Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Here's Your Sign

Why did Thomas Cusack paint his name on walls? And, why did he paint his name on one of our walls, far, far away from Cusack's home in Chicago, Illinois. Actually, Cusack didn't paint his name on the wall of a West Madison Street building. One of his legion of sign painters did. In the first two decades of the 20th Century, the Thomas Cusack Company was the leading outdoor advertising firm in the United States of America. And, today if you know where to look, you can find a remnant of the days long ago when billboards adorned the sides of buildings across the country and right here in Dublin, Georgia.

Thomas Cusack was born in County Clare, Ireland. At the age of three, Cusack immigrated to America, just in time for the Civil War. Orphaned at five years of age, Thomas learned how to paint. Determined to make a living at it, Cusack established his own sign painting business when he was only seventeen years old. A couple of years at St. Xavier's College would help him to learn the world of running a business of his own.

Cusack discovered early in his career that he could transform the bare, dead walls of buildings into colorful and enticing signs. And, he could make money, lots of money, too. As one of the couple of outdoor advertising pioneers, Cusack's influence in the city of Chicago rose.

In 1890, Mayor Hempstead Washburne appointed the billboard baron to a seat on the school board. Cusack, a fervent supporter of education for eight years - the last two as Vice-President of the Board, drew the attention of Illinois governor John. P. Altgeld, who named him as an aide-de-camp on his general staff. In 1898, Cusack was elected to his first and only term in the United States Congress from the 4th District of Illinois. Cusack remained active as a Democrat, attending several national conventions as a party delegate.

After only one term, Congressman Cusack decided to return to his outdoor advertising business, which had grown to more than a hundred offices with leases on more than one hundred thousand billboards around the country. His signs brought in more than twenty-three million dollars in gross annual income.

Thomas Cusack was known for his friendly relationships with his employees. He was most proud of the fact that in a city known for its labor union strikes, his workers never walked off the job. In his day as a sign painter himself, Thomas fondly remembered getting $8 a week in wages. When he sold his twenty-five-million dollar business to a New York banking syndicate in 1924, he was proud that he was paying his men, $10 to $15 a day.

At the pinnacle of his successes, Thomas Cusack bought the entire town of Cascade, Colorado at Ute Pass in the Rocky Mountains. The owners' threw in the 80-room Cascade Hotel, the 40-room Ramona Hotel, five cottages, a pavilion, a lake and his own personal waterfall. Cusack hired architects and contractors to transform his property into greatest mountain resort in the world by immediately adding a plush concrete hotel at a cost of more than one hundred thousand dollars. Cusack and his wife moved to their thousand-acre ranch to personally supervise the transformation. While he was in the West, Cusack planned to expand his operations to the West Coast and eventually to Europe.

Thomas Cusack died on November 19, 1926 at the age 0f 68. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Evanston, Illinois.

And now, the moment you have been waiting for. To find the Cusack Company sign, first find the old 1st National Bank skyscraper. Go west on Madison Street. When you get to Tim Knight's wildlife studio on the south side of the street, look on the west wall of the building. Sadly, the top tw0-thirds of a gorgeous crimson Coca-Cola sign has all but faded away. But, look closely at the lower right-hand corner of the brick billboard. And, there is where you see, still in its brilliant bold colors, "Thos. Cusack Co. Chicago " There's your sign!

Monday, November 22, 2010


In the Beginning

When did Thanksgiving begin? Many claim it began in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts in 1621. Proud Virginians have a strong claim that it was on the banks of the James River two years prior when American colonists first celebrated their blessings on a day of Thanksgiving. The Northerners won the Civil War. So, to the victors go the rights to write our history. So, the traditional origin of Thanksgiving features the Pilgrims and Indians of New England. You might be surprised to learn that a Laurens County man was the first to urge the adoption of the holiday in Georgia.

In 1619, a group of English settlers arrived at the Berkeley Plantation on the James River, southeast of present day Richmond, Virginia. Their charter of settlement provided, "We ordain that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for the plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God." That first celebration was held on December 4, 1619.

