Reuben Marsh, Coffee Road Ferryman

Reuben Marsh was a pioneer settler of that area of old Irwin County which later became Berrien County, GA. This section of south Georgia was opened up for settlement with the cutting of the Coffee Road in 1823.  Marsh was a ferry  operator on the Coffee Road for nearly 20 years.

Independent ferry operators were authorized by the Georgia Legislature to provide river crossings on the Coffee Road.

Independent ferry operators were authorized by the Georgia Legislature to provide river crossings on the Coffee Road.

Reuben Marsh was born about 1793 in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. According to  Roots & Branches Genealogical Society of West Volusia County, Florida, he came with his family to Georgia in about 1800, settling in Telfair County.  His father died there in 1805 at age 31.

In 1812, at age 19 Reuben Marsh married fifteen-year-old Nancy Marshall,  daughter of Matthew Marshall and Margaret King. The young couple first made their home in Telfair County, GA. In 1820, Reuben Marsh was enumerated there as a head of household along with his wife, five children, and one slave.  A white female over age 45 enumerated in his household may have been his widowed mother. It is said his mother died that year.

Reuben Marsh, of Telfair County, was among the fortunate drawers in the Third or 1820 Land Lottery of Georgia announced in the December 19, 1820 edition of the Milledgeville Southern Recorder.  This lottery was to dispose of an immense area of land now covering the southern third of the entire state of Georgia, which had been demanded from the Creek Indians by President Jackson after the Creek War (1814).    A second section of land in northeast Georgia was included. This other, smaller section defined the eastern end of the Cherokee Nation for 12 years. The lottery winners drew lots in Appling, Early, Gwinnett, Habersham, Hall, Rabun, Walton or Irwin county.

According to Huxford’s Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia, Vol. 2, Reuben Marsh moved to Irwin County, GA about 1828 and settled in the 5th district on land Lot 381.  This lot which straddles Willacoochee Creek is where he established a farm and a ferry to serve travelers on the Coffee Road. The Coffee Road had been blazed through the Wiregrass wilderness in 1823 by General John Coffee, and first opened the area of Lowndes County and present day Berrien County to pioneer settlers.  

Enhanced detail of Irwin County survey plat District 5 showing location of land lot 381 on Willacoochee Creek. Reuben Marsh established a ferry over the Willacoochee in 1828.

Enhanced detail of Irwin County survey plat District 5 showing location of land lot 381 on Willacoochee Creek. Reuben Marsh established a ferry over the Willacoochee in 1828 to serve travelers on the Coffee Road.

Marsh, an early settler of Irwin County,  was appointed by an act of the Georgia legislature as one of five Commissioners to establish a site for the county government.   The legislation, signed by Governor Gilmer on December 23, 1830, assigned the location of Irwin’s county seat to Land Lot 255 in the Fourth District, directing that it be named Irwinsville.  This location would have placed the Courthouse near the Ocmulgee River about 40 miles north of Reuben Marsh’s residence. Section Three of the act named Robert H. Dixon, Jacob Young, William Bradford, Daniel Luke, and Reuben Marsh as Commissioners for the town with authority to lay out and sell town lots and to contract for building a courthouse and jail.  The Marshes and Bradfords must have been good neighbors, as their sons and daughters intermarried.

 

On December 23, 1830 Governor George Gilmer signed an Act appointing Reuben Marsh as one of five commissioners to establish the town of Irwinsville as county seat of Irwin County. However, a year later no action had been taken and a new Commission was named.

On December 23, 1830 Governor George Gilmer signed an Act appointing Reuben Marsh as one of five commissioners to establish the town of Irwinsville as county seat of Irwin County. However, a year later no action had been taken and a new Commission was named.

 

This 1830 Act followed more than a decade of indecision and failure of prior commissioners to establish a location for the Irwin courthouse. However, for whatever reason, another year went by without action by the appointed commissioners. On December 22, 1831 Governor Wilson Lumpkin signed yet another act designating “the public site in the county of Irwin…permanently fixed and located on lot number thirty nine, in the third district of said county,” and appointed a new set of Commissioners for the town. The new location on Lot 39, 3rd District shifted the site of the Courthouse about 20 miles to the southeast, just east of the headwaters of the Alapaha River but still no closer to Marsh’s residence.

That year, Reuben Marsh was also serving as a road commissioner for an Irwin County road following along the Ocmulgee River.

At the July term, 1831, an order was passed appointing Ruebin Marsh, John Fussell and Ludd Mobley, road commissioners on road from line of Telfair County up to Big House  Creek at Isaac Stevens’, that Jehu McCall, George R. Reid and Daniel Luke be appointed commissioners from Big House Creek to Pulaski line at Norman McDuffie’s.

This river road started from “the line of Telfair County.”  At that time the boundary of Telfair County extended south of the Ocmulgee River on a line running from Jacksonville, GA due south to the Satilla River.  The Coffee Road followed the Telfair county line  for ten miles south from the Ocmulgee River before the road veered to the southwest to skirt around the headwaters of the Satilla.  The road ran on the south side of the river from the Coffee Road fifteen miles west to Big House Creek, or House Creek,  then on another 24 miles to the Pulaski County Line.

It appears that sometime between 1832 and 1835, Reuben Marsh acquired land Lot 424, 5th District on the Alapaha River, about five miles south of Lot 381 on the Willacoochee. Nashville, GA,  future county seat of Berrien County, GA was about 12 miles south on Coffee Road, situated on Lot 189 in the 10th District of Old Irwin County.

Irwin County tax records show that prior to 1832, Lot 424 was owned by Cornelius Tyson, who would operate a later ferry on the Alapaha River.   By 1835, records of the Irwin County Inferior court indicate Marsh had established a ferry across the Alapaha. In that year a road was constructed from the Irwin courthouse on Lot 39 to Marsh’s Ferry.

At the January Term, 1835 of the Inferior Court [of Irwin County]…Shaderick Griffin, Ruebin Gay and Richard Tucker [were appointed] to lay out and mark road from Irwin courthouse to Alapaha River at Marsh’s ferry.

 

Enhanced Detail of Irwin County District 5 survey plat showing relative location of Lot 381 on Willacoochee Creek and Lot 422 on the Alapaha River.

Enhanced detail of Irwin County District 5 survey plat showing relative location of Lot 381 on Willacoochee Creek and Lot 424 on the Alapaha River, GA.

Unfortunately, Irwin County tax records for the later 1830s aren’t available, but from 1836 onward there are multiple mentions of “Marsh’s Ferry on Alapaha” in the records of the Irwin County Inferior Court.

At January term, 1836 [Irwin County Inferior Court], Daniel Luke, Hezekiah Walker and Mathew Merritt, appointed commissioners on road leading from courthouse to Widow Mobley’s and intersect there with Coffee Road, also Frederick Merritt, Andrew McCelland and Micajah Paulk, appointed commissioners on Coffee road leading from Thomas L. Swain’s ferry to Ruebin Marsh’s ferry on Alapaha.

In 1836 Swain’s Ferry was the Coffee Road crossing over the Ocmulgee River near Jacksonville, GA. Thomas L. Swain had been one of the builders of the 1822 Coffee Road. Swain had a plantation on the north side of the Ocmulgee situated between Jacksonville, GA and Fort Clark, two miles west of the town.   John Clark, later Governor Clark, also had a plantation and house adjacent to the fort.

Thus, Micajah Paulk, Frederick Merritt and Andrew McClelland were responsible for oversight of the approximately 40 mile stretch of the Coffee Road which ran from the Ocmulgee River to Marsh’s Ferry on the Alapaha River. Micajah Paulk’s home was situated on this section of the Coffee road, 10 miles north of Marsh’s Ferry on the Alapaha.

