Showing posts with label Gurganus David. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gurganus David. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Leaving Home - Part 3 Becoming Acquainted with John Monroe Ganus

I remember the day I left home. I had graduated from high school and had worked all summer. We loaded up the family car with everything I thought I needed to survive at college and my parents drove the nearly 1000 miles to Utah to take me and all my loot to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.  As we passed through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and into Utah,  I had a lot of time to think and a lot of time to worry. How would I do living so far from home?

Each person reaches that pinnacle point in their life when they leave behind home and family and strike out on their own. For John Monroe Ganus, it came when he was a young man in his mid-twenties. I've wondered about the circumstances surrounding his departure from home. Did he have extended family who enticed him to join them several counties away, was it the lure of affordable land or did he just feel the tug of knowing it was his time?

In 1850, John was still living at home with his family in Dekalb County, Georgia and Olivia Rainwater,  John's soon-to-be bride was in Carroll County with her parents, Joshua and Polly (Peterson) Rainwater. It is unknown what circumstances brought them together, but somehow John and Olivia met, courted and then married on the 7th of October 1852 in Polk County, Georgia. John was twenty-six and Olivia was twenty-one.

Carroll County Georgia, DeKalb County Georgia, Polk County Georgia, John Monroe Ganus, Olivia Rainwater
Dekalb and Carroll Counties 1864
John recorded their marriage date and place in family records, as well as reported the date and location in the records of the various church congregations of which he was a member. He consistently gave the same date and location in church records located in Georgia, Colorado, and Oklahoma, however, no official marriage record has ever been located in Polk County or neighboring communities. Interestingly enough, most of John's siblings married local families in Fayette or Dekalb Counties. John seemed to be an independent thinker from early on and we are able to see that even more over time.

John began the next phase of his life with his wife, Olivia, by his side. In 1850, he was helping on his father's farm but not everyone in his extended family had chosen to be a farmer. His Uncle David Gurganus was a blacksmith and his Grandpa David Gurganus Sr. was a turner. What path would John take?

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2017, All rights reserved


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Without Means of Support Part 3

What were Rebecca's options? She was a 68 year old widow and by all indications, she was completely alone. What did elderly women do mid 19th century when they were left alone and with no means of support?

Many in that time period moved in with children, but what if they had no children? As the second wife to David Gurganus, there is no evidence that she ever bore any children. David's children all came through his first wife, Mary Swain. Ellen had been murdered and his sons, James, John and David, had long since moved away. If she had other family living nearby, I have found nothing to support that possibility. But determined and likely desperate, Rebecca appealed to two sources for help.

 On the third of November of 1851, listed in the Inferior Court Minutes for Bibb County as “insolvent,” Rebecca received a sum of $10.00.  It is the last time her name appears on the Pauper Account for Bibb County. I am not sure how she survived from that point on. 

On the 6th of November of 1852,  Rebecca next applied for a widow’s pension for Revolutionary War Soldier. Sadly, her pension application reveals very few details about her. 

On the application, Rebecca indicated that she was born in Edgefield, South Carolina and she stated that she and David were married in the Edgefield County Court house in 1816, although she indicated that she had no record of that marriage.There was no mention of her maiden name nor whether or not she had ever had children or if even this was her first marriage. 

I am sure she hoped for a merciful outcome as she made the following representation:
“She further says that her said husband has always been reputed and regarded in every neighborhood in which he has lived by his neighbors and those who have known him the longest as a Revolutionary Soldier and she believe him to have been one.”
Locals came forward to testify in her behalf, indicating that she was very old and very poor, but worthy and deserving and that they believed her to deserve the pension.  But ultimately her claim was rejected for lack of proof.

