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June 1, 2008

Brief History of Historic Sylvester Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia

Writing a history of Historic Sylvester Cemetery has proven quite difficult because of a marked lack of written records. The history of the cemetery is also entwined with the history of Sylvester Baptist Church, which was directly across the street from the cemetery and it would be impossible to write about one without discussing the other.

Our story begins at about 1834-1835 when Thomas Simmons was granted a parcel of land by the Georgia State Assembly: Land Lot 174, covering 202 ½ acres in the 15th District of DeKalb County. Mr. Simmons, his wife (name unknown) and their son Stephen came to the area from South Carolina. Stephen had been born there in 1834. Mr. Simmons erected a saw mill and a grist mill over Sugar Creek which flows into the South River. Today Interstate Route 20 runs through part of the area that was the Simmons farm. The mills are said to have been the first in this area and provided much of the lumber in constructing the village of Atlanta, then known as Marthasville. In 1836 or 1837, Mrs. Simmons took seriously ill and Thomas heard about a widow in Lawrenceville named Elenor Terry, who was skilled in practical nursing. He hired her to care for his wife and young son while he tended to his farm and mills. Eleanor put two of her children in the care of relatives and moved to the Simmons farm to care for the Simmons family. Unfortunately, Mrs. Simmons passed away within a year or so. During that time, Mrs. Terry’s eldest daughter Nancy, born in 1820, wedded James “Spanish Jim” Brown. They settled close by the Simmons farm and became the first settlers of the area now known as East Atlanta. The Browns are considered by many to be the founders of East Atlanta.

"Spanish Jim" and Nancy Brown had their first child (Elenor R.M. Brown), likely named after it’s maternal grandmother Elenor Terry, on July 18, 1837. Sadly the baby lived only about a year and died in October, 1838. The couple chose a spot on a hill overlooking Sugar Creek as a fitting place of burial. The gravestone is still clearly legible to this day. We believe that this burial was near the grave of the first Mrs. Simmons and was the beginning of what was to be known as the Terry Family Cemetery.

Meanwhile, Eleanor and Thomas grew to like and respect one another and subsequently decided to unite in marriage. The wedding took place sometime before 1839. Their happiness and contentment lasted but a few short years when he passed away in early 1842. According to family lore, he too was laid to rest alongside the previous burials, however no engraved stone was placed there. The ownership of the farm and mills then passed to his wife, Elenor Terry Simmons, who was about thirty seven years of age at that time. Since the Simmons boy, Stephen, was still only seven or eight years of age, Elenor’s son Thomas from her first marriage, now age eighteen or nineteen, took over the operation of the farm for his mother and she ran he mills.

Thomas Terry was born in Lawrenceville, Georgia on August 28, 1823. He is believed to have married about the year 1849, when he was twenty six or twenty seven years of age. Thomas Terry's wife, an important figure in our story, was seventeen year old Mary Jane Thurman, daughter of James C. and Anna Adair Thurman. The Terry couple had six children, the 4th of whom was Sylvester J. Terry, born September 23, 1856. Tragedy again visited the Terry family when Thomas was murdered on a downtown street in Atlanta in August, 1861. This left his wife to run the farm while caring for a two month old baby and five other children, the eldest of whom was Ellen, aged ten. Mrs. Terry’s misfortunes continued when her fifteen year old son Sylvester suddenly took ill one day while out working in the fields. She put him to bed, nursed him as well as she could and sent for the local country doctor. Sylvester’s condition grew steadily worse and he died the next day, on March 27, 1872, of an unknown ailment.

To support her family over the years, Mrs. Mary Jane Terry was forced to lease and sell parcels of her land. An opportunity arose in 1873, when a group known as the Methodist Episcopal Church-South approached Mrs. Terry and inquired about purchasing a parcel of land to build a place of worship. She agreed to the sale of one acre, for a modest amount, provided that the church be named after her son Sylvester, whose recent death was still a painful memory. The group erected a one story building and called it the Sylvester Meeting House.

