From an engraving by John Warner Barber showing the town of Athens, GA from across the Oconee River in 1861
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.


     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:


     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:

Columbus, Georgia
Nov. 5th, 1865
Maj. Gen’l Steadman [Maj. Gen. James B. Steedman]
Dear Sir!

     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.


Harry Watkins
Abraham Smith
George Blunt
S. W. Love
Morgan Gale
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:


    Athens" specific records address includes hundreds of letters received and sent :


    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.
   The dead do tell tales.
And we can piece together some of these from studying records of African Americans buried in the historic Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in Athens, Georgia. Combining information from the gravestones in this 9-acre cemetery and facts from the Georgia Secretary of State’s online death certificates from 1919 through 1927, gives clues to the lives and deaths of 236 of the African Americans buried at Gospel Pilgrim. We can make some generalizations to the entire Athens area black population from this information.

   Much of the laborious work obtaining images of the death certificates and preparing a spreadsheet of the main facts was excellently done by Kenneth R. Taylor of Athens,  a college history instructor.

   First, a bit about Gospel Pilgrim.

   The cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also on the Georgia Historical Sites sponsored by the Georgia Historical Society. It is an important site, for not only history of African Americans in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, but for cultural, educational and touristic information.  It is overseen by the East Athens Development Corp., Inc., a part of the city-county government.  It’s located at Fourth and Bray Streets, next to Springfield Baptist Church in East Athens.

   I am head of the history and research committee for Gospel Pilgrim.

   The cemetery was founded by the Gospel Pilgrim Society, a fraternal, burial and insurance society, chartered in 1883. The Society began in the days of Reconstruction after the Civil War to help struggling ex-slaves adjust to freedom.

   Athens newspaper articles indicate the Society was operating from as early as 1873 or 1879, although it didn’t get into the cemetery business until 1882, when it bought the land in East Athens. The Gospel Pilgrim Society received its charter from Clarke County Superior Court in 1883.  It made available a beautiful burial ground for African Americans, along with cheap burial insurance and low-priced grave plots. Society members took care of members and others in need. Many poor people were also buried free of charge at Gospel Pilgrim.  Archeologists estimate that as many as 3,000-3,500 graves are in the cemetery. It also includes the graves of many of the most important leaders in Athens’ black community in the 19th and 20th centuries.

   Our most recent spreadsheet lists about 850 identified gravesites. The majority of graves, however,  are not marked, or their tombstones haven’t been found. The records of Gospel Pilgrim were lost years ago, so we have no maps or lists of burial lots and the individuals buried there. Active use of Gospel Pilgrim ended in 1977 upon the death of the last head of the Society, Alfred Richardson Hill. A few burials still take place if descendants can prove they own a lot and wish to use it.  They must get permission from EADC.

   Grave identification has been made by volunteer  ground surveys. A GPS survey was started a few years ago, but unfortunately never completed because it ran out of money.

   The cemetery isn’t endowed with perpetual care, and keeping it accessible is a constant fight against encroaching underbrush and trees. Volunteers have done some cleaning, and Athens-Clarke County residents passed a special sales tax election, with Gospel  Pilgrim getting funds to improve roadways and other infra-structure. None of this money can go toward repairing tombstones, since they are on private property.  Volunteer help is erratic, and in some years was more active than at present.

   Several organizations have made small grants to the upkeep of the cemetery, but there wasn’t enough funding to finance more improvements.  About one-fourth of Gospel Pilgrim has never been cleared. This area contains many graves not reachable because of the very thick  underbrush.

   Two-hundred-sixty-two identified graves mark the resting places of persons who were buried in Gospel Pilgrim between 1919 and 1927. The Georgia online Death Certificates program (see http://cdm.sos.state.ga.us/cdm4/gadeaths.php) shows 236 burials took place in Gospel Pilgrim. It would be expected that this would dovetail closely with the total number of identifiable graves for persons buried in Gospel Pilgrim from 1919 through 1927.  But strangely this isn’t the case.  Only 10 of the 236 in the death certificate file are among those identified for that period in Gospel Pilgrim.  This seems to indicate the vast majority of the 236 who died between 1919 and 1927 were interred in graves which were never marked or in graves where we cannot find any markers.

   The online death certificates give us such information as approximate date of birth, date of death, name of the deceased, names of mother and father, where the person was born, his or her occupation, and the cause of death. Unfortunately, the attending doctors’ statements as to cause of death were illegible in 15 cases. These death certificates may be very helpful in tracing family history. For periods later than 1919-1927, official copies of death certificates are available for a fee from the the Georgia Department of Public Health. Information is at http://www.health.state.ga.us/programs/vitalrecords/death.asp

   Blacks who died and were buried in Gospel Pilgrim generally had menial occupations. Common laborers headed the type of employment, making up 21.2 per cent of those with occupations. Cooks made up 17 per cent of the total, Those doing housework for others accounted for 11.0 per cent; and farmers totaled 4.7 per cent. These four occupations made up 53.9 per cent of those employed. Other job classifications had less than this high-occupation group.

   Only five of the dead African Americans had been teachers. Only two were ministers.  Thus we can see that the vast majority of blacks in Athens-Clarke County worked at hard, ill-paying jobs with little standing.

   What were the major causes of death among those African Americans in the Death Index between 1919 and 1927?  Heart and stroke cases accounted for 15.8 per cent of the deaths; tuberculosis and kidney disease  each caused 11.8 per cent of the deaths. Pneumonia was next, causing 9 per cent of the deaths. These categories accounted for nearly half of all the deaths of African Americans buried in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery.

