Tag Archives: Famous Georgians

Tabernacle Baptist Church, 1914, Augusta

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Tabernacle Baptist Church is one of the most beautiful and unique religious facilities in all of Augusta. Situated on the city’s historic “Black Main Street”, Laney-Walker Boulevard, it is an imposing presence in the community. It grew out of the divided congregation of Central African Baptist Church and was first known as Beulah, but, at the request of founding pastor Reverend Charles Thomas Walker (5 February 1858-29 July 1921) changed its name to Tabernacle just two days later. Its membership grew from an initial 300 to over 2000 by 1889. Its original location was Ellis Street; the present structure dates to 1914.

The church prospered during the pastorate of Reverend Walker and garnered international attention and support from men as diverse as President William Howard Taft [a frequent visitor to Augusta], John D. Rockefeller, Booker T. Washington, and George Washington Carver, who all attended services at Tabernacle. Reverend Walker, who was born into slavery at Hephzibah, was the first African-American theologian to visit the Holy Land, was appointed by President McKinley as the U. S. Volunteers Chaplain with the U. S. 9th Immune Infantry during the Spanish-American War, with the rank of Captain, and during a residency at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in New York, established the first African-American YMCA in Harlem. He also established the Walker Baptist Institute and served in numerous leadership roles within the Baptist faith.

During the pastorate of Reverend Charles Spencer Hamilton, Tabernacle became a center for the Civil Rights Movement in Augusta. In April 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached here. The church remains prominent in Augusta’s religious and cultural life.

Laney-Walker North Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Chief James Vann House, 1804, Spring Place

[This replaces a post by the same title originally published on 19 February 2019.]

James Vann (1765, or,1768-1809) was the son of a Cherokee mother, Wa-wli, and Scottish father, Clement Vann. By 1800  he became a principal leader of the Cherokee, due to his wealth and influence as a planter, tavern keeper, trading post operator, and general entrepreneur. In fact, he was thought to be the wealthiest of all Cherokee.

Chief James Vann House, Front Elevation

This home, the first of brick construction in the Cherokee nation, was built between 1804-1806. It served as the seat of James Vann’s extensive plantation on Diamond Hill. It was called the “Showplace of the Cherokee Nation”. Its success was dependent upon the labor of over 100 enslaved people, who were housed in 42 dwellings on the property. Vann was known to be quite cruel to his slaves, or to tolerate cruelty among his overseers, and this is rightfully reinforced through interpretation at the property today. Sometimes described as a “hard drinking business man”, he nonetheless encouraged cultural and educational opportunities for the Cherokee, through his assistance in the establishment of the Moravian mission and school at Spring Place. James Vann was murdered in 1809, presumably as retaliation for killing his brother-in-law in a duel the previous year. He left his home and property to his son Joseph (often referred to as Rich Joe). Joseph was also a Cherokee chieftain. An overnight visit by President James Monroe, traveling from Augusta to Nashville in 1819, was indicative of the prominence of the family and the quality of the house.

Chief James Vann House, Rear Elevation

It is believed that a man named Vogt [possibly James Vann’s brother-in-law Charles Vogt] and Dr. Henry Chandlee Forman were involved in the construction of the house.

Stairway, Chief James Vann House

Diaries of Moravian missionaries at Spring Place indicate that Byhan and Martin Schneider were also instrumental in the construction. It incorporates both Federal and Georgian design elements.

Foyer, Chief James Vann House

A Moravian settler named Robert Henry Howell is believed to have been the brick mason. The stylish interior elements were added during the ownership of Joseph (Rich Joe) Vann and may have been the work of John and James McCartney. Further documentation of this is needed.

Dining Room, Chief James Vann House, with portrait of Joseph Vann

After the Cherokee were driven west on the Trail of Tears, the house was sold and over the next century would have 17 different owners.

Drawing Room, Chief James Vann House

By the time Dr. J. E. Bradford, who had purchased the home in 1920, sold it to the Georgia Historical Commission in 1952, it was in a state of serious disrepair.

Bedroom, Chief James Vann House

An historically accurate restoration of the interior began in 1958 and was completed circa 1964.

The Slave Experience at the Chief Vann House

Re-creation of Kitchen/Workhouse, Chief James Vann House

The historic site uses three-dimensional models and the words of Moravian missionaries to interpret the slave experience at the Vann House. North Georgia was not a stronghold of slavery, so the example of the Vann plantation is exceptional. The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story by Tiya Miles, focuses on this subject, and incorporates previously overlooked primary sources.

