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

Monday, September 27, 2010


Quintessential Justice

One gallows. One hangman. One fine day. Three bodies buried. Three families grieving. Three speedy trials. Five coffins waiting. Five nooses tightened. Five necks broken. Ten legs dangling. Ten thousand eyes staring. Justice served. Justice done. Hooray for the hangman!

@ Vanishing Georgia.  Sheriff Dunham is on the ground, standing near the center of the photograph.

The Montgomery County jail was infested with villainous murderers. And, Judge Christopher C. Smith was ready to rid the jail of the vermin, who had been plaguing the citizens of Montgomery County. Twenty-one prisoners, nine charged with murder, would soon know their fate. Judge Smith issued an order on August 1, 1893 to begin the process of clearing the jail. Judge Smith, who was in his first year on the bench of the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit, ordered that the most serious offenders were to be tried before the court and juries beginning on the 4th day of September.

First on the docket was the oldest case, the State vs. Weldon Gordon. Gordon and his accomplice, the master murderer Nick Nutting, had gotten into an argument with one Barney Neal of Montgomery County. During the struggle, Gordon negligently killed Neal's young daughter, Zerida. Nick Nutting, who had been known to have killed at least a half dozen men, was hung by the neck on the 26th of May. Blue Ridge Circuit Judge George Gober, sitting on the bench in the stead of Judge Smith, called the cases to order. Thomas Eason and C.D. Loud represented the State of Georgia during the long week of trials. Gordon, represented by Messers Beasley and Hines of Mt. Vernon, was convicted of murder in a trial which began after lunch and concluded just in time for the jurors to eat a late supper.

The next morning, the defendant Purse Strickland stood before the court. Strickland was charged with the premeditated malice murder of Jim Locklear. The two men got into an argument which culminated when Locklear shot at Strickland's dog and threatened to kill him as well. After a short cooling off period, Strickland snuck into Locklear's residence and shot Locklear in the back of his head while he was eating his supper. The trial was over in two hours. Strickland was found guilty of murder.

On Wednesday morning, the most celebrated case filled the courtroom with spectators and the courthouse grounds with thousands of captivated bystanders. Lucien Manuel, Hyre Brewington, and Hiram Jacobs were charged with the heinous murder of Alex Peterson, a popular express agent in nearby Ailey. The three defendants, all said to be Scuffletonians of mixed white, black and Indian blood, had quickly confessed to their heinous crime to Sheriff George W. Dunham, who was praised by Georgia governor W.J. Northern for his quick removal of the men from the throngs of vengeful lynch mobs by taking them to Savannah for safe keeping. Northern was especially proud of Dunham's ingenuity in using a gathering of a brigade of ministers to protect the innocent until proven guilty. The preachers happened to have been convening in town earlier in the day doing God's work. Despite the best efforts of defense attorneys W.L. Clarke and L.D. Nicholson, the trio was found guilty after only two minutes of deliberation by the jury. Ashley Manuel and Hezekiah Brewington, brothers of two of the defendants, were found innocent of the charge of murder and released without a trial.

Other defendants met lady justice that week, but these five convicted killers were sentenced to a date with the hangman on September 29, 1893. As the day for the hanging approached, there was electricity in the air. Thousands and thousands of the vengeful and the just plain curious began to assemble in the county capital of Mt. Vernon. All during the night and throughout the morning before the hanging, the five condemned men were consoled by the prayers of the Rev. Samuel Ross, a colored Methodist minister. By the best estimates of reporters, nearly a hundred Negroes gathered around the jail to pray for the condemned and serenade them with religious melodies.

Just about noon, Montgomery County Sheriff Dunham and his deputies loaded the defendants into a wagon and set off on a half mile journey to the gallows, custom constructed for the purpose of the mass hanging. Sheriff Dunham read the death warrants. With nerves of cold steel, Manuel, Brewington, Jacobs, Gordon and Strickland climbed the ladder of death. Gordon and Strickland puffed their last cheap cigars. In dead silence, each man looked down on the grave of one Will Blash, who had been hung on the same spot some two years prior. Off to the side, they gazed upon five new and empty coffins, their own coffins. D. McEachin read a prepared statement on behalf of Weldon Gordon attributing his ruin to whiskey. Gordon reminded the masses of the evils of alcohol. In his last words, the child killer thanked the sheriff and jailer for keeping him alive until the hanging. He forgave the lawmen and prayed for their future health.