I found one final mention of Rebecca. A few weeks following her efforts to get a widow's pension, the following notice appeared in The Georgia Telegraph, p. 4 on 23 November 1852  for Bibb County:
BIBB SHERIFF SALE 
"Will be sold before the courthouse door in the city of Macon, Bibb County, on the first Tuesday in December next, between the usual hours of sale, the following property to wit.  Ten acres of land in the county of Bibb, adjoining the land of John Burkner, Esq. lying on the Forsyth road about four miles from the city of Macon and known as the place occupied by Mrs. Gurganus, together with all improvements. . . "
"Charles Ethan Porter - Autumn Landscape - Google Art Project" by
Charles Ethan Porter (1847 - 1923)
At that point Rebecca seemingly disappears. With no apparent means of support, and no place to live, where did she go? What did she do?

According to "A Digest of the Statute Laws of the State of Georgia" by Thomas Read Rootes Cobb, on page 1146, the Inferior Court was authorized to establish an asylum for the maintenance of the poor. Impoverished and aged, I wondered if perhaps Rebecca had turned to such a place. 

However, I was not able to find any information about whether Bibb County ever built such an asylum or if there was one nearby for the poor. I contacted the Middle Georgia Regional Library located in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia because of their genealogy collection and archives. They reported that there is no evidence of an asylum or facility for the poor in Bibb County during the 1850's. 

I am uncomfortable with endings that leave me hanging and so, every so often, I return to Rebecca, determined to learn what happened to her, wishing I had her maiden name, wondering if she had children, wondering where she went when she seemingly had no one and was without means of support. 

Some day I hope I find out.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Without Means of Support, Part 2

It was 1849 and Rebecca was living just outside of Macon with her husband David Gurganus.  Dependent on funds from the Pauper Account from Bibb County, Georgia, they got by.  David’s oldest daughter, widowed and in her fifties, had moved in with them.   

In the spring of 1849, an event occurred that changed everything.  David’s widowed daughter, Mary Ellen, was brutally murdered in their front yard and David was clubbed in the head with the butt of a rifle. (The complete story is told here.)

Rebecca, stood helplessly by as she witnessed the horrific scene. After the attacker fled, it was Rebecca's wails that brought a nearby neighbor running to help. Finding Ellen dead from a gunshot wound to the neck and 87 year old David, kneeling on the ground, bleeding head in his hands, the neighbor carried David into the house and then went for help.

By Harry French [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Rebecca testified at the trial of Ellen’s murderer in September of 1849, but David was not well enough to even attend the trial much less testify. Newspaper accounts indicated it was unlikely that he would ever recover. As predicted, he never did fully recover and passed away the following March.  In a relatively short time, Rebecca found herself completely alone.

Rebecca had no means to pay for David’s coffin. Inferior Court minutes show that E.B. Mims was reimbursed for the cost of David's coffin from the Pauper Account. It was also the Pauper Account that continued to sustain Rebecca.


According to the newspaper,The Macon Messenger, in July of 1850 there were three unclaimed letters addressed to Rebecca Gurganus at the post office. I can't help but wonder, who wrote her?   Did she have children from a previous marriage? Did she have living siblings that knew of her plight?  Did she ever pick up and pay for her mail and did she respond? 

What did Rebecca do next?  I will share what I know in next post. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Without Means of Support

Where would she turn next?  Alone and with limited means, Rebecca had to find a way to support herself. Her life had changed drastically in a few short years. 

It was 1852 in Macon, Georgia and Rebecca Gurganus was widowed and sixty nine years old.  If she and her deceased husband, David Gurganus, had children, there is no evidence of such and so, by all appearances, she was truly very alone.  

Rebecca had been married to David for thirty-six years.  She was 33 years old when she married David, a 53 year old widower with three boys at home. His boys James, David and John Wesley were all from his first marriage to Mary Swain and by 1830 were married and had moved away.

A Long Hard Winter, Library of Congress 1893 
In 1847, David had attempted to obtain his Revolutionary War pension, but like many applicants, he was unable to provide sufficient proof.  It had been 67 years since his first tour and while he remembered the names of a few men with whom he served, it had been almost 50 years since he lived in Pitt County, North Carolina where he entered the service. He then moved to Edgefield, South Carolina and later settled in Macon, Georgia.  It’s not difficult to imagine why he no longer had proof of his service and why none of the men with whom he had served were around to testify in his behalf.  