The East Atlanta area continued to grow and prosper and the need for a community cemetery became more evident. A prominent businessman and local resident, John William McWilliams, stepped forward and inquired whether Mrs. Terry would sell him some land for that purpose. The property was adjacent to the old Terry Family burial plot and the deed was conveyed on January 27, 1876 for the grand sum of $118.00. Court documents describe it as being "seven acres, three rods and two perches". Mr. McWilliams had his land surveyed and divided up into 20 X 30 foot grave lots. Mr. McWilliams gave lots to everyone in his extended family and then sold the remaining lots to friends, neighbors and residents of the East Atlanta community. Naturally this parcel became known on tax maps as the McWilliams Cemetery. However, the Terry and McWilliams cemeteries and the Warren Family's section on the south side of what is now known as Braeburn Circle have been commonly known in the community since the 1870’s as Sylvester Cemetery. Later Mr. McWilliams bought additional land abutting the cemetery where Braeburn Circle is now situated. It is believed that Josephine Avenue which runs along the eastern perimeter of the cemetery was named for his wife Josephine Brown McWilliams.

In early 1883, the Methodist group disbanded, but another group known the Missionary Baptist Church purchased the property. In October 1883, the group wrote Articles of Confederation and, since young Sylvester Terry had been buried very close to where the church building then sat, the group voted to follow tradition and adopt the name Sylvester Baptist Church as fitting and proper. In 1887, a new and much larger church was built across the street. According to a newspaper article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution dated July 17, 1887, the church was a two story wooden structure, white with a pale blue ceiling and seating 300 persons. There was a large belfry with a good sized bell within. The story lauded the church as simple in its beauty and beautiful in its simplicity. The entire building cost an impressive $1,000. The land on which the old meeting house stood was annexed back to the Terry family parcel per stipulation in the deed. Sometime in the 1930’s the heirs of Mrs. Terry sold another parcel, 1½ acres in size on the south side of Braeburn Circle. The purchaser was the Warren family who also subdivided the parcel into grave lots. Several more acres were added to the McWilliams and Terry cemetery parcels, possibly when the neighboring streets, particularly Clifton Road, were surveyed and laid out in the 1940’s. The total land amounted to a little over 13 acres.

Today more than 1,400 persons are laid to rest at the Sylvester Cemetery. Of these, approximately 250 persons, including many children, do not have an engraved marker. Interred here are fifteen veterans from the Civil War, two from the Spanish American War, and about fifty others from the 1st and 2nd World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Also interred at Sylvester are several doctors, ministers and at least four law enforcement officers, including Jake Hall, a former Sheriff of DeKalb County, along with his wife Annie Hall, who was the county jailer. Perhaps the most well known figure buried here is Fiddlin’ John Carson, who is widely considered to be the Father of Country and Western Music. He was the first to cut a country music record, first to cut an entire album, first to have his own radio program (in 1923), and the first to travel widely giving country music performances. He was elected to the Georgia Country-Western Hall of Fame in 1984.

Today Sylvester Cemetery is being restored and maintained by the Sylvester Cemetery Foundation after generations of neglect and being almost totally abandoned in the 1970’s. With the support of family, friends, and neighbors in the East Atlanta community, the foundation hopes to be able to maintain and preserve the rich heritage and absorbing history that has come down to us. An archive has been created containing death notices, obituaries, death certificates, deeds, newspaper articles, photographs and maps documenting the history of the cemetery and the lives of the families interred here. There is also a website (www.sylvestercemetery.org) featuring local history and current news items about the cemetery. Numerous photographs, old and new, have been added to the cemetery web pages. They can be visited at www.sylvestercemetery.org. It is hoped that you will enjoy visiting Historic Sylvester Cemetery in East Atlanta and you will tell your friends about the work being done here.

We are totally reliant on volunteers to do the work and on contributions of money from our supporters to sustain our efforts. Please assist us by making a tax deductible contribution and mailing it to P. O. Box 17555, Atlanta, Ga. 30316. Thank You.

Sylvester Cemetery Foundation

Dennis J. Taylor, President
Jerry D. Semprevio, Recording Secretary and Web Master
Larry F. Johnson Vice President & Co-Treasurer
Mary Frances Banks, Co-Treasurer

The following story was first published in the Atlanta Historical
Bulletin by the Atlanta Historical Society in November 1936.

