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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Clinch County News
April 23, 1937

Harmon Gaskins – 1808-1878

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ray City History Review

January 14 – time for a brief  review of the year’s posts to date.

The Ray City History Blog noted that in 1947, Ray City, GA celebrated the completion of the new school Gymnasium with a “Queen of the Harvest” contest. 

In 1960, Pleamon Sirmons and Minnie Clements celebrated their Golden Anniversary. Among the accomplishments of Mr. Sirmans, service as a city councilman and Mayor of Ray City.

A visit to New Ramah Cemetery found a pair of deteriorating concrete markers almost illegible. Researching the available clues led to a sketch of Edwin and Sarah Griner. As a young man, Edwin suffered the tragic loss of his siblings – four dead in a week, followed by the death of his mother.

Another interesting burial at New Ramah Cemetery turned up in the obituary of John Martin “Black John” Griner

The 1961 obituary of Tessie Vining Griner was followed up with a brief sketch of her three marriages.

A prompt from a reader led to a follow up story on the Haints of Berrien County and the desperado Ben Furlong whose infamy spread around the globe.

A partial list of Ray City veterans of World War I and their service records, were culled from old Berrien County records.  One interesting veteran was Carlie Lawson, who fought at St. Mihiel in the Battle of the Argonne Forest.

Four Dead in a Week

D. Edwin Griner lived many years in Ray City, Berrien County, GA and is buried there at New Ramah Cemetery.  He was the eldest son of Sarah C. Gaskins  and  Samuel J. Griner and as a young man he lived with his parents and siblings near Nashville, GA.   When D. Edwin Griner was a young man of 17,  his family suffered tragic loss.  In the spring of 1889 in the weeks just before Easter,  four  of the Griner children, Edwin’s siblings, died of measles.

The Berrien County Pioneer
Friday, April 5, 1889
Nashville, Ga.

Mr. Samuel Griner, living some two miles from here, lost three of his children last week from measles. Two of them were twin boys some twelve years of age. The other a little girl some younger which died last Friday night. There seemed to be something miraculous about the little girl’s death, she was neither sick nor cold on Sunday morning, or thirty-six hours after death. Another of Mr. Griner’s children is very low and not expected to live. Mr. and Mrs. Griner has the sincere sympathy of the entire community in their sorrowful bereavement.

The Berrien County Pioneer
Friday, April 12, 1889
Nashville, Ga.

Mr. Sam Griner, of Nashville, lost another one of his children this week from measles. This is the fourth child he has lost from this disease. The bereaved parents have the sympathy of all.

 The Valdosta Times,
Valdosta, Georgia
Saturday, April 13, 1889

Four Dead in a Week. In writing soothing words for a bereaved family after the loss of some of the loved ones, we seldom have to mention more than one or at the most two who have departed this eventful and flickering spark of mortality. But in this instance four of the precious pets of the home of Samuel J. and Sarah C. Griner are gone to answer the summons of the Grand Master of the Universe to be with Him in His kingdom that they may be the more able to behold his glory. In His sojourn on the vale of sorrow He said “suffer little children to come unto me,” and though his will may conflict with the will of frail humanity we must bow in humble submission to Him in all patience, knowing that “the Lord giveth and that the Lord taketh away.” and Job, said “and blessed be the man of the Lord.” Truly our children are jewels in our households but they are only entrusted to care for a very short period by the creator, our Heavenly friend.  Then surely we can of ready mind, restore the jewels to their owner whose loan has caused us so much pleasure. The first of this lovely quarto to obey the death call was little Archie, one of the petted twins who had been the especial pets of his parents and friends for ten years.  Just before his death and when the sweet life was fast going he called his pa and gave his dying instructions concerning a pet dog he and his little brother claimed. “Pa” said he “feed my dog and take good care of him?” And then his eyes closed in the sweet sleep of death. The next to go was little Arthur who died just thirty-six hours later. Like his little twin brother he too had a dying message. The little dog kept constant vigil at the bedside of the little boys and after Archie was gone he knew very well something was not as it use to be. A few minutes before the last little master went away the little pet dog got up, and looked around, reared up on the bedside and wagged his tail and looked at the dying boy’s face who reached out his hand and the dog kissed it a last good by. Turning to his pa he said, “pa there is two boys gone.” On being asked who he replied “us.” He was then asked if he wished to see anybody he said “nobody but Archie.”  And then he called his pa to come near. Soon all was over, and his spirit joined that of his dear brother in paradise.

Next came little Martha aged about seven. She died on the third day after little Arthur. Then the baby remained. Little Rhoda, aged about two years. Faint hopes were expressed that she might recover.  And then the poor almost broken hearted parents were so anxious.

It does seem as if our Heavenly Father is severe on us sometimes when He in His wisdom intends good. Perhaps it is so in this case. For two days her life hung in the balance and did not seem to turn either way. But the hungry pain prayed ceaselessly on her weak vitals and third day after her little sister died she passed away. Oh, what sorrow now dragged upon the poor parents hearts. In one short week they had witnessed the death of four of their precious darlings, and it is only they who’ve felt such pain that can understand their sorrow. May God in His mercy bless them with soothing comfort.

In the Churchyard at Flat Creek Church are four new graves where the loved ones will rest until the morn of the resurrection when they shall rise to be with the general assembly and Church of the first born.

