James Henry Swindle ~ Businessman and Public Servant

James Henry  “Jim” Swindle was a businessman and politician of Ray City, GA.  He was born near Ray City Aug 6, 1886, a son of Margaret Melvina Futch and George Emory Swindle.  A previous post gave his bio from the Georgia Official and Statistical Register.  He was involved in many civic organizations including the Baptist church, Masons, and Lions Club, and served in public offices from Mayor of Ray City to Representative in the Georgia Assembly.

James H. Swindle

James H. Swindle

Jim Swindle was a brother of Leonard Columbus Swindle, John N. Swindle, George Perry Swindle, Roy C. Swindle, and Leonidas A. Swindle.

In the Census of 1900 James H. Swindle was enumerated with his parents and brothers in his father’s household in the Connell’s Mill District near Rays Mill, GA. The Swindle family farm was located on the Rays Mill & Cat Creek Road. Jim and his younger brothers all attended school, while his older brother, Leonard, helped his father with the farm labor.

After the 1909 death of  his father, G.E. Swindle, at Buffalo Lithia Springs, VA , Jim became the head of the household and took over the family farm.

James Henry “Jim” Swindle became a prominent businessman of Berrien County. By 1908, he was involved in the organization of the Bank of  Rays Mill, which later became the Citizens Bank of Ray City.  It is said that the Swindle family owned much of the land where present day Ray City is located, and when the town was officially incorporated in 1909, he became one of the first residents.  In 1912 he married Sarah Ellen  “Stell” Daniel in Nashville, GA, and the couple made their home at Ray City.

J. H. Swindle of Rays Mill was a dealer for the Georgia Fertilizer & Oil Company. 1912 Advertisement.

J. H. Swindle of Rays Mill was a dealer for the Georgia Fertilizer & Oil Company. 1912 Advertisement.

Together with James S. Swindle, James Henry Swindle owned the Ray City Hotel, which stood on the location later occupied by the Clements Fountain. The Swindles employed J.F. Hineley to operate the hotel. The hotel and all of its contents were destroyed, along with several other buildings, in the Ray City fire of Sunday, April 25, 1915.

James Henry Swindle was 30 years old when he registered for the draft in WWI on June 5, 1917.  He gave his occupation as  a self-employed farmer  and merchant working in Ray City, Ga. He was described as medium height, medium build, black hair, and blue eyes.  His draft card was signed by D.A. Sapp.

By 1920 James H. Swindle had located his wife and family in a house on Main Street in Ray City, Georgia. They owned the home free and clear.  Their neighbors were C . Oscar Terry and Leon L. Parrish.  J.H. Swindle was a merchant, operating a grain and feed store on his own account.

Among other elected positions, Jim Swindle served 12 years on the Berrien County Board of Education, including four years as Chairman.

1925 Berrien County Board of Education
D. J. Gaskins, Ch. Ray City
A. L. Akins.. . .Nashville
J. H. Swindle …Ray City
C.B.Harris–. -Enigma
George P. Griffin Nashville

1927 Berrien County Board of Education
D. J. Gaskins, Chm., Ray City
J. R. McLamb
J. H. Swindle, Ray City
A. L. Akins, Nashville
W. K. Sikes

In the census of 1930, Swindle listed his principle occupation as operator of a gin. He owned cotton gins in Ray City, and at Barretts in Lowndes County, GA.

“The J.H. Swindle Gins and Warehouse is another concern of benefit to the entire section.  Plants are located at Ray City and Barrett, being among the most up to date in south Georgia.  Mr. Swindle buys cotton and cotton seed, corn, peanuts, hay and other country produce.  Besides gin and warehouse activities he operates a twelve horse farm.”

Another of his 1930s business concerns was the operation of a bank at Ray City.

“The Peoples Banking Company, a private institution, is owned by Mr. J.H. Swindle, with Mr. E.J. Patten as cashier.  This bank was organized several years ago by Mr. Swindle when Ray City lost its regular bank, so as to carry on the business operations locally and without interruptions.”

