William H. Griffin, Wiregrass Jurist

William Hamilton Griffin (1853-1917)

William Hamilton Griffin was born in that part of Lowndes County, GA which was cut into Berrien County in 1856. He became a prominent public administrator and jurist of Wiregrass Georgia, and was involved in some of the most dramatic legal contests in Ray City history.

William H. Griffin

William H. Griffin

William Hamilton Griffin  was born July 18, 1853, on his father’s plantation, located in that portion of Lowndes county which is now included in Berrien county, GA. His honored parents, William D.and Nancy (Belote) Griffin, were also natives of Lowndes county.”

He was a cousin of Bessie Griffin, and Lester Griffin of the Connells Mill district (Georgia Militia District 1329), just west of  the Rays Mill community  (now Ray City, GA),

“The father, William D. Griffin, aided in effecting the organization of Berrien county and was its second treasurer, which office he held continuously until his death, in 1892, except one term, during the so-called -“Reconstruction” period, immediately succeeding the Civil War, when nearly all white voters were, under Federal statutes, practically disfranchised. The father was a soldier in the Confederate service during the latter part of the war and was with Johnston’s forces in the operations of the Atlanta Campaign.”

The paternal grandfather represented Brooks county in the state legislature, though his residence was on land now in Lowndes county. The great-grandfather, James Griffin, was a private soldier in the Revolutionary War.  James Griffin and Sarah Lodge Griffin were early settlers of Irwin County, GA.

William H. Griffin, the subject of this sketch, was afforded only the advantages of the common schools of his native county, the family fortunes, in common with those of most southern families, having been seriously affected by the war. He was educated in the public schools and academies at Nashville, GA. He soon developed traits of leadership and at twenty was elected clerk of the court for Berrien County, an office he held in 1874-5. From 1882 to 1885 he held of the office of Ordinary of Berrien County. While in this office he studied law, and in 1884 he was admitted to the Georgia bar. He at once began the practice of his profession at Nashville, but in 1885 he removed to Valdosta, GA.  There he formed a law partnership with Judge Benjamin F. Whittington, as Whittington & Griffin, this relation continuing for several years.

He was elected mayor of Valdosta in 1892, and served three consecutive terms. Governor William Yates Atkinson appointed him judge of the city court of Valdosta in 1897, for a term of four years, at the expiration of which he was reappointed for a like term, by Governor Allen D. Candler, and continued on the bench until 1905. During his eight years of service he tried 1,358 civil cases and 2008  criminal cases, a total of 3,866. His decisions were carried to the supreme court but 18 times and were reversed in only two cases.

In politics Judge Griffin was a Democrat, having always given that party his unqualified support. He served as mayor of Valdosta, judge of the city court, representative in the state legislature from Lowndes County, Chair of the Democratic Executive Committee of Lowndes County, and as referee in bankruptcy. His elevations to public office were a tribute to his worth and to the respect with which he was held by the community.

He was a member of the local lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and held membership in various bar associations. His chief recreations were fishing and hunting.

William H. Griffin was twice married — first, on May 18, 1879, to Margaret “Maggie” MacDonald, daughter of Dougal P. and Anna (Peeples) MacDonald, of Nashville, Berrien county. Maggie McDonald was born in 1864. Her father was listed on the 1860 roster of Levi J. Knight’s Berrien Minute Men, but he was also enumerated in Berrien County on the 1864  Census for Re-Organizing the Georgia Militia. Maggie was apparently raised by Dr. Hamilton M. Talley, as she appears in his household in Berrien County in the census of 1870. She died in 1890.

William H. Griffin was second married to Miss Carrie Abbott, of Randolph, VT, September 28, 1892. He had two children of the latter marriage—William Abbott Griffin, born in 1896, and Margaret Griffin, born in 1902. William and Carrie Griffin were members of the Methodist Episcopal church South.

William H. Griffin served as attorney for the estate of prominent Rays Mill turpentine man Robert S. Thigpen, engineering some of the largest property deals in Ray City history in the disposal of the Thigpen estate.  Thigpen’s holdings at the time of his death in 1898 included his turpentine plants and naval stores stock at Rays Mill, Naylor and Lenox, GA.

In 1899, William H. Griffin represented James Thomas Beagles, defending him for the Killing of Madison G. Pearson at Henry Harrison Knight’s store at Rays Mill (now Ray City),GA some 12 years earlier. The Beagles case was tried before Judge Augustin H. Hansell. Attorney Griffin made a most eloquent and affecting appeal in behalf of his client, Beagles, for a light sentence, and every one in the court room was moved by his strong and well-chosen words. Beagles was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to only two years incarceration.

