he too had gotten a draft notice and we wondered what we were going to do. We talked to dad and mama and convinced them it would be a lot better if we volunteered for service, that way we would have a better chance of not being an infantryman. After much crying by mama, they agreed that would be best. Anyway, to Stockton that was 8 miles away we went where we enlisted.

There (at Stockton, GA.) we were sworn in, got shots, clothes, food and a $10.00 bill. I kissed my mother, Rachel Mae Guthrie, goodbye and shook my dad’s, Perry Thomas Guthrie, hand.   I headed for the bus where many of the draftees were.

 We sure looked very young; I guess you could say we were just boys. Next, we were shipped to Fort Jackson, South Carolina and stayed there for eight weeks.

While they finished mobilizing the Oklahoma National Guard, we were put on a troop train and five days, later we arrived at Camp Polk Louisiana where we were assigned to the 45th National Guard. We were lined up in single file and went through a series of tables where unit Commanders selected which one of us they wanted. I was selected by Captain Dahl for his command and the next week I was on another Troop Train for Fort Bliss, Texas.

I became a member of headquarters company of the 145th AAA (anti aircraft artillery), that was the supply company for all five companies of the AAA Brigade. After assigning us to five men crews we were issued weapons and re-loaded on a train and went to Fort Hood.

At Fort Hood we were trained for three weeks, and next boarded a train for Fort White Sands, New Mexico where we went 40 miles out in the desert to practice with big guns. The guns were 50 caliber quad, 37 millimeter on a half track and 40 millimeters-two on a half track to the big 90 millimeter on its own platform.

We used targets pulled by airplanes and r-cats (a small remote airplane painted red). Boy did we use up a lot of ammo. We never hit a tow-plane but came close. Some pilot’s refused to fly them. After one week there living in tents with two baths and two changes of clothes and eating jackrabbit stew we were loaded up and went to Fort Bliss where we received a ten-day leave.

We had to report back to Camp Polk, Louisiana.

[March, 1951]

After two weeks, the whole Oklahoma National Guard was put on 40 ships in New Orleans, Louisiana to go somewhere. After two weeks on the ships, we made it through the canal and went on to San Francisco. We could not get off the ship there because of the problem of getting us back on the boats in Panama. It took them over five days to catch all of us.

We spent two days in San Francisco and the 40 boats loaded 3,000 new troops (draftees). We sailed for Hawaii about three PM and by the next morning, we were way out in the Pacific and in a rare storm. Everyone was sea sick from the boat sailors down to the last army guy. We stayed in the storm until we were almost to Hawaii.

A very smelly bathroom smelled like a rose compared to the ships. A troop ship had a bathroom with 60 commodes side by side and connected by a large pipe. When the ship would roll almost over feces and vomit would come out and cover the floor of the ship. We had no rats because they knew better than to get on one of these ships.

There was a crew [in Hawaii] like the “molly maid” came aboard and clean the ship from top to bottom. It took a week for them to clean and restock. We all got aboard again and headed for Hokkaido, Japan where we trained again. I was taken from one section and put in another.

One night I was on guard at an entry ware house and we were not suppose to have live ammunition for our guns, but I picked up 40 rounds when I left the guard shack and loaded my weapon. About 2 PM the Captain came to check us out with the Seargent – Seargent Manuel said that Company Commanders could look at your gun. I handed him my rifle and when he opened my receiver and found a fully loaded gun, he just about had a fit he was so scared. Boy did the old seargent get a chewing out. I thought I was going to go to the stockade, but I did not. Instead, I received a letter and a stripe.

We lived for nine months in cold, cold, cold tents in Japan. Getting to go in to town every two months and being very young and foolish then, we drank a lot of 25% quarts of Jap beer. The MP’s would catch the real drunk ones like me and hand cuff us to pipes in the station, and when they had a truck load they would take us back to base for the night duty seargent to put us all to bed. The next day the Company commander would hold court.  The punishment was ‘no pass’ for a long period, kitchen police, or extra guard duty. Some silly things that would please the crazy MP’s to send to the General for a report.

One fine day, very early we stood in line again, it was something about money. It turned out that we had to turn our money in and receive new money. We were limited to $50.00—if we had more than that, the Commanding Officer would put it in the company safe and dole it out to us like children. If we had the money, we could go to towns like Chetose, Japan where the population was approximately 20,000. Beer was the popular drink but, it was about 20% alcohol; four quarts was the only size one could buy for about a $1.00. Four quarts made many drunks.