At January adjourned term, 1836, commissioners were authorized to turn the road leading from [Irwin County] courthouse to Ruebin Marsh’s ferry on Alapaha to near John Benefield’s on to Elisha Grantham’s ferry and strike Coffee Road nearest and best way.

Furthermore, later Berrien County tax records show all 490 acres of Lot 424 was in the estate of Reuben Marsh. (This section of Irwin County was cut into Berrien County when Berrien was created in 1856.) The 1872 Berrien County tax record lists Little Berry Marsh, son of Reuben Marsh, as the executor on his father’s estate representing Lot 424.

The year 1836 began yet another period of armed conflict between encroaching pioneer settlers and the Native American occupants of Wiregrass Georgia.  Along the Alapaha River south of Marsh’s Ferry,  Levi J. Knight led a company of white settlers against a band of Native Americans in a skirmish at William Parker’s place.  Historian James Bagley Clements cites another battle in Irwin County, fought at Wavering Pond, also known as the Battle of Gay’s Hammock:

As an illustration, in what is now Wilcox County, but originally Irwin, lived a man by the name of James Brown. He caught an Indian stealing a hog and shot him. The Indians did not molest Brown but went from there about five miles west of Ashburn, now Turner County, at least thirty miles away where lived a family by the name of Willis. The husband was away from home at the time and they killed his wife, mutilating the body severely and took a small baby by the feet and smashed its brains out on a stump. The settlers came together and gave chase, following them south out of the country. From that time until his death Mr. Brown went by the name of (Indian Jim Brown). The lady’s name who was killed was Peggy Willis. The company following these Indians came up with them south of Ashburn on what is known as Hat Creek at a point not far from where the road crosses said creek leading from Irwinville to Inaha. In the company following the Indians was a man named Hobby who was riding a spirited young horse. The Indians were concealed in the swamps of this creek and a battle was fought. Mr. Hobby’s horse became frightened and threw him in the creek where he lost his hat. The horse followed after the horses of the whites and when he appeared among them the whites thought Hobby had been killed but later on he appeared on foot bare-headed and upon relating his experience the creek was then named Hat Creek, by which name it is known to the present time. The settlers followed the Indians from this point on, finally coming up with them at a point on the Albany road at a place now in Worth County, formerly Irwin, at a pond called the  Wavering Pond, where a battle was fought and a majority of the Indians were killed or captured.

An account published in History of Worth County, Georgia adds,

They came upon the Indians at Wavering Pond…while they were cooking breakfast. The Indians were surprised and fled in such haste that a baby was left swinging to a limb. This little baby girl was raised in this county as a slave girl and married a negro. The Indians fled to a hammock, and here a great battle was fought. Two Indian Squaws were captured. A white man by the name of Luke Jenkins, a brother-in-law of John Ford, was left to guard them as prisoners while the company pursued the rest of the Indians. As the sun began to sink in the west, Jenkins, fearing other Indians might come upon him, killed his prisoners and fled.

In the Indian Wars of 1836, Marsh’s Ferry provided crossing over the Alapaha River for Georgia Militia troops moving on the Coffee Road. After the cessation of hostilities in 1840, Reuben Marsh sought payment from the Georgia legislature for services rendered, which in turn sought reimbursement from the federal government. The Georgia Senate took up this billing in session in December, 1840.  The resolution erroneously reports that Reuben Marsh’s ferry was across the Altamaha river, rather than the Alapaha river.

 

1840 Resolution of the Georgia Senate to compensate Reuben Marsh for service to ferry soldiers across the Alapaha river in the Indian Wars. The resolution erroneously refers to the Altamaha river.

1840 Resolution of the Georgia Senate to compensate Reuben Marsh for service to ferry soldiers across the Alapaha river in the Indian Wars. The resolution erroneously refers to the Altamaha river.

Journal of the Senate of the State of Georgia, 1840

MONDAY MORNING, DECEMBER 21, 1840.

Mr. Gordon, Chairman of the Select Committee, which was appointed, laid the following report on the table; which was taken up, read, and agreed to, viz:
– – The United States, – Dr.
To Reuben Marsh, of Irwin county,
1836.        to ferriage of soldiers across the Altamaha River,  $4.18
May 3,      to ferriage of forage for horses,                              24.12
April 11,          do                do                                                 2.–
                                                                                            $30.30

The Select Committee, to whom was referred the claim of Reuben Marsh, of Irwin county, for ferriage of soldiers across the Altamaha River, and for forage supplied to the mounted men, report, that they have examined the account, and find it just, and one that should be paid by the State, and made a charge against the United States, and recommend the following resolution: -Resolved, That the sum of thirty dollars thirty cents, be paid to Reuben Marsh, of Irwin county, for ferriage of soldiers across the Altamaha River, in 1836, and for forage supplied, and that the sum be charged to the United States; and that his Excellency, the Governor, serve his warrant on the Treasury for the same, to be paid out of the Military Fund.

According to Roots & Branches Genealogical Society, oral tradition has it that Reuben Marsh also went into active service with the Georgia Militia during the Indian Wars:

Reuben and Nancy raised 14 children, 13 of whom were born before Reuben joined the Georgia Militia fighting the Indians in the Second Seminole War. He was among a party of soldiers who set up a camp near what is now Astor [ Astor, Volusia County, Florida, is situated on the St. John’s River below Lake George, about 200 miles south of Reuben Marsh’s place on the Alapaha River ]. The story was passed down that Reuben was much impressed with the terrain, the abundant game and mild climate. Family tradition has it that he said that if he lived through the war he was going to come back and settle in Florida. He didn’t make it back. After the war he returned to farming in Irwin County, Georgia. –Roots & Branches Genealogical Society of West Volusia County, Florida.

By 1837, a road from Milledgeville, GA intersected the Coffee Road at Marsh’s Ferry, providing a route from the capitol city of Georgia to Tallahassee, the capitol of Florida.  The 1837 Gazetteer of the State of Georgia reports a stage ran between the two cities once a week. The fare was $25.00. The stage left Milledgeville on Wednesdays and arrived in Tallahassee after five days of travel. The road was destitute of water for many miles.

Milledgeville to Hartford ————- 61     61
                         Jacksonville, ——— 44   105
                         Ferry on Alapahaw – 33   138
      Here you enter Coffee’s Road
                         Thomasville, ——– 68   206
                         Tallahassee, ——– 40    246

James Bagley Clements’ History of Irwin County indicates the Inferior Court of Irwin County continued to authorize Marsh’s Ferry and set rates in 1842:

At the January term, 1842, an order was passed by the Inferior Court establishing a ferry across the Alapaha River at a place known as Marshes Ferry. The rates were fixed as follows: man and horses, twelve and one-half cents; man, horse and cart, twenty-five cents; two-horse wagon, fifty cents; jersey wagons, thirty-seven and one-half cents; mules and horses, 3 cents per head; cattle, 3 cents per head, sheep and hogs, one and one-have cents per head; foot persons, free. Rates to be advertised at ferry.

At same term of court a ferry was established across the Willacoochee where Coffee road crosses said creek and the above rates shall govern said ferry. – History of Irwin County

Reuben Marsh died in Berrien County at age 56 in 1849, leaving Nancy with six minor children. The Berrien County Georgia census records enumerated Nancy Marsh as head of household in 1850. The households of her sons, James Marsh and Henry Marsh were next door.

