Tuesday, April 14, 2015

LAURENS WOMAN WITNESSES THE ASSASSINATION OF ABRHAM LINCOLN

       Louise Kohn Baum, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte Baum, moved with her husband to Dublin around the year 1890. Mr. Baum operated the largest department store in the area. Mr. Baum bought the Martin Jones house on the corner of North Franklin Street and East Jackson Street, which came to be known as the Baum Corner. Louise Baum was a daughter of Phillip Kohn, a well renowned artist, whose carvings and paintings were displayed between the President's Chamber and the House of Representatives in the Capitol of the United States. Kohn also did the art work on the exterior doors of the House of Representatives. As a young lady, Louise liked to attend the theater in Washington. On an early spring Friday evening, Louise was invited to join Washington society for a benefit play starring Laura Keene. The play was to start shortly after nine o'clock when the distinguished guests arrived. The audience was celebrating the end of a long and terrible ordeal. The honorable guest was given a thunderous ovation. The curtain rose and the performance of "Our American Cousin" began. About 9:30 a shot was fired. Screams rang out! A cry of "Sic semper tryannis - thus be it ever to tyrants," the Virginia state motto, was heard from a slender young actor who came flying out of box seats. Louise and the audience looked up in horror to see President Abraham Lincoln slumped in his chair at Ford's Theatre. On the next morning of April 15, 1865 President Lincoln died. The history of our county and our nation would be changed forever.

Alternate Version of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS





An Alternate Version of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln







Most of us know the story of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. Or do we know the real reason that John Wilkes Booth slipped into Ford’s Theater and shot the President in the back of the head at point blank range. One Dublin man, Robert A. Beall, had his own version of Booth’s motive. The story is not a new one. It has been around for many years, but few people have heard the Beall’s family story about why John Wilkes Booth fired the shot that changed the future of America.



Robert Andrew Beall was born in Sparta, Georgia on January 31, 1836. He enlisted in Company K of the 15th Georgia Infantry (The Hancock Confederate Guards) on July 15, 1861. He transferred to Co. A of the 48th Georgia Infantry (The Gibson Guards). He was elected Junior Second Lieutenant on January 30, 1863. During the battle of Gettysburg, Beall led his company’s charge up the slopes of Cemetery Ridge in an attack on the Union center. The 48th Georgia, attached to Wright’s Brigade, managed to break the northern lines late in the afternoon of the second day of the battle. The brigade suffered horrific casualties when adjoining Confederate forces failed to cover their flanks as the Union army recovered and surrounded them. Beall was shot in his leg just above the knee and taken to a field hospital, where he was later captured and imprisoned at Point Lookout, Maryland. Lt. Beall was exchanged on October 14, 1864. He surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865, just five days before the assassination. Robert Beall moved to Dublin, where he died on May 20, 1920.



Eight years before his death, Beall reminisced about his service in the Confederate army and his experiences in prison. He also related a fascinating story of the true reason that John Wilkes Booth killed Abraham Lincoln. The story revolved around John Young Beall, a relative of Lt. Beall, later called Capt. Beall, because he was a captain in the local unit of the United Confederate Veterans.



John Young Beall, a 30 year old Virginian, was one of the first in his native county of Jefferson to enlist in the 2nd Virginia Infantry, which was attached to "The Stonewall Brigade" under the command of Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. At the time of the beginning of the war, he was studying law at the University of Virginia. At the Battle of Falling Waters in October 1861, Lt. Beall was seriously wounded when he was shot in the chest during a charge on a Union position. While Beall was convalescing in a Richmond hospital, he came up with an idea to release Confederate prisoners who were being held on Johnson’s Island. Lt. Beall met with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who gave temporary approval of the plan pending the approval by S.R. Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate Navy. Secretary Mallory conceded the plan might work, but tolled its execution.

Beall transferred to the Navy and was given command of a vessel which operated in the waters of the lower Potomac River. Captain Beall led several successful raids on Union positions. Beall’s mind returned to his plan to liberate his fellow Confederate soldiers being held prisoner at Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie. On September 19, 1864, Beall and several other men boarded the Philo Parsons, a vessel out of Sandwich, Michigan. At the first stop, Beall and his comrades commandeered the boat. One Federal gunboat, the U.S.S. Michigan, guarded the prison at Johnson’s Island. Beall arranged to have the officers of the Michigan to attend a party in Sandusky, Ohio. The plan was eventually called off when the signal of the officer’s absence failed to materialize. Beall and his men returned to the safety of Canada.



Three months later in December 1864, Capt. Beall was captured while leading a raid to release Confederate prisoners being transferred to Fort Warren. Beall was tried for his actions and found guilty by a military court martial. Despite the fact he received letters of support from several influential citizens and congressmen of West Virginia and Maryland, as well as some northern congressmen, Beall was sentenced to death by the court, which was affirmed by Secretary of State William Seward. On February 24, 1865, Captain Beall was escorted to the gallows of a prison in New York City. He was calm with full faith that he would go to Heaven under the grace of Christ. He declared in a calm but firm voice that his execution was "contrary to the laws of civilized warfare."



In the decade following the death of Abraham Lincoln, a story began to circulate through the newspapers of the country of a strong personal bond between John Young Beall and John Wilkes Booth. The story goes that the two men were best friends, and that upon Beall’s capture, Booth arranged to have Beall released from prison. Booth, a southern sympathizer who spent most of the war acting in the northern states, purportedly contacted three men, including John P. Hale, a United States Senator from New Hampshire, to go to President Lincoln and plead his case for a stay of execution. The story goes on to say that Booth went with the men to the White House during the middle of the night to meet with the President. After Booth plead his case, it was said that there was not a dry eye in the house. Lincoln acceded to Booth’s request and agreed to pardon Captain Beall. Then, at the instance of Secretary Seward, who supposedly wanted to make an example out of the captain, convinced Lincoln to proceed with the execution. Incensed at Lincoln’s betrayal, Booth began his plan to kill the President.



The story seems to have originated in a weekly newspaper "Pomeroy’s Democrat." There is extant evidence to prove that Booth began his plan to kill Lincoln and Seward even before Captain Beall led the failed raid on Johnson’s Island. No evidence has ever been found to indicate the longtime friendship between Beall and Booth. A week after the assassination, Booth wrote in his diary that he "knew of no private wrong. I struck for my country and that alone."



The story of John Young Beall and his connection to John Wilkes Booth is an interesting one, but it also indicates that not all articles written in newspapers, especially old ones, are always true. Sometimes the stories are based on speculation or out of a desire to make a political point. In this case, the story is alleged to have come from an attempt to sensationalize the death of Lincoln and of course sell newspapers in the process. In a way, it may have only been a story comparable to those found in "The National Enquirer" and other tabloids of that ilk.



Nevertheless, the heroism and dedication of Captain Robert A. Beall, should not go disappear into oblivion. This man survived the horrors of war and imprisonment and returned to rebuild his state, a task made even more difficult by the senseless execution of Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater, one hundred and thirty eight years ago.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Mayor's Court

WHAT'S ON THE DOCKET?




I recently came into possession of a docket book from the Mayor's Court of Dublin from 1888 to 1890. The torn and tattered volume documents the four hundred and fifty cases filed against Dublin citizens for low misdemeanor crimes committed at a time when demon rum was being run out of town. For most of the two decades following the Civil War, the abundance of alcohol led to the labeling of the struggling town of Dublin as a wild, rowdy and raucous town. It was only after the temperance crowd marched in and barely managed to ban the legal sale of spiritous liquors and intoxicating ales that crimes in the city began to decline.


Virtually no one was exempt from the dogged enforcement of town ordinances. The very first case in 1888 was made against Lucien Q. Stubbs, who was fined the sum of $5.00 for fighting. Stubbs, who went on to become one of Dublin's most popular mayors by winning four elections, probably paid the fine in lieu of being humiliated by working on the public streets. Judge J.B. Wolfe and W.R. Scarborough were cited for violating an ordinance prohibiting the obstruction of a drainage ditch. Tom Hughes and F.T. Clark paid an equal amount for obstructing the wooden city sidewalk.


