J. M. Sloan Dies after Throw From Horse

James Murray Sloan came to the Ray's Mill, GA neighborhood in 1871. Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

James Murray Sloan came to the Ray’s Mill, GA neighborhood in 1871. Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

James Murray Sloan, a son of David and Diadema Sloan, was born Jan. 18, 1833 in Duplin County, N.C.,  J. M. Sloan and his wife, Martha Susan Gordon,  removed from North Carolina to Mississippi for a brief stay, then to Echols Co., Ga.; thence to Berrien County, GA in 1871 where J.M. Sloan engaged in farming.  A number of Duplin County, NC families had relocated in the 1850s to that portion of Lowndes County which was cut into Berrien County in 1856. Among these Duplin transplants were William J. Lamb, James Carroll, Jesse Carroll, William Godfrey, Andrew J. Liles, William Best, James W. Dixon, and Robert Rouse. James Dobson brought his family and slaves, Peter McGowan and Richard McGowan believed to be among them. William Hill Boyett, John Bostick, Treasy Boyett Bostick and Mary C. Bostick came from Duplin to Berrien in the mid-century, and A few years later, Jessie Bostick also removed from Duplin County to the area.  Many of these settled in the area between present day  Ray City and Lakeland, GA (then called Allapaha).

County property tax records for 1873  show J. M. Sloan paid a poll tax in Berrien County that year but  listed no taxable property in his name.  The 1874 tax records show an assessment on  household and kitchen furniture valued at $10, $25 in plantation and mechanical tools, and $166 in ‘other property,’ but no real estate.  By 1875 J. M. Sloan had acquired 245 acres in lot 450, 1144 GMD, in the 10th district, about a mile outside of present day Ray City, GA,  valued at $400 and had $145 in ‘other property.’  Portions of adjoining Land Lots 422, 423, 451, and 452 in the 10th land district  were owned jointly by William Roberts and T.M. Ray, founder of Ray’s Mill, GA. (see Thomas M Ray Founded Ray’s Mill in 1863)

1869 Berrien County Map detail showing location of land lot # 450.

1869 Berrien County Map detail showing location of land lot # 450.

The 1876 tax records show  James M. Sloan listed as “agent for wife,”   with 242  acres in lot 450, 10th district valued at $250.  At that time he had  $50 household and kitchen furniture;  $115 in horses, mules, hogs, sheep, cattle, etc.; and  $9 in plantation & mechanical tools.

He was faring about the same in 1877, still on the same acreage in lot 450, now with  $60 household and kitchen furniture, pianos, organs, etc;  $142 in horses, mules, hogs, sheep, cattle, etc.; and  $41 in plantation & mechanical tools.  His total estate was valued at $493.

Neighbors were William E. Langford with 60 acres and  John B. Gaskins with 100 acres on the same land lot 450;  Jethro Patten on Lot 449; John G & Mary Knight on portions of Lot 450 and 451. Barney B. Chism on Lot 426; William A. Bridges on portions of Lot 470 and 471; and 471 Robert Woodard on lot 471. Neighbor Jonathan D. Knight , who was on portions of Lots 424, 425, 450 and 451, was a signer of the 1877 Georgia Constitution. Another neighbor was John Thomas Clower, Doctor of Ray’s Mill, on a small farm in lot 424.

The 1880 tax records show James M. Sloan was the liquor dealer at Rays Mill.

In 1890 the Berrien County tax digest shows the Sloans were still on their 242 acre farm on Lot 450 in the 10th Land District, now valued at $500.

Neighbors in 1890 still included John B. Gaskins on Lot 450 and John G. Knight on portions of Lots 424, 450 and 451; Redding D. Swindle on portions of Lot 423 and 424;  Mary A. Ray  and Texas E Ray on portions of Lot 423 and 424; James A. Knight on portions of Lot 471; Elizabeth E. Knight on portions of Lots 424, 450, and 451; Walter H. Knight on Lot 426; Louis L. Knight on portions of Lot 451;  Joseph E. Langford on a portion of Lot 450; portions of Lots 424 and 449 belonged to John T. Higgs; Barney B. Chism on Lots 426 and 427; James M. Baskin on Lots 470 and 471.

In 1894, The Tifton Gazette reported the demise of  James M. Sloan, his death occurring on November 20, 1894.