1850 census Nancy Marshall Marsh, Irwin County,GA

1850 census Nancy Marshall Marsh, Irwin County,GA

Name: Nancy Marsh
Age: 53
Birth Year: abt 1797
Birthplace: Georgia
Home in 1850: Division 44, Irwin, Georgia, USA
Gender: Female
Family Number: 7
Household Members:
Name              Age
Nancy Marsh     53
Little B Marsh    21
Martha Marsh   17
Susanah Marsh 15
Rheubin Marsh 14
Geo W Marsh   12
Marian Marsh   10
Moses Marsh     8

 

Children of Reuben Marsh and Nancy Mary Marshall:

  1. Sarah Marsh, born April 22, 1813, Montgomery, GA; married 10 November 1832 to Jacob A. Bradford  in Telfair Co GA; Committed February 1860, to state sanitorium for long periods of poor health; died,1875; buried Connell Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.
  2. James J. Marsh, blacksmith; born 1815, Telfair County, GA; died of fever June 16, 1879, Sumter County, FL; buried Adamsville Cemetery, Adamsville, FL.
  3. Dr. Henry Marsh, born April 28, 1818, Telfair Co., GA; married Rhoda Bradford; died December 10, 1883, Sumter County, FL; buried Sumterville Cemetery, Sumterville, FL.
  4. Eady Marsh, born 1820, Telfair County, GA; married William Griffin; died date unknown.
  5. Nancy Marsh, born April 22, 1823, Telfair County, GA; married John Ellis Connell,  November 21, 1841 in Irwin County, GA; died April 22, 1866; buried Crossroads Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Adel, GA.
  6. Abigail Marsh, born 1826, Telfair County, GA; married Daniel H. Clanton, August 29, 1847, Irwin County, GA; died date unknown.
  7. John Jasper Marsh, born July 09, 1828, Telfair or Irwin County, GA; married Rebecca Hall November 15, 1846 in Irwin County, GA; died October 8, 1897; buried Fort McCoy Cemetery, Fort McCoy, FL.
  8. Littleberry Marsh, born 1829, Irwin County, GA; died date unknown.
  9. Martha Virginia Marsh, born April 11, 1833, Irwin County, GA; married Sion Hall Pike; died February 20, 1918, Marion County, FL; buried Umatilla Cemetery, Umatilla, FL.
  10. Reuben Marsh, Jr., born April 1, 1834, Irwin County, GA; married Mary Jane Clanton, 1859; died January 26, 1908; buried Bethel Cemetery, Deland, FL.
  11. Susannah Marsh, born April 11, 1835, Irwin County, GA; died date unknown.
  12. George Washington Marsh, born about 1838; died date unknown
  13. Mary Ann Marsh, born 1840; married Nathaniel A.J. Gordon; died date unknown; buried Millwood Cemetery, Reddick, FL.
  14. Moses M. Marsh, born 1842, Irwin County, GA; married Cora O. Bracy, May 25, 1875, Volusia County, FL; died April 29, 1893; buried Beresford Cemetery, DeLandVolusia CountyFlorida

The newsletter of the Roots & Branches Genealogical Society of West Volusia County, Florida gives a detailed sketch of the family.

In 1851 Nancy and the children came to Florida, except for Mary who had married Jacob Bradford and remained in Georgia. The family settled near Ocala in Marion county. Eventually the family scattered… 

Abigail Marsh married and returned to Georgia. Nancy went to Alabama.  James, and Henry moved to Sumter County, FL and Eady (Edith) married and went on to Hillsboro County, FL. John Marsh married Rebecca Hall; they, with his mother Nancy remained in Marion County, FL. Nancy (Marshall) Marsh died in Marion County and is buried in the Ocala City Cemetery.

When the Civil War started all seven of the Marsh boys joined the Confederate army. The brothers joined three Regiments according to their ages.

    • James Marsh, 1st Regiment, Florida Infantry Reserves;
    • Henry Marsh, 1st Regiment, Florida Infantry Reserves;
    • John J. Marsh, Company F, 9th Regiment, Florida Infantry; fought in the Battle of Olustee, Ocean Pond, FL, February 20, 1864.
    • Little B. (aka Littleberry or L.B.) Marsh, 9th Regiment, Florida Infantry;
    • George W. Marsh, 9th Regiment, Florida Infantry;
    • Moses Marsh,  2nd Regiment, Florida Cavalry
    • Reuben Marsh, Jr, 2nd Regiment, Florida Cavalry

Reuben, Jr. with his 18-year-old bride Mary Jane Clanton came to Volusia County where Reuben purchased a Settlers Claim from Bryant Osteen. He built a cabin and a store at Cabbage Bluff on the St. Johns River. Cabbage Bluff was where boats on the river stopped when they could not get into Lake Beresford.

Related Posts:

Marsh’s Ferry, the Lopahaw Bridge and Tyson Ferry

Coffee Road Led to Creation of Lowndes County

Coffee’s Road Passed Seven Miles West of Ray City

 

1899 Sketch of Old Lowndes County

In 1856, Berrien County was cut out of Lowndes County, GA. Long before that all of this section, including Lowndes was encompassed in the original county of Irwin. The following is a sketch of the first 75 years of Lowndes County.

The Valdosta Times
October 14, 1899

Historic Sketch of Lowndes County
Written by R. E. L. Folsom

Old Irwin county was composed of sixteen districts, and included the present counties of Thomas, Brooks, Worth, Colquitt, Berrien, Lowndes, Clinch, Echols, and Irwin.  Out of this territory, about 1826, the counties of Thomas and Lowndes were formed, in the south-west and south-east portions respectively.  Lowndes included all of the present counties of Clinch and Echols, and most of the territory of Berrien, Colquitt and Brooks.  Clinch was formed first, then Berrien; then Colquitt; then Brooks; the Echols.

            The county of Lowndes was organized, and the first court held, at Frances Rountree’s on what is now [1899] known as the Remer Young old place, in the year 1827.

    Old Franklinville was the first permanent count seat, founded about the year 1827.  It was located on the Withlacoochee river, near where the skipper bridge now stands.  It was a fine location, from a natural standpoint, and had one of the best springs of water in this county.  It never amounted to much as a business location.  The first clerk of the county court of ordinary was William Smith.

            One among the first representatives of the county was Randall Folsom, from 1832 to 1833.  He was followed by Hamilton Sharpe.

            About 1838, the county seat was moved to the fork of the Withlacoochee and Little rivers, and named Troupeville, in honor of Gov. Troupe.  It was not a picturesque, or even attractive spot for a town, and today a bleak and barren sand ridge, with its scattered clusters of cactus and pine saplings, is all that is left to mark this historic old spot.  It was a great rendezvous for the devotees of fun and excitement and carousal, and a detailed history of the place would furnish every variety of incident, from deeds of heroism down to the most ridiculous escapades.  Troupeville was a considerable business point.  Of the merchants who did business there in the old days, were Moses and Aaron Smith,  E. B. Stafford,  Uriah Kemp, and Alfred Newburn.   The first physician in this section of the country, Dr. Henry Briggs, located there, and put up a drug store.  He built up a very extensive practice, which he kept to the end of his long life.  In those days there were no bar-rooms, as we now find them, but all the merchants, excepting M. & A. Smith, sold liquor.

            Two good hotels were kept here, one by William Smith, who was a master of his trade, and the other by Morgan G. Swain

            The first county surveyor was Samuel Clyatt.  He was succeeded by  Jeremiah Wilson, who held the office, with the exception of one term, till about the close of the civil war.