For our food, we ate some dog, seaweed salad and many fish of every kind. The Japanese cook them whole, fish head and all; I never went back for seconds.

Now our showers were something else: they had three tents set up end to end, first walk in and grab a water- proof bag for personal things. Next, we had to strip, the second tent we sprayed and doused with DDT powder to kill lice and what else one might have. The third tent was where one got a change of clothes from shorts up including shoes. Clothes did not fit well because they only had four sizes all laid out on tables. This ritual took place three times a week- oh yes more lines.

In February of 1953, the Commanding General stopped all training courses. He said just one of us could whip a ware house full of tigers, so for the next three weeks we did nothing but continue on wine, cards, women and song. By the middle of the month, my $73.00 per month pay was really low.

Finally, a mandatory meeting of our troops, including cooks. We all gathered in the big parade ground. Over the loudspeaker came the news that our President and MacArthur decided they would invade Korea and set up a police action. We gathered our very heavy clothing new equipment and I got a Jeep and trailer full of C Rations. Two days later, I found myself in a long line (again). The whole division was in line.

[December 1951]

Meanwhile, whole divisions were moving out. Meeting with the army command for the 45th Thunderbird Division, we moved out and onward. They moved us from a camp in Okinawa to docks in Japan where approximately 6- flat bottom ships awaited to take us to Korea. Now as the crow flies, it should have taken us 80 miles, but we went around the Island. We were at that time sea sick for 6 days, but we had reached Japan where we sat and slept until moving onto the flat bottoms.

One night before landing we were awakened by naval gunfire, not just one, but hundreds and hundreds of guns. Empty casings hitting the bouncing ship—a very big cause for being scared. Finally, Commanders told us they were practicing for the next day’s landing.

At daylight, we took a one-way road north to a mountain range call “The Frozen Chosin.” The road ran through the mountains where one could see for 1000’s of feet down. We lost some equipment, tanks and trucks in spite of using heavy snow and ice chains.

We started to unload and put up our new homes for the rest of the time I stayed there.  There were 21, 20 man tents in our Company and the next day we got electricity and heat from the generator truck, which ran all the time.

On our third day there, the 145th field started their 16.5 mm firing over our heads to the north of us. Of course, they can fire from 30 miles away from a target. Boy, you can really see the big shells passing overhead. The Navy and Air force also used the valley we were in as a fly zone. Jet after jet were coming and going all the time. When the Navy fired the 16-inch guns and the shells hit; the whole earth shook. We were one mountain ridge away from the front line; we were at an old Korean defense line. The landscape was full of criss-cross trenches, we had those trenches stocked full of ammo and food.

Since we were the only road going North and South, every day like clockwork a truck about 4 by 4 without cover would come through our camp heading south with dead soldiers stacked like firewood in their frozen body bags. We were not allowed to go anywhere near the trucks. [Tommy died before he finished writing about his stint in the Korean War-Jan McCaskill, his niece.

Grave of Perry Thomas Guthrie, Jr. Barrancas National Cemetery, Pensacola, FL

Grave of Perry Thomas Guthrie, Jr. Barrancas National Cemetery, Pensacola, FL

Reverend W. Harvey Wages

Reverend W. Harvey Wages

In the 1920s  Reverend W. Harvey Wages served as pastor of the Ray City Baptist Church.  He was tall and slender with blue eyes, an enthusiastic and talented young minister. Reverend Wages would go on to become a leading pastor of Georgia churches, a member of the State Baptist Executive Committee of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and chaplain of the Georgia House of Representatives.

W. Harvey Wages was born June 30, 1889 in Cedartown, Polk County, GA. Some time before 1907, the Wages came from Polk to Thomas County. On December 22, 1907, W. Harvey Wages married Eugenia Wilson  in Thomas County. She was born December 24, 1891.

By 1915 W. Harvey Wages had taken up the Baptist ministry in Thomas County, and in 1920 he was serving as pastor of the Baptist church in Pavo, GA. About 1921, Reverend Wages moved his family to Ray City, GA where he took over as pastor of the Ray City Baptist Church. Within a few months, he was also serving as pastor of the Milltown Baptist Church.

