Old Land Mark Gone ~ Death Of “Uncle Billy” Smith

William Smith (1797-1882), pioneer settler of Lowndes County, GA, homesteaded on land lot No. 50, 11th District along the Withlacoochee River in the 1820s.  Smith would serve as clerk of the court, postmaster, and Ordinary of Lowndes County.

William Smith,  his wife Mary Hutchinson Smith, and brothers-in-law Richard Parr Hutchinson and David G. Hutchinson came to Lowndes, Georgia in 1827.

This section was then truly a wild southern frontier of the young American nation, replete with wild animals, panthers, bears, wolves, and snakes; Indians who resented the forceful and often illegal intrusion of settlers on to their native lands; and many febrile diseases, typhoid, malariascarlet fever, and other little understood diseases among them. Through this wilderness in 1823, General Coffee cut a military thoroughfare into north Florida. The Coffee Road opened up the territory and led to the creation of  Lowndes County by an act of the legislature on December 23, 1825.  It was around this time that the Knights first came to Lowndes county and settled in that portion which was later cut into Berrien County.    

The first Courts and first elections in Lowndes County were held at the house of Sion Hall,  who built an Inn on the Coffee Road.  But soon the commissioners of Lowndes County appointed to determine the location of the county courthouse chose William Smith’s place on the Withlacoochee as the site of the county seat, and named the place Franklinville, GA.

Lowndes at that time included most of present day Berrien County, and Lanier, Cook, Tift, Brooks, and Echols, besides. For a time the post office for this vast frontier county was at the home of Big Thumb Daniel McCranie. However, On July 7, 1828, the Post Office Department established a post office at Franklinville and appointed Mr. Smith as postmaster.

FRANKLINVILLE
    The erstwhile town of Franklinville did not exist long –  only about four years.  At its best, it could only boast one store and three or four families and the court house.

    The court house was built there in 1828-29, and was a small crude affair, costing only $215.00.  The first term of court in it was held in the fall of 1829.

    William Smith was the first one to settle there, and was living there when the site was chosen.  The only other families to ever live there, so far as can be determined were John Mathis, James Mathis and Sheriff Martin Shaw.  After a short residence there the three last named moved to that part of Lowndes cut off into Berrien in 1856.

William Smith, “Uncle Billy” as he was known,  kept an inn at Franklinville in addition to his official duties.

Uncle Billy was a member of the State Rights Association of Lowndes County, GA,  along with Levi J. Knight, Hamilton Sharp, Aaron Knight, Jonathan Knight, John Knight and William Cone Knight,  Noah H. Griffin, Martin Shaw, Malachi Monk, Captain David Bell and many others.  The Association gathered  at the county courthouse at Franklinville in 1835 to toast State Rights.

Just a few years after its founding, Franklinville was found to be unsatisfactory as the seat of Lowndes county, although a legal announcement in the November 7, 1837 Milledgeville Southern Recorder, pg 4, documents that public auctions were still being held at Franklinville at that date [The same page announces auctions at the courthouse at Troupville] .

… an act was passed by the Georgia legislature, appointing a commission to select an appropriate place for a county site. Franklinville had been its capital, but was not near enough to the center. As the legend goes, Big Billy Knight and Big Billy Folsom were appointed. So it came about that where the wine-red waters or the Ockolocoochee and the black current of the Withlacoochee meet at the end of a long sandbar and go tumbling and writhing, eddying and curving down the long reach of moss-grown trees, like two huge serpents struggling for the mastery, the plat of a town was drawn, and it was called after Georgia’s great chevelier governor, “Troupville,”

William Smith moved to Troupville where he continued to serve as Postmaster.  In 1837, he was also serving as the guardian of the orphans of James Baker.

There, he also operated “Tranquil Hall,” one of the three hotels in the town.  Tranquil Hall was widely famed for its hospitality, and when court was in session at Troupville, the judge and lawyers usually stayed at the tavern.  In 1850, Dr. William Ashley was boarding at Tranquil Hall. According to an South Georgia Watchman, September 1, 1858 editorial, it was the only thing in Troupville worth bragging about. Tranquil Hall was situated on the public square, along with the court-house and jail, the stables belonging to the stage line and a convenient “grocery.”  The other inns were the Jackson Hotel , situated on the town square and run by Morgan G. Swain and his wife, and a hotel operated by Jonathan Knight for eight or ten years until he moved away to Appling County about 1849.

Troupville itself would suffer the same fate as Franklinville. When the Atlantic & Gulf railroad (later the Savannah, Florida & Western Railway) came to Lowndes County, it bypassed Troupville, following a route four miles to the south through the site now known as Valdosta, GA. The first train rolled into Valdosta in July of 1860.

