George Linder, while enslaved on the Cooper Plantation in 1859, established Strawberry Chapel, the oldest African-American congregation in Laurens County. A preacher and farmer, he was one of the Original 33 black legislators elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1868 and subsequently expelled from the body. Though they were reinstated in 1870, the rise of the Klan and white supremacy helped ensure the end of black politicians in Georgia until the 1960s. Nearly a quarter of the Original 33 were lynched, beaten, maimed, or jailed.
Reverend Linder owned this house in town in his later years. He is largely forgotten today but an effort to publicize the Original 33 will hopefully bring him and his fellow legislators to their rightful place in Georgia history.
Thanks to Cynthia Jennings, who is volunteering with the the Original 33 project, for bringing him to my attention and sharing this location.
The Andrew Low Carriage House*, at 330 Drayton Street, was the site of the first meeting of the troop of eighteen Girl Guides who would soon come to be known as the Girl Scouts. Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon was born into an influential Savannah family on 31 October 1860. Her grandfather was the first president of the Central Railroad and Banking Company of Georgia, and her father, William Washington Gordon II, was a Confederate captain, brigadier-general in the Spanish-American War, and a Georgia legislator. She attended boarding schools in New Jersey and Virginia, and a French finishing school in New York City.
After completing her education, Juliette married William Mackay Low in 1886. Low was the son of Andrew Low, a wealthy cotton factor of Scottish origin who owned homes in Savannah and the United Kingdom. The young couple spent most of their time in England and Scotland. The union turned sour when Juliette discovered that William had moved his mistress into their home. In 1902 she filed for divorce, but William’s health was deteriorating and before the action could be finalized, he died in Wales, in 1905.
In 1911, Juliette Gordon Low met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and got involved with a troop of Girl Guides in Scotland. She brought the movement to Savannah and the first troop of eighteen Girl Guides met in the carriage house of the Low family mansion on 12 March 1912. The name was changed to the Girl Scouts in 1913. Low’s association with the Girl Scouts continued in various capacities until her death in 1927. The organization has served over 50 million girls in its long history and while it may be best known for its annual cookie sales, has enriched the lives of those who have been associated with it.
The carriage house has served various purposes within the Girl Scouts organization over the years and is presently a museum. It was the first structure in Savannah to receive National Historic Landmark status.
*-Designed by architect John Norris to complement the adjacent Andrew Low House, circa 1848-1849, this structure originally served as the carriage house and living quarters for domestic slaves. Thomas “Tom” Milledge (1818-1886) was the most entrusted of the domestic slaves and after emancipation, remained in the employee of the Low family as a butler. He lived in the carriage house with his wife Mosianna (1844-1909) and their children.
Juliette Gordon Low Historic District, Savannah National Historic LandmarkDistrict
This double-pen tenant house is located adjacent to the historic Tompkins Inn. [This photograph dates to 2015, soI’m unsure as to the status of the house at this time]. It was included in the National Register of Historic Places nomination of the property in 1978 and described as a servant or drivers’ dwelling, dated to the early 1800s. The context of the term servant would imply slave if the structure was built before 1865, but that is not made clear, and therefore, I think it probably dates to the decade after the Civil War. The survival rate for wood frame slave dwellings is very low. A small family cemetery on the property is believed to include slave burials, though, so they did have a presence here.
I’m identifying it by the owner of the property at that time, which was most likely Emiline Boswell. Emiline was the second wife of Josias Boswell, who acquired the property upon the death of his first wife, Sarah Tompkins Boswell. Josias lost the property to A. R. Zachary due to debt, in 1862, but it was purchased by Emiline Boswell in 1874. She owned it until her death in 1910.
The tiny sliver of land visible on the horizon in this image is Creighton Island, a wonderfully obscure place on the McIntosh County coast.
The abridged sketch which follows, archived from an older website, was written by Jeannine Cook and details the island’s fascinating history.
Creighton Island is a privately-owned, inner barrier island in McIntosh County… It was formed by aeons of rising and falling ocean levels combined with ever-changing deposits of sand ridges. The roughly 1,100 acres of high ground on Creighton date mainly from the Pleistocene era (40,000 B.C.), but are still being shaped afresh by wind, waves, tides and storms. Today, the island is roughly 2 1/2 miles long and a mile wide.
Creighton bears testimony to human activities during at least the last 3,500-4000 years. Archaeologist Clarence B. Moore uncovered important funerary materials – urns, stone and copper chisels, hatchets…- on Creighton’s north end in 1896-97. It is said that the Guale Indians considered the north end of the Island as a very sacred burial ground. Later, it is possible that the first European colony on the eastern seaboard of North America, San Miguel de Gualdape, took brief root on Creighton in 1526 when Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon tried to establish 600 Spanish and African settlers on this coast. By 1756, Daniel Demetre had acquired “John Smith’s Island”, as Creighton was then designated. In the 1770s, William DeBrahm, Surveyor General to King George III, noted the existence of unexplainable entrenchments and ruins on the Island. The mysteries DeBrahm created about Creighton have lingered to this day.
