Professor Avera Lived Near Ray City, GA

 

 

Image detail: William Green Avera, circa 1905. Image courtesy of Berrien County Historical Society, http://berriencounty.smugmug.com/

William Green “Bill” Avera

 

Bill Avera was a lifelong educator of Berrien county who lived in the vicinity of Ray City, GA. He was born August 1, 1855, in  Clinch County Georgia. His father was Stephen Willis Avera and his mother was Martha Elizabeth Aikins. William Green Avera was the oldest of eleven children, his brothers and sisters being  Winnie Ann, Polly Ann, Sarah O’Neal, Daniel M., Lyman H., Phebe V., Lou, Junius H., Cordelia and Martha.

Upon the organization of Berrien County,  Stephen and Martha Avera brought their young son to establish the family homestead in the new county in 1856. During the Civil War, Bill’s father enlisted and became a soldier of Company E of the Fifty-fourth Georgia Infantry. Stephen Avera saw action defending Atlanta from Sherman’s approach and later in the battles at Jonesboro, Franklin, Murfreesboro and Nashville. The war ended while he was at home in Berrien County on detached duty.  After the war, Bill’s father continued to farm in Berrien County.  In 1877 Bill Avera married and established a household of his own near Ray City, GA.

The home of William Green Avera was located about five miles northeast of Ray City, GA.

In addition to his work as a teacher and superintendent William Green Avera worked for teacher education, being frequently involved in the organization and presentation of “teacher institutes.” In the spring of 1895, Avera co-presented with James Rembert Anthony at a teacher institute held at Sparks, GA, on Saturday, March 16, 1895, their presentation: “Grammar, the Actual and Relative Importance of Parsing and Diagramming.” J. R. Anthony was a teacher from Valdosta, GA. Among others on the program was Marcus S. Patten, who presented “Reading: Teaching to read using Holmes as the text.”

In his 1913 work, A History of Savannah and South Georgia, Volume 2, author William Harden gave the following account of William Green Avera:

   PROF. WILLIAM GREEN AVERA. The career of a man who for the greater part of a life time has been identified with the training and education of the youth is always one of the most valuable assets of a community. Probably no educator in south Georgia has been so long or so closely connected with educational progress and the practical work of the schools as the present superintendent of the Berrien county schools, Prof. William Green Avera. He belongs to a family of pioneer Georgians, and was born on a farm in Clinch county, the 1st of August, 1855.

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  Reared in a good home and trained to habits of industry, William G. Avera early manifested special inclination for study and the pursuit of knowledge, and made the best of his early opportunities of schooling. He has been a lifelong student, and when he was eighteen he was entrusted with his first school, located three miles east of Nashville. For thirty-three years, an entire generation, he was in the active work of the schoolroom, and he taught children and children’s children during that time. The aggregate length of his service out of those thirty-three years was twenty-five full years, a third of a long lifetime. In 1907  professor Avera was elected superintendent of the Berrien county schools, and by re-elections has since served continuously in that office. His administration has been marked by many improvements in the county educational system.

   In 1877 Professor Avera was united in marriage with Miss Eliza J. Sirmans. Mrs. Avera was born in Berrien county, daughter of Abner and Frances (Sutton) Sirmans. She died at Sparks in 1905. In 1911 Professor Avera married Margaret McMillan, a native of Berrien county and daughter of Randall McMillan. The following children were born to Professor Avera by his first marriage, namely: Sirman W., Marcus D., Bryant F., Aaron G., Alice J., Homer C., Abner J., Willis M., Lona, and Lula. Marcus D., Homer C., Abner J., and Lula are now deceased. Aaron G. married Fannie Key, now deceased, and has one son, William. Sirman W. married Annie Young and has a daughter named Georgia. Bryant F. married Mary Patton. Alice J. is the wife of William T. Parr, and has four children, J. W.,Stella, Saren and Gladys. Lona married Austin Avera, son of I. C. Avera, sheriff of Berrien county.