The Murder of Thomas Terry

A sensational crime of the summer of 1861, that occurred in Atlanta during the period of rejoicing that followed the first battle of Manassas.

By Wilbur G. Kurtz

Thomas Terry Gravestone

In the early days of August, 1861, an appalling murder was committed in broad daylight near the corner of Bell and Decatur Streets in Atlanta. The absence of all reasonable motive or extenuating circumstance----the presence of nothing but brutal stupidity and savagery, so aroused the citizenry of the town, that, but for sane and persuasive counsel from the law-abiding element, a lynching was narrowly averted. The slain man was Thomas Terry, of the celebrated war-time Terry’s Mill southeast of Atlanta; the murderers were John and James Wilson, father and son, who dwelt between the mill and the city.

The story has its beginning in Gwinnett County-notable for bearing the name of a man whose signature rates the highest monetary figure in the nation-a county, whose Seat of Justice contains four patches, deeded to private parties to have and to hold in fee simple, for the mere obligation of maintaining the court-house fence!

It was in this county, and near the shire-town, Lawrenceville, that Thomas Terry was born, August 28th, 1823.There were two other children-Nancy (Mrs. James Brown-September 7, 1820-August 22, 1889) and Elizabeth (Mrs. Cudd: died in Walker County, Georgia) The father of these children lies in an unmarked grave in Liberty Churchyard, near Lawrenceville. Eleanor, the widow, and mother of three, managed to keep her family together by services as a practical nurse. About the year 1837, she was called to nurse a Mrs. Thomas Simmons, in DeKalb County, south-west of Decatur, leaving her three children in the care of relatives.

The place to which Mrs. Terry went was a locality known as Simmons’ Mill-Land Lot 174 of the 15th District, Dekalb County. Thomas Simmons had here erected a saw and grist mill-two separate buildings, at the foot of a large mill-pond, the dam of which impounded the waters of Sugar Creek. Mrs. Terry was called to nurse Mrs. Simmons in what proved to be her last illness. Some while later, Mr. Simmons and Mrs. Terry were married, and the three Terry children took residence under the roof of their step-father’s house, near the mill. Mr. Simmons, by his first wife, had a son Stephen, who was born in South Carolina in 1834-died 1896. Stephen was the father of Jerome Simmons-1857-1915.

Mr. J.W.McWilliams, of East Atlanta-whose wife was a daughter of Mr. & Mrs. James Brown, recalls that those who told him of these events, stated that Simmons’ death immediately ante-dated the burning of the Dekalb County court-house, which conflagration was in 1842, and that the destruction of the records, hampered the settlement of the Simmons’ estate. Be that as it may, Mrs. Eleanor Terry Simmons became the owner of the mill property. Thomas Simmons was buried on a wooded hill south of the house, in a private burial plot-the first grave in what is now Sylvester cemetery.

Tom was nineteen in 1842, and likely enough, was active in the management of the mill and farm. A description of the house and mill, together with designations of the ancient sites of the same are necessary to a proper understanding of the story-the locations given in terms of modern land-marks. Sylvester Church, a white frame rural sanctuary, dominates the hill-top, overlooking to the northward, the valley of Sugar Creek. Southward is the Flat Shoals road, and leading therefrom is a by-road up to the Church. Northwest of the Church, on the hill, is Sylvester Cemetery, a burial place, as we have seen, that dates back to 1841.

Down hill, northward of the cemetery, is a spot thick with undergrowth and rank weeds-the peculiar mark of a house-site; a few loose stones remain. This was where Thomas Simmons lived, and where Tom Terry’s children were born. It was a story and half frame house, facing south. A shed roofed kitchen and dining-room joined on the north, and close by was a smoke-house. Northward, down the slope, a spring issued from the hill, covered by a frame spring-house. West of the house, a road descended the hill, passed between the smoke-house and the spring--crossed a small branch tributary to the creek, somewhat overflowed by back-water from the pond. This road was the old route to Atlanta, joining the Flat Shoals road at the McPherson Avenue intersection. The mill was downstream, or east of the house. The dam extended across a narrow valley, which confined the water within precipitous banks, but up toward Glenwood Avenue the valley widened, and quite an expanse of water met the eye—in fact it was more of a lake than a pond, being fully a half mile long, which in fact greatly disturbed General W.H.T.Walker when he found it an unexpected obstacle in his advance to the battlefield of July 22nd, 1864.