John Walker plead guilty to a charge of riding an animal in too fast a manner through the city streets. I assume it was a horse that John Walker was riding, but the joy ride cost old John the sum of $3.00. Richard Nelson's crime was somewhat more vague. Nelson was sentenced to pay only court costs for his conviction of "lurking on the streets at unusual hours," which begs the question, "was it legal to lurk during usual hours?" Mayor David Ware, Jr. sentenced Thomas Reinhardt to pay a fine of $5.00 for "loitering on the streets at unusual hours." Reinhardt's miscue was that he should have been lurking instead of just standing still and loitering.


In the summer of 1888, there was a rash of charges for operating restaurants without a license. In one day, the Mayor fined Paul Hillman and Ben Simmons the minimum sum of $1.00 for skipping the red tape. Rachel Linder, one of the few women cited in the docket, and R. Robinson were inexplicably fined $20.00 for the same act. Maybe their food wasn't as good as Paul and Ben's.


L.Q. Stubbs, who would preside over the court beginning in 1890, was joined by W.J. Hightower, T.M. Hightower, Robert Smith and George Bangs in some type of shooting match inside the city limits. This particular frolic costs the leading businessmen the paltry sum of $1.00. Stephen A. Corker, who son, Frank G. Corker, was soon to be elected Mayor, joined businessmen R.P. Roughton, Dan Green, John Hightower and William Colley in pleading guilty to shooting without permission. Maybe they should have just asked.


Sam Madison's horse broke loose and started running on the streets like breakaway horses generally do. This slip of the knot cost Madison a mere dollar but why was he there in the first place? Shouldn't city court be reserved for those real bad boys, the drunks, the disorderly and the combination thereof? Alex Mitchell went beyond drunk and disorderly, he was pure out drunk and riotous - a charge which landed him a twenty dollar fine.

Christmas and New Year's revelry usually brought out the mandatory arrests for the improper use of fireworks. Richmond Nelson paid two dollars for exploding fireworks without permission. Jessie Bracewell had to pay a $ 5.00 fine for using combustible material without due caution. It remains unclear whether or not Bracewell received permission to combust his material or that he was fined an extra three bucks for doing something stupid.


Jack Stanley was fined by Mayor L.Q. Stubbs for violating the Sabbath. Paul Hillman was found to not have really broken the Sabbath. Remember him? He had gotten of lightly for running a restaurant without a license. Sam Wright, Lewis Tillery and John Hudson each paid $2.00 for riding too fast in town.


Mayor Stubbs' father, the inestimable Col. John M. Stubbs, who led the town's growth out of obscurity into prosperity, had a awful autumn in 1889. In October, he and his brother in law H.V. Johnson, son of former governor, judge and vice-presidential candidate Gov. Herschel V. Johnson, were each fined for fighting. In December, Col. Stubbs returned to face charges of being disorderly.


The moniker of being the "town drunk" easily belonged to one "Pink" Hughes. Pink was twice sentenced in the last half of 1888 for being drunk and disorderly and resisting arrest. But in 1889, Hughes was convicted on seven separate occasions. Hughes contributed nearly $120.00 to the city coffers for his improprieties. He plead guilty once in September and was surprisingly found not guilty later by Mayor Stubbs. Seems like ole' Pink was always tying one on and this time fooled the local constable.


With the elimination of alcohol, crime rates plummeted. In the last half of 1888 alone, there were 294 criminal cases. The following year saw only 177 cases, the majority of which were drunk in the streets or just plain drunk. Many people were disorderly and an equal amount were both drunk and disorderly. Thirty three people were convicted of fighting in 1889, which represented a dramatic decrease from the twenty three persons convicted in the first half of the preceding year.


Obviously there were more crimes committed in the city and throughout the county in those days. High misdemeanors and felonies came under the jurisdiction of the state courts. Of all the more than five hundred cases documented in the book, one case stands out above all the rest. While most of the fines handed down by the mayor were ten dollars or less and few ever exceeded $25.00 per offense, a thirty five dollar fine was levied on James Taylor. What was Taylor's crime? It didn't involve drinking, fighting, or even loud swearing - that cost Brant Gay $2.50 - swearing softly seemed to be legal. No, it was not the twenty five dollars which Taylor paid for fighting which resulted in the court's highest fine. The whopping $35.00 penalty was for insolence towards a lady. If Mayor Phil Best was holding court today, the line of men answering that charge would wind out the door, run down the hall, extend out the door and cover the sidewalk all the way up to the courthouse.

THE FOUNDING OF LAURENS COUNTY


 
Laurens County was created on December 10, 1807 by an act of the Georgia Legislature. The enacting law, in taking the middle portion of Wilkinson County, defined its boundaries as " all that part of Wilkinson County lying between the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers, beginning at the mouth of Big Sandy Creek on the Oconee River running thence sixty degrees west to the Ocmulgee River, thence down the course of the same to the upper corner of the Fourteenth Land District on said river, thence along the upper line of the Fourteenth District to the Oconee River, thence up the same to the point of beginning. The original Laurens County, stretching from the old frontier line of Georgia to the new frontier line on the Ocmulgee, was bounded on the south by the new county of Telfair - created on the same day as Laurens County was formed - and included all of present day Wheeler, Dodge, and Bleckley Counties and a portion of Pulaski County. Georgia honored Col. John Laurens of South Carolina by naming its newest county, Laurens County, in his honor.

The first order of business for the new county was to form a county government. Under the laws prevailing at the time, counties were governed by five justices of the Inferior Court, who were elected by the male citizenry. There was no tri parte form of government as we know today. The Justices of the Court acted as a legislative, executive, and judicial body, sharing jurisdiction of civil and criminal cases with the Superior Court and retaining sole jurisdiction of decedent's estates, guardianships, and marriages, now handled by the Probate Court. The court was given the authority by the Georgia legislature in 1810 to oversee the drawing of petit or trial juries and grand juries for matters pending in the Superior Court, this being due to the fact that the judge of the Superior Court was usually unavailable for the process. The first justices chosen to sit on the Inferior Court of Laurens County were: Thomas Davis, Thomas Gilbert, Edmund Hogan, William O'Neal, and Peter Thomas. William O'Neal had served in that capacity in Wilkinson County from the inception of that county.

Peter Thomas, owing to the fact that as he was a member of the court and that as there had been no county government formed until that time with the authority to build a courthouse, graciously offered the court the use of an outbuilding near his home for holding its sessions until a courthouse could be built. It is reasonable to assume that Thomas had moved to that location prior to the formation of the county. While it is impossible to determine the exact location of Thomas's home, deed records seem to indicate that it may have been near the east side of Turkey Creek in Land Lot 21 of the 2nd Land District, just above the Lower Uchee Trail. The area, although not centrally located geographically, was located near the intersection of the Uchee Trail and an Indian trail leading from Indian Springs through Macon toward Savannah and in the most populated area of the county in the first and second land districts, which had been granted to citizens two and one half years earlier.

The intersection is still known today as Thomas's Crossroads. Major Peter Thomas came to Laurens County in 1808 from Montgomery County where he had been a State Representative and Tax Receiver in 1806. Peter Thomas assembled a large plantation in the area. Maj. Thomas bought Land Lot 21 from Frederick G. Thomas of Hancock County in 1806 and Land Lot 28 from Clement Lanier for $500.00 on October 15, 1808. The sale price of the second land lot, located south of the crossroads seems to indicate improvements to the land, which may have been a small house. On August 10, 1809, Maj. Thomas paid $800.00 for the fractional Land Lot 6, which he bought in partnership with Abner Davis. Again the high price suggests some type of improvements, possibly a grist mill. It appeared that Maj. Thomas had disposed of his land by 1809 and moved away from the area. Then again, he is shown as living in Laurens County as late as February 17, 1819.

The first session of the Inferior Court was held on the fourth day of January, in 1808. The first order of the business, presumably after an opening prayer and preliminary remarks, was an adjournment until ten o'clock the next morning. The first matter heard by the justices was a petition by Andrew Hampton and David McDaniel, who held temporary letters of administration of the estate of William Darsey, who may have died while living in what was then Wilkinson County.