The Tifton Gazette
Nov. 30, 1894 — page 1

Mr. J. M. Sloan, a thrifty farmer of Rays Mill neighborhood, died on Tuesday of last week.  He fell from his horse some time ago, from which he sustained injuries that produced death.  He was a native North Carolinian, but a resident of Georgia for quite a quarter of a century.

James Murray Sloan died after being thrown from a horse.

James Murray Sloan died after being thrown from a horse.

His widow, Martha Gordon Sloan, continued to reside  in the Rays Mill District.  The census of 1900 shows  she owned the family farm, free and clear of mortgage, which she worked on her own account, with the assistance of farm laborer Charlie Weaver.

Martha Gordon Sloan, wife of James Murray Sloan. Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

Martha Gordon Sloan, wife of James Murray Sloan. Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

Children of Martha Susan Gordon and James Murray Sloan:

  1. John Fisher Sloan 1858 – 1930
  2. Emma Jane Sloan 1859 – 1871
  3. Mary Ann Sloan 1861 – 1863
  4. Sarah Virginia Sloan 1864 – 1944
  5. Martha Ida Letitia Sloan 1867 – 1930
  6. Susan Evelyn Sloan 1870 – 1940
  7. Catherine Diademma Sloan 1872 – 1901
  8. Celia Frances Sloan 1874 – 1895
  9. Fannie Sloan 1874 –
  10. Minnie Gordon Sloan 1876 – 1904
  11. William David Sloan 1879 – 1935
Graves of James Murray Sloan and Martha Susan Gordon, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Graves of James Murray Sloan and Martha Susan Gordon, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

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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 included  Robert A. Elliott and Annis Lastinger Elliott, and their children.  Robert A. Elliott was a mechanic and a hand at the wool mill. Another neighbor was Isaac J. Edmonsen.

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

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

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

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

In 1876, Joseph Henry Ray was born.

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

  1.  John William Allen Ray (1853 – 1934)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Valdosta Times
Saturday Aug 26. 

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

Therefore be it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Men at Beaver Dam Baptist Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baskin Family Helped Found Ray City Baptist Church

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas Ray Goodman Entertains in Nashville, GA

Elizabeth Texas Ray was known all her life as “Texas.” She was born in Rays Mill, GA, the daughter of Thomas and Mary Ray.

On January 28, 1891 Texas Ray married Dr. William B. Goodman, of Nashville. The Goodman household was located on Jefferson Street, Nashville, GA.  In the Census of 1900, it was the very first Nashville household enumerated.

After her marriage, Texas Ray Goodman maintained her many friends and family connections in Ray’s Mill.  In the summer of 1899, the Tifton Gazette observed:

Tifton Gazette
Friday, July 28, 1899
Newsy Notes from Nashville

Several young ladies are visiting town. At Dr. Goodman’s, Misses Leila Knight, of Ray’s Mill, and Susie Dasher, of Sims; at Dr. Askew’s Misses Dora and Susan Williams, of Ty Ty, and Miss Monk of Worth County.

An entertainment was given by Mrs. Texas Goodman Tuesday evening last in honor of the visiting young ladies …

Later, after the death of her husband in 1912, Texas Goodman moved back to Ray City (formerly Rays Mill), GA where she lived with her adopted son, William F. Goodman, and her aged and widowed mother, Mary A. Ray.

Annie B. Sirmans Once Owned Ray’s Mill

Image detail: Ann Sirmans Matheny, circa 1915. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Image detail: Ann Sirmans Matheny, circa 1915. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Annie B. Sirmans was the granddaughter of Anne Donald Clements and General Levi J. Knight, and the daughter of Elizabeth Knight and Hardeman Sirmans. About 1931, she inherited Ray’s Mill which had been founded by her grandfather and her uncle Thomas M. Ray almost 70 years earlier.

Annie B. Sirmans was born on Christmas day, 25 December 1872 in Berrien County, GA.

In 1880, seven-year-old Annie Sirmans was living with her parents and eight brothers and sisters in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Ray’s Mill district. Also boarding in the Sirmans home were two young girls, Eliza and Mary Hays. Annie’s father was a farmer, and her older brothers assisted with the farm labor.