Patience, a woman enslaved by James Vann

While the kitchen is very stylized and includes typical interpretive aids related to work, it stands out for the figures representing specific slaves who lived on the property along with brief anecdotes about their lives. The Moravian missionaries wrote in the their mission journal on 25 November 1810: “...a person named Patience caused us to feel much pity. She arrived in Charleston with some other Africans some years ago in the wintertime and afterward came to Vann’s plantation barefooted. She lost both of her feet because of the frost and now has to scoot on her knees…

Pleasant, a woman enslaved by Moravian missionaries John and Anna Gambold at Spring Place

Though the Moravians frowned upon individual members owning slaves, the church could purchase and assign them to missionary families as needed, and their views were ultimately aligned with those of other whites of the time. A middle-aged woman named Pleasant (1758?-1838) was purchased in April 1805 by the Home Church in Salem, North Carolina, and came to Spring Place to serve the missionary couple John and Anna Gambold. She was pregnant at the time. On 21 December 1805 Christian Lewis Benzien wrote to the Unity Elders Conference of the Moravian Church: On Sept. 29 on the way to Spring Place [Pleasant] gave birth to a mulatto infant which was baptized in Spring Place on October 20 with the name Michael…

Michael, son of Pleasant, enslaved by the Gambold family at Spring Place

Michael was given the honor of learning to read and often read the Bible to the Cherokee children at the Moravian school and was highly regarded by his owners, but typical of teenagers, he grew restless. In 1819, at the age of 14, he ran away from the Gambolds and when captured was sold away from Pleasant.

Reconstructed Historic Structures of Chief Vann House State Historic Site

Coahulla Creek corn crib (reconstruction), representative of an early 1800s Cherokee corn crib

To illustrate the contemporary vernacular architecture that would have been present on the Vann property, the Georgia State Parks division has reconstructed representative structures from the area, and built at least one from the ground up [kitchen], for this purpose.

Little Scarecorn Creek Cabin (reconstruction), representative of an early 1800s Cherokee dwelling

The vernacular architectural forms and the use of available material are representative not only of the Cherokee of the area but of the increasing numbers of white settlers, as well.

Sugar Creek Cabin (reconstruction), early 1800s Cherokee building

National Register of Historic Places

Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller Mural, Jonesboro

Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller isn’t well known today, outside music circles, but he should be. The itinerant bluesman left his native Jonesboro after a childhood typical of Black Georgians of his day and after a series of manual labor jobs in various states, wound up in California circa 1920. He worked as a shoe-shine man outside the United Artists studio in Hollywood and was a favorite of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who helped set him up with a hot dog stand. He also got him work as an extra, in such notable films as Thief of Baghdad. With the money he saved from that enterprise, he moved to Oakland and began working for the Southern Pacific Railroad. When his railroad job ended after World War II, he went back to shining shoes, singing as he worked, and gained notice from musicians in the burgeoning Folk movement who were then flocking to the Bay Area. Due to his exposure in local bars and cafes, he recorded his first album in 1958. He had trouble finding, or paying, other musicians to back him up; as a result he invented the fotdella, a six-string bass, rigged with a cymbal. He also invented a rack to hold his harmonica and kazoo. He was a one-man band. Bob Dylan supposedly adopted his harmonica rig after listening to Fuller and recorded his song “You’re No Good” on his first album.

Fuller gained notoriety for “San Francisco Bay Blues”, which was covered by numerous artists including the Grateful Dead, Janis, Joplin, Jim Croce, and Eric Clapton.

The mural, by Shannon Lake, is a nice tribute to this influential artist.

Antioch Baptist Church, 1911, Lithonia

Established by a group of Freedmen in 1869, Antioch-Lithonia Missionary Baptist Church [known originally as Antioch Baptist Church] is thought to be the oldest African-American congregation in Lithonia and DeKalb County. The church first met in a brush arbor and built their first permanent structure circa 1871. It was replaced by this structure, clad in local stone, in 1911, and served the congregation until 2004, when a larger facility was built at another location.

Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, the maternal grandfather of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., served the congregation at one time.

Lithonia Historic District, National Register of Historic Places & Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area

Palmyra Missionary Baptist Church, Seabrook

Palmyra was established in 1874 by Geechee freedmen near Sunbury. Among its members over the years were Myers and Christine Anderson, the grandparents who raised future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in the Pinpoint community of Chatham County. Mr. Anderson was the subject of Thomas’s 2007 autobiography, My Grandfather’s Son.

Oakview Cemetery, Albany

Oakview and the adjacent Riverside Cemetery make up the largest historic burial ground in Albany. I’m presenting just a few of the monuments which I found aesthetically appealing, in no particular order. One could spend a whole day here exploring the wide array of Victorian monuments.

