Jim Crow Cars on the Georgia & Florida Railroad

The opening of the Georgia and Florida Railroad on October 1, 1908 was a big day for Ray City, GA. For African-Americans, the passenger cars which ran on the Georgia & Florida railroad during the first half of the 20th century reflected the pervasiveness of segregation under  Jim Crow laws.    “Jim Crow legislation extended throughout the South to schools, hotels, restaurants, streetcars, buses, theaters, hospitals, parks, courthouses, and even cemeteries.” Jim Crow laws had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the  Plessy v. Ferguson ruling against a black man who had been arrested for riding a whites-only streetcar in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Georgia & Florida combine car No. 653

Georgia & Florida combine car No. 653 provided segregated riding space for white and black passengers.

First Jim Crow Railroad Cars

Segregated “Jim Crow” railroad cars predated the Civil War.

“The term “Jim Crow” originated in 1832 as the name of a character in a song and dance written by Thomas D. Rice, a well-known minstrel of the time. Minstrel shows were popular before the Civil War and featured white performers in black face portraying “musical, lazy, childlike blacks.”  In the 1830s, “Jim Crow Cars” referred to segregated cars on some northern railroad lines. “

When the Boston and Providence Railroad opened its route to New York, the company’s president  stated that “an appreciable number of the despised race demanded transportation. Scenes of riot and violence took place, and in the then existing state of opinion, it seemed to me that the difficulty could best be met by assigning a special car to our colored citizens.”  Massachusetts newspapers in 1838 reported frequent incidents of Negroes refusing to sit in Jim Crow sections and being forcibly removed from the train. Negroes also sought relief through the legislature and white abolitionists encouraged boycotts. As a result, a joint legislative committee recommended a bill to halt discrimination. Negative reaction followed. Fearing increased integration, one state senator declared that “such legislation would not stop at forcing the mixture of Negroes and whites in railroad cars, but would subsequently be applied to hotels, religious societies, and through all ramifications of society.” The act failed to pass. By 1841, intense efforts to end Jim Crow cars began. Black abolitionists like Frederick Douglass refused to move to the Jim Crow car and did so only after being physically removed from their seats.15 In 1842, the black abolitionist Charles Lenox Redmond went before a committee in the Massachusetts legislature to protest his segregation in a “special railway car for negroes.” Touching upon the right to equality and inherent inferiority without it, Redmond stated that “the wrongs inflicted and injuries received on railroads by person of color . . . do not end with the termination of the route, but in effect, tend to discourage, disparage, and depress this class of citizens.” Protests, changing public opinion, and threats of legislative action caused rail companies in Massachusetts to abandon segregation practices in 1843. 

First Jim Crow Laws

The first Jim Crow laws are those of Florida and Mississippi in 1865 and Texas in 1866. The laws of Florida provided: “That if any negro, mulatto or other person of color shall intrude himself into…any railroad car or other public vehicle set apart for the exclusive accommodation of white people, he shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be sentence to stand in pillory for one hour, or be whipped, not exceeding thirty-nine stripes, or both at the discretion of the jury, nor shall it be lawful for any white person to intrude himself into any railroad car or other public vehicle set apart for the exclusive accommodation of persons of color, under the same penalties” [Laws of Florida, 1865, p. 25].

The law of Mississippi was: “That it shall be unlawful for any officer, station agent, conductor, or employee on any railroad in this State, to allow any freedman, negro or mulatto, to ride in any first-class passenger cars, set apart, or used by, and for white persons; and any person offending against the provisions of this section, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor…shall be fined not less than fifty dollars, nor more than five hundred dollars; and shall be imprisoned in the county jail until such fine, and costs of prosecution are paid; Provided that this section, of this act, shall not apply, in the case of negroes or mulattoes, traveling with their mistresses, in the capacity of nurses” [Laws of Mississippi, 1865, pp. 231-232]

Texas simply provided that “every railroad company shall be required to attach to each passenger train run by said company one car for the special accommodation of Freedmen” [Laws of Texas, 1866, p. 97].
-The Separation of the Races in Public Conveyances

In Georgia, however,  following the 1868 rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the expulsion of elected African-American assemblymen from the Georgia legislature, the Camilla Massacre, and rejection of the Fifteenth Amendment, the state remained under military rule imposed by the U.S. Congress.

The African-American legislators were re-seated by the federal government, and briefly led an agenda concentrated on political and civil rights.  “In 1870, the Georgia legislature enacted a statute requiring the railroads in the state to furnish equal accommodations to all, without regard to race, color or previous condition, provided the same fare was charged.” (Georgia railroads had previously only charged half-fare for transportation of slaves.) Subsequently, similar civil rights legislation emerged in the Reconstruction legislatures in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, and in some northern states.   But in Georgia, this early civil rights movement  was crushed by the end of 1870 as conservatives used terror, intimidation, and the Ku Klux Klan to “redeem” the state. One quarter of the black legislators were killed, threatened, beaten, or jailed. – New Georgia Encyclopedia

Despite prevailing conditions in Georgia, Jim Crow railroad laws seemed to be at an early end  when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875 stating, “That all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude.”  Many northern states enacted their own civil rights legislation, adopting or adapting the language of the federal act. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Civil Rights Cases (1883) that the public accommodation sections of the act were unconstitutional.