Strickland told the crowd the he killed Locklear in self defense. Then Rev. Ross led the crowd in prayer followed by a recitation of the dirge, A Charge to Keep I Have. Lucien Manuel echoed the other comments by confessing that alcohol led him to kill Alex Peterson. Hiram Jacobs confirmed his co-conspirator's comments. Rev. Wm. Moore led the assembled multitude in another hymn. After a final prayer by the Rev. G.B. Allen, Sheriff Dunham tied the doomed men's arms, adjusted their nooses, just in time for one final prayer. As he placed black hoods over the five condemned souls, Sheriff Dunham muttered, "Goodbye boys and may God have mercy on your souls." At 2:02 on the afternoon of September 29, 1893, hangman Dunham, pulled the trap doors open. Five bodies dangled for twenty-one agonizing minutes.

The bodies of Gordon and Strickland were loaded on wagons by their families and taken away for private burials. The other three corpses were shipped to medical schools in Atlanta. While under the care of undertaker David T. Howard in his Calhoun Street mortuary, a large crowd, mostly black, stormed the morgue, breaking paints, glass, and jars of embalming fluids trying to get a last glance of the twisted and swollen cadavers before they were dipped into the pickling vats.

As the souvenir hunters picked up the last shreds of murderabilia and the cooler days of September were coming to an end, those who came walked away knowing the justice was done. It was one of the largest, if not the largest, public executions in the history of Georgia, and one of the last public hangings outright. The hangman, Sheriff Dunham, would see only one more September. He was fatally shot in the face in the spring of 1895 when he confronted William Connell, who had allegedly made remarks about his wife. Dunham's friends riddled Connell with their pistol bullets and shotgun shot. And, the devils laughed out loud from the bowels of Hell.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Now that summer is gone, let us turn back the clock one hundred Septembers to the fall of 1910. There wasn't much in the news in those days. But, that wasn't a bad thing. Life in seventh month was a little less frenzied. Now you say, September, the seventh month? Yes, under the original Roman calendar, September, the seventh month, didn't become the 9th month until the year 153 A.D..

Thomas Haskins was interested in banks. In fact, Haskins was the vice president and director of the Bank of Dudley. He owned quite a bit of the capital stock of that bank, as well as an interest in one of the banks in Dublin. Trouble was, Haskins didn't trust banks, not at all. In fact, when he died, Haskins didn't have a lone Indian Head, V nickel, or silver coin in the Bank of Dudley or any other bank for that matter.

The old man thought his cash would be safer in his tin box, which he kept in an old desk. On the day after his funeral, his family opened the box and found $11,400.00 in cash along with $18,000.00 in notes and mortgages. His widow was afraid to open the cache. She asked some friends to count the money. During the previous year, Haskins invested a great deal of his currency in promissory notes. It wasn't all paper money, Haskins had a considerable amount of gold and silver coins stashed away.

Just a few months before his demise, Haskins sold his plantation to an Atlanta man, who paid him half in cash and half in gold and silver. He put the coins in one pocket and the currency in the other pocket. Just for one day, he let the bank hold his silver coins. Though some doubted his distrust of banks, the reason most often given for Haskins' refusal to use deposit slips was that he wanted to keep his wealth a secret. On the other hand, word of a treasure chest was never made public as to not entice burglars and robbers to take their wrongful share of his wealth. After the money and notes were properly counted and documented, Mrs. Haskins did the right thing and put it all back in the bank to earn some interest.