Beginning in 1849, David, aged, impoverished and with few options, turned to Bibb County for help.  From that time until his death, he and Rebecca appeared in the Inferior Court minutes on the Pauper Account, relying on the county for assistance.

Sometime in the early 1840s, David’s widowed daughter, Mary Ellen Pratt, who was in her early 50s, moved in with David and Rebecca and together they all lived about 4 miles from Macon, on the road to Forsyth.  Life was not easy, but they were together and for a time, that was enough.  Coming events would change Rebecca's life dramatically.

To see where Rebecca fits in, click on the Gurganus tab above and then select "David Gurganus Sr." 


Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I Thought I Knew


I thought I knew history.  After all, I had certainly taken my share of history classes over the years.  As a child, I listened in school, attended the assemblies and dutifully completed my history assignments.   High School required yet more history and in college I took 5 history courses as part of my graduation requirements.  I hate to admit that through it all, I never really learned to like or appreciate history.

It really wasn't until I began to research my own ancestors and discovered their lives intertwined with historical events that I suddenly found history interesting and relevant to me.  When I learned that I had ancestors in America very early on and that my fourth great grandfather, David Gurganus, participated in the Revolutionary War and that my third great grandfather,  Joshua Rainwater, fought in the War of 1812, the details of those events suddenly became fascinating and the events and dates began to fall neatly into order.  I have even found myself actually reading history books on my own, without the urgings of a teacher or the fear of failing a test, and I have liked it!


Visiting Virginia this past May took history to an entirely new
level.  As I've said before, it's one thing to read about history, it is another thing to visit the sites where those events actually took place, to feel the emotion of those places and to ponder how those events impacted not only my ancestors' lives, but my own.  As we visited the various historical sites in Virginia,  I found myself looking at many of the events in an entirely different light.  Much of what we saw there pertained to the Civil War, but we visited many other significant historical sites there as well.


When we visited St John's church in Richmond, we were able to see the exact spot where Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech declaring "Give me liberty or give me death."  As our guide shared with us the riveting details leading up to that event, she helped us to feel his passion and to better understand the significance of his speech.  I wondered what kind of commitment to liberty my ancestors had felt.



Of the many places we visited, Colonial Williamsburg was without a doubt one of my favorites.  There I learned about elements of our nation's beginning that I had never before internalized.

As we walked around the park, we listened to the murmuring of actors dressed in period clothing, portraying discontented and concerned citizens and imagined what it felt like to live in a time of such uncertainty.  While typically so much of our study focuses on the main characters of history, this helped me to consider the sacrifice, commitment and courage required by even the common citizen as steps were taken to establish our country as an independent nation.  I realized that not everything significant occurred in a meeting behind closed doors or on the battlefield.   What type of discussions had gone on among my ancestors, their families and friends?  What was the talk around the family dinner table or over the fence with the neighbors?  With each step taken towards independence, what had been my ancestor's understanding of the situation and had they wrestled within their own minds with their allegiance?

In the park, women in long cotton dresses, bonnets and crisp white aprons, represented mothers and wives of the time. They gathered in clusters as neighbors and friends and anxiously shared their concerns and fears for their sons and their husbands, discussing the rumors of pending rebellion.  It helped me to see and think about issues that I had not considered before.  Living in a new land, citizens had serious concerns about not only the unknown consequences of separating themselves from their mother country, but also about their ability to exist alone in a new world. For the women, losing their husband would mean facing life in a new colony alone.  How had my female ancestors felt as the rumors of rebellion and war began, knowing that it would take their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers and leave them alone?

We listened as a man portraying George Washington shared his views and experiences, allowing members of the crowd to ask him questions.  I wondered how my ancestors felt about many of the issues he presented.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we heard the fife and drum procession long before we saw it and I felt excitement as they rounded the square and moved onto the field.   Following their spirited performance,  the minutemen stepped forward, then loaded and fired their muskets and I felt chills down my spine.  They had done an excellent job in transporting us back in time and I felt a renewed gratitude for the courage shown by those willing to forge a new life in America and for the steps they took in establishing a free country.

