Monday, August 13, 2012

Revisiting Ephraim Pray

Back in January I wrote this post regarding Ephraim of our earliest settlers.  

After having a few e-mail conversations with Pray's descendant...Joe Phillips...I feel it's time....actually it's a little past time for me to revisit my post and make a few clarifications.  

At the heart of this is something that I wrote about last history....history that might contain embellishments.

Sometimes stories handed down from family member to family member contain details that can't be verified through legal documents such as birth certificates, land deeds or court cases, and newspapers or even old family photographs are nonexistent.

Sometimes the stories become muddled over time.   Details get taken away...other things are added.  The stories are interesting, but we don't know where the facts end and where the fiction begins. 

Some family stories can be eliminated as embellishments because they just don't add up to the puzzle pieces we have, and then other stories...most of them in my opinion...fall into the range of..."We just don't know".

We might hunt for verification, but can't find it.

As  I stated in my post from last week I think family history is a valid resource, but when I use it to write about Douglas County history I should make very clear what is family history and if it has  been validated or not.  

The website for Prays Mill Baptist Church gives a rather detailed history of Ephraim Pray.  Fannie Mae Davis provides similar details in her book Douglas County, Georgia: From Indian Trial to I-20 and Heritage of Douglas County:  1870-2002 published by the Douglas County Genealogy Society is filled with information regarding Ephraim Pray.

The main source of information for these publications were Pray family members, of course...Joe Phillips' father and uncle who heard the stories from their father, but a few years ago Joe began to search to verify the see what could be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt regarding Ephraim Pray's story.

In some instances verification was some instances he came up short, and that's why I want to revisit Ephraim set the story straight as we know it this very minute.  

Of course, a missing puzzle piece could be found tomorrow and then we would need to readjust all over again.

History is a little funny like that, but it's one of the reasons I enjoy it so much.

As I stated in the original post while many of our earliest settlers came from the Carolinas it is said Pray came from up North.  Family history tells us he migrated south from Augusta, Maine, however, there is no verification of this to date and to further muddle the mix there happens to be an Ephraim Pray who owned a plantation in Liberty County, Georgia.

Of course...the Douglas County Pray and the Liberty County Pray are NOT one and the same.

No matter where Pray came from at some point he did arrive in Georgia.

In my original post I mention how he might have traveled to steamship to Savannah and then overland, however again...this is pure conjecture since we don't have ticket stubs, a journal entry or even a newspaper clipping.

Our first real proof of Ephraim Pray living in Georgia involves Greene County.   Joe Phillips is in possession of an account book Pray used to record where he worked and how much his pay happened to be.

We know that Pray built a mill and possibly a bridge for Dr. Thomas Poullian at Scull Shoals.

The account book  also verifies Pray worked for Mr. Shivers at Rock Mill Plantation.

Mr. Phillips advises me the account books also indicate while at Scull Shoals and Rock Mill Pray built churns, bedsteads and a house to make extra money.   Relevant pages of the day books have been sent to the Friends of Scull Shoals and the current owner of the Rock Mill  Plantation for their records.

In my prior post I advised that in 1828, Ephraim Pray arrived via stagecoach in the Campbellton-Fairburn area, and before setting out for his property he bought a slave woman to serve as his cook.

The year is an educated guess more or less it seems, and Mr. Phillips has not been able to verify the purchase of a slave woman, but it is more feasible that Pray would have been in Campbellton as it was a far more established town than Fairburn around that particular time period.

I advised in the next part of the story that Pray met up with the Owl brothers at Bear Creek.  Supposedly Elijah and Ezekiel Owl were two Cherokee brothers who had a grist mill and ran the post office at Fout's Mill, but to date I have found no factual evidence to back up the Owl Brother's existence.  

I'd love's a great story, but so far we have no real proof.  

Joe Phillips advises he has not found anything to document the existence of the Owl Brothers owning Empire Mill.  He also advises Fout's Mill was at one time Crumbie's Mill providing the name of "Crumbie's District."

The next part of the story is where I introduced the mythical Abraham Owl.....

Supposedly Abraham Owl is Elijah and Ezekiel's brother, and he lived on the land Ephraim Pray had purchased.

In her book, Fannie Mae Davis advises Pray "had compassion for the old Indian and told Abraham he would have a home with him until the day he died."  This is what prior members of the Pray family had told her.

Phillips has been unable to find any verification that Abraham Owl and a wife ever lived on the land with Pray and freely admits that the stories consistently told to him by family members was most likely embellished by his grandfather.

We just don't know, and at this point I would have to say that the Owl Brothers....all three of them could be a myth.

Part of my original post dealt with a Baptist minister by the name of Humphrey Posey and the founding of Prays Mill Baptist Church.

Mr. Phillips advises years ago a page from one of Pray's "day books" which was more or less like a journal....was copied by Mr. Winn when he was the Ordinary of Douglas County.

Today the book cannot be found, bu the page Mr. Winn copied referred to the founding of Prays Mill Church, which was shown in early maps as "Pray's Chapel".

The narrative tells of Pastor Posey arriving with his horse ill, and of the weather that day.  He also stated that there was the Jared Smith family, which was buried near the spring, not having the benefit of a Christian burial. 

Mr. Phillips remains on the hunt for the missing daybook. 

During the Civil War, I had advised that Pray worked as a superintendent of a salt peter mine in Montgomery, Alabama, but there is no record of this to date.  The only salt peter mine found so far in Alabama was near Huntsville, and the archives do not have a listing of Pray int he Confederate civil servant index.

I also discussed that towards the end of the Civil War someone burned down Pray's mill hoping to gain favor with the Union soldiers who were advancing on the community.  The sources I had available at the time advised the man was lynched in Montgomery, but Philips has found other information.

Phillips advises the man who burned Pray's Mill was a local "Clinton" man, and he was hanged beside the Dog River in a place where he could see the remains of the mill.  His grave is unmarked, but I'm told the current owners of the property know the location.

We do know that Ephraim Pray served as postmaster of Campbell County during the war.  Phillips has located a copy of the petition for pardon to President Johnson in which Pray states he served as postmaster  and pledges to support the Constitution of the United States on September 21, 1865.  The oath was taken before Rueben Crawford Beavers, Ordinary of Campbell County.  

Images of the pardon are posted below.  You can click on the images to isolate/enlarge them.

I still propose Ephraim Pray was an amazing man, and as I stated in the original post he has the distinction of being a man who lived in three different counties - Carroll, Campbell and Douglas - without having to move even one stick  of furniture due to county boundaries shifting during his lifetime.

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