Benjamin Thomas Cook in Postbellum Berrien County

Benjamin Thomas Cook (1842-1924) Berrien County,  GA

Benjamin Thomas Cook came to Berrien County, GA after the Civil War and settled on land near Empire Church, not far distant from the grist mill Thomas M. Ray and Levi J. Knight had established on Beaver Dam Creek, a tributary of Cat Creek in southern Berrien County. Cook was a veteran who had been a prisoner of war, and came to Berrien to join others of the Cook family connection.

Benjamin Thomas Cook was born in Georgia in 1842, a son of Martha Knight and John  Cook.  His parents were married  December 5, 1841, in Wilkinson County, and Ben was  first enumerated at eight years old on his father’s farm in the  1850 census  of  the county.

1850-census-benjamin-t-cook

1850 Census enumeration of Benjamin Cook in the household of his parents, Martha Knight and John Cook, Wilkinson County, GA. https://archive.org/stream/7thcensus0067unix#page/n602/mode/1up

By the time of the 1860 census, John Cook had moved his family to Milledgeville, Baldwin County, GA.  John Cook was a miller and Benjamin Thomas Cook was employed as a “common laborer.”

"1860

Milledgeville was then capitol of the State of Georgia, also the site of the state arsenal, penitentiary, lunatic asylum, and Oglethorpe University.  Milledgeville was a bustling city, with a cosmopolitan flair.  The Cook residence was near the Milledgeville Hotel, and the neighbors of the Cooks included not only doctors, pharmacists, craftsmen, politicians and state administrators,  but also professionals such as editors and engineers from New York, fencing masters from France, merchants from many states and countries, attorneys from Scotland, watchmakers from Ireland, daguerreotype artists from Germany, and many others who simply gave their occupation as “gentleman.”

Western view of the State House and other buildings in Milledgeville. The view is from near the residence of R. M. Orme, Esg.; the State House is seen on the right; the Milledgevill and McComb's Hotels on the left. The Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopal churches appear in the central part.

Milledgeville, GA, 1861.

Western view of the State House and other buildings in Milledgeville.
The view is from near the residence of R. M. Orme, Esg.; the State House is seen on the right; the Milledgeville and McComb’s Hotels on the left. The Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopal churches appear in the central part. Barber, J. W., & Howe, H. (1861). Our whole country; or, The past and present of the United States, historical and descriptive. Cincinnati: H. Howe. https://books.google.com/books?id=dpzRlpLAGnwC&q

At the age of 20, Benjamin Thomas Cook was a resident of Milledgeville, Georgia, of florid complexion, dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and 5 ft, 3 3/4 inches tall. When the Civil War got underway Benjamin and his brother, Henry Cook, joined the Confederate cause. He enlisted May 1, 1862,  at Macon,  GA  with Company A, 1st Confederate Georgia Regiment, according to the Confederate Pension application he later filed. He appears in the National Park Service database of Civil War Soldiers and Sailors as a private of Company A, 1st Georgia Reserves. There were over thirty Georgia battle units incorporating the “First Georgia” title, so Benjamin’s unit service record remains unclear.

Georgia Ordinances of 1861 required that “every free white person, who shall be engaged in actual service, military or naval, of the State, and shall take an oath of his intention to continue in such service for at least three months, unless sooner discharged honorably, and, also, the oath of allegiance below prescribed.”

“That the oath of allegiance to this State shall be in the following form, to wit: ‘I do swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and true allegiance bear to the State of Georgia so long as I may continue a citizen thereof.”

Those who were residents of Georgia at the time the Ordinance of Secession was passed were implicitly no longer citizens of the United States, but citizens of the State of Georgia. After the passage of Secession, anyone who came from a Union state to reside in Georgia  was required to take the Oath of Abjuration, an explicit statement renouncing their American citizenship.

“The oath of abjuration shall be in the following form, to wit: ‘I do swear (or affirm) that I do renounce and forever abjure all allegiance and fidelity to every prince, potentate, State or sovereignity whatsover, except the State of Georgia.’

While in Confederate service, Benjamin Cook was captured at Milledgeville, GA.  The Roll of Prisoners of War at Point Lookout, MD shows he was captured November 23, 1864, and held as a POW at the federal prison there at Point  Lookout, MD. His brother, Henry Cook, was also among the POWs at Point Lookout, as were John A. Gaskins, John T. Ray, Benjamin Harmon Crum and Aaron Mattox of Berrien County, GA.