Nearly two years later in the fall of 1621, the settlers of the Massachusetts colony joined with their Indian friends in celebrating their good fortune during their first year on the North American continent. The holiday was primarily celebrated on an irregular basis. George Washington proclaimed a Thanksgiving in 1795. It would be nearly another quarter of a century before northeastern states revived the erratic celebrations.

The authorities of Augusta, Georgia proclaimed one of the first local Thanksgiving observations in Georgia on Friday, November 7, 1823. Members of the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches joined together for three services to thank God for His tender mercies over all the works and in whose favors, all are partakers.

The origin of Georgia's first official celebration of Thanksgiving Day came in 1826. Governor George M. Troup, in his annual message to the Georgia legislature, asked the assembly to proclaim a statewide celebration of Thanksgiving Day. Troup, a resident of Laurens County, was one of the most powerful and admired chief executives of Georgia in the first half of the 19th Century. Troup urged the legislators to set a day aside to render from time to time homage and adoration so justly due to that Being, who is the donor of all good.

Robert Rea, of Greene County, introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives on November 18, 1826 to set apart a day statewide for prayer and thanksgiving. Madison County Senator Robert Groves introduced a similar resolution five days later in the upper house in acquiescence to the Governor's request. Both houses adopted the resolution on December 4th.

Legislators acknowledged the many undeserved favors bestowed by the hand of providence. In paying honor to the Almighty, the legislature authorized the governor to set forth measures to establish a state wide day of Thanksgiving to be held on the first Thursday of the next year, January 4, 1827.

On the 8th of December, Gov. Troup urged all denominations to assemble in their respective churches and celebrate the day with penitential hearts and uplifted hands to make grateful acknowledgment for the benefactions received from the Universal Parent.

Thanksgiving celebrations continued to be sporadic in Georgia until the 1840s. The corporate authorities of Savannah determined that November 25, 1841 be a day of public Thanksgiving. Daniel Hook, the Mayor of Augusta, proclaimed that the last day of 1841, would be set aside as "A day of Public Thanksgiving to Almighty God for blessing our city with its accustomed good health."

On December 19, 1842, the Georgia legislature officially adopted the first Friday of November in 1843 to be a day of Thanksgiving, to be attended with appropriate religious services in the several churches throughout the state. The statewide observance once again changed in 1845, when Governor George W. Crawford proclaimed the 13th day of February as a day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, in congratulating the people of Georgia on the introduction of this time-honored custom of the Eastern States. A dozen years later, the legislature determined that the celebration be held on November 26, 1857, the fourth Friday of that month.

Known more for her authorship of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, is more responsible than anyone for the national celebration of Thanksgiving. Mrs. Hale, is probably one of the most unknown successful women of the 19th Century. She was the first to urge equal education for women and the first to start day care nurseries for working women. And, Mrs. Hale was the first woman to serve as an editor of a woman's magazine. It was Mrs. Hale who wrote to urge President Abraham Lincoln to issue his Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863.

It would take another eighty years before the date was made uniform across the nation. Amazingly, the designation of Thanksgiving Day as being the fourth Thursday of November, was not officially adopted by the Federal government until the day after Christmas 1941, two years after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt suggested the national holiday as a way of boosting the country's economy.

On this day of Thanksgiving, let us all acknowledge our gratitude for the blessings we have. Celebrate the day with those you love. But remember those who are not as blessed, not only on this Thursday, but all the year long.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Momentary Passion

It mattered not at all to Jackson Terry that he was the first and only member of his race to accomplish a feat in the 203-year history of Laurens County. His lust for money and its evil roots, along with too much of the spirits, led to his undesirable title. Since and before 1840, Jackson Terry was the first and only white man in the history of Laurens County, Georgia to be legally hung by his neck until his death.

Jackson Terry wandered from place to place in search of a way to make a living. He wound up in Virginia, where he met one Captain James Hannah. The captain, a robust man of 60 years of age with tolerably long snow white hair, hired Terry to drive his wagon to Macon, Georgia, where they planned to sell tobacco. Terry had lived in Macon before, so it seemed only natural to take the assignment as a way of getting back to familiar territory and making a good wage in the process.