The Island acquired its present name from its 1778 owner, Alexander Creighton, a Savannah businessman. Timbering and farming (especially cotton, sugar cane and corn) were important activities, despite occasional devastating hurricanes…Thomas Spalding worked with his son-in-law, William Cooke, owner of Creighton after 1838, and during that period, tabby dwellings were built at the north end. Their vestiges remain today. Freed slaves, based at the north end, remained on the Island after the Civil War. The north end was also a focus of important timber-loading facilities for large ships at the “Sapelo port” in 1880-98, complete with US post office and telegraph lines connecting Creighton to Darien. The 1898 hurricane destroyed these port facilities; they were rebuilt but by 1910, the timber boom era in McIntosh County had finally ended. In 1947, Creighton Island was acquired by the present owners…
…The Island’s long, diverse history combines with great natural beauty to represent a unique microcosm of Georgia’s coast. Today’s owners deeply respect the environmental importance of their island sanctuary…
This property was originally settled by Joseph Shields and sons James and Patrick in 1802.
With two slaves, they cleared and cultivated the land.
When Joseph died in 1818, he willed the land to his son, James and by 1860, 20 enslaved people worked the land.
James died in 1863 and in 1865 his widow, Charity, signed a contract with three of her former slaves, providing them housing and food in exchange for their work on the farm.
When James and Charity’s son, Joseph Robert Shields, returned home from the Civil War in 1866, he built the main house and soon applied the sharecropping system to the entire farm, managing many of his former slaves alongside poor white farmers.
By 1890, the farm had grown to 1000 acres.
In 1897, Joseph Robert’s daughter Susan Ella returned to the farm with her husband Ira Washington Ethridge.
Joseph Robert Shields died in 1910 and Susan Ella and Ira inherited the house and surrounding property.
To hedge his bets against increasingly unstable cotton prices, Ira Ethridge built a self-sustaining sharecropper’s “village” near the main house.
In 1914, “Mr. Ira” transformed the main house from its historical Plantation Plain appearance to it present Neoclassical appearance by adding columns and raising the porch.
The structures seen today were built between 1900-1930. Most of the sharecropper housing is gone today, but a few scattered examples survive.
When Ira died in 1945, his son Lanis understood that the farm would soon be changed by mechanization.
He diversified and in the early 1950s began breeding cattle and slowly expanding pastureland on his acreage.
At his death in 1970, the sharecropper’s village was long abandoned.
His widow, Joyce Ethridge, began documenting the history of the farm.
In 1994 she and daughters Susan E. Chaisson and Ann E. Lacey gave 150 acres of the farm to the Shields-Ethridge Farm Foundation to preserve the site as an agricultural museum.
Joyce’s research also led to the listing of the property on the National Register of Historic Places.
Officially known as Union Memorial Cemetery, Strangers Cemetery gets its unusual name from those interred here. Former slaves (and their descendants) who toiled on the island’s plantations prior to Emancipation were buried on those properties. The original “strangers” were freedmen who came to the island after the Civil War and worked primarily in sawmills along the Frederica River. Many remained for generations in three thriving black communities: Harrington, Jewtown, and South End, and some were interred here, as they weren’t allowed to bury on the former plantation lands. While most marked graves are in very good condition, a large number of unmarked graves exist, as well.
Among later “strangers” is Mary Elizabeth “Bessie” Sampson Jones (8 February 1902-4 September 1984). She was born in Smithville (Lee County) and never knew her biological father. Her mother moved to an uncle’s farm in nearby Dawson when Bessie was a baby and while there married James Sampson, who was a father figure to Bessie. Of her childhood, she wrote: “I never has went to school a whole term and I didn’t get past the fifth grade; every school day I had to keep other people’s babies and sometimes I had to work in the fields.” Music was always present in Bessie Jones’s childhood. Her mother Julia played the autoharp and James Sampson played numerous instruments by ear. Her grandfather, Jet Sampson, was an accordionist. He was enslaved, along with five brothers, around 1843 and died in 1941 at the age of 105. Listening to his stories and songs, Bessie gained many insights that would inform her later work.
In 1914 a very young Jones gave birth to her first child, Rosalie. The child’s father, Cassius Davis, was a native of the Georgia Sea Islands and had come to the Dawson area seeking farm work. After World War I Bessie lived briefly in Milan and Fitzgerald. Cassius died in Brunswick in 1926. For the next seven years she lived in Florida. In Okeechobee she married George Jones and in 1933 they moved to St. Simons Island. They had two sons: George L. Jones (1935) and Joseph (1937). George died in 1945. After his death Bessie got involved with the Spiritual Singers of Coastal Georgia, perhaps the first group to formally attempt to preserve and perform the slave songs and spirituals of the Sea Island Gullah and Geechee people. It was a great honor for Bessie to have been invited to join the group, as she was not a native of the islands.
