1894 African-American Voter Registration at Ray’s Mill, GA

1894 African-American Voter Registration at Ray’s Mill, GA

Given the history of slavery and racial discrimination in the United States, researching African-American genealogy can be a challenging puzzle.  Slave names were not often recorded.  Even after Emancipation, civil records of African-American citizens were often neglected. Further complicating matters,  most of the 1890 census records were lost in a fire and through a series of tragic missteps in the record handling. Fortunately, an 1894 record of the Poll Tax collection in the Rays Mill District (now Ray City, GA) helps to document early African-American residents of the town.    Many of these men were born in slavery and became “Freedmen” after the Civil War and Emancipation. A few were born in northern “Free” states.  After the War, they came  to south Georgia, primarily to work in the naval stores industry, collecting turpentine in the piney woodlands of the Wiregrass. Some lived in turpentine camps, some rented farms or houses, a few became property owners, business men and employers in their own right.

Poll Taxes

After the Civil War, the poll tax evolved regionally to be a complex legal device to disenfranchise African-Americans. Georgia led the way in 1868 (effective in 1871), and by 1900 in every formerly-Confederate state had poll taxes aimed at preventing black citizens from voting.

According to Today in Georgia History,

The poll tax, a bulwark of the Jim Crow era, was one of many roadblocks thrown up to keep African-Americans from exercising their right to vote. Although the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1870, guaranteed former male slaves the right to vote, the poll tax, which all voters had to pay was designed to prevent voting. Georgia’s 1877 constitution authorized the tax, which limited voter participation among both poor blacks and whites. But most whites got around the provision through exemptions for those whose ancestors fought in the Civil War or who could vote before the war. 

Georgia’s “grandfather clause” allowed any adult male whose father or grandfather had voted  prior to the abolition of slavery to vote without paying the tax. Georgia created a cumulative poll tax requirement: men 21 to 60 years of age had to pay a sum of money for every year from the time they had turned 21, or from the time that the law took effect.

Tax Payers
Ray’s Mill District, Colored, 1894

William Adkinson
Dixie Alston

Peter Burges
Thomas Burges
Saul Brown
William Brown, Sr.
John Black
B. B. Brown
Joe Brown

Walter Curt
Jesse Coleman
Len Coleman

James Davis

David Ellison
S. M. Eady
Sam Eady

Brister Hufman

Henry Gowdine
Henry Gilliard
William Grayham
William Gerald

West Kelley

John Livind

Joe Medlay
Carter Moore
William Mathis
Alex McKnight
S. J. Myers
Sandy Murphy
William McGowin
Richard McGowin
Henry McCoy

Preston Richardson
E. L. Rias
Ebb Ross
Randolph Ried
William Smith
Mack Spights
Gilbert Sloan

Wiley Tarrell

A. Vandross

John Wamble
George Williams
Ed Wilson
John Wade
Alex White
James Whitfield
W. D. Williams

SOME NOTES ON THE TAXPAYERS:

DIXIE ALSTON
Dixie Alston was an African-American born during the Civil War, in March of 1862. He was born in South Carolina, as were both his parents.  In 1883 he married Amelia [unknown], also a native of South Carolina.  It appears that Dixie and Amelia moved to south Georgia sometime in the early 1890s.  In 1894, Dixie Alston registered to vote in the Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) District of Berrien County, GA.  He subsequently appears in the census of 1900, enumerated as Dixie Aulston, in the 1148 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County.  His household in 1900 included his wife Amelia (age 46), and children, Sarah (18), Lillie (17), Dixie (10), James A. (7), William (5), and Orie B (1).  The Alstons were living in a rented house, and Dixie was working as a turpentine laborer. In 1910 Dixie Alston and family were enumerated in the 1157 Georgia Militia District where Dixie continued to work as a turpentine laborer.  Whereabouts of Dixie Alston after 1910 are unknown, but his son Dixie Alston, Jr. later lived in Nashville GA where he worked for the Keefe and Bulloch turpentine operation.

ROBERT B. “BB” BROWN
BB Brown was born in South Carolina about 1856 he married Corinna, a South Carolina woman, about 1875 and they made their home in South Carolina until some time after 1881. By October 1886, the Browns moved to Georgia. BB Brown paid the poll tax in 1894 to vote in the Rays Mill District of Berrien County, GA. The census of 1900 shows the Browns owned a farm in the Rays Mill District free and clear of mortgage. They were neighbors of Levi J. Clements, Alfred Hill, and Ben Knight. In 1910 their neighbors on nearby farms were John Miles Clements, Georgia Cooper, Jeff Williams and James W. Williams. The 1920 census shows the Brown farm was situated at Rays Mill on the Willacoochee Road. Their immediate neighbor was Robert E. Lee and his family. Corinna Brown died sometime before 1930. By this time the Brown farm had been cut into Lanier County. The widower Brown continued to work his farm with the assistance of his children.

SOLOMON “SAUL” BROWN
Solomon Brown was born  about 1862 in South Carolina. He apparently came to the Rays Mill, GA area  some time before 1894. The 1910 census shows him in Rays Mill, widowed, living alone in a rented home and working as a farm laborer.

WILLIAM L. BROWN
William L. Brown was a farmer from South Carolina. He was born in May of 1862. About 1882 he married Lessie. They were in Berrien County, GA by the 1890s where William paid the poll tax in the Rays Mill District in 1894. The census of 1900 shows he was working a rented farm near the homes of Richard Eady, William Revell, and Frank Gallagher.

PETER BURGES
Peter Burges, or Burgess, was an African-American born in August of 1865 at the conclusion of the Civil War. He was a native of South Carolina, as were both his parents.  By 1894, Peter Burges made his way to  the Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) District of Berrien County, GA where he was registered to vote. In the census of 1900, he was enumerated in the 1144 Georgia Militia District, the “Ray’s Mill” District, Berrien County. He was single, living alone in a rented house, and working as a turpentine laborer. He subsequently appears in the 1144 G.M.D census of 1910 as a farm laborer, and in 1920 he was renting a farm on the Willacoochee Road.

TOM BURGES
Tom Burges was born about 1850 in Georgia. He was enumerated in 1910 in the 1300 Georgia Militia District. At age 60 he was widowed, living alone in a rented house, and working at a sawmill. He was a neighbor of African-American teacher William M. Clark, sawmill employee Burris Hall, turpentine teamster David Story, turpentine employee John Merritt, and washerwoman Sallie Sanders.

JESSE COLEMAN
Jesse Coleman appears in the Berrien County tax records of 1884. His taxable property included $5 worth of livestock and $5 worth of furniture. In 1890 Jesse Coleman paid the poll tax in the 1329 Georgia Militia District, the Connells Mill District just west of Rays Mill. He had $57 in livestock, $15 in furniture, $10 in tools, and $2 in other property.

JOHN L. LAVIND
John L. Lavind was an African-American farmer from South Carolina. He was born in 1868. About 1886 he married Sarah Sloan, a woman from South Carolina. John and Sarah appear in the 1900 Census in Berrien County where they were neighbors of Arch Parrish. The Lavinds were working a rented farm in the 1145 Georgia Militia District, the Adel District. Living with the Lavinds and assisting with the farm labor were Sarah’s siblings, Alicia A Sloan and Davis Sloan. It appears that Sarah Sloan died sometime in the early 1900s. Census records indicate that John Lavind (enumerated as John Lavine) married a second time in 1908 to a widow woman named Kerene. In 1910, he was making payments on a farm at Adel and working as a self-employed farmer. His neighbors were sawmill workers Beacher Ward and Charlie Beland. In 1920, John and Karene were renting a farm on the Adel and Nashville Road which John was working on his own account. The were neighbors of Theresa Devane Hutchinson, widow of James Henry Hutchinson; her son, Vaude McIntyre Hutchinson was a school teacher.

