Showing posts with label Gurganus Mary Ellen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gurganus Mary Ellen. Show all posts

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

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