Later, J.I. Clements worked for a while as cashier of the Peoples Banking Company.  Jim Swindle’s brother, L. C. Swindle also operated a bank at Ray City, the Farmers Bank.

In 1932 J. H. Swindle again served on the Berrien County Board of Education and in 1934 he was Mayor of Ray City.

On Jan 14, 1939 the Speaker of the House of the Georgia Assembly announced the Legislative Committee Chairmen. James H. Swindle of Berrien was named as chair of the General Agriculture Committee No. 1.   Just a few days later on January 31, 1939 the Atlanta Constitution reported that James Henry Swindle, of Ray City, was declaring as a candidate for State Commissioner of Agriculture.

J.H. Swindle, ‘Just a Small Farmer,’ Says Markets Aren’t Working.
January 31, 1939

By the Associated Press.

  Representative J.H. Swindle, of Berrien, who describes himself as “just a small farmer,” announced yesterday he would seek election as state commissioner of agriculture in 1940.

  Swindle, a veteran of three terms in the legislature, is chairman of the house committee on agriculture No. 1.

  Columbus Roberts, present commissioner of agriculture, concludes his present term in 1940. He has been mentioned as a likely candidate to succeed Governor Rivers.

  Swindle said he would favor revision of the state’s present agricultural policy to give greater assistance to the farmers in disposing of their products.

  “The farmer can dump his stuff anywhere,” he said. “The present system (of farmers’ markets) is not working any special good to the farmers.”

  Swindle urged that the state provide price reporting service as well as a place where farmers may bring their produce for sale. He also suggested that the state assist the farmers “to put his produce in proper shape for disposal” by grading and collecting individual shipments into single lots.

  “I would even be willing to try the auction system,” often results in the price for a commodity being set at an unfairly low level because one or more of the earliest sellers were unaware of the correct price and disposed of their produce below the market level.

  Swindle, a 52-year-old native of Berrien county, has served two years as mayor of Ray city, eight years on the city council, and 12 years on the county board of education, including four years as chairman. He is engaged in farming, operates a cotton gin, and purchases cotton and farm products for resale. He is married, and has two daughters and a son.

In 1941, James H. Swindle was appointed to serve again on the Berrien County Board of Education to replace Henry A. Swindle who had resigned from the Board in December 1940.  In October, the Board members elected J.H. Swindle as Chairman of the Board.

A 1941 mention in the Nashville Herald said:

Mr. J.H. Swindle is a prominent citizen of this city [Ray City].  He owns most of the business buildings in Ray City.  He is our past representative, having served four years.  He owns extensive farms and the gin.  He is a cotton buyer, a cottonseed buyer, and a corn buyer.

James H. Swindle continued his involvement in civic affairs. In the 1940s he worked to bring better roads to Ray City, and in 1947 served on the building committee for the new Ray City School gym.

In 1953 he was elected vice-president of the South Georgia Cattlemen’s Association.

Children of Stell Daniel and James Henry Swindle:

  1. Margaret Virginia Swindle  (Oct 28, 1914)
  2. Doris E. Swindle  (1916-1941)
  3. Grace E Swindle
  4. James Aaron Swindle (1920-1993)
Grave marker of James Henry "Jim" Swindle, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Grave marker of James Henry “Jim” Swindle, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

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More on the 1887 Family Feud at Rays Mill, GA

James Thomas Beigles

James Thomas Biggles

In the winter of 1887, a family  feud at Rays Mill, Georgia turned deadly when J.T. Biggles gunned down Madison Pearson from the porch of Henry Harrison Knight’s store.

At that time Knight’s store was  one of the few commercial establishments at Rays Mill and was a community meeting place.  The store was situated on present day Pauline Street, approximately opposite from the Ray City School.  In front of the store was an area known as the “court ground”  and the building served as the court house when there was need.   Knight’s store was also occupied by Dr. Guy Selman, one of the first doctors in the area,  and after David Ridgell departed in 1905 it was the location of the Ray’s Mill Post Office.  Henry Knight’s son-in-law, Cauley Johnson was postmaster. The building was destroyed by fire, probably in the 1940’s.