With little or no effective legislation regulating civil rights in public transportation, the railroads made their own rules for providing white-only transportation, and segregating African-Americans in “Negro cars” or Jim Crow cars.

By the 1890s,  many southern states enacted legislation called Separate Coach Laws specifically mandating the segregation of railroad cars, although the legislation “did scarcely more than legalize an existing and widespread custom.”  An 1888 photograph of the wreck of the Savannah, Florida & Western Fast Mail Train appears to depict a Jim Crow Combine Car among the wreckage. Although the newspaper accounts of the wreck only mention the engine, tender, baggage car and smoker, one coach, the Pullman sleeper, and the private car of railroad president E. P. Wilbur, it seems unlikely that a Georgia train of this era would not include a “negro car” or Jim Crow car, especially since eight unidentified African-American men were among the victims of the wreck.

The SF&W route ran from Savannah through Valdosta, GA to Bainbridge, with connections to all points. The September 10, 1892 Albany Weekly Herald complimented the Savannah, Florida & Western Railroad for its segregated arrangement of cars:

The S.F.& W.  passenger is one of the best arranged trains in the State. First comes the mail and express car, then the Negroes’ car, then the baggage car and smoker, and last of all the first class coach. All trains would do well to adopt this arrangement with a car between the Negro and white coaches.

White passengers usually rode in the sections furthest from the smoke and coal ash of the steam engine.

In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson upheld the legality of  the railroad “Jim Crow” laws and entrenched the discriminatory principle of “ separate but equal” accommodations for whites and blacks.

Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896
The case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which supplied the occasion for the court’s landmark decision, had its origins in Louisiana. In 1890, Louisiana passed a law calling for “equal but separate” accommodations on railroads for “whites” and “coloreds.” Protesting this law was a group of Creoles and blacks who formed the Citizens Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law. This group arranged a test case along with the railroad that opposed the law  due to the expense of supplying another car.  An “exceedingly light-skinned Negro” named Homer Plessy agreed to test the law. Plessy was subsequently arrested for sitting in the white car.  In his defense, Plessy contended that the Louisiana statute requiring segregation was unconstitutional. On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Plessy’s attorneys argued that if the segregation law was upheld, states could “require separate cars for people with different colors of hair, aliens, or Catholics or Protestants or to require colored people to walk on one side of the street and white people on the other side, or to demand that white men’s homes be painted white and black men’s homes black.”

In 1896, the Supreme Court decided against Plessy. Justice Henry Billings Brown writing for the majority concluded that legislative bodies were “powerless to eradicate racial instincts,” and that “if one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them on the same plane.” Equal rights did not necessitate the “enforced commingling of the two races.”  In his lone and now famous dissent, Justice John Harlan offered that “Our Constitution is color blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”  Thus the notion of “separate but equal” had been judicially sanctioned by the nation’s highest court and Jim Crow had been given a new birth–a new license to “jump up and down.”  State laws mandating racial segregation quickly followed the Plessy ruling ensuring a Jim Crow system in the South. The  most blacks could aspire for was equal accommodations.  – NPS National Historic Landmarks Program

The New Georgia Encyclopedia observes, “These facilities were usually ‘equal’ in name only—in all the states with Jim Crow laws, the facilities that served blacks were almost always inferior to the facilities that served whites.”

Plessy v. Ferguson is widely regarded as one of the worst decisions in U.S. Supreme Court history.[3] – Wikipedia

During the Segregation Era, southern railroads operated segregated trains and depots.

Segregated Train Stations <br /> Signs above the doors at a Georgia railroad station in 1938, read "Colored Men" and "Colored Waiting Room." Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Segregated Train Stations
Signs above the doors at a Georgia railroad station in 1938, read “Colored Men” and “Colored Waiting Room.” Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Railroads built “combine” cars with segregated sections. The Georgia & Florida combine car pictured at the top of the post had a central baggage section separating the car into two passenger sections, one for black passengers and one for whites. In typical combine cars, each passenger section had a cast iron stove and a bathroom. Waste from the bathrooms was deposited directly on the rails. On some rail lines white drunks would be placed in the black car instead of one of those reserved for whites.

In a typical segregated railroad car, there were no luggage racks in the “colored” section, requiring travelers to cram their suitcases around their feet, and the “colored” bathroom was smaller and lacked the amenities of the “whites” bathroom.  “There are all these subtle and not-so-subtle reminders that ‘you are not as good as the people in the other section,’” says Spencer Crew, curator for the National Museum for African American Culture and History.