HENRY MELVIN
Henry Melvin was born in North Carolina about 1863. He apparently came to live in the Rays Mill, GA district some time before 1894. In 1900, he was enumerated in the Mud Creek District of Clinch County, GA where he was renting a house and working as a turpentine laborer. On September 14, 1901 Henry Melvin and Delia Jenkins were joined in Holy Matrimony in Clinch County, GA in a ceremony performed by Joseph Powell, Justice of the Peace. The 1910 census shows Henry and Delia were renting a farm in the 586 Militia District of Clinch County, where they raised crops and children. Some time before 1920 Henry Melvin returned to Ray City, bringing his family to live on the Ray City & Willacoochee Road, on a rented farm which he worked on his own account. Henry Melvin died November 1, 1920 in Berrien County, GA. Anna remarried, probably about 1921, to Emanuel Smith. The Smiths rented a farm near Ray City, where they were neighbors of Walter H. Knight, John S. Fender, J. Mancil Ray and James F. Ray, James R. Johnson, and Lucian H. Grissett. Sometime before 1935 the Smiths moved to Lakeland, GA

HENRY MCCOY
Henry McCoy was born in October 1859 in North Carolina. About 1886 he married Anna. Some time before 1894 they came to Rays Mill, GA where Henry rented and worked a farm. Most of the McCoy’s neighbors were turpentine workers including Odum Wiley, D.D. Oxendine, Peter Burges, and Isham Hill. In 1910, Henry and Anna owned a home on North Street in Ray City. Henry worked as a drayman; Anna worked as washerwoman. Among their neighbors were hotelier Wilson W. Fender, merchant Louis Levin, telegraph operator Ralph E. Spear, blacksmith Rollie N. Warr, policeman Henry Hodges, carpenter Gordon J. Knight, and postmaster Charles H. Anderson. Henry McCoy died sometime after 1910. His widow married Sam B. Cooper on April 22, 1918 in Berrien County in a ceremony performed by Justice of the Peace J. W. Moore. Sam Cooper worked in a shop as a tailor and owned a home in Ray City, in the “Negro Quarters” according to 1920 Census records.

RICHARD MCGOWAN
Richard “Dick” McGowan was born a slave in North Carolina in the 1840s. He was brought to Berrien County (then Lowndes) as a young man, and lived most his life near Ray City, GA.  Freed after the Civil War, he continued to live for a while on the plantation of his former owner, Hardeman Sirmans.

JOSEPH MEDLEY
Joseph Medley was born about 1856 in the state of New York. In 1883, he married a Virginia woman named Jane. By 1885 The Medleys had moved from New York to South Carolina, and by 1888 they were in Georgia. Joseph paid the poll tax in the Rays Mill District of Berrien County, GA in 1894. The 1900 Census shows the Medley family in the neighboring Georgia Militia District 1300, the Milltown District, where Joseph owned a farm free and clear of mortgage. The census appears to show that the Medleys also rented a farm in addition to the farm they owned. Joseph farmed while Jane worked as a laundress. Both were enumerated as literate. They were neighbors of Joseph Dedge, Edwin Powell, and John Ed Thigpen brother of Robert Silas Thigpen. In 1910, the Medleys continued to farm in the 1300 GMD. Their son, William Medley, worked as a sawmill fireman, and son Aulie Medley assisted with the farm labor. Next door were Elmore Medley and Rainey Medley who were both employed in turpentine production. Other neighbors included John D. Patten and Matthew G. Patten. In 1920, Joe Medley, age 76, was no longer working. The Medleys rented a house at Milltown on the the Nashville Road. Their son William worked as a farm laborer and Henry worked as a truck driver at a cross tie camp.

SAM JULIAN “JIM” MYERS
Sam Julian “Jim” Myers was born October 1870 in South Carolina. By 1894 he came to Berrien County, GA to work as a turpentine chipper. He paid the 1894 poll tax in the Rays Mill District. In 1897 he married Rosa Sloan and they acquired a home on payments in the 1145 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County. Rosa’s brother, Sydney Stone, lived with them and also worked as a turpentine chipper. Also boarding in the Myers household was Dr. Ervin Green; the 1900 Census taker added the notation “Quack” by Green’s occupation. By 1910 Jim Myers took up the ministry in the Methodist faith and moved his family to Adel, GA to a home on Maple Street. By 1920, Reverend Myers took his family to Fitzgerald, GA where they lived on Lemon Street.

ELIOTT RIAS
Eliott Rias was an African-American citizen of Rays Mill, GA for 40 years. He was a son of Pompy and Clarender Rias, born about 1863 in South Carolina. After the Civil War and Emancipation, he and his brothers and sisters grew up helping his parents work their farm in Laws Township, near Kingstree, Williamsburg County, SC. Some time after 1880, Eliott left South Carolina and came to Georgia to work as a turpentine laborer. He appears in the property tax digest of Clinch County as a Freedman, paying the poll tax for 1887 in the 586 Georgia Militia District, the Mud Creek District. About 1892, Eliott married a South Carolina woman named Henrietta. By 1900, Eliott and Henrietta were living at Rays Mill with their four children. They were renting a house and Eliott was working as a turpentine laborer. In 1910 Eliott Rias was renting a farm, which he was farming on his own account. Henrietta was keeping house and minding their seven children. Pauline Hodges, an African-American school teacher, was boarding with them. Among Rias’ neighbors were John L. and Cassie Hall, Babe Baldree, Barney Chism, John Whitfield, Tom Burgess and Mack Speights. By 1920, Eliott and Henrietta were working a rented farm at Rays Mill on their own account.  Some time before 1930, Henrietta Rias passed away. All of Eliott’s children were grown and moved away. Eliatt Rias was left alone, living in Rays Mill in a home he rented for $3.00 a month. He worked as a carpenter. He was a neighbor of Sherrod Fender, Henry Studstill, Arrin H. Guthrie, Perry Guthrie, Herman Guthrie, and Ivory Wright.

EBENEZER ROSS
Ebenezer “Ebb” Ross was an African-American farm laborer born in Georgia about 1857. The 1870 census shows Ebenezer, age 23, and his wife Fannie, age 17, living in Berrien County, Georgia Militia District 1144, the Rays Mill District. Ebenezer Ross had a net worth of $30. In the 1870s and 1880s the Rosses were neighbors of William and Frances Giddens, Mary and Richard Anthony, Jesse and Margaret Carroll, John T. and Catherine Carroll, Peter and Josephine Best, and Nancy Parker. The 1875 Berrien Property Tax Digest shows Ebenezer Ross paid the poll tax, and his entire taxable property was valued at $20.00. The following year the value of his estate had dropped to just $2.00. In 1880, the Rosses home enumerated in the 1300 GMD. Living next door with the Carrolls was mail rider Everet Roberts. The 1890 tax digest shows the Rosses were faring slightly better. Eb was working for J. H. Wright, one of 58 freedmen employed by Wright.

MACK SPEIGHTS
Mack Speights was an African-American turpentine laborer who lived for about 40 years at Rays Mill (now Ray City), GA. According to family members, he was born June 14, 1867 in Ridge, Williamsburg County, South Carolina, a son of Elias McBride Speights and Norah Speights. He married Martha Ellen Cooper in South Carolina on August 14, 1889. He apparently brought his young family from South Carolina to Rays Mill about 1893 and appears on the list of voters in the Rays Mill District in 1894. Like many young African-American men, he came to work in the naval stores industry, turpentining the piney woodlands of the Wiregrass. By 1910, Mack Speights was renting a farm at Rays Mill where he and Martha were raising their eight children His oldest sons, Elias and William, worked as farm labor. The Speights were neighbors of Joseph S. Clements, Brodie Shaw, Bruner Shaw, Bryant Fender, and Frank Gallagher. By 1930, Mack and Martha had moved to Gainesville, FL with several of their children and grandchildren.