Speaking of banks, the folks in Rockledge were right proud of their new bank, which was formed on the last day of summer. C.R. Williams was made the president. The bank would not be fully organized until April 1912. The list of incorporators read like a "who's who" of the Rockledge area. They included C.R. Williams*, J.S. Drew, Jr.*, D.A. Autry, M. Thigpen*, B.F. Barfield*, William Thigpen, Sr.*, D.E. Walker*, J.R. Graham, Dr. W.E. Williams*, W.T. Lord*, T.A. Smith, L.J. Pope, C.J. Donaldson, J.H. Salters, J.M. Thigpen, G.M. Thigpen, William Thigpen, Jr., C.L. Thigpen, J.A. Salters, A.P. Odom, J.J. Green, J.F. Cobb, B.E. Barfield, C.W. Brantley, Fannie Thigpen, L.N. Foskey, John A. Johnson, Sr, J.I. Johnson, William Bales, J.M. Williams*, J.R. Hester*, J.I. Maddux*, J.R. Graham, Jr.*, R.V. Odom, Sherman Johnson, W.H. Toler, D.E. Walker, L.J. Flanders*, J.B. Thigpen, Richard Thigpen, E.L. Branch, W.H.H. McLendon, R.L. Odom, J.H. Drew, Jr.*, L.F. Pope*, and E.A. Wynn. (Those men whose names are marked with an asterisk were the initial members of the board of directors.) The Bank of Rockledge failed like all its sister small town banks.

But no one was more proud than the farmers of the county and stockholders of the Consolidated Phosphate Company. Located near the eastern banks of the Oconee River in Dublin, the five-story building towered above the landscape of Dublin in the years before the First National Bank scraped the sky even more. Izzie Bashinski was the chief executive and operating officer of the concern, which put out more than one hundred tons of acid phosphate per day. Bashinski hoped that the annual output would amount to two hundred million pounds. City fathers were happy. The plant used and paid $3600.00 annually for electricity to turn the plant's gigantic motors adding more money to the city's coffers for infra structural improvements. The plant used phosphate rock from Florida and sulphuric acid from Ducktown, Tennessee to produce their product for a single buyer.

Times were good in Dublin. Money meant jobs and jobs meant there was money to throw around. And, too many people liked to throw their money into the hands of the owners and operators of illegal liquor establishments, known as "blind tigers." City Recorder Judge A.W. Sturgis was bound and determined to put an end to the proliferation of demon rum throughout the city. So, when nine defendants appeared in his court, he meted out punishment swiftly and harshly. Mason Walker, a repeat offender, was given the maximum fine, ninety days in jail and a $150.00 fine. Love Watts was sentenced to go with him, but escaped the fine. William Morris, Mose Jones, and Elsie McDonald were invited to go along too, but were given the chance to get a "get of jail card" by paying the maximum fine, an amount they didn't have after spending their profits. Vashti Brooks and Dallas Coffey were acquitted and got out of jail. Frank Rozier did go, when he perjured himself in an effort to exonerate Brooks.

Mrs. N.H. Marshall had a September she would just soon forget. The wife of one of Dublin's premier car dealers and an enthusiastic automobilist in her own right, was attempting to crank her car when the crank shaft broke striking her in her right wrist, breaking several small bones and badly tearing her ligaments. Her physician banned her from driving for at least a few weeks or until she could get a kind gentleman to crank her car for her.

Winnie Crosby, on the other hand, had a September to remember. At the age of seventy-six, Mrs. Crosby boarded a train for the first time in her life. Although the ride to Rentz along the Southwestern Division of the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad was her first, she described her experience as a pleasurable one.

Fifty aging veterans of the War Between the States gathered in Dublin for a grand reunion. Out of six companies from Laurens County, only half a hundred veterans were able to participate. One hundred and two men from other counties joined their comrades under the command of Judge John H. Martin of Hawkinsville, who was elected Colonel of the brigade. Dublin attorney W.C. Davis was elected to serve as Col. Martin's Chief of Staff. Capt. Hardy Smith commanded the soldiers of the Laurens County companies while railroad executive L. A. Matthews commanded the out of county company. The Dublin Band led a parade down Jackson Street to Church Street and then to the pavilion in Stubbs Park. Speeches were given by C.A. Weddington, Mayor L.Q. Stubbs, Judge Martin, and Col. G.N. Saussy of Hawkinsville. A big barbecue dinner was served at the pits on Calhoun Street under the supervision of Major T.D. Smith, known far and wide for his culinary skills.

So, as the autumn days grow shorter, think about a time when life was a little bit slower, people were little bit kinder, and there was a little good news to read.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


The annual Ocmulgee Indian Celebration was held at the Ocmulgee National Monument on September 18-19, 2010.  Here are some photos of that event.

