Judge Beverly D. Evans in his office in Sandersville, Georgia, circa 1907.
Photo from the Georgia Department of Archives and History, Vanishing Georgia Collection.
JUDGE BEVERLY D. EVANS, JR.
Beverly D. Evans and his family served justice in these parts for nearly three quarters of a century. And, they served it well. This is the story of a family of lawyers, and in particular, Judge Beverly D. Evans, Jr., who is still one of the most renowned lawyers ever to practice in East Central Georgia.
The first of the Evans clan to appear before the bench in Washington County was the family’s progenitor, Beverly D. Evans, Sr. A native of South Carolina, the senior Evans removed himself from his home and moved to Sandersville, Georgia in the early 1850s. After being admitted to the bar at Dublin in 1852, Evans began his successful and illustrious forty-five-year career as an attorney and counselor at law. His profession was interrupted during the War Between the States. As commander of the 2nd Georgia Regiment of State Troops, Lt. Col. Evans led a valiant, but futile, attack on the right wing of General William T. Sherman’s army at Griswoldville.
During the action, Evans was wounded. He returned to resume his law practice in Sandersville, where he died on March 26, 1897, some two years before his son and namesake Beverly D. Evans, Jr would take office as a judge for the first time.
Beverly D. Evans, Jr. was born at Sandersville on May 21, 1865. A brilliant young man, Evans graduated from Mercer University in 1881 at the age of sixteen. A year later, the school conferred upon him a Master of Arts degree. Beverly had high ambitions. He was accepted into the prestigious School of Law at Yale University. By the age of nineteen, Evans was back at home in Sandersville and ready to follow in the footsteps of his father. He wanted to do more than to be just another small town lawyer. Just after celebrating his twenty first birthday, Evans was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in his first political race. As one of the youngest state representatives in the history of the state, Evans served in the sessions of 1886 and 1887 as the first legislator in Georgia to be born after the end of the war.
On February 2, 1891, following the death of Oscar H. Rogers, the twenty-five-year-old Beverly Evans was sworn in a Solicitor General of the Middle Superior Court Circuit of Georgia. As solicitor, it was Evans’ place to prosecute criminal cases in the Superior Courts of Jefferson, Washington, Johnson, Screven, Warren, Tattnall and Emanuel counties. Evans served until the end of 1896.
Evans made it his goal to his practice law without compromising his ideals. Justice Andrew J. Cobb told the story of his colleague’s compassion, even for the guilty. Once upon a time Evans prosecuted a man, who was sentenced to pay a substantial fine. The defendant’s wife, appearing poor and pitiful to the empathetic solicitor, laid out all of her numerous bills and her pittance of coins on Evans’ desk. She begged him to allow her husband to work out the remainder of the fine. Evans handed the money back to the lamentable lady, paid the fine from his own pocket, and remanded the defendant back to the custody of his loyal and loving wife.
At the age of thirty-three, Beverly Evans was elected to the bench of the Superior Court of the prestigious Middle District. Evans succeeded some of the most well known judges in Georgia history. His predecessors included William Few, who signed the Constitution on behalf of Georgia, George Walton, who signed the Declaration of Independence for the state, Georgia governors William Schley and Herschel V. Johnson, and Confederate field officers, William Gibson and Reuben Carswell. Judge Evans sat on the bench until March 19, 1904, when Governor Joseph M. Terrell appointed him to replace the retiring Henry G. Turner to the Supreme Court of Georgia.
At the time, Evans was the second youngest Georgia Supreme Court justice in the history of Georgia. Justice Evans easily won renomination by the voters and was never seriously challenged in an election. During his thirteen-year term on the bench, Evans wrote more than a thousand opinions and participated in several thousand more cases.
Being a lawyer seemed to have run in Justice Evans’ family. His brother, Andrew Willis Evans, practiced law in Sandersville. His son, Thomas Warthen Evans, practiced law in Dublin during the World War I years. Judge Evans married first to Bessie Warren and last to Jennie Irwin. The Evans suffered a great personal tragedy when Beverly D. Evans, III was killed in action on November 1, 1918, just ten days before the signing of the armistice.
Beverly Evans was more than just a lawyer. In 1888, he served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, which nominated Grover Cleveland. He was a curator and President of the Georgia Historical Society. A devout Baptist, Evans often served as a vice president of the Georgia Baptist Convention and as a trustee of Bessie Tift College.
Justice Evans resigned from the Supreme Court on August 31, 1917. The following day, he took the oath of office as District Judge of the Southern District of Georgia. At the pinnacle of his career, Judge Beverly Evans was one of the few persons, if not the only person, to serve his state as a State Representative, Solicitor, Superior Court Judge, Supreme Court Justice and Federal District Court Judge.
On May 7, 1922, Judge Evans was suddenly struck with his third heart attack and died. He was only fifty-seven years old. Who knows what this gifted and faithful man could have achieved? Judge Evans was eulogized by his friend and colleague, Judge Marcus Beck, who proclaimed, "Probably no man in Georgia was held in such esteem as so loved by his associates as was Judge Evans. He was one of the ablest lawyers and jurists in the country. Judge Evans life was an exemplification of all that was good. Truth, love and courage in all things pertaining to the idealism of perfect citizenship - these were his, all of them."