In October, 1922, Reverend Wages gave up the Ray City Baptist Church.

Atlanta Constitution
Oct 28, 1922 pg 6
Pastor Moves
    Milltown, Ga., October 26.-(Special.) – Rev. W. Harvey Wages, who resigned the pastorate of the Ray City Baptist church recently moved his  family here this week that he may be able more carefully to look after the Milltown church. Mr. Wages has been living in Ray City about a year, during which time he was pastor of the Baptist church there.  He has been pastor of the Baptist church in Milltown for several months. 

By 1923, Reverend Wages was also serving as pastor of the Stockton Baptist Church.  He continued to be quite active in many revivals throughout this section, as well as weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies. In 1923, Rev. Wages conducted a revival at Good Hope Baptist Church – Perry Thomas Knight had served as pastor of this church in 1909.

Atlanta Constitution
August 24, 1923 Pg 7

HOLD MANY REVIVALS NEAR MILLTOWN, GA

Milltown, Ga., August 23. — (special.)–The revival meeting season is still on in this section.
Rev. W. Harvey Wages, pastor of the local Baptist church, is conducting a revival meeting at Good Hope church in the southern part of Lanier county, near Naylor. Rev. Roy Powell, of Nashville, Ga., is the pastor of this church. The meeting began last Saturday and will go on through this week.


1923-milltown-weddings

 

September 29, 1923

Many Weddings in Milltown.

Milltown, Ga., September 29. – Mrs. Lula Sutton has announced the marriage of her daughter, Berta Sutton to Charles Ennis Vizant, of Jacksonville, Fla., which occurred some days ago at the home of her cousin, O. M. Cameron, the ceremony being performed by Rev. E.D. McDaniel of Avondale Baptist church, Jacksonville. Mr. and Mrs. Vizant are at home to their friend at 1546 Roselle street, Jacksonville, Fla.

The many friends of Miss Mary Knight, who is well known in this state will be interested in the announcement by her father and mother, Rev. and Mrs. L. J. Knight, of Milltown, Ga., that Rev. Dr. A. R. Faralane, of Kansas City, Mo. and Miss Mary Knight, of Milltown, Ga., late of Independence, Mo. were married at Independence, Mo., Friday, September 7.

Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Pierce, of East Lanier, announce the marriage of their daughter, Miss Bell Pierce to George Hires, of near Waycross, the ceremony being performed by Rev. W. Harvey Wages, of Milltown. They are living near Waycross.

Miss Audrey Nicholson, the attractive young daughter of Mr. John Nicholson, of Ousley, Ga., was married Sunday afternoon to Will Williams, of near Morven. The ceremony was performed by Rev. A. L. Colson, near Valdosta, being witnessed bu a few intimate friends. The young couple will make their home near Morven, in Brooks county.

 

1928-harold wages

– In 1928, Reverend W. Harvey Wages suffered the loss of his 11-year-old son, Harold Wages. The boy was buried at the New Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery,

June 9, 1928

Harold Wages Buried Near Thomasville, GA.

Thomasville, Ga., June 9. – Funeral services were held yesterday at New Shiloh Baptist Church, six miles north of Thomasville on the highway to Moultrie, for Harold Wages, 11-year-old son of Rev. and Mrs. W. Harvey Wages, who died Wednesday in Lithonia, Ga. Interment was in the church cemetery at New Shiloh.

Rev. Mr. Wages and his family resided here for some years, removing four years ago to Lithonia, where Mr. Wages is pastor of one of the churches. They have a number of relatives and friends in Thomas county and young Harold, when his family lived here, was popular with a large connection and regarded as a boy of many attractive qualities and fine intelligence. His death was the result of blood poisoning contracted only a few days before he died.

 

1915-jul-23-harvey-wages

Reverend W. Harvey Wages was active with the Masons, July 23, 1915.

July 23, 1915

Thomas County Masons Meet.

Thomasville, Ga., July 22. – (Special.) The Thomas county Masonic convention which met yesterday with the Coolidge lodge was greatly enjoyed by the large number of Masons in attendance from all of the various lodges throughout the county. The speech of welcome was made by the Rev. Harvey Wages, and other short talks were made by visitors from the different lodges.

The chief feature of the convention was the address of Congressman Frank Park, whose subject, “Masonry, Exposed,” was treated in an able manner.