On the 2nd of February, the justices took up the division of Laurens County into districts. Laurens, like all other Georgia counties, were divided into militia districts. The use of militia districts dates back to the earliest decades of Georgia's existence as a colony. Each militia district was numbered beginning in 1804 and was known for many years primarily by the name of the district's captain - a practice which is exceedingly confusing to researchers since the captain was elected on an annual basis by the members of the district company. Every man in the district between the ages of sixteen and fifty were automatically enlisted in the militia. Each district's militia company was the lowest part of a chain of command under the overall command of the Governor of Georgia. In addition to their use for military defense, districts were also used for determining jurisdiction of the Justice of the Peace Courts, boundaries of election districts, values of property subject to taxation, identifying locations of lands in head right counties, and any other purpose provided by law.

The Justice of the Peace or Magistrate Courts were the third level of courts in Georgia. The Justice of the Peace had the power to try minor criminal offenses and civil cases, along with the power to marry individuals. The first Justices of the Peace, appointed by the Justices of the Inferior Court during the their February session, were James Bracewell and Alexander Blackshear in the first district, John Fullwood and Andrew Hampton in the second district, Elisha Farnall and Joseph Denson, Sr. in the third district, Needham Stevens and Samuel Jones in the fourth district, and William Hall and Robert Duett in the fifth district. Each militia district had two constables, whose main duty was to aid the sheriff in keeping the peace in the district and during court sessions as well. The first Laurens County constables were John McBane and John Pollock in the first district, Gideon Mayo and John Williams in the second district, James Moore and Joseph Denson in the third district, John Jion and Henry Duett in the fourth district, and John Grinstead and William Morris in the fifth district. James Yarborough, selected by a majority of the justices, was named Clerk of the Court of Ordinary.

The cutting of new roads and the widening and improvement of old Indian trails were a top priority for the justices. On February 2, 1808 the justices ordered that a road, the first of three converging at the home of a Peter Thomas and the first seat of the county government, be established from Blackshear's Ferry on the Oconee River to Fishing Bluff on the Ocmulgee River. This road followed the Uchee Trail for the most part, crossing Turkey Creek at the home of Peter Thomas, Rocky Creek at the Indian camp above where the path crosses, Little Ocmulgee River at the path, and ending at Fishing Bluff near the future site of Hartford on the Ocmulgee River. Peter Thomas, Samuel Sparks, Charles Higdon, and William Morris were appointed overseers of the road while Amos Love, Edmond Hogan, and Thomas Davis were appointed as commissioners of the road. The second road ran from Jeremiah Loftin's home to the home of Maj. Peter Thomas. During that first session of the court, the third road opened ran from Green's Ferry on the Oconee River to the home of Peter Thomas. This road ran from the ferry located in Land Lot 292 of the 2nd District in a westerly direction, possibly along Evergreen Road and turning southwest toward the home of Major Thomas.

More roads were ordered to be opened during the second session of the court in August of 1808. A short road from Beatty's Ferry to Trammel's Ferry was cut along the western banks of the Oconee. A major road running from the Oconee River at the future site of Dublin and opposite the community of Sandbar, to the Uchee Trail was cut under the supervision of George Gaines, Benjamin Darsey, and Charles Higdon. This road ran from Gaines's Ferry along or near East Jackson Street through present downtown Dublin and thence along Bellevue Avenue to the point where it turns into Bellevue Road. From that point the road, continuing in a southwesterly direction, ran to the beginning of Moore's Station Road. From that point the road ran across Turkey Creek through the lower edge of Palmetto Lakes Subdivision and striking Little Rocky Creek and then Rocky Creek just below the Kewanee community. From that point the road ran in a southwesterly direction along a road which is now called the Chicken Road through the current day communities of Rowland and Empire where, upon reaching the latter, it followed Highway 257 to the Uchee Trail crossing at the Ocmulgee. This road, known as the Chicken Road, is said to have followed an Indian trail.

An examination of the surveys of area along the road from 1805 to 1807 failed to reveal the presence of any road or trail. During the August 1809 session of the Inferior Court, Jesse Green, Jesse Stephens, Terrel Higdon, Elijah Thompson, and John Underwood were appointed commissioners of a road running the length of the county "from the upper line down the river or the nearest and best way" crossing Turkey Creek at Whitehead's Mill. Thomas Fulghum and Reuben Harrelson were appointed commissioners of the road from Flat Creek to the lower county line. This road appears to have followed the Old Toombsoro Road through present day Dublin and down the Glenwood Road crossing Turkey Creek at what is today still called "Robinson's Bridges." The road may have turned more to the east or continued down the Glenwood Road to the lower county line.

The sale of spiritous liquor, regulated by the Inferior Court, was authorized during the August, 1809 session. Peter Thomas was granted a license to sell liquor at his store on the Uchee Trail near Turkey Creek, while Jonathan Sawyer, who would found the town of Dublin twenty two months later, was granted permission to sell spiritous liquor at the Sandbar. The court then authorized the clerk to approve any liquor license applications, without further order of the court.

Laurens County's white male voters selected Peter Thomas to represent the county in the Georgia House of Representatives in the first state election held in 1808. Thomas was re-elected the following year. Edmund Hogan, another of the first five justices of the Inferior Court, was elected as the county's first state senator. Jethro B. Spivey replaced Hogan in 1809, coinciding with Hogan's move to Pulaski County. Charles Stringer and Elisha Farnell succeeded Peter Thomas in the House in 1810 and 1811, while Henry Sheppard followed Spivey in the Senate.

Laurens County was assigned to the Ocmulgee Superior Court Circuit of Georgia, both created the same day. The first court session was held in an outbuilding near the home of Peter Thomas, presumably the same building in which sessions of the Inferior Court were held. Presiding over the session was Judge Peter Early of Greene County. John Clarke, the circuit's Solicitor General, known today as the District Attorney, tried the first case in the Superior Court. At the first session no case were tried, only six true bills of indictment were found. Charles Higdon, a member of that first grand jury, was himself indicted for bigamy by that same grand jury. Other members of the jury were Benjamin Adams, Benjamin Brown, William Boykin, Robert Daniel, Joseph Denson, Benjamin Dorsey (Darsey), Simon Fowler, Henry Fulgham, John Gilbert, Thomas Gilbert, Leonard Green, Edward Hagan, Andrew Hampton, Mark Mayo, Gideon Mayo, George Martin, William McCall, Charles Stringer, John Speight, James Sartin, Jesse Stephens, Samuel Stanley, Samuel Sparks, George Tarvin, Joseph Vickers, Jesse Wiggins, Nathan Weaver, David Watson, Joseph Yarborough, and William Yarborough. Unfortunately only one of the major court record books of Laurens County is missing, that one being Minute Book A, the first one kept by Amos Love, Clerk of the Superior Court. There is some evidence to indicate that the book was used in the compilation of "History of Laurens County, Georgia, 1807-1841." However, diligent searches of the vaults of the office of the Clerk of the Superior Court of Laurens County have revealed no evidence of its presence.

Court sessions seemed to bring out the fighting spirit in several Laurens Countians. One of the first indictments was made against Amos Forehand, who in the presence of Alexander Blackshear, a member of the grand jury, wished "that Hell might be his Heaven, if he did not kill the Judge at the flash of a gun if the prisoner then in jail was a brother or relative of his. While this statement was by a legal technicality an assault, the judge, Peter Early, wasn't too pleased. Following the Forehand indictment, the grand jury indicted Samuel Riggins for insulting Clerk Amos Love by kicking him as he was leaving the home of Maj. Thomas. The third indictment handed down by the the October, 1808 grand jury was made against Michael Horne and the same Samuel Riggins for fighting in the courthouse yard, while the court was in session. Four years later William Monroe made the mistake of cursing the grand jury while standing in the door of the jury room and failing to leave when ordered to do so. Christopher Edwards mocked the baliff and cursed in the presence of the jury. James Drake made the same mistake as William Monroe and found himself indicted. Drury Roberts and Benjamin Faircloth were indicted for fighting in the courthouse yard during a session of the Ordinary Court.

