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

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


A President’s Day Plea

So, you think you know Abraham Lincoln? Your teachers told you about him. You read one of more of the hundreds of books written about him or maybe you watched a documentary about the man known as “Honest Abe.” There is no one who is really the same person all the time. Ol’ Abe said it best, “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

The question remains, “Will the real Abraham Lincoln please stand up?” I know, that would be quite impossible since the irrepressible Illinoisan was assassinated, dead, buried, and moved or removed more than a dozen times. But, on this President’s day, let us look behind the beard of the rail splitter from Springfield, Illinois.

First of all, let me tell you that most of my people did not care too much for Mr. Lincoln. Some of them did. While Lincoln was beginning the practice of law in Springfield, he met and became intimate friends with Joshua Fry Speed, my great- great-grandfather Scott’s second cousin. When President Lincoln won reelection in 1864, he chose James Speed, Joshua’s younger brother, to serve as Attorney General of the United States. Whether or not Lincoln and Joshua Speed had any other relationship other than being best friends is not up for discussion. I will focus on the actual words and factual deeds in the last decade of Lincoln’s life.

Abraham Lincoln has been called “the Great Emancipator.” He freed many slaves, but not all of them. Even his own top two generals, Grant and Sherman, owned slaves until after the end of the Civil War. It is important to note that Confederate General Robert E. Lee freed all slaves he inherited or acquired by marriage and never publicly spoke negatively against blacks as his Union counterparts did.

Lincoln’s rise to political greatness came in 1858 during his campaign for a seat in the United States senate. During the debates with his opponent Stephen Douglas, the divisive issue of slavery simmered and then boiled over. Lincoln stated, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And in as much as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior.” Lincoln later commented, “The authors of the Declaration of Independence intended to include all men, but they did not mean to declare all men equal in all respects.”

On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office as the nation’s 16th president. In his inaugural address Lincoln said, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Lincoln vowed to follow the Republican party platform and to maintain the rights of states to provide for slavery inviolate. Lincoln further vowed against any invasion of any state nor any use of force against any people anywhere. At the moment of his address, there were nearly as many slaves in the United States of America than there were in the newly formed Confederate States of America, albeit that Lincoln was sworn into office before the secession of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky left the Union.

Just a week before the warring armies slugged it out for the second time at Manassas, Lincoln, in a letter to Horace Greeley, wrote, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”

Abraham Lincoln is known as a man who proclaimed liberty and justice for all. Lincoln suspended the constitutionally guaranteed right of habeas corpus in parts of the country, the first and only widespread ban of the people’s most sacred rights. Many claim that he arrested his political enemies and held them without cause.

On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed only slaves in the Confederacy and not those in the United States. Slavery was not outlawed in the United States until December 6, 1865 with the adoption of the 13th Amendment some eight months after the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. Most scholars generally agree that Lincoln and his cabinet issued the order to prevent the theretofore neutral England and France from joining with the Confederacy since until that time, the issue of slavery was never acknowledged by Lincoln as a justifiable cause for the war.

During the pivotal and crucial year of 1864, Lincoln repeatedly refused the requests of the Confederacy to exchange prisoners who were dying in tortuous conditions and horrific styes of filth, disease, and rotting flesh, both in the South and North. Lincoln critics condemn the President’s hapless nonaggressive generals and his refusal to remove them, a fault which led to the prolongation of the war beyond 1862 and the resulting carnage of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor.

When the fighting ended, Abraham Lincoln’s goal of preserving the Union was achieved. Lincoln supporters argued and still argue that the ends justified the means. The means led to the death of more than a half million souls, the shattered lives of millions more, and the near destruction of an entire nation. Political and social equality in different forms continued throughout the country for decades. Some argue that inequities still exist today.

Was this the same Lincoln, who penned such wise proverbs as, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” and “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.”? Is he the man who wisely said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt,” or “whatever you are, be a good one.”?

With all of the tumult in our nation following the election of another politically controversial Illinoisan as president, let us all take time to count our blessings that we are the United States of America, if in name only, just as Abraham Lincoln dreamed.

