Reuben Marsh, Coffee Road Ferryman

Reuben Marsh was a pioneer settler of that area of old Irwin County which later became Berrien County, GA. This section of south Georgia was opened up for settlement with the cutting of the Coffee Road in 1823.  Marsh was a ferry  operator on the Coffee Road for nearly 20 years.

Independent ferry operators were authorized by the Georgia Legislature to provide river crossings on the Coffee Road.

Independent ferry operators were authorized by the Georgia Legislature to provide river crossings on the Coffee Road.

Reuben Marsh was born about 1793 in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. According to  Roots & Branches Genealogical Society of West Volusia County, Florida, he came with his family to Georgia in about 1800, settling in Telfair County.  His father died there in 1805 at age 31.

In 1812, at age 19 Reuben Marsh married fifteen-year-old Nancy Marshall,  daughter of Matthew Marshall and Margaret King. The young couple first made their home in Telfair County, GA. In 1820, Reuben Marsh was enumerated there as a head of household along with his wife, five children, and one slave.  A white female over age 45 enumerated in his household may have been his widowed mother. It is said his mother died that year.

Reuben Marsh, of Telfair County, was among the fortunate drawers in the Third or 1820 Land Lottery of Georgia announced in the December 19, 1820 edition of the Milledgeville Southern Recorder.  This lottery was to dispose of an immense area of land now covering the southern third of the entire state of Georgia, which had been demanded from the Creek Indians by President Jackson after the Creek War (1814).    A second section of land in northeast Georgia was included. This other, smaller section defined the eastern end of the Cherokee Nation for 12 years. The lottery winners drew lots in Appling, Early, Gwinnett, Habersham, Hall, Rabun, Walton or Irwin county.

According to Huxford’s Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia, Vol. 2, Reuben Marsh moved to Irwin County, GA about 1828 and settled in the 5th district on land Lot 381.  This lot which straddles Willacoochee Creek is where he established a farm and a ferry to serve travelers on the Coffee Road. The Coffee Road had been blazed through the Wiregrass wilderness in 1823 by General John Coffee, and first opened the area of Lowndes County and present day Berrien County to pioneer settlers.  

Enhanced detail of Irwin County survey plat District 5 showing location of land lot 381 on Willacoochee Creek. Reuben Marsh established a ferry over the Willacoochee in 1828.

Enhanced detail of Irwin County survey plat District 5 showing location of land lot 381 on Willacoochee Creek. Reuben Marsh established a ferry over the Willacoochee in 1828 to serve travelers on the Coffee Road.

Marsh, an early settler of Irwin County,  was appointed by an act of the Georgia legislature as one of five Commissioners to establish a site for the county government.   The legislation, signed by Governor Gilmer on December 23, 1830, assigned the location of Irwin’s county seat to Land Lot 255 in the Fourth District, directing that it be named Irwinsville.  This location would have placed the Courthouse near the Ocmulgee River about 40 miles north of Reuben Marsh’s residence. Section Three of the act named Robert H. Dixon, Jacob Young, William Bradford, Daniel Luke, and Reuben Marsh as Commissioners for the town with authority to lay out and sell town lots and to contract for building a courthouse and jail.  The Marshes and Bradfords must have been good neighbors, as their sons and daughters intermarried.

 

On December 23, 1830 Governor George Gilmer signed an Act appointing Reuben Marsh as one of five commissioners to establish the town of Irwinsville as county seat of Irwin County. However, a year later no action had been taken and a new Commission was named.

On December 23, 1830 Governor George Gilmer signed an Act appointing Reuben Marsh as one of five commissioners to establish the town of Irwinsville as county seat of Irwin County. However, a year later no action had been taken and a new Commission was named.

 

This 1830 Act followed more than a decade of indecision and failure of prior commissioners to establish a location for the Irwin courthouse. However, for whatever reason, another year went by without action by the appointed commissioners. On December 22, 1831 Governor Wilson Lumpkin signed yet another act designating “the public site in the county of Irwin…permanently fixed and located on lot number thirty nine, in the third district of said county,” and appointed a new set of Commissioners for the town. The new location on Lot 39, 3rd District shifted the site of the Courthouse about 20 miles to the southeast, just east of the headwaters of the Alapaha River but still no closer to Marsh’s residence.

That year, Reuben Marsh was also serving as a road commissioner for an Irwin County road following along the Ocmulgee River.

At the July term, 1831, an order was passed appointing Ruebin Marsh, John Fussell and Ludd Mobley, road commissioners on road from line of Telfair County up to Big House  Creek at Isaac Stevens’, that Jehu McCall, George R. Reid and Daniel Luke be appointed commissioners from Big House Creek to Pulaski line at Norman McDuffie’s.

This river road started from “the line of Telfair County.”  At that time the boundary of Telfair County extended south of the Ocmulgee River on a line running from Jacksonville, GA due south to the Satilla River.  The Coffee Road followed the Telfair county line  for ten miles south from the Ocmulgee River before the road veered to the southwest to skirt around the headwaters of the Satilla.  The road ran on the south side of the river from the Coffee Road fifteen miles west to Big House Creek, or House Creek,  then on another 24 miles to the Pulaski County Line.

It appears that sometime between 1832 and 1835, Reuben Marsh acquired land Lot 424, 5th District on the Alapaha River, about five miles south of Lot 381 on the Willacoochee. Nashville, GA,  future county seat of Berrien County, GA was about 12 miles south on Coffee Road, situated on Lot 189 in the 10th District of Old Irwin County.

Irwin County tax records show that prior to 1832, Lot 424 was owned by Cornelius Tyson, who would operate a later ferry on the Alapaha River.   By 1835, records of the Irwin County Inferior court indicate Marsh had established a ferry across the Alapaha. In that year a road was constructed from the Irwin courthouse on Lot 39 to Marsh’s Ferry.

At the January Term, 1835 of the Inferior Court [of Irwin County]…Shaderick Griffin, Ruebin Gay and Richard Tucker [were appointed] to lay out and mark road from Irwin courthouse to Alapaha River at Marsh’s ferry.

 

Enhanced Detail of Irwin County District 5 survey plat showing relative location of Lot 381 on Willacoochee Creek and Lot 422 on the Alapaha River.

Enhanced detail of Irwin County District 5 survey plat showing relative location of Lot 381 on Willacoochee Creek and Lot 424 on the Alapaha River, GA.

Unfortunately, Irwin County tax records for the later 1830s aren’t available, but from 1836 onward there are multiple mentions of “Marsh’s Ferry on Alapaha” in the records of the Irwin County Inferior Court.

At January term, 1836 [Irwin County Inferior Court], Daniel Luke, Hezekiah Walker and Mathew Merritt, appointed commissioners on road leading from courthouse to Widow Mobley’s and intersect there with Coffee Road, also Frederick Merritt, Andrew McCelland and Micajah Paulk, appointed commissioners on Coffee road leading from Thomas L. Swain’s ferry to Ruebin Marsh’s ferry on Alapaha.