After a big picnic dinner there was work during the afternoon in the various degrees.

Congressman Frank Park owned a large plantation in Worth County, and had been responsible for organizing the great Possum Banquet, with ‘taters and persimmon beer for President Taft in Atlanta in 1909.

Reverend W. Harvey Wages later served as pastor of Lynn Haven Baptist Church, Panama City, FL.  He died September 27, 1971.  He was buried at the Wilson Family Cemetery, Thomas County, Georgia, USA.  Eugenia Wilson Wages died  June 5, 1977 and was buried next to her husband.

Monument to Culpepper Mullis

Culpepper Mullis was a young man of Berrien County before the Civil War.   He was apparently somewhat of a rowdy and prone to riding while intoxicated.

A son of Catherine and Thomas Mullis, he was born about 1834 in North Carolina but came with his parents and siblings to Georgia about 1841.  Shortly thereafter his father died, when Culpepper was about nine years of age. In the census of 1850, Culpepper was enumerated in his  widowed mother’s household, which at that time was  in Lowndes County, GA..  In 1855 his mother married Blank Lee.  Their place was apparently in the neighborhood of Milltown (now Lakeland) in that part of Berrien County which was later cut into Lanier County.   

Old monument to Culpepper Mullis. Tifton Gazette, Dec 7, 1864.

Old monument to Culpepper Mullis. Tifton Gazette, Dec 7, 1864.

Tifton Gazette
Dec 7, 1864.

There is a monument on the side of Mud Creek road, about one mile north of Milltown, which tells the passer-by of a very sad tragedy which occurred there before the war. A young white man, Culpepper Mullis, had been to town where he had imbibed very freely of mean whiskey; he was riding his horse very recklessly, enroute home, when the horse threw him against a pine and broke his neck. The pine tree was cut down leaving a stump about seven or eight feet high, this stump was trimmed to a square and an inscription of the facts engraved thereon. The inscription however, is almost obliterated with age.

Electric Lights and Running Water for Ray City, GA

Ray City Water and Light

Ray City Light Plant - September 18, 1923

Ray City Light Plant – September 18, 1923.  Bruner Shaw was among those present at the start-up of the power plant.

In the 1920’s the cities and towns of south Georgia were all working to bring electricity to homes and businesses. In fact, in the first six months of 1922, Georgia ranked 4th among all states east of the Mississippi in hydroelectric power production. At that time, 87% of all electricity generated in Georgia came from hydroelectric power.  In Ray City, though, the people still relied on kerosene lamps or gas light.

In 1922, Milltown, GA (now known as Lakeland, GA,)  began work on a one-thousand horsepower hydroelectric plant. The plant was expected to supply enough electric current for Milltown, Valdosta, and for other area towns including Ray City,  GA.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution; March 12, 1922

Work Soon to Begin on Hydro-Electric Plant at Milltown

Milltown, Ga., March 12. –(Special.) — The town council has purchased water meters and light meters and as soon as they arrive they will be installed.

F.E. Hatch, of Albany, will begin work in a few weeks on the hydroelectric plant. He has been delayed by not securing right of way from some parties. The plant is to be located on Lake Irma with water piped from Burk’s Pond, a mile away. The plant will cost about $350,000.  A thousand horsepower will be generated by the plant, current enough to supply cheap power for Milltown, Valdosta, Ray City, Adel, Sparks, Nashville, Ocilla and other towns.

Ray City wasn’t waiting for power to be run from another town, though.  Funds were appropriated in sufficient amount, it was thought,  to complete the construction of a municipal waterworks and  power plant in Ray City, and a contract was let.

 The Atlanta Journal Constitution; July 21, 1922

Ray City to Install Electric Light Plant

Milltown, Ga., July 21. –(Special.)  Ray City is soon to have electric lights and waterworks.

Mayor L. F. Giddens has closed the contract with McGraw & Co., of Thomasville, to put in the plant. All material is bought and expected any day. Work has begun on wiring the homes, and this part of the work will be completed by August 1.

The contract also has been let for boring a well near the dam, and the city will be piped as soon as possible, to give the people both electric lights and waterworks. They will own their own hydro-electric plant.

Bonds have been sold to take care of the expense. 

But the construction of the plant at Ray City didn’t progress well. The water quality from the deep well was bad, and the dam for the hydroelectric plant needed repairs before it was even completed. By the end of October there was still no power or water service in the city.