Below the dam stood two structures—a grist mill to the north—a saw mill to the south. The latter consisted of that amazing contrivance known as a sash saw, which seems to be the last word in minimum efficiency coupled with maximum effort. The old mill road—gouged out by the “snaking” of logs, is still visible, ascending the hill southward, where it joins one that passes the church.

The DeKalb County census for 1850, shows Tom Terry as married, his wife being Mary Jane Thurman, age seventeen, daughter of James Thurman, who resided on the road between Decatur and Ousley Chapel. Six children were born to the Terrys. Ellen M. (Mrs. Frank L. Guess)(March 3d,1851-July19th, 1880); Tom Jr.(grave not inscribed, at Sylvester),William M. (Sept.22d, 1854 -Jan.25th,1926); Sylvester J.(Sept.23d,1856-March 27th,1872); Newton Harrison (Dec.25th, 1856-March 19,1923); and Jasper (June 17th,1861-June 27th,1863).

In 1859,Tom employed a certain Walton or “Watt” Wilson to work for him at the mill, and gave him a house to live in, nearby. Wilson had a wife and, at least, two children. When the war broke out, Walton decided to enlist. Terry assured him that if he went, his family could continue to dwell on the place, and would be amply provided for. Walton joined Captain G.T. Foreacre’s company of the Seventh Georgia Regiment, which was sent to Virginia.

Relatives of Walton Wilson lived over in a neighborhood bounded by Kirkwood Avenue, Stovall, Fair, and Delta. One of these was James Wilson-cousin of Walton’s. James’ father, John, dwelt with or near him. James had a brother Austin, and a sister-not named in the accounts.

It seems that James Wilson-about 1859-placed his children in a private school taught by one of Tom Terry’s relatives (possibly a sister), but failed to pay the forthcoming fees. When Tom, acting as agent, urged payment, James Wilson became infuriated, and not only made violent threats against Tom, but went over to his house with a pistol in his pocket, bent on murder, but Stephen Simmons saw the gun and warned his step-brother of the impending danger. Tom seized a wagon-spoke and bade James begone and cease from troubling. Thereafter, James felt himself cheated of his cherished revenge, and apparently did not care who knew about it. In fact, the entire Wilson contingent over Fair Street way, sought to undermine the amicable relations between the Walton Wilsons and Terry.

When Walton went to the war, the jam’s and John Wilsons redoubled their efforts to get Mrs. Walton to leave the Terry farm, but Mrs. Wilson would not listen to them, declaring she had been left under Terry’ protection, and was being well provided for-something the Wilsons would not have offered.

Sometime after Walton had gone to the front, his wife began getting letters from him; they were sent in care of Tom Terry. One day when the elder son of Walton was en route home from Atlanta with a letter from his soldier- father to his mother, the vengeful busybody, James Wilson, stopped him-took the letter-opened it and read it. On reaching home, the boy handed the letter to his mother, who was doing the family washing at the spring. Terry, in passing, was informed of the opening of the letter by James Wilson, and stated that he didn’t want anyone opening letters sent in his care, and would she please tell James Wilson to mind his own affairs. Just then the talk about the letter was interrupted by the doings of two little boys who had been playing about the spring-house; little Johnny Wilson, the four year old son of Walton, and one of Tom’s youngsters-Sylvester, for a guess, since his age approximated Johnny’s-had climbed to the roof of the spring-house, and the jars of milk and butter within were not benefiting thereby. Tom called to them to get down at once, hinting that bodily chastisement would ensue if they didn’t; they heeded him not, and he advanced toward them. Johnny jumped-landing in the mud; Sylvester was lifted down and properly spanked by his father- a very ordinary episode in those days, now rapidly becoming obsolete. Terry then assisted Johnny out of the mud-shaking his arm slightly and promising him a spanking too, if he didn’t behave. The incident was immediately forgotten by all persons present-except Johnny. He had been promised something that Sylvester had gotten, and whether he wanted to be spanked, or not, is immaterial; he had seen his palmate thus singularly “honored”, and had taken a vicarious thrill thereat.