Martha Dillon Wright Jones (17 October 1833-2 July 1860)

“Pattie’s Grave” is perhaps the best-loved monument in Oak Hill. My taphophile friend, Cynthia Jennings, told me that it was a must-see and it didn’t disappoint. Pattie was the nickname of Martha Dillon Wright Jones. The monument features an angel of white Italian marble housed in a Gothic steeple enclosure. Little is known of Pattie, but the monument notes that she married Columbia County native Edwin Thomas Jones (22 May 1831-1 September 1867) at Appling, Georgia, on 4 April 1850. Jones would later serve as Lieutenant of Company E, 4th Georgia Infantry. It further notes that Pattie “died at the plantation of her husband…in Dougherty County”. The monument is an indication that he was deeply saddened by her early death.

Jones Plot, ornamental willow fence, unsigned

Edward Vason Jones, scion of a prominent Albany family, was one of the most noted Georgia architects of his time and a member of the Georgia School of Classicism led by J. Neel Reid. Originally schooled in dentistry, he abandoned it in favor of architecture in 1936, and soon joined the Atlanta firm of Hentz, Reid, and Adler. He briefly designed ships for the Navy in World War II at Savannah. After the war he opened his own firm in Albany. His renovations of the Diplomatc Reception Rooms of the U. S. State Department between 1965-1980 were well-received and one of those rooms is now known as the Edward Vason Jones Memorial Hall. He also oversaw renovations in the White House during the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations. Other significant work include Gillionville Plantation, the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion, and numerous residential commissions throughout the South.

Edward Vason Jones (3 August 1909-1 October 1980)

This Classical monument adorns the grave of Edward Vason Jones’s beloved daughter Nella. It is said to have been modeled after one of similar design in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery, which was destroyed by a storm in recent years.

Nella Vason Jones (23 August 1949-30 November 1968)

This is one of six nearly identical markers, made of local stone, in an eight-grave lot surrounded by coping of the same construction.

E. Louise Gilbert (4 August 1886-20 August 1887)

The figurative monuments of the Bell sisters, daughters of William S. and Texas Sheffield Bell, are typical of the Victorian era, when child mortality rates were nearly 33% higher than they are today.

Willie Sheffield Bell (24 January 1876-18 September 1880)
Fannie Sheffield Bell (24 September 1880-3 November 1891)

The monuments honoring two of the children of Dr. Palaemon L Hilsman and Ella G. Rust Hilsman are more examples of Victorian child mortality. Even in a family of doctors, the Hilsman children weren’t immune from early deaths.

Roy Hilsman (21 June 1878-4 October 1880)
Madeline Bower Hilsman (19 February 1882-15 April 1884)

The Greek Revival mausoleum of the Samuel Bernard Brown family [founder of the Exchange National Bank], in the Jewish section, is one of the finest in Oakview.

Samuel Bernard Brown (1 February 1855-21 January 1922) and family

Tomlinson Fort was Regents Professor and Chair of the Mathematics Department at the University of Georgia for many years. His son followed his footsteps to academia and chaired the Chemical Engineering departments of Carnegie Mellon and Vanderbilt universities. The Forts were descendants of Warrenton-born Tomlinson Fort (1787-1859; buried at Memory Hill in Milledgeville), an early Georgia medical doctor who helped establish the Medical College of Georgia and the State Lunatic Asylum. He was also a member of the Georgia legislature and the United States Houses of Representatives.

Tomlinson Fort (1886-1970) & Madeline Scott Fort (1908-1983)

John Porter Fort was the son of Congressman Tomlinson Fort. He dug the first artesian well in South Georgia and was an early booster of the apple industry in North Georgia. An early agricultural scientist, he was awarded a “Doctor of Science” by the University of Georgia.

John Porter Fort (16 August 1941-12 February 1917), detail of cornucopia relief

Nelson Tift, a native of Groton, Connecticut, was the founder of Albany.

Nelson Tift (23 July 1810-21 November 1891)
Tift Family Plot identification stone

Bridge House, Circa 1857, Albany

This unassuming structure on the banks of the Flint River in downtown Albany is significant as the only surviving bridge house in Georgia, a relic of a time when bridges were huge moneymakers for those who financed them. This example was commissioned by the Connecticut-born entrepreneur and founder of Albany, Nelson Tift, circa 1857-1858. The second floor was known as Tift’s Hall and served as a concert and performance space.

An even greater aspect of the structure’s significance is that it, and the bridge it served, were built by Horace King, who rose from slavery to become a highly successful architect and Reconstruction-era Alabama state representative. He was one of the most respected men of color in the 19th-century South.

The Bridge House was purchased by A .P. Keenan in 1916 and served a commercial use for much of the 20th century, first as the Empire Smithing Company and later as Keenan Auto Parts. Since 2008, it has been home to the Albany Welcome Center.