 

 The Atlanta Journal Constitution; October 28, 1922

Ray City Will Get Water and Lights

Ray City, Ga., October 27. –(Special.) — The deep well at Ray City has struck a vein of sulphur water.

The pipes have been laid and are being connected. Citizens expect to have water in their homes in a few more days. The dam at Beaverdam Pond is being repaired and in the course of a few weeks, the wiring having already been done, Ray City will be equipped with electric lights.

 

Things got worse instead of better.  Attempts to repair the dam failed, and when the dam finally broke the project was off schedule and hopelessly over budget. A year later the dream of cheap hydroelectric power in Ray City was running out.  In the meantime the city was running a kerosene fueled motor to drive the electric generator. It would take another bond issue to continue the project, and the people of Ray City put it to the vote. The election at Ray City to float additional bonds, $5000 for school purposes and $7000 for water and lights, was carried 64 for and 4 against.

 

 The Atlanta Journal Constitution; November 11, 1923

$12,000 Bonds Voted For Use in Ray City

Milltown, Ga., November 10 –(Special.) — The election at Ray City to float additional bonds, $5,000 for school purposes, and $7,000 for water and lights was carried 64 for and 4 against. Several years ago Ray City floated bonds sufficient, it was thought, to build a new school building, but building expenses exhausted the funds and left the building incomplete. As soon as the new bonds are sold, the work on the building will be completed and Ray City will have one of the best modern school buildings in the state.

It was also thought that sufficient funds were appropriated to put in a waterworks and electric light plant. But these funds gave out before the work was what they wanted. There is a hydroelectric plant. The dam was broken some time ago and the light is furnished now by a powerful kerosene engine. The funds to be raised by these additional bonds is for the completion of this work.

 On January 5, 1928 the Georgia Power & Light Company purchased the Ray City Electric plant, for the sum of $3,816.

Epilogue:

On Beaverdam Creek, just east of the Pauline Street bridge, are the concrete remains of the Ray City hydroelectric dam.  Nearby, the remnants of a mechanical shed remain.  The old Ray City water tower was torn down and sold for scrap a few years ago.

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Andrew College Alumnus Mildred Clements

Andrew College

In 1940-41 Mildred Clements, of Ray City, GA, attended Andrew College at Cuthbert, GA. At the time, Andrew College was a small Methodist junior college for women. The choice of schools was appropriate , as Mildred Clements would observe a lifelong commitment to the Methodist church.

The Valdosta Times
April 6, 1941

The friends of Miss Mildred Clements are glad to learn that she has improved from her illness and returned to Andrew College Tuesday where she will graduate this term.

Andrew College, Cuthbert, GA

Andrew College, Cuthbert, GA

Born Sept. 14, 1921, in Berrien County, Mildred Lorene Clements was a daughter of Alma May and Hod P. Clements.  H. P. Clements was a banker and prominent businessman of Ray City. He was college educated and appreciated the value of a college education for his children.

20130712-075023.jpg

Andrew College Historical Marker

While Mildred attended Andrew College, her sister Frances and cousin Annie Ruth Clements went to Georgia State Women’s College.

According to the Andrew College website:

The Charter of Andrew College, granted in 1854 by the Georgia Legislature, is the second oldest charter in the United States giving an educational institution the right to confer degrees upon women. Originally named Andrew Female College, Andrew operated as a women’s four-year college for 63 years. In 1917 Andrew became a junior college and in 1956 the institution became co-educational. During the Civil War, classes were stopped and the College served as a hospital for wounded confederate soldiers. When classes resumed in 1866, a physical education course was added to the College’s curriculum, the first such course to be required of women in the South. In 1892, Andrew’s buildings burnt to the ground. However, the people of Cuthbert raised the funds necessary to build Old Main, the College’s landmark building, that very same year. Only a handful of colleges in Georgia are older than Andrew and few possess such a rich and celebrated history. Andrew College is recently celebrated the culmination of its Sesquicentennial (150 years of service) and a progressive Campus Master Plan was recently approved by Andrew’s Board of Trustees. “Andrew is small, but there are those that love her.”