I thought I knew history, but there is so much I didn't know.



As I look forward to the Fourth of July, my thoughts will be of the many men and women throughout history that courageously took a stand for what they believed, despite the cost to them personally. Thanks to them, we live in a land of many privileges and freedoms.  In addition, my prayers will be for the many men and women that continue in the fight to maintain that freedom.

God Bless the USA!

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Richmond Bound

While I may have grown up far from my Southern roots, I nonetheless feel a deep connection to everything Southern.

I have Southerners on both my mother's and father's side and, although I have ancestors from many parts of the US, and of course ancestors that came from other countries, it's my Southern lines that I seem to be drawn to the most.  I love learning about my ancestors and I enjoy the "genealogy scenery" along the way, meaning I love to learn about their culture, their traditions, their lifestyle and their history.  So when the National Genealogy Society announced that their conference for 2014 would be held in Richmond, I was thrilled. 

Now, as of yet, my research hasn't actually taken me directly into Virginia.....and notice I said, yet. Having folks in North Carolina at the beginning of the 18th century, I suspect it is just a matter of time before I find myself digging through Virginia records.  But in the meantime, having ancestors that fought in the Civil War, I nonetheless have connections to Virginia, although it definitely lacks some of the warm and fuzzy feelings associated with seeing something like an ancestral home. 

My 2nd Great Grandfather's brother, David Ganus, whom I wrote about in a previous post, died from exposure in December of 1862 in Virginia and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. Although he lies in a mass grave, they do know the lot where he is buried and I do have plans to visit there.

Richmond Destruction
Wikimedia Commons
David Gurganus Jr. was a brother to my 3rd Great Grandfather, James (Gur) Ganus.  I shared David's story in this post. David and wife Elizabeth watched all three of their sons go off to war.  Willis, Moses and David all fought for the rebel cause and, of the three, only one survived and returned home.  Civil war records indicate only that Willis was buried in "Virginia." While I wish the records were more specific, knowing that he was there will have to be enough.  

My tree is full of rebs that volunteered from their home states of Georgia, Florida,  Alabama, Tennessee and both North and South Carolina. While none of them actually were from Virginia, Virginia nonetheless played a significant role in many of my ancestor's lives.  Not only did many participate in the bloody battles that took place in Virginia, but I have several who lost their lives and were buried there.  

The NGS Conference promises to be worthwhile with some of the best presenters genealogy has to offer and I am so excited.  The trip will not only be an opportunity to learn from some of the best, but it will also be a time to visit historical sites that played an important role in my ancestors' lives.  I look forward to sharing my adventure with you in the coming weeks.   

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014

Friday, November 2, 2012

Murder in Macon--Final Chapter-- The Trial


The murder created incredible excitement in the community. Ellen had been murdered in her front yard with her father, David Gurganus and her step-mother, Rebecca, as eye witnesses. David was MY fourth great grandfather and so this was MY family and I was stunned as I uncovered the story. While I may not know all of the whys of the events, given the nature of the crime, the court records and newspapers provided rich detail about both the crime and the trial.

Tuesday May 29, 1849 Baldwin County, Georgia "Union Recorder" carried the following:
             COMMITTED FOR TRIAL
Elisha Reese, charged with the murder of Mrs. Pratt, in this county, on Wednesday last, was arrested the same evening by Messrs. Cumming Stephens, Ellis and others, some three miles from the scene of his crime, and lodged in prison.  On Thursday he was brought up before the Magistrates, Messrs. Grannis, Reid and Artope, and formally committed for trial.. . . . During the examination the accused showed but little concern.
The trial date was set to be held during the July Term 1849.  Minutes for the Bibb Superior Court provide many details, many of which I have already provided in the previous post.  A variety of individuals gave testimony, including Ellen's step-mother, Rebecca and neighbor James W. Armstrong. I couldn't help but notice the absence of  Ellen's father, David, who also was an eye witness.  I can only assume that the injuries he sustained, combined with the emotional trauma, prevented him from attending.