The Georgia Legislature of Georgia enacted a law on December 1, 1809, fixing the site of the public buildings of Laurens County in the town of Sumpterville on a lot of land to be purchased by the justices of the Inferior Court. The justices were empowered to be the commissioners of the courthouse and jail with all the powers necessary to maintain them.

The legislature directed the justices to set aside at least four acres of land for the seat of public buildings and other county purposes and gave them the right to sell any of the county's land adjoining the public lands. During the February session of the Inferior Court, the justices appointed Amos Love, Alexander Blackshear, Andrew Hampton, John Fullwood, Jethro B. Spivey, Simon Smith, Elisha Farnall, William Yarborough, Leonard Stringer and Stephen Vickers to assist the justices in the location of the county courthouse. The lands were evidently laid out or at least some plans were made to lay out the town. For some unknown reason the Georgia Legislature passed laws in 1812, and again in 1813, authorizing the Justices of the Inferior Court to reimburse purchasers of lots in Sumpterville. The act of 1812 mentions that lots were purchased and that the town of Sumpterville was square in shape.

Contrary to what is found in Laurens County History, 1807-1941, the town of Sumpterville was not located where the home of Peter Thomas was situated, or was it? The town of Sumpterville, according to tradition, was located on the site of the John Fullwood Place in Land Lot 39 of the First Land District, just west of the old Josiah Stringer Place. Fullwood purchased the 202.5 acre land lot on November 24, 1808. The one thousand dollar purchase price indicates that some type of building, or buildings, was located on the land. During the August session of the court in 1811, the justices ordered that Fullwood be paid the sum of thirty six dollars for building the courthouse at Sumpterville. Since there is no evidence of any purchase of any land by the Justices of the Inferior Court either in the deed records or in the minutes of the court, it is virtually impossible to determine exactly where the town of Sumpterville was located. One might determine that Sumpterville was indeed located near the home of Major Peter Thomas at the intersection of Turkey Creek and the Uchee Trail - also at the point where the first three Laurens County roads converged. The Uchee Trail was the best and most traveled road in Laurens County. Thomas's home was located in the 2nd Land District, the most heavily populated in the county. On August 6, 1811 the justices of the Inferior Court ordered that a road be cut from the intersection of the Sumpterville Road and the Gallimore Trail to run in an easterly direction. A year later the court ordered all hands above the Uchee Trail between Turkey Creek and the ridge which divides the tributaries of Turkey and Rocky Creeks to work on the road. This Sumpterville Road may have been the current day Wayne Road or a road which takes a similar path to the Old Macon Road, running parallel to the western bank of Turkey Creek.

The first census of Laurens County was taken in 1810 by Hugh Thomas, who was appointed by the Justices of the Inferior Court. While no names were enumerated, the total population of the county was 2,210. Laurens was third in population among the newest counties in Georgia, behind Baldwin County, the seat of the state government, and Twiggs County, which was rapidly becoming an economic and judicial center in Central Georgia.

With the loss of lands to Pulaski County a year earlier, county residents clamored for more land on the east side of the river. When it became apparent that the legislature would cut off a portion of Montgomery and Washington Counties east of the Oconee and place it in Laurens, local officials began to look for a new county seat. On December 13, 1810, the Legislature appointed John G. Underwood, Jethro Spivey, Benjamin Adams, John Thomas, and William H. Mathers as commissioners to purchase or acquire by donation any quantity of land, not to exceed one full land lot of two hundred two and one-half acres, at or within two miles of the place known by the name of Sandbar on the Oconee River as a site for the public buildings of Laurens County. The commissioners were directed to lay out the town into lots and sell the lots at a public sale, following an advertisement in "The Georgia Journal" and one Augusta newspaper. The commissioners were authorized to use the proceeds of the lot sales to erect a courthouse and jail, with any excess being used for county purposes. As a consequence of the removal of the county seat from Sumpterville, the justices were directed to issue refunds to any purchasers of lots at the old county seat, to cancel any contracts to purchase the same, and to sell all remaining lands at Sumpterville "as they think most expedient," with any proceeds being applied to the building of a new courthouse and jail. It is difficult to determine exactly when the decision was reached. It was most likely the commissioners who made their decision in short order.

The commissioners chose a site in Land Lot 232 of the First Land District about one half mile west of the Oconee River at a point directly opposite the Sandbar, the site of George Gaines's ferry and the traditional crossing of an old road leading from Macon to Savannah. Jonathan Sawyer, a former resident of the capital city of Louisville in Jefferson County, was appointed as Postmaster of Dublin on or before July 1, 1811. The origin of the name of the new town had nothing to do with the ethnic origin of Sawyer, who is sometimes incorrectly referred to as Peter Sawyer. Sawyer's wife, Elizabeth McCormick, died circa 1809 while bearing a child. Sawyer, being the postmaster, made an application to the Post Office Department in Washington for the name of his choosing. He chose the name Dublin, in honor of Dublin, Ireland, the hometown of his wife. Mrs. Sawyer's sister, Ann St. Clair McCormick Troup, was the first wife of George M. Troup, the up and coming Congressman from Coastal Georgia. Mrs. Troup, like her sister, Mrs. Sawyer, met an untimely death early in her young life.
 
Before there was a post office and before the town was officially incorporated, Jethro B. Spivey, John G. Underwood, Benjamin Adams, and W.H. Mathers conducted the first sale of town lots on May 23, 1811. Purchasers were expected to pay for the lots in four equal installments with the first payment coming due on January 1, 1812. On December 13, 1811, the legislature appointed Jonathan Sawyer, Jethro B. Spivey, John G. Underwood, Benjamin Adams, and Henry Shepherd to act as commissioners of the courthouse and other public buildings granting unto them the power "to lay out and sell such a number of lots as may be sufficient to defray the expenses of such public buildings as they may think necessary."

The choice of a county seat on the eastern edge of the county was predicated on the accession of new lands on the east side of the Oconee River. Three days before the town of Dublin was authorized as the county seat, the legislature approved an act to incorporate a part of Washington and Montgomery counties into Laurens County. The new lands, which had been already been inhabited for more than twenty five years, was described as beginning on the east side of the Oconee River, opposite the Laurens County line, and thence in a direct line to the mouth of Forts Creek; thence up the meanders of the same to the limestone rocks; thence in a direct line to Wood's Bridge on the Big Ohoopee River; thence down the Ohoopee River to Pugh's Trail at the Mt. Pleasant Ford; thence in a direct line to the head of Mercer's (sic Messer's) Creek; thence down said creek to the Oconee River.

With the accession of the land on the east side of the Oconee River in 1811, three new districts were added to Laurens County. They were the 52nd, today known as Smith's District, the 86th, today known as the Buckeye District, and the 87th, which is no longer in existence. The 52nd District included all that portion of the county which was formerly Montgomery County and which was south and east of the Uchee Trail leading northeast from Carr's Bluff and today includes all of Smith's, Carter's, Oconee, Jackson, and Rockledge Districts. The 86th G.M. District included all of the land above the Uchee Trail in what was Washington County until 1811. The 87th District, probably abolished with the cession of the lands along the western banks of the Ohoopee River in 1857 to Johnson County, may have included portions of both the 52nd and 86th districts in northeastern Laurens County.

The practice of naming militia districts ended in the 19th century when permanent names were given to each of the districts. From that point on the 52nd District was known as "Smith's" District, named in honor of the Smith family in general or Hardy Smith, Jr. in particular. The 86th was named the "Buckeye" District for the main community in the district, which was located on the new Buckeye Road, which was formerly the old Buckeye Road, about a mile north of its intersection with the Ben Hall Lake Road. The 341st District became known as the "Burgamy" District, in honor of John Burgamy, who may have been a captain of the district. The 342nd became known as the "Dublin" District for the county seat which lay within its bounds. The 343rd district was dubbed "Pinetucky," probably in recognition of the thousands of pine trees covering this district, the largest district of original Laurens County. The 344th was known as the Hampton Mills District in honor of Andrew Hampton, a prominent resident of the district. The 345th District was named in honor of David Harvard, a prominent resident of the district. The 391st Bailey District was named for Henry Bailey, a large landowner who lived on the Old Toomsboro Road.

