An obscure local legend suggests that the lost Confederate treasury may have lived on nearby - or maybe not
On April 2, 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis fled Richmond, Va., and headed south, supposedly in possession of anywhere from $100,000 to $600,000 in coins, silver brick and gold ingots - all that remained of the Confederate Treasury.
When Davis and his entourage were captured by Union troops at Irwinville, a small town in south Georgia, on May 10, 1865, the loot was nowhere to be found.
Various well-documented accounts alternately hold that the lost treasure was either hijacked or buried somewhere along Davis's final route - perhaps in Danville, Va., or High Point, N.C., or even Washington, Ga., where Davis held his final cabinet meeting.
The city of Washington proudly perpetuates the tale that heavy rains in the past have left deposits of gold coins along the dirt road\s surrounding the Chennault Plantation outside of town.
(Note Received from Tom Cox, CEO, Cox Advertising & Public Relations, Inc, Oct 31, 2005) (TP 912-898-5656, 912-8985657). I own the 'Chennault Plantation in Lincoln County, Ga where the gold raid took place to take the gold and silver and coins from the Yankees on the night of May 24, 1865. We know that one wagon was re-hitched by the Confederate Raiders and driven off back toward Washington, never to be found again. We also know that several member of the cabinet traveling with President Davis were given money to spirit away until they could meet again. We know some of their names. Mumford is familiar, but I cannot place him with the cabinet at that time, though he may have been. President Davis spent two nights in my home. Varina and the children spent another prior to his arrival in early May 1865. Amazing and tragic, but proud time in our state's history.)
A more obscure legend, however, places at least part of the Confederate treasury in Waynesville, a small town situated just west of the Glynn County line in Brantley County.
What's more, according to various local sources, 138 years of wise investing has created a large fortune devoted exclusively to the betterment of young women and men born and reared in Brantley and surrounding counties.
The money at the heart of the legend is a legacy left by Mrs. Goertner "Gertrude" Mumford Parkhurst, who was born on her father Sylvester Mumford's Waynesville plantation in 1846.
According to research by the Brantley County Historical Society, the Mumford fortune was thought to have grown from all or a portion of the Confederate gold that went missing between Richmond and Irwinville.
Thomas Earl Cleland, a Brantley County native and amateur historian who organized the Brantley County Historical Society in 1994, investigated the rumors exhaustively in the mid-1990s, but could never verify them.
"I never found anyone in Brantley County willing to share with me any information pertaining to the Confederate gold, nor could I find any official record or published documents pertaining to this subject in Brantley County, Cleland wrote in an e-mail interview with The News Oct. 20.
His account of the legend of the Confederate gold - which is contained on the historical society's Web site and in its 1999 book, "The Story of Brantley County" - is based on the writings of two coastal residents.
One, Robert Latimer Hurst of Waycross, is a retired school teacher who wrote about the legend of the Confederate gold in a 1982 book about South Georgia titled, "This Magic Wilderness."
The other was the late Martha Mizell Puckett, a former school teacher and Brantley County native who recounted the legend of the Confederate gold in her book, "Snow White Sands."
"Mrs. Puckett suggests that the 'Confederate gold' was the monetary backing for the Mumford Scholarship program, which is still available to high school students going to college," Cleland wrote in his e-mail. "I wasn't able to confirm this."
In her book, Mrs. Puckett maintains that Mumford, a Confederate sympathizer despite being a New York native, was present at the Confederacy's final cabinet meeting in Washington. At the end of that meeting, Mrs. Puckett alleges, Jefferson Davis divided the Confederate gold among the various men present and instructed each to "use the money as he felt it should be used."
Mumford, who established a Sea Island cotton plantation near Waynesville and prospered before the war, supposedly used his portion to rebuild his fortune and to fund a great deal of charitable giving, including the support of children orphaned by the Civil War.
Some of the gold also found its way to Mumford's daughter, and according to Mrs. Puckett, Mrs. Parkhurst wanted it "back in the hands of the people to whom it belonged." Hence, when Mrs. Parkhurst died in Washington, D.C., in 1946 at the age of 99, she bequeathed nearly $600,000 to the children of Brantley County through two scholarship funds and one endowment.
One-third was given in trust to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and named The Theresa Mumford Memorial Scholarship Fund in honor of Mrs. Parkhurst's mother. The will specified that the money be earmarked "for the maintenance and education of white orphan girls of Brantley (formerly Wayne) County."
By 1960, the church had more income off of its principal investment than it did recipients to pay it to, so the church petitioned the courts to expand the scope of the scholarship by defining an orphan as a child who had lost at least one parent, and including residents of counties immediately surrounding Brantley.
In the late 1990s, concerned about the moral and legal ramifications of restricting the fund to "white orphan girls," the church again petitioned the courts to open it to all ethnic groups.
Over the past year alone, the church has awarded $32,000 to qualified women in Southeast Georgia, according to Kathy Smith, manager of The Theresa Mumford Memorial Scholarship on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which is headquartered in Louisville, Ky.
Currently, 15 young women are attending colleges or technical schools under the auspices of the fund.
Although the church has not taken steps to verify the legend of the fund's roots, Ms. Smith said she has heard whispers about its origins before.
"The dad of three girls receiving the scholarship called me one day and told me all this story about the Confederacy," she said.
Suzanne Buttram, director of Financial Aid and Scholarships at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, had never heard the tales about lost Confederate gold, but she did report a high level of interest in the second of Mrs. Parkhurst's three bequests, the Sylvester Mumford Memorial Fund.
"The scholarship is given to students that come to Georgia College-from Brantley County," Ms. Buttram said.
"Although the number of recipients of tuition assistance from the fund fluctuates each year, the number of awards has fluctuated between 10 and 12 for the past several years", Ms. Buttram said.
Mrs. Parkhurst's will established the Sylvester Mumford Memorial Fund when the school was known as the Georgia State College for Women.
The will also established the Sylvester Mumford Endowment at the Thornwell Orphanage, now The Thornwell Home and School for Children in Clinton, S.C.
Several years ago, Mrs. Buttram was contacted by a former resident of the orphanage who was researching the history of the Parkhurst bequest to Thornwell.
"He never mentioned the Confederate aspect of it, and I never heard from him again," Ms. Buttram said.
While no one can or will confirm the veracity of the legend about the Mumford fortune, few are willing to dismiss it without further investigation.
"I have heard just vague references to it. It sounds fascinating," said Buddy Sullivan, a noted coastal historian who has written various volumes on Georgia history.
Like other tales of mysterious fortunes, including that supposedly deposited on a nearby barrier island by the infamous 18th Century pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackboard, Sullivan said the legend of Confederate gold in Brantley County may have its origins in truth.
"I look at it kind of like that Blackboard thing - where there's smoke there's fire," Sullivan said. "It's certainly something worth investigating."