ABRAHAM L. VANDROSS
Abraham L. Vandross , an African-American turpentine laborer, was born about 1867 in South Carolina. He was on the list of voters in the Rays Mill District in 1894. About that same time he married a woman named Hannah. By 1900, Abraham and Hannah had moved to the Dry Lake District of Brooks County, GA where they lived in a rented home. By 1910 Hannah and Abraham returned to Berrien County to the 1300 Georgia Militia District, where they acquired a home which they owned free and clear of mortgage. Abraham continued to work for wages as a turpentine worker; Hannah worked as a washerwoman. They also took in a boarder, Albert Johnson, who was a sawmill employee. In 1910, the Vandrosses were neighbors of William M. Clark, an African-American school teacher. The 1920 Census shows Abraham and Hannah’s home was on Oak Street, Milltown (now Lakeland), GA. Their boarder in 1920 was Reverend Jordan R. Gay.

JOHN WAMBLE
John Wamble was a widowed African-American farmer. He was born about 1850 in Georgia.  At the time of the 1900 Census, he was living near Rays Mill, GA with his two teenaged sons. The Wambles were neighbors of Richard Morehead, Benjamin Moorehead, David C. Clements and Rubin Knight.  His son, Horace, married about 1907 and made his home on the Nashville & Valdosta Road near Cat Creek.

JOHN WADE
John Wade was a Freedman living in Rays Mill, GA with his wife, Emma, and their large family. John Wade was born about 1824. The property tax digest of 1887 shows his taxable property consisted of $7 dollars worth of livestock and $20 in household and kitchen furniture. The 1880 census shows the Wades living and farming in Lowndes County, GA.

JAMES WHITFIELD
James Whitfield may have been an African-American farmer who later lived in Grooverville, Brooks County, GA.  He was born about 1868. This James Whitfield cannot be definitively placed in Rays Mill, however, his son, James Whitfield, Jr. lived in Nashville, GA in the 1920s.

GEORGE WILLIAMS
The 1900 census shows George Williams  in the 1145 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County. He was working as a log turner at a sawmill.  He was born in North Carolina about 1858.  In 1900, he was living alone, apparently in housing at the sawmill.

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Richard McGowen, Slave Boy of Ray City

Richard McGowen, Slave Boy of Ray City

Richard McGowan (or McGowen), an African-American resident of the Ray City area for nearly 80 years, was born into slavery in Duplin County, NC about 1845.

Research on the ancestry of Richard McGowan conducted by Bryan Shaw resulted in an outline which in large part formed the material of this blog post.  Special thanks to Bryan for his contributions. His sources were the Will of William M. McGowan, Jr. 1792; U.S. Census records from 1790 through 1920 from Duplin County, North Carolina, and Berrien County, Georgia; also the Slave Schedule of 1850, 1866 Duplin County Cohabitation Record, tax digests of Berrien County, Georgia, and the estate papers of Hardeman Sirmans. Additional sources for this post include the 1860 Census  Schedule of Slave Inhabitants of Berrien County, GA; 1866 Marriage of Freed People, Duplin County; 1867 Berrien County Loyalty Oath and Voter Registrations; 1894 Colored Voter Registration, Rays Mill, GA; Roots, rocks and recollections by Nell Patten Roquemore, and the 1930 U.S. Census records of Berrien County, GA.  Information which is stated as fact is documented, and presented as most likely or probably. That which is conjecture is presented as a possibility. The history is presented in chronological order.

The McGowan Family

The origins of the family of the slave boy, Richard McGowan had their roots in Duplin County, North Carolina. Richard McGowan is believed to be the descendant of slaves owned by the William M. McGowan, Jr. family of that county.  Willliam M. McGowan, Jr. was born about 1745, son of William McGowen, Sr. of New Hanover County, North Carolina. William Jr. married Mary Dickson in 1767, and by their union they had 10 children: David (c1770), John (c1772), William (c1773), Robert (c1775), Edward (c1777), Michael (c1779), James (c1781), Joseph (c1782), George (c1789), and Alexander (c1790).

William McGowan, Jr. purchased and settled on land in the Grove Creek Swamp area between today’s Kenansville, North Carolina and North East Cape Fear River, north of Highway 24. One biography suggests his land was south of the swamp, however the McGowen African-American cemetery with many unmarked graves is located on the north side of the swamp, between Highway 11 and Sarecta on the Sarecta Road (GPS Coordinates: 34.810733 N 77.996659 W ). The white McGowen family (sometimes spelled McGowan or McGowin) owned hundreds if not thousands of acres of land in Duplin and Hanover counties, NC.  Based on the small number of slaves owned, it does not appear that they had large tracts of land under cultivation.This was consistent with most North Carolina farmers at that time.

William McGowan, Jr.  died in 1792, leaving a will dated October 5, 1792. The will of William M. McGowan, Jr. divided his estate among his children, including the slaves he owned at the time. He willed that his estate be kept together including the slaves until his children were schooled, and all of his debts were satisfied. However he did specifically identify one of his slaves, Will, to be included in son John’s portion of the estate. He also left a “negro wench named Roze” to his wife Mary. He also “lent” her one negro boy named Dick and one negro girl named Nancy, both to be divided amongst the children upon Mary’s death. His will states all his slaves who were not otherwise identified should also go to Mary to work his estate until his affairs were settled, and to be sold off as his minor children reached the age of majority or were married. Was this boy named Dick the son of Will and the grandfather of Richard “Dick” McGowan?

Thus, following the death of William McGowan, Jr. his children and widow continued as landowners and slaveholders in Duplin County, NC. In the 1800 census, son John McGowen is shown  as the owner of 12 slaves.  Son William McGowen owned 5 slaves, son Robert McGowen owned 4 slaves, and widow Mary McGowan owned 11 slaves.

By 1810, John McGowen had 13 slaves, William McGowen had 8 slaves, Mary McGowan had 9 slaves, and James McGowen had 3 slaves.

In the 1820 census, James McGowen had no slaves, Robert McGowen had 13 slaves, and William McGowen had 3 slaves.

By 1850,  the only McGowen slave owners in Duplin County were the sons of William M. McGowan, Jr.: William McGowen, James P. McGowen, and Joseph McGowen.

On the 1850 Census Slave Schedule, Joseph McGowen owned 26 slaves enumerated  as: a female 65, female 58, male 45, male 44, female 39, male 37, male 26, female 24, female 22, male 19, male 18, male 17, male 16, male 15, female 14, female 14, male 14, male 11, female 7, male 6, female 5, male 5, female 3, female 2, male 2, and a female 9 months. James P. McGowen owned 3 slaves – female 50, male 7, and male 3, and William McGowen owned 1 slave, male 18.

In addition to the slaves enumerated in 1850 in the possession of the McGowens,  it appears that two slave boys, Richard and Peter, had been sold by James, Joseph or William McGowan to a Duplin County neighbor, James Dobson.  James Dobson could have purchased the slave boys from any of the three McGowens, but the most likely would be Joseph McGowen as he had the largest slave population.

Marriages of the McGowan Slaves and the Parents of Slave boy Richard McGowan

The parentage of the slave boys Peter and Richard McGowan cannot be stated with certainty.  Records of the Freedman’s Bureau in post-bellum Duplin County, NC provide evidence that their parents may have been McGowen slaves named Thomas and Malvina.

As an almost universal condition of slavery, the slaves of the William M. McGowan family were denied the civil and religious convention of marriage. According to Reginald Washington, African American genealogy specialist at the National Archives and Records Administration, “Slave marriages had neither legal standing nor protection from the abuses and restrictions imposed on them by slaveowners. Slave husbands and wives, without legal recourse, could be separated or sold at their master’s will. Couples who resided on different plantations were allowed to visit only with the consent of their owners. Slaves often married without the benefit of clergy, and as historian John Blassingame states, “the marriage ceremony in most cases consisted of the slaves simply getting the master’s permission and moving into a cabin together.”