LAURENS COUNTY TURNS 200








Reflections of Two Centuries


 

Out of towners often ask, "What's the greatest thing about Laurens County?" They ask, " Do you have anyone famous from here?" I say, "It depends on what you mean by famous." I also say "We are the home of the parents of several famous people." Then they say, "Did you ever have a Civil War battle fought here?" I respond by saying, "No but if the Union cavalry had been here one day earlier, Confederate President Jefferson Davis would have been captured here and there would be a monument and museum to commemorate the event. Then I go back to the first question and say, "Well, the greatest thing about Laurens County are her people." I tell them about the life long friendships we have, fellowships which transcend race, religion and social status. Then I tell them how when ever something really needs to get done, there are usually a group of people here that will get it done, though there is always a corps of doubters and apathetic "do nothings" here and for that matter everywhere.

But when my mind really concentrates, I think about the heroes and those who excel in their triumphs of the human spirit. I think about the heroes of the armed services. From the last great war of World War I, to the big war of World War II, to the so called "police action" in Korea, to the misunderstood and maligned war in the jungles of Vietnam, visions of heroes flash through my mind. From Congressional Medals of Honor, to Navy Crosses, to Silver Stars and bronze ones as well, Laurens Countians are unparalleled in their devotion to do their duty for their country. They do it well, with honor, with bravery and they do it in unrivaled numbers. Even in today's mix of regular army and national guard soldiers, more of the citizen soldiers come from this part of Georgia than any other section of the state. We have served our countries from Gettysburg to San Juan to Marne, to Normandy to Hue. No county, and I mean, no Georgia county can match the heroism, gallantry and bravery of Laurens.

Donning a uniform is not the only form of public service. We have served as governors, senators and representatives, both at state and federal levels. Laurens Countians have led the departments of Justice and Agriculture at the capital. Laurens Countians have served on both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals of Georgia. Service is not left only to the politicians and the lawyers. Think of the thousands of us who have worked for decades as school teachers, most of the them for a mere pittance. Then there are the public safety employees who work, train and risk their lives while the rest of us sleep, eat and play. The next time you see one of these underappreciated and woefully underpaid public servants, shake their hand, buy their supper or simply say "thank you."
 
Do the math. If every one of the forty five thousand plus residents of this county performed only one hundred hours of volunteer service that would mean that there would be 4.5 million hours of helping each other. Anyone can do it. Everyone should do it. Don't just think about it. Do it!

Throw adversity at many Laurens Countians and you'll find a champion when the dust clears. Time after time, especially in recent years, the young men and women of Laurens County have shown the entire state that they are champions, not only in athletics, but champion kids as well. We have won world championships in baseball, football and basketball. We have played in the Masters Golf tournament, raced at Daytona and repaired the race cars of Grand Prix champions. Many have been named to All American teams across a broad spectrum of sports. One Dublin teacher was once billed as the fastest man in the world.

Champions of the business world can call Laurens County home. Georgia Power Company, the Atlanta Constitution, the Federal Reserve Board and the Coca Cola Company were led by folks from here. Two of us have served as Imperial Potentates of the Shrine of North America, who make it their mission to help needy children.

When all doubts are out of the shadows, the women of our county shine as brightly as anywhere else. For more than eight decades, the fairer sex have shown they can remarkable things. They were the first woman to be a Georgia judge, the first woman deputy attorney general, the first woman to head a medical department of a major black university and the first woman in Georgia to be a licensed dentist. One Laurens County girl founded the first sorority in the world. Another, Gen. Belinda "Brenda Higdon" Pinckney may retire from the United States Army as one of the highest ranking generals, either black or white, in the history of the Army. Heck, one Laurens County man, as governor of Georgia, appointed the first woman to serve in the United States Senate. Our women have been here from day one, garnering few headlines. If you look at IT, they are the reason the headlines were here in the first place. Hug your mom, kiss your wife and encourage your daughter, "You go girl, there's nothing you can't do."

Then there are the thinkers and those who excel when thinking outside the box is a good place to think. In the 1920s and 1930s alone, ten Laurens Countians were writing for major newspapers and magazines around the country. Dr. Reece Coleman helped to develop the first color camera to film the inside of a living human being. Capt. Joseph Logue, former director of the Naval Hospital, reacted to the complaints of the U.S. Marine Corps and ordered the first use of DDT to combat insect bites during World War II.

And last but not least, there are those who refuse tot believe "it can't be done." Take Claude Harvard for example. Harvard, a poor black kid, sold salve to buy a radio, likely the first one in the county. His desire to learn took him to the highest levels of inventions for Ford Motor Company in the 1930s. Major Herndon Cummings and his fellow pilots stood up to the entire U.S. Army and led to President Truman's decision to integrate the armed forces. For the younger crowd, one Laurens Countian convinced networks to air MTV, Nicklelodeon, ESPN 2 and the Movie Channel. Dr. Robert Shurney, who grew up in the care of his grandparents and served his country in war time, went to back to college in his thirties and became, according to many experts, the leading black scientist of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, all without the benefit of a high school diploma.

The list goes on and on, but no matter how many plaques, awards, citations, hall of fame elections and newspaper headlines we garner, Laurens Countians do what they do because it needs to be done or simply it is the right, or the only thing, they can do. What do all of these people and thousands of others have in common? They are all natives or at one time residents of Laurens County just like you. Ask yourself, can you be champion or a hero? Sure you can and it doesn't take anything special; just serve others in your community and your community will serve you. Don't seek recognition. Just do it, do it well and do it with a passion. The rewards will flow back to you beyond all imagination. As we end the first two hundred years of our county's history, I challenge all of you to remember that our most important history is not in our past, but it lies in our future.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

APPOMATTOX AFTERMATH




The Question Remains Why

 

The Civil War is a part of our lives. It will always be a part of our lives. What we must do is keep asking ourselves, "why?"