After college, Mildred Clements married Mitchell Haygood Moore, a young salesman from Sirmans, GA.  During WWII he joined the Army Air Force and was assigned as a Staff Sergeant to the 854 AAF Bomber Squadron, 491st Bomber Group, flying as a crewman on a B-24 Liberator.  Some say he was a bombardier, others say he was a tail gunner. The 491st was one of seven Heavy Bombardment Groups – 488th through 494th – activated in the autumn of 1943.  By April of 1944, the 491st was  in England, and the group engaged in long-range strategic bombardment of Germany.  In July 1944 it supported the breakout at St. Lo and assaulted V-weapon sites and communications lines in France during the summer of 1944.  After August, 1944 the 491st concentrated its attacks on strategic objectives in Germany, striking communications centers, oil refineries, storage depots, industrial areas, shipyards, and other targets in such places as Berlin, Hamburg, Kassel, Cologne, Gelsenkirchen, Bielefeld, Hanover, and Magdeburg; on one occasion attacked the headquarters of the German General Staff at Zossen, Germany.  On the date of Mitchell Moore’s death, 26 November 1944, the 491st bomber group was on a mission to bomb an oil refinery at Misburg, Germany when the group was attacked by large numbers of enemy fighters.  There were 31 B-24s dispatched on that mission, 28 reached the target, 16 never came back. Although more than half of its planes were destroyed, the group fought off the interceptors, and successfully bombed the target. For this action the group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation. According to the 491st Bomber Group website, Mitchell Moore was flying as a Left Waist gunner on the Misburg raid when he was killed in action.

 

After the war, Mildred applied for and received a marble headstone from the Army Office of the Quartermaster General, to mark his grave at Union Church Cemetery, near Lakeland, GA.

Application for WWII headstone for Mitchell H. Moore.

Application for WWII headstone for Mitchell H. Moore.

Later, Mildred married WWII veteran and high school classmate Lawson Fountain.  After the war, Lawson Fountain had gone into the banking business with Mildred’s father, Hod P. Clements and was for many years a fixture  in Ray City’s financial institutions.  Lawson Fountain has been the subject of previous posts: Lawson Fountain ~ Ray City Banker and Shoe String Bandits Strike Ray City Bank.

Obituary of Mildred Clements Fountain.

Mildred Clements Fountain

Mildred Clements Fountain, 84, of Ray City passed away Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2005, at her residence after a lengthy illness. She was born on Sept. 14, 1921, in Berrien County to the late Hosea and Alma Clements. Mrs. Fountain taught school for many years, teaching in Enigma, Hahira and Pine Grove. She was a very active member of the Ray City United Methodist Church serving as president of the United Methodist Women for 21 years and many other positions in her church. She was preceded in death by her husband, Mitchell Moore who gave the ultimate sacrifice in WWII and her husband, Lawson F. Fountain who was the president of the Bank of Ray City. Survivors include her son, James L. Fountain, Ray City; sister, Frances Carter, Valdosta; two nieces, Sherry Buffaloe, Lexington, Tenn., Laurel Thomas, Valdosta; nephew, Larry Carter, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; several great-nieces and nephews. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 22, 2005, in the Ray City United Methodist Church with burial following in Beaver Dam Cemetery.

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Minnie Gordon Sloan Married Meritt E. Johnson

Minnie Gordon Sloan was a daughter of  Ray’s Mill farmer James M. Sloan and Martha Gordon Sloan, born July 17, 1876. She married Meritt (or Merritt) E. Johnson on January 17, 1904 in Berrien County, GA.  Meritt Johnson was born January 22, 1878 in Berrien County, GA and raised in Rays Mill (later Ray City), GA.  He was a son of James R. Johnson (born February 1, 1858 in Johnson County, NC; died May 17, 1928 in Lakeland, Lanier County, GA) and Mary Elizabeth (Truett) Johnson (born July 7, 1848 in Jackson County, MS; married April 1, 1874 in Berrien County, GA; died June 6, 1915 in Lakeland, GA); he  was a brother of James Randall Johnson, subject of previous posts.

Marriage certificate of Merritt E. Johnson and Minnie Gordon Sloan, January 17, 1904, Berrien County, GA.

Marriage certificate of Merritt E. Johnson and Minnie Gordon Sloan, January 17, 1904, Berrien County, GA.

After marriage, Minnie and Meritt made their home on Main Street in Lakeland, GA, where they maintained their residence for many years.