Point Lookout had been hastily constructed in 1863 to confine Confederate prisoners of war captured at Gettysburg.

At the end of August 1863, Point Lookout’s stockade held more than 1,700 Confederate soldiers.  The prison population swelled to 9,000 by the end of the year. During the summer of 1864, the prison population grew to 15,500, well more than the stockade’s designed capacity, and reached 20,000 in June 1865. Conditions for the prisoners severely worsened as the population exploded.  The military did not construct barracks or other permanent housing; instead, tents provided inadequate shelter from the sweltering summer heat and brutal winters.  Contaminated water, meager rations, malaria and typhoid fever, and exposure to the elements led to a high death rate in the camp.  Approximately 4,000 of the total 50,000 Point Lookout prisoners died while  incarcerated. National Park Service

Following the Confederate surrender, B.T. Cook swore an Oath of Allegiance to the United States, and was released from Point Lookout on June 10, 1865.

Prisoners at Point Lookout, MD taking the oath of allegiance. A group of prisoners stand in a building, with the U.S. Flag draped across the ceiling, each with his hand on a Bible. A Union officer stands at a dias administering the oath of allegiance to the Union. Image courtesy of Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society, [Digital ID, nhnycw/ae ae00007] http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpcoop/nhihtml/cwnyhshome.html

Prisoners at Point Lookout, MD taking the oath of allegiance. A group of prisoners stand in a building, with the U.S. Flag draped across the ceiling, each with his hand on a Bible. A Union officer stands at a dias administering the oath of allegiance to the Union. Image courtesy of Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society, [Digital ID, nhnycw/ae ae00007] http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpcoop/nhihtml/cwnyhshome.html

It appears from the Point Lookout records that B.T. Cook  was transported to Hilton Head, SC arriving on July 1, 1865.

After the War, Ben and his brother, Henry, came to Berrien  County, GA. In doing so, Ben and Henry were joining  about a dozen or so families originating from Wilkinson county who had made the move to the newly established Berrien County some ten years earlier. These included  the families of Ben’s cousins Elijah, Tabitha, and Piety Cook. Tabitha married Daniel Avera and Piety married Nicholas Lewis, both of these couples moving to Berrien.  Dawson Webb, father of Elijah’s first wife, had also moved to Berrien around 1856, and Webb’s daughter Louisa Eliza Webb and son-in-law Moses G. Sutton came to Lowndes County (now Berrien) a few years prior.

In Berrien County on 14 December 1865, Ben married Samantha  Jane “Mantha” Taylor. Jane was the daughter of blacksmith William Jackson Taylor and his wife, Samantha Jane Rogers, originally from Marion County, SC. The marriage ceremony was performed by Jane’s brother, Thomas L. Taylor, Justice of the Peace. 1865-benjamin-thomas-cook-marriage-cert

Back from the war,  Benjamin Cook endured the conditions of Reconstruction in Berrien County, GA. “It was also a time when the entire nation, but especially the South, was forced to come to grips with the legacy of slavery and the consequences of emancipation.” -National Park Service

Congress passed the Reconstruction Act in 1867 requiring the former Confederate states to ratify the 14th Amendment,  which “defined all persons born in the United States as national citizens, who were to enjoy equality before the law.”  States were compelled to adopt new state constitutions, providing “equal protection of the laws” to all national citizens, black and white.  Southern states which continued to deny the vote to black men would lose representation in Congress.

W. H. Griffin, Jr.,  who was born during the Civil War, described the post-war perspective of ex-Confederates in Berrien County:

“Georgia had been placed under military rule, Union soldiers stood guard everywhere, indignities were piled upon the citizens of Berrien county by scalawags and carpet baggers who subjected war worn soldiers to almost brutal treatment in order to force them to take the oath of allegiance.” – The unpublished papers of W.H. Griffin Jr., (1863-1932) 

In July 28, 1866 The Albany Patriot wrote:

“Unjust and discriminating taxes are heaped upon us, and we are allowed no voice or representation in the councils of the Government. We are invited to degrade ourselves on a level with the most miserable and debauched class of people known among us.  With our oaths of allegiance staring us in the face, we are baselessly charged with disloyalty and our motives impugned.”