James Thomas Biggles was born in Georgia in October, 1860, a son of John Jefferson Beagles and Catherine Wright Biggles. (There was obviously some confusion over the spelling of the family name.)

Mary Elizabeth Pearson

Mary Elizabeth Pearson

J.T. married Mary Elizabeth Pearson on July 26, 1879. The ceremony was performed by Jonathan D. Knight, Notary Public.  James Thomas Biggles  appeared in the census of 1880 in District 5 of GMD#1144 as Thomas Beagle, farm laborer, age 19, with wife, Elizabeth, age 21. In the cemetery of Union Church (aka Burnt Church), next to the grave of Mary E. Biggles, stands a small headstone with the inscription “Infant of Mr. & Mrs. J.T. Biggles, Born and Died Apr. 15, 1879.”

J.T Biggles had a running feud with his brother-in-law, Madison G. Pearson.  At first Biggles tried to work through the court, but he soon took the law into his own hands and murdered Pearson before a crowd of citizens.  Biggles became a fugitive for twelve years before returning to stand trial.

The state press reported on the Murder in Berrien:

The Columbus Enquirer-Sun
Nov. 11, 1887 — page 3


Terrible Result of an Old Feud.

     Nashville, Ga., Nov. 9. – At Ray’s mill in this county, on Tuesday evening last, a dreadful encounter occurred in which M. G. Pearson was shot and instantly killed by J. T. Beagly, the cause being a family feud. It appears the parties had met to amicably settle the trouble if possible, but soon engaged in some hot words, when Pearson said to Beagly:
“Come out in the sand and we will settle the trouble.”
     They started out. Beagly drew his pistol and fired upon him as he went out, and shot him dead the first fire, then took to the swamp and has not yet been captured.

The Valdosta Times provided additional details:

The Valdosta Times
November 12, 1887

MURDER IN BERRIEN

J. T. Beigles Kills Madison G. Pearson at Ray’s Mill – A Family Feud which ends in the murder of a Brother – in- law.

Madison G. Pearson was killed by his brother-in-law, J. T. Beigles, at Ray’s Mill, in Berrien County, last Friday, the 4th, inst. A Family feud was at the bottom of the difficulty.

Beigles had married Pearson’s sister. The mother of the latter lived for sometime with her son, but a family quarrel, it seems, drove her to her daughter’s home. After she took up her abode with the Beigles family, some questions arose about the division of her small property. One report says that she willed all she had to Mrs. Beigles, and thus aroused her son’s indignation, and another rumor says that Beigles killed a beef which belonged to the Pearson estate, and that this was the cause of the trouble between the two men. At any rate there was trouble between them, and the old lady took the side of her son-in-law. Pearson, it seems, made some threats, and Beigles had him arrested under a peace warrant. Friday, the day of the tragedy, was set for a hearing before the Justice of the district, and Beigles and his wife and old Mrs. Pearson appeared at the Court ground at Ray’s Mill as witnesses. The bailiff had Madison Pearson under arrest, and the parties at interest, and about forty interested neighbors, all met at Mr. H. H. Knight’s store. Beigles’ father was among those present, and he approached Pearson about a compromise, but Pearson thought he had been greatly outraged, and freely expressed his indignation. He refused to accept the proposals made by the elder Beigles. A witness to the whole affair at the Court grounds informs us that the elder Beigles’ attitude and manner was not such as indicated any real desire for a fair compromise, and that his actions and his words were the immediate cause of the conflict, if it can be called a conflict. In reviewing the difficulty, the elder Beigles, who was standing between his son and Pearson, made some assertions which the latter vehemently denied or disputed, and the younger Beigles shouted to Pearson that he was a liar. At this Pearson, replied hotly that if Beigles would step with him to the ground from the porch upon which they stood, he would whip him, and as he spoke he sprang off at right angles from Beigles, but he struck the ground a dead man. Beigles fired at him on the spring, and the ball entered the side of the head near the left temple. Pearson doubled up as he lie fell and his head hit the ground first. He never spoke a word, and died in a few moments. Pearson had two brothers on the spot, and one ran to the dying man and the other started upon Beigles, but he met a cocked pistol in his face, and was warned to stand back, or else share the fate of his brother. Beigles kept his face to the awe-stricken crowd, pistol drawn, while his father pushed him backward some thirty feet, then he turned and they both fled. There was not a gun or pistol on the hill that could be found, and the two Beigles escaped. A pursuit was quickly organized, but they had gotten out of sight, and are yet at large. Pearson was not armed.