   During the period, five of those to be buried in Gospel Pilgrim were murdered. “One of the most horrible and gruesome crimes ever recorded in the county” was how an Athens paper described one of these killings. The murder occurred when Mary Bennett, a 70-year-old widow, was the victim on Aug. 8, 1922,  of a ferocious axe attack by her 45-year-old son who lived with her. He supposedly was trying to find her money. He was sentenced to 50 years in the state penitentiary, convicted on  strong circumstantial evidence. The Athens Banner used a Page 1 banner headline about the crime.

   Mary Bennett lies somewhere in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in one of the many unidentified graves.

   A Web site is under construction for the Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, which will contain a spreadsheet of burials and other information.  Several old Gospel Pilgrim websites can be found under “Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery” on Google or other search engines if you want more information now. If you want to find out about relatives buried in Gospel Pilgrim, please contact the EADC at 410 Mckinley Dr., #101,  Athens, GA 30601 or phone EADC at (706) 208-0048. Their email address is http://www.eadcinc.com/. Also you can contact me at my Website, http://www.alhesterauthor.com/.

This leaning monument shows work to be done in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, Athens, GA
Neglected roadway in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, Athens, GA.
Paying for the Civil War: The First U. S. Income Tax

   So you think you have trouble with federal taxes, come April 17, 2012?

   Nothing’s new: Both Yankees and Southerners had to pay income taxes to finance the Civil War. If you had lived in the loyal states or in the portion of the Confederacy occupied by the Union Army before the Civil War ended or during Reconstruction the first years after the war you would have paid Uncle Sam your taxes.

   Financing the Civil War was no easy matter.  The U. S. Congress in 1861 passed legislation setting up the first income tax in the country’s history, and the tax law went into effect in 1862. Yankees had to pay the tax to support the war and other federal government debts throughout the war.  The Confederate government in 1863 also resorted to income taxes. The Confederacy came up with a graduated income tax. Wages up to $1,000 were exempted. There was a 1% tax on the first $1,500 above the exemption, and then 2% on all additional income.

   The U. S. Congress began taxing conquered Southern territory residents before the war ended in 1865. The Rebs ought to bear the cost of the War Against the Rebellion, the legislators felt. Already added to taxpayers’ misery south of the Mason-Dixon line were various Confederate government laws trying to collect taxes from residents of these Southern states still held by the South.  The Confederate tax effort was more hit-or-miss than the federal governments, however. Collections were never enough to support the Southern war effort, nor was the sale of Confederate bonds enough to keep the financial wolf away from the door during the war.

   The U. S. tax effort was much more thorough. Those taxed paid 5 per cent of their incomes if they had income less than $800 yearly. If they made above $800, they paid 10 per cent.  Some sources give a lower rate of taxation, however. Also the tax efforts were rife with special taxes on specific items or businesses. If you had a gold watch, that was taxable, as was silver plate, carriages, a piano, etc.

   Hotel keepers had to pay up, the tax depending upon the size and quality of their hotels. Whisky sellers, too, were taxed, as were more mundane jobs. There was even a specific category for jugglers who entertained the public.

   The Fed tax collectors also hit upon the idea of making their assessments public.  Your neighbors could look you up on your district’s tax lists to see if you were paying what you owed, as determined by the federal assessors.

   “These lists were organized  alphabetically according to surname and recorded the value, assessment, or enumeration of taxable income or items and the amount of the tax due,” according to a good explanation of the tax program explaining Ancestry.com’s “U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918.”

   An excellent article is in the National Archives’ Prologue Magazine, in the Winter, 1986, issue, No. 4, by Cynthia Fox. You can read this article online at the following link: http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1986/winter/civil-war-tax-records.html. This article also discusses tax records available in portions of the 19th Century and early 20th Century.

   The federal income taxes were probably even more disliked than the nation’s  taxes are taxes now. Taxing citizens was a new thing in 1862.  We’ve had a long time to get used to it, although there were periods in the 19th and early 20th centuries when there were no individual federal income taxes.

   But the tax chore to citizens, both North and South, is the genealogist’s and historian’s gain. While not everyone was taxed, a great many of a community’s residents were. The tax assessment records furnish us with much valuable information about the occupations, income and worth of various residents and business operations. This information is especially valuable because much of it comes between census years. If you lose track of your relatives between federal or state censuses, you may stand a good chance of finding them in the Assessment Lists. The availability of these records is not uniform through the states and territories. The easiest online source to use is Ancestry.com’s the federal government’s IRS assessment lists found on the Web site. Many libraries offer free access to Ancestry.com, or you can subscribe on a yearly basis. Access to Confederate financial records is less organized. Various state archives may have some records.

   Information included in the federal records is the tax collection district, name of collector, date of the tax list, instructions for the tax form, the name of the person or business being taxed, their address, the taxable period, amount reported by the collector, assessment remarks, article taxed and the taxpayer’s occupation. Businesses were also assessed.

Local historians and genealogists will find it very interesting to find such data readily available. The original tax data is available at the National Archives in its microfilm records. Some libraries also stock the National Archives microfilms for researchers. And Ancestry.com is to be commended for making much of the tax information available on its website.

So take a break from figuring your own federal income tax and see what your relatives had to pay about 150 years ago!

Here’s an example from the assessment form for taxing Clarke County, GA residents in the years immediately after the Civil War:


   From being an ex-slave to becoming one of the richest African-Americans in the South—that’s the fantastic story of an Athens, Clarke County, Georgia resident, Monroe Bowers Morton. And he is a strong motivating figure for young people even today.