In 1906, after his retirement from the bench Judge Griffin entered into a partnership with Hon. Elisha Peck Smith Denmark, and formed the law firm, Denmark & Griffin. It was said that “He enjoyed the confidence, esteem and patronage of the most prominent and important people and business interests of Lowndes and adjoining counties.”

In the matter of Green Bullard’s estate, William H. Griffin was retained by William B. Shaw to represent the interests of his wife, Fannie Bullard ShawGreen Bullard was a long time resident of the Rays Mill (now Ray City) area, and  owned land out Possum Creek Road and on toward the community of Cat Creek. The Shaws wanted the estate to be administered by Fannies’ brother, Henry Needham Bullard, rather than her half-brother, William Malachi Jones.   The other side of the family was represented  by Buie & Knight in the dispute. Mallie Jones was the son of Mary Ann Knight Bullard by her first husband, William A. Jones.

Judge Griffin’s name was synonymous with integrity. He “walked uprightly, worked righteousness, and spoke the truth in his heart.” He exemplified the best ideals of the profession. He was generous-spirited, and gave liberally of praise and commendation where he thought it due.  When the first train to roll through Ray City on the Georgia & Florida Railroad arrived at Valdosta, it was Judge W. H. Griffin that gave the welcome address at the celebration.

His death occurred at his home in Valdosta, April 15, 1917, and the throng of people, including many lawyers from other counties, who attended his funeral attested strongly the esteem and love there was for him in the hearts
of those who knew him.

Obituary of William Hamilton Griffin

Obituary of William Hamilton Griffin

Post-Search Light
Apr. 19, 1917

Judge Griffin Died Sunday

Prominent Valdosta Jurist Passed Suddenly Away From Heart Trouble – Well Known Here.

    The following account appearing under a Valdosta date line in the daily press Monday will be interest to Bainbridge friends of the deceased.
     Judge Griffin was well known here, and was related to Representative E. H. Griffin, of this city.
    “Judge William H. Griffin, one of Valdosta’s prominent men and a leading south Georgia lawyer, succumbed to attack of heart failure this afternoon at 1:45 o’clock after less than an hour’s illness.  He was alone at his home when the attack came on him, members of his family being at church.  Mrs. Griffin returned home soon after he was stricken and a physician reached his side in a few minutes but was powerless to relieve his patient.
    “Judge Griffin was sixty-four years of age, an active south Georgian, and for forty years a citizen of Valdosta. He was a member of the law firm of Denmark & Griffin, and controlled a large and lucrative practice.  He was a member of the two last general assemblies of Georgia and exerted a strong but conservative influence in that body.  He had been judge of the city court of Valdosta, mayor of the city, member of the school board and active in the public life of this city and section, which loses one of its best citizens in his death.
     “Judge Griffin is survived by his wife and two children, a son, Mr. Abbot Griffin, and daughter, Miss Margaret.
   “His son was in Macon, where an announcement of his father’s death reached him.
    “Judge Griffin’s funeral and interment will take place here probably on Monday.”

Grave of William Hamilton Griffin, Sunset Hill Cemetery

Grave of William Hamilton Griffin, Sunset Hill Cemetery. Image source: Robert Strickland.

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Trial and Incarceration of James Thomas Beagles

Jame Thomas Beagles (1861-1911)

James Thomas Beagles (1861-1911)

In October of 1899, James Thomas Beagles, aka J. T. Biggles, of Rays Mill, GA sat in the Berrien County jail in Nashville.  At that time the jailhouse was a log building that had been constructed some 25 years earlier.  Beagles was being held for trial for  the 1887 killing of his brother-in-law on the steps of Henry H. Knight’s store at Rays Mill.

At that 1899 term of the Superior Court of Berrien County,   the jail where Beagles  and 11 other prisoners awaited trial was found by the Grand Jury to be in deplorable condition.

Berrien County Grand Jury, October 1899.

Berrien County Grand Jury, October 1899.

Tifton Gazette
Oct. 13, 1899 — page 1

GENERAL PRESENTMENTS

Returned by the Grand Jury, October Term, Berrien Superior Court.

     We, the Grand Jury, chosen and sworn to serve at this term of the court beg leave to submit the following General Presentments:
     We have examined the jail of our county and find it in bad sanitary condition, owing to the size and arrangement of said building, the same being entirely too small and badly arranged, prisoners having to be crowded together, male and female. We attach no fault whatever to the sheriff and jailer in charge, believing that he is doing all in his power to keep the same in order under existing circumstances. And we recommend that our Board of County Commissioners, at as early date as is expedient, build a new jail house and procure sufficient jail cells and arrange said building and cells so as to keep sexes separate and apart, as well as white and colored persons incarcerated therein, considering as we do the present jail a disgrace to the county…

Despite the findings of the Grand Jury, it would be another four years before the now historic building now known as the “old jail” was constructed.