The story of travel segregation was not limited to trains and if you traveled by bus or boat or even airlines, such divisions were strictly enforced.

Pullman porters and coach attendants were key figures in the African-American community. “These were very well-traveled individuals, so they had a lot of experience and perspective to share with people they talked to as they were traveling across the country,” says Crew. “Their prominence and importance is an important part of the story.”

The following letter submitted to a House committee holding hearings in 1954 on legislation to end segregated travel attested to the substandard condition of railroad cars for African-Americans. It describes conditions in a combine car  travelling from Savannah, GA in which half of the car was used for baggage and the other half for African-American passengers.

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE,
BRANCH OF THE ORANGES AND MAPLEWOOD, N. J.,
East Orange, N. J., May 10, 1954.

Hon. CHARLES A. WOLVERTON,
House of Congress, Washington, DC

The following matters were referred to the director of the Washington Bureau NAACP, Mr. Clarence Mitchell, who advised me that hearing would begin in the House very soon and that you are chairman of the committee covering such matters.

On or about April 22, 1954, Mrs. A. Cherry who lives at 251 Halsted Street, East Orange, N. J., and Mrs. Gertrude Williams who lives at 17 Winthrop Terrace, East Orange, N. J., traveled to Savannah, Ga., on train named Champion of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co. Not knowing their return date no reservations were made for returning.

At the railroad station in Savannah, reservation were made for returning on April 28, 1954, on train named Champion of the Coast Line, car No. 39, seats Nos. 13 and 14.

After getting in this car they found it to be completely segregated, no heat, no water, dirty, being half baggage and a large sign reading “Colored,” which sign was still on the car when they left the train in Newark, N. J.

This we believe to be in violation of Federal laws and we are sure are in violation of the laws of the sovereign State of New Jersey.

Names and addresses of witnesses gladly furnished on request.

Sincerely,

DAVID T. DEGRAFFENREID.

P. S. This letter may be used in evidence if desired. D.T.D

A restored Jim Crow car is now on exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  The car belonged to the Southern Railway, parent company of the Georgia Southern & Florida Railroad which ran from Macon through Valdosta, GA to Palatka, FL.

Despite the institutionalized racism of the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling,

the decision itself was never explicitly overruled.[4] However, a series of subsequent decisions, beginning with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, severely weakened it to the point that it is usually considered to have been de facto overruled.[1] In Brown, the Supreme Court ruled that Plessys “separate but equal” doctrine was unconstitutional in the context of schools and educational facilities.

Students protest segregation at the state capitol building in Atlanta on February 1, 1962. The passage of the federal Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965 ended legal segregation across the nation. - New Georgia Encyclopedia

Students protest segregation at the state capitol building in Atlanta on February 1, 1962. The passage of the federal Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965 ended legal segregation across the nation. – New Georgia Encyclopedia

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Railroad Horror! 1888 Train wreck kills John T. Ray and 30-odd others.

The 1888 train wreck of the Savannah, Florida and Western at Hurricane Trestle near Blackshear, GA  was one of the worst in Georgia history.  The SF&W route ran from Savannah through Valdosta to Bainbridge, with connections to all points. The victims included citizens of Valdosta, GA and John T. Ray, who grew up in Ray’s Mill (nka Ray City), GA.   John T. Ray (1845-1888)  was raised by his uncle Thomas M. Ray, who founded Ray’s Mill along with his father-in-law General Levi J. Knight.

The Railroad Disaster to the West India Mail Near Blackshear, Georgia, an engraving from a photograph published in Harper's Weekly, March 1888.

The Railroad Disaster to the West India Mail Near Blackshear, Georgia, an engraving from a photograph published in Harper’s Weekly, March 1888.

The Hurricane Trestle railroad disaster was widely reported, with accounts and follow-ups appearing in newspapers all over the country from New York to Minnesota.  Transcribed here is an account that appeared in the Valdosta Times, Valdosta, GA:

The Valdosta Times
Saturday, March 24, 1888

Railroad Horror! Frightful Disaster On The Savannah, Florida And Western Railroad Near Blackshear.  Thirty-Odd Passengers Killed! Among Whom Are Some Of Our Colored Citizens. A Broken Axle Causes The Train To Plunge Through Hurricane Trestle.  Full Details Of The Disaster.

We are indebted to visitors to the wreck and to the Jacksonville Times Union for much of the information contained in the following. It was almost impossible to get specials from the scene of the catastrophe owning to the press of railroad work on the wires.

Blackshear, Ga., March 17.  The first section of the fast mail train going west was derailed before reaching Alabaha, one mile from Blackshear.  Upon reaching the trestle the entire train of five cars crashed through.  Twenty persons were killed and as many wounded.  The coaches are a total wreck. The entire community went to the rescue, caring for the dead and wounded. Superintendent Fleming with a large force is now on the spot.

