Joseph L. Hemphill, a prominent resident of Athens, Georgia, wasn't able "to bring home the bacon."
He made a claim to the Southern Claims Commission alleging the Yankees took 1,800 pounds of bacon from his family on May 15, 1865, in the last days of the Civil War. Union troops hunting for Confederate President Jefferson Davis took the Hemphill bacon without paying for it, he swore. They needed it to feed their troops passing through Athens. The Southern Claims Commission was set up to consider cases where Southerners loyal to the Union in the Civil War could be reimbursed for damages to their property caused by Union troops.
Joseph L. Hemphill, stating he was a Southerner loyal to the Union, inherited the claim from his father, William S. Hemphill of Athens, a prominent blacksmith. William S. Hemphill was the original owner the Union Army did not pay for the 1,800 pounds of bacon, valued at $360.00 (U. S.). But William S. Hemphill died in 1874 and his heirs tried to collect what they felt the Yankees had taken without any reimbursement.
Joseph L. Hemphill claimed he was a true-blue Union loyalist, although living in the South. After the war, a special commissioner came to Athens to take testimony from families and witnesses. But after getting evidence and deliberating, the Southern Claims Commission turned thumbs-down on the bacon claim. Joseph, like his father, was also a blacksmith in Athens, according to 1880 Clarke County federal census records.
The Commission, set up by the federal government, said there was absolutely no evidence that William S. Hemphill, the original claimant, was a loyal Union man. Without such evidence the Commission denied the claim in 1878. The claim took up 33 pages in commission testimony about the "stolen" bacon.
One witness told the claims commissioner that William S. Hemphill had "raised" part of the bacon and obtained the rest of it from others. We might wonder just how he had a stash of 1,800 pounds of bacon when much of Athens was going hungry in the last days of the Civil War. Witnesses to his claim in Athens agreed that the quality bacon was worth 20 cents per pound in U. S. money. They also said officers of Brevet General William Jackson Palmer's Union troops took the bacon over William S. Hemphill's protests.
Augustus Longstreet Hull in his Annals of Athens
(Banner Job Office, Athens, GA, 1906), said that bacon toward the end of the war was selling for $7.00 (Confederate) per pound.
"It may be imagined what destitution prevailed among the poor and what suffering among those of the better class who could not labor and yet whose support was gone," Hull wrote, recalling the last year of the Civil War in Athens.
The record didn't explain just how the Hemphills obtained their meaty hoard. Fragmentary Confederate Quartermaster records, contained in Confederate citizen and business correspondence files digitized in Fold3.com
on the Web, indicated the Hemphill men made more than $5,000 in business with Confederate military operations just during the year of 1864, for example. As blacksmiths they had lucrative jobs shoeing Confederate horses and repairing the Army's wagons, these records reveal. One bill paid by the quartermaster was to the Hemphills for furnishing 421 horseshoes.
• • •
The Southern Claims Commission was set up in March, 1871, to consider claims of damages caused by Northern troops to loyal Unionist Southerners as Yankee forces occupied Confederate territory. Often, the claims alleged taking food supplies, horses and other property from Southerners loyal to the Union without giving a receipt or paying for them. In the next two years, Southerners claiming they were loyal to the federal government filed 22,298 claims for more than $60 million for damages caused by the Yankees, according to Southern Claims Commission tabulations.
The Commission, however, approved paying only 7,092 claims or just 32 per cent of the claims for about $4.6 million. These figures come from an excellent summary of the work of the Southern Claims Commission, placed on-line by the St. Louis, Missouri, County Library. It also has produced a quality guide to doing your own research on-line from various sources containing statistics and testimony in Southern Claims Commission documents.
Such sources as Ancestry.com
on the Web contain the digitized copies of the claims, including all the testimony and findings. Most public libraries have free access to these on-line sources, or you can get them by subscribing for your personal use. To see the St. Louis County Library free guide to researching Southern Claims Commission cases, go to http://www.slcl.org/content/guide-researching-southern-claims-commission-records
The approved claims are available for Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and West Virginia. The disapproved or barred claims are online for all 12 states from which complaints were taken. These states, in addition to the four above, are Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
The Hemphill claim is the only one filed from Clarke County, Georgia. It was easy for Joseph L. Hemphill to declare he had not engaged in action against Union troops. He was born in 1854, making him about 11 years old when the bacon was taken by Union soldiers. Joseph, however, certainly knew his father and two brothers were patriotic Southerners and they were in a Confederate Artillery unit. The claim Joseph forwarded on Feb. 28, 1873, said his sympathies were "constantly with the cause of the United States for the entire war." (Claim No. 22092 in National Archives Publication M1407 and digitized on Fold3.com
The Athens complaint alleged that the Hemphills' bacon was taken by members of the command of Brevet Gen. William Jackson Palmer on May 15, 1865 in Athens. The meat was taken to feed Union troops in or near Athens on that day, and no reimbursement was ever made, the Hemphills said. One of the witnesses was the mother of Joseph L. Hemphill, Sarah A. Hemphill. She was the wife of William S. Hemphill. She testified Joseph was loyal to the Union. She, or other witnesses, failed to say that her late husband and two of her sons served in the Confederate Army.
In a story about her 93rd birthday on Oct. 29, 1910, in the Athens Banner
, Mrs. Hemphill said her husband, although over-age for service in Confederate forces, was allowed by special permission from Gen. Robert E. Lee to act as a substitute for William A. Hemphill, while their son remained home on furlough. Young Hemphill was very seriously wounded in his jaw at Gettysburg and was conspicuous for his bravery and endurance. Military records do show that he was later allowed to come home and serve only in or near Athens.
• • •
A record from the Confederate States Hospital at Petersburg, Virginia, indicated he was wounded on July 2, 1863. He was taken to Petersburg in an exchange of prisoners after being captured by Union troops at Gettysburg and cared for in a Union hospital and then paroled. [This information is available on William A. Hemphill in military records on the Fold3.com
The Confederate records for Moore's Artillery (earlier in the war called the Troup Artillery) indicate William S. Hemphill served as a private and a gunner. Joseph's brother, William A., ended the war a first lieutenant. Robert A., another brother, was a private. The Confederate military records indicate the father and two sons were on muster rolls for Moore's Artillery. The services of William S. Hemphill and William A. Hemphill were limited to the Athens area, the Confederate military records show.
Obviously many Athens residents knew the Hemphills' military service story, but those giving testimony to John Huggins, a special commissioner for the Southern Claims Commission, mentioned nothing about the Confederate patriotic activities of family members, including the Confederate military service of the Hemphill father, who was original claimant.
The father was about 47 years old when he enlisted in the artillery unit. Confederate military service would have barred the Hemphill complaint. The third son, Joseph L., was too young to have served the Confederacy. Perhaps this was a reason for his choice to carry the claim forward, rather than being made by either of his two older brothers.
In 1878, the Southern Claims Commission ruled on the claim first initiated by William S. Hemphill and then turned over and filed by his son, Joseph.
"When the property was taken it belonged to the father of the claimant [Joseph]. The widow and other heirs turned the claim over to Jos. L. Hemphill," the ruling read. "To allow the claim it must be shown that the father of claimant was loyal. There is no proof whatever that he was loyal." The claim was disallowed.
William A. Hemphill after the Civil War became the founder of The Atlanta Constitution
, and was also mayor of Atlanta. His brother, Robert, was also active in administration of the Atlanta paper. William A. Hemphill became known as "Colonel" Hemphill. Confederate military service records indicate he was only a first lieutenant in the Confederate artillery, but later he was given the honorific title of "Colonel."
Joseph L. Hemphill continued being a successful blacksmith in Athens and lived on Prince Avenue for many years with his mother, Sarah. This house was one of the most attractive in Athens. He died in Fulton County, Georgia, in 1932.
Southern Claims Commission disallows the Hemphills request for payment for 1,800 pounds of bacon taken by Union soldiers in 1865. (Fold3.com National Archives digitized image)
Union Bvt. Gen. William Jackson Palmer, whose troops took 1,800 pounds of bacon from the Hemphill family of Athens, Georgia on May 15, 1865. (No source given on Internet image.)
William A. Hemphill of Athens in 1892, whose Confederate service and his father's service barred a claim for property taken by Union soldiers—1,800 pounds of bacon to feed troops hunting Jefferson Davis. (No source indicated on Internet image).
The Mystery of A. Oluwole Snelson By Al Hester, Ph.D. Head, Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery History & Research Committee The Grave
of A. Oluwole Snelson is a lonely grave. It is far back in the historic African-American Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in Athens, Georgia. I saw it for the first time about six years ago as I was identifying graves in this 9-acre cemetery founded in 1882 by the Gospel Pilgrim Society. I tallied its location and wondered whether the brief inscription was in error. What person could possibly have a name like that?
The Snelson grave seems set apart. I can see that A. Oluwole was a child, born in 1897 and dying in 1900. The epitaph, barely readable, says, "A Flower Too Soon Faded." No Snelson family members are buried near the grave or elsewhere in the cemetery at Fourth and Bray streets.
A tangle of brush, vines and trees makes it hard to identify graves in this cemetery placed on the National Register of Historic Places. As many as 3,500 African Americans may be buried in Gospel Pilgrim, preliminary research indicates. Only about a fifth have readable markers. Most burial sites are mere sunken places in the cemetery. About 20 per cent of the identified graves are graves of ex-slaves.
Some underbrush is cleared sporadically, but at least 25 per cent of Gospel Pilgrim has not been cleaned up in decades. Little money from Athens-Clarke County is available for Gospel Pilgrim, which is officially an abandoned cemetery, with a small amount of care given by the city-county. Despite Gospel Pilgrim's being on the National Register of Historic Places and having a Georgia State Historical Marker, now it is mostly neglected. Volunteers make forays to remove sticks and brush in small areas, but little overall care is being given.
Athens-Clarke County voters in 2004 did approve a $306,000 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax project, for improvement of pathways and sidewalks at the cemetery, but this money could not be used for maintenance and upkeep. Since then most of the pathways have suffered erosion and are overgrown with weeds.
Close inspection is necessary to see which graves still have readable tombstones. All of the Gospel Pilgrim records were lost when the last officer of the Society, Alfred Richardson Hill, died in 1977. The Gospel Pilgrim Society was a burial society and sold lots in the cemetery, designed to give African Americans a respectable and beautiful place for burial. In the last few years, only a handful of burials have taken place if descendants could present a lot certificate, but it is not really an active burial ground.
In June, 2013, I looked at an Internet Web site, Cenantua.wordpress.com
, which deals with the Civil War period. It contains blogs by Robert Moore. I share an interest in Civil War and Reconstruction history. My own Web site alhester.author.com
, is mainly about similar local Athens, Georgia, Civil War and Reconstruction topics. Many ex-slaves are buried at Gospel Pilgrim and sometimes I tell their stories on my Web site. One of Mr. Moore's blogs
was about the Emancipation Day celebration in 1869 at Andersonville, Georgia, site of the infamous Confederate prison. The presiding leader at that Jan. 1, 1869, event was Floyd Grant Snelson, born in 1847, the ex-slave child of a white father and black mother.
