Golden Anniversary of Pleamon Sirmans and Minnie Clements

Pleamon and Minnie Clements Sirmans  were long time residents of Ray City, Georgia.

They were married on August 23, 1910 in Cook County, Georgia and moved to the Ray City area in 1915.

For a time, Pleamon and Minnie Sirmans made their residence at this Ray City, GA Home.

For a time, Pleamon and Minnie Sirmans made their residence at this Ray City, GA Home. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

From a Newspaper article dated August 1960:

THE CITIZENS PRESENTS——-SENIOR CITIZENS

Living in Ray City, Georgia., since 1915, five years after they were married, Mr. and Mrs. Pleamon N. Sirmans were honored last Sunday by friends and relatives on the occasion of their Golden Wedding Anniversary.Born in Willacoochee, Georgia., Mr. Sirmans attended school there. Mrs. Sirmans was born in Adel, daughter of William Clements, first merchant in Adel.

Mr. Clements bought the turpentine still in Willacoochee and it was there that Minnie Clements and Pleamon Sirmans met.

They were married August 23, 1910 by his uncle, E.L. Moore, a justice of the peace. After moving to Ray City, Mr. Sirmans was a car salesman for a number of years in Nashville and for 15 or 20 years operated a grocery store in Ray City. Ill health forced his retirement about 3 years ago (1957). He is on the City Council.

Mrs. Sirmans retained membership in the Salem Primitive Baptist Church in Adel and Mr. Sirmans is a member of the Ray City Methodist Church. In the family are: F. Burns Sirmans, Merle Sirmans and Mrs. W.H. (Hazel) Bradham all of Ray City; Mrs. J.H. (Hilda) Featherstone of Homestead, FL., and four grandchildren.

In addition to serving on the City Council, Pleamon Serman also served as Mayor of Ray City. Minnie Sirmans kept a cowpen behind their house in Ray City. Milking her cows in the

Pleamon and Minnie Clements Sirmans are buried at New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Grave of Pleamon N. Sirmans

Grave of Pleamon N. Sirmans

Grave of Minnie Clements Sirmans

Grave of Minnie Clements Sirmans

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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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Turpentine in Wiregrass Georgia

Turpentine and naval stores industry became an economic engine for Ray’s Mill, Berrien County and the other counties of Wiregrass Georgia.

Turpentine Still in Thomas County, GA circa 1895

Turpentine Still in Thomas County, GA circa 1895

An  1881 news item sums up the Wiregrass workman’s appraisal of the original growth pine forests.

Columbus Daily Enquirer-Sun, Jan. 15, 1881. Pg 3

— In regard to “The Turpentine Industry,” the Berrien county News says: “This comparatively new industry is attracting much attention in our vicinity.  The people of this section, who in a great measure, own the timber, have allowed it to lie idle and undeveloped, notwithstanding the turpentine is a great source of revenue.  This timber has stood upon the earth for centuries, and it may stand there as much longer, and the owners will derive no more benefit from it than from an equivalent sum of money locked up in a safe for the same length of time.”

As in other Wiregrass communities, turpentine and naval stores became major industries in Ray City, GA.  Robert S. Thigpen, a wealthy resident of Berrien County, GA,  owned a turpentine plant in Ray’s Mill.  The plant, sold in 1898 for $13,000, would have valued at more than $10 million in 2008 dollars.

Among  other Ray City and Berrien County residents who prospered in the industry was Walter “W.D.” Brown, who had a turpentine operation near Ray’s Mill in 1904. Wilson W. Fender  was in the turpentine business, as was Lorenzo D. Carter.  Arthur Shaw and brother-in-law, William Clements,  operated a turpentine still at Willacoochee, Georgia, Brothers Chester Shaw and Lacy Lester Shaw were also involved in the turpentine business.