In 1836 Swain’s Ferry was the Coffee Road crossing over the Ocmulgee River near Jacksonville, GA. Thomas L. Swain had been one of the builders of the 1822 Coffee Road. Swain had a plantation on the north side of the Ocmulgee situated between Jacksonville, GA and Fort Clark, two miles west of the town.   John Clark, later Governor Clark, also had a plantation and house adjacent to the fort.

Thus, Micajah Paulk, Frederick Merritt and Andrew McClelland were responsible for oversight of the approximately 40 mile stretch of the Coffee Road which ran from the Ocmulgee River to Marsh’s Ferry on the Alapaha River. Micajah Paulk’s home was situated on this section of the Coffee road, 10 miles north of Marsh’s Ferry on the Alapaha.

At January adjourned term, 1836, commissioners were authorized to turn the road leading from [Irwin County] courthouse to Ruebin Marsh’s ferry on Alapaha to near John Benefield’s on to Elisha Grantham’s ferry and strike Coffee Road nearest and best way.

Furthermore, later Berrien County tax records show all 490 acres of Lot 424 was in the estate of Reuben Marsh. (This section of Irwin County was cut into Berrien County when Berrien was created in 1856.) The 1872 Berrien County tax record lists Little Berry Marsh, son of Reuben Marsh, as the executor on his father’s estate representing Lot 424.

The year 1836 began yet another period of armed conflict between encroaching pioneer settlers and the Native American occupants of Wiregrass Georgia.  Along the Alapaha River south of Marsh’s Ferry,  Levi J. Knight led a company of white settlers against a band of Native Americans in a skirmish at William Parker’s place.  Historian James Bagley Clements cites another battle in Irwin County, fought at Wavering Pond, also known as the Battle of Gay’s Hammock:

As an illustration, in what is now Wilcox County, but originally Irwin, lived a man by the name of James Brown. He caught an Indian stealing a hog and shot him. The Indians did not molest Brown but went from there about five miles west of Ashburn, now Turner County, at least thirty miles away where lived a family by the name of Willis. The husband was away from home at the time and they killed his wife, mutilating the body severely and took a small baby by the feet and smashed its brains out on a stump. The settlers came together and gave chase, following them south out of the country. From that time until his death Mr. Brown went by the name of (Indian Jim Brown). The lady’s name who was killed was Peggy Willis. The company following these Indians came up with them south of Ashburn on what is known as Hat Creek at a point not far from where the road crosses said creek leading from Irwinville to Inaha. In the company following the Indians was a man named Hobby who was riding a spirited young horse. The Indians were concealed in the swamps of this creek and a battle was fought. Mr. Hobby’s horse became frightened and threw him in the creek where he lost his hat. The horse followed after the horses of the whites and when he appeared among them the whites thought Hobby had been killed but later on he appeared on foot bare-headed and upon relating his experience the creek was then named Hat Creek, by which name it is known to the present time. The settlers followed the Indians from this point on, finally coming up with them at a point on the Albany road at a place now in Worth County, formerly Irwin, at a pond called the  Wavering Pond, where a battle was fought and a majority of the Indians were killed or captured.

An account published in History of Worth County, Georgia adds,

They came upon the Indians at Wavering Pond…while they were cooking breakfast. The Indians were surprised and fled in such haste that a baby was left swinging to a limb. This little baby girl was raised in this county as a slave girl and married a negro. The Indians fled to a hammock, and here a great battle was fought. Two Indian Squaws were captured. A white man by the name of Luke Jenkins, a brother-in-law of John Ford, was left to guard them as prisoners while the company pursued the rest of the Indians. As the sun began to sink in the west, Jenkins, fearing other Indians might come upon him, killed his prisoners and fled.

In the Indian Wars of 1836, Marsh’s Ferry provided crossing over the Alapaha River for Georgia Militia troops moving on the Coffee Road. After the cessation of hostilities in 1840, Reuben Marsh sought payment from the Georgia legislature for services rendered, which in turn sought reimbursement from the federal government. The Georgia Senate took up this billing in session in December, 1840.  The resolution erroneously reports that Reuben Marsh’s ferry was across the Altamaha river, rather than the Alapaha river.

 

1840 Resolution of the Georgia Senate to compensate Reuben Marsh for service to ferry soldiers across the Alapaha river in the Indian Wars. The resolution erroneously refers to the Altamaha river.

1840 Resolution of the Georgia Senate to compensate Reuben Marsh for service to ferry soldiers across the Alapaha river in the Indian Wars. The resolution erroneously refers to the Altamaha river.

Journal of the Senate of the State of Georgia, 1840

MONDAY MORNING, DECEMBER 21, 1840.

Mr. Gordon, Chairman of the Select Committee, which was appointed, laid the following report on the table; which was taken up, read, and agreed to, viz:
– – The United States, – Dr.
To Reuben Marsh, of Irwin county,
1836.        to ferriage of soldiers across the Altamaha River,  $4.18
May 3,      to ferriage of forage for horses,                              24.12
April 11,          do                do                                                 2.–
                                                                                            $30.30

The Select Committee, to whom was referred the claim of Reuben Marsh, of Irwin county, for ferriage of soldiers across the Altamaha River, and for forage supplied to the mounted men, report, that they have examined the account, and find it just, and one that should be paid by the State, and made a charge against the United States, and recommend the following resolution: -Resolved, That the sum of thirty dollars thirty cents, be paid to Reuben Marsh, of Irwin county, for ferriage of soldiers across the Altamaha River, in 1836, and for forage supplied, and that the sum be charged to the United States; and that his Excellency, the Governor, serve his warrant on the Treasury for the same, to be paid out of the Military Fund.

According to Roots & Branches Genealogical Society, oral tradition has it that Reuben Marsh also went into active service with the Georgia Militia during the Indian Wars:

Reuben and Nancy raised 14 children, 13 of whom were born before Reuben joined the Georgia Militia fighting the Indians in the Second Seminole War. He was among a party of soldiers who set up a camp near what is now Astor [ Astor, Volusia County, Florida, is situated on the St. John’s River below Lake George, about 200 miles south of Reuben Marsh’s place on the Alapaha River ]. The story was passed down that Reuben was much impressed with the terrain, the abundant game and mild climate. Family tradition has it that he said that if he lived through the war he was going to come back and settle in Florida. He didn’t make it back. After the war he returned to farming in Irwin County, Georgia. –Roots & Branches Genealogical Society of West Volusia County, Florida.

By 1837, a road from Milledgeville, GA intersected the Coffee Road at Marsh’s Ferry, providing a route from the capitol city of Georgia to Tallahassee, the capitol of Florida.  The 1837 Gazetteer of the State of Georgia reports a stage ran between the two cities once a week. The fare was $25.00. The stage left Milledgeville on Wednesdays and arrived in Tallahassee after five days of travel. The road was destitute of water for many miles.

Milledgeville to Hartford ————- 61     61
                         Jacksonville, ——— 44   105
                         Ferry on Alapahaw – 33   138
      Here you enter Coffee’s Road
                         Thomasville, ——– 68   206
                         Tallahassee, ——– 40    246

James Bagley Clements’ History of Irwin County indicates the Inferior Court of Irwin County continued to authorize Marsh’s Ferry and set rates in 1842:

At the January term, 1842, an order was passed by the Inferior Court establishing a ferry across the Alapaha River at a place known as Marshes Ferry. The rates were fixed as follows: man and horses, twelve and one-half cents; man, horse and cart, twenty-five cents; two-horse wagon, fifty cents; jersey wagons, thirty-seven and one-half cents; mules and horses, 3 cents per head; cattle, 3 cents per head, sheep and hogs, one and one-have cents per head; foot persons, free. Rates to be advertised at ferry.