   In 1878 Professor Avera settled on a farm eight miles southeast of Nashville, and that was the home of his family until 1904, when it was temporarily removed to Sparks that the children might have the benefit of the superior educational advantages available in the Sparks Collegiate institute there. Prof. Avera’s present home is at Nashville, the county seat of Berrien county. He still owns the old home where all of his children were born and reared, and where his beloved deceased wife and children are buried. Sacred is the memory of this home to the man who has given the best years of his life to the educational and moral upbuilding of this section of Georgia. 

   Professor Avera and wife are members of the Primitive Baptist church, and in politics he is a Democrat.

 

More About Troupville, GA and the Withlacoochee River

Montgomery M. Folsom

Montgomery M. Folsom, from his 1889 book, Scraps of Song and Southern Scenes.

Found this 1889 account of the history of  Troupville, GA by erstwhile Wiregrass historian, poet, and humorous writer Montgomery M. Folsom.  Folsom starts his tale at the headwaters of the Okolocoochee and Withlacoochee rivers. He traces them down to their connection with the Withlacoochee, at which point Troupville was founded. As the government seat, Troupville was the center of legal and civic activity for Lowndes County (see An Antebellum Trial at Troupville). Troupville was also an important center of commerce and social life for the pioneer settlers of Lowndes County, like Levi J. Knight, who established the first community near the site of present day Ray City, GA.  The Knights settled on another branch of the Withlacoochee;  Beaverdam creek, at Ray City, flows into Cat Creek on down to the Withlacoochee.  For a while the Troupville elders thought the Withlacoochee would provide a navigable waterway to the Gulf of Mexico. Even the Georgia Legislature in 1833 entertained “A bill to be entitled, an act to lay out, open, define and make navigable the Withlocoochey river, from Joyce’s ferry, on said river, to the Florida Line”, Joyce’s ferry being the Withlacoochee river crossing of the Coffee Road. But it was not to be.

Atlanta Constitution, January 29, 1889, Pg 12.