Pearson’s mother and sister witnessed the murder of their son and brother, so an eye witness informs us, without shedding a tear. After some little time Mrs. Pearson walked up to the dead man laying upon the ground, and stooped down and kissed him. She then rose calmly and walked away without any signs of emotion.

Thus a Justice’s court was sadly and suddenly transformed into an inquest court. The coroner lived forty miles away, and the bailiff, who held Pearson in custody as a prisoner when he was killed, summoned a jury, and the Justice, who was about to convene his court to try Pearson on a peace warrant, instead of proceeding with the trial, swore in an inquest jury to sit upon the dead body.

After swearing numerous eye witnesses the jury found that the killing was done as outlined above, that the same was willful murder; also that the elder Beigles was an accessory to the dead.

We are indebted to a neighbor of the parties, and an eyewitness to the tragedy, for the above statement of the circumstances connected directly and indirectly to the killing. All the parties were sober.

In 1899 the Valdosta reported the follow up on the trial of the Biggles case.

The Valdosta Times
October 17, 1899

BERRIEN SUPERIOR COURT. CONCLUSION OF THE BEAGLES-PEARSON CASE.

Berrien Superior Court after a four days’ session adjourned Thursday afternoon. The session was devoted entirely to criminal business, no civil cases being called. The principal case of importance was the trial of Madison G. Pearson, Nov. 4, 1887, twelve years ago as was stated in Friday’s Times.

Beagles was married to Pearson’s sister, and there had been considerable bad blood between them, culminating when Mrs. Pearson left the home of her son and went to live with her daughter, Beagles’ wife.

Pearson threatened to kill Beagles on several occasions and a few days before his death went to Beagles’ house and cursed his wife and children.

Beagles then swore out a peace warrant for Pearson, and he was arrested under it and carried to the Court House at Ray’s Mill for trial. A large crowd was on the court ground, among them Beagles, and Pearson challenged him for a fight, pulling off his coat and starting out the door as he did so. Beagles was standing on the porch of the house, within a few feet, and as Beagles stepped out fired at him, shooting him through the head, the ball entering just in front of the right ear and coming out behind the left ear, producing instant death.

Beagles skipped the country, and spent several years in Florida, returning just before his arrest. He was admitted to the bail, and staid under bond until two months ago, when his bondsman gave him up, and since that time he has remained in jail.

At his trial he was represented by Col. Joseph A. Alexander of Nashville and W. H. Griffin of Valdosta, while the state was represented by Col. W. M. Hammond of Thomasville and Solicitor General Thomas. The trial lasted a day and a half, and every inch of ground was stubbornly fought. The principal evidence against the dead man was the ante-mortem statement of his own mother, made four years ago, which was exceedingly bitter in denunciation of her son.

Six hours were spent by Cols. Griffin and Hammond in their strong and eloquent arguments of the case, and he jury remained out on it seven hours before returning a verdict of manslaughter with recommendation to mercy. Col. Griffin made a touching appeal to the court for mercy, and Judge Hansell fixed the sentence at two years in the state penitentiary.

In the U.S Census of 1900 James T. Biggles was enumerated on June 23, 1900 as a convict in the Fargo Convict Camp in the Jones Creek District of Clinch County, GA.