This “battle of the spring-house” was very nearly coincident with the great battle of Manassas, in Virginia-July 21, 1861.A few days later, Mrs. Walton Wilson, with the unspanked Johnny, went to Atlanta, stopping en route at the house of the Wilsons, to give James the message from Terry about the opening of the letter. Johnny saw one of the girls (probably James’ sister) down at the spring among the wash-pots and tubs, and this setting recalled to his childish mind his recent adventure at the Terry spring. Running up to the girl, he, with a mixture of infantile pride and mendacity, informed her that Tom Terry had whipped him! This was an unexpected dish for the tribe of Wilson-served with all the garnishing of which a juvenile mind and mature malice were capable. The clothes could wait; this bit of refreshment must be devoured by all. To the house, then, and let all partake! Mrs. Wilson hotly denied that anything remotely resembling what Johnny had said, had happened; Johnny had not been whipped-Terry had spanked his own son. In fact, Mrs. Wilson spent the afternoon and evening denying the story, for, as each one of the Wilson clan dropped in, the tempest in the Wilson tea-pot would boil over again, and Mrs. Walton’s reiterated assurances of kind treatment at the Terry’s all went for nothing. The Wilsons rung all the changes on “Tom Terry ain’t gonna whip Watt’s boy, and him in the army fightin’ for his country,” and before bedtime it was found that the honor of the Wilson family had been so badly impugned that they were willing to sacrifice the entire Terry family to vindicate the one and only member of their tribe who had joined the colors!

Nor was the ancient grudge overlooked-the one about the school money. Thereafter, John and James, father and son, haunted Flat Shoals road and Decatur Street, hoping to meet Terry and take what they proudly called their revenge. And they were not secretive about it; the two of them, preserving their vindictiveness in alcohol, went about telling the world that Tom Terry was going to get all he deserved and a lot more beside! It got to be common gossip in Decatur Street; everybody seems to have been apprised of the lofty purpose to which this father and son had dedicated their lives.

Saturday, the third day of August, 1861, found Terry in his garden transplanting potato slops. The sun had risen from behind Stone Mountain, and glittered all day in the big mill-pond. Lengthening afternoon shadows warned Tom if he were going to town, he’d better start. The faithful mule was led forth, bridled and saddled; one of the stirrup straps had broken; Terry hung the metal stirrup on the saddle-horn, and clad in the same clothes he he had worn all day, he mounted and pointed the mule’s nose townward.

Flat Shoals road is still on the map, but part of its ancient course is called Wylie Street. Dwelling on this road-near the southeast corner of Wylie and Pearl Streets, was Tom’s sister Nancy, (Mrs. James Brown).Tom never failed to stop and speak with Nancy, en route to town; this time, Nancy urged him to go back home, stating that the Wilsons, who, as we have seen, lived in the vicinity, had been increasingly violent in their threats. But Tom, conscious of no offense against them, refused to be dissuaded, and pursued his way townward. Crossing the Georgia Railroad track at the foot of Waddell Street, Tom turned into Decatur Street, towards five points. (Today his route would have taken him by way of Flat Shoals Road along Wylie Street through Reynoldstown, across the railroad tracks at Cabbagetown and onto Decatur Street near the present site of Grady Homes.)

Nearly midway the block, on the north side of Decatur Street, at old number 256-west of Bell Street, stood the residence and shop of W.A. Kennedy, Boot and Shoemaker. Kennedy’s shop was the front room of his dwelling, where a large open window allowed him to keep one eye on the passing world, as all cobblers from Aleppo to Zante are wont to do. Kennedy could not only stick to his last, but could meet his public half-way in the matter of service and gossip. On this particular afternoon, he was much elated at a letter he had just received from his son who had passed unscathed through the fiery ordeal at Manassas; more than one passer-by had been hailed and bidden to pause at the window to hear the latest news from the front.