The surname Snelson seemed slightly familiar to me. Could it be that Floyd Grant Snelson, an ex-slave Georgia preacher, Republican political leader and educator named for Gen. U. S. Grant, was connected to Gospel Pilgrim's "A. Olewole Snelson"? Snelson, a Swedish name, is not very common in Georgia, but finally I did recall it was on the mysterious tombstone in Athens.
As I checked on the Internet and with various public records concerning the Floyd Grant Snelson family—I did
find Athens connections. Rev. Floyd Grant Snelson, Jr., the son of the Emancipation speaker, turned out to be one of the most prominent church leaders and missionaries in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His middle name of Grant was his preferred name, in honor of the Northern general. About seven years of his life were spent in Athens as a minister, principal and teacher.
Rev. Floyd Grant Snelson, Jr., was born Dec. 19, 1865. Both the father and son were ministers and important missionaries to West Africa. The elder went to Africa in the 1870s for the Congregational Church, taking with him his family including young Floyd Grant, Jr. His son became a member of the A.M.E. faith in 1874 and obtained his bachelor's degree from Atlanta U., as had his father. Rev. Snelson, Jr. was licensed to preach in 1889 and had churches in Atlanta, Warrenton, North Carolina, Cartersville, Georgia, and later in Athens. Later in his career, he would be a leader in the mission field and as a pastor of major A. M. E. churches in Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and San Francisco.
He would follow his father's missionary lead, becoming head of A. M. E. Church mission work as superintendent and presiding elder in West Africa. A. M. E. Bishop Henry McNeal Turner had watched Rev. Snelson's development as a young preacher and educator and liked what he saw, choosing him to lead major efforts in several West African countries.
In 1895, Rev. Snelson Jr. was appointed principal and teacher at the East Athens Colored School in Athens. He had been the principal of the Mitchell Street black school in Atlanta before coming to Athens. In Athens, he also became editor of The Negro Educational Journal
, the publication of a statewide organization for black teachers. His wife, Waterloo Bullock Snelson
, also an Atlanta U. grad, took a job as first-grade teacher in the East Athens School. We have no information about why she was named "Waterloo." Her parents were Green and Sarah Bullock. Rev. Snelson Jr. would add a master's degree and two doctorates, becoming one of the most highly educated African Americans in the United States. He was principal of East Athens Colored School between 1894 and 1896., after being a principal in Atlanta. He was also made a church deacon in Athens in 1894 and preached in Athens. After his African mission work, 1894-1900, he returned to Athens as pastor of the Bethel A.M.E. Church in Athens for 1901-02, according to official publications of the A.M.E. Church.
Bethel at first was a very small church at Billups and West Broad streets, which would later become the larger Greater Bethel A. M. E. Church on Rose Street, just off West Broad.
Late in 1896, Rev. Snelson became head of A. M. E. mission work for four years in West Africa, headquartered in the country of Sierra Leone. In its January, 28, 1897, issue, The Christian Recorder
, official newspaper of the A. M. E. Church, carried a long story about his abilities and characteristics:
"He is a young man of medium height but well proportioned and full of nervous energy," the article said. "He wears side whiskers which conceal his square jaw, but his strong, yet nervous chin is exposed. His eyes are deep-set but expressive. His voice is full and resonant, but has been somewhat injured by the unrestrained energy with which he has evidently become accustomed to speak. His postures are full of manifestations of decision of character, mingled somewhat with obstinacy."
As the minister and educator resigned his jobs in Athens in 1896 to go to Africa, Mrs. Snelson was making a name for herself in her own right. She was an excellent educator, outstanding speaker and organizer of various social services. She organized the first colored women's club in Georgia, according to The Crisis
, magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"In fact, Mrs. Snelson was in many ways the ideal wife for the itinerant Methodist preacher, the article said. "She lectured, sang and worked. She even occupied her husband's pulpit, and she brought up a family of four children; with all this work and her own restless nervous energy she was personally charming, full of humor, and one of the most beautiful women in America," the article in the August, 1914, issue said.
• • • •
But nowhere in any record could I find a child named A. Oluwole Snelson. I did learn that Oluwole is a fairly common name for boys in West Africa. One translation from Yoruba is "The king has entered the house."
There were three other black Snelsons enumerated in the 1900 federal census in Clarke County, but none seemed related to the Floyd Grant Snelsons. No child named Oluwole turned up in the federal censuses.
In 2013, I couldn't locate any person in Athens who knew the Floyd Grant Snelson family. John Davis, a longtime member of Greater Bethel A.M.E. Church, said the Rev. Snelson is not listed in a Greater Bethel church history as an early pastor.
"A 97-year-old woman member of Bethel might have known about the Snelsons, but she died about a month ago," he said in August, 2013.
There are, however, ample mentions in national A. M. E. records of Floyd Grant Snelson and his wife living in Athens and his being pastor at Bethel Church on the west side of Athens. Fifteen years after Rev. Snelson left, Bethel officially became Greater Bethel AME Church of Athens, when a cornerstone for a new building was laid at the corner of West Broad and Billups, according to the Greater Bethel, Athens, GA, history on its Web site.
The 1900 federal census for Clarke County indicated the Snelsons lived in East Athens at 614 Third St., which was about a block from the East Athens School. In February, 1900, Mrs. Snelson bought the 4-room house on the half-acre lot in her name, paying $400. She sold the property in Athens for $520 in 1907, when the Snelson family was living in Massachusetts.
Rev. Snelson was in the enumeration on June 6, 1900, with his other family members after he came back from his missionary service. The Clarke County federal census enumerator mistakenly listed the family surname as "Nelson."]
• • • • The Snelsons married
on Christmas Day, 1890, in Atlanta. Their first son, Floyd Grant Snelson, Jr., was born in September, 1891. A daughter, La Ursa, was born in May, 1893. A second daughter, Blydena, was born in November, 1895. Their youngest son, Strathana or Strathcona, would be born in 1903. The youngest daughter, Arnetta, was born in 1907.
A. Oluwole Snelson was born on July 29, 1897, according to his tombstone. The year of death is also clear on the marker, 1900, and the date of the month appears to be March 1.
We do know in the 1900 federal census for Clarke County, Waterloo Snelson is listed as having three living children—Floyd Grant, La Ursa and Blydena. But she is enumerated as having had a total of four births, indicating one child who was not living by June 6, 1900. It seems likely that this child was A. Oluwole.
On Jan. 12, 1897, Rev. Snelson, boarded the ship Majestic to go to Sierra Leone, according to a long account in The Christian Recorder
. "Upon the pier as the stately ship. . . glided away, stood a band of more than fifty, among whom were Bishop Turner, Bishop Derrick, Secretary Parks and the heroic wife of the departing missionary," the article in the Jan. 28, 1897, issue said.
Before the Majestic's embarkation, a large congregation at Bethel A. M. E. in New York City said goodbye to Rev. Snelson, giving him their support and approval.
"Bishop Turner introduced Mrs. Snelson, who made a brief but remarkable speech," the article said. "Everyone realized the burden of the sacrifice laid upon the wife who was giving up her husband to the cause of God and the Church. Next to his God, every true man holds in reverence a pure and noble woman. Between true hearts the vast ocean may sweep without abating love or dimming the untarnished lustre of loyalty. At the altar, side by side, husband and wife, so soon to be separated, knelt together while forth from hundreds of hearts went up a pray[er]. . . . Then with bowed heads the people sang in tones soft and low, 'God be with you till we meet again."
The Christian Recorder
account ended by saying: "Secretary Parks placed in the hands of the departing missionary a through ticket and about five hundred dollars and assured him that a loyal church would care for him and would soon send to him his wife and three little ones."
Mrs. Snelson, however, never went to West Africa to be with her husband. We have information from the Athens Banner
newspaper indicating in several stories that she was teaching in 1898 and 1899. We also know that before his return from Africa, she was going to Atlanta on business. She also had her children to look after.
And Waterloo Snelson would also have been pregnant with A. Oluwole Snelson, who, as pointed out, was born July 29, 1897. By that time, Rev. Snelson was running the extensive West African mission program of his church. His supervision included traveling thousands of miles to many mission outposts under very primitive conditions in several countries. A recognition, which he obviously relished, came when he was made a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (F. R. G. S.) of London during his time of mission work and exploration in Africa, according to many newspaper accounts. He became a specialist in cultures and languages of West Africa. He always included "F. R. G. S." along with his degree credentials in letters and information given to the press. We have no private letters
written between Rev. Snelson and his wife. He doesn't mention his family in his official correspondence, reports, or in newspaper accounts of his missionary work. We know for certain that Mrs. Snelson had to care for Floyd, La Ursa and Blydena—and A. Oluwole if he were the fourth living child.
We do know that her "little boy" had been in a serious fire, but supposedly was recovering in 1900, according to the story in the Feb. 4, 1900, Atlanta Constitution
. It seems likely that the "little boy" hurt in the fire would not be Floyd, who would be about nine years old. A. Oluwole, less than three years old, would be more likely. We also know that Waterloo's mother was listed as a member of the household of the Snelsons in the 1900 Clarke County federal census. Sarah Bullock was probably able to help considerably in caring for the children. But A. Oluwole was dead by March 1, 1900, according to his marker inscription in the cemetery.
Rev. Snelson returned from Africa to Athens on April 18, 1900, according to the Athens Banner
. "He built three churches in Freetown [Sierra Leone] and five in the interior, and received 500 members into the African M. E. Church," the article said, announcing his lecture in Athens at Pierce Chapel A. M. E. Church upon his return. "He traveled 400 miles into the interior and 5,000 miles along the coast of Africa studying the languages and customs of the people."
It seems quite possible that Rev. Snelson himself named A. Oluwole Snelson, while he carried out his mission duties in Africa. He was quite familiar with African names. Looking at the names of their children, we can see that Rev. Snelson and his wife had no hesitation in choosing unusual names. Surely Rev. Snelson's grief would have been acute, so soon after his return from Africa. It is possible he may not have received word about the death until he arrived in the United States.
Soon, the Snelsons were also shocked by the tragic case of the Rev. Floyd Snelson, Sr. In 1902, he was placed in the Milledgeville, Georgia, Insane Asylum. After being dismissed from the asylum, he was run over by a train near Blackshear, Pierce County, Georgia, in 1904. He was "... killed by a freight train near Blackshear," a brief article in the Feb. 14, 1904, Atlanta Constitution
said. "Snelson only recently returned from the Milledgeville asylum and for several days past has been crazy in his actions," the article said.
Strathana or Strathcona [both names are used] McKinley Snelson, the youngest son, died Aug. 30, 1911, in an accident involving rail cars. His death ". . . occurred last Wednesday evening while he with some other boys were playing on the street while the cars were switching, ran in front of one, running directly into another going in opposite direction," the Pittsburgh Courier
newspaper reported. "The pallbearers were six playmates of the deceased." Rev. Snelson was pastor at St. Paul's A.M. E. Church in Pittsburgh at the time. Floyd, the eldest son of the Snelsons
, became a well known newspaper writer, columnist and editor for black newspapers. He also would die in a major accident. He was killed in a stove explosion and fire while staying in a friend's apartment in France in 1956.