   On Martin Luther King Day 2012, a group of white and African American youths visited the Morton family lot at Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery to learn about his family and to pick up trash as their work project. Their work was supervised by the Rev. Solomon Smothers and his wife Lora, both of whom are taking a leading role in teaching young students about the cemetery and African Americans buried there.

   Morton’s success as a leading businessman and real estate owner was documented by Athens and Atlanta newspapers, as well as by census statistics on real and personal worth and deed records. His two-story, large home on Prince Avenue at South Milledge Avenue in Athens was considered the best African-American home in town.  Several newspaper articles recognized Morton as one of the wealthiest black men in the South.

   “Mr. Morton is a self-made man, and has won his way to the front in business, politics, society by sheer force of character, distinct individuality, rare precocity and strict application to business,” the Atlanta Independent newspaper said in a long story about him on Jan. 30, 1904. 

   The  Athens general public knows Morton best as the builder of the four-story Morton Theatre, frequented by leading African-American entertainers and restored as one of the few remaining early 20th Century black theaters. Early in the 20th Century, his Morton Theatre was referred to as “the colored opera house” or Morton’s Opera House. 

   It was much more than a typical vaudeville theater. The Morton was the venue of many high-class concerts, commencements, etc. in the African-American (and white) community. Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway were among leading black entertainers playing there. Monroe Morton built the theatre, not only to make money, but to give a quality setting for African-American entertainment.  Whites also frequently came to see well known black entertainers. Today it’s a beautifully restored theater, supported strongly by both black and white communities.

   Morton, known more commonly as “Pink” Morton, became a nationally known Republican Party leader. He served on the committee telling William McKinley he had been chosen the Republican Party’s candidate for President in 1896. Later, after McKinley’s win over William Jennings Bryan for the presidency, he appointed Morton the second black postmaster of Athens. Morton served from July 27, 1897, to Feb. 6, 1902, according to U. S. Post Office records.  

   Morton named one of his daughters Ida  Saxton Mckinley for President McKinley’s wife, Ida Saxton McKinley.

   Madison Davis, another former slave and politician, was Athens’ first black postmaster. He served from 1882 until 1886. Both Davis and Morton were opposed ferociously by many whites in Athens, but local residents could do little to stop Republican presidents from appointing them postmasters and receiving congressional confirmation.

   Morton was nicknamed “Pink” because of his light complexion.  A long-time Athens court bailiff, William Pope, told me in 2007: “Morton wasn’t black and he wasn’t white, so they called him ‘Pink.’”

   President McKinley was assassinated in office, dying on Sept. 14, 1901. He was succeeded by Vice President Theodore Roosevelt.  As the 19th Century ended, few black office holders remained in the South. The Epoch of Jim Crow set in, with more segregation and stringent laws limiting African-Americans’ civil rights.

   Morton was born sometime between 1853 and1857.  His tombstone in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, Athens, indicates he was born in 1856. Census records, however, give other dates. He was a slave on a plantation north of Athens, according to his obituary in an Athens paper.  His master may have been John Phinizy, a wealthy planter living in the Buck Branch Militia District in northern Clarke County.  Morton’s obituary in the Chicago Defender said Morton was a slave on the “Phinizy Plantation,” north of Athens, not giving a more precise location.  The 1860  federal census slave schedule indicates there was a slave who could have been of an appropriate age to be Morton on the John Phinizy plantation. 

   Two mulatto males, one 6 years of age and the other 3 years old in 1860, could have been Morton, who was a mulatto. Phinizy’s slaves included a 38-year-old female and a 27-year-old female. The 38-year-old was described as “black,” while the 27-year-old was listed as a “mulatto.” As you probably know, birthdates for slaves were frequently imprecise, as white masters frequently didn’t attach much importance to an exact date.

   It was common knowledge in Athens that Monroe B. Morton had a white father. Several sources say his father was James B. White, who would become the president of the First National Bank of Athens. Researcher Thomas Riis, who documented the development of the Morton Theatre and the Morton family, said Maud Muller Morton, one of Monroe Morton’s daughters, told him that Morton’s father was James B. White. But she also said, according to a member of the family, that Morton’s father was a Billy Morton. Professor Riis said Morton’s mother was named Elizabeth Morgan, a slave. White would have been quite young, about 13-17 around the time of Morton’s birth.

   Pink Morton, even as a child, showed hustle and business ability. At age 6 he was working at an Athens hotel during the Civil War. His mother, commonly called Lizzie, was the head of his family according to the 1870 census. Pink Morton was later to erect a memorial stone to her in the Morton family plot in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery. Nothing was said about his father. The “in Memory” stone indicates she died in the 1880’s, although the last digit is not readable. The marker notes that she was about 50 years old.

   In 1890 Pink Morton showed assets of $30,000 on the tax rolls for Clarke County. This was a large valuation in 1890.  Charles Morton, a grandson of Pink Morton, told me that White gave financial support to Morton’s contracting business. It is obvious that he got help as a business entrepreneur.  He was widely respected by both black and white residents and exerted a moderating influence in several racially explosive situations. 

   His business life flourished. Clarke County deed books show he owned several dozen pieces of property in Athens, and he had a farm outside the city.

   Toward the end of the 19th Century Morton as a contractor built a federal building in Anniston, Alabama, a marble-front business building in downtown Athens and the Wilkes County Court House in Washington, Georgia. He would follow with the construction of the Morton Theatre, which opened in 1910. He actively managed the theatre for years. Eventually his son Charles Morton Sr. would follow him in running the theatre. Charles Morton Jr., as a young boy, played roles in skits at the theatre.