By 1867, white Georgia voters were required to complete the Oath of Allegiance in order to be listed in the register of qualified voters. White southern men whose national citizenship had been renounced by way of the Ordinance of Secession, oaths of  abjuration of national citizenship, oaths of allegiance to Confederate states,  or acceptance of Confederate citizenship were required to swear a new oath of allegiance to the United States in order to have their national citizenship restored and to qualify for the right to vote. Some whites who had held posts in the Confederate government or the governments of Confederate states were disqualified from having their citizenship restored through the oath of allegiance.

Like many other men of Berrien County, Benjamin Thomas Cook swore to this new Oath of Allegiance, signifying his acceptance on the written oath by making his x mark over his printed name:

I, B. T. Cook do solemnly swear in the presence of Almighty God, that I am a citizen of the State of Georgia; that I have resided in said State for 24 months next preceding this day, and now reside in the County of Berrien in said State; that I am 21 years old; that I have not been disenfranchised for participation in any rebellion or civil war against the United States, nor for felony committed against the laws of any State or the United States; that I have never been a member of any State Legislature, nor held any executive or judicial office in any state, and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State Legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid and comfort to the enemies thereof, that I will faithfully support the Constitution and obey the laws of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, encourage others so to do. So help me, God”

Benjamin Thomas Cook,1867 Oath of Allegiance, Berrien County, GA

Benjamin Thomas Cook,1867 Oath of Allegiance, Berrien County, GA

The 1870 census records show Benjamin T. Cook took up farming next door to his brother-in-law, Thomas L. Taylor, and cousin, Elijah Cook, in the 1148th Georgia Militia District. Ben owned $50 in real estate and $85 in personal property. Benjamin T. Cook was undoubtedly a cousin of Elijah Cook, although the exact relationship is not known. Like B. T. Cook, Elijah was a native of Wilkinson County, GA.

1870 Census enumeration of Benjamin T. Cook and family, 1148th Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

1870 Census enumeration of Benjamin T. Cook and family, 1148th Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0135unit#page/n437/mode/1up

Around 1874 Benjamin Thomas Cook acquired 65 acres of Berrien County land on Lot 219 in the 10th Land District. About that time, Elijah Cook let go of his land on Lot 217, and acquired Lot 198 which was just to the north.  In 1879, Benjamin T. Cook had 40 acres on lot 217, and Elijah Cook held 680 acres along Five Mile Creek,  on Lots 217 and 198.

In 1880, Benjamin and  Samantha Jane “Mantha” Cook were enumerated by L. E. Lastinger in the 1148th Georgia Militia District of Berrien County. Children in the Cook household were William (13), Fannie (11), Mary (9), Henry (5) and James (3). William and Mary attended school.  The 1880 census also recorded sickness or disability on the day of enumeration;  11-year-old Fannie Cook was enumerated as at home, suffering from “rheumatism” that left her classified in the census as “maimed, crippled, bedridden, or otherwise disabled.”

Next door to the Cooks  was the family of  Samantha’s sister, Emaline Taylor Lewis, and her husband, Joseph Lewis.  Joseph Lewis was Ben’s  cousin, a son of  Piety Cook and Nicholas Lewis. Two of the sons of Joseph Lewis and Emaline Taylor Lewis, 14-year-old Thomas Lewis and  4-year-old William Lewis, also suffered from debilitating “rheumatism.”

1880 census enumeration of Benjamin Cook, 1148 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

1880 census enumeration of Benjamin Cook, 1148 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA https://archive.org/stream/10thcensusl0134unit#page/n393/mode/1up

The 1880 population census also shows that three of the children of  Ben’s cousin Elijah Cook and his wife Arinda Chandler Cook were also disabled.  These Cook daughters were Juda, Amanda, and Sarah. These girls were known locally as the “alligator children,” and apparently presented a rare, debilitating form of the genetic skin condition ichthyosis. Two of the grandchildren of Elijah Cook also suffered from ichthyosis, and Ben’s nephew Andrew Cook, son of Henry Cook, was also disabled (When Henry Cook went to prison for manslaughter in 1907, an application was submitted on behalf of Andrew to receive his father’s Indigent Soldiers pension as a dependent.)

Benjamin T. Cook in 1880 had 390 acres on Lot 215. In 1884 Benjamin gave up 160 acres on Lot 215, retaining 130 acres there.