In 1890, her brother,  Hardy Sirmans, Jr. purchased Ray’s Mill, the grist mill originally constructed on Beaver Dam Creek by his uncle Thomas M. Ray and grandfather, General Levi J. Knight.  Assisted by Mitch Fountain, Hardy Sirmans, Jr. operated the mill until his death in 1931.

As Annie grew older, she continued to live on her parent’s farm. On Sept 21, 1896 her father died leaving her brother, Thomas Hardeman “Hardy” Sirmans, to become the head of the household. The census of 1900 shows Annie Sirmans was still at home in her brother’s household. Her mother and siblings, Bellaria and Joseph, and nephew Daniel Walker Sirmans also shared the house.

In 1905 while in Tennessee, Annie’s brother Joe Sirmans married Olive Pearl Matheny, the daughter of Judith L. Craft and James W. Matheny.  Joe Sirmans brought his bride back to make their home in Willacoochee, GA about 20 miles north of Ray’s Mill.  No doubt it was through this family connection that Annie Sirmans came to know John Chilton Matheny, brother of Olive P. Matheny.  John C. Matheny was thirty-something , with blue eyes and dark hair, average in height and build.  He was a farmer and since age 22 when his father died,  head of the Matheny family, responsible for his mother and siblings.

Four years later, On October 5, 1909 Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny were wedded  in Berrien County, GA.  She was 37, he 35.  It was the first marriage for both.  At first, the newlyweds made their home near the Ray’s Mill community (now Ray City, GA) on the Sirmans home place, now the farm of Annie’s bachelor brother, Hardy Sirmans.  Annie’s mother was still there  at the Sirmans place, as well as her Aunt Mary Ray and nephew Daniel Walker. The census of 1910 shows Hardy Sirmans and John C. Matheny both farming on their own account.

Infant son of Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny, grave marker, October 7, 1912.

Infant son of Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny, grave marker, October 7, 1912. Empire Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Annie may have married late, but within  couple of years she was pregnant.  On October 7, 1912 she gave birth to a baby boy. Sadly, the child died the same day.   The infant was buried near his grand parents, Elizabeth and Hardeman Sirmans,  at Empire Church cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

The following year Annie was again pregnant, and on May 23, 1914 she presented  John C. Matheny with a son, Thomas Hardeman Matheny. The image detail above is from a photograph of Annie and the boy (view the full image), probably taken around 1915, and clearly portrays her great affection for  the child.  But tragedy struck the family again when Thomas died at age two on September 15, 1916.

Thomas Hardeman Matheny, 1914-1916, Empire Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Thomas Hardeman Matheny, 1914-1916, Empire Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Perhaps  the loss was too much for John Matheny to bear;  A notation  on the bottom of his 1917 draft registration written by Perry Thomas Knight observed that John had just returned from the insane asylum.  Annie and John would remain childless for the rest of their lives.

At that time the draft card notes, the Mathenys were making their home in Nashville, GA 10 miles above Ray City, but by the census of  1920  Annie and John Matheny were back at Ray City where they owned a farm on “Settlement Roads” that John worked on his own account.  Annie’s older brother, Hardy Sirmans (Thomas Hardeman Sirmans), lived with the couple and also farmed.  The farm next door was rented by  Annie’s nephew, Daniel Walker Sirmans and his young family.

In the census of 1930,  the Mathenys were still living in the Ray’s Mill Precinct, the 1144th Georgia Militia District.  They owned a home valued at $1000.00.  John continued to work the farm on his own  account: Annie assisted with the farm labor. Annie’s brother Hardy, now 70, still resided with the couple but no longer worked.  The Mathenys had also taken in a boarder, Matthew F. Fender, who worked as a farm laborer.

But the 1930s brought hard times in the life of Annie Sirmans Matheny. Annie’s brother, Hardy Sirmans, died on July 27, 1931.  In 1932, Ann lost her husband: John Chilton Matheny died December 15, 1932. Both men were buried at Empire Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

After the death of Hardy Sirmans, Annie inherited ownership of her family’s gristmill, Ray’s Mill.  Later, the widowed Ann Matheny sold Ray’s Mill to Pollard Fountain, the son of Mitch Fountain who had operated the grist mill with her deceased brother.

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

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

Annie Sirmans Matheny died in 1963 and was buried next to her husband at Empire Church Cemetery.

Grave marker of Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny, Empire Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave marker of Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny, Empire Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

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