The Berrien Superior Court convened that fall on Monday, October 9, 1899 with Judge Augustin H. Hansell presiding, and Jonathan Perry Knight acting as Clerk of the Superior Court. The docket was full that session and the judge postponed the civil cases, dismissing the witnesses, in order to get on with the trial of the criminal cases. Among the Grand Jury members were Warren L. Kennon, Henry Griffin, and Jonathan L Herring, editor of the Tifton Gazette. Silas Tygart served as clerk, and the jury members selected for their foreman, Malcolm J. McMillian.

 Ex-Senator M. J. McMillian, of Alapaha, is not an office-seeker, but the people know him to be an honorable and upright man, and insist on having his services.  He is foreman of the grand jury this week, though he hid, in an effort to escape the honor when the jury was about to make the selection.
– Ocilla Dispatch.

In addition to the charge of murder against James Thomas Beagles, the criminal docket included: Emma Reese charged with assault and attempted murder; Jim Oscar Stearns charge with the murder of Amos White; Warren G. Moss on the charge of burglary at Lenox; Allen Cooper charged with the killing of Philip Johnson at Kissemmee, FL; Rachel Thomas on counts of assault and battery; John Davis for burglary of the store of Mr. I.D. Ford; Robert Bell for simple larceny from Mr. W.M. Thurman; North Cochran for highway robbery.

The session of the superior court drew a significant crowd, and so was also prone to interruptions of every sort.

The woman “with the hoe” turned up at the last session of Berrien superior court.  She was colored, lived near Cecil, and laid open the cheek of another woman during a rucus, with that useful plantation instrument.

The attorneys arguing before the court were colorful and well-known characters of the Wiregrass judicial circuits.  Colonel Hammond, for example, was one of the prosecuting attorneys but was himself facing prosecution for shooting and wounding Colonel A. L. Hawes at Thomasville the week before.

But it was the Beagles case that generated the most interest.  The case had dragged over a decade because of the flight and subsequent return of Beagles. Beagles was defended  by Col. William Hamilton Griffin,  who was judge of the Valdosta City Court and a former mayor of Valdosta. Col. Griffin was a native of Berrien County and had served previously as clerk of the Berrien County court and as Ordinary of Berrien County.

SUPERIOR COURT IN SESSION.

Berrien’s Mills of Justice at their Semi Annual Grind.

Berrien’s superior court convened Monday morning at ten o’clock, that grey-haired veteran of the bench, Judge Aug. H. Hansell, presiding.  Besides the county bar, those of Worth, Lowndes, Thomas, Colquitt and Albany were well represented.
   The grand jury organized by electing Hon M. J. McMillan foreman and Silas Tygart clerk, and after an able and comprehensive charge from his honor, settled down to work, with a volume of business before it.

*****

Nashville, Oct. 10. – The entire day (Tuesday) in superior court has been consumed in the trial of Thos. J. Beagles for the killing of Madison G. Pearson, at the justice court grounds at Ray’s Mill, Nov. 4th, 1891.  [Note: actual date was 1887]
   Beagles had married Pearson’s sister, and to this marriage Pearson was violently opposed.  Growing out of this opposition, there was bad blood between the two for a year or more, and Pearson had threatened Beagles’ life, and gone to his home and cursed him in the presence of his wife.
    Beagles then swore out a peace warrant against his brother-in-law, on which he was arrested and gave bond for his appearance at justice court the next day.
    In the court house the row was again raised, and Pearson invited Beagles out to fight him, starting out at the door and pulling off his coat as he did so.   As Pearson was on the steps, going down, Beagles, who was standing near, drew a pistol and shot him in the side of his head, killing him instantly.
    Beagles then went to Florida, where he staid [sic] several years, and on his return was arrested and finally admitted to bail.
    Sometime ago, Beagles’ bondsmen gave him up, and he has been in jail for two months.
At the trial to-day, the state was represented by Solicitor-Gen. Thomas and Col. W. M. Hammond, while Cols. Jos. A. Alexander and W. H. Griffin represented the defendant.
    The battle has been a hard-fought one throughout the day, and every point of the evidence thoroughly sifted.  At adjournment to-night, the fight is not concluded, Cols. Thomas and Alexander having addressed the jury, while Cols. Griffin and Hammond will address them tomorrow.

*****

Oct. 11.  –  The morning session of superior court was occupied with the speeches of Cols. Griffin and Hammond on the Beagles case.  That of Col. Griffin, for the defendant, was a masterly arrangement of law and evidence in behalf of his client, and delivered in the clear, concise manner for which Col. Griffin is so well known.
    The argument of Col. Hammond was eloquent and strong, well supported by law, and his arrangement of the prisoner was scathing and masterly.  The arguments were concluded before one o’clock, and Judge Hansell delivered his charge to the jury before adjourning for dinner.