   Monroe Morton emphasized that his theatre showed only “clean” entertainments, keeping a high reputation.  His daughter, Maud, however told interviewer Conoly Hester in the 1980’s that she wasn’t allowed to go to the theater.

   His theater building also housed businesses, doctors’ and dentist offices for African American leaders, helping to establish its location at Hull and Washington Streets as the main building at “Hot Corner,” the leading black business and entertainment area in Athens. The Morton Theatre later showed movies, as interest generally lessened in vaudeville and live shows performed by black entertainers.  The theater after World War II fell vacant and was in danger of being condemned until interested citizens and the Athens government restored it as a rare example of a major black theatre.

   Stories abound about the theatre building.  Morton installed a gasoline pump so that cars of African Americans could be filled up. At that time many whites didn’t like to pump gas for black customers.  Conoly Hester, then a reporter for the Athens Observer, wrote a thorough article on “Hot Corner” and Pink Morton’s role in its development.  She interviewed Jacob Weaver, an African American who grew up in the area, who told her Morton performed another service: furnishing bootleg whisky from a large vat on top of the theatre roof. He said a pipe led down to a sink in Smith’s Café, on the street level. “White lightning” came out of one of the water faucets.

   Monroe Morton lived until Feb. 12, 1919, when he died in Athens. His death certificate indicates he died of cirrhosis of the liver and chronic myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. He was about 63 years old. His obituary in the Chicago Defender, a major national black newspaper, said he had suffered from a long illness.

   “Mr. Morton was prominent in fraternal circles and the owner of a theater he erected expressly for the purpose of keeping his people from being forced to sit in the dirty Jim Crow apartments provided for by white theaters,” the article said. It noted he was one of the wealthiest men in Georgia.

   Today, the Morton family lot in the Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in East Athens is on the main avenue going from the front gate. It is fenced and kept clean. A white friend of Maud Morton, Mrs. Louise Silcox, kept the lot tidy for many years and hired someone to look after it later on.  This past MLK Day, a small group of excited students toured the cemetery and became familiar with some of the history of the illustrious Morton family. They were excited and awed by the spectacular career of an ex-slave, a major figure nationally as well as in Athens.

Ex-Slave Monroe Bowers Morton, Athens, GA, who became one of the richest blacks in the South. (Photo courtesy of Charles Morton
Cleaning up the Monroe Morton family plot in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery on Martin Luther King Day, 2012, Athens, GA

   Augustus Longstreet Hull, one of Athens, Georgia’s most respected citizens, chronicled much of Athens and Clarke County history in his well-known book, Annals of Athens. His testimony of the Civil War years in the area is very valuable, because he himself witnessed these years and Reconstruction that followed.

   Trying to delineate the anger, grief and wracking Civil War changes in the lives of the residents of Athens and Clarke County is a difficult task. Almost every family had a member who fought, died, or was wounded in many of the most horrific battles fought between the North and the South.  Few men were left at home who did not see military service from 1861 to 1865.

   A compilation of the deaths of Clarke County troops shows they suffered heavy casualties fighting in many of the major battles fought. Lists of those killed in action in some major battles are as follows: Seven Days Battles, June 25-July 1, 1862, 23; Crampton’s Gap, September 14, 1862, 10; Sharpsburg, Sept. 17, 1862, 9; Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, 1862, 5; Chancellorsville, May 2-3, 1863, 12; Brandy Station, June 9, 1863, 3; Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, 18; Knoxville, November 29, 1863, 3; The Wilderness, May 4-21, 1864, 14;  and Siege of Petersburg and The Crater, June, 1864-April, 1865, 20. This list is in Kenneth Coleman’s Confederate Athens.

    Athens and its county suffered no damage by military action, although there were a few close calls, as Union units operated near the town. Sherman’s march of devastation from Atlanta to Savannah and into the Carolinas missed Athens. But the loss of life in military action, the wounding of many others and the death by disease or imprisonment in Northern prisons left the majority of Athens and Clarke County families shattered.  On the home front, deprivation of supplies of food, goods and services took a severe toll on the population. And many well-off families sank into poverty. Not only did most of the county’s men serve in Confederate units, but their families made great sacrifices to supply the fighting forces with supplies, clothing, and food.

   Many books could be written solely about the war and its effects just on Athens and Clarke County, but this blog will deal with some questions commonly asked by those seeking to know the cost to those serving in various Athens area Confederate units—the numbers killed in battle or by disease, or wounded.

   Augustus Hull wrote in his Annals that listing the names of those killed or wounded might seem “not interesting” to some of his readers. But, as to most residents, it was a personalized war in which they knew well their fathers, sons, and brothers who sacrificed in a heart-felt cause, he said.

   “Many of those men I knew and the mention of their names bring up memories of other days which throw a halo about them. I recall how they looked as they marched, new uniformed, with alert step, full of life and vigor, and how they stopped to speak the good-bye word; how, afterwards, they toiled on the forced march tattered, half-shod, half starved; how they went bravely into battle and how some came out bloody and faint, and some lay dead,” Hull wrote.

  The casualty totals make it achingly clear to us even 150 years later the catastrophic losses of the Civil War. These numbers aren’t precise for the totals, but estimates are accurate enough to show the magnitude of battle.  It’s estimated that somewhat more than one million men fought for the Confederacy. Of these, about 94,000 died from wounds, while disease killed off an estimated 164,000 more. Those wounded came to approximately 100,000. The Union put more than 1.5 million men into battle. Of this number about 110,000 were mortally wounded; almost a quarter of a million died from disease, and more than 275,000 received non-fatal wounds. These figures come from the respected site at the University of Houston, http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/us20.dfm.