• • • •
Rev. Snelson would be appointed pastor of Bethel A. M. E. Church in Athens, Georgia, from 1901 to 1902, according to A. M. E. official reports. But he left Athens when appointed minister at Bethel A. M. E. Church, a large church in San Francisco. Throughout the rest of his life, Rev. Snelson, who died in 1932, had numerous important preaching appointments. He had a reputation for overcoming church mortgage difficulties, and helped pay off the debts of several A. M. E. churches.
On May 3, 1914, Waterloo Snelson died unexpectedly after surgery of an undisclosed nature at the age of 44, in Columbus, Ohio, where Rev. Snelson was pastor of Mt. Vernon A. M. E. Church.
"Only a week ago Mrs. Snelson was requested to take charge of the women's suffrage movement among the colored women in Ohio, and at the same time was appointed by Governor Cox to represent the state at the national education congress which will convene in Oklahoma next July," the Ohio State Journal
said in her obituary.
In October, 1914, , he married Blanche Ward, a widow, who also took major leadership positions in the church. She died in 1923. After that, he married his last wife, Trenna O. Banks Snelson, who also had been a strong church leader.
In 1924, he campaigned at the general conference of the A. M. E. Church to make him a special "Bishop of Africa" to further mission work there. The Topeka
newspaper, reprinted his long announcement and request for votes. In the May 2, 1924, issue, the paper endorsed him. In his campaign for bishop, his seventh point for election was: ". . . My age is ripe; my health is perfect, my habits with religious scrutiny, and I do not SMOKE, CHEW, DRINK, nor CAROUSE, my personal character stands untarnished, the joy of my family, friends and fellow citizens." Although he was endorsed by several A. M. E. leaders, he was never made a bishop. He had sought the bishop's office as early as 1900, but was not successful.
Failing health, due in part to his service abroad, caught up with him, but he did have a last pastoral assignment from 1927 to 1931 as a minister in Barbados. He returned to the United States to try to regain his health, but died on Feb. 28, 1932, at the home of his sister in Washington, D. C. "
Prominent churchmen from all parts of the country" were present at his funeral, The Chicago Defender
newspaper reported in its March 6, 1932, issue .
• • • • There are no signs of visits
to the grave of A. Oluwole Snelson, 113 years after his death. The grave appears starkly unadorned in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery. Surely his family and church friends did mourn for him. But the Snelson family soon moved away from Athens for prominent activities all over the country in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
No flowers are set in pots by the grave. At the plot, no lilies bloom in the spring, as by other graves. There are no conch shells or quartz crystals placed there as remembrances, as is common at many Gospel Pilgrim burial sites. Truly, A. Oluwole Snelson, was "A Flower Too Soon Faded."
Rev. Snelson was one of the most prominent black preachers and missionaries around 1896-1900. Source: A. M. E. Encylopedia: 1914
Mrs. Waterloo Snelson was called "one of the most beautiful women in the world" by Crisis Magazine. Source: The Crisis Magazine
The simple tombstone for A. Oluwole Snelson in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, Athens, GA. Source: Al Hester
This new marker honors Green and Nancy Pilgrim, mill workers at Roswell, GA, arrested by General William T. Sherman and forced to go to Kentucky and Indiana during the Civil War. Photo by Al Hester
In the springtime, thoughts of many Southerners turn toward the "Lost Cause" when the Confederacy lost the long and bitter armed conflict between the North and the South. Some know of the war as The War Between the States. Others term it the Civil War. Some Northerners term it The War of the Rebellion.
With Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox , VA, in April, 1865, most of the fighting ended. What followed was mainly a mop-up operation and a long military occupation of much of the South by the victorious Yankees.
Confederate Memorial Day still draws thousands in the South to commemorate the gallantry of a rag-tag, last-stand army, fighting bravely for an independent South. The day is celebrated at various times in the South, but typically includes visits to cemeteries where the Confederate dead lie by the thousands. The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans lead in the ceremonies and rituals to keep their history of the war alive and vivid. Typically, the fighting qualities of Confederate officers and enlisted men are remembered.
But south of Watkinsville, Georgia, in the well-kept Huff Family Cemetery at 3071 Colham Ferry Road, the Laura Rutherford Chapter of the UDC and other patriotic groups on April 21 honored a civilian couple—Green A. and Nancy Ann Pilgrim. The Pilgrims were residents in what was then the southern part of Clarke County, not far from the Huff Cemetery. Later that part of Clarke County would become Oconee County. Green Pilgrim was born in South Carolina. He moved to Georgia and married Nancy in 1855 in nearby Greene County. Green was born in 1818 and Nancy in 1831. By 1858, the Greens had a baby girl and named her Mary E. Pilgrim. In 1859, a son was born, Isaac Bartow Pilgrim.
In just a few years, war would turn the lives of the Pilgrim family upside down. Green was about 43 years old when the Civil War started. During the war, the Confederacy could have conscripted him for military service. Green was on the muster roll of the 16th Regiment, 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Division of the Georgia Militia. But he was exempted in 1862 from military service to work at the Roswell Mills in Roswell, GA. Nancy was also a mill worker. The mills on Vickery Creek were a big operation and made cloth for military uniforms, tents and other materials desperately needed by the Confederate troops. Basically, the Confederacy took over these mills at Roswell and mills at New Manchester, Georgia, about 15 miles west of Atlanta, and the ruins are in the Sweetwater Creek State Park.
On April 21, Confederate Memorial Day was celebrated at the Huff Cemetery, bringing together about a hundred persons. The highlight was the dedication of a large grave marker for Nancy and Green Pilgrim. On the front side is an account of what happened to them and their children in July, 1864, when they were among about 400-600 workers arrested for "treason" by Gen. William T. Sherman and forced to leave Roswell for the North for the duration of the Civil War. On the rear side of the Green's attractive grave stone are their names and dates of birth and death. Previously the only marker was a rugged field stone with Nancy's initials crudely carved on it. The Laura Rutherford Chapter of the UDC erected the tombstone. Most of the workers were women, sometimes accompanied by children. A few men also were employed because of rare skills, disabilities or old age which limited their use as soldiers.
Workers at the New Manchester Mills were similarly engaged in producing goods for the Confederate armies. All told, probably about 600 workers were mill hands at the Roswell and New Manchester establishments.
Led by General Sherman, the Union troops were on the verge of capturing Atlanta. He sent Brig. Gen. Kenner Garrard and his cavalry on a flanking movement , and Kenner burst into undefended Roswell on July 5, 1864. Mill hands had been instructed to work until the last possible moment to turn out military necessities. General Garrard saw the strategic value of the Roswell Mills. After removing workers, he burned the entire operation, with General Sherman's approval. The New Manchester mills were likewise destroyed.
General Sherman took a highly unusual step, giving orders that all the mill workers and supervisors and their families should be rounded up and arrested for treason.
"The women, their children, and the few men. . . were transported by wagon to Marietta and imprisoned in the Georgia Military Institute which had been abandoned," wrote Caroline Matheny Dillman for The Civil War in Georgia: A New Georgia Encylopedia Companion." The prisoners were then given nine days' rations, ". . . loaded into boxcars that proceeded through Chattanooga and Nashville en route to Louisville, Kentucky, the final destination for many of the workers. Others were sent across the Ohio River to Indiana," she wrote.
Thus General Sherman not only destroyed the mills but dispersed the workers so they could do no harm to Union operations. Information differs as to what exactly happened to the displaced mill employees. Some apparently were forced to be indentured servants, and some worked for farmers. None were tried for treason. But women workers were separated from their husbands fighting in the Confederate armies, and from their other family members, unless they were all herded together in the North as mill workers.
One-eyed Green Pilgrim and his wife Nancy were in the forced move, along with their children. Both Green and Nancy got small pox but survived.
"First housed and fed in a Louisville refugee hospital, the women later took what menial jobs and living arrangements could be found," said writer Dillman. "Those in Indiana struggled to survive, many settling near the [Ohio] River, where eventually mills provided employment.
Not only Southern newspapers, but also Northern publications reflected outrage against General Sherman's actions. Union General George H. Thomas had written to General Sherman about what to do with the mill employees. "The Roswell factory hands, 400 or 500 in number, have arrived in Marietta. The most of them are women. I can only order transportation to Nashville where it seems hard to turn them adrift. What had best be done with them," he asked General Sherman.
Sherman replied: "I have ordered General Webster at Nashville to dispose of them. They will be sent to Indiana."
Author Mary Deborah Petite has written a well documented book about the Roswell mill workers' ordeal, The Women Will Howl: the Union Army Capture of Roswell and New Manchester, Georgia, and the Forced Relocation of Mill Workers.
"It is difficult to rationalize the arrest and deportation of innocent women and children, but there can be no rationalization or justification for sending them to the fate that awaited them north of the Ohio River. The mill workers were not spies or traitors, nor did they pose a serious threat to the Federal army, particularly now that the mills were destroyed," she wrote.
Many of the displaced workers never made it back to Georgia, marrying in the North and bearing children there. But quite a few made their way at the end of the war. Petite's extensive research turned up a number of their names, stories and photographs. At the end of the war, the Pilgrims were fortunate to return to Marietta, Georgia, on the train, but they had to walk back to what is now Oconee County and renew normal lives. In 1866 they had a third child, George Thomas Pilgrim. Green Pilgrim took the loyalty oath to the federal government in 1866 and farmed in the county. He was a respected citizen and was elected several times as county coroner. He died in 1893, but Nancy lived until 1931, when she died at 100.
• • •
At the ceremonies in the Huff Cemetery, the Pilgrims were honored. Trumpeter James Edwin Bush, Jr. of the 37th Regiment, Washington, GA Confederates, played "Bonnie Blue Flag" and twice played "Dixie."
Presentations by members of the Roswell Mills Camp #1547, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Brig. Gen. T. R. R. Cobb Camp #97, Sons of Confederate Veterans were made. The colors were presented by the 18th Georgia Volunteer Army Color Guard dressed in Confederate uniforms. They led the Pledge of Allegiance, and fired a salute to honor the Pilgrim family. Elaine Collier Neal, president of the Laura Rutherford Chapter, played a leading role in organizing the unusual ceremony honoring civilians and in obtaining the memorial stone for the graves of Nancy and Green Pilgrim, survivors of the "Roswell incident." Dozens of other lovers of Civil War history helped organize the marker dedication and included cemetery officials, a minister and many members of several organizations
Participants and spectators ended the ceremony by joining hands and singing "Blest Be The Tie That Binds."
An Honor Guard fires a salute honoring the memory of Green and Nancy Pilgrim at ceremonies south of Watkinsville, GA on April 21, 2013. Photo by Al Hester
This old photo shows Nancy Ann Green on her 100th birthday in 1931. She died that year. She was a Civil War mill worker at the Roswell Mills near Atlanta. She and her husband and children were forced to go to Kentucky and Indiana, arrested, but never tried for treason, by the Union Army.