According to  Georgia’s Official Register, 1937, Meritt E. Johnson was a product of local Berrien County schools and studied law on his own at home.  He taught school for five years before being admitted to the bar. He was a Baptists, Mason, Odd Fellow, Knight of Pythias, Woodmen of the World, and member of the Farmers’ Union. From 1901 to 1908 he served as Justice of the Peace. From  1904-1908 he was on the Berrien County Board of Education, and from 1910 to 1916 he was a school trustee in the Knight school district. In politics he was a democrat; he served as city councilman in Lakeland from 1919 to 1926 and as city recorder form 1929-1931.  He was solicitor in the Lanier County Court from August 15, 1929 to August 15, 1933 , and again from August 15, 1935  to August 15, 1937.

Census records attest that  Meritt wasn’t always so bookish.  In 1910 census of Milltown, GA, he was working as a carpenter, building houses. In 1920, he was a barber, working on his own account in his own shop.  Some time before 1930, son Julian A. Johnson took over the barbershop, and Meritt Johnson entered legal practice in Lakeland.

Children of Minnie Gordon Sloan and Merritt E. Johnson:

  • Blanche Estelle Johnson, born November 4, 1904, attended Georgia State Womens College –
  • Julian Aubrey Johnson, born October 15, 1907
  • Hoke Smith Johnson, born May 28, 1910

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Obituary of Helen Baskin Pierce

Helen Baskin, born February 2, 1920, was a daughter of  Minnie Lee Hancock Baskin and Armstrong B. “Bee” Baskin.   In 1941, Helen Baskin was a sophomore at Georgia Teachers College (now Georgia Southern University). In 1943 she married  Wilmont C. Pierce.  After WWII, the couple made their home at Ray City, where Wilmont  engaged in farming with Helen’s father.   In 1968, the Pierces moved from Ray City to Valdosta, GA.

Obituary of Helen Baskin Pierce (1920-2004)

AXSON — Helen Baskin Pierce, 84, of Axson, passed away Tuesday, June 1, 2004, at South Georgia Medical Center, Valdosta, following a long illness. Mrs. Pierce was born on Feb. 2, 1920, growing up in Lanier County, the daughter of the late Armstrong B. Baskin and Minne Lee Hancock Baskin. She was preceded in death by her brothers and sister, John W. Baskin, Lakeland, Ga., Curtis L. Baskin, Groves, Texas, Louie Baskin, Alma, Ga., and Mary Frances Blalock, Atlanta.

She retired in June 1986, after serving 27 years as a civil service employee in Atlanta at Warner Robins Air Force Base and Moody Air Force Base. She served in various capacities at First Baptist Church, Ray City, Ga., her home church, before moving to Valdosta in 1968, where she was a member of First Baptist Church there. Currently, she resided in Coffee County and was a member of Stokesville Baptist Church.

Mrs. Pierce is survived by her husband of 61 years, Wilmont Candler Pierce, Axson; her sons, Michael J. Pierce, Olathe, Kan., W. Candler Pierce (Mary Ann), Richmond, R.I., Bobby L. Pierce (Kay), Axson; her grandchildren, Wade C. Pierce, Orlando, Fla., Keith H. Pierce, Tampa, Fla., M. Andrew Pierce, Bayminette, Ala., Jessica, Andrea and Justin Pierce Richmond, R.I., Lynn Eslinger (Jason), Cleveland, Tenn., Kim Hunter (Tim), Valdosta, and Krista L. Pierce, Valdosta, as well as three great-grandchildren. Her extended family included J.C. and Evelyn Pierce, Crawfordville, Ga., Howard and Dot Ray, Ray City, Jessie Hudson, Valdosta, McDonald and Betty Pierce and Dilmus and Burma Pierce, Lakeland, Vanelle Baskin, Gloria Baskin, Groves, Texas; 17 nieces and nephews.

The family will receive friends at Music Funeral Services, Lakeland, Ga., from 6-9 p.m. this evening. Mrs. Pierce will lie in state at First Baptist Church, Ray City, from 10-11 a.m. June 4, 2004. Memorial services will begin at 11 a.m. with the Rev. Lee Graham and the Rev. Bob L. Pierce officiating. Burial will follow in Unity United Methodist Church Cemetery near Lakeland, Ga. Sympathy may be expressed online at http://www.musicfuneralservices.com — Music Funeral Services of Lakeland

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Showdown in Allapaha

In previous posts Phil Ray, a descendant of Hiram Ray of Berrien County, has shared his research on the land deals and connections between the Ray and Bailey families that ultimately ended in death (see Burrell Hamilton Bailey Sells Out in 10th, The State vs Burrell Hamilton Bailey).

