Georgia on My Mind
Updated: Dec 24, 2021
I'd been planning my visit to Georgia for several months following the publication of Spitting Image last November. I expected to do it much sooner, but I wanted enjoy our new granddaughters for a while and see how much could be done to make travel as safe as possible before flying out again. Last week, I am thrilled to report, I enjoyed a memorable, productive and very relaxing trip back to our ancestral homes of Bulloch and Laurens Counties.
In 2015 with an incredible cadre of helpers, loving friends and family I was able to identify my biological parents, cousins and ancestors. In 2017 I visited Laurens County, Georgia, the birthplace of my father where I attended our Louisa Harvard Family Reunion (my 2nd great grandmother). In the ensuing years through DNA analysis and obsessive research building on a trove of treasures established by my cousin Frances Stephens, I began to reveal even older secrets - the white owners and progenitors of our black ancestors and ourselves. DNA results corrected and clarified our Lowther branch proving that the father of my great grandfather William Lowther was John Lowther (originally of Bulloch County) who was the son of John Lowther Sr. and Mary Hagan. On my first trip to Dublin I was not aware of this connection. I had only seen pictures of John's headstone at the Old Dublin cemetery, but I had not visited it personally. This time, my mission was to experience the culture and climes of Statesboro before heading to Dublin to pay respects to our departed ancestors there as well. I also wanted to share my version of our story Spitting Image with libraries, friends and extended family members. I achieved all that and more than I expected.
Hamilton Place - Statesboro
This time I began my trip by flying into Savannah and driving about 1 hour to Statesboro. My biggest regret of this trip is not being able to spend more time in beautiful Savannah. Next time I'll be sure to add a couple of nights just for that purpose. It was cotton-harvesting time as I drove past the expansive fields of thorny white puffs conflicted by images of a past which belied the present beauty and tranquility. The mist rising from large ponds and fragrant crops accompanied me the last few miles until I arrived in Statesboro about 20 minutes later than planned. The historic Hamilton Place was already filled with smiles and warmth of many who assembled to welcome me. Ms. Lillian Wingate and Ms. Lynda Hamilton arranged a meet-and-greet with book signing, and it was an unforgettable evening. When one imagines southern hospitality and genteel company with a generous sprinkle of dry humor and quit wit, one pictures Ms. Lynda and her historic home. Beautifully appointed with antique furnishings, everything about the home set on quiet acres with a nanny goat, roosters, bunnies and assorted cuddly critters transported me quite unexpectedly to a place of comfort and clarity not possible by reading or hearing. Only by being there in person can one truly appreciate the cumulative effect of the experience.
The next day was spent entirely at the Statesboro Bulloch County Library where Ms. Wingate showed me a phenomenal collection of historic loose papers by family name and a couple of indexes that listed so many related family names that I will have to buy a copy to continue connecting the dots. The organization and flow of the Family Heritage section is nothing short of genius.
The third day of my journey began with a quick breakfast and an hour's drive west to the city of Dublin in neighboring Laurens County. My 2nd great grandfather John Lowther who was born in Bulloch County resettled in Laurens and is buried at the Old Dublin City Cemetery where many early settlers including colonial army veterans are laid to rest. The oldest known cemetery in Dublin dates as far back as 1811, and some of the huge trees standing may be at least that old. I walked the banks of Rocky Creek off Highway 26 where my ancestor and owner of my 2nd great grandmother Louisa built the first Laurens Hill Baptist Church. Pastor Greg Jones and I speculated on the exact location of the baptismal which precipitated the location of that site for the church. I also visited the the Harvard Family Cemetery which is completely obscured from view by dense foliage as is the Laurens Hill Church Cemetery where enslaved ancestors and some of their descendants are buried. I'll save some very exciting news on that front for another post.
The highlights of this year's Dublin trip were surely the Family Heritage Room and help from Ms. Christina Trotter, Ms. Cindy Wells, and my newly-discovered cousin Ms. Shan Blackshear! The Knowledge Information Center (KIC) scanning system they have, combined with the extensive collection of loose historical papers (original wills, letters, receipts, etc.) is incredible! They had things which I thought could only be found by driving all over town, climbing stairs, digging through boxes and standing in line at court houses. Ms. Wells did so much research on my behalf before I arrived and everyone was so helpful in showing me how to use the scanner, that I was able to be much more focused and productive in my hands-on research once I arrived in person. I learned more than I ever though possible in a relatively short visit. I thought my 2nd great grandfather only had about 10-15 slaves as that's all I've ever found in the schedules of 1850, however, the estate of his wife Mary proved that they owned over 1,000 acres. There must have been many more than 10 slaves managing that much farm land. I also read an entire account of the disputed disposition of Mary's estate by her children - her daughter suing her brothers to stop them from squandering her inheritance as well as theirs. I really got to know these people a little better as a result of this trip and that could not have happened any other way. I have so much more to share later, but I'll wrap this post up with a very positive recommendation for a great restaurant - the Company Supply Rotisserie Bistro. I was really famished for something great after a very long day of research and scanning at the library. Ms. Trotter recommended the restaurant where I ordered the étouffée, and I almost cried it was so good! I had to go back the next day for the shrimp and grits which was also fantastic 'though Huck Finn's of New Orleans still takes top honors for that dish in my book. I digress, but I must share this recipe with you. If you love shrimp and grits, this is the best version I have ever had.
I look forward to coming back home many times in the future. I offer heartfelt thanks to everyone I met on this trip. They say you can never go home again....unless you keep home within you. I take it everywhere I go.