Honor Guard of American Indians and Vietnam Veterans

Muscogee Indian Princesses

Flute Player, Daniel Bigay

Indian Pottery

Jim Sawgrass, Creek Warrior, Yamassee Indian Period Interpreter

Oskwanontona Big Mountain

Demonstration of communication techniques.

Paco Cruz, A Proud American

Playing Indian music.

Monday, September 13, 2010


The Sculptor of Our Lives

Mildred Youngblood was a sculptor of sorts. For a nominal fee, this meek, compassionate, but firm, kindergarten teacher would take your child and mold him into a form, one which would last a lifetime. Day by day, with words of wisdom, acts of kindness, and a gentle smile, Mrs. Youngblood gently impressed and molded the hearts of her students with old-fashioned Christian values. As she would see them many years later, she would be reminded of their names, too many to keep a count. A modest woman, Mrs. Youngblood never touted herself as a great kindergarten teacher, but to those of us who were lucky enough to have been in her class, we will never forget the sweet gentle little lady, whose loving hands and tender heart shaped and formed us into who we are today.

Born on the first day of December 1912 in the town of Orianna, Ga., Mildred Toler Youngblood was youngest of six children of Wm. H. and Elmina Rebecca Toler. Mildred attended schools in Orianna and even a year in Greenville, S.C. before graduating from Adrian High in 1930.

Mildred Youngblood's formal education in teaching came at the Georgia State Teacher's College in Athens, where she and her friends, Francis and Ethel, had grand times. They enjoyed going down to the train station to greet the Georgia band on its out of town trips. The girls existed on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches, some times with jelly on them. They hid their goodies from home and rationed them for special occasions.

After leaving her life long friend Francis Connors behind, Mildred returned to Orianna. Feeling it was best to stay near home and build up her financial resources, Mildred taught first at Condor School in eastern Laurens County before teaching at Norristown and Gillis Springs and a year at Perkins School in Jenkins County.

Mildred began to think and pray about teaching again. Another school year had started when in October of 1954, Mrs. Grace Cowart contacted Mildred and asked her about taking over the operation of Rosewood Kindergarten on Rosewood Drive. With school already in session, Mrs. Youngblood was afraid that her students would leave. Facing the decision with mixed emotions, Mrs. Youngblood prayed some more. Her prayer was answered. "Momma always said 'If I would furnish the kindergarten, then God will furnish the children,' " said daughter Rebecca Gainous. "She always had a waiting list," said daughter Nancy Thacker. And, so for the next 32 years Mildred Youngblood taught.

Known for her fantastic plays, Youngblood's students first performance was Tiny Tot's Circus. Robert Dunn, the ringmaster, led the show which featured Ted Calhoun, Hannah Hall, Susan Bracewell, Joy Tyre, Clayton Cordell and many, many others. Among the early shows were Down on Old McDonald's Farm, Mrs. McGregor's Garden, and Operetta - A Little Bit of Holland. "It amazes me how she did those programs. No child ever felt pressured and every child had a good time," Rebecca remembered. "Although I was not in kindergarten, I was in her first program, as the animal trainer," Thacker fondly recalled.

In fact, both of Nancy's children, Janet and Norman, attended their grandmother's kindergarten. "I was looking through her notebooks of her student's class records and I found that my son Norman's name appeared often in mother's bad behavior notes. Janet's name didn't appear that much. She showed no difference in the way she treated her own grandchildren," laughed Mrs. Thacker. And, both of Mrs. Youngblood's daughters became teachers as well. Nancy taught for 31 years and Rebecca even more as a kindergarten teacher, just like her mother. Nancy's daughter, Janet Thacker James, also teaches, bringing their combined total to more than 110 years. "We did morning calendar and recognized birthdays. They were a big deal! Everyone would sing and you got to pick something from the treasure box. Of course we would say the Pledge of Allegiance, sing patriotic songs, ABC songs, etc.," Janet fondly remembered.

With more than a thousand students, there are thousands of stories. There is the often told story about the boy who had a difficult time coping with being in school for the first time. In a weeping voice, the young boy's response to Mrs. Youngblood's plea to help whined, "Sometimes a Coca-Cola helps." More than a dozen years later, Younblood purchased a six-pack of bottled Cokes and shipped them to the young man as a high school graduation present.

