Portrait of Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight

Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight

Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight , Berrien County, GA

Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight , Berrien County, GA

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

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

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

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

According to Folks Huxford,

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

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

Children of Elizabeth Knight and Hardeman Sirmans:

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

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Annie B. Sirmans Once Owned Ray’s Mill

Image detail: Ann Sirmans Matheny, circa 1915. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Image detail: Ann Sirmans Matheny, circa 1915. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Annie B. Sirmans was the granddaughter of Anne Donald Clements and General Levi J. Knight, and the daughter of Elizabeth Knight and Hardeman Sirmans. About 1931, she inherited Ray’s Mill which had been founded by her grandfather and her uncle Thomas M. Ray almost 70 years earlier.

Annie B. Sirmans was born on Christmas day, 25 December 1872 in Berrien County, GA.

In 1880, seven-year-old Annie Sirmans was living with her parents and eight brothers and sisters in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Ray’s Mill district. Also boarding in the Sirmans home were two young girls, Eliza and Mary Hays. Annie’s father was a farmer, and her older brothers assisted with the farm labor.

In 1890, her brother,  Hardy Sirmans, Jr. purchased Ray’s Mill, the grist mill originally constructed on Beaver Dam Creek by his uncle Thomas M. Ray and grandfather, General Levi J. Knight.  Assisted by Mitch Fountain, Hardy Sirmans, Jr. operated the mill until his death in 1931.

As Annie grew older, she continued to live on her parent’s farm. On Sept 21, 1896 her father died leaving her brother, Thomas Hardeman “Hardy” Sirmans, to become the head of the household. The census of 1900 shows Annie Sirmans was still at home in her brother’s household. Her mother and siblings, Bellaria and Joseph, and nephew Daniel Walker Sirmans also shared the house.

In 1905 while in Tennessee, Annie’s brother Joe Sirmans married Olive Pearl Matheny, the daughter of Judith L. Craft and James W. Matheny.  Joe Sirmans brought his bride back to make their home in Willacoochee, GA about 20 miles north of Ray’s Mill.  No doubt it was through this family connection that Annie Sirmans came to know John Chilton Matheny, brother of Olive P. Matheny.  John C. Matheny was thirty-something , with blue eyes and dark hair, average in height and build.  He was a farmer and since age 22 when his father died,  head of the Matheny family, responsible for his mother and siblings.

Four years later, On October 5, 1909 Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny were wedded  in Berrien County, GA.  She was 37, he 35.  It was the first marriage for both.  At first, the newlyweds made their home near the Ray’s Mill community (now Ray City, GA) on the Sirmans home place, now the farm of Annie’s bachelor brother, Hardy Sirmans.  Annie’s mother was still there  at the Sirmans place, as well as her Aunt Mary Ray and nephew Daniel Walker. The census of 1910 shows Hardy Sirmans and John C. Matheny both farming on their own account.

Infant son of Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny, grave marker, October 7, 1912.

Infant son of Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny, grave marker, October 7, 1912. Empire Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Annie may have married late, but within  couple of years she was pregnant.  On October 7, 1912 she gave birth to a baby boy. Sadly, the child died the same day.   The infant was buried near his grand parents, Elizabeth and Hardeman Sirmans,  at Empire Church cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

The following year Annie was again pregnant, and on May 23, 1914 she presented  John C. Matheny with a son, Thomas Hardeman Matheny. The image detail above is from a photograph of Annie and the boy (view the full image), probably taken around 1915, and clearly portrays her great affection for  the child.  But tragedy struck the family again when Thomas died at age two on September 15, 1916.

Thomas Hardeman Matheny, 1914-1916, Empire Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Thomas Hardeman Matheny, 1914-1916, Empire Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Perhaps  the loss was too much for John Matheny to bear;  A notation  on the bottom of his 1917 draft registration written by Perry Thomas Knight observed that John had just returned from the insane asylum.  Annie and John would remain childless for the rest of their lives.

At that time the draft card notes, the Mathenys were making their home in Nashville, GA 10 miles above Ray City, but by the census of  1920  Annie and John Matheny were back at Ray City where they owned a farm on “Settlement Roads” that John worked on his own account.  Annie’s older brother, Hardy Sirmans (Thomas Hardeman Sirmans), lived with the couple and also farmed.  The farm next door was rented by  Annie’s nephew, Daniel Walker Sirmans and his young family.

In the census of 1930,  the Mathenys were still living in the Ray’s Mill Precinct, the 1144th Georgia Militia District.  They owned a home valued at $1000.00.  John continued to work the farm on his own  account: Annie assisted with the farm labor. Annie’s brother Hardy, now 70, still resided with the couple but no longer worked.  The Mathenys had also taken in a boarder, Matthew F. Fender, who worked as a farm laborer.

But the 1930s brought hard times in the life of Annie Sirmans Matheny. Annie’s brother, Hardy Sirmans, died on July 27, 1931.  In 1932, Ann lost her husband: John Chilton Matheny died December 15, 1932. Both men were buried at Empire Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

After the death of Hardy Sirmans, Annie inherited ownership of her family’s gristmill, Ray’s Mill.  Later, the widowed Ann Matheny sold Ray’s Mill to Pollard Fountain, the son of Mitch Fountain who had operated the grist mill with her deceased brother.

Ray's Mill, Ray City, Berrien County, GA

Ray’s Mill, Ray City, Berrien County, GA

Annie Sirmans Matheny died in 1963 and was buried next to her husband at Empire Church Cemetery.

Grave marker of Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny, Empire Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave marker of Annie B. Sirmans and John Chilton Matheny, Empire Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

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