BRANTLEY COUNTY HISTORICAL AND PRESERVATION SOCIETY,
Using research from creditable sources, such as Rev. A. M. McCool, and area writer, Carr McLemore, Mr. Robert L. Hurst of Waycross brought to life the "Story of Miss Goertner Mumford," in "This Magic Wilderness." The Brantley County Historical and Preservation Society, Inc. gives thanks to Mr. Hurst for approval to re-publish this story of historical significance. We also acknowledge the writings of Rev. A. M. McCool that wrote of friendships and personal relationships with the Mumford family, Mr. Carr McLemore "The Snow White Sands," by Mrs. Martha Mizell Puckett.
Of course, the reader tends to wonder, if a southerner lost his wealth during the Civil War, then, during reconstruction when conditions were chaotic to say the least, how could he possibly re-make the type fortune Mr. Sylvester Mumford reportedly had? What about the time element and conditions? When Mr. Mumford first initiated his merchandise operations in the early 1800s, the need for such a business was there; it matched the pioneer spirit for growth. That growth continued through the plantation period of opulence, only to fall completely after the Civil War. How could this man, then, re-gain such a vast, quick wealth --unless some truth may be found in the following?
According to Ernest M. Andrews' "Georgia's Fabulous Treasure Hoards," Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet, fleeing Richmond on April 2, 1865, carried with them approximately $500,000 in specie, silver brick and gold ingots. The bulk of this treasure was in gold sovereigns obtained as a loan from England. In addition, there was another $200,000.00 in gold from the banks of Richmond...
This balance plus the $200,000 was "escorted by train or wagon train to Washington, Georgia, twice, the final resting place being somewhat of a mystery but believed buried around Washington, Georgia, or between Abbeville, South Carolina, and Washington, Georgia, possibly in the Savannah River."
Suppose here lies the fallacy. Suppose that amount, maybe placed in a false carriage bottom as some have conjectured, traveled further south, almost on the same, if not the same, route as president Davis and his entourage. Suppose prior to his Capture, Davis or one of his men (which is more likely) made a side trip to Waynesville to the Mumford home and transferred this money into Mr. Sylvester's Mumford's care. Could this money be the "nearly million dollars in trust to be used for the benefit of boys and girls of Brantley County?...
Another former area researcher, Lem Johnson, suggests the following: Between Lincolnton, Georgia, and Davis' capture at Irwinville (near Fitzgerald and Ocilla) the Confederate Gold disappeared. It is rumored around Brantley County that a side trip was made by one of Davis' soldiers to the Mumford estate. He supposedly left the gold with Mr. Mumford. Mr. Johnson cites that the possibility of this transaction holds truth because Mr. Mumford was sympathetic toward the Southern cause and because shortly after Davis' capture, it is noted, he journeyed to England for "business reasons." It is further believed that if he had the gold it was deposited because money, perhaps from the interest, from England began arriving to help area citizens "get on their feet again" during the reconstruction years following the Civil War.
Goertner Mumford Parkhurst inherited her father's wealth, and, at her death, the three scholarship funds, totaling a vast amount, were set up.
Since the "Lost Confederate Gold" story has been investigated, another tale has also slipped into the picture; this story is being whispered about the Brantley County-Wayne County area and will be the subject of another feature.
Martha Mizell Puckett wrote a fascinating book entitled "Snow White Sands". Not in print at this time, according to Chris Trowell, a member of the editorial board, this 243 page volume is packed with insights and human interest stories about Southeast Georgia. Celestine Sibley, Atlanta Journal and Constitution writer, wrote that one almost becomes apologetic when that person admits he is reading reminiscences of an old country schoolteacher. However, "for a picture of South Georgia life in the era following the Civil War and up to World War I, 'Snow White Sands' is unbeatable.. rich in detail which should be valuable to future novelists and historians."
One of those "unbeatable" stories told by Mrs. Puckett adds more information about the "Lost Confederate Gold." She relates that a "loving" William (Sylvester) Mumford of Waynesville, Georgia, was with President Jefferson Davis at his last cabinet meeting held in the home of Robert Tooms in Washington, Wilkes county, Georgia. "All the gold of the Confederacy was divided equally among the members of the meeting, and each one was told when they (sic) would leave there, in a few minutes, each member would fend for himself and would use the money as he felt it should be used," tells the former teacher.
Ending their last meeting and the hope of the Confederacy, though they were not sure of this knowledge until Irwinville on down the road, they left Mumford, who better than any of the others, knew this territory. After all, his estate in Waynesville had allowed him access to the entire Southeast section of the state and North Florida. He would now make his way to the coast, connect with a British steamer anchored off shore of Florida and sail for England. His family must have known of his plans, though no mention is made of them at this point.
When Mumford reached England, his first task, according to Mrs. Puckett, was to purchase and send back to Georgia three yards of fine white muslin to every orphan child in Georgia. For those who might question this state, the original writer tells that she knows of one of the foster families who went to Screven (Number 7) to collect their cloth from the train. "Mother said it was used mostly to make shrouds for the loved ones who passed away in all this desolation, devastation and destruction," informs Mrs. Puckett.
Waste was lying everywhere during this tragic time in America history. Even though this section of the country appears not to have been directly touched according to history books, this premise is not accurate. Many of the beautiful homes in Waynesville were plundered and burned, and the Presbyterian Church was stripped of its furnishings. The Brunswick and Western Railroad rails, ripped from the ground, were heated white hot in the crosstie fire heaps and bent around the giant oaks to cool. The destruction of the rails, it is said, "was done by our men trying to keep the roustabout Union soldiers from coming up from Brunswick, Georgia, to ravish, plunder, burn and destroy the rich South basin of the Great Satilla River, but it did not stop them," continues the author.
The Yankees walked up the road bed of the B and W, swimming all the deep salt-water creeks where the men had ripped up the tracks and burned the bridges. "They were met at Waynesville by Wayne citizens of over 70 and our boys under 14 (All between were with Lee in Virginia.)." narrates the storyteller, "and a terrible battle was fought, as the beautiful monument placed on the site by our beloved 'Daughters of the Confederacy' will attest."
Inscribed on the obelisk, which is a stark white in the midst of a heavily wooded area, is "Erected 1906 To Our Confederate Dead. U.D.C. 1861-1865."
"Mumford also sent to South America to get enough seed corn, by way of Great Britain, to replant the whole State of Georgia," Mrs. Puckett claims. "He also built an industrial home at Macon for the orphans of Georgia. He gave a great deal of help to Thornwell, a Presbyterian home for orphans at Clinton, South Carolina."
The area educator/historian states that she does not know whether or not Mr. Mumford ever returned to his Georgia plantation "there was a price on his head, and complete amnesty was not given until 1898 when General Joseph Wheeler was needed so badly to lead the cavalry in Cuba in the war with Spain."
Mr. Mumford's daughter, Gertrude, went to New York City where some of the gold found its way to her hands, says Mrs. Puckett, adding, "She invested and reaped well." Judge J. P. Highsmith, who was her personal lawyer, was asked by her about what she should do with the remainder of the "Confederate Gold." She wanted it back in the hands of the people to whom it belonged. Judge Highsmith suggested the educational fund for the descendants of the Confederate soldiers in Wayne (now Brantley) County; "Miss Gertrude" set up this trust for the students in Brantley, but it has expanded because more interest was derived than could be used. A 1971 report points out that the so-called "Confederate Gold" is still rolling up more interest than the program can consume.
Information assembled, by Thomas Earl Cleland, 12564 Dunraven Trail, Jacksonville, Florida 32223.