Terry and Hannah agreed that in compensation for his services, Terry would receive the excess profits of more than fifteen cents per pound for tobacco which would get wet when the wagon crossed creeks and rivers along their path. In his spare time, Terry diligently worked on stripping the damaged leaves. At first, the salvaged tobacco brought a handsome profit of ten cents per pound for Jackson, who expected to be paid at the end of each day. Each night Terry requested his pay. And each night, the Captain refused his demands.

The two men stopped at Steele's Mill on the Pee Dee River in North Carolina, where they purchased a 10-gallon keg of whiskey. Along their way, Terry, at Captain Hannah's request, sold whiskey, which in Terry's words was, "contrary to the laws of the state." They stopped again in Camden, South Carolina, where they refilled the keg and resumed the dispensing of spiritous liquors to any thirsty traveler with money.

At one point in South Carolina, their scheme was nearly discovered by an overseer of a group of slaves. Terry distracted the overseer by telling him that the dog they had with them would bite if the man went near the wagon without him. The ruse worked. Captain Hannah had enough time to hide the keg and the men went on their way. Terry later self servingly explained, "After this, I was determined to sell no more spirits, and on my refusal to do so, Capt. Hannah became vexed." Terry related that Hannah had cursed him although he thought him to be a member of the Methodist Church. The driver continued, "Captain Hannah said he would as soon be at the Devil as to have one in his employment who would not obey his orders." Despite Terry's resolution to stop selling liquor, Capt. Hannah refilled the keg in Augusta.

The relationship between the two travelers began to unravel at their campsite in Louisville, Georgia. Terry started a fire and set out some meat and coffee to cook. Realizing the deluge of rain made it impossible to cook bread, Terry went into town to find a freshly cooked loaf. Upon his return, Jackson found that the Captain had eaten his supper and thrown out the leftovers before retiring for the night. Terry held his tongue. In fact, both men did, well into the next morning. When they began to talk, Terry reported that the Captain used very harsh language against him.

It was still raining the next night when the two-horse wagon pulled into a campsite near Robert Higdon's mill on Hunger and Hardship Creek, just north of the village of Dublin. Terry cooked supper and laid it out on a stool, along with a sufficient cup of whiskey. Instantly, Hannah forbade his driver's attempt to drink any coffee out of a small iron pot. After the Captain finished his meal, Terry took the coffee out of the pot and drank it.

As the next day dawned, Terry and Hannah talked of heading to Clinton in Jones County. "He wanted to go by a circuitous route, and I thought it was out of the way to go by the route he recommended," confessed Terry, who had only promised to go to Macon. Hannah ordered Terry to grease the axles of his wagon, which he did. The discussion became more heated. Hannah threatened to knock Terry in the head with a spike. Terry retorted, "Get me a switch large enough to whip me!" Tempers subsided. When Terry asked Hannah how he wanted a squirrel cooked for breakfast, there was no reply. The squirrel was thrown into the frying pan along with some other victuals. Hannah complained about the food, to which Terry responded, "If you get me some good food, I will cook it." Hannah complained the bread was too thick, so Terry cooked a thinner piece. Hannah asked for a dram of liquor with his coffee. Both men began to imbibe one drink after another.

Captain Hannah stood up, picked up a knife, and assaulted the five-foot-tall Terry, who reached for an axe and whacked the Captain across the neck, nearly severing his head. Jackson panicked. He called to the Captain by name. There was no answer. He ran down to the mill pond and filled his bucket with clean water. Terrified and regretting what he had just done, Terry ran back up the hill, started a lightwood fire and went over to his comrade to check if he was still alive. As he saw blood spuing from Hannah's neck, he realized he had killed his antagonist. Terry stated that he told Hannah that this was his fault and he should have left him alone. Terry rifled through Hannah's belongings, taking about a hundred dollars and some of his papers. He cut the rope tied to one horse and set out to Wilkinson County to the north. He stopped for the night at Mr. King's house before going to Macon.