Judge C. B. Cole was one of the first judges of the superior court.  He was followed by Judge J. J. Scarborough.  It was under Judge Scarborough that Judge A. H. Hansell made his first appearance here, as solicitor general.  He succeeded  Judge Scarborough as judge of the superior court.

            About 1847, occurred the first murder trial in this county.  It was the trial of Samuel Mattox for the murder of a boy by the name of Slaughter.  He was found guilty and hanged for the crime.

            About the year 1859, upon the building of the old Atlantic and Gulf Railroad, now the S. F. & W., this county seat was moved to Valdosta.  The place was named in honor of the home of Gov. Troupe, which he called Val-d’Osta.  This was about the same time that Brooks county was organized.  Shade Griffin was representative at this time, and has the bill passed creating Brooks county.  As he lived on the east side of Little River, the boundary was run so as to put his place in Brooks, where it is said to be yet.

            The merchants who began business in Valdosta at its founding, or soon after, were Thomas B. Griffin, Adam Graham, Moses Smith, jr., Henry Briggs, A. Converse, Capt. Bill Smith,  W. H. Briggs, and the Varnedoes.

The first public road ever cut through this country, was the old Coffee Road, cut out by Gen. Coffee, on a contract from the state.  It began at Jacksonville, on the Ochmulgee River, and ended at old Duncanville, in Thomas county, on the east line.  The first white settlement in this section was made on this road in the fork of the Okapilco and Mule creeks in Brooks county, at an old Indian town, by Jose Bryant, in 1823.   The next settlement was also made on this road, by Sion Hall, near the present site of Morven.  It was here that the first court for the original Irwin county was held.  This settlement was made in 1824.   In the same year, Washington Joyce settled on the east bank of the Little River, and built a ferry at what is now the Miller Bridge.  This was the first white settlement in present Lowndes county.  Next to him came Drew Vickers and Lawrence Folsom and a man named Baker, who built a ferry on the Withlacoochee River, where the Williams bridge now stands.

One of the highways in this section was the old stage road, running from Thomasville to Brunswick through Troupeville.  This was discontinued as a stage line about the year 1850.

In those old days, marketing had to be done at long range.  Not very much cotton was raised – all of the upland variety – but it had to be hauled to Fussell’s and Mobley’s Bluffs, on the Ochmulgee River, and goods hauled back in return.  The only real markets for this section were Tallahassee, Newport and St. Marks.  Going to market was an event in those days, and people went to buy only what was absolutely necessary.   Ah! Those were the happiest days of all.

There were large stock owners in this section, in those days.  There was a fine range and plenty of room, and the raising of stock was then a source of considerable income.  The most important stock raisers were Berry Jones, Francis Jones, Will Folsom, Randall Folsom, James Folsom, and James Rountree.

Related Posts:

Marsh’s Ferry, the Lopahaw Bridge and Tyson Ferry

One of the early roads in Berrien County described by William Green Avera was, “the road from Milltown northward to Tyson Ferry on the Alapaha River just east of the present site of Alapaha. This road pass[ed] by the residence of the late John Studstill, first sheriff of Berrien County, later the home of Joe Studstill, his son; Stony Hill, the old residence of the late Moses C. Lee; Keefe and Bullocks Turpentine still; the residence of the late J. H. Rowan [and] the residence of his widow, Mrs. Phoebe Rowan; the residence of the late William Gaskins — the grandfather of the late Alvah W. Gaskins of Nashville, GA.”    At  Tyson Ferry,  the Milltown road intersected the Coffee Road.

Alapaha River was crossed by the Coffee Road at this site.

Monday, June 19, 2017, Julian Fields led a field trip to the site where the ferry on the old Coffee Road crossed the Alapaha River. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7_-0AzgKgw

It was the 1823 opening of the Coffee Road that led to the creation of Lowndes County, which then covered a vast area of Wiregrass Georgia including present day Berrien County, GA.   When  John Coffee first cut his road through the wilderness, there were no ferries or bridges over the creeks and rivers.  Early travelers forded water crossings as best they could. The WWALS Watershed Coalition documents a number of waypoints, creek and river crossings on the route of the old Coffee Road.  The route of the Coffee entering present day Berrien County from the north first crossed the Willacoochee River, then traversed the Alapaha river  at Cunningham’s Ford. With seasonally high water, these rivers were no doubt difficult if not impossible to cross. 

Within a few years ferries were established over the Willacoochee and the Alapaha for the convenience of Coffee Road travelers.

According to Huxford’s “Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia” Vol. 2, Reuben Marsh moved to Irwin County about 1828 and settled in the 5th district on land Lot 381 which straddles the Willacoochee River.  There he established a farm and ferry apparently to serve travelers on the Coffee Road. 

Enhanced detail of Irwin County survey plat District 5 showing location of land lot 381 on Willacoochee Creek. Reuben Marsh established a ferry over the Willacoochee in 1828.

Enhanced detail of Irwin County survey plat District 5 showing location of land lot 381 on Willacoochee Creek. Reuben Marsh established a ferry over the Willacoochee in 1828.

Marsh, an early settler of Irwin County,  was one of the Commissioners appointed by the legislature to fix the location of the county seat, Irwinville.

It appears that sometime prior to 1836, Reuben Marsh acquired land Lot 424.

At January term, 1836 [Irwin County Inferior Court], Daniel Luke, Hezekiah Walker and Mathew Merritt, appointed commissioners on road leading from courthouse to Widow Mobley’s and intersect there with Coffee Road, also Frederick Merritt, Andrew McCelland and Micajah Paulk, appointed commissioners on Coffee road leading from Thomas L. Swain’s ferry to Ruebin Marsh’s ferry on Alapaha.

 

At January adjourned term, 1836, commissioners were authorized to turn the road leading from [Irwin County] courthouse to Ruebin Marsh’s ferry on Alapaha to near John Benefield’s on to Elisha Grantham’s ferry and strike Coffee Road nearest and best way.

THE LOPAHAW BRIDGE

In 1836 the Georgia Assembly provided partial funding for the construction of a public bridge over the Alapaha River. Later records of the Inferior Court of Irwin County indicate  Tyson Ferry was put into service to replace this bridge .

1836 Georgia Act to construct a bridge across the Lopahaw River

1836 Georgia Act to construct a bridge across the Lopahaw River

 

       AN ACT, To appropriate the sum of eight hundred dollars, to build a Bridge across the Lopahaw.
      Whereas, it is all important that a Bridge should be built across the Lopahaw, at or near Coffee’s Road, and whereas, the citizens are unable to build the said Bridge, and whereas, a subscription is on foot to raise or contribute eight hundred dollars which is thought will be about one half of the amount necessary and requisite to build and erect a substantial Bridge, for remedy whereof:
       Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Georgia in General Assembly met, and it is enacted by the authority of the same, That Jacob Polk of the county of Irwin, Daniel Grantham, Sen’r. John McMillon, be and they are hereby authorized to draw and appropriate the sum of eight hundred dollars, for the purpose of building a Bridge over and across the Lopahaw, at or near where the Coffee Road crosses the said river, and for the repair of Coffee’s Road.
       Sec. 2. Be it enacted by the authority of the same, That the said Commissioners shall give bond and sufficient security for the faithful discharge of their duty, and properly to expend the aforesaid sum for the erection of said Bridge.
        Sec. 3. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That His Excellency the Governor, be, and he is hereby authorized and required, on the receipt of said bond as before required, to pay the amount of eight hundred dollars to the said Commissioners aforesaid, out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated.

JOSEPH DAY,
Speaker of the House of Representatives.
ROBERT M. ECHOLS,

President of the Senate.
Assented to, Dec. 26, 1836.
WILLIAM SCHLEY, Governor.