The defense's witnesses were primary individuals that testified to Reese's character.  Their testimonies helped me to anchor Reese to particular communities where he had previously lived, such as Habersham and Cass Counties.  The most interesting witness for the defense was his son, Frederick Reese.  Did his son provide true insight to his father's character or was he simply being a dutiful son?  Frederick indicated that his father was a man of "good character, a peaceable law abiding citizen."   He also said that he had "never known him to violate the laws of his country."  It is through Frederick's testimony that we learn that Reese was 50 years old. Frederick also indicated that he last saw his father January last in Cass County, but had not "known him since"  and that Reese had a family in Floyd County.

The evidence was overwhelmingly in favor of the prosecution, with the defense only able to present individuals who knew him in his previous communities to testify of Reese's character.  Ultimately, Judge Floyd issued the verdict of guilty, and indicated that Reese was to be returned to the Common Jail of the County of Bibb.   The judge then said,
. . . . where you are to be kept in safe and close custody until Friday the Seventh day of September, Eighteen hundred and forty nine, when you are to be conducted to a gallows to be executed for that purpose in the County of Bibb outside of the corporate limits of the city of Macon, and within one mile of said Corporate limits, upon which said Gallows between the time of ten o'clock in the morning and four o'clock in the afternoon of said day, you are by the sheriff of said county of Bibb, or his lawful deputy to be publicly hung by the neck until you are dead! dead ! dead! And may God Almightly have mercy upon your soul.  

In "Reports of Cases of Law & Equity Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia", is found the case of  Reese vs. The State of Georgia, in which the defendant moved for a continuance on several grounds.  The first was because two witnesses to Reese's character had not shown up, and secondly, because
"he could not safely go to trial, on account of the public excitement against him, from the transaction being recent, and of an unusual character, giving rise to exaggerated reports, tending to inflame the public mind, and insufficient time not having elapsed to allay such excitement, and to correct the strong prejudices produced by it."  

The court refused continuance.  The hanging was scheduled for the 7th of September, 1849.

The final newspaper article for this tragic story appeared in the Macon, Georgia newspaper, The Messenger on Wednesday, September 12, 1849.

EXECUTION OF REESE
Elisha Reese, convicted of the murder of Mrs. Ellen Pratt, was executed near this city on Friday, in the presence of some five thousand persons.  Before leaving the prison, he gave an imperfect sketch of his life and of the circumstances connected with the murder.  It is sufficient to say that his confession in every particular, corroborated the statement of the affair made through the columns of this paper at the time of the killing, and which was subsequently sustained by the testimony before the jury.
Reese deported himself with the most stoical firmness and composure.  He shed no tear, and heaved no sigh during the solemn ceremonies under the gallows.  He ascended the platform with a firm and steady step, and declined when requested by the Sheriff, to address any words to the assembled multitude.  The result of this exhibition,  has been to excite no little feeling among our people in favor of private executions, and the matter will, no doubt, be brought up before the next Legislature.  

What I would give to have a copy of Reese's life sketch along with his confession, however imperfect it was. I feel some disappointment in knowing not only that it was not recorded, but also in knowing that Reese showed no remorse and no regret for the crime.  While justice ultimately was served,  for both the Gurganus family and the Reese family, there were deep wounds that would never completely heal.  Newspapers reported that it was doubtful that David would ever fully recover physically from his injuries given his age.  While it is difficult to know to what extent David's injuries contributed to his death just ten months later, I feel sure that the emotional wounds were even deeper and  that the remainder of his days were filled with painful memories of that fateful day.

I never dreamed the day that I tediously searched the Bibb County Court records for anything about my family, that I would uncover a story of this nature.  I suppose none of us ever envisions a tragedy of this scope occurring in our own families. As we research and uncover the details of our ancestor's lives, we inevitably will find both the good and the bad, the joyous along with the tragic, with each piece of information ultimately helping us to gain compassion and understanding for those that went before.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Murder in Macon--Part 2




The murder of Ellen Pratt created considerable emotion and excitement in the community. Newspapers throughout the states reported the story, including  The Liberator  in Boston, MA  who carried the story as "The Bloody and Oppressive South,"  Shocking Murder. We can't help but wonder what events  led  to the murder of Ellen Pratt.