Almost immediately after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, federal authorities decreed that marriages of enslaved African-Americans were legitimate and had legal standing.  In some areas the newly created Freedman’s Bureau began issuing marriage licenses to former slaves. Within a year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation providing for the recognition of the marriages of former slaves.  According to Learn NC“The North Carolina office of the Freedmen’s Bureau published announcements outlining the provisions of the law: Any couple who appeared before a Justice of the Peace or Clerk of the Court and stated when they began living together as husband and wife, would be issued a certificate and would be considered lawfully married. Bureau officers worked to make all freedmen in their districts aware of the new rules and of the deadlines for complying with them. In response, tens of thousands of freed couples reported their marriages to county courts.”

On August 18, 1866,  two former slaves giving their names as Thomas McGowen and Malvina McGowen went before the court of Duplin County, NC  for “Acknowledgement” of their marriage  and registered their date of “commencement” as 1826.

Records of Thomas McGowan in the 1866 Marriage of Freed People, Duplin County, NC

Records of Thomas McGowen in the 1866 Marriage of Freed People, Duplin County, NC

There was also another Thomas McGowen in Duplin County who, on August 11, 1866, registered his marriage to Malvina Pearsall.  For this couple, the date of “commencement” was 1855. This Thomas McGowen appears to be the possible son of Thomas and Malvina McGowen who “commenced” their marriage in 1826. An interesting note about this couple is that in the 1870 U.S. Census they are living on or near the farm of John Quincy McGowen and Alexander D. McGowen, sons of Joseph McGowen and grandsons of William M. McGowan.

Was the older Thomas McGowen actually the father of Richard “Dick” McGowan? It is certainly a possibility.

The Dobson Connection

The first slave owner who can be identified with a high degree of certainty as having owned the slave boy Richard McGowan is James Dobson, of Duplin County, NC.  James Dobson was a son of Hezekiah and Elizabeth Davis Dobson. The Dobson property was just to the southeast of the lands owned by the descendants of William M. McGowan, near Kenansville, NC.  In fact, the Dobson Family cemetery is east of Kenansville on the south side of Highway 24 just east of North Dobson Chapel Road.

The 1850 Slave Schedule for Duplin County enumerated the six slaves owned by James Dobson as: a  female 27, male 12, male 10, male 8 (probably Peter McGowan), male 6 (probably Richard “Dick” McGowan), and a male age 2.  That same year, James Dobson moved his family and slaves to that section of  Lowndes County, Georgia which was later cut into Berrien County.  About that same time, a number of families were relocating “from Duplin to Lowndes. Among these families were those of William J. Lamb, James Carroll, Jesse Carroll, William Godfrey, Andrew J. Liles, William Best, James W. Dixon and others. These all settled in or around the village then called Alapaha but now named Lakeland, Lanier County.”  Among others coming from Duplin to Berrien in the mid-century were Robert Rouse, William Hill Boyett, John Bostick, Treasy Boyett Bostick and Mary C. Bostick.

James Dobson settled his family and slaves on land lot 333 of the 10th District, just west of Ten Mile Creek in what is now Lanier County. The 1856 Berrien County Tax Digest shows James Dobson owning 7 slaves, with a total value of approximately $4500. That same year, November 11, 1856, Dobson sold two negro boys, Peter, about 13 years old, and Dick, about 11 years old, to Hardeman Sirmans who lived on the connecting land lot number 339 near present day Ray City, GA. In a bill of sale in possession of the Berrien Historical Foundation, James Dobson warrants that the two boys are of sound body and mind. The sale price was $1900.

1856 Slave Bill of Sale<br> Bill of Sale from James Dobson to Hardeman Sirmans for tw.o slave boys, Dick and Peter, dated November 11, 1856. Image courtesy of the Berrien County Historical Foundation.

1856 Slave Bill of Sale
Bill of Sale from James Dobson to Hardeman Sirmans for two slave boys, Dick and Peter, dated November 11, 1856. Image courtesy of the Berrien County Historical Foundation.

Received of Hardeman Sirmons One thousand nine hundred dollars in full payment for two negro boys, one named Peter about thirteen years old the other named Dick about eleven years old which negroes I warrant to be sound and healthy both in body and mind and I further warrant and  defend the right and titles from of the aforesaid negro boys from and against the claim or claims of myself my heirs executors administrators and assigns and from the claim of all and any other person in witness whereof I the said James Dobson have herewith set my hand and seal this 11th day of November 1856.

James Dobson

The Sirmans Connection

The slave boy Richard McGowan was purchased by Hardeman Sirmans on November 11, 1856.  This was just days before  Berrien county was created from lands cut out of Lowndes County, GA including the lands of Hardeman Sirmans which lay just north of present day Ray City, GA.  By the time Berrien County was created, Hardeman Sirmans was already a prominent citizen of the area.  According to historian Folks Huxford, “Mr. Sirmans served in the Indian War as a private in a volunteer company of Lowndes County militia commanded by his father-in-law, Capt. (afterwards General) Levi J. Knight, August 15th to Oct 15 1838. He was 1st Lieutenant of the 664th militia district, Lowndes County, 1845-46, then served as Captain in same district 1847-1851. Mr. Sirmans was a member of the Masonic order, receiving his degrees in Butler Lodge, No. 211, F. & A.M. at old Milltown (now Lakeland) in 1858. He was the brother of  Rachel Sirmans Mattox; she was the widow of Samuel Mattox who was hanged at Troupville in 1843. In 1847, Hardeman Sirmans married Elizabeth Knight,  eldest daughter of General Levi J. Knight.  General Knight was a neighbor of Mr. Sirmans and the original settler of Ray City.

The 1860 Census Schedule of Slave Inhabitants in Berrien County, GA shows Hardeman Sirmans owned three slaves: Male Mulatto, 25; Male Black, 16 (probably Peter McGowan); Male Black, 14 (probably Richard McGowan). The Slave schedule showed Sirmans provided one “slave house” for his slaves. None of his slaves had escaped and none had been freed.

1860 Census schedule of slave inhabitants of Berrien County, GA enumerating the slaves owned by Hardeman Sirmans.

1860 Census schedule of slave inhabitants of Berrien County, GA enumerating the slaves owned by Hardeman Sirmans.
https://archive.org/stream/acpl_slavecensus_01_reel01#page/n134/mode/1up

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Hardeman Sirmans, a State Militia veteran of the Indian Wars, enlisted in the Confederate Army with the Clinch County Greys. Sirmans spent most of the Civil War in South Georgia patrolling the southern counties in search of deserters. He probably had opportunities to visit his farm and oversee it to some degree. It appears that Richard McGowan remained with the Sirmans throughout the duration of the War.

Hardeman Sirmans Home just north of Ray City, about 1910. The photo was taken after the death of Hardeman, however his wife, Betsy Knight Sirmans is seated at the table, center. Photo courtesy of Patricia Sirmans Miller and the Berrien County Historical Foundation http://berriencountyga.com/

Hardeman Sirmans Home just north of Ray City, GA about 1910. The photo was taken after the death of Hardeman, however his wife, Betsy Knight Sirmans is seated at the table, center. Photo courtesy of Patricia Sirmans Miller and the Berrien County Historical Foundation http://berriencountyga.com/

Richard McGowan, Freedman

After the war, Richard McGowan remained on the Hardeman Sirmans place. The 1867 Berrien County tax digest shows the “Freedman” Richard McGowan was self-employed and that he paid the $1.00 poll tax.  The Reconstruction Act of 1867  allowed all freedmen the right to vote and required states to draft documents providing for black male suffrage. But the poll tax quickly became a device for disenfranchising black voters.  It was not until 1966 that Supreme Court rulings on the Twenty-fourth Amendment, ratified in 1964, outlawed the use of this tax (or any other tax) as a pre-condition for voting in federal or state elections.