At same term of court a ferry was established across the Willacoochee where Coffee road crosses said creek and the above rates shall govern said ferry. – History of Irwin County

Reuben Marsh died in Berrien County at age 56 in 1849, leaving Nancy with six minor children. The Berrien County Georgia census records enumerated Nancy Marsh as head of household in 1850. The households of her sons, James Marsh and Henry Marsh were next door.

1850 census Nancy Marshall Marsh, Irwin County,GA

1850 census Nancy Marshall Marsh, Irwin County,GA

Name: Nancy Marsh
Age: 53
Birth Year: abt 1797
Birthplace: Georgia
Home in 1850: Division 44, Irwin, Georgia, USA
Gender: Female
Family Number: 7
Household Members:
Name              Age
Nancy Marsh     53
Little B Marsh    21
Martha Marsh   17
Susanah Marsh 15
Rheubin Marsh 14
Geo W Marsh   12
Marian Marsh   10
Moses Marsh     8

 

Children of Reuben Marsh and Nancy Mary Marshall:

  1. Sarah Marsh, born April 22, 1813, Montgomery, GA; married 10 November 1832 to Jacob A. Bradford  in Telfair Co GA; Committed February 1860, to state sanitorium for long periods of poor health; died,1875; buried Connell Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.
  2. James J. Marsh, blacksmith; born 1815, Telfair County, GA; died of fever June 16, 1879, Sumter County, FL; buried Adamsville Cemetery, Adamsville, FL.
  3. Dr. Henry Marsh, born April 28, 1818, Telfair Co., GA; married Rhoda Bradford; died December 10, 1883, Sumter County, FL; buried Sumterville Cemetery, Sumterville, FL.
  4. Eady Marsh, born 1820, Telfair County, GA; married William Griffin; died date unknown.
  5. Nancy Marsh, born April 22, 1823, Telfair County, GA; married John Ellis Connell,  November 21, 1841 in Irwin County, GA; died April 22, 1866; buried Crossroads Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Adel, GA.
  6. Abigail Marsh, born 1826, Telfair County, GA; married Daniel H. Clanton, August 29, 1847, Irwin County, GA; died date unknown.
  7. John Jasper Marsh, born July 09, 1828, Telfair or Irwin County, GA; married Rebecca Hall November 15, 1846 in Irwin County, GA; died October 8, 1897; buried Fort McCoy Cemetery, Fort McCoy, FL.
  8. Littleberry Marsh, born 1829, Irwin County, GA; died date unknown.
  9. Martha Virginia Marsh, born April 11, 1833, Irwin County, GA; married Sion Hall Pike; died February 20, 1918, Marion County, FL; buried Umatilla Cemetery, Umatilla, FL.
  10. Reuben Marsh, Jr., born April 1, 1834, Irwin County, GA; married Mary Jane Clanton, 1859; died January 26, 1908; buried Bethel Cemetery, Deland, FL.
  11. Susannah Marsh, born April 11, 1835, Irwin County, GA; died date unknown.
  12. George Washington Marsh, born about 1838; died date unknown
  13. Mary Ann Marsh, born 1840; married Nathaniel A.J. Gordon; died date unknown; buried Millwood Cemetery, Reddick, FL.
  14. Moses M. Marsh, born 1842, Irwin County, GA; married Cora O. Bracy, May 25, 1875, Volusia County, FL; died April 29, 1893; buried Beresford Cemetery, DeLandVolusia CountyFlorida

The newsletter of the Roots & Branches Genealogical Society of West Volusia County, Florida gives a detailed sketch of the family.

In 1851 Nancy and the children came to Florida, except for Mary who had married Jacob Bradford and remained in Georgia. The family settled near Ocala in Marion county. Eventually the family scattered… 

Abigail Marsh married and returned to Georgia. Nancy went to Alabama.  James, and Henry moved to Sumter County, FL and Eady (Edith) married and went on to Hillsboro County, FL. John Marsh married Rebecca Hall; they, with his mother Nancy remained in Marion County, FL. Nancy (Marshall) Marsh died in Marion County and is buried in the Ocala City Cemetery.

When the Civil War started all seven of the Marsh boys joined the Confederate army. The brothers joined three Regiments according to their ages.

    • James Marsh, 1st Regiment, Florida Infantry Reserves;
    • Henry Marsh, 1st Regiment, Florida Infantry Reserves;
    • John J. Marsh, Company F, 9th Regiment, Florida Infantry; fought in the Battle of Olustee, Ocean Pond, FL, February 20, 1864.
    • Little B. (aka Littleberry or L.B.) Marsh, 9th Regiment, Florida Infantry;
    • George W. Marsh, 9th Regiment, Florida Infantry;
    • Moses Marsh,  2nd Regiment, Florida Cavalry
    • Reuben Marsh, Jr, 2nd Regiment, Florida Cavalry

Reuben, Jr. with his 18-year-old bride Mary Jane Clanton came to Volusia County where Reuben purchased a Settlers Claim from Bryant Osteen. He built a cabin and a store at Cabbage Bluff on the St. Johns River. Cabbage Bluff was where boats on the river stopped when they could not get into Lake Beresford.

Related Posts:

Marsh’s Ferry, the Lopahaw Bridge and Tyson Ferry

Coffee Road Led to Creation of Lowndes County

Coffee’s Road Passed Seven Miles West of Ray City

 

The Booby Clift Affair in Valdosta

The Clift Affair occurred at the Valdosta Courthouse on Saturday, April 4, 1868.   Much of what has been written about the incident at Valdosta has minimized what would today undoubtedly be categorized as a terrorist attack.

The Clift Affair occurred just days after the Georgia Ku Klux Klan, probably under the leadership of former Confederate General John B. Gordon, began its reign of political terrorism in this state with the murder of Radical organizer George Ashburn at Columbus, GA. (Georgia would later name its largest military training base of WWI and WWII Camp Gordon in honor of General Gordon).     In Valdosta,  group of young white men attempted to detonate an 18 lb keg of gunpowder to disrupt a gathering of freedmen attending a political rally. The speaker, Joseph Wales Clift (derisively referred to as Booby in the southern press), was a Radical candidate for the U.S. Senate seeking the vote of former slaves.  Local public outcry over the Clift Affair in Valdosta, condemning equally the actions of the candidate and the bombers, was led by Richard A. Peeples, a prominent Confederate veteran and lawyer of Valdosta, and former Clerk of the Court of Berrien County, GA.

 

Joseph Wales Clift, circa 1861-1865. Source: Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes, National Archives.

Joseph Wales Clift, circa 1861-1865. Source: Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes, National Archives.

