John Franklin Clements

John Franklin Clements (1810 – 1864)

Grave of John F. Clements, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

Grave of John F. Clements, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

John F. Clements, his parents, and brother David C. Clements were among the earlier pioneer families that settled the vicinity of Georgia now known as Ray City, Berrien County. The Clements arrived here some time around 1832.  “The Knights were no doubt responsible for their coming, since they and the Clementses had been neighbors in Wayne County (now Brantley County), and Ann, [John F. Clements’] sister in 1827 had married Levi J. Knight, whose parents had moved to this area a couple of years earlier” – Nell Patten Roquemore

John F. Clements was born October 7, 1810 in Wayne County, GA , a son of William and Elizabeth Clements. As he was growing up his family lived in a part of Wayne county that was later cut into Brantley County. The Clements farm was situated near the Old Post Road, one of the early roads in south Georgia.

Next door to the Clements’ farm lived their friends and future in-laws, the Knights. William Clements had settled his family on land adjacent to the farm of William Anderson Knight, and the two became good friends. William A. Knight, patriarch of the Knight family, was among the very first settlers of Wayne County, having arrived there just after the creation of the county, about 1803.  Knight was one of five commissioners empowered by the Georgia Legislature to determine the site of the county seat in the new county, and “when it was done it was located on lands owned by Mr. Knight and by William Clements.” The county seat was named Waynesville.

John F. Clements and his siblings grew up with the sons and daughters of William A. Knight. In late 1827 John F. Clements’ widowed sister, Mary Ann Clements Herrin, married Levi J. Knight in Wayne CountyMr. and Mrs. L.J. Knight set out to homestead in Lowndes county (now Berrien) on Beaverdam creek, at the present site of Ray City, GA.

In Wayne County, John F. Clements served as Tax Collector  for the two year term from 1830-32. He was elected February 12, 1830, with his father William Clements putting up a surety bond along with William Flowers.   Shortly after John’s term as tax collector expired, the entire Clements family followed the Knights and made the move west to Lowndes County, GA.  He took up residence in Mattox’s District, although tax records do not show he acquired land of his own there. Other Lowndes County settlers in this district included David Bell, James Price, Aaron Mattox, Etheldred Newbern, John Jones, Jr., Michael Peterson, John Peacock, Thomas Giddens, George Hunt, and Frederic McGiddery. In 1832, John F. Clements was a fortunate drawer in the Cherokee Land Lottery, drawing Lot 124, 28th District, 3rd Section, Cherokee County.  Lowndes county tax records from 1834-1844 show John F. Clements owned 400 acres of oak and hardwood land in Cherokee County.

During the Indian Wars (Second Seminole War) John F. Clements served in Levi J. Knight’s Independent Company of Lowndes County, appearing on a company muster roll from August 15 to October 15,  1838. Knight’s Company fought at the Skirmish at William Parker’s Place, and Actions on Little River, among other local engagements.

John’s father, William Clements, died in March of 1837. It is said that he is buried in an unmarked grave  in Union Church Cemetery, (now in Lanier County, GA).  John served as the administrator of his father’s estate.

1837-oct-21-southern-recorder-john-f-clements_administrator

John F. Clements appointed administrator of the estate of William Clement.

Southern Recorder
October 31, 1837

Four Months after date, application will be made to the honorable the Inferior Court of Lowndes county, when sitting for ordinary purposes, for leave to sell the land and negroes belonging to the estate of William Clements, late of said county, deceased.  John F. Clements, Adm’r.

 

In 1840, John F. Clements was enumerated in Lowndes County. He was 30 years old. His household included another white  male, age 40-something, a young slave woman and a slave girl.  Neighbors included John Lee, John Roberts, Benjamin Sirmans and John Knight. Later that year he married Nancy Patten, a daughter of James M. Patten and Elizabeth Lee, sister of Jehu Patten. 

John F. Clement served on the Lowndes County Grand Jury of 1841 which was convened in Troupville, GA, seat of Lowndes County, in May, 1841 under Judge Carlton B. Cole. Levi J. Knight served as foreman of the jury.   The jury criticized the condition of roads in the county and the past-due collections for the sale of lots in the town of Troupville. The jury allowed tax collector Norman Campbell thirty dollars, forty-two-cents and three mills for his insolvent list for the year 1839.