The railroad was in process of building when residents of Troupville began to move. William Smith, one of the pioneers, and known as “Uncle Billy” Smith, the day the deed was signed by Mr.Wisenbaker giving the railroad six acres of land on which to build the first station, tore off the wing of his hotel at Troupville and moved it to Valdosta, where he operated his hotel several years. The first house moved to the new town was owned by Judge Peeples and it was rolled from Troupville to Valdosta, being placed on pillars on the lot on Troup street where it now stands. Several other houses were also moved bodily and some few of them are yet standing. In a few weeks time Troupville as a town was no more.

— — ◊ — —

Advertisement for Tranquil Hall, upon its relocation from Troupville, GA to Valdosta, GA, 1870.

Advertisement for Tranquil Hall, upon its relocation from Troupville, GA to Valdosta, GA, 1870.

Albany News
January 7, 1870

The Proprietors of Tranquil Hall, formerly of Troupville, have opened a house at Valdosta, Ga., for the accommodation of the Traveling Public, where they will find the fare equal to that of any House on the line of the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad, and charges as reasonable.

WM. SMITH
MARGET SMITH

— — ◊ — —

Uncle Billy and his wife Margaret continued to operate Tranquil Hall at Valdosta, GA.  Eventually, in their declining years they sold out to Darius M. Jackson.

William “Uncle Billy” Smith died February 1, 1882.  His obituary was reported in the Valdosta Times:

The Valdosta Times
Saturday, February 4, 1882

Old Land Mark Gone.

Death Of “Uncle Billy” Smith.

Mr. Wm. Smith, an old gentleman, whose history is intimately connected with that of Lowndes County, died last Wednesday morning at his residence in Valdosta in the eighty-fourth year of his age, leaving his aged wife (who we believe is about the same age) to tarry a while longer with us. The funeral services were held at his late residence Wednesday afternoon and his remains were buried in our cemetery Thursday morning at 10 o’clock. Mr. Smith was born in 1797, in North Carolina, and emigrated to Irwin, now Lowndes County, and settled the place now known as “Old Franklinville.”

       The Indians, bears and panthers were numerous in these pine forests then and Mr. Smith’s early life was one of some adventures. (Here we will remark that Mr. Smith promised us to write up a history of those early days for publication, but from a feebleness which had been growing on him for six months we suppose he was not able to do the work.)

       When Lowndes was made a county the county site was located at Franklinville, (Mr. Smith’s home,) and he was elected Clerk of the Court. An interesting account of the first court held was published in these columns about a year ago from his pen.

       Later, the county site was moved to Troupville and there Mr. Smith kept a hotel. “Tranquil Hall,” as it was known, was noted for its hospitable landlord and lady and for its splendid table. Travelers carried the good name of this country inn far and wide.

“Tranquil Hall,” with Troupville, was moved and helped to make Valdosta, when the Gulf Road came through here; but the hotel declined with the old people and about ten years ago they gave up the business, and sold the building. It is now occupied by Mr. D. M. Jackson.

Mr. Smith has more than once been Ordinary of the County, having held that office as late as twelve or fourteen years ago. He has held other positions of honor and trust, and in his prime of manhood was a leading and influential man. He had two sons, William and Henry, who died after the war, leaving families. All of Wm. Smith Jr.’s family have died, we believe, but Mr. Henry Smith’s widow, four children and one or two grandchildren are living. So Mrs. Wm. Smith, the widow of the deceased, survives all but four grandchildren and the great grandchildren. We hope the good old lady will find her remaining days as comfortable and as happy as they can be to one left alone at such an age. We would like, at some other time, to give Earthier reminiscences of the old gentleman’s life, if we can get hold of the data.

 † † †

To this obituary, Hamilton W. Sharpe added the following testament (By 1880, Hamilton Sharpe had removed to Quitman, GA where he operated a hotel known as Sharpe House.) :

The Valdosta Times
 Saturday, April 22, 1882

Mr. Wm. Smith. Christian Advocate. William Smith died in Valdosta recently in the eighty-fifth year of his age.

I have known him for over half a century. He was elected Clerk of the Superior Court of Lowndes County in the year 1827, which office he held consecutively for a number of terms, and filled other offices of trust and honor in that county. He was the proprietor of “Tranquile Hall,” located in Troupville, the then county site of Lowndes, and the house was long and favorably known as one of the best hotels in the state. The result of the late war between the States was very hard on him, as his all consisted of slave property. His life was long and varied, a true friend in every respect. He became a member of the M. E. Church South many years ago, but was not very demonstrative in his religious duties until late in life. He was a constant attendant on Church, and always enjoyed the services of God’s house. His departure was very sudden, but we have no fears as to his being well prepared for the change, which was a happy one to him. His children, one by one, all preceded him to the grave, but his wife, like himself very old, still lingers on these mundane shores.

Peace be to his memory.

H.W. Sharpe.

† † †

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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. E.P.S. Denmark was the husband of Mary Lane, daughter of Remer Young Lane, a Valdosta banker and one of the largest land owners in all of Lowndes County.  Of Judge 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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