Children of Benjamin Thomas Cook and Samantha Jane Taylor include:

  1. William Jackson “Jack” Cook – born March 13, 1867; married 1st Annie Laura Mathis (1871-1910), September 25, 1887; married 2nd, Nancy Barker; married 3rd, Carrie E. Sullivan (1878-1942); died February 1, 1951; Jack, Laura, and Carrie are buried Empire Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.
  2. Francis “Fannie” Cook – born April 3, 1868; married Enoch “Bud” Benefield, August 18, 1887, Berrien County GA;
  3. Mary Elizabeth Cook – born December 31, 1878; married James Elijah Benefield March 24, 1891 in Berrien County, GA; died May 22, 1947; buried Poplar Springs Cemetery, Berrien County, GA
  4. Henry Cook – born abt 1875; married Fannie Giddens
  5. James Lewis Cook – born February 7, 1876; married Elizabeth Virginia “Lizzie” Duren, August 24, 1899, Berrien County, GA; died May 31, 1945; buried Pine Grove Baptist Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA
  6. Elijah “Lige” Cook – born December 10, 1881 in Berrien County, GA; married Eva Studstill, February 9, 1905; died October 19, 1963; buried Union Hill Cemetery, Atkinson County, GA
  7. Martha Cook – born abt 1884; married Charlie S. Tucker, December 10, 1909 in Berrien County, GA; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Samantha Jane “Mantha” Taylor Cook died on Thursday, June 7, 1888.  She was buried at Empire Church Cemetery, about seven miles northeast of Ray City, GA.

Grave of Samantha Jane

Grave of Samantha Jane “Mantha” Taylor Cook, first wife of Benjamin Thomas Cook. Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

Just seven weeks  after the death of Samantha Jane “Mantha” Taylor Cook, Benjamin T. Cook married his second wife, Arrilla “Sis” Stone. They were married on Thursday, July 26, 1888, in Berrien County, GA,  the bride’s name appearing on the Marriage license as “Gurila” Stone.  The marriage ceremony was performed by J.P. Patten, Notary Public. Arrilla was a daughter of Elizabeth Harris (1840-1929) and David Stone (1838-1899). The groom was 46 and the bride was 21; she was born in March of 1867. Her father, a Confederate veteran, served with the Okefenokee Rifles,  Company G, 26th Georgia Infantry and was wounded in the abdomen at the Battle of Brawner’s Farm.

1888-benjamin-thomas-cook-marriage-cert

Marriage certificate of Benjamin Cook and Arrilla Stone, July 26, 1888, Berrien County, GA

On January 29, 1898, Ben was enrolled into the Berrien County Confederate Veterans Association in Nashville, GA. Ben and Arrilla Cook appear in the 1900 Census in the 1300 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County, GA.  In their household were four children: David (7), Elizabeth (5), Nancy (2), Leonard (1).  Also living in the Cook home was Fannie Taylor; the census taker recorder her relationship to Ben as “Grandmother” but she was actually the sister of his first wife, Samantha Jane Taylor. Around their farm were the farms of their son, Lewis Cook, and  their sons-in-law,  Enoch Benefield and James Elijah Benefield.

1900 census enumeration of Benajmin T. Cook and other of the Cook family connection in Berrien County, GA

1900 census enumeration of Benajmin T. Cook and other of the Cook family connection in Berrien County, GA

In the 1910 census records Benjamin T. Cook and Arrilla Cook  appeared in the 1300 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County, GA; Arrilla was enumerated under the name “Gorilla.” Ben owned his farm, free and clear of mortgage. Ben and Arrilla were listed as parents of seven children: David (16), Elizabeth (15), Nancy 14), Leonard (10), William Harrison (8), and Celia Samantha (2).

1910 census enumeration of the families of Benajmin T. Cook, and his sons Lewis and Elijah

1910 census enumeration of the families of Benajmin T. Cook, and his sons Lewis and Elijah “Lige” Cook in Berrien County, GA https://archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po172unit#page/n902/mode/1up

Some time between 1910 and 1920, Benjamin Cook became a widower for the second time.  Arrinda Stone Cook was buried at Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA, near the grave of Benjamin Cook’s first wife, Mantha J. Taylor Cook. The date death came for Arrinda Stone Cook is not known; the marker for her grave bears only her date of birth.