It had started out as a typical spring day in Macon, Georgia.  The Gurganus family lived about four miles from the court house on the road to Forsyth.  At about 11:00 a.m.,  David, Rebecca and Ellen were all sitting together out on their "piazza,"  likely trying to cool off a bit.  Ellen, a widow of about 60 years of age, was living with her father and her step mother.  It may have begun like a typical day, but soon things would take a horrible turn.

Bibb county map with the road to from Macon to Forsyth
(From Georgia Galileo)
 Elisha Reese, who was called simply "Reese" by the townspeople, had recently proposed marriage to Ellen, but she had rejected his proposal. What else may have transpired between them, we do not know, but what we do know is that her father was concerned and  had sworn out a peace warrant against Reese. Newspapers later reported that there had in fact been threats of violence made by Reese towards Ellen. When Reese learned that a peace warrant had been sworn out against him, it did not sit well.

According to court records,on the morning of May 16th, 1849,  Reese went to visit with the sheriff about the peace warrant and there was considerable discussion which ended with Reese storming off, declaring "it would only cost him what little he had and his life and he would see her out or die."   The sheriff begged him to leave her alone, but determined, Elisha set out for the Gurganus property.

Rebecca Gurganus, who was Ellen's step-mother, testified that Reese had come to their property that morning and, while standing at the gate, asked Ellen why she had told the lie.  When Ellen insisted that she had not told a lie, Reese opened the gate to enter their yard.  Ellen then said, "Reese, don't come in here," but  he continued anyway and so David got up from the piazza and walked towards the gate saying "Reese, what are you coming here interrupting us for?  We interrupt no body."  Newspaper articles referred to David as a "very aged Revolutionary soldier," and indicated that he was "scarce able to walk" and had begged Reese to go away and to not create any disturbance there.

It was then that Reese gripped the barrel of the gun with both hands, swung it at David and struck him in the head, knocking him to the ground.  Ellen, who had been standing in the piazza, immediately ran to her father to help him, at which time, Reese took aim and shot her in the neck at such close range, the wadding set her clothes on fire.  Ellen fell dead within a few feet of her father, who was still on the ground and bleeding. Within minutes Ellen was dead and David had received injuries from which he would never fully recover.  Reese turned and calmly walked away, leaving Rebecca standing there, no doubt in shock over what had just transpired.

A neighbor testified that he had seen a man pass by his property through the corn field with a rifle resting on  his shoulder.  Minutes later he heard the gun go off and the man passed back by.  The neighbor had been unsure as to what had transpired, but then heard Rebecca calling to him for help.  When he approached the Gurganus property, he discovered that Ellen was dead and that ninety year old David, whom he described as  an "old and infirm man,"  was on his hands and knees, his head was bleeding and he was delirious. The neighbor carried David into the house, put him onto his bed and then set off for the doctor and the sheriff.

What occurs next sounds like a scene from an old movie.  The neighbor went into town and found the sheriff and others, who brought dogs and set out, determined to find "Reese." Starting at the Gurganus house where they surveyed the grim scene, the dogs then picked up Reese's scent, began to circle and then took off in chase through the woods. In my mind, I can see a frantic Reese, running for his life through the woods with the barking dogs at his heels, and the men on horses in determined pursuit.  The chase was intense enough that the sheriff would later need to receive compensation for the injuries his horse sustained during the chase. Within about 30 minutes, the dogs and men were able to overcome Reese.  The men then tied Reese up and took him into town.  