Joseph Wales Clift was born in North Marshfield, Plymouth County, MA. on September 30, 1837. He attended the common schools and Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH. He graduated from the medical school of Harvard University in 1862. He entered the Union Army and was acting surgeon from July 13, 1862, to August 7, 1865, then served in the Army of the Potomac until November 18, 1866. Afterwards he moved to Savannah, GA with his brother, Walter Lovell Clift.  J. W. Clift established a medical practice and Walter L. Clift practiced law.  J. W. Clift joined the Georgia Medical Society and was elected Librarian of the organization in January, 1867. The brothers became activists encouraging freedmen to exercise their right to vote which had been granted in the Sherman Military Bill.  J.W. Clift spoke at a Savannah gathering of several thousand freedmen on March 18, 1867.  On May 25, 1867 the Atlanta Daily Intelligencer announced J. W. Clift  had been appointed to the board of voter registration for the city of Savannah by order of Major General Pope under the Reconstruction Acts. Of the 5,330 voters registered in Savannah that year, 3,061 were African-American. At a meeting for the organization of the Republican Party in Chatham County, J. W. Clift was elected as a delegate to the Republican State Convention to be held July 4, 1867 in Atlanta, GA. Both brothers spoke at the Savannah Republican rally October 21, 1867, attended by about 4000 freedmen according to the Atlanta Daily Intelligencer. W. L. Clift was a delegate to the state constitutional convention.  In early 1868, Dr. J. W. Clift was considered as a Radical candidate for mayor of Savannah, but at a mass meeting of freedmen on March 16. 1868 he was nominated as the Radical candidate for the U. S. Congress.

Hitting the campaign trail, J. W. Clift came to Valdosta, Lowndes County, GA. In Pines and Pioneers, J. Shelton described Cliff’s event here:

A candidate for Congress, J. W. Clift arrived in Valdosta to make a campaign speech. Clift sought the Negro vote, and he scheduled an address for Saturday night, April 4, 1868. Without bothering to secure from the authorities the required permission to speak publicly, Clift began his talk to an audience at the courthouse. There was an explosion, for a group of young Confederate veterans had placed a keg containing a “small modicum of powder” beneath the building. No one was hurt, but the young men succeeded in breaking up the meeting.

Primary sources on the Valdosta bombing attack,  the Valdosta Times and Savannah Daily News and Herald, ensconced the event in a shared language that derides the victims and excuses the perpetrators. language that many references have maintained up to the most recent years.

The political candidate, Dr. J. W. Clift was constantly referred to as a “prowling, sniveling booby,” “vagrant scalawag, ” or “carpet bagger.” The terms scalawag and carpetbagger have sometimes been redefined in the modern narrative as neutral;  scalawags were “southerners who supported Reconstruction” and Carpetbaggers were “northerners who came south after the war to seek their fortune through politics.”  But in 1868, these terms were unquestionably pejorative; carpetbaggers were unscrupulous Yankee profiteers and scalawags were the white southern traitors who collaborated with them and the freedmen.  In a clipping from the South Georgia Times reprinted August 20, 1868 in the Atlanta Constitution, Berrien County bragged that it had no scalawags:   “NO SCALLAWAGS IN BERRIEN! No scalawags in Irwin and Telfair, and that’s the reason no election is ordered for those counties. Y.M.D.C. is organized here, but there is not enough radicalism to keep it lively.” (The Young Men’s Democratic Club was the public political wing of the KKK,) Dr. Clift’s brother, Walter L. Clift, a lawyer and delegate to the state constitutional convention, was referred to as a “little cheese-eyed man” and both the Clift brothers were alternately tagged with the description as “a sour little fellow, with weak, wicked eyes…[and] industrious imbecility.” In an extended tirade, the Thomasville Enterprise referred to Dr. Clift as “a silly, overweening school boy, about to be elevated above his capacity…we were never more astonished at the extreme feebleness and want of prestige and capacity in a candidate for so high an office…Such is the contemptible creature who has the effrontery to ask the colored citizens of this district for their votes to send him to Congress of the United States… an unknown adventurer, destitute of talents, character, courage and every manly attribute – an ignorant, insolent upstart, who in the face of an outraged and indignant community, meanly seeks by falsehood and misrepresentation, by appeals to the prejudices and passions of their newly enfranchised race – by hypocrisy and deceit and every base and contemptible artifice, to obtain a position for which he is neither intellectually, morally, legally or socially qualified. 

White Valdostans asserted that by holding the meeting, Dr. Clift himself precipitated the incident  – that he was acting”illegally” since he did not have the approval of civil authorities, although the entire state was then under military rule and Clift was exercising free speech to address a peaceable assembly.  The Valdosta Times even suggested that J. W. Clift planted the bomb himself, in a diabolical plot to implicate “the poor rebs,”  widen the divide between the “good men” of Lowndes county and the “Negroes,” and create a sensation among his black supporters.

Valdosta Times referred to Clift’s audience as “ a mass of villainy, ignorance and vagabondism,” and the “ignorant and credulous classes.” The Valdosta Times wrote that the gullibility of the freedmen was illustrated in their naive belief of Clift’s statements that “white men would have to pay the tax to educate negro children.

The conspirators were just “some of the boys [who] concluded to have a little fun.”  They only “intended to create a ‘big scare’.

The bomb was just a “prank“…“a small modicum of powder, enough to make a little fume with the aid of fire.” Further, it couldn’t have been a real bomb because it was preposterous that any white man would have risked accidentally blowing himself up in the company of “negroes.

Subsequent reports suggest that the conspirators and their allies, having failed in the full destructive effects of the explosion, further broke up and dispersed the crowd of freedmen by force of arms, surrounding the Courthouse building and holding it throughout the night. At the time of the bombing on Saturday April 4, 1868, Valdosta and all of Georgia was still under the  federal military occupation of Reconstruction, and Federal officers viewed the civil unrest as a collapse of local authority. Albert B. Clark,  Freeman’s Bureau agent at Quitman,  “quickly reported to military headquarters at Thomasville that a riot had occurred and that local authorities were ‘powerless’ to do anything about it.

By Monday, April 6, newspapers all over the country were mentioning the Clift Affair in Valdosta, many attributing the violence to the KKK.

The Philadelphia Age
April 6, 1868
At a Republican meeting at Valdosta, Georgia, Saturday night, a disturbance was caused by the discovery of a keg of powder under the speaker’s desk. The meeting dispersed amid general excitement.

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Janesville, Wisconsin Gazette
April 6, 1868

The Tribune’s special Savannah of the 5th says the Republican meeting at Valdosta yesterday was broken up by a band of regulators of Ku klux Klan. Powder was placed under the building in which Dr. J. W. Cliff, the Republican candidate for Congress was to speak.

A New Georgia Encyclopedia article on Reconstruction violence in Georgia notes   “It is impossible to untangle local vigilante violence from political terrorism by the organized Klan, but it is clear that attacks on blacks became common during 1868. Freedmen’s Bureau agents reported 336 cases of murder or assault with intent to kill on freedmen across the state from January 1 through November 15 of 1868.”

