BRANTLEY COUNTY HISTORICAL AND PRESERVATION SOCIETY,
Many stories have been written about the disappearance of "Confederate Gold." A native of Brantley County, and one who benefited from the Mumford Funds, researched the subject and is convinced that Mumford family involvement in the story is a Brantley County fantasy.
Background: According to Ernest M. Andrews' book, "Georgia's Fabulous Treasure Hords," "Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet were fleeing Richmond on April 2, 1865, and carried with them approximately $500,000 in specie, silver brick and gold ingots. This treasure, which became known as "The Confederate Gold" was entrusted to Captain William H. Parker and his corps for distribution and transportation; $35,000 was given to President Davis for expenses; $39,000 to General Johnson's troops, and the balance of the Confederate treasury plus $200,000 from the banks of Richmond was escorted by locomotive train and wagons to Washington, Georgia. The final resting place for the treasury has created a mystery and local writers have come to believe the Confederate Gold was buried in Brantley County. Others believe that it was buried around Washington, Georgia or between Abbeville, South Carolina and Washington, Georgia, possibly in the Savannah River
One Brantley County author, Mrs. Martha Mizell Puckett in Snow White Sands, states that some of the Gold ended up in the hands of Sylvester Mumford of Waynesville, and eventually in the hands of his daughter, Goertner Mumford Parkhurst. Mrs. Puckett states that her cousin, Judge J. P. Highsmith was a personal lawyer to Mrs. Parkhurst and attended to her every wish. When asked, "what to do with the balance of the Confederate Gold," Judge Highsmith suggested an educational fund be established for the descendants of noble and brave confederate solders of Wayne County, Georgia. This resulted in establishment of three separate Mumford Scholarship Funds; One-third to the Trustees of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church for maintenance and education of white orphan girls; One-third to The Georgia State College for Women; and One-third to the Board of Thornwell Orphanage, located at Clinton, South, Carolina.
Reverend A. Milton McCool, a beloved Baptist preacher in many southeast Georgia churches, including the Hoboken Baptist Church, was once employed by the Sylvester Mumford family as a clerk in their Waynesville mercantile store. Milton McCool was just a young man when first employed by Mr. Mumford, and spend much time with the Mumford family. Rev. McCool states, "whether Mr. Mumford acquired his fortunes through operation of his mercantile store or whether he inherited some estate or money in New York, is not fully known." This one thing known, however, is that during the terrible War between the States, Mr. Mumford lost his entire fortune; whereupon, he returned immediately to New York state where his friends or relatives backed him again. He then came back to Waynesville and began another business which thrived under his management. Most people knew and recognized that he was a man of wealth, but none of them, not even in their wildest dreams, not even his family knew of his fabulous accumulations during his lifetime. Regardless, his daughter inherited his wealth at the time of her death and established the Mumford Scholarship Fund, remembering the children of her homeland.
Mr. Robert L. Hurst, a retired Ware County school teacher also includes a Confederate Gold story in his book, "This Magic Wilderness." He relates that Mr. Lem Johns, a former area researcher suggested that the Confederate Gold disappeared somewhere between Lincolnton, Georgia and Davis's capture at Irwinville (near Fitzgerald and Ocilla). Possibly from the writings of Mrs. Martha Mizell Puckett, it was rumored in Brantley County that a "side-trip" was made by one of President Davis's soldiers to the Mumford estate at Waynesville. Mr. Mumford was sympathetic toward the southern cause and shortly after Davis's capture, Sylvester Mumford journeyed to England for "business reasons." It is further suggested that "If he had the gold it was deposited in the Bank of England." Shortly afterwards, money began arriving from England, perhaps from interest earned to help area citizens "get on their feet again" during the reconstruction years. Goertner Mumford Parkhurst inherited her father's wealth, and at her death established the three scholarship funds.
A Brantley County Fantasy! Research by Wayne J. Lewis revealed additional information about the Confederate Gold story and he calls the Brantley connection a fantasy! Mr. Lewis had a personal interest since he and his three brothers were the first (April 1953) from Brantley County to benefit from the Mumford Funds at Thornwell Orphanage in Clinton,SC. He wanted to know about the Mumford family and, since the Confederate Gold story was part of what he had heard, it became part of the story. He read the "Confederate Gold" story in the Lincolnton, Georgia newspaper in the late 90's, but it didn't mention the Mumfords or Brantley County.
Wayne Jackson Lewis was born in Nahunta on October 2, 1940, the son of Theodore Henry and Myrtis Idell Rowell Lewis. Wayne's father, a Brantley County farmer and school bus driver, died of a heart attack on July 22, 1951 at age 47. Wayne graduated from Thornwell High School in 1958 and Clemson University in 1962. He served on active duty with the U.S. Army for more than five years before resigning. His duty assignments included Fort Benning, GA., West Germany, and Vietnam, and he achieved the rank of Captain. He retired from the United States Postal Service in October 2000. Wayne still has family and friends in Brantley County.