I have read over the court documents and the numerous corresponding newspaper articles dozens of times, each time feeling a deep sadness.  My heart breaks for Ellen, who rejected a suitor without realizing the price that she and her father would ultimately pay, for David, my fourth great grandfather, who witnessed the murder of his daughter, something no parent should ever experience, and for Rebecca, who stood helplessly by as she watched the terrible scene unfold.  As with any event buried in the past, there is more to this story than I will ever know. Why did Reese, a 50 year old man pursue with such determination, 60 year old widowed Ellen, and feel so strongly about her rejection that he made threats of violence and eventually murdered her?  While I don't have all of the answers, I still have more to share, including Reese's trial and what ultimately happened to him, all of which I will include in my next post.    

Continue onto Part Three, Final Chapter, The Trail 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Murder in Macon - Part 1

The woman was screaming and sobbing as her father laid bleeding on the ground, but the man coldly lowered his rifle and aimed it directly at her. The gun went off.  Our daughter jerked awake ---who had been screaming?  Was a neighbor in trouble, or had it been a dream?  With her heart pounding, our daughter laid there in the pitch dark, and listened intently for any noise or sound that might tell her that it was real, but all was silent.  And then she remembered.  Hours earlier, she had been helping me transcribe some newly found court documents. Having returned from college for a weekend visit, she had become intrigued when I told her that I had found our ancestors involved in a murder trial and I was anxious to sort it all out. She had then suggested that she help me transcribe the lengthy court minutes, but little did either of us realize how chilling the details of Mary Ellen's murder were or just how much they would haunt us.

I knew that a Mary Ellen Gurganus had married Thomas Pratt in Bibb County, Georgia on the 28th of October 1838.  Dozens of times over the years I had run across the marriage entry when searching Bibb County records , but I didn't know for sure who she was.  I had a pretty good idea that she would prove to be related to David Gurganus, my fourth great grandfather, as that surname was not common in Georgia at that time,  but I could not seem to find anything more about her that would help identify just what her relationship was to my Gurganus family.  She and her husband had married and then seemingly just disappeared.

One day in total exasperation at the lack of information that I had on my Gurganus family during their time in Macon, Bibb County,  Georgia,  I decided to go through a microfilm of Bibb County Court records, slowly, page by page, looking for something....anything.  A mere five hours later something caught my eye. The sheriff  had applied for compensation for the injuries that his horse had sustained in the pursuit of Ellen Pratt's MURDERER!! I wondered- could this be Mary Ellen GURGANUS Pratt?  I quickly checked the dates and then turned to Bibb County Superior Court records and  there it was. The trial of Elisha Reese for the murder of Mary Ellen Pratt on 16 May 1849.  As I quickly scanned the court minutes, the name "Gurganus" popped off the page. The record indicated that Ellen Pratt was a widow and had been living with her aged father, David Gurganus!!!  Rebecca Gurganus, her step mother testified. This meant that she was a daughter to my fourth great grandfather David Gurganus and a sister to my third great grandfather, James Gurganus.  I could not believe my eyes.  As I had tried to imagine why I couldn't find anything further about Ellen Pratt, the possibility that she had been murdered had never entered my mind. What had happened?  Why would someone murder a sixty year old widow woman in her front yard in front of her father and stepmother?  It's a story I'm anxious to share in upcoming posts.

Continue onto Part Two of Murder in Macon

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012, All rights reserved

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Did James really fly under the radar?

Once following a genealogy conference, I had the opportunity to talk with a visiting archivist.  I shared with him my frustration that my 3rd great grandfather, James Ganus, has been so difficult to find, while I have so much on his parents and siblings.  I had to admit that some of  James' family seemed to have a nose for trouble, so they and their escapades are found with some ease in newspapers and court records.  It took me by surprise when the archivist suggested that perhaps James was difficult to find because he was the biggest, baddest one of them all and that just maybe he had managed to fly under the radar!  My James, I thought?!!  I've tried to be open minded and accepting as I've researched, recognizing that times in the 1800's were different and it is difficult for us today to fully understand the circumstances that led to certain behavior and choices back then, but as I consider the meager findings that I have on James, I still find it hard to believe that his name was synonymous with trouble.