Now is the time that we sheathe our terrible swift swords, pick up our olive branches, and civilly sweep out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. Then we will see who among us will stand up and become the Abraham Lincoln we thought we knew, the one our third grade teacher taught us about, the one who dreamed “of a place and time where America will once again be the last great hope of earth.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Love on The Run

John never saw it coming. For weeks John had been pushing his team of horses to the limit. Through horrendous heat and tempestuous thunderstorms, John held the reins tight, guiding the wagon of his boss's wife in an attempt to escape the Feds. Driving with little rest, John let his guard down. While he was tending to his horses, John spotted the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Then it happened. The assassin fired a shot and struck John right in the middle of his chest. Cupid claimed another victim, with a perfect arrow shot which struck John right in the center of his heart, on Dublin's courthouse square.

John had been working for his boss and his family for several years in their palatial home in Richmond, Virginia. Then in the early days of an April, long, long ago, the boss and his wife got word that Federal authorities were out to arrest him for crimes against the United States. The boss sent word to John and Jim, two of his most trusted aides, to get the family's wagons ready to make a long trip.

For more than a month, the boss, his wife, and his children were escorted by a dozen or more of the organization's most trusted lieutenants as they traveled along back roads in daylight and along main roads during the dark hours of the night. About a month into their flight, the boss met with his council of advisors. The committee decided to split into smaller groups to elude federal authorities.

When they left Sandersville, Georgia, the boss and his aides left in a small group, taking fresh horses to the west. The boss's wife and his children, Maggie, Jeff, Willie, and a small, unnamed baby rode in the wagon with John more to the southwest. As the boss and his gang were secreting their way toward the Oconee River, reports were coming in that his wife and family were in danger of being robbed.

All through the night of May 6 and early into the morning of May 7, the boss raced down the roads of western Johnson County and the Buckeye District looking for his wife and children. Finally during the predawn hours, John and Jim got the word to halt from the point man at the head of the column of wagons.

After some initial excitement, the guards discovered that the attackers in their front were actually the boss and his cortege. The boss came galloping up to John's wagon. He hugged his family as they halted near the home of E.J. Blackshear on the old Indian trail leading northeast from Blackshear's Ferry.

John helped Jim and a colored servant woman prepare some breakfast for the boss and his family. It wasn't long before John once again climbed up to his bench and started forward to the southwest.

About midmorning, John and Jim's wagons reached the eastern bank of the Oconee River. John steadied the horses and the wagons as they were carried across the river on the Dublin Ferry.

The boss, wanting to avoid detection, remained on the southeastern outskirts of Dublin, while John took the boss's wife and his children into town. They stopped at the store of Freeman Rowe, one of the town's leading merchants. Rowe kindly offered an elegant Sunday lunch. Col. Reagan, one of the boss's closest counselors, asked for the best directions to get out of town. He explained who his boss was and the reasons for a fast and undetected getaway.

John noticed a beautiful woman in the quickly growing crowd which began to assemble on the courthouse square. He was smitten by the young woman with the beautiful name of Isabella. Isabella, a member of the Conway family, also took a shine to the handsome John. It was love at first sight. But, just as soon as they met, John was summoned to get back to his duties and mount the wagon. As he rode off to the south, John promised Isabella that he would return for her one day.

Yet another spring freshet made travel along the soupy dirt roads almost impossible. The going was tough. The boss crossed the Ocmulgee and turned further to the south. Then one night, James and Jim heard something rattling in the bushes around their camp. They rose to see what the matter was and found themselves surrounded by federal agents. These men dressed in blue suits took the boss, his wife and his family to Macon before they sent the boss off to prison.

With no evidence to convict him, John was released. He made his way back to Laurens County just like he promised Isabella that he would. On October 30, 1870, John and Isabella stood in front of God and the surrounding witness and sealed the bands of marriage. Justice of the Peace William Haskins pronounced them man and wife.