THE WITHLACOOCHEE RIVER.
VALDOSTA, Ga., January 19. -[Special.]- Away up near the northern limit of the great wiregrass section there is a big cypress swamp. They call them bays there. From this bay emerges a little stream of claret colored water. This is near Peckville, and close to the corner of Worth, Irwin, and Dooly counties. This is the head of the Ockolocoochee, Little river.
    Farther eastward, some ten or fifteen miles, there is another bay from which emerges a restless current that goes rushing away toward the south, fretting among the pine boles, resting among the silent solitudes of the mysterious swamps, the Alapaha.
    About midway between these streams, some twenty miles below their heads, the Withlacoochee steals stealthily out of the depths of a brambly brake and glides noiselessly away, like some black serpent of the swamps winding in and out among the barrens.
    The Ockolocoochee curves and twines among the pine-clad ridges, receiving the tribute of some lesser stream at every turn. Ty Ty, Warrior, Big Indian on the West, No-Man’s-Friend, Frank’s creek from the east, till it reaches Troupville. It is, properly, the river, despite the fact that its name is lost after its confluence with the Withlacoochee. It is like the wedding of a great big strapping wiregrass girl with a short, stout, presumptive little man.
    The Ockolochoochee is the stream for fishing. Along the snowy margin of its glistening sand-bars the red-belly, the perfection of perch; and in its placid eddies, beneath the shadow of the tupeloes, the red-horse sucker, chief of all the carp tribe; abound in strength and numbers sufficient to gratify the most inveterate of anglers.
    New river gives the Withlacoochee a good start, and it swerves away to receive the tribute of half a dozen streams on its tortuous course. From its fountain head it is dark and forbidding, and the secrets of its black waters are preserved most faithfully.
    Away back in the olden days when Lowndes county was as big as Poland, an act was passed by the Georgia legislature, appointing a commission to select an appropriate place for a county site. Franklinville had been its capital, but was not near enough to the center. As the legend goes, Big Billy Knight and Big Billy Folsom were appointed.
    These two worthies, one from the pimple hills of the Ockolocoochee, and the other from the saw palmetto flats of the Withlacoochee; decided that the most appropriate point was right in the fork of the two rivers. They had an idea that the river would be navigable that high up, even above the point where the Alapaha disappears and runs underground a mile before uniting with the Withlacoochee.
    So it came about that where the wine-red waters or the Ockolocoochee and the black current of the Withlacoochee meet at the end of a long sandbar and go tumbling and writhing, eddying and curving down the long reach of moss-grown trees, like two huge serpents struggling for the mastery, the plat of a town was drawn, and it was called after Georgia’s great chevelier governor, “Troupville,” with a strong accent on the “ville.” They had not learned to say “Troupvul” then, and it was such a high sounding title that they lingered lovingly on the pronunciation.
    The town grew apace. It enjoyed what the modern’s call a boom. Land lots sold rapidly, and settlers came rushing in, mainly the Smiths. Lowndes county has ever been prolific in the smith line. Owen Smith, Old Billy Smith, Young Billy Smith, all sorts of Smiths, even down to our Hamp, who so ably represents that historic name in the present pushing metropolis Valdosta.
One of the Smith’s built a tavern, and another Smith set up in business, and young Dr. Briggs, who came from the north, broken in business, but full of energy and ability, and laid the foundation of that prosperity that has long distinguished the Briggs and the Converse families.
    Troupville only suffered one inconvenience. To get to town three-fourths of the population had either to cross the river of the east or the river of the west and half the time, during the winter and spring, these rivers were raging with freshets, the bridges were afloat and were frequently swept away.
   One thing more hindered her prosperity. At the only season when the main river was navigable, the Old Nick, himself, couldn’t navigate it. So it transpired that the only freighted barge that ever tempted its tempestuous tide was a flat boat that went down the river to the Suwanee, thence down that river to Cedar Keys.
    It never returned.
    The boatmen sold the vessel and cargo and walked home.
    Life was too short to navigate that crooked stream, with its sunken logs and treacherous sands, and the hope of water transportation was abandoned.
    Among those who settled in Troupville and left behind many momentous memories, was Morgan Goodgame Swain, a burly blacksmith from Emanuel, who was ever ready for a fight, frolic or a footrace. He stood six feet three and weighed over two hundred without  pound of surplus flesh. As handsome as a Greek god he was gifted with herculean strength and a heart that was generous and true. He erected his forge on the bank of the Ockolockochee, and his wife took possession of the tavern. Becky, she was lord above, and Morz was lord below.
    The town of Valdosta was laid off when the old Atlantic and Gulf Railroad was built, about the opening of the war. Brooks and Echols had been cut off from Lowndes, and the county site was moved four miles southeast of Troupville to Valdosta. A great many of the buildings were moved bodily. And now there is not one brick upon another to tell the story of Troupville. A pile of white rocks marks the spot of Swain’s old forge, and some weather beaten mulberry trees still bud and blossom around the old square where stood the tavern. Aside from these there is nothing left to keep alive the cherished hopes that once animated the soul of Troupville.
   The Withlacoochee still glides along to meet the Ockolocoochee, and the land that lies between them, once town property, is now a barren waste, overgrown with somber pines, solitary tufts of bear grass whose white crests wave to and fro in ghostly suggestiveness in the twilight of summer evenings when the whip-poor-wills chant their weird melodies among the lonely thickets.
    Around the once populous portion of the town lies a waste of sedgy fields that are barren and unproductive. The half-wild goats browse among the fennels and briars. “Ichabod” is written in lichen crusted letters, and desolation reigns supreme.
                 MONTGOMERY M. FOLSOM.

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Reverend William A. Knight at old Troupville, GA

An article from the July 17, 1910 edition of the Atlanta Constitution tells the tale of some “Historic Georgia Towns That Exist No Longer.”  In the mid 1800s Troupville was the county seat of Lowndes County, GA and was the center of commerce for the region. Among the prominent Lowndes settlers who frequented the town was Reverend William A. Knight. He was the religious leader of many of the Primitive Baptist churches in the area and the father of Levi J. Knight,  earliest pioneer to settle at the site of present day Ray City, Berrien County, GA.