It seems odd, but former slaves could exercise their civil right to vote they were also required to take the same Oath of Allegiance as former Confederate soldiers.   Among 0ther former slaves of Berrien County who took the Oath of Allegiance were Moses Riley, Edward Ross, William Adams, Joseph Wilcox, Timothy Wilcox, Edmund Jones, James A. Adams, Alexander Wright, Allen Lewis, Richard Lewis, John Smith, Seaborn Hubbard, Rolin Alexander, Edward Swain, Benjamin Neasmith, Thomas Udderback, Richard Morehead, Henry Brown, John Thomas, George Houston, Frank Head, Hilliard Armstead, Samuel Rose, Jacob Thomas, William Watts, Aaron Wright, Austin Freeman, Daniel Freeman, Madison Daniels, Sandy Thomas, Andrew Wilson, and Thomas Howard.

1867 Oath of Allegiance completed by Richard McGowen in Berrien County, GA.

1867 Oath of Allegiance completed by Richard McGowan in Berrien County, GA.

State of Georgia
County of Berrien

Personally appeared before me this 22nd day of July, 1867, Richard McGowan who states that he resides in the 3d Election Precinct of Berrien County, Georgia, and who makes oath as follows:

“I Richard McGowan 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 19 years 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 disfranchised 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 given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof; that I have never taken an oath as a member of Congress of the United States, or as an officer 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.”

The said Richard McGowan further swears that he has not been previously registered under the provisions of “An act supplementary to ‘an act to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States’ – passed March 2, 1867 – and to facilitate restoration,” under this or any other name, in this or any other Election District; and further, that he was born in ______ and naturalized by ___________ on the day of ________________,18__ in the ___________

Richard McGowan

Sworn to and subscribed before me date precinct & county aforesaid

A. Marochetti
Register of the Sixth Registration District

The 1870 census shows Richard McGowan, 23, and another African-American man,  Tony Smith, 24, residing at the Sirmans residence.  Both men were working as farm laborers.

1870 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

1870 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA
https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0135unit#page/n453/mode/1up

About 1871, Richard had met and married Sally Thomas and they started their family with the birth of their son, Billy followed by Jesse, Henry, Aaron, and Minerva.

What became of the slave boy Peter is not known, however the 1870 census lists a Peter McGowen, age 80 and his wife Polly, age 60, living nearby.  Furthermore, an 1867 Oath of Allegiance and voter registration  completed by a Peter McGowan in Berrien County indicates he came from North Carolina to Georgia around 1849. This may be the father or relative of Peter and Richard McGowan, as he would have been about 55 at the time of Richard’s birth. The 1870 Census shows Polly was born in Georgia and the 1880 Census records her birthplace as South Carolina; either way she is most likely not kin to the boys.

By the 1880 census Richard, age 30 (probably 34) and Sally, 25 were still living near the Sirmans and Knight family farms, but in a separate household in Enumeration District 1144.

1880 Census enumeration of Richard McGowen and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA

1880 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA
https://archive.org/stream/10thcensusl0134unit#page/n380/mode/1up

There is no 1890 census record of Richard McGowan; most of the 11th census records were lost after a 1921 fire, and a series of tragic missteps in the record handling left nothing. However, Richard McGowan is listed in the 1894  Colored Voter Registration for Ray’s Mill, GA, indicating that he  remained in the community.

The 1900 census lists the members of the Richard McGowan household as: Richard, age 66 born July, 1833 (probably 54 and born c1845); Sallie, age 55 born March, 1845 (probably 45 and born c1855); Minerva, age 25 born February, 1875; Barney age 9 born March, 1891; Maggie, age 7 born December, 1892; Charlie, age 5 born December, 1894; Fannie, age 3 born March, 1897; and Richard Jr., age 7 months born October, 1899. Sallie had given birth to 13 children, ten of whom survived. She probably lost three children sometime between the birth of Minerva and Barney. Richard and Sallie were living next door to their son Jessie and his wife and step children, still in the Rays Mill District. Other neighbors included Moses Lee,  J. J. and Catherine Beagles, Hiram Beagles, and Elizabeth Beagles.

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

1900 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA
https://archive.org/stream/12thcensusofpopu179unit#page/n764/mode/1up

 

In 1910 the McGowan household consisted of: Richard, age 62 (see note regarding ages); Sallie, age 52; Barney, age 20; Maggie, age 18; Charlie, age 16; and Fannie, age 14. The McGowans  were renting a home about 6 miles east of Ray City and just north of Highway 129, next door to Mary Elizabeth “Mollie” Truett and James R. Johnson, Sr. Richard, Barney and Charlie were farm laborers working as wage employees.    The Beigles were still among the neighbors;  ex-convict Thomas J. Beigles and his wife Mary Elizabeth Pearson Beigles owned a nearby farm. It was reported that Richard and Sallie McGowan had been married 30 years (actually 40) and she had given birth to 16 children, only 8 surviving. Richard Jr. appears to be among those who did not survive.

https://archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po172unit#page/n654/mode/1up

1910 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA.
https://archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po172unit#page/n654/mode/1up

In the 1920 census, Richard, enumerated as Dick McGowen, age 76, was still renting in the Ray City area, farming and living with Sallie, 64; Maggie, 25; Fannie, 23; and a granddaughter, Florrie, 4. They were living next door to Martha J. Baskin Clements, widow of David C. Clements, and her adult children Grover C. Clements, Albert B. Clements and his wife Connie, and Alma Clements. Nearby was the household of Elick Wright, brother of Moses Wright.

https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n322/mode/1up

1920 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA.
https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n322/mode/1up

 

At the time of the 1930 Census, Richard and Sallie McGowan and several of their children and descendants were still living near Ray City, GA. The family was enumerated April 25, 1930 in the 1300 Georgia Militia District of Lanier County, GA, which was cut out of Berrien County in 1920.  Richard, enumerated as age 99, was probably about 86 years old.  Sallie was reported as 76 years old. Residing with them was their daughter Fannie, reported as age 39, actually 33. The McGowans were renting a home near Ray City. Fannie was working as a farm laborer.  Among the nearby neighbors were Americus McGee, Floyd Green, Caulie Pevy, Lucius J. Knight, and John and Wealthy Lee.  Richard McGowan is enumerated as a veteran of the Civil War.

1930-richard-mcgowen-census

1930 Census enumeration of Richard McGowan and family, 1300 Georgia Militia District, Lanier County, GA.
https://archive.org/stream/georgiacensus00reel372#page/n520/mode/1up

On August 6, 1930, just a few months after the 15th census, the Atlanta Constitution reported the death of Richard McGowanThe article even further exaggerated the longevity of the former slave, giving his age as 106.  The article also unfortunately confuses Richard McGowen with his grandson, Philmore McGowan, who was the late husband of Molly Reddick McGowan Hall, a Ray City psychic of widespread fame.

It is understood that both Richard McGowan and Sallie Thomas McGowan are buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery at St John Baptist Church in the Barretts community, five miles south of Ray City, GA .

A Note on the Ages of Former Slaves as Reported in Census Records

Because slaves were deprived of civil and human rights  – education, literacy, personal property –  records of slave birth dates, marriage dates, family relations, genealogy or even place of residence may be very difficult to document. Remembering dates, and counting years  was not easily achieved. It was quite common over the course of eight or nine decades for those vital dates to be forgotten, mistaken or erroneously changed for no particular reason especially if not recorded in a family Bible.  Census enumeration of slaves was typically only a count of heads.  Furthermore, the ages and birth dates of any persons were not of particular consequence prior to the passage of the Social Security act in 1935.