Children of Benjamin Thomas Cook and Arrinda “Sis” Stone include:

  1. David”Dave” Cook – born June 22, 1891;  married  Lou Annie Gray6/22/1891; died April 1, 1957;  buried at Empire Cemetery.
  2. Elizabeth Cook – born September 1894
  3. Nancy Cook – born October 1897; married Isaac Gray
  4. Leonard Cook – born February 1899; moved to Alabama
  5. William Harrison Cook- born September 13, 1902;  married Mineola Smith (b.3/10/1904); Died February 1, 1967. both are buried at Empire.
  6. Celia Samantha Cook- born June 5, 1907; married Eddie Gray November 11, 1922 in Berrien County (Separated and resumed her maiden name.); died December 1, 1997; buried at Empire Cemetery

By 1918, B.T. Cook was 75 years old. He deeded 30 acres of his land on Lot 309 to his son, James Lewis Cook, and four .

1918-b-t-cook-deed

Quit Claim Deed, B.T. Cook to J.L. Cook, Lot #309 in the 10th District, Georgia, Berrien County. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

Warranty Deed, B.T. Cook to Elizabeth Cook, #308 in the 10th District, State of Georgia, Berrien County. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

Warranty Deed, B.T. Cook to Elizabeth Cook, #308 in the 10th District, State of Georgia, Berrien County. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

Benjamin T. Cook applied for a Confederate Veteran’s pension in  1919. His application for a pension was  accepted, and he was awarded $6.00 a month.

By 1920, Benjamin Cook was 77 years old. He was residing in the household of his son-in-law James Elijah Benefield and daughter Mary Cook Benefield. The Benefield  place was situated on the Milltown & Willacoochee Road. Elijah was engaged in general farming with the assistance of his eldest sons, Willie and Eddie Benefield. Just down the Milltown & Willacoochee Road were the farm places of William J. Cook and Elijah Cook.

1920 enumeration of Benjamin Cook, 77, in the household of his son-in-law James Elijah Cook.

1920 enumeration of Benjamin Cook, 77, in the household of his son-in-law James Elijah Cook. https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n479/mode/1up

Ben  died  at  home on October 5, 1924. The certificate of death, filed in Berrien County, GA, gave his cause of death as “old age & heart trouble.”  His daughter, Mary Benefield, was the informant and R. N. Mathis was the local registrar.  There was no doctor in attendance to sign the death certificate or undertaker to handle funeral arrangements.

1924 death certificate of Benjamin Thomas Cook, Berrien County, GA

1924 death certificate of Benjamin Thomas Cook, Berrien County, GA

Family members who remember Ben recall a man with a temper, who  enjoyed family get-togethers, such as barbecues. He  was  a man who walked with a limp, which was the result of his breaking his  leg when he fell from a barn roof. He rebroke it before  it healed, thus the limp.

Ben  died  at  his home in the 10th district  of  the  newly formed  Lanier County sometime in the early part of 1924.  He  is buried  between his two wives at Empire Cemetery. His home  still stands  as a reminder of the industrious man who came to  Berrien County  and carved a home for himself and his large family  after the Civil War.

Grave of Benjamin Thomas Cook, Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

Grave of Benjamin Thomas Cook, Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA. Image courtesy of Linda Ward Meadows.

Special thanks to Linda Ward Meadows for contributions of content and images to this article, and for the following selected sources : Tombstones Empire Cemetery; GA Census records 1850  Wilkinson, Co., 1860 Baldwin Co., 1870-1910 Berrien  Co.; Interviews with Grandchildren of Ben & Jane Cook; Pension Records from GA  Archives; Berrien Co. and Wilkinson Co.  marriage  records; Interview with Celia Samantha Cook and her  sister-in-law, Mineola  Smith  Cook, at their home on  10/13/1990;  Cook  family Bibles. Mineola  Smith Cook and Celia Samantha Cook went to  the Berrien County, GA nursing home shortly after my visit with them in 1990. Both are deceased; GA Death Certificate Berrien Co, GA.: Linda Ward Meadows is a great-great granddaughter of Benjamin  Thomas Cook and Samantha Jane Taylor Cook. (9088  Val-Del  Road, Adel, GA, 31620. Ph 912-896-3591) lmeadowsz4@windstream.net

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Mary Jane Smith and the Poison Pork

In the fall of 1916 Mrs. Mary Jane Smith, of Nashville, GA came to visit her daughter, Rachel Smith Sirmans, at Ray City, GA.  Rachel was recently widowed, her husband, Jay Sirmans, having died suddenly on September 20, 1916.  Rachel was left alone with two teen age boys to do the work of running a farm.