By 1844, John F. Clements had also acquired 245 acres in the 10th  District of Lowndes County. He was also administering 490 acres in Rabun County and 550 acres in Wayne County on behalf of his father

By 1850, John F. Clements owned 980 acres in Lowndes County, 50 of which were improved. The cash value of the farm was assessed at $500, and Clements owned another $50 in equipment and machinery. His livestock included 4 horses, 37 milch cows, 87 other cattle, 21 sheep, and 100 swine, valued at $1000 taken all together. He had on hand 300 bushels of Indian corn, 40 bushels of wheat, 1 bale of cotton at 400 pounds, 20 bushels of sweet potatoes, 50 lbs of butter, and $125 worth of meat. His neighbors were Aaron Knight, Aden Boyd, Henry Tison and William Giddings.

In 1856, the Clements and their neighbors were cut out of Lowndes county and into the newly created Berrien County.

When the Civil War started, John F. Clements was about 49 years old. The 1864 Census for Reorganizing the Georgia Militia  enumerated John F. Clements in the 1144th Georgia Militia District.  His age was given and 52 years, 7 months.  The 1864 Census for Re-organizing the Georgia Militia was a statewide census of all white males between the ages of 16 and 60 who were not at the time in the service of the Confederate States of America. Based on a law passed by the Georgia Legislature in December 1863 to provide for the protection of women, children, and invalids living at home,  the 1864 census was a list of  men who were able to serve in local militia companies and perform such home-front duties as might be required of them. Possibly John F. Clements was mustered into the 5th Georgia Reserves, Company L.  Military records show a J. F. Clements, 1st corporal of Company L paroled May 1, 1865 following the Confederate surrender.

john-f-clements-5-georgia-reserves

John F. Clements died on September 23, 1864 at age 54. He was buried at Union Church Cemetery, Milltown (now Lakeland, GA).  Levi J. Knight assisted the widow Nancy Clements with the administration of the estate. At the time of his death, the Clements farm place was on six hundred and six acres of land situated on parts of Lots of Land No. 381, 356, and 335 in the 10th District of Berrien. His widow, Nancy Clements, was left to run their farm, provide for the six of their children who were still at home, and care for her aged mother.

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John F. Studstill Was Wanted in Arkansas

John F. Studstill assisted his father, William Hustus Studstill, with Berrien County tax collections in 1909.

John F. Studstill assisted his father, William Hustus Studstill, with Berrien County tax collections in 1909. Image detail courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

John Franklin Studstill was a wanted man.

John F. Studstill, subject of previous posts,  was a son of William Hustus Studstill,  Tax Collector for Berrien County in the early 1900s.

From about 1907 to 1909 John F. Studstill assisted his father in the tax collector’s office, until irregularities were discovered in the bookkeeping.  Studstill first fled to Macon, GA where he attempted to obtain an automobile on false financial documents.  He then made his way through Valdosta to Jacksonville, FL before appearing in Texas and Arkansas where he continued his financial frauds. He was finally captured at Bowling Green, FL.

While being transported back from Florida Studstill escaped from custody at Rays Mill, GA.(See Embezzler Son of Illiterate Tax Collector Escapes Detectives at Ray’s Mill, GA) Previous posts ( More on John F. Studstill ~ Ray City Fugitive) told how Studstill operated his frauds and made his escape at Rays Mill, GA.

On June 6, 1909, The Atlanta Constitution reported how Studstill was captured again at his home near Milltown (now Lakeland, GA), but managed to escape from the authorities a second time.

The Atlanta Constitution. 6 Jun 1909.

STUDSTILL TOO SMART FOR GEORGIA OFFICERS
   Daring Escape by the Young Financier of Berrien County
Valdosta, Ga., June 5 –John F. Studstill, the young financier of Berrien county, Georgia, who is wanted at Macon, Ga. Ashmore, Ark, and other places on charges of forgery, today made a daring escape from Officers Shaw and Watson of Milltown.
    Two weeks ago Studstill cleverly eluded two detectives and escaped.
    Today he was discovered playing with his children. Half clad, he went through an opening in the ceiling of his house and jumped from a back window. Making use of a neighbor’s horse and buggy, he was quickly out of reach of the officers.

By mid-June word was out that John F. Studstill was also wanted in Arkansas. The Atlanta Georgian & News, June 19, 1909 reported the charges.

The Atlanta Georgian & News, June 19, 1909 reported that John F. Studstill of Berrien County was wanted in Arkansas.

The Atlanta Georgian & News, June 19, 1909 reported that John F. Studstill of Berrien County was wanted in Arkansas.

The Atlanta Georgian & News
June 19, 1909

WANTED IN ARKANSAS

South Georgian Said to Have Fleeced Bank.