As a historian, I am often asked my opinion on the Civil War. People ask me "Was the war fought about slavery or about state rights, or both?" On this eve of the 150th anniversary of the effective end of the American Civil War, I will not answer that or any other questions. In fact, I will ask you the questions and all of those questions begin or end with "why?"
If you want to start a spirited discussion, you can talk about religion, politics or you can ask what was the main cause of the Civil War. For some Americans, there is a desire to relive that horrible war - its battles, its causes, its results, and its combatants. There are some who say that slavery had absolutely nothing to do with the war while there are others who boldly proclaim that the cruel bondage of human beings had all and everything to do with the war. I do expect you to be spirited and confident in your thoughts, but I do hope you can be civil in your discussions. Remember that's what started that terrible, most uncivil war.
Other than religion, more books have been written about the American Civil War. We can't seem to agree even what to call it: "The War Between The States," "The Civil War," "The War of Northern Aggression," "The War for Southern Independence." Officially the four-year war was named "The War of the Rebellion," by the victors, our Federal government.
In many of the battles between the Army of the Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac, there was a disagreement as to the name of the battles. The Union armies named their battles after the nearest water feature (Antietam, Bull Run) while the Confederates named their fights after the nearest town (Sharpsburg, Manassas.)
"It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we may grow too fond of it," remarked General Robert E. Lee as he surveyed the 8000 or so dead and dying Union soldiers lying at the base of Marye's Heights after the Battle of Fredericksburg.
For a century and one half since the surrender of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865 and Gen. Joseph Johnston's Army of the Tennessee in Greensboro, N.C. on April 26, 1865, generation after generation has figuratively fought the war over and over again. There are those who speculate, "What would have happened at Gettysburg had Stonewall Jackson been Lee's right arm during the climatic battle?" "What would have happened if England had entered the war on the side of the South? What would have happened if the Union Forces didn't run from Bull Run? What would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had never been elected?
As a journalist, it is my mission to seek out the facts and write about the who, what, where, when and why. Well, we know who fought and died, what were the results of the battles, where the battles were fought and when the firing began and when it ceased. What we can't seem to answer and as a people agree on is why?
Why did the racist blacksmith from New York City fire artillery shells randomly into Fredericksburg, with no idea of where his cannister may have landed? Just to free slave? Why did the preacher from North Alabama fire his rifle into the face of a young father of three from Michigan? Just so his wealthy neighbor could keep getting wealthier?
On this 150th anniversary of the General Lee's surrender at Appomattox, we should no longer celebrate the war, but commemorate it and study it, for the Civil War (with the American Revolution and World War II coming in right behind) is the most defining event in American History.
All of us look back at the war through the scope of what were taught about the war when we were young and what impact the war had on our family. My scope is filtered by the thought that if David Douglas, of Emanuel County, Georgia, and Benjamin H. Brantley, of Washington County, Georgia, had not been mortally wounded at Gettysburg and Sharpsburg respectively, their widows would have never remarried two of my great-great grandfathers. Why did they die so that I and all of those in my family, so dear to me, could live?
Why would my gigantic 14-year-old great grandfather, William A. Scott, Jr., masquerade as an adult and ride with Col. John S. Mosby, "The Gray Ghost," as he stole and pillaged northern farms and storehouses and then abruptly leave Virginia Military Institute as a 16-year-old to return home to fight the armies of George Armstrong Custer and Phillip Sheridan as they attacked his homeland? Why, especially would this kid be willing to die in defense of his home when after the war, his thoughts turned totally against the war as one of God's most Christian of soldiers? Why?
I ask myself why did my nineteen-year- old great-great uncle James Powell Scott have to die at the crossroads of Five Forks, Virginia on April Fool's day, some eight days before the end of the war? Why did a Union soldier pick up the prayer book of this young lieutenant, just a boy, and deliver it to my great-great grandmother on his route home? I ask myself why? Why were his two oldest brothers spared after they were sentenced to death by firing squad?
Why would my great, great grandfather John A. Braswell, a nineteen-year-old whose father died in the war, leave the Confederate army and steal a horse to go back home? The answer was simply that he was sick, scared and tired - sick of washing horse manure to retrieve undigested grains of corn just to find something to eat, scared of dying with his whole life in front of him and tired of running away from General Sherman's vastly superior army.
Depending on whose figures you believe, approximately 600,000 men were killed during the war. Laying the corpses of these men head to toe, the line would stretch nearly 650 miles, the distance between Dublin and Washington, D.C. Ask yourselves, why were nearly two-thirds of a million men killed in four years? Why did they die? Why were they willing to die?
Why was General Ulysses S. Grant, known to his own men as "The Butcher," so magnanimous in the terms of his surrender demands at Appomattox? Why was General William T. Sherman, considered by several generations of Georgians as the Devil himself, even more generous when he simply allowed the Confederate Army of the Tennessee to simply go home?
Why were so many highly ranking Confederate officers like James Longstreet, Joseph Johnston, Joseph Wheeler, and John S. Mosby asked to serve in Federal government positions by those very same men whom they fought against? Why was the bond between Free and Accepted Masons stronger than the missions of war? Why a slave like Bill Yopp of Laurens County, not cross the picket lines and stay with his white comrades until he surrendered at Appomattox?
Why did the end of the war and resulting constitutional amendments not bring about equality of the races? Why did Southerners object to the abolition of slavery in new western territories when it would have given the South the decided economic advantage? Why did the men of Montgomery County, Georgia, who were almost unanimously against secession and war, suffer ninety-percent casualties during the war?
I will ask you one final question. Will you please not forget the war? To forget it would make you forget the evil and ignore the good which happened during and after the war. Ignoring the question of slavery versus state rights versus sectional economic domination may doom us to another war in the not too distant future. For all of us, of all races, the war changed the destiny of the entire world, so you must always keeping asking yourself why? To the millions of us who lost family members, we askw hy? Ask yourselves did all of these men die to secure the freedom of slaves or keep them in eternal bondage? Or, was it something more? The question remains, why?

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

STILLMORE, GEORGIA




Why do they call it Stillmore?  Was it because turpentine baron and town founder George Brinson thought that his prolific still would run forevermore?  Or was it because when you got there, you had still more to go?  Or was it the simply a sarcastic response to the office of the Postmaster General when the list of names for a new town were already taken?  Whether you believe one or more of these legends, believe that this Emanuel County town with a most unusual name was once one of the most bustling railroad towns in East Central Georgia.  This is the story of the early years of Stillmore, Georgia.


In the mid 1880s timber and turpentine man George Brinson and his cousin B.L. Brinson constructed a turpentine mill in the middle of nowhere in a piney forest covering rich and fertile sand.  The Brinson kinsmen expanded their operation to include a large saw mill.  In order to more economically get his sawed timber to markets in Swainsboro and Savannah,   George Brinson knew that he needed a railroad.  Without the aid of profit seeking and demanding Northern capitalists, Brinson began construction of a railroad known as the Brunswick, Athens and Northwestern Railroad.



 Brinson’s enterprises brought in employees by the droves.  With such a large population concentrated in a small place someone thought why not incorporate the new town and allow the residents to govern themselves.  On November 13, 1889, the town of Stillmore was officially created by the Georgia legislature.



 Following a devastating fire which destroyed his mill, Brinson began construction on a thirty-four-mile railroad from Swainsboro to Collins, a depot town on the Georgia-Alabama Railroad.   In 1891, when railroads began to rapidly spread across the state, work was commenced on the Atlantic Shortline, a railroad designed to run from Macon, through Laurens County and eastward to Savannah.


 The bold venture died for lack of financial support.  The owners of the Brewton and Pineora  Railroad laid their tracks along the mostly intact grading and gave Stillmore it second rail line and a fairly direct route to Savannah at the end of the 19th Century making Stillmore a junction town.  More fortune seekers moved in search of work and success.



 Stillmore remained virtually stagnant until 1892 when the town was laid out into lots. By 1900, Stillmore was home to a college, four churches, two lodges, a newspaper, a public library and a large number of mercantile establishments.  



 But by far, Stillmore owed it’s entire existence to the railroads and the opportunities they brought.  The Rogers and Summit railroad became the Millen and Southwestern, which eventually became part of the Georgia-Florida Railroad.  The Brunswick, Athens and Northwestern later became known as the Stillmore Air Line and eventually a branch of the Wadley-Southern Railroad.  The Central Railroad of Georgia, the state’s largest rail company, took control of the Brewton and Pineora.  These three railroads, all intersecting  in the town of Stillmore, provided the spark which catapulted Stillmore into a position as the leading city in Emanuel County.  At least that’s what they said outside the county seat of Swainsboro.
  
Stillmore’s greatest pride outside of its railroads and Mr. Brinson’s mills was the Stillmore Military College.  The college was under the leadership of Professor Y.E. Bargeron,  who also worked as a city official, editor of the town newspaper (The Budget,) and finally as a lawyer.  Mrs. Bargeron taught courses too.   Capt. M.W. Bargeron took over the duties of drill master when the military program was added to the curriculum.  Florence Moore, a sweet lady and a graduate of an outstanding music conservatory,  taught music to both boys and girls.  With the wave of patriotism which swept across America during the conflicts with the Spanish, the ranks of the military students swelled to more than seventy young men.  George Brinson donated the funds to provide nearly three dozen Springfield rifles to the school.  School officials and other townsfolk saw to it that every student soon had a real rifle to train with.  Crowds often gathered in the late afternoon to watch the students demonstrate their military skills on the lawn of the college.  Adult males also wanted in on the action and patriotism.  Joseph Phillips, along with M.W. Bargeron and Dr. R.Y. Yeomans, led the formation of the Stillmore Guards, which trained in case their services were needed across the state or against the nation’s enemies.   In addition to military and music courses, students studied bookkeeping, pedagogy, chemistry, literature, oratory.     



 A fine public library, free to the town residents, was affiliated with the college. Capt. Joseph Phillips, the auditor of the Stillmore Air Line, kept the library filled with the latest new books and periodicals to educate and entertain the students, townspeople and even visitors who walked over from the hotels.