It was late October and with the first frosts of the season, people’s thoughts naturally turned toward the harvest of fresh meat from hogs fattened over the summer. Hog slaughter was generally reserved for the coldest days of the year. But after a diet of cured meats over the long heat of the Wiregrass summer and perhaps with the  smokehouse stock nearly depleted, for many farms the first cool day would do for a hog killing.  This was perhaps the occasion of Mrs. Smith’s visit.

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Hog-Killing

In the  Ray City of 100 years ago, winter was the season for hog killing as mechanical refrigeration was not available and there were no real facilities for cold storage.

In the 1920s, the Clements Lumber Company operated a cold storage facility and Ray City built a municipal electric plant in 1922, but dependable home electric service and electric refrigerators would not be available in the town until the 1930s.    Before that, most kitchens were equipped with  an “icebox” – a wood or metal cabinet insulated with straw or sawdust. A compartment near the top could be loaded with a block of ice to cool perishable food stored on lower shelves. Water from the melting ice was collected in a pan below the cabinet.  The ice kept the interior of the box far cooler than room temperature, but certainly no where near freezing.  As the ice block melted, it had to be continually replaced. Even small towns like Ray City had ice delivery men, such as Wilbur and Walter Aultman, or Ferris Moore, who regularly supplied ice to local homes and businesses (see Ferris Moore ~ Ray City Iceman).

In The Art of Managing Longleaf, Leon Neel describes  the practical and social significance of hog killing time in Wiregrass Georgia:

Hogs were a staple and we always had hog killings.  The families would get together to kill a hog or two when the weather was right, and then we would smoke our own meat.  Hog killing was a great time. Hogs were killed in cool weather, because pork spoils so easily.  The colder it was, the better it was for hog killing. But lots of times, the stored food would run out early, and we would have to kill hogs before it got to be the dead of winter.  Hog killing was a full-day’s process, and everybody had a job – the men folk, the women folk, everybody.  The process got started early in the morning.  Daddy had a little .22 rifle, and he usually shot the hog between the eyes.  Then we processed it right then and there. We had a big syrup kettle, and for hog killing time we would fill it with water and build a fire under it to get it boiling.  Then we put the hog in the kettle, which scalded it and made it possible to get the hair off with any trouble. Then we butchered the hog.  It is true what they say: Every part of the hog was utilized, everything but the squeal.  Hog killing was hard work, but it was also a great social occasion. 

For Mary Jane Smith  the visit with her daughter in Ray City was a homecoming of sorts.  She and her husband, John Woods Smith, had formerly been residents of Ray City.

Mrs. Mary Jane Smith was born Mary Jane Whitehurst, a daughter of James Whitehurst (1818-1914) and Sarah Ann Findley (1822-1914). She was born on July 7, 1848 in that part of Lowndes County which in 1850 was cut into Clinch County, GA . Her father’s place was on Land Lot 516 in the 11th Land District,  just east of the Alapaha River near Cow Creek.  Her father later moved to Berrien County and settled on the east side of the Little River where he established a grist mill and operated a ferry across the river.  For several years he had the contract to carry mail on the Star Route from Nashville, GA to Alapaha.

About 1866, Mary Jane married John Woods Smith  in Clinch County, GA.  He was a veteran of the Confederate army, having enlisted March 4, 1862 in Company G, 50th Georgia Regiment.   His time in active duty had been marked with sickness. Within months of his enlistment he had become so sick he was sent to the hospital at Macon,  GA. In June of 1862 he was given leave to “escort the dead body of a comrade home. ”   He returned to his unit but by the end of the year he was again on sick furlough.  He was sick yet again in June of 1863,  with typhoid fever.  This time he was sent to Chimborazo Hospital No. 2 at Richmond, VA then transferred to Jackson Hospital where he was diagnosed with pneumonia.  By the fall he had recovered sufficiently  to return to his unit, but on November 29, 1863 he was captured near Knoxville,  TN.  He was sent to the military prison at Louisville, KY as a prisoner of war,  then on to the notorious Camp Chase, Ohio where he was imprisoned for two years.   In March of 1865, he was transferred to Rock Island Barracks, IL  and from there he was released in a prisoner exchange.  He was  admitted to the Confederate General Hospital No. 9 at Richmond, VA where he recuperated before returning home to Berrien County, GA.