In 1910, the Biggles were back together in Rays Mill, GA where they were enumerated with several boarders living in their household.

James Thomas Biggles died May 11, 1911 in Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia. He was buried at Union Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Lakeland, GA. On his tombstone his name appears as J.T. Biggles.

Grave Marker of James Thomas Biggles, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave Marker of James Thomas Biggles, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Reports on the disposition of his estate were reported in the Nashville Herald:

Nashville Herald
Aug 7, 1911

Administrators Sale

Pursuant to an order of the Court of Ordinary, will be sold before the court house door in Berrien County, all the real estate belonging to J.T. Biggles, deceased, to wit: one lot in the town of Milltown, on Howell Ave., known as the H.L. Kelly lot; also ten acres of lot No. 473 in the 10th district in the southeast corner of said lot; also, 36 acres in the ? district, the last two tracts known as the Margaret Horsby lands; also, 100 acres, bounded on the west by Milltown and Nashville public road, east by Dog Branch, and lands of Jas. Johnson and Banks lands, on the north by lands of Mary E. Biggles, said tract known as land sold by E.M. Giddens to J.T. Biggles; also, lot 6 in block 32, lot 8 in block 73, lot 1 in block 69, lot 6 in block 59, lot 10 in block 48, all in the new survey in Milltown, Ga., also, one-half acre in town of Milltown bounded east by lands of M.E. Patten, south and west by lands of R.L. Patten, north by old Brunswick & Western right-of-way; also lot No. 3 in block No. 29, Roberts survey of Milltown, Ga., Sold as the property of the estate of J.T. Biggles, deceased, to pay debts and for distribution. August 7, 1911

Nashville Herald
Sept 5, 1911

Administrator’s Sale

Georgia, Berrien County. Will be sold before the court house door on the first Tuesday in October the following land: 1/2 acre of land in the town of Milltown bounded east by lands of M.E. Patten, south and west by lands of R.L. Patten, north by old Brunswick & Western right-of-way on which is situated one gin house and one barn, five double Foss gins, one short cotton gin, one conveyor, one double Monger box press, one seed conveyor and all belts and pulleys now used in the gin house. Terms cash. Sept 5, 1911. M.W. Bargeron, W.A. Biggles, Administrators of Estate of J.T. Biggles.

Mary Elizabeth Biggles died May 7, 1923. She was also buried at Union Primitive Baptist Church. Her tombstone reads, ” Mary Elizabeth Biggles, May 7, 1923, Aged 70 Yrs., A loving mother and grandmother.”

Gravemarker of Mary Elizabeth Pearson Biggles, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, Georgia

Gravemarker of Mary Elizabeth Pearson Biggles, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, Georgia

James Madison Baskin Settled at Beaver Dam Creek.

James Madison Baskin, first of the Baskin family to settle in the Ray City area, came to Berrien county about the time it was created in 1856.  He was the grandfather of Armstrong B. Baskin, and great grandfather of Mary Frances Baskin. James M. Baskin was born 6 April 1829 in Houston County, GA, one of thirteen children born to Sarah Goode and James G. Baskin.  His father was born 1792 in Abbeville District, SC.  and came to Georgia as a child.

When grown to adulthood, James M. Baskin left his family home with two slaves given to him by his father.  These slaves were experienced in construction, and James went into business as a building contractor.

While on a stay in Atlanta, James M. Baskin resided at the Bell House, a boarding house said to be the first hotel in Atlanta. There, he met the proprietor’s daughter, Frances Bell Knox.  She was  a widow with a three-year-old son, Alton Knox.  (The 1850 Dekalb County census  records show that by the age of 17 she was married to Joseph Knox, age 28, and that the couple had a one year old son named Alton.)

About 1852, Frances Bell Knox and James Madison Baskin were married  in Houston County.  In 1853, Frances gave James a daughter,  Fannie E. Baskin.  Another daughter, Sarah “Sallie” E., followed in 1856.