It appears that the Lopahaw bridge was not constructed on the direct path of Coffee Road over the Alapaha, for at the February 1838 term of the Inferior Court of Irwin County marking commissioners were appointed to lay out a route which bypassed the ford and proceeded over the public bridge, rejoining Coffee road after the crossing.

At February term, 1838, Jacob A. Bradford, John Harper and Leonard Jackson, appointed commissioners to lay out and mark road, leaving Coffee road near Cornelius Tyson’s to public bridge on Alapaha, thence to intersect Coffee road
at or near Micajah Paulk’s, Sr. 

The  Irwin County Tax records of 1831 and 1832 show Cornelius Tyson’s Irwin County property included Lots 422 and 424 in the 5th Land District of Irwin County. 

1831-1832-Cornelius-Tison-tax-records-Irwin-County-GA

1831 – 1832 Irwin County, GA property tax records of Cornelius Tyson

 

 

When the  Inferior Court of Irwin County next met road commissioners were appointed for Coffee Road, to include the new routing over the public bridge.

At July term, 1838, Leonard G. Jackson, Shaderick Griffin and Andrew McClelland, appointed commissioners on road, commencing at C. Tyson’s to public bridge on Alapaha, then to intersect Coffee road near Micajah Paulk’s, they to commence at county line and ending at district line.

There is reason to question just how long this bridge remained in service, for in 1841, Georgia experienced a severe, wide-spread flood known as the Harrison Freshet:

In the early part of March, 1841, after President Harrison’s inauguration, the big fresh occurred west of the Oconee, and the Ocmulgee, Flint and Chattahoochee rivers, and all other smaller streams, contained more water and produced greater damage than ever known. In this section the last inundation was also called the Harrison freshet; hence the confusion that arose many years afterwards in distinguishing which was the proper Harrison fresh. The discrimination was, however, distinctly recorded at the time of the occurrences. The fresh of May and June, 1840, while the convention was held at Milledgeville, was named by the Democrats, “The Nomination Freshet,” and the fresh of March, 1841, was also named by the same “unterrified” authority “The Harrison Inauguration Freshet.” An iron spike was driven into the western abutment of the [Macon] city bridge by Mr. Albert G. Butts, denoting the highest water ever in the river down to that time, March, 1841. The spike still remains, and is inspected at every freshet in the Ocmulgee.

The flood of the 1841 Harrison Freshet is known to have washed away bridges on the Alapaha River.   “Few bridges on the common streams … stood the shock.” The Milledgeville Federal Union declared it a 100 year flood.  The “extraordinary flood…caused awful damage in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina” with major erosion, land slides, “roads rendered almost impassable, and plantations disfigured with enormous gullies.

Whether or not the Lopahaw Bridge weathered the 1841 storm is not known, but  James Bagley Clements’ History of Irwin County states,

        “At the January term, 1842, an order was passed by the Inferior Court [Irwin County] an order was passed establishing a ferry across the Alapaha River at a place known as Marshes Ferry. The rates were fixed as follows: man and horse, twelve and one-half cents; man, horse and cart, twenty-five cents; two-horse wagon, fifty cents; four-horse wagon, one dollar; pleasure carriages, one dollar; gigs, fifty cents; jersey wagons, thirty-seven and one-half cents; mules and horses, 3 cents per head; cattle, 3 cents per head, sheep and hogs, one and one-half cents per head; foot  persons, free. Rates to be advertised at ferry.
At same term of court a ferry was established across the Willacoochee where Coffee Road crosses said creek and the above rates shall govern said ferry.

 

Clement’s History of Irwin County relates that “the public bridge” over the Alapaha was condemned at the January 1856 term of the Irwin County Inferior Court.

TYSON FERRY

At the same 1856 term of court according to James Bagley Clements’ History of Irwin County“Cornelious Tyson was granted authority to erect a ferry on Alapaha River on the Coffee road at the location of the condemned bridge and he is allowed to charge the following rates: man and horse, six and one-fourth cents; horse and cart, twenty-five cents; four-horse wagon, fifty cents; horse and buggy, thirty-seven and one-half cents.” 

Cornelius Tyson was one of the five marking commissioners appointed by the state legislature in 1856 to fix the boundary lines of the newly created Berrien County.  Cornelius Tyson is enumerated in Berrien County, GA as Cornelius Tison in the Census 1860.

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Judge Holt and the Fish-Grass Case

It is said that Judge Thaddeus Goode Holt presided over the first session of the Superior Court of Lowndes County, GA in 1825, convened at the home of Sion Hall, and where Levi J. Knight served as foreman of the Grand Jury.

In Macon, the Honorable Thaddeus G. Holt  went into law practice with his brother-in-law, Allen Fleming, Esquire. A case of note was the Fish-Grass case, concerning the fishing for shad on the Ocmulgee River.

American Shad.

American Shad.

In The bench and bar of Georgia: memoirs and sketches, with an appendix, containing a court roll from 1790 to 1857, etc, Volume 2, Steven Frank Miller tells a story of the Fish-Grass case in which Thaddeus G. Holt and Allen Fleming represented defendants in the Superior Court of Twiggs County:

A little circumstance may be here related as occurring in 1832, or thereabout…

A well-known citizen of Macon, considerably advanced in years and of great wealth, had retained Messrs. Shorter and Gordon as standing counsel. The litigation in which he was engaged was quite extensive, and some of it very curious. Among other possessions he owned land on opposite sides of the Ocmulgee, and had resolved to permit no fishing on his property, except by his leave. In the shad-season, several poor men residing in Bibb crossed over, fastened their canoes to the Twiggs side, and threw out their nets for fish in the river. To warm themselves, they kindled a fire on the bank, burned pine-knots, and probably increased their comfort by adding a few sticks of other wood to the flame. This was the only ” breaking the plaintiff’s close and treading down his grass” for which his counsel were instructed to bring an action in Twiggs Superior Court, because it was for a trespass on the realty. The defendants employed a gentleman* [Thaddeus G. Holt] who had just retired from the bench of the Southern circuit, and his partner† [Allen Fleming] in the practice, whose modesty alone forced him afterward from the bar. The trial came on:  the plaintiff, trembling with bodily infirmities, yet resolute, appeared in court with his title-papers, scowling vengeance on the poor fishermen who had dared to trample on his rights,— “the grass aforesaid.”

The evidence showed a legal trespass of a very harmless character. Mr. Gordon argued the case for the plaintiff by stating the law, and maintaining that because the plaintiff was rich it was no reason why justice should be denied where a plain case of damage had been made out; for the law presumed damage whenever a trespass was committed. The effort was up-hill, a heavy strain to counsel, and the jury looked as if they had no disposition to encourage him by nods or smiles of approbation as he dwelt on the strong points of his argument.  After Mr. Gordon closed, the junior counsel of the defendants launched forth in a vein of goodhumored yet convulsive ridicule, and blowed the case so completely that the jury in five minutes returned a verdict for the defendants. Whereupon the plaintiff instantly paid the cost and entered an appeal, declaring that he would “give it to the rascals next time.” While the appeal was pending in the grass-fish case, Mr. Gordon found it inconvenient to attend Twiggs court, and the action was transferred into the hands of a gentleman‡ [John A. Cuthbert] who, as an advocate, (a former Representative in Congress,) evinced a high order of talent and very refined and uniformly-courteous address. His speech for the plaintiff was calmly logical, and was a fair specimen of Westminster deduction from small premises. The ex-judge, who was behind none of his compeers in blandness of manner, then touched the spark to the magazine of fun in the case, and away it exploded, causing much suppressed laughter, even at the expense of Mr. Gordon, who was accused of deserting his large practice in the court rather than appear in so pitiful a case or seeming to offend his rich client by a refusal,—a case so unequal, so much power on the one side and so much weakness on the other, as to remind one of a whale making war upon a minnow, if nature ever permitted such contests; a case where a rich man grudged a few straggling fish in a public highway (for all rivers in Georgia were such) to the poor families who looked to it for their daily support. The special jury readily gave a concurring verdict for the defendants. A motion was made for a new trial, on which a rule nisi was granted, and taken to the Convention of Judges, who advised a dismissal of the rule. Thus terminated the case,

* Hon. Thaddeus G. Holt, now of the city of Macon.