There was a time when Mrs. Youngblood answered her front door. It was an aspiring politician. He asked her for her vote, but she declined to commit to him believing her vote was a private choice. Just as the candidate walked away, he turned and said, "You are Mrs. Youngblood aren't you?" She said, "Yes, I am." Then the man said, "You taught me in kindergarten. I will never forget that one day. I was on the playground playing and I asked you to tie my shoes." Then he said, "You said, 'Yes, I will. Let's sit down on the steps and I'll teach you how to tie your shoes.' You were so kind and patient."

Mildred Youngblood was famous for her thinking steps, two or three of them actually. I don't remember sitting on those steps, maybe I did. My brother Henry did. He remembers, "She taught me how to say the Lord's Prayer, set a table, and how to stand quietly in the corner while the others went out to recess." Norman Thacker recalled, "I spent a fair amount of time there and I remember her sitting me down and reminding me why I was there. She would then come back several minutes later and ask if I thought about what I did? Finally she would ask me what I was going to do to correct what I did? If I didn't have the right answers, then I would continue to sit and watch all my friends play." I remember a classmate being the victim of a school shooting while sitting on the steps. The victim, or the shooter, still lives in Dublin today, but the insignificant bb wound in the knee is just one more fading memory of a time nearly fifty years ago.

David Burns learned a lot about staying quiet and in his seat during lesson time. "She sure knew how to use that Bo-lo paddle, but she had a positive effect on my life. Education could surely use more teachers with the skills and heart of Mrs. Youngblood," Burns maintained. Dwight Stewart remembered going down the street with the class to a house with a television and watching John Glenn orbit the Earth. "We all sat in a circle around the television," Stewart remembered. Dwight also remembered a class mate, who wore a dunce cap, and who shall remain nameless. "You had to be pretty bad to wear dunce cap and he was," Stewart exclaimed! Stewart's opinion was confirmed by my sister Janet Greer, who observed the boy still wearing the cap in his second year of kindergarten.

When she returns to Dublin, Lorene Flanders Campbell will try to steer her car down Rosewood. "I still go down that street just to remember the magic of being there. The playhouse! - making instant pudding in the back room." Lorene fondly remembered. Gayle Stinson was one of the lucky. When she was seven, her family moved across the street from her old kindergarten. After the kids went home, Gayle had her own play ground right across from her home.

Janet James, in summing up the life of her grandmother and teacher, probably said it best, "She was not rich in money, but she was rich in love. Her legacy of generosity and service to others is forever in my heart." Janet speaks to two passages in a book which her grandmother gave her, "If you plant a few seeds, and then let go of your kids and let them grow, then those seeds will turn into something good. Home has a good deal more to do with your heart than with your house."

Earlier this summer, Mildred Youngblood went to her heavenly home with her heavily underlined, annotated Bible in one hand and an overflowing treasure box of a lifetime of fond memories of friends and family, good deeds done, and priceless duplicate sculptures in the other. There waiting for her at the gates was her late husband Elbert, who was always around the kindergarten helping the children out of their cars and through the gate and keeping the place neat and tidy.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Thick as The Leaves of Time

George Michael Troup had read about far away places like Vallambrosa in John Milton's Paradise Lost. He also had read about the Valle d'Osta along the French border in Northwest Italy. When it came time to name his homes, Vallambrosa and Valdosta, in Laurens County, the eminent founder of the State Right's movement in the South chose names with a touch of culture and class. This is the story of the former, Vallambrosa, which was situated on Turkey Creek in western Laurens County.

The site was first settled by Col. Joseph Blackshear before 1815. Blackshear, a brother of Gen. David Blackshear and a veteran of the War of 1812, built the original house and set out grand groves of oak trees along the lane leading to the house. It is believed by early writers that Blackshear brought the mighty oaks from the Georgia coast after they had attained a considerable size.

U. S. Senator George M. Troup purchased the 1800-acre plantation for $7,000.00 in December 1832 two years after the death of Joseph Blackshear in 1830. Troup, nearly a year away from his retirement from the Senate in November 1833 and half way through his term, purchased the property to expand his holdings to the western side of the Oconee River. He preferred living in his much inferior and disjointed log home, Valdosta, on the Milledgeville to Darien Road (now the Old River Road or Georgia Highway 199) just above the present Interstate Highway 16.