Oct. 13 … Judge Griffin made a most eloquent and affecting appeal in behalf of his client, Beagles, for a light sentence, and every one in the court room was moved by his strong and well-chosen words.
   Sentences were then pronounced as follows…

J. A. Beagles, white, convicted of manslaughter, with recommendation, two years in penitentiary.

But James Thomas Beagles did not spend his two year sentence in the penitentiary.  The very same issue of the Tifton Gazette that carried the outcome of the October 1899 term of the  Superior Court of Berrien County also carried an interesting note on the convict lease system:

October 13, 1899 Tifton Gazette on the Convict Lease System

October 13, 1899 Tifton Gazette on the Convict Lease System

“There is a big boom in the value of state convicts.  Recently there has been a strong demand for the convicts, and lessees under the new system are anxious to get all the men that they can even at advanced prices”

Under the convict lease system, J. T. Beagles was sent to the convict camp at Fargo, GA.   G.S. Baxter & Company operated the convict camp at Fargo to provide labor for the firm’s large sawmill operation. The sawmill at Fargo was the largest in Clinch County, and by 1903 the State Prison System of Georgia was leasing more than 1,000 convicts to the firm. (see Connie Moore and the Fargo Convict Camp)

After serving his sentence, J. T. Beagles returned to Ray City to make his home and work.

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Biggles case was tried by Judge Hansell

The Biggles murder trial of 1899 concerned a family feud at Rays Mill, Georgia in which J.T. Biggles gunned down Madison Pearson on the porch of Henry Harrison Knight’s store. (See 1887 Family Feud at Ray’s Mill, More on the 1887 Family Feud at Rays Mill, GA, Beagles/Biggles/Beigles of Rays Mill, The Biggles Farm.) Judge Hansell, who for fifty years served on the Southern Circuit of the Superior Court, presided at the trial.

Judge Augustin H. Hansell, Southern Circuit, tried many cases in Berrien County, GA.

Judge Augustin H. Hansell, Southern Circuit, tried many cases in Berrien County, GA.

The Atlanta Constitution
October 16, 1899 Pg 3

FIFTY YEARS ON THE BENCH
Judge Hansell’s Remarks to the Grand Jury of Berrien County.
    Tifton, Ga., October 15. – (Special.) – Berrien superior court, after four days’ session, adjourned Thursday evening.  The entire session of the court was devoted to criminal business, no civil cases being called for trial.
  The most important case was that against Thomas J. Beagles, who killed his brother-in-law, Madison G. Pearson, at Ray’s Mill, this county [Berrien], November 4, 1887, or twelve years ago.
    Beagles had married Pearson’s sister and out of this a bitter enmity grew up between him and his brother-in-law.  Pearson had threatened Beagle’s life and a day or so previous to the shooting had gone to his house and cursed his wife and children.
    Beagles swore out a peace warrant for Pearson, and he was carried to justice court at Ray’s Mill for trial. On the court ground the difficulty arose again, and Pearson, the man under arrest challenged Beagles for a fight, and started out the door, pulling of his coat as he went.  Beagles was standing near the door and as Pearson came out unarmed, drew a pistol and shot him through the head.  The ball entered just in front of the right ear, and produced instant death.
    Beagles left the country and was gone three years, but came back and was arrested and placed under bond. Two months ago he was given up by his bondsmen and placed in jail.
The trial of the case consumed a day and a half.  The state was represented by Solicitor General Thomas and Colonel W. H. Griffin, of Valdosta,  and the defense by Colonels Joseph A. Alexander and W. M. Hammond.  Every inch of the ground was well fought and the arguments of Colonels Hammond and Griffin, covering six hours eloquent and masterly.  The jury remained out seven hours, returning a verdict of manslaughter with a recommendation to mercy.  Colonel Griffin made a touching and eloquent plea for a light sentence and Judge Hansel gave Beagles two years in the penitentiary.
Jim Oscar Sterns, colored, who killed another negro with a coupling pin in Tifton a few weeks ago, was sentenced to the penitentiary for life.
North Cochran, colored, who committed highway robbery, taking $41 from another negro, was given six years in the penitentiary.
Warren Moss, colored, who burglarized the store of C. G. Gray, at Lenox, was given five years.
John Davis, colored, who burglarized the store of J. L. Ford, in Tifton, was given five years.
There were a number of sentences to the chaingang for smaller offenses, all the parties being negroes.
The grand jury recommended the building of a new jail for the county.
In thanking the grand jury for an exceedingly complimentary reference to himself, Judge Hansell stated that next month would be the fiftieth anniversary of his donning the judicial ermine, and the fifty years had been spent on the bench in south Georgia.