Leaders of the Laura Rutherford United Daughters of the Confederacy Chaper, Athens, GA, lead ceremonies at the Huff Family Cemetery. Photo by Al Hester
Ruins of the Roswell Mills in Roswell, GA. These mills were primer furnishers of cloth for Confederate armies. The mills were captured and burned in July, 1864.
Application for military headstone for Ulysses S. A. Hawkins, buried in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in Athens, GA. Pvt. Hawkins enlisted in the 9th Cavalry, a famous "Buffalo Soldiers" unit during the period of the Spanish-American War. (National Archives via Ancestry.com)
Sgt. Wakefield Brunt served in World War 1 in France and is buried in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, Athens, GA. His military headstone is partially obscured. A VFW post in Athens has taken his name. (Photo courtesy of the Wakefield Brunt VFW post)
Veteran Edward D. Burns of Athens, GA was killed in action in World War 2 as a member of the 92nd Infantry Division, an all-black division. Here are division members landing in 1944 at the River Arno in north Italy, where they took many casulaties. (National Archives)
Part 1 of this article explains that U. S. military veterans are entitled to a free headstone at the cemetery if they were honorably discharged and have no grave marker. At least 57 veterans' headstones are listed on applications from 1925 through 1963, indicating the headstones were ordered for placement in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, Athens, GA. This list is in Part 1 of this article.
The Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery is at Fourth and Bray streets in East Athens and was founded as an African-American burial place in 1882. Most of its approximately 800 identified burials took place prior to the 1960s. Although the headstone applications available on Ancestry.com are not a complete list, they do include most of the headstones erected in Gospel Pilgrim.
The headstone applications are a rich source of genealogical and historical information, including the name of the veteran, who applied for the headstone, dates of the vet's birth and death and what was his military unit and rank. There are official lists of enlistments and casualties in National Archives files. some of these files are online and give additional information about some veterans. Ancestry.com contains many of these records.
Gospel Pilgrim's headstones listed on the applications haven't all been found in Gospel Pilgrim. Some probably are hidden by undergrowth or soil. Some of the marble markers are flat markers that are easily covered with soil, leaves and plants. Not all of the nine-acre cemetery has been cleared as of 2013.
Part 2 will deal with more details about some of the veterans with military markers at Gospel Pilgrim. The markers were issued for veterans serving from the Spanish-American War period, World War 1, World War 2 and Korea. The headstone list is almost exclusively made up of male enlisted men, although one marker was given to an officer, Capt. William Walter Saphloe of Athens, of the 64th Quartermaster Battalion in World War 2.
No women veterans are in the Gospel Pilgrim headstone applications from 1925 to 1963. Capt. Saphloe's enlistment papers indicate he joined the Army in April, 1941, in New York City, although he said he was born in Georgia. He enlisted as a private. He had four years of college and was a clerk in publishing and printing. He was divorced with no dependents. A Willie W. Sapp was one of several Sapp family members living in Athens with Richard and Laura Livingston at 540 W. Hancock Ave. in the 1930 census.
Capt. Saphloe of Athens was born in 1911 and died in 1948. His headstone is in the Sapp family plot. Applicant for Capt. Saphloe's headstone was Katherine Saphloe, living at 540 W. Hancock Ave. in Athens. In the 1940 census a "Kate Sapp" is listed as a lodger at that address, but no other Saphloe is enumerated. Apparently Captain Saphloe changed his name from Sapp to Saphloe. He was not listed in the Athens, 1940 federal census. A photo of his grave is included with this blog. Capt Saphloe enlisted in New York City, and documents indicate he had four years of college and worked in publishing and printing.
We find headstone applications for two black Athenians who were killed in action and buried at Gospel Pilgrim. One was PFC Edward D. Burns. He enlisted in World War 2 in 1941 and died while fighting the Germans in Italy in November, 1944. He was in Co. D of the 371st Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division, the only African-American division seeing heavy combat during World War 2. A younger brother of PFC Burns, James L. Burns, applied for Edward's headstone in 1949. James lived at 290 Vine St. in Athens. A photo of PFC Burns' headstone may be found with this article.
A Korean War veteran from Athens, PFC Jessie Odom, was killed in action fighting as a member of Co K, the 8th Cavalry, as a light weapons infantryman. His death occurred on Oct. 4, 1951, in what is now North Korea. He was born Feb. 2, 1933. PFC Odom's headstone application was made by his older brother William Lanier Odom. His mother was Sarah Laster Odom. His military marker hasn't been found yet in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, although we know the marker was ordered.
Many of the veterans with headstones at Gospel Pilgrim fought in World War 1 in segregated military units. Frequently their military service involved harsh labor in support groups hauling supplies and ammunition to front lines—their work was absolutely essential in supporting combat troops.
One of the most unusual veterans receiving a headstone at Gospel Pilgrim was Ulysses S. A. Hawkins, sometimes known as Eula Hawkins. I have searched without luck to find all his military service records, but we do know he served in the famous 9th Cavalry, a regiment of the famous Buffalo Soldiers. These black soldiers fought against Indians in the West and gave a good account of themselves in the Spanish American War and the Philippine Insurrection. Hawkins was a private in Co. G of the Ninth Cavalry Regiment. Records available to me don't show whether he fought in Cuba or the Philippines or had duty elsewhere.
We do know from the May, 1902, returns of the regiment that he was discharged honorably on Valentine's Day, 1902, at Fort Walla Walla, Washington. His conduct as a soldier was evaluated as "good." His widow was Mattie M. Hawkins, who received a pension for his Cavalry services. He and his wife lived in the 500 block of Hull Street in Athens.
The military service of African Americans from Athens was seldom a matter for big stories in the local newspapers, although we occasionally do see short articles about them. For instance, Willie Ed Binns lived with his grandparents, the Lees on Hull Street, and served in World War 1. His headstone application indicatied he served as a private in the 514th Engineers. So far I haven't found his military records, other than the headstone application, and his grave in Gospel Pilgrim has not been located. We do know he was a veteran, from a story in the April 16, 1919, issue of The Athens Banner, which follows:
"Colored Discharged Soldiers Honor Wm. Ed Binns of Athens
Willie Ed Binns, a well known young colored man of this city who enlisted in the army during the war and who saw active service in France, died while enroute home on the high seas, and the funeral services were held at the Pierce Chapel Sunday morning at eleven o'clock.
Over one hundred and fifty honorably discharged colored soldiers as well as the Negro Boy Scouts under command of Captain R. E. Smith acted as an honorary escort in paying respect to this young soldier."
No cause of death on the troop ship was indicated.
A rather mysterious veteran is Wakefield C. Brunt, a sergeant in World War I, who saw service in France, according to members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Athens, named for him. An unreadable military marker is partially visible at his Gospel Pilgrim gravesite, and another plain marker is there, too. The military headstone applications for Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery veterans' markers don't list Wakefield C. Brunt. The VFW post, however, has kindly given us a photo of him in his uniform. Some persons have indicated he died in France in the war, but his non-military tombstone indicates he died in 1927, as does his death certificate. His photo is included here.
It becomes obvious that Athens African Americans fought hard to defend their country, even when the military units were segregated, as was life at home. The defense forces weren't integrated until 1948, but many thousands of African American found ways to fight the nation's wars long before that.
This marble military marker indicates PFC Edward D. Burns died in combat in 1944. His division, the 92nd Infantry Div., was the only black division to see combat as a large unit in World War 2. (Photo by Al Hester)
This flat marble marker is for Capt. William W. Saphloe, who is buried with the Sapp family members in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, Athens, GA. He was in a Quartermaster Battalion. (Photo by Al Hester)
An example of an Application for Headstone for an honorably discharged Spanish American War veteran from Athens, GA, from the U. S. War Dept.
By Al Hester
Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, an African-American cemetery in Athens, Georgia, contains the graves of many black veterans who served their country from the Civil War, the Spanish-American War period, World War I, World War II to later combat periods.
More than 50 Athens African Americans are buried in Gospel Pilgrim with military markers for their honorable service in the U. S. military. Many served in the segregated armed forces before integration took place in World War II.
Gospel Pilgrim was founded as a beautiful cemetery for African Americans in 1882 and contains some 3,500 graves. Of this number about 800 or so have been identified. Most are unmarked. The cemetery is at Fourth and Bray streets in East Athens, near Springfield Baptist Church. It is under the administration of the East Athens Development Corporation, Inc., Winston Heard, director.
Ancestry.com, one of the best-known genealogical services online, now has placed on the Web the applications for military headstones between the years of about 1925 through 1963. These applications offer families trying to trace their history important information about the military service and genealogical facts of their ancestors. The nation furnishes free official military head stones to honorably discharged veterans who have no private markers on their graves. Once you find your veteran ancestor received a headstone, you can use the information to trace his military career, frequently with the name of unit served in. This can lead to finding out pension information and sometimes a wealth of service record data.
The Georgia online applications show that the marble markers were prepared at Tate, Georgia, from native Georgia marble. Although the Ancestry.com application files are not nearly complete, the records online cover the most active burial periods in Gospel Pilgrim's history. Few burials were made at Gospel Pilgrim after the 1960's. Online applications also cover the same time period for many other Athens cemeteries where headstones were furnished. For African-American families, the applications for headstones in Brooklyn Cemetery, another African-American cemetery in Athens, match Gospel Pilgrim's listings in genealogical value.
The headstone listings, however, DO NOT contain the specific location of burial in the cemetery. The author of this article has a spreadsheet of all identified graves at Gospel Pilgrim. Please, note, however, that not all veterans' graves with headstones have been found at Gospel Pilgrim. About a quarter of the cemetery is still uncleared, and other markers may have been knocked over or covered with shrubs or soil. I'll be happy to run a check for you if you want information on a grave location at Gospel Pilgrim, or if you wish to visit an ancestor's site. This information is also available online at http://www.gospelpilgrimcemetery.com/burial-records/
If you have a veteran relative who served honorably in the services, he or she may still be eligible for a beautiful government-furnished military marker. These markers come as flat marble or bronze varieties. Funeral homes or veterans' groups can give details, or look on the Web for military headstone application instructions. The markers are free.
Information on the applications include the unit of military service, birth and death dates, when the headstones were furnished and where they were to be installed. The headstones themselves give brief information including the name of the deceased veteran, type of service and a symbol of what religious affiliation the person had. The applications also give the name of the family member applying for the headstone and their address. If you want to find out whether your Athens veteran ancestor got a headstone, applications from 1925-1963 may be viewed online at http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=QGHeadstoneApps&rank=1&new=1&MSAV=0&msT=1&gss=angs-d&msdpn__ftp=Athens,+Clarke,+Georgia,+USA&msdpn=18082&msdpn_PInfo=8-|0|1652393|0|2|3245|13|0|634|18082|0|&uidh=ca9&gl=&gst=&hc=50&
(The above website address was accurate as of March, 2013.) Ancestry.com furnishes service by subscription, but you can use it free at many libraries.
If you want to check on headstone applications in other areas, you can specify the cemetery location and get a listing for areas desired other than Gospel Pilgrim.