The Davises established their home in the Bailey District of Northern Laurens County for more than twenty years. When an opportunity came to move to a farm in a better place, John and Isabella, along with their many children, moved down to Dodge County, Georgia, where they remained for the rest of their lives.

Some of the little old ladies of the Old South asked John to join in a ceremony on the banks of Gum Swamp Creek to commemorate the night that John and the rest of the members of his band camped for the night just before the Feds got their man.

No one alive seems to know whatever happened after that. John and Isabella and their family seemed to have disappeared.

What you have read is a true story. It was a story of love at first sight and everlasting love. Now that you know the story, maybe you might be interested, as Paul Harvey used to say, in the rest of the story.

The subject of this love story is John Davis, wagon driver of Winnie Davis, wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis - the boss in this story. This is his story or what I know about it. I hope that one day a remote descendant of John and Isabella Davis will come forward and shed more details about the time that the last vestiges of the Confederate government traveled down from Washington, Georgia through Sandersville and on through Dublin to Irwinville, where they were captured by the Union cavalry on the morning of May 10, 1865.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Photographs of Blackshear's Ferry, Laurens County, Georgia, just more than 4 miles north of Dublin.  The first, second, and fourth photographs are from the late 1930s or early 1940s and show long time ferryman Rawls Watson.  The third photographs depicts a photographer's wagon crossing the Oconee River about 1890. 

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Georgia's Booker T. Washington

William Merida Hubbard wasn't Booker T. Washington. But, he is as close to the iconic educator as the State of Georgia, and especially Central Georgia, ever had. William was born into poverty and died one of the wealthiest men in the state. His wealth was not measured in the thickness of his wallet or the digits in his bank accounts, but by the thousands and thousands of students who were given opportunities to learn a trade through is undying devotion to education.

William Merida Hubbard was born in Wilkinson County, Georgia on July 19, 1865, just months after the end of the Civil War. His parents, Edinboro and Betsy Hubbard, both natives of Virginia, worked as slaves until they received their freedom after the end of hostilities.

From his earliest years, William yearned to learn. Living in the South in the decades following the war was not easy for any family, black or white. Black farmers were relegated to inequitable share cropping or rent agreements. Getting ahead was impossible. Getting by was wonderful. William toiled on farms, often earning as much as six dollars a month, to finance his tuition at Ballard Normal School in Macon. William worked hard in his studies. Success came soon and often, despite the need to constantly keep working at odd jobs to stay in school.

William Hubbard began his educational career by teaching two terms at Calvary Hill School near his hometown of Irwinton. Professor Hubbard graduated from Ballard School in 1891 and entered Fiske University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Before his graduation from Fiske, Hubbard taught three terms in Monroe County, Georgia and a single term in Jacksonville, Florida. After his graduation from Cornell University, Professor Hubbard taught in Cuthbert, Georgia for four years before finally settling down in Forsyth, Georgia, where he found the ideal place for his wife, the former Mollie Helena Worthy, who frequently suffered from ill health.

Although Hubbard was trained as an educator, he attempted to make a living at photography, a rare occupation for a young black man at the turn of the 20th Century in the rural South. Adequate schools were rare in the poor regions of Middle Georgia for either of the races. So in the mean time, William Hubbard took pictures to support his family.

In 1902, a minister and several friends encouraged William to return to teaching. The minister of the Kynett Methodist Church arranged an agreement whereby Hubbard would teach seven students in exchange for allowing him to maintain his photographic gallery in the basement of the church. Described as a "shabby, forlorn building with holes in the floor and more wind inside than out," Hubbard's first school would eventually, with the aid of generous white citizens of Forsyth, became the Forsyth Normal and Industrial School in a meager building on ten acres of land. In the early years, Professor Hubbard worked day and night, often performing most of the duties and spending his own meager money to keep the school open, all on a salary of five to six dollars a month.

Hubbard's primary mission was to educate the black youth of Monroe County to become teachers. The school, after adding 10th and 11th grade classes, was accredited in 1917. In the following year, the Forsyth school became the State of Georgia's first vocational school for African-American students. That same year, Professor Hubbard and his students were saluted for doing their share to win World War I. The students maintained 35 mini-farms and raised two hundred head of hogs and several hundred chickens in support of the war effort.