National Register of Historic Places

Amanda America Dickson House, 1871, Hancock County

Known among cotton planters as “The Prince of Southern Farmers”, David Dickson was a very progressive agriculturalist whose plantation, known as “The Modern Mecca”, comprised nearly 17,000 acres at its peak.

David Dickson, Date & Photographer Unknown, Likely 1850s, Public Domain

In The Houses of Hancock 1785-1865, John Rozier notes that though Dickson was one of the wealthiest men in the state, he lived in the simple Plantation Plain house his father built in the 1790s [it was destroyed by fire in 1946]. Rozier gives a hint as to the source of his success: He trained his slaves to pick twice the cotton those on other plantations gathered. Planters came from all over the South to see how Dickson farmed. A man of little formal education, he wrote for and was widely quoted in agricultural journals, and his book on farming, A Practical Treatise on Agriculture: to Which is Added the Author’s Published Letters (1870), was still in print 25 years after his death.

Amanda America Dickson, Photographer Unknown, Public Domain

Dickson didn’t marry until he was 62, but his daughter, Amanda America Dickson, was born in 1849. She was the product of the rape of a woman he enslaved named Julia Frances Lewis Dickson, who was just 13 years old when she gave birth to Amanda. Dickson claimed paternity and brought her into his home to be raised by his mother, Elizabeth Sholars Dickson. Amanda left the plantation after emancipation and began a domestic relationship with Charles Eubanks, a white first cousin, in Rome, Georgia. Because Eubanks was white, Georgia’s anti-miscegenation laws at the time prevented a legal marriage, but the union produced two sons, Julian Henry Eubanks and Charles Green Eubanks. Soon after Charles Green’s birth, Amanda returned to her father’s plantation.

During the same year he was married, David Dickson built the house pictured here for Julia and Amanda, just up the hill from his own home [the columns are a 20th century addition]. The idea of two former slaves being afforded such a prominent gesture was not well-received by his new bride, Clara Harris Dickson. Just two years later, in 1873, Clara went home to her parents and died soon thereafter.

Amanda left Hancock County in 1876 and spent two years at Atlanta University.

Upon David Dickson’s death in 1885, Amanda inherited the majority of his estate, worth well over 8 million dollars in today’s dollars. This made her the wealthiest black woman in Georgia and among the wealthiest in the nation. 79 relatives of David Dickson challenged the will, but it was affirmed in the local courts and again when it landed at the Georgia Supreme Court. Essentially, the state court asserted that the rights of a mixed-race child born out of wedlock were no different than the rights of a white child born out of wedlock. This was quite unusual for the time.

To protect herself from her white relatives, Amanda moved to Augusta soon after David’s death and bought a home in the city’s most fashionable neighborhood, where she was generally accepted. She married Nathan Toomer in July 1892, and died on 11 June 1893. Nathan remarried upon Amanda’s death and was the father of Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer.

Woman of Color, Daughter of Privilege: Amanda America Dickson 1849-1893, by Kent Anderson Leslie, is the standard source for her life story, which has also been the subject of a movie, A House Divided.

Alice Walker Childhood Home, 1910s, Putnam County

This was beloved author Alice Walker’s home during much of her childhood. Her parents worked the farm and she drew inspiration from all around.

Berrien House, Circa 1791, Savannah

Considered one of Georgia’s most iconic houses, the Berrien House was built circa 1791 for Major John Berrien (1759-1815), a hero of the Revolutionary War.

Major Berrien left college in New Jersey to enlist in the American Revolution. Quickly rising through the ranks, he was commissioned Captain of the first Georgia Continental Brigade in 1777, under the command of Lachlan McIntosh. Berrien followed General McIntosh to Washington’s Headquarters and served, at age 18, as Brigadier Major of North Carolina Troops at Valley Forge and Monmouth. Washington is believed to have made his headquarters in Berrien’s ancestral New Jersey home, Rockingham, and may have written his Farewell Orders to the Armies from that location. The Berriens were close personal friends of General Washington. After the war, Berrien returned to Savannah with his family and became very prominent in local affairs. He was Collector of Customs and an alderman and also served as state treasurer at Louisville (1796-1799).

John Macpherson Berrien, by John Maier, 1870. Public Domain

Major Berrien’s son, John Macpherson Berrien (1781-1856), began the practice of law at Louisville in 1799. After service in the War of 1812, Berrien was elected to the Georgia senate and served as a United States senator from 1825-1829. From 1829-1831, he served as Andrew Jackson’s attorney general; from 1845-1852, he again served in the United States senate. Berrien County is named for him.

The home, which was in bad condition for many years, has been exquisitely restored by one of Berrien’s descendants, Andrew Berrien Jones, and is a wonderful example of preservation.

Savannah Historic District, National Historic Landmark