Now regarding the age of Richard, Sallie and their children, It appears that the most definable age of Richard was when he was about 11 years of age in the 1856 bill of sale. He was certainly not born in 1833 as listed in the 1900 census. Probably 1845 is the more accurate birth date. He was listed as 24 in 1870, which appears to be about right. It is more probable that Richard was about 54 in 1900, and that he probably died about the age of 84 in 1930. Ages of Richard’s children are probably more accurate if figured from the date of their earliest recording in the census.

Related Posts

 

 

Robert O. Rouse Sought Confederate Pension

Robert O. Rouse (1842-1908)

In 1903, Confederate veteran Robert O. Rouse, of Ray’s Mill, GA, wrote to Pension Commissioner J. W. Lindsey, for help with his Confederate Pension application. In the Civil War, Rouse fought with the 50th Georgia Regiment, Company I, the Berrien Light Infantry. Rouse was horribly wounded in combat, captured by federal forces and held as a prisoner of war at Rock Island, MD.  Despite his service and sacrifice, his pension application was denied by Georgia authorities.

robert-rouse-envelope

1903-robert-rouse-letter

Rays Mill, Berrien County, GA
March 24, 1903
Hon J W Lindsy
will you plese let me now all about my pension. I weant of in war and stade till hit stopt in Macon Ga at Lee SoRender. i was shot and not abel to work.  plese help me in need i  have lade on  fros ind land til my life is short or me  excuse bad riten.

Robert Rouse
Rays Mill Ga

Robert O. Rouse, a son of Alfred Rouse and Elizabeth J. “Betty” Dixon, was born in Duplin County, NC and came to Berrien County, GA at a young age. His grave marker at Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, gives his birth date as November 1, 1842, but  his 1903 application for a Confederate Pension states he was born March 2, 1843.

Robert’s father, Alfred Rouse, died about 1848 or 1849; the estate of Alfred Rouse was probated in Duplin County, NC in 1849.  Nine-year-old Robert was enumerated on August 8, 1850 in his widowed mother’s household in the south district of Duplin County, NC. His siblings were enumerated as David W. Rouse (age 10), Mary S. Rouse (8), Bryan J. Rouse (7), Sarah J. Rouse (6), and Barbara C. Rouse (6).

1850 Census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse, Duplin County, NC.

1850 Census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse, Duplin County, NC. https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0629unix#page/n110/mode/1up

In the 1850s, Robert O. Rouse came with some of his Dixon relatives to settle a few miles east of  present day Ray City GA. According to Wiregrass historian Folks Huxford , about that time a number of families “moved to what was then Lowndes County…from their home community in Duplin County, N. C. Among these families were those of William J. Lamb, James Carroll, Jesse Carroll, William Godfrey, Andrew J. Liles, William Best, James W. Dixon and others. These all settled in or around the village then called Alapaha but now named Lakeland, Lanier County.”  In 1850, James Dobson moved his family and slaves from Duplin County, NC to Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA, settling on land lot 333 of the 10th District, just west of Ten Mile Creek in what is now Lanier County; Peter McGowan and Richard McGowan are believed to be two of the slaves Dobson brought from North Carolina.  William Hill Boyett, John Bostick, Treasy Boyett Bostick and Mary C. Bostick came from Duplin to Berrien in the mid-century, and A few years later, Jessie Bostick also removed from Duplin County to the area. James M. and Martha Gordon Sloan made their way From Duplin, NC to Berrien in 1874, via Mississippi and Echols County, GA.

The census of 1860 places Robert Rouse, enumerated as “Robert Rose,” in Berrien County in the household of James W. Dixon. James Rouse was also residing in the Dixon household. James W. Dixon was a farmer and a neighbor of George A. Peeples, William J. Hill, James Patten and General Levi J. Knight.

1860 census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse in the household of James W. Dixon.

1860 census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse in the household of James W. Dixon. https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu111unit#page/n363/mode/1up

When the Civil War broke out Robert Rouse joined a local militia unit, the Berrien Light Infantry, enlisting on April 1, 1862.  He was officially mustered into Company I, 50th Georgia Volunteer Infantry on August 23, 1862  at Calhoun, GA.  William H. Boyett, James I. G. Connell, William Evander Connell, J.W.T. Crum were other Berrien County men who mustered in to Company I, 50th GA Regiment on August 22-23.

Rouse  and the other men were was sent to join the 50th Regiment which by then had been deployed to Richmond, VA.  Among the men from the Ray City area serving with this unit were Green Bullard, Fisher J. Gaskins, Lemuel Elam Gaskins, Joseph Gaskins,  John Jasper Cook and John Martin Griner.

Muster roles show Robert Rouse was present with his unit in Virginia by August 31, 1862.  As the last weeks of summer slipped into fall the 50th Georgia Regiment fought through some of the bloodiest battles of the war. At Fox’s Gap, South Mountain, MD on September 14, 1862 the 50th Georgia Regiment suffered a casualty rate of 86 percent. William Guthrie was one of six men of Company I (Berrien Light Infantry) killed that day. Another was mortally wounded and 4 more suffered non-fatal wounds. Lemuel Gaskins was wounded, captured and sent to Fort Delaware, MD as a POW. As terrible as the Confederate losses were at South Mountain, they were just a “bloody prelude” to the Battle of Antietam fought three days later September 17, 1862 at Sharpsburg,MD. Almost every surviving soldier in the 50th Regiment was wounded.  On October 2, 1862 Rouse was sent to Winchester Hospital where  thousands of Confederate wounded had been taken. Virtually the entire town of  Winchester, VA was a hospital, with wounded laid up in every home.

Muster Rolls for January and February 1863 show Robert Rouse was absent “at hospital.” On April 16, 1863 he was admitted to the General Hospital at Stanton, VA with pneumonia. In July, Rouse was at the 1st Division General Hospital, Camp Winder, Richmond VA.

By November 1863 Robert Rouse was recovered and was back fighting with the 50th Regiment in Tennessee when Confederate forces under the command of Major General James Longstreet attempted to dislodge the Union occupation of Knoxville. On the approach to Knoxville Rouse’s unit saw relatively little action.   But in the final days of November, the 50th Georgia participated in a disastrous assault on Fort Sanders, a part of the Union’s ring of earthwork defenses around Knoxville.  A week into the siege of Knoxville,  the Confederates determined Fort Sanders was the most vulnerable point of attack. In reality, Union engineers had employed supreme effort and ingenuity in fortifying Fort Sanders.

The Confederate assault on Fort Sanders, conducted on November 29, 1863, was poorly planned and executed. Longstreet discounted the difficulties of the physical obstacles his infantrymen would face. He had witnessed, through field glasses, a Union soldier walking across a 12 foot wide defensive ditch that surrounded the bastioned earthworks Fort Sanders  and, not realizing that the man had crossed on a plank, believed that the ditch was very shallow. Longstreet also believed that the steep walls of the earthworks could be negotiated by digging footholds, rather than requiring scaling ladders.

The Confederates moved to within 120-150 yards of the salient during the night of freezing rain and snow and waited for the order to attack. Their attack on the dawn of November 29th has been described as “cruel and gruesome by 19th century standards.” The advancing Confederate troops were initially confronted by telegraph wire that had been strung between tree stumps at knee height, possibly the first use of such wire entanglements in the Civil War, and many men were shot as they tried to disentangle themselves. When they reached the ditch, they found the vertical wall to be almost insurmountable, frozen and slippery. Union soldiers rained murderous fire into the masses of men, including musketry, canister, and artillery shells thrown as hand grenades. Unable to dig footholds, men climbed upon each other’s shoulders to attempt to reach the top. A succession of color bearers were shot down as they planted their flags on the fort.

For one brief moment the flag of the 50th Georgia Regiment flew atop Fort Sanders’ bastion, planted by Sergeant James S. Bailey, of Company B, before he was captured. Also among the captured was Private John Woods Smith, Company G, who would later become a resident of Ray’s Mill, GA.