The Georgia legislature enacted a law in 1922 to make the Forsyth Normal and Industrial School the state's School of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts for the Training of Negroes. Five years later, the school officially became a junior college. The elation of that distinction was dampened by the total loss of the main building in a fire.

In 1931, the State of Georgia changed the name of the school to State Teachers and Agricultural College for Negroes, one of the three state colleges for African Americans in the university system. Many of the teaching graduates were sent to positions in the Rosenwald schools in the state.

Hubbard sought out donations and began a bold building program. By the mid 1930s, the Hubbard Alumni Association records show that several brick buildings were completed, including an auditorium, the president's house, an administration building, gymnasium, and home economics buildings as well as adequate dormitories.

State Teachers Agricultural College was closed in 1938 and was effectively merged with the nearby Fort Valley State College. William Hubbard continued to work at Fort Valley State as a director of public relations until his last illness.

The facilities were turned over to the Monroe County School system. Samuel Hubbard, William's son, carried on his father's legacy until the early 1970s. Today, most of the school's buildings are gone, but the Hubbard Alumni Association continues to honor the undying legacy of the school's founder. The Alumni Association and the Monroe Board of Education helped to establish a museum and cultural center in the former Women's dormitory. The museum and the old teacher's cottage were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

William and Mollie Hubbard had six children, Dr. Leola Peoples, Maceo Hubbard, Ruth Hubbard, Samuel Hubbard, Ruth Birchette, and Clifton Hubbard.

William Merida Hubbard died on March 22, 1941. Seven weeks after his death, Fort Valley State held a memorial service in his honor. In attendance was Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge, who paid tribute to Hubbard as "a man of sincerity and simplicity who always honored his obligations." Talmadge saluted Hubbard's work in advancing education of Negroes and called for more educators like him. Two of Fort Valley State's newest male dorms, which cost students a monthly rent of seven dollars, were dedicated in Hubbard's honor during the ceremonies.

William Merida Hubbard overcame the obstacles in his way for all of his seventy years on earth. A devout Christian who desperately attempted to devoid himself from politics, William Hubbard kept his faith in the precious abilities of the human mind and triumph of a good education.

Thursday, February 03, 2011


A Look Back

"War is all Hell," said General William T. Sherman. Robert E. Lee said in observing the dead and dying bodies of some eight thousand Union soldiers below Marye's Heights in Fredericksburg, Virginia, "It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it." Anniversaries are usually a time for celebration. So you may ask, why we as a country are about to commemorate a war that killed and maimed more than a million men and perpetually scarred three or more entire generations of Americans? The Civil War was a time in American history like no other. The carnage that lasted for fifty months changed the way we lived and the way we continue to live in the present and for many centuries to come.

For the next four years or so, I will be writing about the events which led our state and the states of the South to secede from the Union. So many people ask, "What if the South won the war?" Many historians debate the true causes of the war or just why the South lost or why the North won. The debate has raged for the last sixteen decades and it will not end any time soon.

It has been said that not counting books on religion, the most written about subject is the Civil War. Generally the right to write the history of a war goes to the victors, but such is not the case with this war. Even the names for the war are still debated. While generally named "The Civil War," Southerners of old always referred to the conflict as "The War Between the States," which is actually a better description since wars are never civil and the root cause of the war was the division of opinion on the rights of states to determine their own destiny in matters ranging from economics to slavery. Northern historians often dubbed it "The War of the Rebellion," while their southern counterparts wrote of it as "The War for Southern Independence." Other whimsical names attached to the war include my personal favorite, "The Great Unpleasantness."

Indeed the armies bore different names. The soldiers of the United States of America were called, "the Union, the North, Blue Boys, Blue Bellies, Billy Yanks, Yanks, Yankees and even Damn Yankees. Southern soldiers were known as "the Confederacy, the South, Confederates, Rebels, Rebs. Johnny Rebs, and Grays/Greys." Gen. Robert E. Lee often refused to call his enemies by any derogatory name, opting instead to refer to his opponents as "General Meade's or General Grant's people," or simply and kindly as "our friends across the river."