Home of Judge Augustin H. Hansell circa 1884, Thomasville, GA. On porch, Mrs. Hansel and Judge Hansell; sitting on top step, Miss Sallie Hansell; on bottom step, Jim Jarrett; at foot of steps, Nannie Boles; standing in yard, left to right, Mrs. James Watt, William A Watt, Hansel Watt, Mr. James Watt.

Home of Judge Augustin H. Hansell circa 1884, Thomasville, GA. On porch, Mrs. Hansel and Judge Hansell; sitting on top step, Miss Sallie Hansell; on bottom step, Jim Jarrett; at foot of steps, Nannie Boles; standing in yard, left to right, Mrs. James Watt, William A Watt, Hansel Watt, Mr. James Watt.

In A HISTORY OF SAVANNAH AND SOUTH GEORGIA, (p. 872-874) author William Harden  wrote a brief sketch on the life of Judge Hansell:

Augustin Harris Hansell, father of Charles P., was born at Milledgeville, August 17, 1817, and being reared in one of the prosperous homes of Georgia, was given excellent advantages. Prof. Carlisle Beaman was one of his tutors in general subjects, and he studied law under R. K. Hines and Iverson L. Harris. After admission to the bar he began practice at Milledgeville, and for a time served as private secretary for Governor Gilmer. In 1847 he was elected solicitor general, and two years later judge of the southern circuit, then embracing the greater part of south Georgia. Railroads had not yet penetrated to this region, and he journeyed from court to court in his private carriage. He resigned as judge in 1853 but was again elected to the same office in 1859. For some years, until 1850, he was a resident of Hawkinsville, then in Scottsboro two years, and in 1852 came to Thomasville, being one of the most prominent among the early settlers of this locality. During the war he served on the relief committee, and in 1864 spent three months distributing supplies to the soldiers around Atlanta and Marietta. In 1868 he left the bench, resuming private practice for four years, but in 1872 was again appointed judge of the southern circuit and continued in this office until 1903. For more than forty years he honored the bench with his character and ability, and his is one of the foremost names in the Georgia judiciary during the last half of the nineteenth century. On retiring from the bench he lived retired until his death in 1907.

Judge Hansell married Miss Mary Ann Baillie Paine, who was born in Milledgeville. Her father was Charles J. Paine, a native of Petersburg, Virginia, and a physician. … Judge Hansell’s wife died in 1906, and her five children were as follows: Susan V., Charles Paine, Mary H., Frances B., and Sally H.

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Beagles/Biggles/Beigles of Rays Mill

After the Civil War, John Jefferson Beagles, subject of previous post, and his family made their home in Alachua County, Florida and took their mail at Gainesville, FL.  He was enumerated there in 1870 as Jefferson Beigle.

John Jefferson Beagles

John Jefferson Beagles

The confusion over the family surname seems obvious, and additional recorded variations of the name include Bigles, Beigles, Beacols, Birgles, Bugles, or Beagley.  No doubt, the illiteracy of John Jefferson Beagles and Nancy Catherine Wright was a contributing factor in the proliferation of Beagles variants.

http://cdm.sos.state.ga.us/u?/countyfilm,77217

John Jefferson Beagles and Nancy Catherine Wright Beagles

John Jefferson Beagles and Nancy Catherine Wright Beagles. (Image courtesy of Berrien County Historical Foundation http://berriencountyga.com/)C 1870 Census enumeration of John Jefferson Beagles and family. 1870 Census enumeration of John Jefferson Beagles and family.

The previous post gave the account of John Jefferson Beagles Confederate service, and his time in the Pioneer Corps.

The 1870 census enumerated John Jefferson Beagles at age 40. He was working on a farm in Alachua County, FL.  His wife, Nancy Catherine, age 30, was keeping house. Living with them were their children Thomas,  Mena, William, and as yet unnamed infant daughter Mary.

1870 Census enumeration of John Jefferson Beagles and family.

1870 Census enumeration of John Jefferson Beagles and family.

http://www.archive.org/stream/populationschedu0128unit#page/n160/mode/1up

By 1880 the Beagles relocated to Cat Creek, about 10 miles southwest of Ray City. Their home was in Lowndes County,  in the 1307 Georgia Militia District. John Jefferson Beagles was enumerated as “John Biggles,” with his wife, Nancy, and children William, Mary, Ella, Bryant, Hiram, Nancy, and Lacy.

http://www.archive.org/stream/10thcensus0156unit#page/n99/mode/1up

In 1887 John Jefferson Beagles and his son, James Thomas Biggles, were involved in a family quarrel with in which James shot and killed his brother-in-law, Madison Pearson.  The shooting occurred at H.H. Knight’s store in Rays Mill, GA (now Ray City). Afterwards, J. J. Beagles helped his son to escape the crowd that witnessed the killing.