Troupville

“The town was named for the Honorable George M. Troup and was a place of prominence with comfortable residences, mills, workshops and stores. Immense crops of corn and other produce were made. ‘Uncle Billie Smith’ was an interesting character in this old town and was numbered among the early settlers, together with the Varnedoes, Goldwires, Platts, Dr. Ashley, Isaac De Lyon, Dashers, Francises, Roundtrees, Reverend William A. Knight, John and Jacob Bryan, William Sharpe, Major Simmons, William and J. Deas”

“The overflow of the rivers rendered this place doubtful as to health, chills and fever grew frequent in the fall, and from time to time removals occasionally occurred to more healthful localities until this once-recognized town was a deserted spot, all caused by the beautiful rivers flowing on as tranquilly to their destinations as if nothing had happened to the dead town that nestled so close to its waters.”

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William A. Knight Giddens marries Mary Hall

 

Recent reseach encountered the marriage certificate of William A. K. Giddens and Mary Hall. The significance of the  documentation is that many Internet histories list her name as Mary Hale.

William Anderson Knight Giddens was born January 3, 1851, in Lowndes (nka Berrien) County, Georgia. He was the son of William Moses Giddens and Elizabeth Edmonson.  He was the great grandson of William Anderson Knight, patriarch of the Knight family that first settled the area now know as Ray City, GA.

William A.K. Giddens first married Fannie E. Baskins,  born November 25, 1853 in Lowndes County, Georgia. William and Fannie made their home in Berrien County and raised their family there.   The couple was married nearly 40 years. Fannie E. Baskins died May 26, 1892 in Rays Mill, Berrien County, Georgia.

Ten years later, William A.K. Giddens remarried.

The marriage of William K. Giddens and Mary Hall was cut short by her death in 1904.

William Anderson Knight Giddens and his two brides are all buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia.

John Gaskins ~ Berrien Cattleman

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

Although the Gaskins were a bit remote from those settlers who homesteaded in the area around Beverdam Creek, they became well connected with the settlement there that grew to become Ray City.

The Gaskins and Knights  came to the area about 1825,  around the time Lowndes County was created by the Georgia Legislature out of parts of Irwin County. The Clements followed about 1832.  Fisher Gaskins, William Clements and William A. Knight, the patriarchs of these families, were all sons of Revolutionary Soldiers, and all experienced in opening new counties.

One son of John Gaskins married Sarah Knight, a daughter of General Levi J. Knight.  Another married a daughter of David G. Clements. (Four of Gaskins’ sons married women of the Sirmans family.) Daughter Emily Gaskins married Joseph Newbern, son of Etheldred Dryden Newbern .

John Gaskins and his brothers, Harmon and William, served in  Captain Levi J. Knight’s Company  in the Indian Wars 1836-1838 and fought at the Battle of Brushy Creek.  At least one of his sons served in Knight’s  Berrien Minutemen  during the Civil War.

The Gaskins were very successful cattlemen of Berrien county (formerly Lowndes). Georgia historian Folks Huxford wrote this about Fisher Gaskins:

“When he moved to Florida, he left much of his herds behind in Georgia to be looked after by his sons, John, William, and Harmon who by that time were grown.  These herds multiplied and in turn, other herds were formed and placed about at various points in what is now Clinch, Echols and Lowndes counties and over in Florida, under the management of herdsmen, who for their services were paid at the end of the year a percentage of the proceeds of the cattle sold that year.  The beef cattle were driven to Savannah and other distant places each year and sold. This arrangement with the herds and herdsmen continued with the elder Gaskins making periodic visits of inspection until his death, after which the three sons in Georgia received the Georgia herds in a division of the estate.”

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Primitive Baptists at Ray City

A recent document discovery at Ray City Community Library, Ray City, GA was the minutes of the 1962 Union Primitive Baptist Association.

The settlers of the Wiregrass in Lowndes and Berrien county, Georgia were predominantly of the Primitive Baptist faith.  Union Church (aka Burnt Church) on the Alapaha River served the families of early settlers like William A. Knight and his son Levi J. Knight. Primitive Baptist churches became a part of many communities. In 1913, the Knight descendants built New Ramah Primitive Baptist church at Ray City.

Just a few of the Ray City People who were Primitive Baptists:
Cassie Lee Hall, Arrin Horn Guthrie, Effie Shaw Clements, Alfred F. Fender, Minnie Clements Sirmans, Aden Boyd, Elizabeth Skinner Register.

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