   We can be somewhat more precise when we look at the fearsome cost involving troops from a specific area such as Athens and Clarke County, Georgia. Thorough rosters have been compiled of the units from this area seeing Civil War service. Military records, accounts in local newspapers and personal knowledge of the families have been used to keep track of the casualties from here. One of the most thorough casualty tabulations has been done by Joseph H. Kitchens, Jr., preparing the listing for Prof. Kenneth Coleman in his readable Confederate Athens, re-issued in a 2009 paperback edition by the University of Georgia Press.

   A total of 1,649 men were on the rosters of military units from Athens and Clarke County. Of these, 197, or 11.9 per cent, were killed in battle. Disease was even more deadly than battle, killing 214 or 13.0 per cent. Of the men serving from Athens and Clarke County 364 were wounded, or 22.1 per cent.  All told, approximately 46 per cent, or nearly half of those listed on the rosters were killed in battle, killed by disease or wounded.

The table below, based on Kitchens’ work, shows the figures for those from Athens area units killed in battle, dying from disease or wounded.  It doesn’t include 10 men who were termed “missing.” He based his work on Athens newspapers, The Watchman and The Banner 1861-65 issues, and rosters in a manuscript, “Roster of Companies Furnished by Clarke County Georgia, to the Confederate Army in the War Between the States, 1861-1865,” compiled by Albert L. Mitchell by authority of Clarke County Commissioners T. P. Vincent, W. H. Morton and S. M. Herrington, in 1903. A similar list is used by Hull in his Annals.

Military Unit                             Total Killed in Battle                 Dying from Disease                  Wounded

Athens Guards (143)                                30                                       30                                            63

Troup Artillery (287)                                 15                                       34                                             59

Clarke Rifles (150)                                  28                                        35                                             77

Johnson Guards (145)                           27                                        19                                             69

Cobb’s Legion Cav. (316)                    30                                         30                                             28

Mell Rifles (136)                                     31                                         25                                             42

Highland Guards* (136)                      15                                             9                                             23

Other Units **(75)                                 20                                             9                                             28

Factory Guards*** (110)                        1                                             4                                               3

Lumpkin Artillery*** (151)                     0                                             0                                               0

Grand Totals             1649            197 214              364

* The Highland Guards had troops from Athens, Northeast Georgia and Western North Carolina. Casualties may have been heavier, but were not all reported in local Athens newspapers.

** Athens area men serving in Confederate units other than those from the immediate area.

*** The Factory Guards and Lumpkin Artillery were “home guard” units and did not participate in any major fighting.

   Although it’s difficult to believe,  Athens area residents apparently only learned of the April  9 surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee  on April 26, 1865. Issues of The Watchman and The Banner for that date carried details of Lee’s surrender and of the assassination of President Lincoln. If residents knew earlier, there is no public record of it that we can find.

   Union troops from the 13th Tennessee Regiment raided the town on May 3. Brigadier General William J. Palmer and his troops stopped the raiding and stayed in Athens for several days in May as they hunted for Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. The official occupation of Athens by a small number of Union troops began on May 29—the 22nd Iowa Volunteers under the command of Capt. A. B. Cree.

   Kenneth Coleman puts it quite bluntly in his book: “Henceforth Confederate Athens existed only in the memories of her people.”


