REV. WILKES FLAGG, A REMARKABLE MAN.
Chattanooga News, June 22, 1901
Rev. Wilkes Flagg was born in Virginia
about 1802. Before he was grown he was brought to Milledgeville, Ga., and
there sold to Dr. Tomlinson Fort, who put him to work in a blacksmith shop,
where be became an expert blacksmith, in charge of the shop, with two or
three other smiths and their strikers.
Dr. Fort's children taught Wilkes
to read and write, so that he kept the books of the shop in which were
entered its accounts.
The laws of Georgia at that time
prohibited any owner from freeing a slave except upon condition that the
slave was removed from Georgia and not allowed to return. The law went
further, and said that if any free negro in Georgia went into any free
state and returned to Georgia to reside, he should be enslaved and sold,
the informer to receive one-half of the proceeds of the sale.
Wilkes enlisted the sympathies
of the wife and children of Dr. Fort, who induced Dr. Fort to allow Wilkes
to use the shop, after his ordinary day's work was finished, receive the
proceeds of that kind of labor and in this way buy himself. It resulted
in Wilkes buying himself, then buying his wife Lavinia and their only child
Wilkes, Jr.; then he bought the shop, then he bought a house and, when
the civil ward begun, had about $20,000 in money loaned, and was worth
more that $25,000. On account of the laws above referred to he was compelled
to do business and his money was loaned in the name of Dr. Tomlinson Fort
until shortly before in died, in 1859, then in the name of Dr. George W.
Fort, a son of Dr. Fort, until the close of the civil war.
About 1855 or 1856, Dr. Fort took
Wilkes with him as a servant through several of the free states of the
north, and when he returned a suit was brought to sell Wilkes into slavery
under the statues against free negroes going to the free states and returning
to Georgia. Wilkes had been regarded as a free man of color at that time
for nearly thirty years, and, until the trial of that lawsuit, few people
knew that he was the slave of Dr. Fort. Wilkes was a democrat and yet an
abolitionist. He was a Baptist preacher and, of course, didn't talk abolitionism
from his pulpit, but didn't hesitate to express himself in that way.
When Sherman was about to begin his
march to the sea the Fort family entrusted to Wilkes their silverware and
jewelry for safe keeping. He took it to his home in Milledgeville, buried
it on his own lot in a cow stable, burning the stable to conceal evidence
of the excavation and waited the results. When Sherman reached Milledgeville,
Wilkes, who was the leading colored minister of Milledgeville, found himself
in the hands of the soldiery, robbed of his own, a handsome gold watch,
his house stripped of everything movable that a soldier would have, or
destroy, tied up by the thumbs to be made to reveal where it was thought
that he had hidden valuables entrusted to him and his life was saved by
the accidental knowledge and interference of an officer of the federal
army who came in just in time to cut him down where the soldiers had hung
Wilkes never entirely recovered from
his experience with Sherman's army. But he refused to reveal the place
where he concealed what was entrusted to him, and restored all of it to
those to whom it belonged.
When the war closed Wilkes suffered
as others did. His debtors, many of them, were rendered insolvent by the
war. He collected what he could and soon was conducting his blacksmith
shop and made money rapidly right after the close of the war.
Wilkes firmly believed the hand of
the Lord was in the abolition of slavery and that he was called upon to
abandon all other business except to preach and to lead his people in this
new life of liberty that they were entering upon. No one who knew Wilkes
questioned his sincerity, his unselfishness and blind fanaticism.
He bought a plantation near Milledgeville,
one of the most valuable in that locality, located on it a colony, built
a church in Milledgeville, known as "Flagg's Chapel" and lived long enough
to test abolition and the present free negro, far enough to say that since
he had seen freedom tried he believed that the United States did a grave
injustice to the negro race by setting them free before they had been prepared
for it by a proper education, religious and business. Poor old fellow,
he worked hard and died insolvent, leaving the only home for his widow,
Lavinia, who for fifty years had lived in luxury, an humble home provided
for her by the congregation of "Flagg's Chapel."
Recently his widow, Lavinia, died.
From the Union Recorder, of Milledgeville, I clip the following:
"Lavinia Flagg, widow of Rev. Wilkes
Flagg, died at her home in this city last Wednesday. The funeral services,
held Thursday afternoon at Flagg's Chappel, were largely attended. This
church was named in honor of her husband and was very dear to her, and
she was greatly beloved by the membership. 'Aunt Lavinia' was a good woman
and had many friends in both races. She has gone to her reward after a
kind and useful life of nearly a century."
This closes a family of people of
a class rapidly disappearing.
Wilkes Flagg was a remarkable man,
copper colored, about six feet high, with manners of a Chesterfield. Although
a blacksmith, his early life had been spent waiting upon the table and
he was one of the most accomplished dining room servants in Georgia. From
Governor Wilson Lumpkin to Governor Joseph E. Brown, no governor in Georgia
gave a state dinner at the Mansion unless Wilkes had charge of the dining
room and the table. His language indicated that his associations had polished
as well as educated him. His reputation for honesty, integrity and truthfulness
was as good as any man's. Although he had bought himself, wife and child,
no one ever questioned that he had earned honesty every dollar that he
paid for them. He was respected in the community where he lived and when
he died was honored by them.
I do not recall any negro developed
since the civil warm more highly respected in the community in which he
lived that the Rev. Wilkes Flagg. TOMLINSON FORT.
Eileen Babb McAdams copyright 2004