What follows is a list of the veterans buried with headstones from 1925 to 1963 at Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, their name, date of birth and death and military unit and the war in which they served. If there is an asterisk by the name, it means the veteran's grave hasn't been found yet at Gospel Pilgrim, but the burial should have taken place there. There are a few military headstones at Gospel Pilgrim without supporting application records online. These applications may have been made outside the 1925-63 period.
Part 2 of this blog will go into detail about some of the more unusual or interesting facts obtained from studying the headstone applications at Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery. Veterans Buried with Military Headstones, Gospel Pilgrim and Hillcrest Cemetery, Athens, GA
Name Birth Death Military Unit War
Armour, Edward R.* 1909 1952 Pvt 774th AirMaterielSquadron WW2
Armour, Willie B.* 1909 1957 3707thAAF Base Unit, Army WW2Austin, Henry L. ? 1940 Pvt 157 Depot Brig. WW1
Barksdale, Andrew D. ? 1933 317 Supply Bn. WW1 Binns, William Ed* ? 1919 Pvt 514th Engrs. WW1
Bolton, Clark 1919 1950 Pvt US Army, Unassigned WW2
Bolton, Earl* 1921 1955 Tec5 4368QMBakeryCo.(Mobile) WW1
Bonner, John* 1901 1944 Pvt, CoB 2ndReserveTrainingBn WW1
Brunt, Wakefield 1893 1927 Sgt. Army (Mil. Mrkr unreadable) WW1 Burns, Edward D. 1917 1944 CoD371stInfRegt, 92InfDiv WW2Campbell, John B. 1877 1944 U.S. Volunteer Inf. WW1Campbell, Miller L. ? 1936 Pvt. 101 Hosp. Corps WW1
Collins, Isaac 1876 1927 Draft Reg. exists, no othr record WW1
Davenport, Arthe(u)r* 1916 1959 PfcCoA1813EngrsAvn Bn WW2
Davis, Clifford L*. ? 1920 Pvt 157DepotBri.,Army WW1Gilbert, Robert 1890 1953 Pvt Co C 157thDepBrig WW1Greene, Augustus C. 1909 1941 Sgt. Maj. US Army WW2
Harden, Edgar 1892 1954 Cpl. Co D 346 Svc Bn WW1Hawkins, Ulysses S. A.* 1875 1914 PvtCoG, U.S.9thCavalry Span.Amer.
Hicks, Charles [note] 1841 1916 Pvt 138thRegtCol.Troops Civil War Hill, Marion A.* 1917 1955 Tch5, Port Co,TransCor WW2 Hill, William Walter* 1882 1947 Pvt44TransBn, 157Brig.,
63rd Pioneer Inf. WW1Jordan, William P. 1914 1954 Tch5 271st PortCo Army WW1Lumpkin, Daniel ? 1927 Cpl 12thCo ForestEngrs WW1
Maddox, Frank 1896 1944 Pvt. 157th DepotBrig. WW1
Marable, John ? 1955 811th Pioneer Inf. WW1 Milner, Ellis* 1892 1962 PvtCoB403rdLaborBn WW1Mines, John, Jr.* 1917 1945 Pvt., 297PortCo TC WW2
Moore, Jesse B. 1891 1962 Cpl. CoD 315 Svc Bn WW1Morton, Charlie C. 1895 1948 MedDepBase2CampHosp WW1 Morton, Frank B.* ? 1934 Sgt, 157thDepotBrigade WW1
Milner, Ellis* 1892 1962 PvtCoB403rdLaborBn WW1
Mines, John, Jr.* 1917 1945 Pvt., 297PortCo TC WW2
Newings, John Evin 1932 1956 Pvt. US Army KoreaOdom, Jesse* 1933 1951 PFC(KIA)CoK 8thCavReg Korea
Owens, Alphonso A. 1900 1930 Pvt. SATC Meharry Med WW1
Owens, Jesse ? 1930 Pvt. 403rd Labor Bn WW1Patrick, Lyon 1907 1952 Pfc. 403rd Res Labor Bn WW1
Payne, Henry Jr.* 1919 1946 Pfc953AAFBaseUnit WW2
Pitt(s), Willie ? 1946 Pvt. 157th Depot Brig. WW1
Poyner, Thomas 1896 1967 Bugler?, 315thLaborBn WW1
Reid, Willie 1894 1938 QtrmasterCorps WW1
Rucker, Monroe ? 1919 Pvt. 530th Engrs. WW1
Sanders, Edward O.* ? 1921 Pvt. 55th Depot Brig. WW1
Saphloe, William W.* 1911 1948 Capt. 64thQMBnGermany WW2
Shanks, Otis ? 1957 Cook, 15th Depot Brig. WW1
Shaw, Willie A.* ? 1927 48thCo 157DepotBrig. WW1
Smith, Robert ? 1925? 313th Svc Bn. WW1
Stanton, Curtis W.* 1911 1956 No headstone application Korea
Stephens, Peyton S. 1911 1958 Sgt. Hq41stEngr. Regt. WW2
Stewart, Vance W.* 1906 1960 Tch5, 213PortCo. Army WW2
Stovall, Claude 1912 1949 Pfc. Qtrmstr Corps WW2
Strickland, George H. 1908 1954 Army, no headstone rec. WW2
Strickland, John A.* ? 1919 Pvt45thCo 12Bn157Dep WW1
Tate, Son* ? 1940 Pvt842ndCo845thRegt WW1
Terrell, Burnett ? 1944 Sgt. 3768 QM Trk Co. WW2
Willingham, Frank* ? 1934 PvtCoD3085Bn WW1 Winkfield, Walter P. ? 1932 Pvt. 304 Svc Bn. QMC WW1
Wood, Miles 1888 1947 Pioneer Inf. WW1
*Burial site in Gospel Pilgrim not yet found.
Hicks note: Descendants expected to apply for military marker.
General Note: A few of these burials are in Hillcrest Cem., adjacent to Gospel Pilgrim Cem., on the side by the apartment complex on 4th St.
This painting by Laura Era shows Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation with members of his cabinet and Anna Ella Carroll occupying one chair. Artist Era was commissioned to re-do the original painting by Francis B. Carpenter which showed one chair empty. There is evidence that Carroll aided Lincoln in war activities. It is thought that her chair was left empty, but with an identifying map and case used by Carroll. We can speculate it would have been impolitic to show Lincoln being advised by a woman. For more on this intriguing and vital story, see information online at the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame.
The 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation is Jan. 1, 2013
As 2013 begins in Athens, Georgia, there are Watch Night church services where the Emancipation Proclamation is read and celebrated. African Americans don't forget what happened 150 years ago. Thousands commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation throughout the country. Other African Americans, however, celebrate a traditional New Year's Eve Watch Night religious service without delving into the Civil War past, preferring to look toward the future of the New Year.
As early as Fall, 1862, Athens residents black and white, knew Lincoln was moving toward an Emancipation Proclamation. The world's press carried stories about the proclamation freeing the slaves. Apparently, however, little direct mention was made about emancipation in the Athens area in white-controlled newspapers. A digitized search of the years of newspaper files immediately before and after the Emancipation Proclamation's Jan. 1, 1863, date found only a few articles discussing the Emancipation Proclamation in the Athens press. These articles seem selected to reflect disapproval of the Proclamation in various foreign and non-Georgia papers and didn't put in writing the Proclamation's contents.
A leading Athens citizen, Augustus Longstreet Hull, however, confirmed the town's knowledge about coming emancipation in his basic history, Annals of Athens, Georgia, 1801-1901. Hull treats the matter at some length and will be discussed later.
Today is the day we note Abraham Lincoln's signing and release of his Emancipation Proclamation to free Confederate slaves. With the release of the proclamation, the Civil War became unabashedly the instrument to liberate the country's four million slaves, although this process wouldn't be completed until the 13th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution went into effect in December, 1865. More than two bloody years of fighting still remained before the South surrendered. The Emancipation Proclamation could not free millions of slaves until the Union Army wrested a victory and controlled the entire South.
Lincoln, after much struggle with himself, finally realized that freeing the slaves was absolutely necessary as an action by the nation's commander-in-chief to win the war. He had delicately edged around the question of immediate and non-compensated freedom for slaves for several years, as he tried to woo the Border States and the Confederate South to give up on slavery. Finally he knew that no diplomatic or soft-handed effort was going to give him victory as commander-in-chief. He also needed African-American soldiers, and the Proclamation embraced this need. More than 200,000 black soldiers did join the ranks of the Union Army before the Civil War ended and aided greatly.
Eric Foner, a highly noted Civil War, Reconstruction and Lincoln historian, discusses Lincoln's anguish wrestling with the questions of slavery and freedom in his noteworthy book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.
"One hundred and fifty years ago, on Jan. 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln presided over the annual White House New Year's reception. Late that afternoon, he retired to his study to sign the Emancipation Proclamation," Foner wrote today in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.
"When he took up his pen, his hand was shaking from exhaustion. Briefly, he paused—'I do not want it to appear as if I hesitated,' he remarked. Then Lincoln affixed a firm signature to the document," Foner writes.
"In essence, Lincoln asked the nation to confront unblinkingly the legacy of slavery. What were the requirements of justice in the face of this reality? What would be necessary to enable former slaves and their descendants to enjoy fully the pursuit of happiness? Lincoln did not live to provide an answer. A century and a half later, we have yet to do so," he writes.
Obviously Athens residents knew that Lincoln had written a preliminary emancipation proclamation, but had not officially released it. For example, in its Oct. 29, 1862, issue, the Athens Southern Watchman without any comment passed on a story from England, relayed from the London Times but obviously quoting the foreign item with approval:
"The London Times says that the emancipation proclamation of Lincoln is a political concession of the Abolitionists, that when the Union existed the Constitution gave no right to the President or Congress to free the slaves. Emancipation was the bolt in the hands of the President to destroy the social organization of the South—a blow which Lincoln has assumed the right to launch, without the power to enforce his decrees. The North must conquer every square mile of the South before it can make the proclamation of more effect than merely a waste of paper."
In the same issue of the Southern Watchman, another item running in the London Post, was repeated: "The London Post says: It is not easy to estimate how utterly contemtible [sic] a government must have become which could sanction, with its approval, such insensate trash."
The Watchman ran a third article in its Nov. 26, 1862, issue, upholding the freedom of expression of a Missouri judge, who was arrested for questioning the wisdom of the preliminary emancipation proclamation. The Watchman showed its anger with the judge's arrest under a headline "More Specimens of Freedom under Lincoln Rule." Several articles published in the Athens papers after Jan. 1, 1863, followed the technique of quoting disapproval of the Proclamation abroad and in the North.
Hull in his Annals wrote that the preliminary emancipation proclamation, which Lincoln composed in September, 1862, after the Battle of Antietam, was not kept secret. We know that Lincoln was advised not to release the proclamation until a more opportune time. Several newspapers wrote articles about this preliminary document.
"The emancipation proclamation of Mr. Lincoln had no effect on the [Athens] negroes at the time, although they were generally told of it," Hull wrote, discussing the Jan. 1, 1863, proclamation.
As the Union Army conquered and occupied Georgia in 1864 and 1865, Georgia slaves began to exercise their freedom. They already knew that it existed on paper, but only armed might of the Union Army made possible the beginning of their emancipation. Many joined the Union army marching through Georgia.