As the day light illuminated the scene, Captain Hannah's bloody corpse was found. Incensed at the murder, local officials began to investigate. They came up with a description of the murder and word got out as fast as it could. There were no newspapers, phones, or telegraphs around. John M. Higdon and John Spicer offered a reward for the suspect's capture, a man by them as "Terrell." Investigators followed the old dog which had accompanied the men and the other horse, which broke his rope and followed Terry's horse. A few days later, Jackson Terry was arrested at the race track in Macon. Hannah's papers and cash were found on his person.

Jackson Terry was kept in the Laurens County jail until he was indicted by the Grand Jury. A trial was held on June 15, 1840. Judge Carleton Cole was sitting on the bench. Solicitor General William Wiggins called the case to trial. Representing the pauper Terry were Isham Saffold, Thomas C. Sullivan, Augustin Hansell and Peter Early Love, all very prominent attorneys. Hansell and Love, a native of Laurens, were both prominent jurists and statesmen in the latter half of the 20th Century.

After a brief trial, jury foreman Stephen B. Hester read the verdict of guilty. Three days later, Judge Cole ordered that Terry be hung by his neck until his death. On Friday, July 24, 1840 between the appointed hanging times of between ten and two, Jackson Terry walked up the gallows.

When asked, Jackson Terry confessed the story, his story, which you have just read. He concluded his repentance by saying, "I am doomed to die, and today I shall pay the great debt of nature, the only retribution I can offer for my crime - a crime which was committed under the influence of a momentary passion and for which I most seriously repent. And, may the Lord have mercy on my soul. Amen." The trap door dropped - another death on Tobacco Road.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


An American Patriot

Maryan Harris is a patriot. Who else would stuff her stomach with bananas and several quarts of water to qualify to serve her country? It is in her blood, Maryan descends from Hardy Smith of the Revolution and Andrew Pickens, her 4th great-grandfather and South Carolina militia leader, who was the model for Mel Gibson's character in The Patriot. She wanted to serve, but admittedly Maryan joined the Women Accepted for Volunteer Service Emergency Service (W.A.V.E.S) just for the adventure of it.

Maryan Harley Smith was born in 1918. She graduated from Wesleyan College in Macon, joining her mother, Annie Pickens Simons Smith, and her grandmother, Mary Pickens Simons as alumnae of the world's first chartered women's college. The oldest daughter of Charles Manly Smith, Maryan obtained her Master's Degree in Social Science Work from the University of Louisville.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Maryan Smith was already serving her country as a teacher in Thomasville, Georgia. After the shock of that day began to wane, Maryan made the decision to join the WAVES. "I had heard about the service organizations for women and I thought I would like to join the WAVES," Harris recalled. She traveled from Greenwood to Columbia to take the entrance examination. "That morning I was a little bit under weight, so I ate lots of bananas and drank lots of water to try to raise my weight a little bit," Harris fondly recalled. She reached her goal, but couldn't stretch her under regulation height enough to meet the requirements. "But they accepted me anyway when they saw I was healthy," Maryan recalled.

It was in the spring of 1943 when Maryan Smith first took her physical and written examinations. At the time of her induction on June 5, 1943, Maryan was sent to Smith College in North Hampton, Massachusetts for four weeks of basic training. "That was a wonderful experience. I had never been in the Northeast. North Hampton was a beautiful old town. We marched everywhere we went. They had a wonderful restaurant that was well known for its delicious food. That's where we had our meals. We had to march from the college to the restaurant every time we ate. The food was wonderful. I really enjoyed that," Smith fondly recollected.

Despite the strenuous requirements of basic training, Smith enjoyed her first days in the WAVES. "We had to learn to keep our rooms in "apple pie" order. I remember mitering the beds. I would bruise my knuckles trying to get the cover tight enough to bounce a dime. They would come around and inspect the room with white gloves. If they found anything wrong, you got a demerit," she reminisced. One trivial incident was still firm in her mind. Maryan recalled the time her unit had an inspection. The inspecting officer said, "There is an article adrift". "We looked everywhere and finally found one little bobby pin in one corner of the room. I guess that was the "article adrift," Maryan recalled.