When visitors came to town, they roomed in relative luxury.  Mr. and Mrs. Nat Hughes ran the three story Victorian hotel where people from all over gather from as far away as fifty miles to enjoy the food and fellowship.  If the Canoochee was full, then you could spend the night and get a good meal in the Brown House or the Edenfield House.  

Some of the earliest merchants and businessmen of Stillmore included George Brinson, attorneys Frank R. Durden, Y.E. Bargeron, merchants John R. Hargrove, J.A. Woodward, John H. Edenfield, Sallie Kennedy, E.A. Miller, J.F. Tanner, Wyatt and Frierson, Stillmore Mercantile Co., W.B. Heath,  E. H. Heath, Bessie Nichols, J.L. Martin, J.M. Duberry, Canoochee Pharmacy and many others .  The professional men included attorneys Frank R. Durden,  Dr. L.P. Lane, Dr. J.M. Emmitt and Dr. S.E. Brinson.  Dr. J.R. pulled teeth when necessary.   There were at least two banks in town, the Bank of Stillmore and the Planter’s Bank.

In 1913, a movement began to create a new county of Candler with Metter as the county seat.  The people of southeastern Emanuel County wanted to be a part of it.  They wanted their own county with Stillmore as its capital.  Stillmorians hoped that portions of Emanuel, Tattnall and Bulloch counties could be joined with Stillmore in the center.  They proposed to honor one of the Confederacy’s greatest heroes by naming their county “Stonewall Jackson County.”



 The failure to become a county seat, coupled with the loss of the cotton crop during the second decade of the 20th Century, led to the end of Stillmore’s prosperity.  But don’t call the coroner yet.  Stillmore is still there.  The trains don’t come like they used to.  The college is now in Swainsboro along with the all of the county’s motels.  But the fine folks are still  there and will still be there as long as there is a Stillmore.

Monday, April 06, 2015

HERNDON CUMMINGS



      A Fighter For Freedoms
                             

   This is a story of a Laurens County man who fought for the freedom of his country and the freedom of his people.  Herndon Cummings was a member of what has collectively been called the "Tuskegee Airmen."  Though he was not a part of the highly acclaimed circle of fighter pilots, Cummings served as a pilot in a bomber group which trained in the United States during World War II.  In the waning moths of the war,   Cummings found himself embroiled in one of the war's most controversial, yet unpublicized, instances, the first major attempt to integrate an all-white officer's club.

     Herndon M. Cummings was born on April 25, 1919.  The son of Joseph and Mollie Hill Cummings,   Don grew up in the Burgamy District in the Old Macon Road area of northwestern Laurens County.  Don was a grandson of Rev. Daniel D. Cummings, who saw to it that all of his children were educated.  Many of his children excelled beyond their high school training to become professionals in a day when few blacks did.

     Cummings said his interest in aviation was sparked on Christmas Day in 1928 when his father gave him a toy German zeppelin.  His interest in flying was forever sealed in 1936 when Don and his brother took a five-dollar ride  in a Ford Tri-Motor plane.  As the plane soared in the skies west of Dublin, Don underwent a life-altering experience.  "By the time the plane landed, I knew what I wanted to do," he recalled.
   

     Like many other teenagers of his day, Don Cummings wanted to fly.  The problem was that there were only a scant number of black pilots who had the means or were given a chance to fly.    The United States Army Air Force instituted what was deemed "The Tuskegee Experiment."    It was a program, thought by many to be designed to fail, to train black pilots to serve in Europe during World War II.    Don Cummings enlisted in the Air Corps on June 25, 1942.  He listed his occupation as a carpenter.

     For nearly two years,   Lt. Cummings trained in the B-25 bomber at Tuskegee and later at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio, where he would later make his home.   Of the nine hundred to a thousand men who successfully completed their training at Tuskegee, most trained as fighter pilots in the P-51 fighter and other fighters.  These men, who have been immortalized in books and films, were assigned to the 332nd Fighter Squadron and saw action in the skies of Europe during the last months of the war escorting long range bombers.  These brave young men were credited with losing none, or only a very few, of the fighters they escorted.  

     Lt. Cummings was assigned to the 477th Bomber Group.   The 477th was organized at Selfridge Army Air Field, Michigan in 1944.  Many of the members of the group were commanded by white officers, who according to some, favored white officers over the black officers.  Concerns over racial troubles in Detroit forced the group to move to Godman Field near Fort Knox, Kentucky.    By March 1945, the 477th was uprooted again and moved to Freeman Army Field at Seymour, Indiana.  

     In 1940, the Army published a regulation that any officer's club must be open to any officer, three years before the Tuskegee Airmen received their commission and long before the government officially ended segregation in the armed forces.  The field at Freeman maintained two clubs, one for supervisors and one for trainees, but were defacto separated between blacks and whites.  In the early days of April 1945, the relationships between the commanding officers and the black pilots began to deteriorate rapidly.   Some five dozen were placed under house arrest.  The men were released, but field commander Selway determined that all of the black pilots were to be designated as "trainees" and were assigned to their own club building.  It so happened that all of the trainees were black and the white officers had their own building.  


   On April 9th, all pilots were asked to sign a pledge to comply with Selway's directive.  Lt. Cummings joined one hundred of his fellow pilots and refused to sign.  They were arrested on the day President Franklin D.  Roosevelt died.  "The regulations said we could go in but the commanding officer said we couldn't," Cummings said.  He added, "we just wanted a beer, why else would we go there?"  The men, known as the Freeman Field 101, were taken back to a jail at Godman Field.  They remained in jail for twelve days.  Cummings gave new president Harry S. Truman credit for their release.  "We thought it was the end of the line, but President Truman did the right thing," Cummings said.

     "We fought on both sides of the ocean.  We fought on this side for civil rights," Cummings told an interviewer.  "I am sure we did the right thing.  To me and a lot of other people, it was the beginning of the civil rights movement," Cummings said.  He also credited Eleanor Roosevelt and Thurgood Marshall, lead counsel for the NAACP and a future Supreme Court justice, for the effort to drop the charges of mutiny.  It would be five decades later when the official letters of reprimand were purged from the personnel files of the Freeman Field  101.  

     Just weeks after they were freed, General Hap Arnold replaced all of the white officers in the 477th with black officers.  Lt. Cummings was promoted to captain to command a bomber.  The unit was temporarily assigned to Godman under the command of Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the former commander at Tuskegee and a graduate of West Point.  Col. Davis was given the task of preparing the 477th for deployment to the Pacific theater where it would participate in the impending invasion of Japan.  The dropping of the atomic bomb ended the war and the 477th never saw combat outside of the United States. After completing his four-year stint in the Army Air Corps, Cummings served in the Air Force Reserve and attained the rank of major before retiring after twenty years of service.

     Cummings earned a commercial pilot's license, but never utilized it because there were virtually no opportunities for employment of black pilots.  He went to work laying bricks in order to support his family and send his two daughters to college.  Cummings and his second wife Mildred lived in their South Wayne Street home in Columbus until she died in 1988.  

     When he is able, Major Cummings appears at reunions and programs to honor the Tuskegee Airmen or to support aviation in general.  He has never been bitter about his experiences in the military, stating instead that it wasn't too bad and nothing could keep a good man down.  

P.S. Major Herndon Cummings died on July 2, 2009 after complications from surgery.


Tuskegee Airman attends inaugural, recalls racism

(AP) WASHINGTON - H.M. Cummings, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, never thought when he was arrested in 1945 that he would live to see an African-American president.


Yet here he was at Tuesday’s inaugural ceremony for Barack Obama, bundled in a wheelchair at age 89, a long way from the April day when he experienced the humiliation of racism by the military.

Cummings, a B-25 pilot, was among 103 African-American airmen taken into custody at Freeman Field, Ind., for refusing to sign a letter promising to stay out of the all-white officer’s club.
"I couldn’t sign my rights away, my civil rights," said Cummings, of Columbus, Ohio, who recalled the arrest as he sat in a reserved section on the West Front of the Capitol, with a good view of the inaugural stand. He was one of hundreds of surviving Tuskegee Airman, the nation’s first black military pilots, invited to attend the inauguration.
Cummings said each member of his unit was called individually to the commander’s office. Those who refused to sign the letter promising to stay out of the club immediately were placed under house arrest.