Dear parents, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends, let us prepare to go us there too.

Their cousin,
    W. Henry Griffin

Edwin’s mother, Sarah Gaskins Griner,  could not long survive the loss of four children.  She had suffered with a disability at least since 1880.  Did she fall victim to the measles, did her own health just give out,  or was she simply overcome by grief?  Whatever the cause she, too, had died before the end of 1889.

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Almost Gone ~ Graves of D. Edwin Griner and Sarah Rouse at New Ramah Cemetery

Grave marker of D. Edwin Griner (June 21, 1870 - March 12, 1942), New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia.

Grave marker of D. Edwin Griner (June 21, 1870 – March 12, 1942), New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia.

In the 1930’s D. Edwin Griner  was a miller working at a grist mill in Ray City, GA.  He and his wife, Sarah “Sallie” Rouse grew up in Berrien County, GA and lived for many years in and around Ray City.   They are buried at New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, Berrien County, GA, although their grave markers have become almost illegible.

The cemetery at New Ramah is well tended these days, although the New Ramah Primitive Baptist Church was torn down last year. The concrete markers of Edwin and Sallie Griner have not suffered from neglect, just from the wear of time. Concrete is less durable than granite: Memory less durable than concrete.

Here, then, is a brief tribute to the memory of  Edwin and Sallie Griner:

D. Edwin Griner was born June 21, 1870 in Berrien County, GA, a scion of the earliest pioneer families of Georgia and of Berrien County. He was the eldest son of Sallie Gaskins and Samuel Griner.

His father was Samuel Jackson Griner (1848-1909). He was descended from the Greiner family who came to Georgia with the Salzberger immigration. Edwin’s Great Grandfather, Captain John Griner fought in the Revolutionary War.

His mother, Sarah C. “Sallie” Gaskins, was the daughter of Harmon and Malissa Gaskins, early settlers of Berrien County.  Her father fought in the Battle of Brushy Creek, the last real engagement with the Indians in this region.

Although the grave marker of D. Edwin Griner bears the birthdate of June 21, 1870, he is not recorded in his parents household in the Census of 1870, since the census that year only enumerated “the name of each Person whose place of abode, on 1st day of June, 1870, was in this family.” At the time of his birth, Edwin’s parents were living in the 1148th Georgia Militia District, and posting their mail in Nashville, GA.

Edwin’s father, Samuel J. Griner, worked as a farmer, although at 21 years of age he did not yet have any land of his own – he had $284 in his personal estate. Perhaps he was working the land owned by one of his  many Gaskins in-laws who lived nearby.

Through 1880, Edwin’s father continued to farm in the 1148th Georgia Militia District. Ten-year-old Edwin attended school, as did his younger siblings who were old enough. Although his mother was occupied “keeping house,” she had evidently suffered a disability of some type, for the 1880 census record shows that she was, “Maimed, Crippled, Bedridden, or otherwise disabled.”

On October 22, 1894 D. Edwin Griner married Sarah “Sallie” Rouse in Berrien County, GA.  She was the daughter of Robert and Kizzia Rouse. The couple made their home in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Rays Mill District where the census of 1900 shows they owned a farm near Sallie’s parents and others of the family connection.

D. Edwin Griner and Sallie Rouse were married October 22, 1894 in Berrien County, GA.

D. Edwin Griner and Sallie Rouse were married October 22, 1894 in Berrien County, GA.

In 1910, Edwin  and Sarah Griner were enumerated by census taker Redding D. Swindle there in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Rays Mill District, along with son William, and daughter Sarah V.  The Griners owned a farm, free and clear of mortgage, where Edwin was farming on his own account. Sarah’s family was farming in the same neighborhood. Her brother, Joseph Rouse, was working the farm next door, and also in Joseph’s household was her widowed mother, Kizzie N. Rouse. Nearby, was the farm of another brother, Alfred Rouse.

Some time prior to 1920 D. Edwin Griner moved his family to Clinch County, GA where he owned a farm on the Stockton Road in the Mud Creek District.  Edwin and  son, Willie, did the farming while his Sarah and daughter, Sarah V., kept house.

By 1930, the Griners had moved back to Ray City, Berrien County, GA.  They had a house in town valued at $700.  The household included Edwin, Sarah, and their son,  William, who had lost his wife.    Thelma Sirmans and her boys were renting the place next door, and the blacksmith, Henry Woodard, was another neighbor.  Edwin worked as a miller, a wage employee at a local grist mill.  His gravemarker shows that he was also a Mason, perhaps a member of the Ray City lodge No. 553, or one of the other local lodges.

D. Edwin Griner died March 12, 1942. He was buried at New Ramah Cemetery on Park Street, Ray City, GA.  At his side rests Sarah “Sallie” Rouse Griner.  No date of death is discernible on the concrete headstone marking her grave, but her obituary gives her date of death as January 29, 1951.

Sarah "Sallie" Rouse Griner, New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia.

Sarah “Sallie” Rouse Griner, New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia.

Griner graves at New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, Berrien County, GA. Left: Sarah "Sallie" Rouse Griner. Middle: D. E. Griner. Right: Willie "Bill" Edwin Griner.

Griner graves at New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, Berrien County, GA. Left: Sarah “Sallie” Rouse Griner. Middle: D. E. Griner. Right: Willie “Bill” Edwin Griner.

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