Benjamin of Mell suffered mortal wounds at the Battle of Crampton's Gap, Maryland. This photo shows him as a Corporal, but later he was promoted to First Sergeant.
   Thousands of books have been written about heroes of Civil War battles. In this the 150th anniversary year of the start of the Civil War, such books proliferate like rabbits—and some make good reading.
   But an Athens, Georgia, author, Gary Doster, has just published a book which tells us a lot about a different kind of hero in the war—the stubborn Confederate soldiers who kept to their duty, although their biggest enemies were boredom, often fatal illnesses, dumb officers, and lack of furloughs.
   Gary has produced a wonderful book about a bunch of Georgia Civil War troops, mainly from Oglethorpe County and Greene County, Georgia, near Athens and Clarke County, who found themselves almost forgotten, mainly in Florida during the war. Through hard work and a lot of good luck, Gary tells us their stories in Dear Sallie. . .: The Letters of Confederate Private James Jewell, Echols Light Artillery, Oglethorpe County, Georgia. This book, 360 pages long, is a marvelous collection of letters Private Jewell wrote to his family back home in Oglethorpe County, GA, and letters they wrote to him. So in a way, Private Jewel and his family members basically wrote the book themselves through their letters, although the letters were never meant for publication. Private Jewel was from a farm in rural Oglethorpe County.
   Culminating years of work, Gary ran down 120 letters from Pvt. Jewel or members of his family to him. Most of these Gary was lucky enough to obtain through a dealer, and some he tracked down at Emory University in Atlanta. Getting the letters and publishing this first-hand account of the Civil War, mainly in Florida, is a major contribution to Civil War history. 
   Gary's soft-cover book also has good maps showing where the Echols Artillery served, and he has located several hitherto unknown military sites from the letters indicating Confederate camps in Florida. The book also contains a photograph of the grave of his "Aunt Sallie Jewel" and a picture of a ruined chimney on the old Jewel property in Oglethorpe County. Unfortunately no photos of Private Jewel, his wife, Eliza, or of his sister Sallie, to whom he wrote the majority of his surviving letters, are available.
   Any veteran in our armed services knows well some of the difficulties Pvt. Jewel faced in his long service in Florida. They frequently suffered from the military's "hurry-up-and-wait" attitudes, poor decisions or lack of decisions by commanding officers, and the inability to get furlough time to see a wife and family at home. Pvt. Jewel's letters frequently graphically point out the administrative and supply problems, which modern veterans had a name for: SNAFU.  It's too graphic a term to translate for non-vets.
   The Echols Light  Artillery's main duty stations were in Florida until late in the war. You might say that Florida was considered "the back-door of the Confederacy," to be guarded but denied most of the resources given to more strategic areas. Main enemies for Private Jewel weren't Yankees. They were malaria, diarrhea, and a host of other illnesses, lack of attention by the Confederate government, and sheer boredom of routine.  Sometimes the Echols Artlillery members couldn't even figure out why they were in Florida. At other times, they were placed there to guard vital salt works, guard rivers against attack, and to stymie Union advances into the state.
   Florida was the site of some important Civil War conflicts, but only a few minor contacts characteriized activities of the Georgia unit to which Private Jewel belonged.The unit was formed in 1862.
   It wasn't until almost the end of the war that his outfitl moved out of Florida and did indeed fight some of the last battles in South and North Carolina shortly before Lee's surrender in April, 1865. His unit  served under Gen. William J. Hardee, who made a stand at Averasboro, North Carolina, on March 16, 1865. 
   The story of Private Jewel is unfinished. Sadly there was no closure for his wife and family—and for us. According to an article in the  Aug. 7, 1885, issue of the Oglethorpe Echo, Lexington, GA, newspaper, written by two veterans of the unit, C. M. Witcher and M. B. Amason,  Private Jewel disappeared, apparently missing in action.
   "How he met his end is unknown," Gary Doster writes, drawing on the veterans' recollections. "Nathan M. Eberhart was killed, and I. H. Webb and J. H. Tiller, Jr. wounded, and James Jewel missing and never afterwards heard from."
   His wife, Eliza, filing for a Confederate widow's pension in 1891, indicated her husband was sent to a hospital at Smithfield, North Carolina, "and that he has never been seen or heard from since that time."
  Lack of space precludes quotes from the letters and a description of Private Jewel's activities, mainly in Florida. Florida Civil War researchers will find a wealth of information about where Confederate units were stationed there and their activities.     
   Dear Sallie. . . should be a standard reference for anyone interested in either the war in Florida or its effects on many of the men serving in the Echols Artillery from Georgia.
   The book is available at $24.95 from AngleValleyPress.com, or from Amazon.com and many book stores at varying prices.
Dear Sallie: The Letters of Confederate Private James Jewel, Echols Light Artillery, Oglethorpe County, Georgia by Gary L. Doster              copyright 2011 foreword by Dr. William Warren Rogers.
6 x 9 softcover, 360 pages, 6 maps, 4 photos, appendices, genealogy information, [ECHOLS] bibliography, index.
FIRST LETTERS EVER PUBLISHED FROM THIS  BATTERY NOW AVAILABLE - PRICE $24.95 from AngleValley Press. Author signed 1st edition includes FREE Shipping/Handling and no tax for website and mail orders.
NOT AVAILABLE for Phone Orders! Internet & Mail Order Only!

This ruined chimney is on the Jewel farm in Oglethorpe County, Georgia (Photo by Tom Gresham)
Photo of infamous Andersonville Prison, where the Echols Light Artillery did a brief tour of duty. (National Archives)
When you are trying to fathom African-American history or genealogy at a local level, it’s hard to get the information. This is of course true of slavery days and still a problem during the early days of slaves’ freedom after the Civil War and during Reconstruction. White-owned publications rarely contain much personal data on African Americans, unless their activities were perceived to be threatening to the white community.

And yet the rewards of tracing the stories of the African-American community during such formative times are great. This has been my experience working on several books and various articles about the story of Athens’ African-American community and its interactions with the white citizenry of our town and county, Clarke County, Georgia.

Many present-day African-Americans are faced with a lack of tools or knowledge in studying their own history in a local setting.

“How can I tell what happened to my family just after they were freed,” numerous African Americans here in Athens have asked me.  “Where do I start?”

         This blog deals with an underused source of historical data that can be extremely useful to historians and genealogists—the records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, usually called the Freedmen's Bureau. It was a controversial agency of the U. S. government  as it faced aiding freed slaves and some whites hit hard after the Civil War ended.  White Southerners generally disliked it strongly as a Yankee intrusion, but blacks looked to it for help and protection.

Feeding, clothing and transporting freed people, and some of the white population made destitute by the war was a daunting task. With much bickering and hesitation the federal government saw nobody else could do this and reluctantly entered its mission—but on a temporary basis. After Lincoln’s assassination, President Andrew Johnson pretty much sided with the South and saw the Freedmen’s Bureau as a detriment. Congress, however, made appropriations to set up the Bureau and ignored Johnson’s objections. The Bureau had its roots during the Civil War as Union forces occupied areas of the South and slaves had to be supported. But the Bureau officially came into existence after the war ended.

In addition to furnishing food, clothing, and transportation for refugees, the Bureau also pioneered in setting up schools for ex-slaves throughout the South. Freed persons felt learning to read and write was a key to any success. 

Another duty of the Bureau was to hear complaints lodged by both blacks and whites about racial relations and to work out labor contracts between white planters or farmers and African-Americans. It was very difficult to get a workable system that got the agricultural tasks done but paid African-Americans enough to keep body and soul together. Health care was also urgent for freed people, and the Bureau was active setting up hospitals throughout the South. Too, the Bureau dealt with what to do with abandoned plantations, and at one time parceled out some of these to blacks, especially in Georgia and South Carolina coastal areas.