For a short while Mary Jane and John Woods Smith made their home in Clinch County, but by 1880 the couple had moved to Berrien County, GA.  In 1890, their home was in the Rays Mill district, GMD 1144, where they were neighbors of Isabelle Sirmans and Andrew W. Turner and others of the Sirmans family connection.

Children of Mary Jane and John Woods Smith were:

  1. Osborn Levi Smith  (1867 – 1896), buried at Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA
  2. Rachel Allifair Smith (1869 – 1940),  married Jay Mitchell Sirmans, son of Hardeman Sirmans
  3. Susan Earlie Smith (1871 – 1960)
  4. Cassie Jane Smith (1874 – 1948),  married Lucius John Knight, son of Rhoda Futch  and George Washington Knight, buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA
  5. William David Smith (1876 – 1887)
  6. Barzilla Newton Smith (1878 – )
  7. Sarah Levinia Smith (1880 – 1964), buried at Pinecrest Cemetery, Vidalia, GA
  8. Mary Ann Smith (1882 – 1965), married Henry J. Parrish
  9. John Dixon Smith (1884 – 1943)
  10. Martha Missouri Belle Smith (1887 – )
  11. Kissiah Amanda Smith (1889 – )

Mary Jane’s eldest daughter, Rachel Allifar Smith,  was married  to Jay Sirmans on March 22, 1893. He was son of Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight. Rachel and Jay made their home and farm near Rays Mill (now known as Ray City), GA next door to Jay’s father. By 1910, Mary Jane and John Woods Smith had moved from Ray City to Nashville, GA where they owned a home on Washington Street where they operated a boarding house.

Mary Jane’s husband, John Woods Smith,  died April 24, 1915 and was buried at the Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA. Mary Jane Smith died a year and a half later while visiting with her daughter, Rachel, at Ray City, GA.  The cause of death was “pork poisoning.”

Without refrigeration the home preservation of meats, especially pork,  presented challenges.  In The prevention of disease; a popular treatise (1916), Kenelm Winslow reported:

Pork causes poisoning because it is imperfectly preserved by salt or smoking, and is often eaten insufficiently cooked in sausage and other forms.  Four-fifths of all cases of meat poisoning are due to eating the flesh of animals suffering from one of the germ diseases…unfortunately the meat is not altered in appearance in such cases, nor is cooking by any means a sure preventative against poisoning. Even poisoning by meat which has decomposed from too long keeping is much more frequent in the case of animals diseased before slaughter.  Expert veterinary inspection of the various organs of slaughtered animals will detect disease and prevent the killing of sick animals for food, which is most apt to occur in small towns where meat for local use is not properly inspected. Poisoning from meat which has putrefied from long keeping is more common in warm months and in the case of chopped meat or sausage. Putrid meat is usually recognizable, if not chopped, by softness and bad odor, especially about the bones and fat.  Boiling, roasting, or frying lessens the danger from putrefying meat, but does not absolutely prevent it.  Proper refrigeration in the household, both before and after cooking meat, is essential in order to preserve it, otherwise it should be eaten fresh. It is also advisable to clean refrigerators frequently with a hot solution of washing soda.  The poisoning is due to toxins in poisons produced by germs which originate in diseased animals, or contaminate the meat after slaughter and grow luxuriantly when refrigeration is imperfect.

 

1916-mary-jane-smith

Tifton Gazette

Friday, October 27, 1916

MRS. MARY JANE SMITH

Mrs. Mary Jane Smith died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. J. Sirmans, near Ray City, Saturday night after an illness of only a few days, says the Adel News. Mrs. Smith died of poison, some pork which she and Mrs. Sirmans had eaten, violently affecting them. Mrs. Sirmans was very ill for a time.

Mrs. Smith was the mother of eleven children, nine of whom survive her. Among her children are Mrs. Sirmans, Mrs. H. J. Parrish and Rev. John D. Smith, of Morven. The deceased was reared in this county and was sixty-nine years of age. She was a devoted member of the Methodist church. The funeral services and burial took place at Nashville Monday, the services being conducted by Rev. J. Harwell House, of Ocilla.

 

Grave of Mary Jane Whitehurst Smith, Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA

Grave of Mary Jane Whitehurst Smith, Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA

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