In  James W. Parrish’s documentary on the history of 50th Georgia Regiment,  he wrote,

” Although the Southerners fought gallantly, devastating enemy fire forced them to retreat. The ditch trapped many soldiers who were killed, wounded or captured.”

Re-created depiction of Confederate dead at Fort Sanders. 2008 Photo by Wendell Decker http://www.battleoffortsanders.com/Site/Albums/Pages/Wendell_Decker.html#0

Re-enacted depiction of Confederate dead at Fort Sanders.  Photographed by Wendell Decker with Civil War period equipment, 2008.  http://www.battleoffortsanders.com/Site/Albums/Pages/Wendell_Decker.html#0

“After only twenty minutes, Longstreet mercifully called off the assault.”

“As the Rebel offensive collapsed, the retreat proved as deadly as the attack.  Enemy musketry and canister raked the men as they ran back across the open field toward the cover of the wooded ravine.  Lieutenant [William F. “Billie”] Pendleton reported on his narrow escape: ‘We jumped up and dashed down the hill, then cannon opened up on us.  I was caught up in the telegraph wire and forward down the hill.’ ” (Pendleton was eighteen years old).

“The Confederates suffered 813 casualties, including 129 killed, 458 wounded, and 226 captured. Federal losses in the fort were only 13. The attack had been an unmitigated disaster.”

In the bloodbath at Fort Sanders, Robert Rouse was horribly wounded in the face. Both cheek bones were broken and his vision was impaired. Captured by Union forces on January 5, 1864, he was sent to a hospital. He was held at Nashville, TN until January 17, then sent to a military prison at Louisville, KY. On January 23, 1864 he was transferred to Rock Island Prison, Illinois.

Rock Island Prison, Rock Island, IL. Federal guards stand in the foreground; in the background confederate POWs turn out for roll call, December 3, 1863.

Rock Island Prison, Rock Island, IL. Federal guards stand in the foreground; in the background confederate POWs turn out for roll call, December 3, 1863.

Construction of the Rock Island Prison Barracks began in August 1863, with the first 488 confederate POWs arriving on December 3, 1863 before construction was completed. Within weeks the prison population swelled to over 5000 confederate soldiers.

“The prison, rectangular in shape, covered  approximately twelve acres of land. Eighty four wooden-framed barracks, 22 x 100 feet in size, arranged in six rows of fourteen barracks each, comprised the containment area. Each barracks had a kitchen, with a stove and a forty gallon kettle for cooking, located at the west end of the building. Captain Reynolds built enough bunks in each barracks to accommodate 120 prisoners. A main avenue running east to west divided the camp and led to the two main gates. The barracks were enclosed by a twelve foot high rough board fence. A guard platform built four feet from the top of the stockade fence, on the exterior side, had a sentry box every 100 feet. Trenches maintained inside the fence served as a warning line. Sentries were ordered to fire at prisoners venturing beyond this point. The “dead line” supposedly deterred prisoners from tunneling under the stockade. In addition, the closeness of bedrock to the surface prevented tunneling near the southern side of the stockade”

The first few weeks of the camp’s operation were particularly hellish. It was bitterly cold weather, the southern soldiers were ill clothed, there was a shortage of blankets, and disease was rampant.  Some men died from the cold, others from small pox.

By the time of Rouse’s arrival at Rock Island Barracks in January, 1864, 329 prisoners and 4 guards had died of small pox.  The prison had no hospital and inadequate medical supplies or equipment. Prisoners with contagious diseases were housed among the general prison population. The prison grounds were a mudpit, as the site was situated on low ground near a marsh causing water to drain into the compound rather than out. Conditions were unsanitary with no provision for the disposal of garbage or wash water, which were dumped on the ground near the barracks. The water supply was inadequate and prisoners disposed of privy waste in the river that flowed through the camp. Cornbread fed to the prisoners was rancid and made men sick.

In Rouse’s first month at Rock Island, small pox killed another 350 confederates and 10 guards. On March 4, 1864 420 more small pox cases were reported and 644 were sick with undiagnosed diseases.   Although conditions at Rock Island significantly improved over time, 1,964 prisoners and 171 guards died there by the War’s end. Robert Rouse survived Rock Island Barracks and was released March 27, 1865.

Federal parole of Robert O. Rouse, Confederate Prisoner of War, March 27, 1865.

Federal parole of Robert O. Rouse, Confederate Prisoner of War, March 27, 1865.

Headquarters Department of Richmond
Richmond, Va. March 27th 1865

           In obedience to instructions from the Secretary of War, the following named men (paroled prisoners) are granted leaves of indulgence for 30 days (unless sooner exchanged ) at the expiration of which time, those belonging to commands serving north of the Southern boundary line  of North Carolina, and in East Tennessee, will report immediately to them, if exchanged; other wise they will report to Camp of Paroled Prisoners, Richmond, Va.  All other paroled prisoners, except those whose commands are serving  within the limits above mentioned, will also report, at expiration of their furloughs, to Camp of Paroled Prisoners, Richmond, Va.

Priv. R. Rouse Co. I 50 Ga Inf

Quartermaster will furnish Transportation

By order of Lt. General R. S. Ewell

After release from Rock Island Barracks, Robert Rouse was sent to Boulware and Cox’s Wharves, James River, VA for exchange. Bouleware’s Wharf  was described as “the Graveyard” by Colonel Robert Ould, Confederate Agent of Exchange in Richmond, in a letter to Ulysses S. Grant dated December 27, 1864.

Boulware’s Wharf was located on the James River, about 10 miles below Richmond, where Osborne Turnpike intersects Kingsland Road. Cox’s Wharf was located just down river.  By the time of Rouse’s parole, the James River up to and including Cox’s Wharf was under the control of federal forces.  Boulware’s Wharf was under the eye of Fort Brady held by Federal troops at Cox’s Wharf, and also in the shadow of the Confederate Fort Hoke located about two miles up stream.  Under a flag of truce Bouleware’s Wharf for a time became the point where Confederate prisoners were exchanged for Union POWs.

The Confederate POWs would be brought by steamboat to Aiken’s Landing, at the point where the Varina Road reaches the James River.

According to the testimony of Colonel Ould, “It is simply impossible, owing to the relative positions of the military lines, to the conditions of the roads, and the deficiency of transportation, to convey in vehicles even the sick (returning Confederates) from Varina (Aiken’s Landing) to Richmond, a distance by way of Boulware’s of some fourteen miles. The Federal steam-boats which bring our prisoners stop at Varina. This point is some four miles from our lines, and the prisoners are either marched or transported to Boulware’s Wharf, which is nearly on the dividing line of the opposing armies, and about four miles distant from Varina.”

With the war ended, Robert Rouse was furloughed. On April 10, 1865 his furlough was extended for 30 days at Macon, GA.  Rouse returned to Berrien County, GA to the 1144 Georgia Militia District, the Ray’s Mill District.  County tax records confirm his presence there in 1867.

On December 9, 1869 Robert O. Rouse married Nancy Kisiah Parrish in Berrien County, GA.

Marriage certificate of Robert O. Rouse and Mary K. Parrish

Marriage certificate of Robert O. Rouse and Nancy K. Parrish, Berrien County, GA.

Kisiah’s father, Matthew A. Parrish, had also enlisted with Company I, 50th GA Regiment during the Civil War, but had been detailed as a carpenter to help construct Guyton Hospital at Whitesville, GA three months before Rouse joined the unit. It appears that her father was furloughed home and died in Berrien County in October 1862.

Robert and Kiziah Rouse took up married life in the farm house of Robert’s uncle, William Dixon. Robert assisted his uncle with farm labor and Kisiah kept house.

1870 Census enumeration of Nancy Kisiah Parrish and Robert Rouse in the household of William Dixon, Berrien County, GA.

1870 Census enumeration of Nancy Kisiah Parrish and Robert Rouse in the household of William Dixon, Berrien County, GA. https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0135unit#page/n468/mode/1up

From Ray’s Mill, the William Dixon place  was out the road now known as the Sam I. Watson Highway, on the northeast bank of Ten Mile Creek (formerly known as Alapacoochee Creek).