Fortunately the Freedmen’s Bureau kept quite thorough records on national, state and local levels involving all these major tasks. We are lucky that  many of these records are readily available now online. Once it was necessary to go to the National Archives to research the Freedmen’s Bureau activities. In Washington are the original records and thousands upon thousands of microfilm rolls there. Microfilm of Bureau Records is also available  at some major libraries.

Within the last few years, however, many of the Freedmen’s Bureau records have been digitized and placed online on the Web. The largest readily available collection online is at Ancestry.com. You can get a personal subscription to use the multiplicity of services of Ancestry, or most libraries can give you free computer access to these online records. Many other sites on the Web also have other free collections of the Bureau’s records  which can be helpful. Check Google or other search engines and you’ll find many sites.

I am most familiar with Georgia records of the Bureau and have used microfilms in the Athens Regional Library and online access on my own subscription. Using these records have paid rich dividends. Parts of several of my books and articles would have been impossible  to write without  access to Bureau records.

The biggest problem you face using Freedmen’s Bureau records is that they are not well indexed, or in some cases, not indexed at all. There may be only broad headings such as Letters Sent and Received in various Freedmen’s Bureau offices records. For instance, Athens was the location of one of the Bureau’s sub-districts with agents reporting to the Athens office for 10 counties. The communication system was very similar to the military system up the channels of command, where the communications made their way from many Georgia Bureau agents, on to the state, or to the national level of the Bureau.

You can find complaints files, files on the number of assaults and murders investigated by the Bureau, the rations lists showing who drew rations from the Bureau or who received clothing. Many refugees used Freedmen’s Bureau funds to travel and re-unite themselves with their scattered families after the war. Names and details are available in all these files.  Monthly reports of activities are available.

The local Athens Sub-District field office records are scarcely indexed. Much browsing will be required to find items of interest, but there are some rudimentary indices, mainly by names of persons involved and by broad subject headings. Patience will be required. The online digitization gives you excellent images of the microfilmed letters, reports, tables, orders to agents, appointments of employees, lists of expenses of each office, etc. Microfilm reels of specific field offices are available for a fee from the National Archives.

Some of the most fascinating records are those of the Bureau’s mediation on labor contracts between whites and former slaves. Education files are very extensive, indicating the status of establishing schools throughout the Southern states. Athens files to the Bureau’s Education superintendents from 1865 through about 1874 are voluminous, giving names of schools, attendance, names of teachers,  critiques of performance and costs of education projects.

Separate from the Bureau Records, but online via Ancestry.com and on microfilm in the Athens library’s Heritage Room are the records of the African Americans setting up savings accounts as depositors in the Registers of Signatures of Depositors in Branches of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company, 1865-1874.  As I recall, Augusta and Savannah also had branch banks in Georgia. The records of the Atlanta Branch are most fruitful for finding Athens area depositors. Many hundreds of blacks put their dollars into what they considered was a very safe bank. Tragically, however, many lost their savings when the bank later collapsed. The signature registers don’t have the amounts of deposits. I haven't found any records of individual deposits.

What can you find?

•               Number of application

•                Name of depositor

•                Date of application/deposit (with original signature if the applicant could write)

•                Name of employer (not always)

•                Name of plantation(sometimes, but other times a precise  town address.

•                Age

•                Height (not always)

•                Complexion (not always)

•                Name of father and/or mother (sometimes their ages)

•                Whether married (sometimes when)

•                Place of birth

•                Current Residence

•                Occupation

•                Names of children (sometimes ages)

•                Names of brothers and sisters (sometimes ages)

As Ancestry.com says: “Freedman's Bank Records is a great source for genealogists researching their African American heritage because of the amount of personal information recorded for each individual in it. Be sure to view the corresponding image of the original document associated with your ancestor in order to obtain all possible information available for them.”

The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company, which ran the bank, was incorporated in 1865 by an act signed by President Lincoln.

“The purpose of the company was to create an institution where former slaves and their dependents could place and save their money,” Ancestry.com says. “The original bank was first headquartered in New York and later moved to Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter branch offices opened in other cities, primarily in ones in the South where there was a larger population of African Americans. Eventually there were 37 branch offices in 17 states with approximately 70,000 depositors (over the bank’s lifetime) and deposits of more than $57 million. In 1874, as a result of mismanagement, fraud, and other events and situations, Freedman's Bank closed.”

Obviously African Americans with more money were likely to be depositors, but upon occasion I found black domestic servants with carefully saved up deposits. There are several hundred thousand names and information about depositors and their family members in these records.

An entire book could be easily written about Freedmen’s Bureau and the Savings Bank records and their use for genealogists and historians.  But be warned: Working with the records takes dogged work, The nuggets of information about relatives and persons of interest, however, may be more valuable to you than gold. You’ll find your use of these records can become addictive.

A Freedman's Savings Bank depositor application from ex-slave Madison Davis of Athens. This shows the types of genealogical information available in these and Freedmen's Bureau records.
AN EX-SLAVE SOLDIER IN THE UNION ARMY  is buried in an Athens, Georgia, African-American cemetery. A rather elaborate gravesite for Pvt. Charley Hicks exists in the beautiful but sadly rundown Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in East Athens on Fourth Street. Charley Hicks joined a newly formed black regiment in May, 1865, before the Civil War was over. He received an honorable discharge as a private and got a pension following the war when he returned to Athens.

We estimate there are perhaps 3,500 graves in the cemetery founded in 1882 to give Athens area blacks a dignified and landscaped cemetery. About 600 or so graves have tombstones or markers. Approximately one-fifth of the marked graves are of ex-slaves. Prior to Gospel Pilgrim, burials for African Americans took place in small graveyards in more rural areas of Clarke County or in sub-standard portions of the old Athens City Cemetery and in Oconee Hill Cemetery.