†Allen Fleming, Esq., then of Marion, but who for the last eight or ten years has been the Agent of the Marine and Fire Insurance Bank at Griffin.

‡John A. Cuthbert, Esq., then editor of the Federal Union, now a resident of Mobile, Alabama, and late judge of the county court.

 

Additional notes on Judge Thaddeus G. Holt:
His father, Thaddeus Holt, served for a short time in the state legislature and as a lieutenant colonel in the militia during the War of 1812. He participated in several duels during his life and was eventually murdered in October of 1813.

 

John Gaskins, Pioneer of Old Berrien

John Gaskins (1802 – 1865)

Grave marker of John Gaskins (1802-1865), Riverside Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave marker of John Gaskins (1802-1865), Riverside Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

 John Gaskins was one of the early pioneers of Berrien County, settling along with his father, Fisher Gaskins,  and brothers near present day Bannockburn, GA.  They made their homes on the west side of the Alapaha River about 16 miles distant from today’s Ray City, GA location, settling there about the same time the Knights and Clements were homesteading in the area around Beaverdam Creek.

John Gaskins was born June 29, 1802 in Warren County, GA. He was the eldest child of Fisher Gaskins and Rhoda Rowe, and a grandson of Thomas Gaskins, Revolutionary Soldier.  When John was around four or five years old, his parents  and grandparents  moved  the family back to Beaufort District, South Carolina, from whence they had originated.  The family appears there in Beaufort District in the Census of 1810. By the time of the 1810 enumeration, John Gaskins’ parents had given him four siblings – two brothers and two sisters.

But immediately following the birth of her fifth child, John’s mother died.  He was eight years old at the time.  His widowed father packed up the five young children and moved the family back to Warren County, GA.  There, on January 17, 1811 his father married Mary Lacy. Her father, Archibald Lacy, was also a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and her brother was the Reverend John B. Lacy, who would later become a prominent  Primitive Baptist Minister.  Around this time John’s father was expanding his livestock business and began looking for good grazing land for his growing herds of cattle.

By 1812, John Gaskins’ father moved the family to Telfair County, GA where he acquired good grazing land for his cattle. His father and his uncle, David Gaskins, were very successful in the cattle business and soon had large herds, not only in Telfair County where they were enumerated in 1820, but also in Walton and other surrounding counties where good natural pasturage could be had.

Around 1821, the Gaskins again moved their families and cattle herds to the south, crossing the Ocmulgee River at Mobley’s Bluff and pushing into the new frontier of Appling County,GA.  John, now a young man of 17 or 18 years old, made the move with his family.  His uncle, David Gaskins, halted in an area of Appling County known as “The Roundabout”, situated in present day Atkinson County, where he found good range land for his cattle. John’s father took his herd across the Alapaha River into then Irwin County at a location that for many years was known as the John Ford.

The Fisher Gaskins clan, John’s father and his brothers, settled west of the Alapaha River a little south of present day Bannockburn, GA near the site of Riverside Church. On April 14, 1825  John Gaskins married Mary Pollie Barrow in Irwin County, GA.      This was about 15 miles north of the area where the Knights and Clements were settling their families above Grand Bay, near present day Ray City, GA.  John and Mary Gaskins established their homestead just to the north of his father’s place. By the end of 1825, the Georgia Legislature divided Irwin County and from the southern portion formed the new county of Lowndes.

On August 11, 1826 Mary Gaskins delivered to John his first son, Gideon Gaskins. A second son arrived on February 16, 1828, whom they named Fisher Jackson Gaskins; Fisher – after his paternal grandfather, and Jackson perhaps after Andrew Jackson, the Hero of New Orleans who would be elected President that year.

John Gaskins appeared as a head of household in Lowndes County in the Census of 1830, as did his father, Fisher Gaskins.  About 1829 or 1830, John’s father moved his cattle across the county and settled on Lot 91 of the 9th Land District, which was subsequently known as the Chambliss place, and later became the home of George D. Griffin.

About 1831 a contagious disease struck Fisher Gaskins’ herd, killing off several hundred head of cattle and inciting the elder Gaskins to seek new pastures yet again. With the help of hired hands, among them a young John G. Taylor, he drove his remaining cattle into North Florida to settle in the area of Alachua County, FL.   John and Mary stayed behind in Lowndes County (now Berrien), as well as John’s brothers,  William and Harmon.

“When he moved to Florida, he [Fisher Gaskins] left much of his herds behind in Georgia to be looked after by his sons, John, William, and Harmon who by that time were grown.  These herds multiplied and in turn, other herds were formed and placed about at various points in what is now Clinch, Echols and Lowndes counties and over in Florida, under the management of herdsmen, who for their services were paid at the end of the year a percentage of the proceeds of the cattle sold that year.  The beef cattle were driven to Savannah and other distant places each year and sold. This arrangement with the herds and herdsmen continued with the elder Gaskins making periodic visits of inspection until his death, after which the three sons in Georgia received the Georgia herds in a division of the estate.”

Cattlemen like John Gaskins sold their Berrien County livestock at points like Savannah, GA or  Centerville on the St. Mary’s River, or Jacksonville, Florida.

John Gaskins fought in the Indian War 1836-1838, serving in Levi J. Knight’s Militia Company.   Georgia historian Folks Huxford wrote,  “His home was visited  by the savages on one occasion while the family was absent, and a good deal of vandalism and theft was committed.”   John Gaskins and his brother William were among those who took part in the Battle of Brushy Creek, one of the last real engagements with the Creek Indians in this region.

At age 38, John Gaskins and family were enumerated in the Census of 1840, still living in the northeast area of old Lowndes county now known as Berrien County. His brother, William, was living next door, and nearby were the homesteads of David Clements and William Clements, and other early settlers.

In 1850 the Gaskins remained in  Lowndes County.  Enumerated nearby the Gaskins home place were the residences of General Levi J. Knight, William Patten, Hardeman Sirmans, David Clements, Moses C. Lee, and other early settlers. John Gaskins was a farmer, with $600 in real estate.

Around 1855 the Gaskins were involved in some sort of public disturbance in Lowndes county.  Hardeman Sirmons, Benjamin S. Garrett, Drewry Garrett, Will Garrett, John Gaskins, William Gaskins, Gideon Gaskins, and Lemuel Gaskins were all brought before the Lowndes Superior Court for their involvement in a riot.  In 1856, however, the Gaskins and their neighbors were cut out of Lowndes county and placed in the new county of Berrien. The defendants were able to have their case  transferred to Berrien County in June of 1856, and apparently escaped serious consequences.

In the Census of 1860 John Gaskins appeared on the enumeration sheets listed next to Thomas M. Ray, who would begin construction of Ray’s Millpond just a few years later.

From 1858 to 1861, John Gaskins served as a Justice of the Peace in Berrien County.