At Valdosta, a number of concerned white residents of  met to discuss the bombing and attorney Richard A. Peeples, was called to the Chair.  Peeples was a former Clerk of the Berrien County Courts.  R. T. Myddleton was appointed Secretary. Following a motion by Col. A. J. Little, Peeples appointed a committee to draft a resolution expressing condemnation of the actions.  The committee, consisting of Henry Burroughs Holliday, Col. A. J. Little, B. F. Moseley, G. T. Hammond,  and M. C. Morgan quickly composed the following:

Whereas one J. W. Clift a candidate for Congress came to this place on Saturday last, and without giving to the civil authorities the notice required by military orders – so as to enable said authorities to have a police in readiness to preserve order – did at night hold a meeting composed of a large number of negroes, many of whom were armed and standing as guard around the house.

And whereas, certain irresponsible parties did, in a most irregular and disgraceful manner disperse and break up said meeting – thereby endangering the lives of many persons – much to the regret of all good citizens,

We the citizens in meeting assembled, do hereby, express our condemnation and dissapproval of said riotous conduct.

˜ ° ˜

On the evening of Monday, April 6, the civil authorities at Valdosta moved to preempt military intervention in the case. The Mayor M. J. Griffin, of Valdosta, ordered the arrest of  five  suspected conspirators in the bombing: A. H. Darnell, J. D. Calhoun. Iverson L. Griffin, B. L. Smith and J. J. Rambo.

A slightly more detailed version of the events in Valdosta, highly sympathetic to “the boys,” was published in the Savannah newspapers.

Savannah Daily News and Herald
April 10, 1868

The Booby Clift Affair in Valdosta

        Our readers have had rumors of a muss of some sort got up by the vagrant scalawag who aspires to represent the negro constituency of this District in Congress. We have heard various statements in regard to the affair, but nothing authentic until we met the following in the Valdosta Times of the 8th inst. The editor says:
        On Saturday night last there was quite a stir in our town. One Clift, surnamed booby, was here to make a speech, to induce the colored people to vote for him. He went illegally to work, having no fear of the military before his eyes, called his meeting, went to speaking, sans ceremonie, without so much as saying “by your leave, Mr. Mayor.” Having placed himself in the wrong by his lawless course, it is not to be wondered that there was as little sympathy for him as for his cause. Some of the boys concluded to have a little fun, and placed under the building a keg in which it was said there was a small modicum of powder, enough to make a little fume with the aid of fire.
        Another version of it is, that it was placed there with the cognizance of the said Clift, surnamed as above, for the purpose of making a finishing stroke to the poor rebs, as thereby and therein they were to be demolished indirectly by the gunpowder, but directly by his masterly strategy. It is idle to suppose that there was any intention on the part of the boys, if they did it, to blow up their friends and relations, some of whom were in the building. They intended a “big scare” and carried out their purpose quite effectively.
        We condemn in the strongest terms we can use, all such proceedings. They are both unlawful and unjustifiable. They tend to harm the cause they would subserve. The negroes will, of course, be inclined to listen to those who will endeavor to persuade them that it was really the intention to blow them up, and thus the breach be widened that good men are endeavoring to close up as far as may be practicable and right. And so far as this goes Clift has been partially successful, if his is the strategy that laid the explosive train.
        Our citizens have had a meeting and condemned this procedure in unqualified terms of disapproval.
        The strong presumption is that this diabolical gunpowder plot was “a weak invention of the enemy” – a resort of the prowling, sniveling Booby to create a sensation and to increase his electioneering capital with his ignorant and credulous classes.
         The idea that the young men of Valdosta would attempt with a handful of powder to blow up such a mass of villainy, ignorance and vagabondism as must have composed Booby’s auditory, is perfectly absurd – especially when it is considered that the Guy Fawkes of the enterprise in exploding the powder, to which no train or fuse was set, must necessarily have blown himself up with the rest. However fearless and self sacrificing the projector of such a plot might be, it is utterly preposterous to suppose that any white man would be willing to be blown to Ballahack or anywhere else, in such company.

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Valdosta Times
April 8, 1868

We are sorry that the Radicals have not sent a man of sense to run as a candidate for Congressional honors in the First Congressional District. The negroes yesterday “damned” Clift “with faint praise.” His speech was a feeble, sickly tirade against somebody or something, or nobody or nothing. Not one of his hearers could tell to-day what he said or what he meant. Some of them seemed to arouse when he said that white men would have to pay the tax to educate negro children. The response of one was “Bress God, brodder, let us pray.’’ The more sensible among them know how to estimate such a pretender. They are not quite so senseless as he took them to be.
Valdosta Times April 8th.

About the accused, this much is known:

  • IVERSON L. GRIFFIN
    Eighteen-year-old Iverson L. Griffin was the son of a wealthy planter and merchant of Valdosta. His father, Thomas B. Griffin, had served as a Confederate state senator of Georgia from 1861-1863 and was therefore disallowed from taking the Oath of Allegiance to restore his U.S. citizenship. His father had been the owner of 12 slaves, including 4 mulatto children under the age of 4. It is also noteworthy that the Mayor of Valdosta at the time was M. J. Griffin; the only M. J. Griffin that appears in the Lowndes County census records of that period is Iverson Griffin’s brother, Marcus J. Griffin.
  • JOHN DANIEL CALHOUN
    At the time of the Clift Affair, 24-year-old John Daniel Calhoun was a deputy sheriff of Lowndes County, GA. Census records suggest he may have been orphaned at an early age. His early childhood was in the household of Harmon Sapp. In the 1860 census, he was enumerated as a teenager in the household of William Bradford, working as a laborer. Also in the Bradford household was Richard Ault, who would later serve as blacksmith for the Berrien Minute Men. By the 1880s Calhoun would move to Berrien County, GA where he farmed in the 1145 Georgia Militia District. In 1905 he was serving as Postmaster in Crossland, GA.
  • ALEXANDER H. DARNELL
    Darnell was a young merchant of Valdosta. He was native of Kentucky and the first record of his presence in Lowndes County is his signature on the Oath of Allegiance to the United States, signed October 18, 1867. He was 25 years old at the time of the Clift incident. He died in Lowndes County in October 1869 from an “abscess of the liver”.
  • JOHN JAMES RAMBO
    Rambo, age 17 at the time of the Clift Affair, was an orphan of Confederate veteran Dr. John Rambo and Mary Ark Ryals. According to The Rambo Family Tree, his parents were both born in England and immigrated to Georgia. His father received his medical degree at the Medical College of Georgia in Atlanta, graduating in 1847. John J. Rambo was born January 18, 1851 in Perrys Mill, Tatnall County, Georgia. After his mother died of brain fever in 1859, his father married a second time to Maria Clifton.    His father was enumerated in 1860 as the owner of 7 enslaved people. During the Civil War, his father served as a surgeon in the 47th Georgia Infantry Regiment, rising to the rank of Major.  His step-mother died on March 14, 1862 His father left the army on September 17, 1862 because of a physical disability. Some time during or prior to 1863, John J. Rambo came with his father to live in Valdosta, leaving his half-brother William in the custody of his Clifton grandparents.  John’s father died in Valdosta about August 28 1864 at the age of 34.  After the Clift Affair in Valdosta,  John and some of his Ryals relatives kidnapped his younger step-brother, William Rambo, and traveled by boat to New York.  There, John J. Rambo studied to become a doctor and took up medical practice in Brooklyn, NY for the remainder of his life.