Here is the story  of  how Bradford Ray was gunned down by Burrell Hamilton Bailey on the streets of Alapaha, GA in 1873.

Bradford Ray was the son of  Hiram Ray and the husband of Martha J. Swan.  In 1872,  Bradford’s father, Hiram swapped his place near Cat Creek with Berrien county farmer Burrell Hamilton Bailey for another farm in the 1307 Georgia Militia District, Lowndes County.   When Hiram Ray moved his family to their new place, son Bradford Ray remained behind to work for Bailey as a tenant farmer. But in the summer of 1873 a dispute arose between Burrell Bailey and Bradford Ray over some family matter. On the 23 of June, 1873, while the two men were in the community of Alapaha, GA  the argument turned violent; Bailey shot Ray in the stomach. Bradford Ray lingered with the wound for two weeks before it proved fatal. Burrell H. Bailey was indicted for murder.

Albany News, July 4, 1873. Burrell Hamilton Bailey shoots Bradford Ray.

Albany News, July 4, 1873. Burrell Hamilton Bailey shoots Bradford Ray.

Albany News
July 4, 1873

Pistol Fighting at Allapaha.

ELEVEN SHOTS EXCHANGED
ONE MAN MORTALLY WOUNDED.

Allapaha, Ga., July 1st, 1873.
Editors Albany News: – Quite a serious difficulty occurred at this place (Allapaha, Berrien county,) on Saturday, 21st June, between Bradford Ray and Bill Bailey.  The following are the particulars:
   Some two or three months ago, threats were passed between Ray and Baily, in regard to some family matters, which were carried into effect at this place, as the following will show:
     The meeting of the parties here, I am informed, was a premeditated arrangement. – Soon after their arrival in town, Baily got considerably under the influence of liquor, and fuel was added to the already kindled flame – the long pent-up passions were soon to leap beyond their bounds.  But through the influence of friends, they were kept apart. Baily, with pistol in hand, walked away, telling Ray (who was then making desperate efforts to follow him) not to follow him, if he did that he would hurt him.  After Baily got away all became quiet, until about four o’clock in the evening, when the parties met again in front of Mr. Dormind’s store, where the fatal difficulty was renewed, with the addition of another party, James Brogden, who was very drunk.  Had it not been for Brogden, I am confident that the affair would have passed off without the loss of life.  He approached Ray with abusive language, which caused several blows to be passed between them.  Seeing that Brogden, who was very drunk, was getting the worst of it, he was parted from Ray several times, but could not be controlled.  While this was going on, words were passing between Ray and Baily, who were in ten feet of each other, and as they were about to get together, Daniel Turner came up and tried to quiet the fuss; but by this time the row became general.  Ray had his knife drawn, and Baily his pistol. – Baily told Ray that “if he approached him, he would shoot him.”  Daniel Turner spoke and said: (I did not learn what he said only from Baily after the fight was over)  “If you shoot Ray I will shoot you!”  As soon as these words were spoken, Baily fired at Ray – the ball entering the stomach – then turned upon Turner, fired the second shot, which was immediately returned.  Baily then fired the third shot at Ray, inflicting a painful wound in his left hip.  Ray was at this time retiring from the scene of action.  The balance of the shooting passed between Turner and Ray – fortunately neither was hit.
     The pistols being emptied, all became quiet, and attention was turned to Ray, who was considered mortally wounded.  Baily was arrested by a Bailiff and turned over to Sheriff Mathews, (who was absent from town at the time of the difficulty) and held in custody until Monday morning, when he gave bond;  but as Ray daily grew worse, Baily’s bondsmen became uneasy, and on Friday, 27th, he was lodged in Nashville jail to await his trial at the August Term of the Superior Court, for the murder of a fellow-being.
    Ray lived until Sunday morning, 1 o’clock, 29th ult., when the spirit of the unfortunate man passed away.  Thus were the hearts of two families made to mourn over an irreparable loss.

ALLAPAHA.

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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 were Robert A. Elliot,  and 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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