Wayne felt deeply indebted to the Mumfords. "I owed them so much for providing a home in which to live and the opportunity for a college education." He talked to reporters at the Lincolnton, GA newspaper and they provided a list of people that may be able to provide information. He went to Washington, GA (where the "Confederate Gold" ended up) and talked to a number of local historians-- one of whom was a retired history teacher with thirty years service. He also enlisted the assistance of the Mary Willis Library staff in Washington, GA. None of those that he interviewed had heard the story with a Brantley County connection. When the story (with the Brantley connection) was related to them it brought howls of laughter. They were unable to find any mention of the Mumford name in any record. They were able to establish that no "Confederate Gold" went missing and there was no "splitting up" of the Confederate treasury at the end of the war. The Confederacy was bankrupt at the end of the Civil War. In the final days of the war the Confederacy and some Richmond banks shipped their gold south to keep it from falling into the hands of Union forces. The two shipments were on the same train but each had its own security and they were never mixed. It is of interest to note that Jefferson Davis's family was on the train with the gold shipments, but Jefferson Davis himself was not. The Confederate Gold and Confederate treasurer departed Richmond with substantial funds, but made numerous well documented disbursements along the way (primarily to meet military payrolls). When the Confederate treasury arrived in Washington,GA it was down to $43,000 in cash and an incalculable amount of debt. The Confederate funds were stored in a vault at a local bank. A few days after the war ended the Richmond banks decided to ship their funds back to Richmond. It was loaded onto five wagons and started its journey back to Richmond. The wagon train was robbed as it camped the first night. The robbers apparently formed the gang hastily because they didn't have anyway to carry the loot. They stuffed it down their shirts, pants, and boots, etc. Some of it spilled out and made it easy for a posse to follow them. All of the funds were recovered but about $70,000. The funds were transferred to Augusta, GA. Ownership of the funds was tied up in court for twenty eight years. The federal government claimed the funds because the Richmond banks had made loans to the Confederacy - thus aiding a rebellion. The courts eventually agreed and the money was deposited into the United States Treasury.
Mr. Lewis also went through the archives at Thornwell Orphanage, which contained quite a bit of materials including several handwritten letters from Mrs. Parkhurst (of which he made copies). Some of those papers stated that it was the Pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC that helped guide Mrs. Parkhurst in setting up her will. Her Pastor suggested that the President of Thornwell visit Mrs. Parkhurst in DC, which he did, and afterwards (1928) they began corresponding by letter. Parkhurst used a large law firm in Washington, DC to make her will and serve as executor of her estate. Her will was not completed until 1937 at age 90, and she had been living in DC for about forty years at that time.
"I found her letters most interesting and informative", commented Wayne. "There was no reference to the Confederacy or any gold in any of the materials that I examined." The "Confederate Gold" story that is told in Brantley County seems to originate from, and be a fabrication combining the two separate gold shipments and based on the story as told in "Snow White Sands." It is well to remember that "Snow White Sands" was written by someone who was not an eye witness and without footnotes, references or a bibliography. Numerous well documented books have been written on the subject of the Confederate Gold and the A & E Network made a documentary about it. None of these sources reference the Mumfords or Brantley County.
Character of Sylvester Mumford: Mr. Mumford had many charities and never used his name when making donations. Instead, he used the synonym "South Georgia." He was an early supporter of Thornwell Orphanage (founded 1875) as a Presbyterian Home for Children. He was a devout Presbyterian about whom the minister said at his funeral "This Godly man was nearer perfection than any I have known in my long life in the ministry." Mr. Mumford was also an early member of the Audubon Society. This does much to show the type person he was. Mrs. Parkhurst absolutely adored him. When she made donations to Thornwell, she would write "for a needy girl in memory of my wonderful father." Mr. Mumford was a successful businessman in Waynesville before the Civil War and no doubt continued after it was over. As far as Mr. Mumford losing his fortune, he obviously didn't lose his elegant home or surrounding property since he and his wife are buried on it. Mrs.Parkhurst kept the home for many years and had investment property on St. Simons and the surrounding area until shortly before her death.
Mr. Lewis also hired the Washington, DC Historical Society to research Mrs. Parkhurst (Mumford's daughter). He got copies of her death certificate, obituaries from the local papers, her address, and pictures of her residence. Mrs. Parkhurst lived in a luxury condominium which was featured in the book "Best Addresses" describing the best places to live in the Washington area. There were several notable people who resided there including Huey "The Kingfisher" Long of Louisiana and a young Richard Nixon. Wayne also went to the cemetery where Mrs. Parkhurst is buried (in DC) and placed flowers on her grave.
The only gold that went missing was from the robbery of Richmond banks funds. Mr. Lewis commented, "I read "Snow White Sands" in the sixties and talked about it with elderly people who said it was baloney and pointed out a number of things that were wrong and outrageously so. Celestine Sibley knew how to parse words and called the author a "STORYTELLER." She did not call Martha Mizell Puckett a historian or writer of non fiction books. Ms Sibley was a renowned Southern author, journalist and syndicated columnist for the Atlanta Journal/Constitution for over 50 years.
"In conclusion, it is offensive to me that this story survives and particularly that is in the Brantley County History Book, since it is so easily discredited. The Mumfords were a lot better than the Brantley County Confederate Gold story would lead some to believe. I didn't buy a Brantley County History book because the Confederate Gold story is in it," commented Mr. Lewis. He resides in Myrtle Beach, SC.