With Kennedy in the shop sat William Cowan, a neighbor. Cowan was tinkering with a shotpouch that needed mending. About 5 p.m. along came Terry, astride his mule; abreast of the shop, he saw Cowan and asked him if he had turned shoemaker. Kennedy called out to Terry to alight and hear a letter just received from his soldier-son in Virginia-all about the big battle. Terry pleaded haste, but because Walton Wilson and the Seventh Georgia had been in the battle, here was possible news for Mrs. Wilson. The mule was tied to a post, and Terry stepped to the window, where Daniel McDuffie was already standing. The well-thumbed letter was produced from the drawer, and was up for, at least a third reading--all about Captain Foreacre and Col.Gartell, the assault on the Federal guns by Bartow’s brigade-the heroic death of Bartow, who was there "to illustrate Georgia".

While opening the letter, Kennedy saw John and James Wilson pass the window; both were apparently somewhat muddled. They wandered on toward Bell Street, McDuffie walking with them. At the corner, John asked who was that at the window; James said it was Terry. Father and son retraced their steps; McDuffie went on. Jerome Beers, coming from town, stopped alongside Terry; the Wilsons joined them, and all four listened, while the cobbler, standing inside the window, read the letter.

Cowan broke the ensuing silence with a proposal to Terry to trade saddles, and emerging from the shop, the two men stepped into the street. No trade agreed to, Cowan went toward his house across the street; Terry turned toward his mule, and prepared to mount, when John Wilson, goggling at him from the window, announced that he wanted “to see him” at the same time moving toward the open space of the street. Terry removed the stirrup from the saddle-horn and remarked that he was ready to be seen, but desired no trouble. John then lurched forward, senile rage oozing from his unshaven countenance, and recriminating epithets issued from his contorted lips.

A savage blow with his fist landed just above Terry’s right eye. A split second later, the iron stirrup swung in a short half circle and caught the aggressor a glancing blow on the left side of his head. Landing with audible impact on the left shoulder, producing a stream of blood and oaths. Here John entered the lists-from behind. Grasping a heavy champagne bottle, full of liquid courage he had been imbibing (not of the grape, but of the more potent rye), he struck Terry on the left side of his head, just above the ear. This felled Tom to earth, whereupon John leaped upon the prostrate form, and with imbecile ferocity, beat him about the face with his fists. Kennedy made the street in a couple of jumps, and dragged the old man to his feet, and told James to take him away, which James proceeded to do, albeit with great difficulty.

Terry got to his feet and assisted by Kennedy, staggered to the door-step and sat down; Cowan had gone for a doctor. The Wilsons had made off out Decatur Street, where from Nace’s mill came the uplifted voice of the elder Wilson, in a fresh burst of baffled rage. Tom, hearing this, got to his feet and attempted to remove his coat, declaring that he could whip them yet; then spoke of how he had been threatened and waylaid for some time.Jkennedy gave him a drink of water, then placed him in a chairout of the sunshine; Terry’s remarks became more incoherent-the last lucid one being: “I want to go home.”

Cowan failed to find Dr. Beach, but found Dr. Joshua Gilbert, who proceeded to administer first aid. While clipping Tom’s hair, a third assault from the Wilson clan was made; Austin Wilson, James’ brother, hearing of the affair, reached the scene, his hands full of rocks, and swearing he would finish Terry, then and there. But Austin reckoned not with Joshua Gilbert; that luminary of the medical profession of Atlanta was no man to trifle with. A long left arm shot forward and a bony fist caught Austin Wilson right on the button. His look as he went down was one of supreme amazement. Josh paused long enough to plant a heavy foot on Austin’s neck, and admonish him to remain quiet, or lose what was left of his countenance!