Waycross, Ga.,  March 17.  Train No. 27, the first section of the fast mail came thundering along down the S.F. & W. railroad this morning at the rate of forty miles an hour, when it struck the trestle crossing at Alabaha Creek.  This trestle is fifty feet high and one hundred feet wide.  Engineer Welsh was in charge of the engine and Conductor W.L. Griffin in charge of the train. The engine and tender had nearly reached land on the Jacksonville side of the creek when the front axle of the baggage car breaking, the car left the track followed by others of the train, consisting of the private car of President Wilbur, of the Lehigh Valley road, Pullman car, first and second class coaches, and a baggage and mail car. The coupling between the tender and the baggage car broke loose and the engine reached the other side safely.

In the creek all was chaos and confusion.  The cars were piled on the top of each other,  and the cries of the frightened injured passengers arose from a caldron of death.  Nineteen dead bodies were taken from the wreck as soon as help could be organized.  There may be others yet to be found.

As soon as practical medical aid from Savannah, Jacksonville and Waycross, was secured, and several wrecking trains  soon reached the scene. The passengers were taken out and as far as possible removed to hotels in Waycross.  Hospitals were made of the hotels here,  and the good ladies of the town turned out en masse to attend upon the wounded  and dying.  Six wounded have died since reaching Waycross and it is suspected that others will die to-night. The bodies of eight colored men unidentified are at the depot awaiting identification.  Numerous surgical operations were performed, and at a late hour the patients had all been attended to and wanted for nothing.

Drs. Henry Bacon, Neal Mitchell, John Domingo Fernandez, and Charles J. Kenworthy, all of Jacksonville, FL were the first doctors to arrive at the 1888 train wreck at Hurricane Trestle,near Blackshear, GA

Drs. Henry Bacon, Neal Mitchell, John Domingo Fernandez, and Charles J. Kenworthy, all of Jacksonville, FL were among the doctors to arrive at the 1888 train wreck at Hurricane Trestle,near Blackshear, GA

The physicians who came up from Jacksonville were Drs. Neal Mitchell, J. Kenworthy, J.D. Fernandez and Henry Bacon, and they have done noble work in saving life and aleveing suffering.  They were on the ground before any of the Savannah physicians and have worked like heroes.

Your representative arrived here at 7:15 PM on the Montgomery train, and found the little city wild with excitement. Visiting the “Old School House” first I found there one dead body, that of Mrs. W.A. Shaw of Jacksonville, and eleven wounded persons.  The Grand Central Hotel was next visited and there were found four badly wounded. At the Commercial House there were seven wounded and two dead.  At the depot lay the corpses of eight colored men. At houses scattered through the town are numbers of other wounded.

The number of dead aggregates twenty-seven, about equally divided to color.  Seven of these have died at Waycross this afternoon.  Nineteen persons were killed outright at the wreck, and thirty-five were wounded. The list of those killed outright cannot be verified at this time, on account of the confusion going on at Waycross, to which place the ladies have been brought.  From passengers on the ill-fated train a partial list is made up.

Killed.

Mrs. Marion G. Shaw, of Jacksonville, wife of Captain W.A. Shaw
Miss Mamie Shaw, of Jacksonville, young daughter of the preceding. These two were instantly killed in the wreck.
M.A. Wilbur of South Bethlehem, Pa., son of the President of Lehigh Valley Railroad, who was on the train with his private car.
W.G. Geiger, of Savannah, drummer for Ware Bros. Aged 35.
W. Martin, a tourist of Cleveland Ohio.
Major J. H. Pate, Hawkinsville, Georgia. Aged 60.
John T. Ray and Daughter, of Dale’s Mills, Ga.
P.C. Smith, conductor of the Pullman Car.
Charles Fulton, Master of Transportation of the Brunswick and Western Railway.
W. M. Martin, Union News Company’s agent on the train.
Fred Meynard, of New York.
E.P. Thompson, of North Carolina.
W.H. McGriff, of Savannah, Ga.
Mrs. Kelly, residence unknown.
Cuffie Williams and Charlie Cason, both colored, of Valdosta, Ga.
Caesar Foster and Moses Gale, both colored, of Waycross, Ga.
Charlie Pierce, colored train hand.
One unknown white man, dark hair and brown moustache, supposed to be a minister.
One unknown young lady, white, with plain gold ring, inside which is engraved “P. to K., 1883.”
Also, two unknown negro men and two unknown white men.

Another Account. A Correspondent At Blackshear Describes The Awful Scene.
Special to the Times-Union. Blackshear, March 27.  The first section of fast mail train No. 27, for Jacksonville, leaving Savannah at 7 this morning, fell through the Hurricane Trestle, about a mile and a half east of Blackshear, at 9:30 this morning.  The entire train, consisting of a baggage car, smoker coach, the Pullman car Saxon and the private car Minerva, of President E.P. Wilbur, of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, went down, and all except the last named were totally wrecked. The engine broke loose from its tender and escaped, but the tender went with the cars.  The engine came on to Blackshear and gave the alarm.  All the stores closed and everybody went to the wreck and to the wants of the wounded and dying.

The trestle is about 300 feet long, where the train fell is about 25 feet high. Two thirds of the trestle fell with the cars, and of that standing there is nothing but the columns and the stringers. The cross ties are cut into splinters.

The train caught fire from the stoves, but the heroic presence of mind of Engineer Welsh, who leaped from his engine and put out the fire, prevented an awful cremation.

The accident is supposed to have been caused by a defective truck under the baggage car, and the mark of machinery dragging along the ties extends for several hundred yards beyond the train.

Doctors Smith, Moore, Whatley and Fuller, of Blackshear, were on hand shortly after the accident. Drs. Redding and Walker, of Waycross; Drs. Drawdy and Little, of Jessup, and Dr. William Duncan, of Savannah, were there soon after, and as rapidly as the wounded could be moved they together with the dead, were carried to Waycross.

President Wilbur was fearfully cut in the head and otherwise injured. He never lost consciousness, however, and when the doctors got through sewing up his wounds he dictated a telegram about the accident. His son R.H. Wilbur is badly hurt.

Among those who escaped were Mr. and Mrs. George J. Gould, New York.  Mrs. Gould was bruised some, but not badly.  They are now at the Brown House, in Blackshear.  They were going to Fernandina to meet his father, who is expected there in his yacht.

Blackshear, March 17.  Superintendent Avelihe, Train Dispatcher  Davis and other officials, have a large force of hands at work, but it will be several days before trains can pass. Arrangements have been made for trains to come arround by Brunswick over the E.T.V. & G. and the B & W. roads.

It is a singular coincidence that one year ago the same car of President Wilbur with almost the same party, was derailed near Blackshear. It is also remarkable that during the long years the the Savannah, Florida and Western Railway has been in existence, it has never until to-day killed a passenger.

The ladies of Blackshear did noble service. They were everywhere and many a poor sufferer died easier for their gentle caresses. They never tired but stayed on the ground until the last sufferer was moved. Superintendent Flemming expressed himself as especially grateful to them for their assistance and devotion.

The officials of the railroad were tireless in their efforts to relieve suffering, and all day long, and not until the last wounded one was gone did they turn their attention to the wreck.

A commendable feature of the community was that no discrimination was shown between the races in the efforts to rescue each from the debris and alleviate their suffering, but as fast as found kind hands took care of them.

Many touching scenes were witnessed and many instances of devotion strong in death transpired, as where husband refused to leave wife and wife refused to leave husband.  Newsman Martin saw others were hurt worse than himself, an refused assistance, but in a few minutes he was dead.  Major Pate said he was not hurt and fell back dead.

Mr. Ray, who was killed, was a prominent citizen of Blackshear. He was general manager and part owner of the Dale Saw Mills, near Jesup.  Fears have been entertained for Editor Ellenwood, of the Journal, and Mr. W. J. Balentine, who were expected  home on the ill-fated train.  They have not been found, however, and although unheard from the uneasiness is abated.

In addition to Mr. and Mrs. George J. Gould, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert B. King and Miss Alice Simpson, of New York, are in Blackshear. Miss Simpson is seriously hurt. All the others are in Waycross.

Undertaker Dixon, of Savannah, with about thirty coffins, has arrived and gone on to Waycross. He will take charge of the embalming.

Jno. T. Ray. Mr. Jno. T. Ray, who was killed, was a cousin of Mr. T. M. Ray of Valdosta.  He was a Berrien County boy and raised by the late T.M. Ray, of Ray’s Mill.  Just after the war he married Miss Wilkins the daughter of the late Rev. J.J. Wilkins, of Naylor, in this county, and moved down the road and engaged in railroading. He rose rapidly and then engaged in the saw milling business with J.J. Dale. At the time of his death he was a partner with Dale, Dixon & Co.

His little daughter Mattie, 8 years old, is not dead as at first reported. She has a broken thigh  and other injuries and will likely die.

Mr. T. M. Ray of Valdosta went down to his burial at Blackshear yesterday.

Our Local Dead.

Cuffy Williams and Charles Cason were both colored citizens of Valdosta. Cuffy’s remains were brought up Sunday morning and were buried this afternoon. A large concourse of sorrowing friends and relatives followed his remains to the burying ground.

There was some trouble in Charles Cason, and his relatives did not learn of his death until last night. His remains will likely come up today.

Mr. Charles Fulton, who was killed in the wreck, was recently appointed master of Transportation of the B. & W. He was well known in Valdosta. His aged parents, Mr. and Mrs Silas Fulton, lived many years in Valdosta. He was a brother to Mrs. Patterson of Valdosta.

Biographical Sketch of John T. Ray ~ Ray’s Mill Foundling

After being orphaned at age 6, John T. Ray (1845-1888)  was raised by his uncle Thomas M. Ray, first miller at Ray’s Mill (nka Ray City) in Berrien County, Georgia.  At 16,  he was a soldier in combat in the Civil War. At 25, he worked as an overseer for the railroad, and by age 33  he was a private contractor laying track.  A few years later he was a partner and general manager in the large sawmill concern Dale, Dixon & Co.

View complete text

John T. Ray married Sarah E. Wilkins, and by her had five children.  Sadly, their mother died at age 41.   John T. Ray remarried, but within two months was himself killed in a railroad disaster, leaving his orphaned children in the care of their new step-mother.

Grave marker of Sarah E. Wilkins and John T. Ray, Blackshear City Cemetery, Wayne County, GA

Grave marker of Sarah E. Wilkins and John T. Ray, Blackshear City Cemetery, Wayne County, GA

As the following biography portrays,  John T. Ray overcame adversity in his early life and went on to achieve success in business through hard work.  No doubt, he also benefitted from the social and political connections of his adopted family. His uncle was one of the prominent businessmen of Berrien County, and his adopted grandfather, General Levi J. Knight, was a renowned Indian fighter, military leader and state legislator.

Biographical Souvenir of the States of Georgia and Florida, Containing Biographical Sketches of the Representative Public, and many Early Settled Families in These States. F. A. Battey & Company, 1889]

John T. Ray (deceased) was born in Houston County, Ga, October 28, 1845.  His parents were James and Nancy (Lovett) Ray, both natives of Georgia. The father was a millwright and died in 1852, aged thirty-five years; the mother died in 1847, aged twenty-five.  These parents had two children — our subject and Fannie, now Mrs. Wesley Elmore, but whose first husband’s name was Leonard Dasher. This sketch was taken by the writer from the subject himself, at his home, Friday afternoon, February 24, 1888. It is, indeed, with sad heart and faltering hand that we to-day copy that sketch, and the sadness is greatly increased when we are compelled to record the death of one in the vigor of manhood, who had the surroundings of a pleasant, happy home, and the expectancy of a long and useful life. His death occurred Saturday, March 17, 1888, at the age of forty-two years, four months and nineteen days.  Mr. Ray was one of the victims in the accident on the S. F. & W. Railroad. The account as given by the Hawkinsville Dispatch is as follows: “The fast mail train No. 27, leaving Savannah at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, went through the Hurricane trestle, one and one-half miles east of Blackshear, at half past nine o’clock that morning. The train, consisting of the baggage car and smoker, one coach, the Pullman sleeper, the private car of E. P. Wilbur, is a complete wreck. The accident was caused probably by a broken truck under the front end of the baggage car, causing the cars to leave the track and knock down the trestle. The only car not actually broken into splinters is that of Pres. Wilbur. As soon as the trestle began to go down, the engineer pulled open the throttle of his engine.  The coupling broke between the tender and the baggage car, and the engine bounded over safely, saving the lives of the engineer and his fireman. A gap three hundred feet long was torn out of the trestle, and the train fell about forty feet to the ground below.  Seventeen persons were killed in the crash, and over thirty others wounded, several of whom have died since from their injuries.  The citizens of Blackshear turned out en masse and rendered every assistance possible to the wounded.  Too much praise cannot be given them for their tireless work. The scenes at the wreck, with the groans of the dying and mangled and the silent bodies of the dead, is one never to be forgotten. From the best information we can gather Mr. Ray was instantly killed, but the particulars of his death we have not been able to gather any information.”

The following paragraph is contributed by a friend of the family:

“On the morning of the terrible Hurricane trestle disaster Mr. Ray left his happy wife and little ones to attend to some business in Blackshear, where he owned considerable property. As the writer of this stood in conversation with him but a short time before he boarded the ill-fated train, little did he dream that he was conversing with him for the last time in life. It was some four or five hours after the accident before the intelligence of his death reached us; it fell like a thunder-bolt in our midst. The grief of his heart-broken wife and little ones was heart-rendering indeed, and there was a settled gloom upon the entire community, for Mr. Ray was loved by all classes. Little groups of employees could be seen here and there earnestly discussing the news, many of them hoping, against hope, the intelligence was not true. But when, about dark, it was confirmed beyond a doubt, there was a general out-burst of grief. As many as could get there went to Blackshear the next day to attend his burial in the family burial ground in Blackshear. In his death the community in which he lived sustained a great loss. Honest and upright in all of his dealings, with his fellow-men, and a true friend; he carried with him to his last resting place the love and respect of all who knew him. At the time that the train went through the trestle, Mr. Ray was in the smoking car, having left his little daughter in another coach but a short time before, and was in conversation with the conductor of the train when the crash came. The conductor was not killed. Mr. Ray’s little daughter was seriously wounded and for some time her life was despaired of. She had her thigh broken, and, as it was badly set, it had to be re-broken after it had begun to knit, but she has almost entirely recovered from her injuries. His bereaved young wife has been true to her duties and untiring in her devotion to the little ones who were so unexpectedly left to her for counsel and guidance, and the sincere prayer of the writer of these lines is that God may bless her and help her in training them up aright.           A Friend.”

When a little over sixteen years of age, Mr. Ray enlisted (spring of 1862) in the Eighteenth Georgia battalion, and served until the close of the war. As a soldier, as well as a citizen, he had an enviable record. He never missed a roll-call except for three days, when he was indisposed from jaundice. He did not receive a wound in all that time. He took part in the siege of  Battery Wagner, on Morris Island, and his last battle was at Sailor’s Creek, but three days before the war closed (April 6, 1865); he was captured and carried to Point Lookout, where he remained three months as prisoner. He was released June 27, and arrived in Savannah July 5, 1865. His first business was shoveling on the railroad, which he continued three months, when he was promoted to second boss, which continued four years. The next three years he served as blacksmith and wheelwright; the next year he served as contractor for building a railroad for a saw-mill, then “woodsing” for a saw-mill. He then went into the saw-milling business with Capt. Grace, continued two years, and next located at Dale’s Mills and became a partner with “Dale, Dixon & Co.,” and was in that firm until death closed his labors. His life is an excellent illustration of what can be accomplished where there is will and determination. He began life without capital and with scarcely anything beyond an unlimited amount of energy and pluck, and from a poor boy he rose to an enviable position among the wealthy and respected of a large circle of acquaintances. His life is an epitome of what can be accomplished when honesty, industry and integrity are the principles that give direction.

John Ray was married first in 1866, to Miss Sarah E., daughter of John Wilkins, of Terrell County, Ga. Five children came to bless that union, viz: Charles M., Beula L., Joseph D., Mattie L. and Thomas D. Mrs. (Wilkins) Ray died in 1887, aged forty-one. Mr. Ray’s second marriage was to Miss Georgia I. Mingledorf, of Effingham County, Ga., January 15, 1888. Mr. Ray was a member in good standing of the Masonic order. Mrs. Ray is a member of the Methodist Church.

Berrien Minute Men and Civil War Stories

Found the following account by Alexander Paris Perham concerning General Levi J. Knight’s Berrien Minute Men and the execution of Elbert J. Chapman in the March 22, 1887 edition of the Atlanta Constitution:

THE STORY OF OLD YALLER

As Told by an Officer in Command of the Zhooting Jquad. [sic]
    One of the first of the Constitution’s War Stories was an account of the execution of “Yaller Jacket” or “Old Yaller” for desertion.  Below is an account written by Captain A.P. Perham of the Quitman Free Press. Captain Perham commanded the squad that executed Old Yaller. He says:
Chapman was the man’s proper name, but we called him “Old Yaller” on account of the peculiar color of his hair, beard, and complexion. This nickname was given very soon after he enlisted, and he was known by no other, except on the roll of his company. I think he came from the northeastern portion of Berrien County. At any rate he belonged to the “Berrien Minute Men,” the company that General Levi J. Knight carried into service.
During the second year of the war, the Twenty-ninth and Thirtieth Georgia Regiment were ordered from Savannah to Jacksonville to repel the enemy, whom it was thought were trying to effect a landing at that point.  Returning a few weeks later  “Yaller” stepped off the train at the station on the Savannah, Florida, and Western railroad nearest his home — probably Naylor, and went to see his family.
He was reported “absent without leave,” and when he returned to his command at Savannah, he was placed in the guard tent and charges were preferred against him. It was from the guard tent that he deserted and went home the second time.
After staying home a short while he joined a cavalry command and went west.  It is said that he was in several engagements and fought bravely, and this fact was made known to the court martial that tried him.
A few months before the fall of Vicksburg the troops from Savannah were ordered to the west, and soon after reaching Mississippi, a man by the name of Bill Warren who belonged to Company I, twenty-ninth Georgia regiment discovered “Yaller” in a cavalry company and reported the fact to Colonel Young. “Yaller” was arrested and soon after tried by court martial; I think at Canton. There was probably not a day nor night, from the time of his trial until he was executed, that he could not have easily escaped.
During the retreat from Yazoo to Jackson he made great complaint that he could not keep his guard together, and on the retreat from Jackson he procured a cow bell, and it is a fact, that with this he often collected the scattered, retreating and tired men, who should have been taking care of him.
At Morton the army rested somewhat demoralized, discouraged

 [text obscured]

forehead. Life’s pathway has not aways been strewn with flowers for me, nor yet have thorns continually beset me. My experience has probably been similar in a general way to that of most others, but I do not believe that there are many who have passed through what I did on that memorable day. The army understood the situation and knew the evidence and circumstances surrounding the whole case. We were all aware that Chapman had not deserted the “cause” and was simply being shot that discipline might be enforced. His execution could not, under these circumstances,  have the desired effect. It was a military mistake instead of a “military necessity.”
The condemned man stated to the writer that he left the guard tent at Savannah because he thought injustice was being done him, but that thought of deserting to the enemy never entered his mind. Chapman had a wife and several children in Berrien county. Perhaps some of our old war friends, the Knights or the Lastingers can tell us what became of them.
During the sad and solemn march from the camp to the place of execution the condemned man assured the guard and the officer in command the he had nothing but the kindest feelings for us, and appreciated the fact that we were doing our duty. “Old Yaller” was a stranger to fear and met his death and terrible preparations  for his execution in the coolest and most perfectly indifferent manner possible. There was no blanching of the cheek, no trembling of the knees, no excitement of any kind visible about the man. He possessed a certain kind of manhood that enabled him to meet the grim monster without a tremor and apparently without a fear. At the time of Chapman’s execution I was second lieutenant of company F twenty-ninth Georgia regiment, and have given the facts as I remember them.

A. P. Perham

Southern Georgia: Railroad Pamphlet

An interesting 1881 commercial pamphlet promoting the opening of the section.

Originally the Savannah, Florida & Western Railway through Valdosta, GA was known as the Atlantic & Gulf railroad. At the time the A&G was constructed from Screven to Thomasville in 1860, the seat of Lowndes county was at Troupville, GA, situated in the fork of the Withlacoochee River and the Little River. But when the A&G was routed through the community of Valdosta, bypassing Troupville by four miles, the residents transferred the county seat to Valdosta.

According to Georgia’s Railroad History & Heritage, by Steve Story, “Henry Bradley Plant bought the A&G in 1879 at a foreclosure sale and renamed it the Savannah, Florida, and Western Railway. At the time it consisted of a 237-mile main line from Savannah to Bainbridge with branches adding up to a total of 350 miles of track.”

Southern Georgia: A Pamphlet  - 1881

Southern Georgia: A Pamphlet – 1881

Southern Georgia: A pamphlet published under the auspices of the Savannah, Florida & Western Railway, Brunswick & Albany Rail Road, and Macon & Brunswick Rail Road

A PAMPHLET

PUBLISHED UNDER AUSPICES OF THE

Savannah, Florida & Western Railway,
Brunswick & Albany Rail Road.

AND

Macon & Brunswick Rail Road.

COMPILED BY

JOSEPH TILLMAN, Editor, and C. P. GOODYEAR, Associate Editor,

Of “WAYCROSS REPORTER.”

CONTAINING VALUABLE INFORMATION TO

Farmers, Naval Stores Manufacturers, Timber Men,
Lumber Manufacturers, Fruit Growers, Vegetable
Growers, Tourists, Invalids, Pleasure Seekers,
Travellers, Parties Seeking New Homes,

All who desire to better their condition.

1881.

While the railroads tended to exaggerate the desirability of newly opened land in order to build commercial trade, the pamphlet gives insight into the activities of settlers and residents in Berrien, Lanier, and other south Georgia counties.

The Railroad System of South Georgia.

The Savannah, Florida and Western, Macon and Brunswick and Brunswick and Albany Railroads constitute the railway communications of South Georgia.

The Savannah, Florida and Western Railway, starting at Savannah, the second cotton port in importance in the South, traverses the whole of Southern Georgia to Bainbridge on the Flint river, 237 miles, with an Albany branch from Thomasville, 58 miles, a Florida division from DuPont, Ga., to Live Oak, Fla., 48 miles, and a division from Waycross, Ga., to Jacksonville, Fla., 74 miles long, making a total of 417 miles under its management

The Florida division will soon be extended south through the whole length of the Peninsula of Florida to a port on the Gulf coast, some 260 miles, and the main line will also soon be extended across the Chattahoochee river to western connections with New Orleans and other points. This road has long had the greater portion of the Western travel of pleasure-seekers and invalids to Florida, and offers them the coming season, through its Waycross division, not only the shortest route, but rapid traveling in the f1nest coaches that modern skill has devised, to Jacksonville, the terminus of the Waycross division, the Metropolis of Florida, situated upon the lovely St. John’s river, famed far and wide for its ample and excellent hotels, rapidly growing in commercial importance and population, the key to the vast territory drained by the St. John’s and Indian rivers, and containing in city and suburbs a population of 13,500.

****

The Savannah, Florida and Western Railway Company, in connection with the Southern Express Company, steamers on the St. John’s river and steamships at Savannah and Charleston, and rail communication North and West, through Savannah, Jesup and Albany, makes a specialty of transportation of fruits, vegetables and all classes of perishable agricultural products to Northern and Western markets, in cars specially adapted to the purpose, by fast passenger trains. Savannah and Brunswick have regular and ample steamship and packet communication with New York and other Northern cities, and the extension of these lines West, as detailed in a description of these roads, will within the next eighteen months add to the facilities already detailed tenfold.

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