"POWs had more freedom than we did," said Cummings, a second lieutenant at the time. "We didn’t feel good about it. We had trained. We were combat ready."
The airmen had volunteered as part of an Army Air Corps program that taught African-Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. They trained as a segregated unit at an air base in Tuskegee, Ala.

Cummings, then 26, never made it to the war.
The former pilot said he wasn’t surprised that an African-American would become president, but didn’t think it would happen in his lifetime.
"I never thought I’d live to see it," he said. "I knew it had to happen, but I didn’t expect it so soon."
Fifty years after the incident, Cummings was among 15 of the original 103 officers arrested who were notified their military records had been purged of any reference to the incident. The one airmen who was court-martialed and convicted was told the conviction had been reversed.

THE BATTLING BOOSTERS OF '29


We Are The Champions!


The 1929 edition of the Dublin Boosters had no choice but to fight. From the first to the last game of the season, this ragtag congregation of old professionals, former minor leaguers and good ol' country ball players had to scrap, claw and struggle their way out of the abyss of last place from day one. In point of fact, when the first games of the South East Georgia League were played on June 4, 1929, the team from Dublin had not even entered the league.



In the early decades of the 20th Century, baseball was king. Almost every Georgia town had a team. Some were strictly amateurs. Others were semi pros, who played for little or nothing but the sheer love of the game. A few Georgia cities like Atlanta, Macon, Savannah, Augusta and Columbus boasted minor league professional teams.



(Tiny Osborne - above) 




Dublin was no exception. In years past, local men formed a team formed of primarily truly local players. Every once in a while, a former professional or collegiate player might by charmed or lured by the payment of folding money to join the local aggregation for the summer. Among some of the more popular of the former collegiate athletes were Wally Butts, a teacher at GMC and Joshua Cody, the basketball and football coach at Mercer. Butts went on to become a legend as the iconic football coach of the University of Georgia over four decades. Cody, an All American lineman at Vanderbilt, went on to coach football at Vanderbilt, Florida and Temple.



The Southeast Georgia League, in the first season of its two-year existence, was composed of teams from Fitzgerald, Douglas, Eastman, Vidalia, Helena and Cochran. Representatives from each team met in Dublin with Dr. C.J. Bedingfield, who called a meeting of twenty or so of the Dubln's most rapid and wealthy baseball fans. The group unanimously agreed to replace the team from Cochran, which never really got off the ground and folded within its first ten days in the league. To manage the team, the team's owners hired R.T. Peacock, Sr., a local Chevrolet dealer.



It was to say the least an inauspicious and horrible start for the Dublin Boosters, who lost their first three games and put themselves in the cellar right from the beginning. By the end of June, the Irishmen won three in a row, played .500 ball, and managed to crawl out of the cellar to a respectable 7 and 7 record, placing fourth during the first half of the season.



The second half of the season was a different story. Under the new management of T.A. Curry, Sr. and Izzie Bashinski, Dublin won the first game against Helena and never looked back. The Dublin nine captured five straight wins before losing a close game to Fitzgerald. The Irishmen slumped into second place after playing .500 ball during the next ten games.



It was on the 1st day of August when the Boosters turned it up a notch or two. With a 15-8 thrashing of first place Fitzgerald and a 2-1 slim victory again the next day, the Boosters moved into first place and won five games in a row for the second time that season.



The boys from Fitzgerald keep fighting as well going toe to toe with Dublin and wound up in a tie for the second half of the season. A best two of three series was set for August 13 and 14 with the first game in Dublin and the second in Fitzgerald.



After Fitzgerald jumped on Boosters starter Earnest Osborne for two runs in the first inning, the Irish pitcher settled down and held the Fitzgerald nine scoreless for the rest of the game. With singles and walks, the Boosters whittled the lead and took the first game 7-2. The Dublin boys made sure that there was no coin toss for the location of the third game when they eked out a 7-6 victory to clinch a trip to the championship series against the first half champs from Douglas.



Charlie Morgan, a Macon prep and college star who spent a year as the catcher of the Toledo Mudhens, was chosen to umpire the league championship series along with George Sears of Alamo.



Dublin, behind the pitching of Clark and the catching of M.C. Dowda, defeated Douglas 4-2 in Douglas to take the first game of the seven game series. The teams returned to Dublin the following day in front of a very large crowd at the 12th District Fairgrounds. Despite Osborne giving up a few early runs, the Boosters pounded the Douglas pitchers Tully and Baker to take a 12-5 win.



The teams moved to a neutral location in Fitzgerald for the third game, which saw Fitzgerald slaughter the Boosters 12-0. In the fourth game, Dublin pitcher Carter silenced the home team Douglas batters, while Patterson drove in both Dublin runs. Defensively Dublin's Lynwood Mallard, a former Mercer University star athlete, gunned down a Douglas runner at the plate to preserve the 2-1 victory and a 3-1 lead in the series.


Mallard, a member of the Mercer and Georgia Sports Halls of Fame, was the top athlete at Macon's Lanier High School in  1926 and helped lead Lanier High to the GIAA state championship in basketball while averaging 17 points per game. He lettered in four sports at Lanier and at Mercer University and was named to Mercer's all‐time football team and was Mercer's leading scorer during his three years of basketball.  "Baggy" Mallard was a fine baseball player averaging .347 at the plate...Later played for the Johnstown, Tennessee squad in the Middle Atlantic League.


The 5th game was played in Dublin on August 21. The game was close through the first eight innings. In the bottom of the 9th with Dublin trailing 3-2, Eldon Carlyle, who batted .442 in the season and signed to play with the Atlanta Crackers, walked. It shall be noted that Carlyle, who made it to New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, was the brother of major leaguers, Cleo and Roy, the latter of who is given credit for the longest (618 feet) home run in major league history.

Osborne, running for Carlyle, made it to third when the Douglas second sacker fumbled Walker's hot grounder and threw wild to first. Parks sent a single with eyes which eluded an errant Douglas outfielder allowing Osborne and Walker to score, setting off a near riot in the Dublin stands. The boys from Dublin had done it! They were league champs!



Without a doubt, the most valuable player for Dublin was one Earnest Osborne.(Above)   Facetiously dubbed "Tiny" by his teammates and fans, this six-foot, four-inch, two hundred and fifteen-pound pitcher led his team to victory. "Tiny," a 36-year old native of Porterdale, Georgia, began playing in the minor leagues in Augusta, Georgia in 1919. Osborne joined the Chicago Cubs in 1922. In his rookie season, he posted a 9-5 record pitching to Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett. Osborne, who pitched along the side of Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander, finished with the 2nd best record of hits per nine innings, 3rd best record of strikeouts per inning and 4th most games saved and played in the National League. In a dubious category, "Tiny" led the NL in the most batters hit by a pitch (12), a feat which did not subject him to being charged on the mound because of his tremendous size.



Osborne slipped to 5-15 in his second season before he was traded during the 1924 season to the Brooklyn "Robins" Dodgers. After going 14 and 20 in a rotation which included Hall of Famers Burleigh Grimes and Dazzy Vance, "Tiny" left major league baseball. In his early thirties, Osborne pitched in the Southern Association with the Nashville Volunteers and New Orleans Pelicans and the Three I League and the Macon Peaches of the South Atlantic League in 1928 before coming to Dublin in the summer of 1929.

Osborne's career highlights included earning a save in the August 25, 1922 game between the Cubs and the Phillies which ended with a 26 to 23 victory for the Cubs and the highest scoring game in major league baseball history. Known for having a large pair of hands, Osborne was once photographed by the Sporting News holding five baseballs in his pitching hand. Osborne won his very last game for the Jackson Mississipians of the East Dixie League in 1935 at the age of 42. His son, Ernest Jr. played in the minor leagues and his grandson Bobo played seven seasons in the majors. "Tiny" died in 1969 in Atlanta.



In a time when Dubliners were looking for looking for something good in the dark years of the Depression, the Dublin Boosters had gone from worst to first in their first year of existence. They were the champions! The next year, Dublin lost in the league championship to Fitzgerald in the league's final game.