Hull recounted the breakdown in Athens society: "After the surrender of General [Joseph] Johnston there came a brigade of Federal cavalry in search of Mr. [Jefferson] Davis. It was the signal for the disruption of the old regime." By May, 1865, federal troops occupied Athens.
Hull wrote that his father ". . . called up the hands on the plantation and told them they were now free and must take care of themselves; if they chose they might remain on the place until they should decide what to do. The effect was curious. The younger men left at once to enjoy their new-found freedom with a happy-go-lucky lack of forethought, not knowing where they were to get their suppers. The men with families remained."
The Jan. 1, 1863, Emancipation Proclamation formally proclaimed "the freedom of all slaves held in areas still in revolt," the National Archives said in opening its special 150th anniversary of the proclamation on New Year's Eve. "The issuance of this Proclamation clarified and strengthened the position of the Union government, decreased the likelihood of European support of the Confederacy and, as the Union armies extended their occupation of the southern states, brought freedom to the slaves in those states."
This rather dramatic illustration shows a black Union soldier reading the Emancipation Proclamation to an African-American family in 1863.
By Al Hester, PhD
Finding Information about ex-slaves is hard work. Many who visit this site on the Web know from personal experience that their efforts are frequently frustrating and time-consuming. The major difficulties include the lack of listing slaves' names in the U. S. federal censuses from 1790 through 1860. Between 1790 and 1840 only the white heads of households were listed by name. Beginning with the 1850 census, all white individuals as well as minorities including Chinese, Latinos, and American Indians were enumerated by name. It was only after Emancipation, that African Americans were enumerated by name. They were also counted as being "black" or "mulatto."
Some genealogical searchers are lucky enough to find slaves listed in private records, such as plantation inventories, probate documents of slave owners, or bills of sale or wills of white owners. Newspaper advertisements often included the names of runaway slaves or sales of slaves. Frequently, only the first names of slaves were mentioned.
After slaves became free, other records began mentioning them, frequently giving valuable information about African Americans after the Civil War, during the 1860's and 1870's during Reconstruction came into being. One of the most useful records giving family information about former slaves are the lists of deposit applications for African Americans wanting to start savings accounts with the Freedman's Savings Bank, a government effort to encourage saving. These records are on-line at ancestry.com, the well known genealogy and history site. See search.ancestry.com › Search
› Tax, Criminal, Land & Wills
.. It is freely available at many libraries and for a subscription fee for use by individuals at home. The ancestry.com site also has Freedmen's Bureau field office records, which contain thousands of the names of newly freed slaves (see link above). These records are also available on microfilm at the Athens Regional Library.
Tax records also are of some help in tracing the lives of former slaves and are available in the Georgia State Archives (it will be open two days a week to the public. Check the Archives site before going.) and in most Georgia counties. Marriage, probate and will records also are readily available at the court house in most counties.
But Athens area readers may also want to know where their ex-slave ancestors are buried in the local Athens area and their birth and death dates. Black cemeteries are especially sources of information inscribed on tombstones of ex-slaves. Sometimes finding out the birth dates or death dates of the African Americans you are researching can lead to finding many other pieces of information. Military records on-line at ancestry.com and elsewhere on the Web can be very helpful. Often, the entire military service records can be ordered from the National Archives in Washington, with indexes often published on-line by Ancestry. com or other genealogical sites. Some Georgia ex-slaves left slavery to enlist in the Union Army, especially as Gen. W. T. Sherman marched from Atlanta to the Sea. Hundreds of Georgia slaves also enlisted in newly formed black regiments in the wake of Union Gen. James Wilson's large, destructive cavalry raid from Atlanta to Macon in spring 1865.
In my work as history and research chairperson for the Gospel Pilgrim cemetery at Fourth and Bray Streets in East Athens, I have put together what may be a useful list for local Athens residents who are researching their ex-slave ancestors.
The cemetery was founded in 1882 as a 9-acre cemetery by the Gospel Pilgrim Society and contains graves of perhaps 3,500 African Americans. Of this number, the majority of graves are unmarked, and we don't know who is buried in these graves. The list of burials and lots was lost many years ago. There are about 800 graves of African Americans, however, which are identified by a readable marker.
Among the identified graves, or from information given to us mentioning Gospel Pilgrim as a burial site, there are more than 100 graves we know are of ex-slaves. In several cases I have been happy to help African Americans or interested white persons find the graves of a specified person in whom they were interested. We have a rough spread sheet with as much information as possible on the graves with identification at Gospel Pilgrim, and I am glad to "look up" persons sought by descendants or friends. We hope to have soon an on-line spreadsheet of the known burials—a spreadsheet which will be searchable by first or last names. When this Web site for Gospel Pilgrim goes on-line, I'll mention it and link to it on this site.
Below is the list of African Americans ex-slaves buried at Gospel Pilgrim. This list includes the best birthdates and death dates we can find. Many times, especially among ex-slaves, they simply didn't know for sure when they were born. Once you know their birthdates and death dates, you can frequently find more information, for example if these ex-slaves lived to be recorded in post-Civil War censuses, wills, deeds, or tax records.
In a handful of cases on this list, you will see an asterisk by the specific death date. This calls attention to an online image of a death certificate from the site begun by the Georgia State Archives and Secretary of State. Currently it is searchable for the years from the beginning of compulsory birth and death registrations, 1919 through about 1927. If this site is malfunctioning, this information is also available at Family Search.com on the Web. Name Born Died
Adams, Charlton 1856 or 57 ?
Adams, Obadiah, Rev. 2-13-1828 11-19-1892
Adams, Mrs. Mete? 856 or 57 3-31-1903
Allen, Gwen [Owen?] Dec. 1829 12-28-1900
Austin, Nicey 1843 1935
Bacon, Edward 12-25-1854 12-13-1906
Bacon, Marenia 10-17-1849 11-27-1917
Bacon, Mary 10-17-1849 11-27-1917
Bass, E. W. 8-23-1860 6-20-1903
Barker[?], Sam[?] 1847[?] Jan. 1927[?]
Bates, William 1865 1942
Billups, Betty McRee 1860 1938
Brown[?] 1862 1942
Brydie, Camilla 1851[?] ?
Brydie, Daniel H. 1829 1894
Carey, Fannie L. 7-8-1854 12-9-1938
Cox, Mrs. Mollie 1863 12-3-1935
Davis, C.[?] H. 7-8-1845 6-11-1895
Davis, Madison 1833 1902
Davis, Minnie H.[?] 1859 1940 or 1950?
Deadwyler, Mattie 1844 1935[?]
Derricotte, Bernard[?] 1858 1890
Derricotte, Charlotte L. 4-13-1863 11-5-1927*
Derricotte, Edward 1863 1927
Derricotte, Isaac Thomas 1860? 1951?
Derricotte, Laura B. 1865? 1951
Derricotte, Randle 3-8-1812 ?
Derricotte, Savannah 11-17-1852 9-25-1900
Dillard, William 1838? 6-7-1908
Downer, G. T. 1862 2-2-1915
Drake, Laura L. T. 1862 5-24-1905
Dukes, Mary 1833 or 1843 1908
Favors, Tom 1806 1931
Fields, Eldon 1849 1-29-1925*
Fields, Susie 1859[?] 9-29-1927*
Fisher, Lula 1859 1904
Foster, Emma Shropshire 5-20-1860 1-6-1949
Gilham, Laura 1863 1943
Harris, Elizabeth (Lizzie) 8-10-1857 1920*
Harris, Henrietta 1857 1932
Harris, Robert 1836 8-6-1914
Hawkins, Ida 5-12-1861 3-11-1909
Hawkins, S. H. 1859 1937
Heard, --et 1832? 8-28-1890
Heard, Bartlett 1832 7-26-1890
Heard, J. A.[?] 1855 1908
Heard, J. H. 6-6-1855 12-30-1908
Heard, Mattie Oct., 1865 11-13-1943
Heard, William Apr. 1865 9-26-1939
Hicks, Charles 1841 12-8-1916
Holt, Carolyn 1-21-1839 or 49 10-8-1902
Houston, Charlie 1858 10-29-1942
Hudson, Charlie 858? 10-29-1942
Hunter, Richard 1857 1929
Jackson, Alfred 10-5-1824 2-14-1884
Jackson, Louisa 12-9-1825 11-3-1895
Johnson, Alice V. 1857 4-4-1918
Johnson, W. D., Rev. 1842 4-1-1909
Jones, --- 1814 1903
Jones, Georgia 2-7-1849 12-9-1923
Jones, John W. 1832?] 1917
Jones, Louisa Beale, Mrs. 1854 10-11-1910
Jones, Luvenia 3-20-1852 9-14-1922*
Jones, Tena, Mrs. 1843 or 1848 1888
Jones, Lula, Mrs. 3-18-1859 4-3-1930
Jones, Sallie, Mrs. 1860 7-25-1885
Jones, Thomas 1825 10-13-1900
Jones, Vinnie 12-25-1825 11-7-1887
Jones, W. A. 1855 11-5-1905
Jones, W. A., Jr. 1855 1905
Jones, Willis A. Sr., Rev. 2-28-1814 3-3-1913
Lawrence, Carrie Aug. 1850 12-15-1924
Livingston, Emmaline 1828 1912
Mack, Charlotte M. or H. 1862 1933
Mack, John R. 1856 1918
Mason, Mattie Shaw Apr. 1854 ?
McCleskley, Edward 1865 1932
McClesky, James 1857 1944
McCray, Laura 6-7-1818 12-5-1913
McQueen, Amanda 3-26-1858 12-31-1916
McQueen, W. M. 11-15-1850 3-19-1905
McRee, Edward 1860 1955
Morton, Amanda 1850 1885
Morton, Elizabeth, Mrs. 1834 1885
Morton, Elizabeth 1836 1-10-1886?
Morton, Monroe B. 1855 1919*
Morton, Tallulah 1862 or 1867? 1941
Nesbitt, John 1853 10-13-1895
Owens, Isabella 1859 11-8-1919*
Pinckney, Mrs. Hopie 1862 1888
Pledger, William A. 1849 or 1850? 1-8-1904
Pope, Celie 1780? 1895
Powers, Armstead D. 11-24-1834 ?
Powers, Harriet 12-9-1837[?] ?
Pure, Mrs. Ossie 1857 1925
Randolph, Susan 1854 1929
Reid, Lorenzo W. 1863 1947
Rhodes, Bessie 1865 1935
Sanders-McGee, Sarah 1854 7-21-1934
Scott, Samuel S. 1862? ?
Sheppard, Anna M. H. 8-17-1862 4-25-1885
Smith, Candace C. Wiley 1845 1929
Smith, Martha 1864 5-30-1922*
Spaulding, Amanda McQueen 1858 1916
Stephens, Mrs. Nancy 1856 ?