The younger Beagles fled the area but eventually returned to Berrien County to stand trial before Judge Augustin H. Hansell.  James Thomas Beagles was convicted and sentenced to serve time in the convict camp at Fargo, GA.

In 1900 John J. Beagles was enumerated in the 1144 Georgia Militia District, the Rays Mill district.  At age 70, he was working as a brick mason.  John and Nancy were living in a rented house. Their son, Hiram, was renting the house next door.

http://www.archive.org/stream/12thcensusofpopu179unit#page/n764/mode/1up

Nancy Catherine Wright Biggles

Grave marker of Nancy Catherine Wright Biggles, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

In 1903, J. J. Beagles was left a widower when his wife of  42 years died.  Nancy  Catherine Wright Beagles died on the 5th of January.  She was buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.  Her grave marker bears the surname, Biggles.

The census of 1910 shows the widower J.J. Beagles was  back in the Cat Creek District. living in the household of his son, L. O. Beagles.  At 81, the senior Beagles was still working on his own account as a brick mason.

Some time before 1920, John Jefferson Beagles died. He was buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, as stated above.


http://www.archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po202unit#page/n512/mode/1up

Children of John Jefferson Beagles and Nancy Catherine Wright (1835 – 1903)

  1. James Thomas Beagles 1861 – 1911
  2. William “Willie” Beagles 1866 – 1957
  3. Mary Catherine “Minnie” Beagles 1868 – 1929
  4. Ella A. C. Beagles 1870 – 1928
  5. Bryant Beagles 1872 – 1954
  6. Hiram B. Beagles 1874 – 1957
  7. Nancy Catherine Beagles 1835-1903

 

Related articles

The Biggles Farm

In 1880, Needham W. Pearson deeded 80 acres of land to his daughter, Elizabeth Pearson Biggles. She was the wife of James Thomas Biggles, subject of the previous post.

James Thomas Beagles and Mary Elizabeth Pearson Beagles

James Thomas Biggles and Mary Elizabeth Pearson Biggles

About 1901, James Thomas Biggles  returned to the Rays Mill area after completing a prison term in the Fargo Convict Camp for the murder of his brother-in-law, Madison G. Pearson. Re-joining his wife, Biggles purchased an 100 acre tract, adjacent to her land,  from Eugene M. Giddens. This tract had been in the Giddens family since the early 1800s. Isbin Giddens brought his wife, Keziah, and their two young children, William and Moses Giddens from Wayne County to settle in what was then Irwin County, near the present day Ray City GA in the winter of 1824-25. Present day county lines place the land in Lanier County, about 6 miles east of Ray City and just north of Highway 129.

After the death of James Thomas Biggles in 1911, the 100 acre tract that was in his name was sold at an administrator’s sale to J. V. Talley. The 80 acre tract was sold in 1924 by the heirs of Elizabeth Pearson Biggles, following her death in 1923. About that time Dr. Reubin Nathaniel Burch acquired both the 100 acre and the 80 acre tracts from different owners. Dr. Burch sold the property about 1930 and it was eventually accquired by the Roquemore family of Lakeland, GA for turfgrass production.

More on the 1887 Family Feud at Rays Mill, GA

James Thomas Beigles

James Thomas Biggles

In the winter of 1887, a family  feud at Rays Mill, Georgia turned deadly when J.T. Biggles gunned down Madison Pearson from the porch of Henry Harrison Knight’s store.

At that time Knight’s store was  one of the few commercial establishments at Rays Mill and was a community meeting place.  The store was situated on present day Pauline Street, approximately opposite from the Ray City School.  In front of the store was an area known as the “court ground”  and the building served as the court house when there was need.   Knight’s store was also occupied by Dr. Guy Selman, one of the first doctors in the area,  and after David Ridgell departed in 1905 it was the location of the Ray’s Mill Post Office.  Henry Knight’s son-in-law, Cauley Johnson was postmaster. The building was destroyed by fire, probably in the 1940’s.

James Thomas Biggles was born in Georgia in October, 1860, a son of John Jefferson Beagles and Catherine Wright Biggles. (There was obviously some confusion over the spelling of the family name.)

Mary Elizabeth Pearson

Mary Elizabeth Pearson

J.T. married Mary Elizabeth Pearson on July 26, 1879. The ceremony was performed by Jonathan D. Knight, Notary Public.  James Thomas Biggles  appeared in the census of 1880 in District 5 of GMD#1144 as Thomas Beagle, farm laborer, age 19, with wife, Elizabeth, age 21. In the cemetery of Union Church (aka Burnt Church), next to the grave of Mary E. Biggles, stands a small headstone with the inscription “Infant of Mr. & Mrs. J.T. Biggles, Born and Died Apr. 15, 1879.”