The differences in names for the war and the armies themselves was carried on in naming the actual battles, especially in the early years of the war. When the killing culminated on the 17th of September 1862 and especially on the first three days of the following July, it mattered not at all that the Southern armies named the battles after the nearest town or land mass while Northern military leaders named the battles for the nearest bodies of water. That practice originated with the first major engagement of the war, dubbed "Bull Run" by the North and "Manassas" by the victorious Southerners. On September 17, 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia slammed into the Army of the Potomac, just outside of Sharpsburg, Marlyand. General Robert E. Lee forces referred to the blood bath as the "Battle of Sharpsburg," while the Union army, under the command of General George B. McLellan named the conflict for nearby Antietam Creek. Regardless of the name of the battle, it was a day when twenty three-thousand American men were killed, wounded, or captured in the bloodiest single day of battle in American history. Among the last battles to bear dual names occurred east of Vicksburg, Mississippi in May 1863. In an effort to block the Union Army as it advanced on the vital river port city of Vicksburg. Confederate General John C. Pemberton sent some of his men east to meet Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's army as they were tightening their choke hold in the beleaguered city. In a short day of fighting, there were more than 10,000 casualties, many of them suffered by local companies of the 57th Georgia Infantry in a battle the North called Baker's Creek and the South dubbed "The Battle of Champion's Hill."

Slightly more than three million soldiers and sailors took part in the war. Of that number, at least 200,000 thousand were killed in action, slightly more from the North. More than 420,000 died from their wounds or infectious diseases, with the North leading that category by more than 100,000 men. In the incalculable category of the number of wounded, the North, with 275,000, was outscored by the better marksman of the South, which suffered about 140,000 wounded men. More than a million, a full one third of the participants, were killed, wounded, died of disease or were taken as prisoners.

The resulting deaths and wounds resulted in changing the course of the history of the country, and the world for that matter, for the rest of time. For me, the war is responsible for me being here to write these words. My great great-grandmother, Elmina Smith Brantley Braswell, lost her first husband, Pvt. Benjamin Brantley, during the Battle of Sharpsburg. Another great great- grandmother, Nancy Key Douglas Woods, lost her first husband, Pvt. David Douglas, at Gettysburg. I won't even mention the changes in lives and relationships of our ancestors which led to us being born a century or so later.

Although, the Civil War or the War Between the States, would not officially begin until April of 1861 following the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, the first major step came in Montgomery, Alabama one hundred and fifty years ago this week. Delegates from Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana gathered in the first Confederate capital to form a Constitution for the Confederate States of America. Alexander Hamilton Stephens, a former United States congressman who represented Laurens County in Congress, and the first and only vice-president of the Confederacy joined Eugenius A. Nisbet, of Macon, as Georgia's representatives on the Committee of Twelve, which organized the six original states into a new government in five days. Two weeks later, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, was elected as the president of the new country.  Other southern states, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Kentucky and Arkansas ratified the new constitution and seceded from the United States. Interestingly, one of the Alabama delegates signing the Confederate constitution was John G. Shorter, nephew of former Dublin attorney, Eli Shorter.

Make no mistake, it is not my intention to celebrate the events of that horrible war. I will salute the gallantry of its participants, who fought and died for what they thought was right. I will address the nobilities, as well as the horrors. But, I will not, under any circumstances, celebrate death and dying, and I will not champion any cause for the war.

But, in summation of how I personally feel about my people in those dark days, I will leave you with a statement made by a very distant kinsman, Pvt. David L. Thompson of the 9th New York Volunteers, who said while looking at hundreds of Confederate dead at the Battle of Sharpsburg, "Before the sunlight faded, I walked over the narrow field. All around lay the Confederate dead...clad in `butternut'...As I looked down on the poor pinched faces...all enmity died out. There was no `secession' in those rigid forms nor in those fixed eyes staring at the sky. Clearly it was not their war."