Stephens, Oliver 1849 9-8-1880
Stevens, Julia 1844 1941
Virgil, Emma 1860 1944
W. J., Mr. 1855? 1932
Whitfield, W. M. 1865 1939
Williams, Harriet 10-11-1853 2-24-1930
Williams, Jane 1837 1-13-1891
Wiley, Candace 1845 1929
Young, Agnes, Mrs. March 1837 1-10-1898 114 Total slaves in G. P. + many, many more in unmarked graves or in uncleared portions of the cemetery.Dates with question marks indicate difficulties in reading the date on the tombstone.
Below is an example of the death certificate of Charlotte L. Derricotte of Athens, Georgia. In addition to date and cause of death, we also find the name of her spouse, her age, her occupation [cateress], her address where she died, where she was born, and the names of her father and mother--a rich bonanza for her descendants.
From an engraving by John Warner Barber showing the town of Athens, GA from across the Oconee River in 1861
A WONDERFUL SOURCE OF HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL INFORMATION:
Prof. Robert Scott Davis
Whether you call it
researching or pleasant dabbling, hunting down information for history and genealogy questions can be a major project for thousands of Americans. A lot of their work would be a thousand times more difficult if it weren’t for the dedicated band of persons who spend tedious months and years finding, abstracting and publishing old records from local and state agencies.
Basically, the persons who meticulously work to make records public and convenient for use by hobbyists and researchers are really the “unsung heroes” in history and genealogy, especially on the local or state level. One of the top experts making this a major part of his life is Prof. Robert Scott Davis, director of the Family and Regional History Program, Wallace State Community College, Hanceville, Alabama. Professor Davis has written more than 1,000 books and articles on records and research. He carefully cites his sources and indexes the hundreds of thousands of names occurring in local records. Using one of his books of records is like successfully hunting for nuggets of gold in family history. While more and more records are becoming available on-line, there are still vast quantities not on the Web, and the collections in print are very valuable. Professor Davis doesn’t know me, and I have never met him—but I can sure tell good work and research when I see it. He has been amazingly helpful to thousands of genealogists, history buffs and others.
Clarke County and residents of the surrounding area are lucky Professor Davis has dug out many Clarke County records which otherwise would languish in musty files sometimes very difficult to find. He is a marvelous detective at sniffing out old records and saving them for easy use.
Since this is a blog about Civil War and Reconstruction period history in Clarke County, Georgia, we’ll zero-in on just one of his incredibly useful publications: Records of Clarke County, Georgia, 1801-1892, in the Georgia Department of Archives and History.
(Greenville, SC: Southern Historical Press, 1993). Not everyone can dash over to the Department of Archives and History in Morrow, Georgia, especially now that its public hours have been slashed by the state budget crunch. For those of you who want to visit, here is the location and Web listing for the Georgia Archives. Note carefully the brief times the facility is open for research: 5800 Jonesboro Road,
Morrow, GA 30260,
, Open Friday - Saturday
8:30 - 5:00,
Just one section of the rich records trove Professor Davis has dug out from the state archives concentrates on information about Confederate soldiers and their relatives. In some cases, these records involve returning veterans after the war was over. If you’re interested in tracing your Clarke Confederate ancestors, the chances are good you’ll run across mentions of them in the Clarke County records housed in the State Archives and published in Professor Davis’ Clarke County book.
Of most interest to seekers of Civil War era information about relatives and friends in Clarke County are Record Group 129-2-4 Miscellaneous, Box 2: Civil War Era Files. Professor Davis did detailed searches of this record group at the Georgia State Archives.
Here are some highlights of records he found involving Civil War and later time periods involving those with involvement in the era: Amnesty Oaths
with 358 names of Clarke and a few other area residents who swore allegiance to the federal government after the war ended in 1865. Professor Davis also notes that physical descriptions and signatures of these persons are found in Microfilm Reel 287/40-8 at the Georgia Archives. His list of oath signers contains the names and ages of the signers. Confederate Veterans Receiving Artificial Limbs in 1867 in Clarke County
: 19 names. Extensive Confederate Records, 1862-1892
: Includes: Names of Confederate widows, 27 names. Guardians or persons having charge of orphan of deceased soldier
: 29 names. Persons dependent upon deceased soldiers for support:
4 names. Soldiers crippled for life
: 1 name. Aged or infirm white persons
: 13 names. I assume these are persons dependent upon Confederate veterans. On the back of this list are 23 names of African-Americans. A long list of widows, wives and infirm persons and their families
whose service in the Confederate Army caused much hardship for the families in Clarke County. A list of persons entitled to receive salt from the Confederate government
. Salt was in tremendously short supply in the Confederate states during the war. Lists of more aged and infirm persons, persons dependent on soldiers for support, soldiers’ widows, more guardians of orphans of deceased soldiers
. A list of citizens made destitute by the war, as of April 15, 1864
. Sixty-six names of whites and 42 names of African-Americans. A long list of classes of priority for aid to families of Confederate soldiers.
These gave the reason for the priority of each case. This list contains hundreds of names, listed by militia district. Destitute Confederate Soldiers and other destitute citizens
, as of June, 1867. A long list of widows, wives and families with sons in military service
As you can see, Professor Davis’s book and the records of the Georgia Archives can be of tremendous help in tracing activities of your Civil War and Reconstruction era relatives.
If you would like to obtain this book, call the Southern Historical Press at 1-800-233-0152
to obtain prices (reasonable) and place your order. You can’t order online from this press yet, but it has hundreds of excellent books of interest to genealogists and historians.
The Franklin House, Athens, GA, photo 1936. Freedmen's Bureau Sub-District Headquarters was located here. (HABS)
Part 2 The Nitty-Gritty Operations of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Athens, Georgia
During Reconstruction, the Freedmen’s Bureau was a busy place at its Athens headquarters for overseeing a 13-county area in Northeast Georgia. The Bureau was supposed to see to it that whites and African-Americans got along in a fairly equitable manner—not an easy task soon after the Civil War.
There are records which spell out the complaints made by members of each race as they searched for some reasonable co-existence after the Civil War ended. One of the best ways to get a ringside seat on the action in a South generally still under occupation by Yankee troops is to look at the day-to-day reports, letters, contracts, etc. fashioned by the Freedmen’s Bureau. These files give in vivid detail the adjustments necessary for life to go on in the South.
The Bureau field office records for the Athens Sub-District contain literally hundreds of names and events concerning African-Americans newly freed from slavery. They also frequently furnish details of the lives and relationships of white and black Athenians.
These records can be extremely important to family historians and genealogists. The records of the Bureau are available through Ancestry.com, or as microfilm from the National Archives in Washington. The Athens Regional Library has the microfilms and also free access to Ancestry.com. A link to Letters Sent by the Athens Sub-District office during 1867-68 is as follows: A subscription to Ancestry. com is needed, unless you have free use at your library. http://search.ancestry.com/Browse/View.aspx?dbid=1105&path=Georgia.Letter.1867-1868.Letters+Sent,+Volume+1.1
See Part 1 of this article for other links to the online records.
The field records are not usually indexed very helpfully. The online search capabilities of these digitized records do not allow much key-word searching. The records are handwritten. But information from the field office records on daily operations of the Bureau is not available elsewhere. Browsing may turn up good stuff!
• • •
Looking over hundreds of letters and reports to and from the Athens area Freedmen’s Bureau office, I was hit by the dedication Brevet Major John J. Knox and his agents showed to protect ex-slaves and help them to live as free citizens. Major Knox was the assistant commissioner for the Athens Sub-District during 1867 and part of 1868. Records exist for other periods of the Freedmen’s Bureau operations in Athens, beginning in 1865 and continuing on into the 1870’s. But Major Knox and his Athens area agent Howell C. Flournoy make a good study, since they were plain-spoken in their correspondence and efficient. Knox was a Union veteran, as were many other Freedmen’s Bureau leaders. Flournoy was a Southerner who was completely loyal to the Union. Prior to the war, he had been a town commissioner of Athens. After the war he was an agent for the Freedmen’s Bureau and later a deputy postmaster of Athens.
The Freedmen’s Bureau’s office in Athens was in the old Franklin House on Broad Street—a historic building still standing and restored in downtown Athens. It was a bustling, leading hotel in Athens during the 19th Century. The Bureau’s office took up only a small portion of the brick building. A constant stream of blacks and whites trooped into the office to get the Bureau to side with them or to mediate a solution to complaints, labor contracts, education matters, and many other points of disagreement. Typically the Bureau referred many complaints to Clarke County civil authorities—the Athens intendant (Mayor), black leaders and justices of the peace. The white power structure frequently didn’t do what the Bureau wanted, but relations were generally respectful, although strained.
When push came to shove, the Bureau could call on the small garrison of Union troops in Athens to nudge recalcitrant planters and to discourage violence in the area.
• • •
So how do you begin accessing Freedmen’s Bureau field office records to see what your Athens area relatives, either white or black, were doing during Reconstruction?
The files of letters sent and received by the Bureau’s Athens Sub-District Headquarters are roughly divided chronologically. There are, however, overlaps in time periods in the digitized files, and there are several volumes of records, just on the correspondence of the Bureau in Athens. Letters Sent originate from the Bureau, and Letters Received may come from within the Bureau or from ex-slaves or white citizens. But letters received and letters sent are in different ledgers, so if you wish to see the complete correspondence you’ll have to look in both files. This correspondence filing system mirrors the traditional military record system used for generations by American military forces. It can be frustrating.
The names of the senders and receivers are on each piece of correspondence, and frequently there may be a brief summary of the subject. In some cases, registers or roughly alphabetical indices of the volumes are available, which will tell you the page number in the correspondence ledgers. But the indices don’t give you the Image Number of the digitized microfilm frame of the correspondence, which is also a key to the digitized files. Fortunately, as you browse the letters you can see the page numbers as well as the image numbers—both at the top of each page digitized.
Some of the letters paint vivid pictures of conflicts between the races or between the federal government and local citizens.
Jackson County, immediately north of Clarke County and Athens was known for its strong resistance to federal actions during Reconstruction. This was of great concern to Agent Flournoy, who warned Bvt. Brig. Gen. Sibley, assistant commissioner in Georgia for the Bureau. If you’d like to see the digitized letter from Flournoy, see the following: http://search.ancestry.com/Browse/view.aspx?dbid=1105&path=Georgia.Letter.1868.Letters+Sent+Volume+3.149&sid=&gskw=
The handwriting is somewhat difficult to read: Here is the text of the long letter written on Oct. 15, 1868:
I have the honor to call your attention to very great excitement in Jackson Co. Ga. Reports have come to me that both white and colored citizens are arming themselves. The whites say the colored citizens are arming themselves to murder all the whites at a certain time not particularly specified. This, as they pretend, has caused them to arm themselves for self-defence. On the other hand, the colored citizens contend that they are desirous of living in peace with the white people and attend to their daily work, that large bodies of armed white citizens [are] roving through the district of Newtown and Harmony Grove [now Commerce] in Jackson County, halting and hailing every colored man they see and compelling them with threats of violence and drawn weapons upon them to make them sign certain written articles of agreement which they term as an association of peace between them. The articles are nothing more or less than that they, the colored people, solemnly pledge themselves with an oath that they will vote the Democratic ticket in November, 1868! If they sign these, they are let alone with warning. If the colored people violate their pledge, death is their doom, and, if they refuse to sign, they are driven out of the county, their lives threatened and many of them have been driven from their homes. Such are the reports that reach me.