Mayor Griffin’s quick action was temporarily effective in preventing military intervention. By the time Lt. Bard and Corporal John Murray arrived in Valdosta with a detail of federal soldiers the five suspects were already in civil custody. For the time being the U. S. soldiers took no action. But a week later, after the alleged bombers were released on bond, the soldiers moved over night to arrest them and transported them to Savannah for confinement in the federal barracks. Valdosta Mayor M. J. Griffin protested the military arrests and Thomas B. Griffin, father of Iverson L. Griffin, traveled to Savannah to visit the accused in jail.  The South Georgia Times report of the arrest was reprinted in the Savannah Daily News and Herald, along with an exchange of telegrams between Mayor Griffin and military authorities.

Savannah Daily News and Herald
April 10, 1868

The Military Arrests in Valdosta.
{From the South Georgia Times}
         We are sorry to have to state that Monday night last some of our young men were taken from their beds and immediately hurried off to Savannah by United States troops, we presume to undergo military trial. It is alleged that they were engaged in the gunpowder sport referred to in — last. They have already given bond – the four are under arrest – to appear and answer before the civil tribunals. Our Mayor and Sheriff promptly discharged their duty in the premises. The hardship of the case is, that civil law has but a name. The iron is —ering in into the soil, and liberty and law is fast passing away. These young men are to be tried where perhaps their case is already prejudged, far away from their homes and sympathy and kindness of friends. Time was when such an act would have fired the great heart of the country from one end of is bounds to the other. They should have been tried by their peers of the vicin– — age, and if guilty of the violation of law, punished as that law would punish them, and not at the behest of prejudiced strangers.
        Our Mayor sent the following telegram to Gen. Meade relative to what had been done here. General Meade’s reply is appended. Alas! for the rights for which our fathers fought, and of which we have so much boasted.
         A telegram was received by Mr. M. J. Griffin, at 6 o’clock yesterday, from Mr. T. B. Griffin that “the boys were all comfortably quartered in the barracks, and well cared for.”

Valdosta, April 14, 1868
Major Gen. Meade, Atlanta, Ga.
Sir: – At a late hour last night, without my knowledge, a party of U. S. soldiers arrived here and carried away the following persons, viz. A. H. Darnell, Iverson Griffin, John Calhoun, Ben Smith, John Rambo – who are alleged to have been concerned in a riot at this place on the 4th inst. These men, as Mayor, I had arrested and bound to appear at the Superior Court of this county to answer for the same. I respectfully request to be informed if they were arrested by your order, and if not, that they be released and take their trial before the civil tribunals of the county.
I have the honor to be,
Your Obedient Serv’t
M. J. Griffin,
Mayor Valdosta

Atlanta, GA., April 14th, 1868
M. J. Griffin, Mayor Valdosta:
The persons named in your telegram were arrested by General Meade’s order, and will be held for trial by Military Commission.
R. C. Drum, A. A. G.

In subsequent days state and national newspapers provided additional details.

The Macon Georgia Weekly Telegraph
April 24,1868

The Clift Electioneering Trick At Valdosta.
Yesterday, Lieutenant Bard, United States Army, arrived in this city on the train from Valdosta, having in charge five young men, whom he had arrested there the day previous, on a charge of having been the originators of the disturbance which occurred at that place on last Saturday night week. –
This is the general supposition, as nothing was said by the arresting officer of the why and the wherefore of their being taken into custody. Their names are Alexander H. Darrell, John Calhoun, John Rambo, Benjamin L. Smith and Iverson L. Griffin. They are all young men of good family, and entirely innocent of all blame in the matter. Mr. Calhoun was Deputy Sheriff of Lowndes County, and a faithful and efficient officer.- Mr. Griffin was not present at the Court House on the night in question, and in no way connected with the affair. Thus are innocent men torn from their families and thrust into prison by the strong arm of military power, and made to suffer by the rascality of a Radical carpet-bag adventurer. [Sav. Rep., 15th.

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Indianapolis Journal
April 30, 1868

ATTEMPT TO BLOW UP A REPUBLICAN MEETING – Information has reached the Congressional Committee rooms that on Tuesday last [Saturday, April 4, 1868] an attempt was made to blow up the Court House at Valdosta, Georgia, where a Republican meeting, composed mostly of colored people, was being addressed by Dr. J. W. Clift (white). A keg containing eighteen pounds of powder had been purchased at a store in the place, and a portion take out to make a train, and the remainder of the powder was placed under the Court House. Fortunately the cask was discovered and removed in season, but the train [fuse] was fired, and in an attempt of the persons present to escape, they were fired upon by a gang of white men outside, who had surrounded the building. This party held possession of the place that night, but on the next day they were dispossessed by the military, and the meeting was held.

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Bedford Inquirer
April 17, 1868

Terrorism In The South

      Our Democratic brethern would have the people believe that the South would be a perfect paradise if such men as Meade, Pope, Sickles, Sheridan, &c., were kept away. General Hancock has had several months control of the Southwest trying to carry out a different policy from that of the before-mentioned heroes with what results is indicated in the following article from the Pittsburg Chronicle of a few days ago:
      The dispatches which we published in yesterday’s issue, relative to the brutal murder of Hon. George W. Ashburn, of Columbus, Georgia, by a gang of villains in disguise, and the breaking up of a Republican meeting at Valdosta, Georgia, by a band of regulators of the Ku-Klux Klan, come at the heels of much similar information through letters and newspapers, and show that in portions of the South, a reign of terrorism is in actual operation. It verily seems that these ill-fated people are moved by some malignant fatality to thwart all efforts which look towards their gradual restoration to order and prosperous enterprise. Not satisfied with opposing every political measure that has been devised to enable them to get out of the dreadful slough in which they were left upon the suppression of the rebellion, they are actually engaged in the suicidal business of convulsing society so utterly by lawlessness, as to put a complete quietus upon the views and schemes of all those adventurous Northern capitalists, who had begun seriously to meditate risking their families and fortunes in the South…It is not pleasant for us to be compelled to state that at present, in many Southern States, it would he unsafe for a Northern man to buy property and attempt to carry on any farming or manufacturing enterprise. We have never gone out of our way to give added circulation to the prejudicial stories that are periodically current about the South. Whenever we could, consistently with the truth, present the bright side of the picture, we have cheerfully done so .But it is, in our judgment, perfectly clear from the accumulated information which pours in upon us, that, notwithstanding the cheerful fancies of such military optimists as General Hancock, there is an immense amount of crime perpetrated in Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, and portions of Arkansas and Missouri. How far it would be possible to curb these excesses by military power we cannot determine. It is probably impossible to keep perfect order over so wide an area and amongst a population so thoroughly demoralized by a long and unsuccessful war. Years will elapse before anything bearing the faintest semblance to the orderly and regulated institutions of the North will prevail. Then will slowly set in a desirable immigration, and the wasted and cursed South will begin to recover, to get strength,to enjoy the blessings of law, and to reap the fruits of sensibly directed industry.

The citizens of Lowndes county presented a bond for the release of the alleged bombers to the military authorities in Savannah, but this offer was rejected.