James M. Baskin’s father died in 1856.  About that time he decided to move his family from their home in Houston County.  His adopted son was now seven years old, his daughter three. His wife was probably either pregnant or was caring for their second infant daughter Sarah “Sallie” E., who was born that same year.   Who knows his reasons for uprooting his young family?  The Indian wars were over – south Georgia was secure. The Coffee Road provided a migration route and there was a steady southward flow of settlers.  Perhaps the disposition of his father’s estate incited him to move.  Perhaps he foresaw the coming war and wanted his family farther from north Georgia military objectives, or perhaps he saw more opportunities in the new counties being opened in southern Georgia.

It was in 1856 that Berrien County was cut out of Lowndes County; Levi J. Knight and others were setting boundaries and surveying the new county. James M. Baskin brought his family to the area of Beaverdam Creek in the southernmost part of the new county.  He settled about a mile outside of present day Ray City, GA  on land Lots 470 and 471 in the 10th land district. Tax records from the 1870s show James M. Baskin owned 1080 acres pf land in Berrien county,  relatively valuable land appraised at $1.85 per acre.

1869 Berrien County Map detail showing location of land lots #470 and 471.

1869 Berrien County Map detail showing location of land lots #470 and 471.

Over the next five years three more daughters were added to the Baskin family: Georgia Ann (1857), Martha J. (1859), and Mary J. (1861)

The Civil War came along and James M. Baskin joined the Confederate army, enlisting as a private in the 54th Georgia Infantry. He fought throughout the war and was wounded in the Battle of Atlanta.

After the war, James Baskin returned to farm life.  Over the next ten years he and Frances had five more children.  In all,  James M. Baskin and Frances Bell had 11 children. James and Frances Baskin, and some of their children, were active in the formation of Beaver Dam Baptist church, now known as Ray City Baptist Church.

Children of James Madison Baskin and  Frances Bell:

  1. Baskin, Fannie E. (1853 – 1892) m. William A. K. Giddens
  2. Baskin, Sarah “Sallie” E. (1856 – ) m. Thomas M. Ray, Jr.
  3. Baskin, Georgia Ann (1857 – 1934) m. Leonard L. Roberts
  4. Baskin, Martha J. (1859 – 1950) m. David C. Clements, Dec. 22, 1881
  5. Baskin, Mary J. (1861 – 1902) m. Ulysses A. Knight
  6. Baskin, James B. (1864 – 1943) m. Fannie Ellen Hagan, dau. of John W. Hagan, Dec. 15, 1887
  7. Baskin, Callie D. (1866 – 1890)  m. John T. Smith
  8. Baskin, William H. (1869 – ) m. Mamie Harrell, dau. of John W.
  9. Baskin, Emma (1872 – ) m. George T. Patten
  10. Baskin, Maggie May (1874 – 1898) m. Robert L. Patten
  11. Baskin, Ollie (1876 – ) m. L. H. Dasher

Frances Bell Knox Baskin died on June 3, 1885 at Rays Mill (now Ray City), Berrien County, Georgia.

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

Children of James Madison Baskin and Mary Ann Harrell, – m. 30 DEC 1885 in Lowndes County, Georgia

  1. Baskin, Alonzo L. (1886 – ) b.   Nov. 17, 1886, m. Corine Rodriguez
  2. Baskin, Verdie (1888 – ) b.   Dec. 17, 1888, m. James W. Lovejoy
  3. Baskin, Infant (1891 – 1891)
  4. Baskin, Ruby (1893 – ) b.   May 16, 1893, m. Walter M. Shaw
  5. Baskin, Ruth (1894 – 1922) b.   Dec. 15, 1894, died single, age 22 years
  6. Baskin, John Holmes (1897 – ) b.   Oct. 8, 1897, m. Mrs. Laura Hall Sweat of Waycross

James Madison Baskin lived on his land near Ray City with his second wife until his death on July 7, 1913. Mary Ann Harrell Baskin  died April 29, 1917.

He and both of his wives are buried in the Ray City Cemetery.

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