Troup hired an overseer and assigned slaves to Vallambrosa to cultivate the rich farm lands along the creek. By 1849, Troup purchased from the estate of John Thomas another major plantation, which was a short distance to the northeast at the intersection of the Lower Uchee Trail and another main Indian trail running from Indian Springs through Macon and Dublin and onto Savannah at a place still known as Thomas' Crossroads.

Following the death of Governor Troup in May 1856, the lands at Vallambrosa passed into the hands of his daughter, Oralie. Miss Troup, who had lived a majority of her younger years along the southern coast of Georgia where life was more gentile, had a spring house built on the property not far from the current Federal highway. Above the door of the spring house was a stone medallion, which bore her name, a four-leaf clover, a goblet, and the date of 1860. The marker lies in front of the Dublin-Laurens Museum today.

After Oralie married the handsome and relatively young Dr. John Vigal, the Vigals moved to Vallambrosa and instantly set out to enhance the dilapidated house and unkept grounds. Vigal's untimely and devastating death resulted in Oralie's commitment to the Lunatic Asylum. The management of the plantation was assigned to her sister's son-in-law, Col. Robert P. Wayne, formerly of Bryan County. Wayne, who was only an honorary colonel, was lauded for his heroic actions as a lieutenant and adjutant of the 1st Georgia Sharpshooters in their defense of Savannah in the late war. After the war, Wayne married Augusta Foreman, a granddaughter of Gov. Troup. The couple had been living on Savannah's East Charlton Street, next door to Julian Hartridge, a former Confederate and United States Congressman.

Wayne, who had some experience as a Savannah commission merchant, provided the necessary impetus to get both Vallambrosa and Valdosta back on a profitable basis. When Wayne first arrived at Troup's homes, he found both of them unfit for even a tenant to live in. With the aid of more than four hundred former slaves, Wayne implemented modern farming techniques to restore the plantation to its former splendid stature.

The revival did not last long. For on October 24, 1880, around 4:00 p.m., a fire cremated the stately dwelling while Wayne was absent on business. Lost were most of the Troup's family possessions, including the vast library, said to be the finest in the county and which was stocked with many of the Governor's volumes as well as a number provided by Wayne, who was well-read himself.

Wayne had left the home that Sunday morning leaving instructions to his cooks to have his dinner ready by five o'clock in the afternoon. While the supper was cooking, the cook was called to the front gate. The cook had built too large a fire, which overheated the stove pipe, ignited the wooden kitchen, and rapidly spread into the adjoining home. Apparently, the kitchen was not built far enough away from the home in accordance with the customs of that time.

Neighbors came from up to two miles away to render assistance. But all was lost, save an old piano, a melodeon, and a few books. Even the silverware was destroyed. There was no time to grab the family portraits from the walls. Many of the oaks were damaged or burned outright. The devastating loss was made more crushing because of Wayne's failure to carry sufficient insurance. To add insult to injury, it was the fourth fire on the place in the previous eleven years.

Just three weeks after the fire, Wayne lost the use of two of his fingers when they were mangled in a gin accident. Wayne did not rebuild Vallambrosa, but spent most of his time trying to wind up the affairs of Oralie, who died a sad and lonely death in 1879. Wayne saw to it that her body was buried in the grave yard between the house and the main road.

The Waynes returned to his ancestral home near the Georgia coast. Tragedy once again struck the Troup family as it always seemed to do. On February 4, 1881, the brilliant Col. Wayne died just weeks before his 42nd birthday. Augusta Wayne would eventually return to Laurens, where she lived in the old house at Thomas Crossroads, if only briefly before her return to Savannah, where she lived on Gwinnett Street near Forsyth Park. Augusta would spend her later years operating a boarding house at 832 East Duffey Street.

Today, if you look real close, shut your eyes, and imagine, you can see the grand and glorious place they once called Vallambrosa. To get there, head toward Dudley on U.S. 80 and just before you turn to the left toward Northwest Laurens Elementary School, turn right and travel down the oak lined lane. The site was marked in 1938 with a bronze marker by the John Laurens Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. To see it, look even closer in a grove of red tips along the side of the highway. I tell you all of this in honor of the 230th birthday of our county's most famous citizen, who was born on September 8, 1780.