STILL IN CUSTODY – The young men who were arrested by the military at Valdosta, because Dr. Clift attempted to blow himself up with gunpowder, for political capital, are still held in custody at the United States Barracks in this city, awaiting the orders of General Mead.

The men were kept incarcerated through the election of 1868, and for a couple of weeks afterward.  After about a month of confinement, the suspects were finally released on bail secured by citizens of Savannah.

May 8, 1868

Release or the Valdosta Prisoners on Bail.
—Yesterday Messrs. A. H. Darnell, J. D. Calhoun. Iverson L. Griffin, B. L. Smith and J. J. Rambo, who, it will be remembered, were arrested on suspicion of being implicated in the supposed attempt to blowup a Radical meeting at Valdosta, previous to the election, while one Clift was addressing it, were released on bail in the sum of $10,000 each, to appear for trial when summoned by the military authorities. This was done by order of General Meade. Captain J. L. Moseley brought to the city a bond of $60,000 of the citizens of Lowndes county, which Col. Maloney would not accept, and six citizens of Savannah, representing nearly $200,000, offered themselves as security, were accepted and the prisoners released. The late prisoners requested us to publish the following:

Savannah, Ga., May 8, 1868.
Editors News and Herald: We, the Valdosta prisoners, who have been confined in the United States Barracks at this place, wish, through your paper, to render our thanks to Col. Maurice Maloney and his command, for their kind treatment, both to us and to our friends who visited us.
Yours Respectfully,
A. H. Darnell, Iverson L. Griffin, J D. Calhoun, B. L. Smith, J. J. Rambo, Savannah, GA, May 8,1868.

To the Citizens of Savannah: We wish to return our thanks for their kind attention and hospitality while we were in confinement at this place in the United States Barracks, and to the noble-minded merchants who have so generously stood our most unreasonable bail required by the military authorities. We trust we may at some future time be in such a position as to repay the many obligations under which we have been placed.
A. H. Darnell, Iverson L. Griffin, J D. Calhoun, B. L. Smith, J. J. Rambo,

The Georgia Election of April, 1868

The election of 1868 was a four day affair which commenced on April 20. Throughout the voting period, the southern newspapers maintained a cacophony of allegations of voter fraud, corruption, official vote rigging, coercion, voter ignorance, and other irregularities.  By 1867, the conditions of Reconstruction required an Oath of Allegiance to the United States in order to be listed in the register of qualified voters.  White southern men whose national citizenship had been renounced by way of the Ordinance of Secession, oaths of  abjuration of national citizenship, oaths of allegiance to Confederate states,  or acceptance of Confederate citizenship were required to swear a new oath of allegiance to the United States in order to have their national citizenship restored and to qualify for the right to vote. Some whites who had held posts in the Confederate government or the governments of Confederate states were disqualified from having their citizenship restored through the oath of allegiance.

The April 1868 election in Georgia was a vote for state officers and U.S. congressmen and a vote on ratification of of a new state constitution.  When the votes were counted, the new constitution  was approved by a vote of 88,172 to 70,200. In the race for governor Rufus Bullock, defeated Confederate General John B. Gordon 83,527 to 76,356. In the elections for state representatives, Radicals won 84 of the 172 House seats (29 of them black) and came within three seats of taking control of the House. In the state senate, however, the Radicals (3 of them black)  carried a solid majority, with 27 seats to the Democrats’ 17 seats. The Radical believed blacks were entitled to the same political rights and opportunities as whites.

Clift Wins Seat in House of Representatives

Under Reconstruction, the results of the election were subject to certification by the military authorities. In the announcement made by General Meade, Dr. J. W. Clift was declared the winner in the First Congressional District of Georgia.

Milledgeville Southern Recorder
July 7, 1868

Headq’rs Third Military District, Department of Ga., Fla. and Ala.,
Atlanta, Ga., June 30, 1868.

General Orders No. 93,

From the returns made to these Headquarters by the Boards of Registration, of the election held in the State of Georgia for civil officers of said State and for members of Congress, under the provisions of General Orders No. 40, (Paragraph III,) issued from these Headquarters, which election commenced on the 20th day of April, 1868, and continued four days, it appears that in said election the following named persons were elected Representatives to the Congress of the United States from the Congressional

Districts to their names respectively attached, viz :
             First District—J. W. Clift.
             Second District—Nelson Tift, Sr.
             Third District—W. P. Edwards.
             Fourth District–Samuel Gove.
             Fifth District—C. H. Prince.
             Sixth District—John H. Christy.
             Seventh District—P. M. B. Young.

By order of Major General Meade.
R. C. Drum,
Assistant Adjutant General.

Following the ratification of the 14th Amendment by the newly elected General Assembly, the US Congress initially readmitted Georgia to the Union in July 1868.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on July 9, 1868, and granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” which included former slaves recently freed. In addition, it forbids states from denying any person “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” By directly mentioning the role of the states, the 14th Amendment greatly expanded the protection of civil rights to all Americans and is cited in more litigation than any other amendment.

Joseph Wales Clift served in the Fortieth U.S. Congress from July 25, 1868, to March 3, 1869.  

Second Valdosta Attack on Representative Clift

Representative Clift did not enjoy a triumphant return to Valdosta. While passing through the “notorious” town in October 1868, he and his brother, Walter Lovell Clift, were again assaulted and their lives threatened.

Manitowoc Tribune
October 8, 1868

      We are informed that about ten days ago Joseph W. Clift, M. C. [Member of Congress] from Southern Georgia, while riding in the cars on the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad, with his brother was treated in a manner which shows conclusively that free speech is not tolerated in that section of the country.
     When the train stopped at Valdosta a town of one thousand inhabitants, distant from Savannah about one hundred and twenty miles, a large crowd surrounded the cars, and some fifteen or twenty ruffians, armed with heavy sticks, entered the car with the avowed purpose of taking them out and lynching them.
They were only prevented from doing this by the urgent entreaties of several prominent men, one of whom was an elector on the democratic ticket. The argument of the gentleman was, that the ‘boys mustn’t do it because it would injure the party and town!’ The crowd outside becoming weary of waiting for the sport to commence, hooted and yelled ‘Bring the d—-d Radical out!’ and again the roughs seemed determined to accomplish their purpose but were again met by the same objections on the part of their friends and after heaping all manner of insults on them offensive gentlemen were quietly passing through their town, reluctantly relinquished their purpose and left the train. This town Valdosta enjoys an unenviable notoriety as the scene of a Ku-Klux monstralation last April when a band of forty or fifty armed men first placed eighteen pounds of powder under the Court house where Dr. Clift was about to address a Republican meeting and when by accident the infernal plot was discovered just in season to prevent their drunken tool from firing the train [fuse] and hurling three hundred people into eternity, the meeting was broken up by violence, and the mob took and held the town all night threatening to assassinate prominent Republicans and rendering it necessary to send for military aid before the meeting could proceed.
       Several person prominent actors in the April affair, and now under bonds of $10,000 each for their participation in the same were leaders in the recent attack.

Returning to Washington, DC, Clift presented credentials as a Member-elect to the Forty-first Congress but during the recess period actions in Georgia,  including the expulsion of black legislators from the state Assembly and the Camilla Massacre, had resulting in the re-imposition of Reconstruction and federal military jurisdiction for the state under the command of General Alfred H. Terry.  With Georgia’s return to un-reconstructed status, Clift and the other representatives and senators of  Georgia were not allowed to take their seats in the U.S. Congress.  