Maryan and her fellow WAVES studied everything from military history to anything pertaining to the Navy and surface craft. Although she was not trained in communication, Maryan was sent to Miami for her tour of duty in communications. Assigned to the 7th Naval District, Maryan had the very interesting duty of coding and decoding messages. Never able to get used to the graveyard shift of midnight to morning, Maryan stayed awake by drinking gallons of coffee.

"We sent messages to and from the surface ships. The PT boats and destroyer escorts came into Miami to get their supplies. One of Maryan's most memorable moments of her tour of duty came when she and other WAVES took a ride out to the island to watch the filming of the movie, They Were Expendable. "It was about the PT boats and their mission during the war. Robert Taylor and John Wayne were in the movie. That was a lot of fun. I was in that group. I got to see John Wayne and Robert Taylor do their thing," remembered the former Lieutenant Junior Grade. "I never did meet them personally; they didn't want to get that close to the public. On one occasion they took us aboard a destroyer and showed us all around. That was interesting," Mrs. Harris said.

Maryan would often pinch herself and say, "Is this really me?" as she enjoyed the subtropical life of tall palms and blue water in Miami and Coral Gables, where she had the chance to room with her sister Dorothy "Dottie," also a Wesleyan graduate. Life in South Florida was not all fun. She managed to dodge a hurricane, but had to eat all too much spam her sister Dottie had stocked up on in case disaster struck her apartment.

Still wanting adventures, Maryan asked for a transfer to California. Instead, she was sent to the nation's capital for the last ten months of her tour of duty. Although she didn't enjoy Washington as much as Miami, Maryan enjoyed her time there as well.

Life in the WAVES wasn't everything to Maryan. Before the war, she met John Joseph Harris, Jr., who was stationed at Spence Field in Moultrie, a few miles distant from Thomasville. Ironically, Harris was assigned to the 121st Georgia Infantry, which was established in Dublin in 1919 and was composed of many soldiers from Laurens County and around the state of Georgia. While Maryan was stationed in Miami, the couple got to see each other on several occasions before he shipped out to the European Theater in 1944.

Eleven months after the end of the war in Europe, John and Maryan joined hands in marriage. "If I had not met John and wanted to get married, I would have stayed in the service." Maryan was officially discharged about a month after their marriage.

Washington held fond memories for Maryan. "When I was in Washington, they declared VJ Day and everyone poured out of the offices and everybody went downtown singing, waving flags and hugging each other whether you knew them or not. We were all so happy the war was over," she fondly recollected. The Harrises moved to Dublin after John's retirement as a defense analyst. They had one son, John K. Harris.

Maryan Smith Harris went back to serving her community. As a volunteer for the Laurens County Historical Society, and a long time member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and her beloved Christ Episcopal Church, Maryan continued to help others.

On this Veteran's Day, remember those who have served our country in war and peace. And, remember those who still serve, the true American patriots.

This article was based on an interview with Mrs. Harris by Mac Fowler ten years ago.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


Dividing America

The opening salvo in the American Civil War may have come in big city and back woods polling places around the country on November 6, 1860, one hundred and fifty years ago this week. Four different candidates, three of them Democrats, vied for the highest office in the land. While the three Democrats garnered more than sixty percent of the popular vote, it was the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, who tallied the most votes in the Electoral College. This election was the lighted match thrown into a highly volatile mix of abolitionists, secessionists, Unionists, and quite frankly, many who cared nothing at all about the issue of slavery.

The split in the presidential voting in East Central, Georgia became apparent in the 1856 election. Laurens County voters cast 85.3 percent of their votes for the Know-Nothing party candidate, Millard Fillmore. Montgomery voters were even more opposed to the idea of secession in casting 88.57% of their ballots for the former president, who only carried one state, the border state of Maryland. Fillmore carried Jefferson County, the home of Herschel V. Johnson, but barely. The race in Emanuel was very close, with the eventual winner, James Buchanan coming out on top. Buchanan carried the remaining counties in the region by large margins.

The election of 1860 pitted the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln of Illinois (LEFT), against three Democratic factions headed by John C. Breckinridge (Kentucky) of the Southern Democratic party, John Bell (Tennessee) of the Constitutional Union party, and Stephen Douglas (Illinois) of the Northern Democratic Party, which nominated as its vice-presidential candidate, Gov. Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia, and future judge and namesake of Johnson County, Georgia.