During the Civil War five of his sons joined Georgia Volunteer Infantry regiments: Fisher J. Gaskins, William Gaskins, Lemuel Gaskins, Joseph Gaskins, and Harris Gaskins, .

Children of John Gaskins and Mary Pollie Barrow:

  1. Gideon Gaskins, born 1826, Berrien County, GA; married Sarah Knight (July 17, 1831 – February 03, 1902); buried Riverside Baptist Church, Berrien County, GA.
  2. Fisher J. Gaskins, Sr., born February 16, 1828, Berrien County, GA; married Elizabeth Sirmans, daughter of Abner Sirmans; served in Company I, 50th GA Regiment; died November 14, 1908, Berrien County, GA; Buried at Riverside Baptist Church.
  3. John Gaskins, Jr., born January 16, 1830, Berrien County, GA; married Catherine Calder; died May 6, 1886.
  4. Emily Gaskins, born 1832, Berrien County, GA; married Joseph Newbern.
  5. William Gaskins, born March 5, 1833; married Elizabeth Clements, daughter of David G. Clements; served in Company I, 54th GA Regiment; died August 27, 1910; buried Empire Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.
  6. Lemuel Elam Gaskins, born 1836, Berrien County, GA; married Sarah Ann Sirmans, daughter of Abner Sirmans; served in Company I, 50th GA Regiment;  died October 26, 1862, Richmond, VA; buried Richmond VA, memorial marker at Riverside Baptist Church.
  7. Joseph Gaskins, born April 28, 1840, Berrien County, GA; married Harriet Sirmans, daughter of James Sirmans; served in Company I, 50th GA Regiment; died February 4, 1911; Buried at Riverside Baptist Church.
  8. Harmon Gaskins, born 1842, Berrien County, GA; died young.
  9. Harrison  “Harris” Gaskins, born April 5, 1842, Berrien County, GA.; married Roxanna “Roxie” Sirmans, daughter of James Sirmans, on April 17, 1862; served in Company K, 29th GA Regiment; died January 7, 1926; Buried at Riverside Baptist Church
  10. Bryant Gaskins, born 1846, Berrien County, GA

Clinch County News
April 23, 1937

John Gaskins – 1802-1865

Oldest son of Fisher Gaskins by his first wife. Came to Berrien while a youth, grew to manhood here. His wife was a daughter of Joseph Barrow… Immediately after their marriage John Gaskins and his wife settled on the Alapaha River a short distance north of the old home of his father and near where Bannockburn now is, and there they spent their entire married life together.   The death of John Gaskins occurred at this home July 18, 1865; and 23 years later, January 6, 1888 his widow joined her husband in the spirit-land, at the age of 83.  Both are buried at Riverside Cemetery and their graves are substantially marked. They were the parents of a large family of sons and daughters and their living descendants in this county to-day are very numerous.

John Gaskins was a man who spent his life at home and gave his time and attention to his avocation.  The farm was made self-sustaining; work was the rule and grim want never came to stare the inmates of this farm-home in the face.  Food for family and stock was well and abundantly supplied and the excellence of the range went a long way in helping him to provide meat for family and lay up money from the sales of beef-cattle.  Deer and turkeys were plentiful and could be taken at any time. Fish abounded in the river and with all of these good things around life on the frontier was not so bad after all.  Hogs grew almost wild in the hammocks and only required a few weeks’ finishing off with corn or field crops to be ready for slaughter. Cattle were let to go at large all the time except they were penned regularly for about six weeks during the months of April and May so that they may be marked and branded and kept under control; and the annual sale of these beef-cattle brought the gold in their homes against the rainy-day and old age.

John Gaskins took part in driving the last of the wandering bands of Indians from Georgia soil, and one of the last engagements with the redskins fought on Berrien county soil took place near the home of this old pioneer.  His home suffered from Indian predations to the extent that the feather beds were taken out, the ticks ripped open, the feathers emptied and scattered and the ticks carried away with some other articles of the household.  Some of these articles were recovered, among which was a beautiful pitcher which had been treasured as an heirloom for many years.  The place where the pitcher was recovered after it had been cast aside by the Indians in their flight across the Alapaha River, is known to this day among the local inhabitants as “Pitcher Slough.”

Following the death of John Gaskins in 1865 his sons Fisher J. and John, Jr. served as the administrators of his estate.

Milledgeville Federal Union
August 21, 1866 — page 4

Georgia, Berrien County.
Two months after date application will be made to the Court of Ordinary of said county for leave to sell the lands belonging to the estate of John Gaskins, Sen., deceased, for the benefit of the heirs and creditors of said deceased.
F. J. Gaskins,
John Gaskins, Jr.   Adm’r’s.
July 2d, 1866.        WEC       50 9c

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Me and Mrs. Jones: Harmon Gaskins Had A Thing Going On – Twice

Over the course of his life, Harmon Gaskins twice married widows named Mrs. Jones.  He first married Melissa Rouse Jones, widow of Clayton Jones, and second married Mary McCutchen Jones, widow of Matthew Jones. For nearly forty years, Harmon Gaskins and his family lived near Five Mile Creek, about six or seven miles northeast of present day Ray City, GA.

Graves of Melissa and Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Graves of Melissa and Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Harmon Gaskins was one of the early pioneers of Berrien County, originally settling along with his father, Fisher Gaskins, and brothers John and William near present day Bannockburn, GA. They made their homes on the west side of the Alapaha River about 16 miles distant from today’s Ray City, GA location.

Born in Beaufort, South Carolina around 1808, Harmon Gaskins was the youngest son of Rhoda Rowe and Fisher Gaskins, and a grandson of Thomas Gaskins, Revolutionary Soldier.  Fisher Gaskins and his family appear there in Beaufort District in the Census of 1810.  That same year, when Harmon was perhaps two years old, his mother died.   His widowed father packed up the five young children and moved the family back to Warren County, GA, where the family had lived prior to 1807.  There, on January 17, 1811 his father remarried.  Harmon’s new step-mother was Mary Lacy.  Her father, Archibald Lacy, was also a veteran of the Revolutionary War. His stepmother’s brother, the Reverend John B. Lacy, would later become a prominent Primitive Baptist Minister

It was about this time that Harmon’s father, Fisher Gaskins,  began to expand his livestock operations. Soon he was looking to acquire good land on which to raise his growing herds of cattle. By 1812,  Harmon’s father had moved the family to Telfair County, GA where there was good grazing land for his cattle. His father was very successful in the cattle business and soon had large herds, not only in Telfair County, but also in Walton and other surrounding counties where good natural pasturage could be had.

Around 1821, Harmon’s father moved his family and cattle yet again, this time to the newly created Appling County, GA, south of the Ocmulgee River.  Harmon Gaskins, now a lad of 12 or 13 years, moved with the family.

By the end of 1825, the Georgia Legislature formed the new county of Lowndes out of the southern half of Irwin County. It was around that time or shortly thereafter, Harmon’s father brought his cattle herds and family father south into that portion of Lowndes County that would later be cut into Berrien County.  Fisher Gaskins (Sr.) brought his family into Lowndes County and settled west of the Alapha River perhaps a little south of the present day Bannockburn, GA, and about 15 miles north of the area where William A. Knight, Isbin Giddens,  and David Clements were settling their families above Grand Bay.

Around 1832, Harmon’s father moved farther south into Florida where it was said that there was even better pasture land for cattle. Harmon stayed behind, as well as his brothers, William and John.