Thomas Nast sketch from a montage on Reconstruction violence entitled "Southern Justice," Harpers Weekly, March 23, 1867

“Southern Justice,” Thomas Nast sketch of Reconstruction violence, Harpers Weekly, March 23, 1867  depicted a scene in Texas but aptly portrayed the events of the Camilla Massacre which occurred September 19, 1868.

In January 1870, General Terry  removed ex-Confederates from the Georgia General Assembly, replaced them with the Radical runners-up, and then reinstated the expelled black legislators. “Terry’s Purge”established a solid Radical majority in the Georgia legislature, which ratified the Fifteenth Amendment  in February 1870 and chose new senators to send to Washington.

 The 15th Amendment to the Constitution established voting rights for African American men by declaring that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Although ratified on February 3, 1870, the promise of the 15th Amendment would not be fully realized for almost a century. Through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means, Southern states were able to effectively disenfranchise African Americans. It would take the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the majority of African Americans in the South were registered to vote

On July 15, 1870, Georgia became the last former Confederate state to be readmitted to the Union.

Upon the withdrawal of federal military rule from Georgia, the rise of KKK terrorism quickly suppressed the newly gained civil and political rights of southern blacks.  When the midterm election put white supremacists back in control of the state senate, Governor Bullock resigned and fled the state rather than face impeachment by a hostile legislature.

Speaking from the steps of the Continental Hotel, Washington, D. C. on November 29, 1871, Dr. Joseph W. Clift made an impassioned appeal to the Radicals of Georgia, which was printed and circulated in a political leaflet.

 

 An address to the Republicans of Georgia .... Joseph W. Clift. Continental Hotel, Washington, D. C. Washington. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.20602100/

An address to the Republicans of Georgia …. Joseph W. Clift. Continental Hotel, Washington, D. C. Washington. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.20602100/

 

 An address to the Republicans of Georgia .... Joseph W. Clift. Continental Hotel, Washington, D. C. Washington. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.20602100/

An address to the Republicans of Georgia …. Joseph W. Clift. Continental Hotel, Washington, D. C. Washington. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.20602100/

AN ADDRESS TO THE REPUBLICANS OF GEORGIA.

Governor Bullock having resigned, and the duly elected Representatives of the people having decided by an overwhelming majority that a Governor should be elected for the unexpired term, on the 19th of December, 1871, leaving only twenty days to organize a campaign under peculiar circumstances, and understanding that prominent Republicans, whom I honor and respect, have discussed the advisability of sustaining the veto of Governor Conley, by refusing to nominate or vote for any person for Governor, on that day, thereby letting the election go by default, I am prompted to write this letter and advocate, with such vigor as I may, exactly the opposite course of action.

I admit the arguments of my friends:

First . That there is little time to prepare for such a contest.

Second . That Governor Conley’s action, together with the silence of the Republican Representatives, who apparently acquiesced in it, have some force.

Third . Some minds may also be influenced by the depressing influences which still remain as the result of the election last December; and by the additional reason, that challenging for non-payment of the poll-tax, will prevent many colored Republicans from voting.

It has been said to me, let Governor Conley’s position be legal or illegal, it furnishes the Republican party an excellent excuse for not voting, and being badly beaten, the conditions being so unfavorable to their success in the contest. To many, these reasons, with other reasons, may be conclusive against our party running a candidate, and voting December 19; to my mind, they are not good reasons for such a course of action, and I sincerely hope our friends will immediately reconsider the question , and so far from letting the election “go by default,” make the above reasons alleged as sufficient to deter us from contesting the election with our Democratic friends, reasons for putting forth the most earnest and vigorous efforts to organize the party and meet the old enemies of Equal Rights, and exact justice to the colored man fairly and squarely in the teeth, and do brave battle for some pure-minded, honest Republican, who, if elected, will serve out the term with credit to himself and benefit to the State.

I am thoroughly convinced that this is the very best course for us to pursue. The contrary course seems to my mind neither wise, brave, patriotic, or just. We have as much time to work for the election as our opponents.

Governor Conley’s position is at least of doubtful legality, and even if it were technically correct, the voice of the people, speaking through their Representatives, speaks in thunder tones, and most emphatically—and as I think wisely—construes the language of the Constitution of Georgia to mean that a new Governor must be elected next month.

Neither brief time for preparation, Governor Conley’s position, the result of the last election, or the inability of our friends to pay their taxes, should for one instant shut our ears to this call of the people. It must, will, and ought to be obeyed at any cost.

The wishes of the people are entitled to respect, and the individuals, or party, who fail to heed them when so plainly expressed, and on so important a question as the one pending, will do itself great wrong, and suffer in the end accordingly.

I never did, and do not now believe in shirking a fight with Democracy under any pretext however specious, and circumstances however discouraging.

We ought to be ready and willing to meet them whenever and wherever duty calls, and defend the great principles advocated by our party since ’56, and by many good men long before.

These principles are as good and true to-day as ever they were, and the bitter and relentless warfare waged by our unscrupulous opponents against everything which tends to unshackle the hands of the honest laborer of Georgia—and everywhere else—should only nerve every man of us to “gird up his loins” and fight like heroes for the education and elevation of the masses, and the defeat of the cardinal principles of Democracy.

Instead of giving up the fight, let it be continued, and give them no quarter, till the last stronghold of the greatest foe of Liberty, and Equal Rights in this country, shall be carried, and they shall surrender to the cohorts of Freedom, and to the Civilization of the nineteenth Century.

If we would save our “Common School System,” in Georgia, and preserve the liberties of the people, we must fight it out with them, if we all go to our graves before the cause is finally triumphant. But triumphant it will be, and that at no distant time, as sure as a merciful God exists.

The wrongs of our poor people call loudly for redress, and the cry must be heeded, and responded to by all true hearts.

We must play no cowardly part in this fight, nor bow our neck to the Democratic yoke, otherwise we are not worthy the blessings we seek.

Let them, all the leading Republicans now in Atlanta, take Counsel together immediately, and prevail on Gov. Conley, Hon. J. S. Bigby, Ex-Gov. James Johnson, or one of a half dozen other pure and true Republicans of ability, and prominence, to allow the Party to make an effort to place them in the Gubernatorial chair.

Let Governor Conley reconsider his determination, and contest his right to his position before the PEOPLE, that Mighty Tribunal , higher than all courts.

Let us pay our poll taxes , rapidly organize our party in every county, and poll every vote we can; then , if we are ever so badly beaten, we shall have at least the satisfaction of meeting our old enemy face to face, and doing battle valiantly for the right.

It will put us in harness for the greater battle of ’72, in which the principles of justice will surely triumph over oppression and wrong, and the result be perfect Peace.

JOSEPH W. CLIFT.

Continental Hotel, Washington, D. C., Nov. 29, 1871.

 

Joseph Wales Clift died in Rock City Falls, Saratoga County, NY on May 2, 1908; He was buried in the cemetery adjoining the Clift estate, North Marshfield, MA.