Black citizens in the 19th Century knew that their graves might be violated and African-American graves covered over by new construction. Just this week I ran across a legal case in which a black citizen sued the City of Athens for digging a sewer line through the gravesite of her relative. That's why hundreds of African Americans welcomed the chance to bury family members in Gospel Pilgrim.

The dishonoring of black graves continued into the 20th Century. Some African-American graves in the old city cemetery were opened and bones found were hustled out one dark night and secretly buried en masse on Nowhere Road in Clarke County. The African-American graves were in a part of the old cemetery needed to build the University of Georgia’s Baldwin Hall adjacent to the burial ground. In Oconee Hill Cemetery, black graves were relegated to an unattractive area bordering a ravine.  When a railroad embankment was constructed nearby, many of these graves were covered up.

THE GOSPEL PILGRIM SOCIETY WAS CHARTERED IN 1882, an African-American fraternal burial and insurance society. Members bought their lots at reasonable prices and paid a few cents per week to get a big funeral procession, led by lodge members in full regalia.  The last president of the Gospel Pilgrim Society died in 1977. No one knows where his records went, although a woman who cared for him in his last illness had them in her attic.  She can’t remember to whom she gave the records. This hampers lot identifications greatly.  Since about 10 years ago I have helped with the restoration of the cemetery as chair of research and history for Gospel Pilgrim, a 9-acre cemetery at Fourth and Bray streets. The cemetery is inactive now, but very occasionally a burial is allowed if descendants can produce a lot ownership certificate and know where the lot is.

A few years ago City-county residents voted generously in a special sales tax election to make Gospel Pilgrim a $360,000 item to restore its roadways and improve its infra-structure. A re-dedication of the cemetery was held in 2010. It capped a decades-long effort to clear the jungle of privet, trees, and wisteria and tons of trash from the cemetery. About three-quarters of the cemetery was cleared and a program of grave identification using GPS and ground photography was carried out.

All care of the cemetery has now ground to a halt.  The city-county has not set aside any maintenance funds, and with the current Recession, the cemetery is being allowed to return to the jungle. Athens-Clarke County doesn’t own the cemetery and only oversees it under a state law giving local governments permission to voluntarily take care of abandoned cemeteries.  On Oct. 8, 2011, at 10 a.m. I’ll lead a walking tour of Gospel Pilgrim, calling special attention to Charlie Hick’s grave and to leading black educators buried in the cemetery. The walking tours are sponsored by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, and you can register online if you wish to participate.  See http://achfonline.org/heritage-walks/. Price per ticket is $12 per ACHF member or $15 per non-member. The tour lasts about one hour.
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ALTHOUGH WE HAD THE BARE BONES OF INFORMATION about Charley Hicks being buried in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery and knew where his grave was, it was not until his great- granddaughter, Patricia Wooten of North Carolina, visited the grave and told us about his time of soldiering for the Union. A look at his military service records in the National Archives in Washington D. C., and other data verified her information about Charley Hicks.

Hicks ran off from a plantation in Newton County, Georgia, and was mustered into the Union Army on May 1, 1865, at Macon as a private in the newly formed 138th Infantry Regiment, Colored Troops. Although Robert E. Lee had surrendered, various Confederate units kept fighting well into June, 1865. The Union Army was segregated. About 180,000 blacks joined the Union forces in units commanded by white officers. Hicks ended his brief service in January, 1866. Hicks's military records reveal he joined the Army when he was 18 or 19. The brief historic mentions of the 138th  indicate its troops saw constabulary duty. Hicks said he remembered helping convey horses to Union troops in Augusta, Georgia, from Atlanta. The 138th was one of three new regiments founded in 1865. Hicks was discharged on Jan. 6, 1866. All three of the black regiments disbanded in January, 1866. Hicks received a pension for his services, and his widow also got a widow’s pension.

He was born a slave on the plantation of Harmon Hicks, about 11 miles southwest of Covington, Georgia.  At some point he moved to Athens, marrying Mary Ann Shaw of Athens.  They raised a family here, and one of the houses belonging to Charley Hicks is still standing, but boarded up, on West Hancock Avenue.

"A HEAP OF PERSONS CALLS ME CHARLES, but I claim my name is Charley,” he testified in his pension application. “Folks write my names Charley H. Hicks, but I don’t know what that first H is for. I have but the two names, Charley and Hicks.”

Charley Hicks was listed as a butler in the 1880 Clarke County, Georgia, federal census. There are indications he might have worked for the wealthy James Camak family in Athens. He died Dec. 8, 1916 and was buried in Gospel Pilgrim.

Patricia Wooten and her husband Chet would like very much to see an appropriate military marker placed on Charley Hicks’ grave. The present marker is toppled and damaged. If any blog readers have helpful ideas about this, they can write me in comments to the blog, and I’ll put them in contact with the Wootens. 

LATE NEWS:  An Athens-Clarke County resident, Gary Doster, has just published a new book of interest to local Civil War and Reconstruction buffs, as well as those interested in Civil War in Florida subjects.  Gary, who is a very good writer, has just finished Dear Sallie. . . Letters of Confederate Private James Jewel." The collection contains more than 100 letters from Pvt. Jewel from his Confederate service in Florida to his sister in Oglethorpe County, GA. Among those selling his book is http://www.amazon.com/Dear-Sallie-Confederate-Oglethorpe/dp/0971195013/ref=sr_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316996349&sr=1-12
The toppled tombstone for Charley Hicks, an ex-slave who ran off to join the Union army in 1865, and is buried in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, Athens, Georgia.