John Whitford worked for one of the turpentine and naval stores concerns in the area.  His neighbor, Brass McKnight, was employed as “stiller” in the turpentine industry.  Another area turpentine barrel maker was William Watson.  Men like Jessie Norris, Elbert Thomas, John Fox, Levey Jones, Jack Jackson, Harrison McClain, Jessie Williams, Tom Thompson, Jim Stripling, George Taylor, and Daniel Holden and others worked on turpentine farms.  Many of these men may have worked one time or another for Lorenzo D. Carter, a naval stores operator and employer in Ray’s Mill (aka Ray City), GA in the early 1900s.

The firm of Sapp & Fender also conducted turpentine operations in Ray City.  David Asa Sapp was the manager; among his employees in 1917 were Leiland Scott, Si Randolph, Elisha  Graham, George Greene, James Hodges, Ellis Jenkins, Barney Johnson, John Jones, Robert Jones, Ruther Golden Jones, Ira Little, Will Mitchell, John Sam Robinson, Ernest Singleton, Arthur Stripling, Anderson Walker, John Waters, James Wooten, Turner Wooten, Willie Barnes, Arlie Brown and Handy Simpson. The company chauffeur was Henry Groover Page.

The Y. F. Carter Naval Stores concern began operation in Ray City about 1916 and by the 1930s it was the largest firm in the community, where approximately fifty men were employed.  This firm operated over ten crops of boxes, a “crop” consisting of 10,000 trees.  The turpentine rights for these trees were typically leased from local land owners..

Disputes over valuable lumber and turpentine rights sometimes ended up in court.  One such case was that of Shaw v. W.L.  Fender et. al., where the timber on land owned by Francis Marion Shaw  was being worked for turpentine  operations. William Lon Fender was a local turpentine man and in 1905 was treasurer of the South Georgia Turpentine Operators’  Association.

Collecting the turpentine was hard and sometimes dangerous work. The working conditions could be grueling and the pay was  meager.  But the vast, untapped pine forests of the Wiregrass provided abundant employment opportunities for those who could take it.  African-Americans, many sons of former slaves, came to the area to find work in the turpentine and sawmill operations. Other turpentine woodsmen, like Benjamin F. Morehead and Lewis Hudson, were born and raised in the local area of Ray’s Mill, Georgia.

Fire was a constant threat where the highly combustible turpentine rosin was present.  The March 22, 1905 Pensacola Journal related the disparaging ruminations of a Valdosta turpentine man about the low paid laborers and their risky work.

…I sent a negro with a team into the wood some time ago to haul drippings and the negro let the  wagon burn up, even the tongue. He was ‘totin’ the rosin up in a bucket, and I guess threw a match down on a dead pine top. When he looked around the pine top was in a blaze and the rosin-smeared wagon was catching. The negro tried to put it out and finally started the team toward a cypress pond but the wheel became locked against a tree and it was all the darkey could do to save the mules.”

As in other industries, African-American turpentine workers at the turn of the 19th century were subject to poor treatment by their employers. Violence could be the result. One such case was that of Joe Willmont.  Willmont was arrested while working turpentine at Ray’s Mill in May of 1911, where he was hiding out under the alias Will Nelson. Willmont/Nelson had arrived in Ray’s Mill after fleeing an alleged double murder at the West Bay Naval Stores Company in West Bay, Florida.  The killings occurred when supervisors at the Florida company attempted to ‘whip’ Willmont for quitting the company.

According to A. P. Malone, author of Piney Woods Farmers 1850-1900: Jeffersonian Yeomen in an Age of Expanding Commercialism, most black laborers who came to the Wiregrass to work in the sawmill and turpentine operations did not acquire real estate here.  Many lived in turpentine or sawmill “camps,” and moved on to other areas after the available timberlands had been exhausted.  “However, some – perhaps as many as one-fourth – married locally and stayed in the area, often because they had some skills which enabled them to purchase town or farm property. Examples in Berrien County of such individuals are Neil Shipman, Cap Taylor, and Nathan Bridges.”

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