It was an interesting discovery to find that James had shortened his name from Gurganus to simply "Ganus" about 1840, but that's about as bad as anything I have on him and that's not bad at all.  I couldn't help but think of the many many times that people mispronounced my last name of Ganus when I was growing up.  I actually even had someone correct me on the pronunciation once when I was about 15 years old.  I remember standing there dumbfounded and wondering what they were thinking when they corrected me and if they had thought about the fact that it was MY name. Is it possible that James shortened his name of Gurganus simply for convenience?   I've also wondered if James was trying to distance himself from family troubles given that he moved about the same time that he shortened his name.  There always seems to be so many questions.
Notice close proximity of Bibb and Monroe Counties
James next moved to Fayette county.

I first found James Gurganus listed among the unclaimed letters in "The Macon Messenger," on  April 1st, 1827.  Macon was in Bibb County and that placed him very close to where I had hoped to find him since his son, John Monroe Ganus, had always claimed to have been born in neighboring Monroe County in 1826.  While James can not be found on the 1830 census for either Monroe or Bibb County,  in 1832  James drew land in the Land Lottery from Justice, Bibb County, Georgia alongside his father David Gurganus.  In 1834, both James Gurganus and David Gurganus paid taxes on their lottery land, this time in Captain Ross's District of Monroe County.  In 1840 James was listed on the Fayette County, Georgia Federal Census and in 1841 he paid taxes on that same piece of lottery property while living in Fayette County. From 1840 on, I find James going by simply James Ganus in the census records and tax digests until the end of his life.  While apparently the way that he said "Ganus" remained consistent, certainly the spelling did not and I find him in the 1841 Fayette County Tax Digest as James Gaynos and on the DeKalb Agricultural Census in 1850 as James Gainus.  It was not unusual to have such variation in name spelling back then, nor was it bad.  

I have looked for James in court records hoping to find him on a road crew or a jury, both duties typically assumed by men in that place and time, but I have not found him listed once.  While I have stacks of deeds for his siblings and  for his children, I have never found him on a single deed.  I know that individuals kept their own deeds and that it was up to them to file them, but I find it hard to believe that he did not do that even once during his lifetime. I have checked every name variation and spelling imaginable and enlarged my search to neighboring counties, all to no avail.

It's also been difficult to determine who James's friends were as I have not been able to find him on other people's deeds or as a witness in wills.  From one census to another, he is living among completely different people each time, which has also made it hard to know just who he associated with over the course of his life.

James's son, John Monroe Ganus, did indicate on several different church membership records that his parents were James Ganus and Elizabeth McCluskey, so I do know that James married Elizabeth although no marriage records has been found.  I do know from census records that James and Elizabeth (Betsy)  had ten children that lived, but there are some significant gaps that make me think that there were children that did not survive.  Mary, John Monroe, Margaret, David, Rebecca, William Jackson, James W., Calloway, Martha Elizabeth and Addison R. all are found on census records with their parents, James and Elizabeth Ganus.

On the 1870 census James was shown living with his daughter and oldest known child, Mary and her husband Burton W. Cook in Fayette County, but by 1880, he is nowhere to be found. The last piece of evidence that I have for James is from 1871 when he served as a witness for his son-in-law, Burton W. Cook, when Burton claimed civil war damages in an effort to gain compensation from the Federal Government. On the document, it indicates that James was living in East Point, Fulton County, Georgia.  I have not been able to find a will, probate or even a headstone for James



As I have written this, I have realized that I probably do have more than I thought on James, but truthfully it pales in comparison to what I have been able to find on his parents and siblings.  I just lack the detail that would help me know something about who James really was and what he really did in his life.  I know approximately when James was born, which was  about 1798 in North Carolina, and I know about when he died, which would have been sometime after 1871 but before 1880.  So while I know a little (and very little at that) about his beginnings and even less about his end,  I know next to nothing about what he did  in-between.  However I've found nothing that would lead me to believe that he was the biggest or the baddest of his family.  If indeed he did purposely fly under the radar, he apparently was really really good at it.