Some political historians have concluded that the turnout in the 1860 election was lower than normal because the outcome was never in doubt. It has been said that most voters accepted the fact that another Democrat would be in the White House and that the total electoral votes of the three Democrats would be consolidated into a compromise winner and Abraham Lincoln would go back to practicing law in Illinois.

The heaviest vote for John Bell (Left) came in Montgomery County. Ironically the once home county of Gov. George M. Troup, the founder of State Rights, was most supportive of the Unionist Democrats. Montgomery was primarily composed of male voters who were of Scottish ancestry. Eight of nine voters, who owned very few slaves and saw hard work on their part as a part of their heritage, wanted no part of secession. The county's delegates to the Secession Convention and the subsequent sessions of the Georgia Legislature consistently voted against the actions of the state's Confederate government. Nevertheless, the county sent 114 men off to fight the Yankees, all but fourteen were killed, wounded, imprisoned or died of disease. Clearly it was not their war. Washington and Emanuel County supported Bell in large numbers.

In Troup's (left)  home county of Laurens, support for Bell soared to more than seventy-two percent, a level slightly higher than in the election of candidates to the convention which was held the following January in the capital at Milledgeville. Breckinridge gathered only 36 of 592 votes, while Douglas only got 21.6 percent of Laurens County voters to mark his name on the ballot.

The highest support for Breckinridge (left) came from voters along the Coastal Plain and in the mountains of Georgia. Locally, voters in Wilcox, Wilkinson Twiggs and Pulaski voted for Breckinridge, though his support waned the closer the counties were to the "Slave Belt." Surprisingly it was in the area where blacks were in the majority, voters overwhelmingly supported Bell and remaining in the Union despite their dependence on slavery.

There appeared no direct relationship between the percentage of slaves among the county populations to their white masters votes for the pro-Union and pro-secession candidates. The highest percentage of a county's slave population was in Twiggs (64.5) and the county's voters (63.1) voted for Breckinridge, the pro-slavery candidate. However, in Jefferson and Washington counties where slaves were more than fifty percent of their populations, white males voted for Bell and Douglas, the more pro-Union parties.

On the other hand, the lowest slave populated counties with less than 1 in 3, (Emanuel, Johnson and Montgomery) were the mostly pro-Union supporters, choosing to stay in the Union to avoid a military and economic war and being content with owning their slaves and uncaring about slaves in the western territories and states.

When the nearly 4.7 million votes were tallied and electoral college delegates appointed, Abraham Lincoln won more than half of the electoral votes and carried more than half of the states in the country, all in the North and the West. Breckinridge carried all of the Southern States, except Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

In Georgia, Breckinridge received nearly half of the 107,000 votes. Bell placed second with 40 percent of the vote, while Douglas (left) , despite Jefferson County's native son's spot on the ticket, only tallied one-tenth of the popular vote.

As the news of Lincoln's election spread first throughout Milledgeville and the state's largest cities and then to the small town around the state, enthusiasm for secession began to swell. Another election was held to choose delegates to a Secession Convention in Milledgeville. More than two-thirds of Laurens County voters remained Unionist, but elected Dr. Nathan Tucker and J.W. Yopp to a split delegation of Unionist and Secessionist sentiments respectively. Washington County, who provided the most men per capita to the Confederate Army , were split at the convention. Johnson and Emanuel County's voters were anti-secession. Montgomery Countians remained steadfastly pro-Union, never giving up on their convictions. Georgia Unionists, led by Herschel Johnson and Alexander Stephens, the future Vice President of the Confederate States of America, held their firm position against leaving the Union at first, but eventually succumbed to the fervent secessionists led by Howell Cobb and Robert Toombs, who convinced Georgia's legislature to vote for leaving the Union in January 1861.

The importance of the national election of 1860 can never be understated. However, every election, either on a national, state or local scale is important. By voting, you can change the history of our future. By not voting, someone else will change your future or your children's future. One thing is certain, if you stay home, your voice won't be heard. So vote.