     Valdosta, June 19. –  L. A. Byrne, a prominent attorney, of Texarkana, Ark., which was victimized recently by John F. Studstill, of Berrien county, is in this section today trying to get possession of certificates of deposit representing several thousand dollars, which it is alleged Studstill obtained through fraud, and which it is believed he still has.
     Studstill, it is charged, went to Arkansas some time since and represented that he was worth a large sum of money, and wanted to buy farm lands.  He traded for a valuable plantation, giving a check for $5,000 on a Jacksonville, Fla., bank.  Altho this check was returned unpaid in due course of time, it appeared in the meantime to give him an established credit in the little town of Ashdown, which in the interval he proceeded to use.   He gave to each of the two banks there a check on the Jacksonville bank for $1,500 each, drawing from one of them $25 in cash and from the other $40.  Both  banks gave him certificates of deposit for the balance and Studstill then disappeared.  A few days later the $5,000 check was returned marked “no good,” and then the banks knew they were stuck.

It is not yet clear how Studstill managed to resolve his financial and legal issues, but he stayed in the area until his death in 1950.

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Embezzler Son of Illiterate Tax Collector Escapes Detectives at Ray’s Mill, GA

Read more about Ray City, GA history at http://raycity.pbworks.com/

On April 3, 1909 the Atlanta Georgian and News reported charges of malfeasance against the office of the Berrien County Tax Collector,  W.H. Studstill.   By today’s standards it seems difficult to believe, but just 100 year’s ago the Berrien tax collector was an illiterate who could not sign his own name.

All of this may have only indirectly affected Ray’s Mill residents, in that they and all other Berrien County tax payers were the victims of  the embezzlement. But a follow-up article (below)  from the Atlanta Constitution carries the drama to the Ray’s Mill stage.

 Atlanta Georgian and News
April 3, 1909


SHORTAGE IS CHARGED

Berrien Tax Collector Makes Affidavit.

    Nashville, Ga., April 3. – Tax Collector W.H. Studstill may be called upon to make good an alleged claim of $913 which is charged against him. A year ago Studstill’s bondsmen made good a shortage of several hundred dollars, after Studstill had sacrificed all his property. The county authorities permitted Studstill to continue in office to the end of his term, January 1, 1909, with the understanding that Silas and R.W. Tygart, of Nashville, have charge of the affairs of the  office.
When Messers Tygart undertook to collect the Atlantic Coast Line Railway Company’s taxes the company answered by stating that they had forwarded their check  for the amount during the latter part of December, and  that it had been paid, indorsed [sic] by W. H. Studstill, tax collector of Berrien county, per John F. Studstill, at the Atlantic National Bank of Jacksonville, Fla., on December 27, 1908.
Studstill was in Nashville on Monday and signed an affidavit that he had not received the money, and that he knew nothing of the transaction. Studstill is an illiterate man, not being able to even sign his name. During his administration – except last year –  his son, John F. Studstill has, transacted all business connected with the office of his father.
Studstill’s affidavit, with a statement of the circumstances of the case, have been forwarded to Comptroller-General Wright.

On May 26, 1909,  the Atlanta Constitution reported  the following escape from  Detective Tucker in Rays Mill, GA (nka Ray City, GA):

 ESCAPES FROM DETECTIVE

John F. Studsill Charged with Getting Money Fraudulently.

    Milltown, Ga., May 25. – (Special)- John F. Studstill, who was recently captured in Bowling Green, Fla., on advices from Ashdown for getting money fraudulently, escaped from Detective Tucker, who had him in charge, while waiting for the train at Ray’s Mill, near here, Saturday afternoon.
   Studstill has been in considerable trouble here of late about money matters; he was for two years his father’s assistant in the tax collector’s office in this (Berrien) county, but was under no bond. Last year the county commissioners called for a settlement from the tax collector, but Tax Collector Studstill was unable to produce the books, claiming his son, John F. Studstill, had them. The commissioners finally checked up Sr.  Studstill’s books, and found him several thousand dollars short, which he promptly made good. It seems that his son, John F. Studstill, did all the work in the office, and it was through his hands that the money was short.
   Some time during the fall the Atlantic Coast Line railway sent W. H. Studstill a check to this place, as this is his home and postoffice, a check covering their taxes for 1908, the check amounting to $913.55. John F. Studstill got it from the office, and carried it to Jacksonville, Fla., and cashed it at one of the banks there. Studstill got word that they were on his track, so he left home here, and took a steamer from Jacksonville for parts unknown. After a delay of two weeks or more the Bank of Milltown, of this place, began to get sight drafts from Studstill at different points in Texas, finally winding up with a draft through the Ashdown bank, of Ashdown, Ark., for $5,-000.  All the drafts were turned down, as Studstill had withdrawn all his funds from the bank.

Perhaps a reader or additional research will provide the conclusion to this saga of family betrayal, embezzlement, and flight from justice.