J.T Biggles had a running feud with his brother-in-law, Madison G. Pearson.  At first Biggles tried to work through the court, but he soon took the law into his own hands and murdered Pearson before a crowd of citizens.  Biggles became a fugitive for twelve years before returning to stand trial.

The state press reported on the Murder in Berrien:

The Columbus Enquirer-Sun
Nov. 11, 1887 — page 3


Terrible Result of an Old Feud.

     Nashville, Ga., Nov. 9. – At Ray’s mill in this county, on Tuesday evening last, a dreadful encounter occurred in which M. G. Pearson was shot and instantly killed by J. T. Beagly, the cause being a family feud. It appears the parties had met to amicably settle the trouble if possible, but soon engaged in some hot words, when Pearson said to Beagly:
“Come out in the sand and we will settle the trouble.”
     They started out. Beagly drew his pistol and fired upon him as he went out, and shot him dead the first fire, then took to the swamp and has not yet been captured.

The Valdosta Times provided additional details:

The Valdosta Times
November 12, 1887

MURDER IN BERRIEN

J. T. Beigles Kills Madison G. Pearson at Ray’s Mill – A Family Feud which ends in the murder of a Brother – in- law.

Madison G. Pearson was killed by his brother-in-law, J. T. Beigles, at Ray’s Mill, in Berrien County, last Friday, the 4th, inst. A Family feud was at the bottom of the difficulty.

Beigles had married Pearson’s sister. The mother of the latter lived for sometime with her son, but a family quarrel, it seems, drove her to her daughter’s home. After she took up her abode with the Beigles family, some questions arose about the division of her small property. One report says that she willed all she had to Mrs. Beigles, and thus aroused her son’s indignation, and another rumor says that Beigles killed a beef which belonged to the Pearson estate, and that this was the cause of the trouble between the two men. At any rate there was trouble between them, and the old lady took the side of her son-in-law. Pearson, it seems, made some threats, and Beigles had him arrested under a peace warrant. Friday, the day of the tragedy, was set for a hearing before the Justice of the district, and Beigles and his wife and old Mrs. Pearson appeared at the Court ground at Ray’s Mill as witnesses. The bailiff had Madison Pearson under arrest, and the parties at interest, and about forty interested neighbors, all met at Mr. H. H. Knight’s store. Beigles’ father was among those present, and he approached Pearson about a compromise, but Pearson thought he had been greatly outraged, and freely expressed his indignation. He refused to accept the proposals made by the elder Beigles. A witness to the whole affair at the Court grounds informs us that the elder Beigles’ attitude and manner was not such as indicated any real desire for a fair compromise, and that his actions and his words were the immediate cause of the conflict, if it can be called a conflict. In reviewing the difficulty, the elder Beigles, who was standing between his son and Pearson, made some assertions which the latter vehemently denied or disputed, and the younger Beigles shouted to Pearson that he was a liar. At this Pearson, replied hotly that if Beigles would step with him to the ground from the porch upon which they stood, he would whip him, and as he spoke he sprang off at right angles from Beigles, but he struck the ground a dead man. Beigles fired at him on the spring, and the ball entered the side of the head near the left temple. Pearson doubled up as he lie fell and his head hit the ground first. He never spoke a word, and died in a few moments. Pearson had two brothers on the spot, and one ran to the dying man and the other started upon Beigles, but he met a cocked pistol in his face, and was warned to stand back, or else share the fate of his brother. Beigles kept his face to the awe-stricken crowd, pistol drawn, while his father pushed him backward some thirty feet, then he turned and they both fled. There was not a gun or pistol on the hill that could be found, and the two Beigles escaped. A pursuit was quickly organized, but they had gotten out of sight, and are yet at large. Pearson was not armed.

Pearson’s mother and sister witnessed the murder of their son and brother, so an eye witness informs us, without shedding a tear. After some little time Mrs. Pearson walked up to the dead man laying upon the ground, and stooped down and kissed him. She then rose calmly and walked away without any signs of emotion.

Thus a Justice’s court was sadly and suddenly transformed into an inquest court. The coroner lived forty miles away, and the bailiff, who held Pearson in custody as a prisoner when he was killed, summoned a jury, and the Justice, who was about to convene his court to try Pearson on a peace warrant, instead of proceeding with the trial, swore in an inquest jury to sit upon the dead body.

After swearing numerous eye witnesses the jury found that the killing was done as outlined above, that the same was willful murder; also that the elder Beigles was an accessory to the dead.

We are indebted to a neighbor of the parties, and an eyewitness to the tragedy, for the above statement of the circumstances connected directly and indirectly to the killing. All the parties were sober.

In 1899 the Valdosta reported the follow up on the trial of the Biggles case.

The Valdosta Times
October 17, 1899

BERRIEN SUPERIOR COURT. CONCLUSION OF THE BEAGLES-PEARSON CASE.

