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

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

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