“I am daily looking for an outbreak in that section and nothing can prevent it, unless U. S. troops are sent here. The excitement appears to be intense in these two districts. I am afraid it will extend through the whole of Jackson County and the adjoining counties and this place [Athens]. No white Radicals or colored men will be allowed to vote at the next election for President unless he votes the Democratic ticket. If the government don’t give us protection we will be at the mercy of a lawless band. I have lived here for nearly fifty years. I was here during the rebellion. I was more than forty times reported for arrest for my Union sentiments. But I have never seen such times in my life as a Union man’s life was so insecure as at this time.”
Flournoy signed the letter as agent in Athens.
While I haven’t yet found General Sibley’s reply, the Nov. 2, 1868, issue of the Southern Banner
in Athens may refute the idea of violence in Athens during the election, although nothing is mentioned about Jackson County:
“As we go to press voting is progressing quietly at the Town Hall. So far as we know, it is pretty much a question of race here—all the whites, except about a half dozen, voting for Seymour & Blair, and the great mass of the negroes for Grant and Colfax.”
Georgia statewide gave Seymour and Blair 64 per cent and Grant and Colfax nearly 35 per cent.
• • •
Turning to a complaint filed by an African American in Athens, Mrs. Sarah Nesbit, alleged to the Bureau that Yankee troops posted at Athens stole her shoes. Agent Flournoy wrote their commanding officer, Major R. E. Naly[?] and complained:
I have the honor to call your attention to an outrage that was committed by some four or five of your men. Last night Mrs. Sarah Nesbit (cold [colored]) of Athens. She states that they taken from her one pair of shoes, and two shawls and threatened to blow her brains out.
Yours Very Respectfully
Howell C. Flournoy
Agt. Bureau. . .”
Showing a Freedmen’s Bureau attempt to “keep the peace” with civil authorities in Athens was this letter sent Oct. 12, 1868, by Agent Flournoy to Hon. J. D. Pittard, the Athens intendant (mayor). Flournoy wrote:
I have the honor to inform you on behalf of the (col’d [colored]) people that on Saturday next they are going to have a Republican mass meeting on the lot of Floyd Hill [a leading African-American leader and founder of Hill First Baptist Church] in rear of the Institute [Knox School or Institute]. A part of their program is to form a procession and with national flags and banners march through some of the principal Streets. I can assure you, Sir, that so far as the (col’d) people are concerned they intend no harm to any citizen of this town and have appointed some of their best men to keep order among themselves. Should you have any objections to the above, you will please state it in writing and oblige
Your Most Obt.
Howell C. Flournoy
Agent Bureau. . . .”
• • •
Finally, here is an impassioned letter sent by Columbus, Georgia, freedmen to Maj. Gen. James B. Steedman of the Union Army on Nov. 5, 1865. Although not from the Athens Sub-District, it shows the fears of ex-slaves in Georgia:
Nov. 5th, 1865
Maj. Gen’l Steadman [Maj. Gen. James B. Steedman]
We the undersigned Freedmen, having learned that the Federal Soldiers are soon to be withdrawn from Columbus, feel constrained most respectfully and request in the name of the Lord, to implore you not to leave us unprotected by Federal troops. We firmly believe that the Almighty has ordained our freedom; but at the same time, we wish to inform you that if the Federal Soldiers are withdrawn from us, we will be left in a most gloomy and helpless condition. A number of Freedmen have already been killed in this section of country; and from expressions uttered by prominent men in this community in civil life, we have every reason to fear that others will share a similar fate. We think our commander here might do better than he does. And we do know that there are men here who would protect us if they had the power.
We therefore most humbly and earnestly pray you General, not to leave us to the tender mercy of our enemies—unprotected.
S. W. Love
And 120 others (colored)
[From Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Georgia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1869, “Unbound Miscellaneous Papers,” National Archives Publication M798, Roll 36].
I hope these few examples will give readers an idea of the valuable accounts in Freedmen’s Bureau records, which could be of great help for both African Americans and white citizens tracing family history or genealogy.
Gen. James B. Steedman, Union Army. Blacks appealed to him not to remove troops in Columbus, GA in 1865.
Letter sent by Freedmen's Bureau in Athens, GA, to an attorney in Danielsville, GA, reassuring that Union troops would not be moved from Elbert County, GA.
Brevet Major John J. Knox, head of the Athens Georgia Sub-District of the Freedmen's Bureau in 1867-68
Part 1 of 2
In 1867, two years after Emancipation, slavery wasn’t dead in Athens, Georgia. It was only “lying doggo”—existing in a little-diluted manner causing untold hardships for “freed persons” and also for former slave owners.
The South—and the nation—had a lot of unfinished business. Bearing much of the brunt of this unprecedented effort at change was the formidably named federal agency, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. It was commonly called the Freedmen’s Bureau. With its many offices throughout the South, some border states and Washington, D. C., the Bureau was ceaselessly dealing with whites and blacks. It might be considered the “oil” which tried to make the wheels turn to set up new relations between whites and former slaves. For much of its existence, the Bureau could call upon limited Union armed force against recalcitrant citizens in the occupied South. Yankee civilian workers and military men were trying to drag Southern whites by the scruff of their necks to accept ideas that African Americans were not slaves any more.
The Civil War was lost, which Southerners could reluctantly admit. But the social fabric of life hadn’t necessarily meant equality and justice for all. The idea that blacks could marry, choose their own employment, try to get an education and even vote was exceedingly difficult to understand by the many white citizens of Athens, Georgia, and elsewhere.
The field office reports of the Freedmen’s Bureau give us a ringside seat at this imperfect search for getting along between the races throughout much of the South, and specifically in the Athens Sub-District of the Bureau. The Bureau heard complaints of many former slaves, and from many whites—both sides felt they were mistreated. What assurance did blacks have their former master's would actually pay them to work? Were the ex-slaves willing to work for former masters? How could former slave owners make a buck to keep their farms or plantations alive?How would they get their crops taken care of? What kind of labor contracts could make all this possible? How did the Bureau deal with instances of physical beatings, kidnappings of black children, and even murder of the freedmen?
In Athens, a doughty brevet major, John J. Knox, was named the Athens Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Sub-Commissioner in 1867, and we have a thorough record of much of his duties with whites and blacks in 1867 and 1868. Freedmen’s Bureau operations started in Athens in 1865, but Major Knox was one of the most active sub-commissioners to hold the job. Major Knox, from Michigan, was respectful to the community, but he did not suffer fools gladly and rose to protect destitute blacks. Also, Knox’s period is one of the better-documented in existing records.
A lot of the details of this Civil War veteran’s work become plain to us in his field office reports and letters. A bantam of a man, not weighing 100 pounds, he was nearly killed in battle near Richmond, Virginia, and was seriously disabled. He was the the Union reserve officer's corps. He was naturally a likable guy, and even un-reconstructed Athens area residents had to admire his bravery in battle.
The records of the Bureau can reward the user with a detailed day-by-day account of what the Freedmen’s Bureau was trying to do in the Athens Sub-District. You can get to these records via the partnership of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and Ancestry.com, the tremendously useful genealogical site on the Internet. Of great importance to genealogists and African-American history fans and genealogists are the thousands of names of ex-slaves and where they lived in the Athens Sub-District, as well as how they lived their lives during Reconstruction. These details are reflected in Freedmen's Bureau letters sent and received and in many reports. Thousands of these sources are available on-line.
The Athens Sub-District covered the following counties: Clarke, Jackson, Gwinnett, Walker, Hart, Franklin, Banks, Habersham, Rabun, Hall, Oglethorpe, Elbert, and Madison. Other Bureau sub-district headquarters in Georgia were at Savannah, Albany, Brunswick, Thomasville, Macon, Columbus, Augusta, Atlanta and Rome. Each sub-district employed agents at smaller towns or villages as well.
But your hunt may not be easy. There’s no decent index to these records. You have to hunt information like prospectors hunted nuggets of gold—expecting to get very little and then hitting a bonanza from time to time. Many African-Americans, however, have successfully traced their ancestors in the years immediately following the Civil War and Emancipation. They are often able to find their labor contracts with planters, their complaints about violence and unfair treatment, their depth of destitution, and even their hospitalizations and illnesses.
The field reports of Georgia and other Southern states give us tons of information including labor contracts, education efforts, court cases, and violence against freedmen. They also frequently portray actions of whites and their complaints against African Americans or the Freedmen's Bureau. Of course, we are seeing through the lens of a camera held by the Yankee bureau. Major Knox, for example, never hid his belief that the Bureau should help destitute blacks and try to make their lives better. But he proceeded with quite a bit of caution, courtesy and fairness. Several times, however, he faced death threats, although no actual assassination attempt was made.
The overall Freedmen’s Bureau site on Ancestry.com can be found at U.S., Freedmen Bureau Records of Field Offices, 1865-187, compiled by the National Archives. Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia, on-line are the records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1903, 90 rolls); Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105; National Archives, Washington, D.C. The on-line address for Athens sub-district records is: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1105
Athens" specific records address includes hundreds of letters received and sent : http://search.ancestry.com/Browse/view.aspx?dbid=1105&path=Georgia.Letter.1867.Letters+Received+Entered+in+Volume+1,+A-W.1156&sid=&gskw=Record+from+U.S.,+Freedmen+Bureau+Records+of+Field+Offices,+1865-1878
If you don’t have your own access to Ancestry.com, many public libraries have it free. Or if you prefer, many libraries have the microfilm National Archives records of the bureau for their area and state. Check with the genealogy and local history departments. Sometimes it seems faster to use the microfilms to browse.
The current online records for the Bureau in other Southern and a few non-Southern locations include: Washington, D. C., Florida, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. See ancestry.com
for further information for what records are available for individual states. The regional branches of the National Archives have all the microfilmed records. The National Archives in Washington has the original paper records of the Freedmen's Bureau. Not all have been microfilmed or placed on-line.
Here’s the microfilm listing: Alabama, M1900, 34 rolls; Arkansas, M1901, 23 rolls; District of Columbia, M1902, 21 rolls; Florida, M1869, 15 rolls; Georgia, M1903, 90 rolls; Kentucky, M1904, 133 rolls; Louisiana, M1905, 111 rolls; Maryland/Delaware, M1906, 42 rolls; Mississippi, pre-Bureau Records, M1914, 5 rolls and Freedmen’s Bureau, M1907, 65 rolls; Missouri, M1908, 24 rolls; North Carolina, M1909, 78 rolls; South Carolina, M1910, 106 rolls; Tennessee, M1912, 28 rolls; Texas, M1912, 32 rolls; and Virginia, M1913, 203 rolls.
In Part 2 of this blog article to follow soon, we’ll give specific examples of Freedmen’s Bureau records which hold high genealogical, historical and cultural interest concerning the Reconstruction period after Emancipation.
An letter sent by the Freedmen's Bureau to a private lawyer thanking him for reporting efforts to rid Elbert County, GA, of Union troops.