About 1875 William Dixon  and the Rouses moved across Ten Mile Creek to Lot 333 which had been acquired by Dixon.  The 1880 census shows Robert Rouse enumerated next door to his uncle, William Dixon. It appears Robert had his own domicile, but still on his uncle’s property. By this time, Robert’s household included his wife and their children: Sally, age 7; Alfred, age 5; James, age 4; and William, age 2.  They were neighbors of Rhoda and George Washington Knight, and John C. Sirmans.

Robert O. Rouse 1880 Census

1880 Census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA https://archive.org/stream/10thcensusl0134unit#page/n411/mode/1up

In 1883 a fifth child, Josie Rouse, was born to Robert and Nancy Kisiah Rouse.

On Sunday, October 19, 1884 tragedy struck the family, with the death of little James Rouse. The  boy was laid to rest at Empire Cemetery.

Grave of James Rouse (1874-1884), son of Robert O. Rouse. Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of James Rouse (1874-1884), son of Robert O. Rouse. Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Robert and Nancy Kisiah Rouse were enumerated in the Census of 1900 still on the farm on Ten Mile Creek near Empire Church, which they had acquired from Robert’s uncle William Dixon. In their household were sons William Rouse and Josie Rouse, who helped work the farm. Also boarding with the family was Will Dias, who was employed as a teamster. Their son, Alfred L. Rouse,  and his wife, Mary Jones Rouse, were living in an adjacent home; boarding with them was uncle William Dixon, now retired.  Daughter Sarah J. “Sallie” Rouse had married D. Edwin Griner and the couple owned a nearby farm. Still residing next door to the Rouses were George Washington Knight and Rhoda Futch Knight.

1900 Census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse and family, Berrien County, GA

1900 Census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse and family, Berrien County, GA  https://archive.org/stream/12thcensusofpopu179unit#page/n769/mode/1up

From 1900 to 1903, Robert Rouse, now in his 60’s, tried in vain to qualify for a  Invalid Soldier Pension from the State of Georgia.

Georgia Invalid Soldier's Pension Application submitted by Robert O. Rouse, Berrien County, GA.

Georgia Invalid Soldier’s Pension Application submitted by Robert O. Rouse, Berrien County, GA.

Rouse’s pension application was supported by a letter from Alexander W. Patterson, Ordinary of Berrien County, GA.

robert-rouse-letter-from-berrien-ordinary

Office of Ordinary
A. W. Patterson, Ordinary
Nashville,GA., Berrien County

This is to certify that R O Rouse is still in life and entitled to any benefits that may be due him as an Invalid Confederate Soldier.
    Given under my hand and Seal of the County Ordinary, This 22” day July 1902

A W Patterson
Ordinary

Rouse was examined by Dr. L. A. Carter and Dr. W. B. Goodman who attested, “We find applicant almost blind. We believe it was caused by a wound in the face, the missile entered on the left side behind the molar and came out in front of the right molar. Said wound is so near the eyes that it caused iritis which left the eyes permanently injured.”

Three witnesses confirmed Robert O. Rouse’s service with the 50th GA Regiment, that he was wounded in action and permanently disabled; John Page Bennett, John Woods Smith, and Timothy W. Stallings. John Page Bennett, a private in Company G, 50th GA Regiment was wounded by a shell fragment in the Battle of Fredricksburg and permanently lost the use of his left arm. He received a disability discharge on April 27, 1863. John Woods Smith, a corporal in 50th GA Regiment, Company G, the Clinch Volunteers was captured November 29th, 1863 at the battle of Fort Sanders, the same battle where Robert Rouse was shot in the face.  After the War, John Woods Smith married Mary Jane Whitehurst and moved to the Rays Mill District of Berrien County; In 1900 he was living in Rays Mill, GA. Timothy W. Stallings was a private in Company K, 50th GA Regiment; in 1900 he was living in Nashville, GA.

Rouse’s pension application was denied. In June 1901, the Office of the Commissioner of Pensions, State of Georgia, noted, “The statements and proofs submitted does not show blindness, and that his condition was result of service. Physician must state in what way injury could have injured the eyes.  It is probably that present condition of eyes is result of old age and not of the wound or service.”  In 1902 the further notation was added by J. W. Lindsey, Commissioner of Pensions, “No pension allowed from partial blinding. Disapprove file.”

Robert O. Rouse died March 22, 1908.  He was buried at Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

Grave of Robert O. Rouse, Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Robert O. Rouse, Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

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Portrait of Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight

Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight

Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight , Berrien County, GA

Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight , Berrien County, GA

Ray City History
Hardeman Sirmans (1821 – 1896)  Elizabeth Knight (1830 – 1912)

Hardeman Sirmans was born October 25, 1821 in Appling County, Georgia, the son of Jonathan Sirmans and Martha “Patsy” Rouse.

During the Indian War in 1838-39 Hardeman Sirmans and his father served as privates under Captain Levi J. Knight (later General Knight) in the Lowndes County militia. They both appear on the 1838 Muster Roll of Captain Knight’s Independent Company.

In 1847 Hardeman married Elizabeth Knight, daughter of General Levi J. Knight and Ann D. Herrin. She was born in 1830.

According to Folks Huxford,

“Mr. Sirmans served in the Indian War as a private in a volunteer company of Lowndes County militia commanded by his father-in-law, Capt. (afterwards General) Levi J. Knight, August 15th to Oct 15 1838. He was 1st Lieutenant of the 664th militia district, Lowndes County, 1845-46, then served as Captain in same district 1847-1851. For nearly twenty years Mr. Sirmans was a member of the Masonic order, receiving his degrees in Butler Lodge, No. 211, F. & A.M. at old Milltown (now Lakeland) in 1858. He withdrew and was granted a demit Dec. 8 1877, on account of his church’s attitude toward secret orders. He united in 1877 with Empire Primitive Baptist Church and was baptized. On Jan. 21, 1888 he withdrew from the church, but was restored Nov. 21, 1888. On Nov. 26, 1892, charges were preferred against him in his church for voting the Populist ticket in the preceding General Election; however, the church minutes state he ‘satisfied’ the church, Dec. 24, 1892, and the charges were dropped. He remained a member until his death Sept. 21, 1896. His children seemed to have disagreed over the division of his estate, and it was finally divided by arbitration in Berrien Superior Court, March 8, 1897. Mrs. Sirmans died Sept. 6, 1912, and was buried by her husband in the cemetery at Empire Church.”

Before the Civil War, Hardeman Sirmans was a slave owner. One of his slaves was Richard McGowan. For a time after the war, Richard McGowan continued to live on the Sirmans farm, working as a farm laborer.

Children of Elizabeth Knight and Hardeman Sirmans:

  1. Levi Winfield Sirmans 1848 –  married Nancy R. Clements
  2. Jonathan D Sirmans 1850 – 1926 married Nancy Elizabeth Clements
  3. Sarah Malissa Sirmans 1852 – 1898
  4. Lott W. Sirmans 1854 – 1898 married Josephine Knight
  5. Thomas Hardyman Sirmans 1860 – 1931
  6. Martha Elizabeth Sirmans 1862 – 1935 married Joe S. Clements
  7. Joseph O Sirmans 1862 – 1848 married Olive Pearl Matheny
  8. Jay Sirmans 1864 – 1916 married Rachel Allifar Smith
  9. Clara Sirmans 1868 – 1928 married Frank Gallagher
  10. Christiana Sirmans 1869 – 1943 married Joseph Bartow Gaskins
  11. Annie B. Sirmans 1872 – 1963 married John Chilton Matheny
  12.  Valeria Sirmans 1874 – 1961 married James Isaac Lee

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