Bessie met musicologist and folkorist Alan Lomax in 1959 and a couple of years later he recorded a series of songs, stories, and interviews with her at his apartment in New York City. In 1963, the Georgia Sea Island Singers were established. Lomax arranged a tour that took the group to colleges around the country and a decade of travel followed. They participated in the Poor People’s March in 1968 and appeared at Carnegie Hall, the Newport Folk Festival, Montreal World’s Fair, Central Park, and numerous Smithsonian Folk Life Festivals. In 1976, the Sea Island Singers performed at the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter. In 1982, Mrs. Jones received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, but died of leukemia later that year.
The original section of this structure, dating to circa 1851, served as a mission of the Presbyterian Church, and though that congregation was not successful, the location was used as a Sunday School for enslaved Blacks during the Civil War. It later served as the Greene Street Methodist church before it became the Union Baptist Church in 1883. The Augusta architectural firm of MacMurphy & Story created the exquisite structure seen today in 1888. The Society of Architectural Historians considers it “one of the finest Carpenter Gothic buildings in the state” and I concur. Historic Augusta, Inc., restored the structure for the congregation between 1997-2010.
Greene Street Historic District, National Register of Historic Places
This house has been in rough shape for as long as I can remember, having been a rental property for many years, but I always knew it was architecturally significant and of historical importance. Despite having lost all its historic interior elements and featuring a non-historic rear addition, the house is an important link not only to the earliest days of Milledgeville but to two important families integral to the political and cultural life of 19th-century Georgia and is worth saving.
A couple of years ago my friend David Bray noted that plans for demolition were on the horizon, and preservationist Scott Reed recently reached out to let me know that hearings on its fate were moving forward. The present owners of the property, Georgia Military College (GMC), have plans to turn the property into a parking lot but Bray notes that as of now, demolition of the house has been stopped, largely due to efforts of the Milledgeville Historic Preservation Commission and concerned citizens. He notes that GMC is willing to save the structure. Still, plans for its future, which involve several options, remain uncertain. Proposals are being considered at this time. [This is an ongoing process, and updates will be included as they become available].
As to the history of the house, an exact date is unknown, but it was built for Zachariah Lamar (1769-29 October 1838), who purchased the lot on which it stands in 1806. Considering Lamar’s involvement with the committee which designed the plans for the city of Milledgeville [established 1804], it seems the house is likely contemporary to his purchase of the property or soon thereafter, placing it circa 1806-1810.
In addition to his interests in retail, taverns, saloons, agriculture, and banking, Lamar served as a judge and in the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia Senate. He was directly involved with the formation of the Bank of the State of Georgia, the first “upcountry” bank in the state. He was also one of the managers of the ball which honored the Marquis de LaFayette* on the occasion of his visit to Milledgeville in 1825.
[The 1 April 1825 edition of the Milledgeville Georgian notes of the visit of 27-29 March: “General Lafayette arrived in Milledgeville on Sunday last, at noon. It is needless to say he received a hearty and enthusiastic welcome…he was met by the Cavalry of Baldwin County, who escorted him into the town, and that his approach was announced by the firing of cannon, ringing of bells, &e. The General rode in an open carriage, accompanied by the Governor, and followed by the military and civil procession, as previously arranged. In the evening he attended service at the Methodist Chapel- the town was illuminated, and on Monday he was to dine with the citizens, in an extensive arbor prepared in the State House square. A splendid Ball and supper were to be given him in Monday evening- the Senate Chamber and Hall of representatives having been tastefully prepared for the occasion. Several volunteer companies from the neighboring counties had arrived to assist in paying honor to the Guest of the Nation.]
At his death he owned around 15,000 acres of land, dependent on the labor of 220 slaves. One of his sons, John Basil Lamar, served in the Georgia legislature and very briefly in the United States House of Representatives, and died at the Battle of Crampton’s Gap during the Civil War. He was also one of the so-called Georgia Humorists. His daughter, Mary Ann Lamar, was married to Howell Cobb [the namesake of Cobb County].
This is one of the most outstanding Greek Revival houses in Georgia and is well-maintained. I believe it was built by Thomas T. Napier, whose Virginia-born father, Thomas Napier, owned over 6000 acres in Bibb and surrounding counties at the time of his death in 1838. Thomas T. Napier also built a home in Ringgold in 1836. I will do my best to clarify this history when I can better discern the genealogy.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An historically accurate restoration of the interior began in 1958 and was completed circa 1964.
The Slave Experience at the Chief 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.
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…”
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 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
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.
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.