Harmon Gaskins married about 1835 and first established his own home place on the Gaskins land near Gaskins cemetery.  Harmon Gaskins, and his brothers William and John, were among Captain Levi J. Knight’s Company of men who fought in the Indian Wars of 1836.  Many published accounts of the pioneer skirmishes with Native Americans at  William Parker’s place on the Alapaha River and at Brushy Creek have been related on the Ray City History Blog.

In the late 1830s, Harmon Gaskins moved his family to a location near Five Mile Creek, about six or seven miles from present day Ray City, GA.  The Census of 1850 shows the Harmon Gaskins place was located next to the farm of Mark Watson, which was  in the area of Empire Church.  Harmon Gaskins kept his residence here until 1875, when he decide to build a place nearer the Alapaha River. Just two years later, Harmon Gaskins died and was buried at the Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Sixty years after his death, the Clinch County News ran an account of Harmon Gaskins life in Berrien County:

The Clinch County News
April 23, 1937

Harmon Gaskins – 1808-1878

    This the youngest of the three sons of Fisher and Rhoda Rowe Gaskins, was born in 1808, and began life for himself as a laborer on the farm of a neighbor, Mrs. Clayton Jones.  He was about grown when his father decided to move to Florida; and ere long he was in love with Mrs. Melissa Jones, widow of Clayton Jones.  Mrs. Jones’ husband had moved to this county from Emanuel County along with the Sirmans family of Clinch and Berrien counties.  Her husband died about 1830 or 1832 and left her with three children, viz; Irving Jones and Henry Jones and Harriet who later married Wm. M. Avera.  The daughter Harriet was only about two or three years old when her father died, she being born in 1829.  Mrs. Melissa Jones was an illegitimate daughter of Miss Martha (Patsy) Rouse who later became the wife of Jonathan Sirmans of this [Clinch] county. The father of this illegitimate child was named Rowland, a fair-haired, blue-eyed Scotch-Irish man of handsome mien and who deceived the youthful maiden and went away never to return.  This illegitimate child grew up and married Clayton Jones in Emanuel county, and they came to Berrien county about 1825, and he died about 1830-2 as already stated, leaving his widow possessed of a home and farm and with five children to take care of.  Harmon Gaskins, about her age, but a little younger, after working for her on the farm a year or two, proposed marriage and was accepted and they were married about 1835.
    Their first child Rhoda was born Jan. 17, 1837, at the old homestead which was located on the Willacoochee Road leading east from Nashville by way of Avera’s Mill 7 miles east of Nashville and near the Gaskins Graveyard.
    The early life of Harmon Gaskins was not  different from that of other pioneers’ sons growing up in the atmosphere of frontier life.  He was reared to live the chase and many were the conquests made by him in company with his father and brothers of the wild beasts that then abounded and roamed through the country.  Like his father and brothers, he became the owner of a vast herd of cattle, and from the proceeds of sales of his beef-cattle each year he was able to save up gold and silver which in his hands stayed out of the channels of trade for years at the time. He was inured to the hardships of life as it then existed.  His only mode of travel was horseback unless he had to make a trip to a distant trading-point for supplies that could not be produced on the farm.  In such event of a trip, the horse was hitched to a two-wheeled cart of his own construction he being an excellent blacksmith and wheelright; and journey made in company with two or three neighbors situated like himself.  They drove their carts sitting astride their horses, and took rest-spells by occasionally walking by the side of the horse.  Such trips had to be made to St. Marks, Fla., or to old Center Village in what is now Charlton county.  An occasional trip would be made to Savannah but most of the trips were made to the other points named; these trips were usually about once a year, and would last a week or ten days.
  After the birth of two or three children the homesite of Harmon Gaskins was moved to a different location on the same lot of land and for many years he lived near Five-Miles Creek just east of his first location. This was  his home until about 1875 when he decided to locate on a lot of land which he had owned for several years lying nearer the Alapaha River and east of his old home.  Here he constructed a plain log dwelling and began the work of making a new home for himself and family, renting out the old home-place. He died at his last location.
    After the death of his first wife, Mr. Gaskins was married to Mrs. Mary Jones, widow of Matthew Jones and daughter of Robert and Cornelia McCutcheon, pioneer citizens of Irwin and Berrien counties.  By his two marriages, Mr. Gaskins had fourteen children – nine by his first wife and five by the second wife.
     Harmon Gaskins’ death was sudden and was deemed by his older children to appear to have been surrounded with peculiar circumstances.  A suspicion arose that he was poisoned by his wife.  This suspicion was nursed and grew in the minds of the children until it was determined several weeks later to have the body exhumed and a post mortem examination of the stomach made.  The State Chemist failed to find any trace of poison and the decision reached that he came to his death by natural causes.  This however engendered much bitterness and ill-feeling between the widow and her step children, and she entered suit for damages for slander.  She was given a verdict for $1600.00.  She later married Alfred Richardson by whom she had four children, and with whom she lived until a few years before her death in 1918.
    Harmon Gaskins enjoyed but few and limited opportunities for obtaining an education.  Nevertheless he was one of the best-posted men on political issues and economics of his time.  He was a liberal subscriber to the newspapers of his day, and he had a good collection of books on history and other subjects of all of which he was a great student. His counsel was found to be safe and his judgement sound; he was often sought after by others.  He was appointed one of the first judges of the Inferior Court of Berrien County, serving many years.  After the court was abolished he served many years as Justice of the Peace.  However, he never sought political office but rather preferred to stay home.  He labored with his own hands as long as he lived, and put in a good day’s work the day before he died.
At the death of his father in Columbia county, Fla., he inherited a large stock of cattle from the estate which ranged in Volusia and St. Johns counties, Fla., and until a few years preceding his death he made trips down there once a year for the purpose of rounding up the cattle, marking and branding the calves, and talking over his business affairs with those he had arranged to look after the herds.  The men were usually men living in the neighborhood there and under their contract were to look personally after the cattle and pen them about three months in the spring and each summer in order to keep them tradable, and sell the beef steers in the summer, and bring the money from the sales to the owner. For this service the herder was to receive every fifth calf raised and these calves were marked and branded for the herder at the April round-up.
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ncompetent and probably dishonest herders in due time began to appear among those entrusted with the care of the Florida herds, and this with the gradual failing of the range and the development of the country there and the influx of people, all worked to the detriment of the enterprise. The income from the cattle grew less each year until Mr. Gaskins decided to sell what he had left and let Florida cattle growing alone. Thus he sold out about 15 or 20 years before he died. After his death some sixteen hundred dollars in gold and silver coin and several hundred dollars in paper money was divided among his heirs after having lain in his trunk for many years.
    The children by the first wife were:
    (1) Rhoda, born Jan. 17, 18–, married first to Francis Mobley and after his death in the civil war she married Wm. M. Griner.
    (2) Martha, married first to Thomas Connell who was killed in the civil war; second to William Parker who died three months later; third husband, Hardeman Giddens, was a first cousin on her mother’s side.
(3) Nancy, married Solomon Griffin of Berrien county.

    (4) Fisher H., married Polly Ann Griner.
    (5) Harmon Jr.  Never married, died a young man during the war.
    (6) Rachel, married William Griffin.
    (7) Sarah C., married Samuel Griner.
    (8) Thomas H., married Rachel McCutcheon.
    (9) John A., married Mary Bostick.
    The children by the second wife were: Wayne and Jane who died in childhood; Harmon E. Gaskins, never married, living single in east Berrien county; William H. Gaskins  and David D. Gaskins, The latter married Elsie Hughes.

Grave of Melissa Gaskins, 1810-1864, wife of Harmon Gaskins, buried at Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Melissa Gaskins, 1810-1864, wife of Harmon Gaskins, buried at Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave of Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA