In 1840, Reverend Tillman Dixon Peurifoy was a circuit-riding Methodist preacher on the Troupville Circuit in Lowndes County, GA, which then also encompassed Berrien, Cook, Tift, Lanier and Echols counties. Two years earlier, on April 1, 1838, Peurifoy’s family and slaves had been massacred by Indians in Florida, about 20 miles from Tallahassee, FL.
Troupville was then the seat of government of Lowndes County. Methodist pioneers in Lowndes county had been served from the creation of the county first by riders on the Tallahassee District, then the Lowndes Mission and later, when there were sufficiently strong churches to support at minister, the Troupville Circuit. Among these early Methodist ministers were Josiah Evans, John Slade, George W. Davis, and Robert H. Howren.
The earliest Methodist church in Ray City was organized in 1910, but a Methodist church had been established at Troupville about 1832. Other Methodist churches that would have been on the Troupville Circuit ridden by Reverend Peurifoy included Oak Grove Church, Concord Church, Bethlehem Church, and Salem Church. Pre-dating any of these churches was the annual Methodist revival held at the old Lowndes Camp Ground, later called the Mount Zion Camp Ground.
Tilman Dixon Peurifoy was born January 21, 1809 in Putnam County, GA. At nineteen years of age he was admitted to the Georgia Conference [Methodists], having been converted at the age of fifteen. He was married when a young man to Miss Louisa Ann Bird, daughter of Captain Daniel Bird, of Edgefield, SC. After a few years he moved to Florida and settled in Jefferson County in 1833. The war with the Seminoles was then going on, but from the place of his settlement the nearest Indians were a hundred miles distant, and no apprehensions of danger were felt by him or by any one in that section. Mr. Peurifoy was frequently absent for a long time attending to his preaching appointments.
It was during one of these absences, and he was sixty miles distant attending Quarterly Conference, when the attack, so disastrous and terrible, was made upon his home.
Newspaper accounts document that the attack on the Peurifoy home occurred April 1, 1838. The attack was part of the continuing violence between Native Americans and encroaching pioneer settlers. In Florida, hostilities were greatly escalated in December 1835 by the Dade Massacre, where Seminole Indians resisting forced removal to the West wiped out a force of 110 regular army troops under the command of Major Francis Langhorn Dade. When violence spread across the Wiregrass in 1836 local militia units fought engagements in Lowndes county, 200 federal troops were detailed to Camp Townsend near Franklinville, GA, and conflicts continued into the 1840s.
In terrible grief, Reverend Peurifoy wrote to his Bishop, William Capers, reporting the death of his children and slaves, and the grievous wounds inflicted on his wife. Peurifoy’s tragic letter was published in the Southern Christian Advocate, and the story was picked up by the Raleigh Weekly Standard and other newspapers all across the 24 states.
Raleigh Weekly Standard
June 13, 1838
Murder of a Missionary Family
The Southern Christian Advocate publishes the following letter, giving a moving description of a massacre by the Florida Indians. The writer is Superintendant to the Alachua Mission on the Tallahassee District:
“Dear Brother Capers, I am ruined! While engaged in my labors in the Alachua mission I received a letter bearing awful tidings. It informed me that the Indians had murdered my family! I set out for home, hoping that it might not prove as bad as the letter stated; but O my God, it is, if not even worse! My precious children Lorick Pierce and Elizabeth, were killed and burned up in the house. My dear wife was shot, stabbed and stamped, seemingly to death, in the yard. But after the wretches went to pack up their plunder, she revived and crawled off from the scene of death to suffer a thousand deaths during the dreadful night which she spent alone by the side of a pond bleeding at four bullet holes and more than half a dozen stabs – three deep gashes to the bone on her head and three stabs through the ribs, besides a number of similar cuts and bruises. She is yet living – and O help me to pray that she may still live. My negroes lay dead all about the yard and woods, and my every thing else burned to ashes. Pray for me.
My family was on a short visit to my father-in-law, for the purpose of having some supplies sent up from our plantation to our temporary residence in the mission, and during this brief period the awful catastrophe took place.
T. D. PEURIFOY”
By mid April, newspapers all over the country were reporting on the Peurifoy Massacre and Indian attacks in Florida. On April 19, 1838, the story was published in the Edgefield Advertiser. Edgefield, SC was the birthplace of Mrs. Peurifoy.
April 19, 1838
MORE INDIAN MURDERS.
A gentleman, just arrived from Tallahassee, says the Darien Telegraph, of the 6th inst. informs us that on the night of the 1st inst. a family of the name of Purifoy, were murdered within 20 miles of Tallahassee. The Indians burned the dwelling and two white children in it; two negro women were also killed; and Mrs. Purifoy received two shots through her body and was stabbed by the Indians. She crawled, however, into a thicket, where she concealed herself. Dr. Taylor, of Monticello, stated to our informant, that she could not possibly survive.
The Jacksonville Courier of the 5th inst. says: -By a letter to our excellent Mayor, Col. Dell, from his brother in Alachua county, dated April 1, from the bearer of the letter, Mr. Brooks, our worst apprehensions of farther – indeed, of continued Indian murders, are confirmed. “They killed two Irishmen on the place that Brush cleared on the Micanopy pond.” Signs near Camp Fanning are spoken of. “God only knows what we are to do; but still hope Jesup will be able to relieve us.” Hope deferred; and still farther to be deferred as may be seen by the General’s own showing.
Mr. Brooks gives the further information that two volunteers were fired upon at Suwannee, Old Town – and severely wounded; that Indians have been seen at the Echetokamy Springs [Ichetucknee Springs], and signs about Fort White, and near Newnansville.
Further Particulars. – On Saturday evening last, about dark, a party of Indians, supposed to number 30 or 40, attacked the dwelling of Mr. Purifoy, residing in the vicinity of the previous depredations, murdered to children and three negroes, plundered and set fire to the buildings, and made their escape – the children were burned in the dwelling. Mrs. Purifoy, although severely wounded, miraculously made her escape from the savages. When the attack was made there were none but females about the premises, a fact supposed to have been known to the Indians. Mrs. P. was lying in bed with her two children, heard a noise in her room and on looking up found it filled with Indians, who commenced discharging their rifles, several of them aimed at herself and children. The children it is supposed were killed at once. Mrs. P. received a ball in her shoulder, which passed out at her breast. The savages next commenced hacking and stabbing her with their knives, and inflicted a number of severe wounds on her head and several parts of her body. Their attention was a moment directed from her to a noise made by the servants in an adjoining rom, when Mrs. P. taking advantage of this circumstance escaped to the yard, where she was again shot down, but succeeded in gaining the woods, intending to reach her father’s residence, Capt. Daniel Bird, about two miles distant. Faint from the loss of blood and the severity of wounds, she was unable to proceed more than half a mile, where she was found next morning. Mrs. P. received, we understand, ten distinct wounds, several very sever, but her physician entertains strong hopes of her recovery. – To heighten the catastrophe, Mr. Purifoy, whose children and slaves were slain, was absent from home, fulfilling his ministerial duties.
As soon as the attack was discovered, the troops at Camp Carter, under Capt. Shehee, were sent for, but the Indians had dispersed in three parties and fled. Maj. Taylor with Capt. Newsam’s company joined Capt. S. on Monday morning, and have followed the several trails, but with what success we have not understood.
The house attacked is several miles within the frontier settlements – the houses of most of which are picketed in. We trust the occurrence will awaken the United States authorities to do something more for the protection of our frontier. – Tallahassee Floridian
A longer narrative of the event appeared some 5o years later in a text titled History of Edgefield County: From the Earliest Settlements to 1897 : Biographical and Anecdotical, with Sketches of the Seminole War, Nullification, Secession, Reconstruction, Churches and Literature, with Rolls of All the Companies from Edgefield in the War of Secession, War with Mexico and with the Seminole Indians.
Mrs. Peurifoy was lying quietly and happily upon her bed reading that comforting book, “Heavenly Recognition,” when the door was suddenly opened almost without noise, and a tall Indian, in feathers and war paint, quietly entered the room. The house, which was a double log cabin, with a wide passage between, had been surrounded quietly by a party of fifty or sixty Indians. A negro girl about twelve years of age, who was in the room with Mrs. Peurifoy, quickly understood the situation and tried to make her escape. She immediately darted out of the room between the Indian’s legs as he stood for a moment in the door. She made her escape, but was fearfully wounded in the effort. She was still living near Augusta at the close of the year 1890, and may be living even now, 1891.
Before Mrs. Peurifoy swooned away she remembered seeing the savage kill her daughter, Elisabeth. The fate of her little boy she did not know. When she revived and came to herself she found the room full of Indians, and they were hurriedly eating the ham and potatoes and what other food they were able to find. Hoping that she would not be observed she made a great effort to escape. She was able to get out of the house and had reached the ground when she was shot and the bullet pierced her shoulder blade. Almost at the same time another bullet struck her thigh and she fell forward on her face. The savages then surrounded her, stabbed her in the back and cut her person fearfully. They cut her throat, but a shawl or handkerchief about her neck and shoulders saved her from death. They then beat her over the head with a lightwood knot, but unconsciously she raised her right arm to protect her head, and that was terribly bruised and broken. They did not scalp her. She became unconscious, and they left her for dead. When she came to herself again the savages were plundering the house and setting it on fire. She then crawled towards the kitchen, hoping that her cook, who had nursed her when she was a baby, might be able to help her. The cook herself was dying from wounds she had received, and could only spread her handkerchief on the ground for her mistress to lie on, when she quietly passed away.
After this, suffering from intolerable thirst, Mrs. Peurifoy dragged herself to a swamp or pond three quarters of a mile distant, where she was able to get some water to assuage her thirst. Here she lay that night, and until sunset next day, when she was found by the searching parties. Her father, who lived only a few miles distant, was with the searchers; and he, it seems, had a presentiment that she was still living, and would be found alive. The charred remains of the two children, Elisabeth and Lovick Pierce, were found in the ruins of the building. Mr. Peurifoy, on his return from Conference, was within twenty miles of home before he received any intimation of the terrible disaster. Upon sheets Mrs. Peurifoy was carried to her father’s, near Monticello, Florida. For many weeks she breathed through several of her wounds, and for months she could only be moved and turned upon sheets. After these terrible events they removed to Georgia, and in 1849, came to Edgefield County and settled near Butler Church, where Mr. Peurifoy died June 3rd, 1872, and Mrs. Peurifoy, July 5th, 1878.
Three negroes, besides the cook already mentioned were killed in a house which was used for a church. One woman, who fought them to the last, was killed by having her head beaten to pieces with a lightwood knot. Her baby was saved by the door being thrown down in the scuffle and falling over the cradle in which the baby lay. This child was alive in 1890.
Mr. and Mrs. Peurifoy left several children; Eliza, who married Mr. [Frank] Yarbrough, and Hon. D. B. Peurifoy, named after his grandfather, Captain David Bird. D. B. Peurifoy, familiarly called “Dan,” by his friends, has been a member of the Legislature, but declined to be a candidate in 1890.
Thomas Bird, whom I knew at school, and who, I thought was a young man of very lovely character, was, if I mistake not, a son of Captain David Bird, and brother to Mrs. T. D. Peurifoy.
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