Berrien Superior Court after a four days’ session adjourned Thursday afternoon. The session was devoted entirely to criminal business, no civil cases being called. The principal case of importance was the trial of Madison G. Pearson, Nov. 4, 1887, twelve years ago as was stated in Friday’s Times.

Beagles was married to Pearson’s sister, and there had been considerable bad blood between them, culminating when Mrs. Pearson left the home of her son and went to live with her daughter, Beagles’ wife.

Pearson threatened to kill Beagles on several occasions and a few days before his death went to Beagles’ house and cursed his wife and children.

Beagles then swore out a peace warrant for Pearson, and he was arrested under it and carried to the Court House at Ray’s Mill for trial. A large crowd was on the court ground, among them Beagles, and Pearson challenged him for a fight, pulling off his coat and starting out the door as he did so. Beagles was standing on the porch of the house, within a few feet, and as Beagles stepped out fired at him, shooting him through the head, the ball entering just in front of the right ear and coming out behind the left ear, producing instant death.

Beagles skipped the country, and spent several years in Florida, returning just before his arrest. He was admitted to the bail, and staid under bond until two months ago, when his bondsman gave him up, and since that time he has remained in jail.

At his trial he was represented by Col. Joseph A. Alexander of Nashville and W. H. Griffin of Valdosta, while the state was represented by Col. W. M. Hammond of Thomasville and Solicitor General Thomas. The trial lasted a day and a half, and every inch of ground was stubbornly fought. The principal evidence against the dead man was the ante-mortem statement of his own mother, made four years ago, which was exceedingly bitter in denunciation of her son.

Six hours were spent by Cols. Griffin and Hammond in their strong and eloquent arguments of the case, and he jury remained out on it seven hours before returning a verdict of manslaughter with recommendation to mercy. Col. Griffin made a touching appeal to the court for mercy, and Judge Hansell fixed the sentence at two years in the state penitentiary.

In the U.S Census of 1900 James T. Biggles was enumerated on June 23, 1900 as a convict in the Fargo Convict Camp in the Jones Creek District of Clinch County, GA.

In 1910, the Biggles were back together in Rays Mill, GA where they were enumerated with several boarders living in their household.

James Thomas Biggles died May 11, 1911 in Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia. He was buried at Union Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Lakeland, GA. On his tombstone his name appears as J.T. Biggles.

Grave Marker of James Thomas Biggles, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave Marker of James Thomas Biggles, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Reports on the disposition of his estate were reported in the Nashville Herald:

Nashville Herald
Aug 7, 1911

Administrators Sale

Pursuant to an order of the Court of Ordinary, will be sold before the court house door in Berrien County, all the real estate belonging to J.T. Biggles, deceased, to wit: one lot in the town of Milltown, on Howell Ave., known as the H.L. Kelly lot; also ten acres of lot No. 473 in the 10th district in the southeast corner of said lot; also, 36 acres in the ? district, the last two tracts known as the Margaret Horsby lands; also, 100 acres, bounded on the west by Milltown and Nashville public road, east by Dog Branch, and lands of Jas. Johnson and Banks lands, on the north by lands of Mary E. Biggles, said tract known as land sold by E.M. Giddens to J.T. Biggles; also, lot 6 in block 32, lot 8 in block 73, lot 1 in block 69, lot 6 in block 59, lot 10 in block 48, all in the new survey in Milltown, Ga., also, one-half acre in town of Milltown bounded east by lands of M.E. Patten, south and west by lands of R.L. Patten, north by old Brunswick & Western right-of-way; also lot No. 3 in block No. 29, Roberts survey of Milltown, Ga., Sold as the property of the estate of J.T. Biggles, deceased, to pay debts and for distribution. August 7, 1911

Nashville Herald
Sept 5, 1911

Administrator’s Sale

Georgia, Berrien County. Will be sold before the court house door on the first Tuesday in October the following land: 1/2 acre of land in the town of Milltown bounded east by lands of M.E. Patten, south and west by lands of R.L. Patten, north by old Brunswick & Western right-of-way on which is situated one gin house and one barn, five double Foss gins, one short cotton gin, one conveyor, one double Monger box press, one seed conveyor and all belts and pulleys now used in the gin house. Terms cash. Sept 5, 1911. M.W. Bargeron, W.A. Biggles, Administrators of Estate of J.T. Biggles.

Mary Elizabeth Biggles died May 7, 1923. She was also buried at Union Primitive Baptist Church. Her tombstone reads, ” Mary Elizabeth Biggles, May 7, 1923, Aged 70 Yrs., A loving mother and grandmother.”

Gravemarker of Mary Elizabeth Pearson Biggles, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, Georgia

Gravemarker of Mary Elizabeth Pearson Biggles, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, Georgia