Doctors Beach and Brown soon arrived; Tom’s skull had been fractured by the heavy bottle; the combined efforts of the three physicians, availed nothing. Terry was placed on a mattress on Kennedy’s porch, where, attended by his wife and mother, he died at 2:15 a.m. August 4th, 1861.

Deputy Marshal D.H. Branham and police-officer John C. Branham rounded up the three Wilsons, and before sunset, place them in the County jail at the corner of Fraser and Fair streets. The preliminary hearing was held at the City Hall(now the State Capitol site), by Justices Thomas and Smith, August 6th.John Wilson hadn’t taken the trouble to remove the bloody evidences of the affair from his person; his head was bound up by a white rag, and a dark splotch on the left shoulder of an otherwise soiled shirt, marked the blow from the stirrup. The very sight of the cringing pair-the wild look of hunted animals, and the general unkempt, unshaven aspect of them, inspired no sympathy. The defense attorney Manning produced no witnesses, and the Prosecutor N.J. Hammond, after questioning witnesses, gave the case over without comment. Esquire Thomas then announced that the prisoners, being adjudged guilty of murder, could not take bail, but would be held in jail. A lynching was narrowly averted-some of the agitators declaring that such utterly worthless persons should not be hanged at the County’s expense.

The rest of the story is soon told. The mills of the gods seem to have slipped a cog. Judge Orville A. Bull of the Coweta circuit presided at the trial, and on October 12th, 1861 the jury brought in a verdict of manslaughter in John Wilson’s case, and of murder, in James Wilson’s case. Judge Bull sentenced them several days later-John to the penitentiary, James to be hanged December 13th, 1861.But the Wilsons had rallied valiantly to the supporters of the family honor, and the case went to the Supreme Court at Milledgeville, which promptly affirmed the lower court. Judge bull then resentenced James Wilson to be hanged, Friday, June 6th, 1862. Curiously enough, there was a hanging in Atlanta about that time, but James Wilson was not the victim-it was James J. Andrews, the daring spy and leader of the celebrated Andrews Raiders, who was executed Saturday, June 7th,1862, not at the county jail, but in the woods at the present intersection of Juniper and Third Streets. The “Southern Confederacy” tells all about this affair, but not a line about the execution of James Wilson appears! The answer is: Wilson was not hanged!

In the issue of May 13th, 1862, the “Confederacy” reminds the public that Wilson, sentenced to hang June 6th, had a fair and impartial trial, and that the efforts of his brother (Austin?) to get signatures to petition the Governor to reprieve the doomed man until the next session of the legislature, was an appeal to mawkish sentiment bolstered up by a tissue of lies and allegations that the defense did not nor could not bring forward at the trial. The Jury have decided that it was a deliberate, cold blooded murder. Let him pay the penalty of his crime, and let the outraged laws of God and the State be vindicated.

In the absence of further reports, we can only suppose that somebody in Milledgeville vindicated nothing but the honor of the Wilson family. Sometime during the summer of 1862, the Wilsons were removed to Milledgeville, and were subjected to durance vile until sometime in 1864, when Sherman began to move toward the area. To swell the ranks of youth and age, that were the State Militia, Governor Brown decreed a grand jail-delivery at the Prison-Farm, and these precious soldiers were duly enrolled and marshaled under the aegis of the State flag. We wish we could record that all, courageously, faced the Spencer repeating rifles of Walcutt’s brigade at Griswold station, or elsewhere, in middle Georgia-that two of these militiamen, welcoming an opportunity to offset utterly worthless careers, endeavored to redeem the honor of Georgia and the Wilson family, by standing manfully at their guns-but, on the contrary, we can only report that the Wilsons, father and son, were no sooner out and armed, than they incontinently vanished and have never been heard of since!

As for Walton Wilson-the real honor of the family was vindicated by him on some nameless battlefield in Virginia, and Thomas Terry, aged thirty seven years, eleven months and five days, sleeps besides Mary, his wife, in old Sylvester Cemetery, on the hill-top that overlooks the valley where once glittered the sparkling waters of the big mill-pond.

Reproduced for current publication (using the original phrasing and punctuation) by Dennis J.Taylor, President of the Sylvester Cemetery Foundation.

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