The Tale of the Lost Marriage Certificate

In Special Collections, we’re used to unusual things popping up. It’s the very nature of a special collection. Recently, we received a call from Mike Couch at the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority because he had some papers in his office that he thought would be best placed with us. Construction workers, planning to demolish a building at Central State, decided these papers might be important, so they decided to hand them off to Mike. It turns out those were Payton B. Cook’s papers. Rev. Cook’s name is familiar to newer residents of Milledgeville mostly because his name is on a building on Vinson Road. However, longtime residents will recall Rev. Cook as a pillar of the community, whose accomplishments were recognized by the Georgia General Assembly upon his death in 1998.

Rev. Cook was a clinical chaplain at Central State Hospital in the 1960s through the 1990s. He was an African-American who helped to integrate the hospital’s administration, and while that is certainly important, what I’ve learned about Rev. Cook through inventorying his papers is just how much he meant to Milledgeville and Baldwin County as a true public servant. He served on numerous boards for the hospital, the local community, and the state, and he traveled the southeast to encourage students studying to become clinical chaplains and preach in pulpits large and small (usually Baptist and Methodist). Business leaders wrote letters to him asking for advice, and occasionally, the area elected officials reached out to him as well. There were also notes from his young daughter, reminding him to run errands for her while she was at school.

Rev. Cook had a very busy schedule, and perhaps that explains what we ran across today while inventorying his collection — an original marriage license from Peach County, Georgia, from 1970. Rev. Cook was the officiant, and he had completely filled out the form, but it had never been mailed. I thought at first he had handwritten a copy, but the form in my hands clearly said “county original.” My next thought was that Rev. Cook had likely misplaced this copy, yet mailed a second one. I realized I had better call Peach County Probate Court to be certain. Continue reading “The Tale of the Lost Marriage Certificate”

The Clever Miss Loretto Chappell, Champion of Georgia’s Poor Children and Accused “Red, from the Bottom of Your Feet to the Top of Your Head” (Or, Why We Reappraise and Reprocess)

“[F]or I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
— Thomas Jefferson

As noted in a recent post, we’re reappraising and reprocessing some of our older collections and updating their finding aids as we migrate them out of our institutional repository, The Knowledge Box, and into a new home. Because we have a lack of digital storage space right now, we’re giving the finding aids a temporary home in LibGuides before moving them again to a different repository, hopefully by the spring.

Because we’re rehoming the finding aids, it made sense to review them before posting them in LibGuides, and that meant making sure they conveyed the subject matter well, were clearly organized, and matched up with the physical collection to which they are attached. When they do not, we update the finding aid and in some cases reprocess the collection. One such case has been the Loretto Chappell correspondence to get rid of an excessive amount of folders. There were folders with as little as one piece of paper in them, which can weigh boxes down. The name of the collection is now the “Loretto Chappell correspondence, 1948-1987” because the new version of Describing Archives, a Content Standard (DACS) requires naming collections according to the largest component and adding dates. Though Loretto Chappell had many accomplishments, her collection is almost totally correspondence kept with an East German woman, Gertrude Mahler, which she donated to the History Department in 1987 as a record of life in the Communist-ruled part of Germany. The correspondence remains chronological, but it’s now easier to navigate the box. Finally, I moved the news articles and editorials about Chappell to one folder and made this event central in her biographical note in the finding aid. Previous versions of the finding aid had noted there were press clippings but hadn’t gone into great detail as to why they were attached to the collection, but after reading them, I thought they were due their time in the sun. You see, Loretto Chappell was very publicly accused of being a Communist in 1951 at the height of McCarthyism by our state legislature.

loretto-1Loretto lived outside of what we’d consider expectations of a Southern lady of the 1950s (i.e., to get a MRS degree), though she definitely was a Southern lady. She was the eldest daughter of Georgia Normal & Industrial College’s first president, Dr. Joseph Harris Chappell, and she attended school here before studying social work at William & Mary College (now the College of William & Mary). Dr. Chappell was one of the sons of the Honorable Absalom H. Chappell, a former Congressman and state senator. He married Loretto Lamar, who came from a line of distinguished Southerners to include her brother, Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, the third President of the Republic of Texas. Loretto of our focus had a cousin of a similar age also named Loretto Chappell, both of whom were named for their grandmother. Cousin Loretto would become one of Columbus, Georgia’s most well-known librarians, and her collection at Columbus State University includes decades of correspondence, journals, and literary criticism. How I wish our collection had the richness and depth of that one, because our Loretto had quite the experience in 1951, and I would relish the chance to know her private thoughts on it! Continue reading “The Clever Miss Loretto Chappell, Champion of Georgia’s Poor Children and Accused “Red, from the Bottom of Your Feet to the Top of Your Head” (Or, Why We Reappraise and Reprocess)”

Hello from Penitentiary Square!

Welcome to Georgia College, home to a beautiful campus in Milledgeville, Georgia. Walking around, a visitor would have little notion of the area’s original use in the town. Milledgeville was the home of Georgia’s first penitentiary, which was located in the very square where the college is located.

In 1811, Georgia allocated funds for the penitentiary, which officially began accepting prisoners in 1817 and existed until the 1880s. Legend has it that Sherman burned the penitentiary on his March to the Sea, but according to records and firsthand accounts from November 23, 1864, it already was engulfed in flames by the time his soldiers arrived. After the war, Governor Joe Brown was convinced that inmates had set the fire in hopes that it would be pinned on the Union troops, and he fought vigorously against restoring the prison. In his mind, it was “a school for theft, lawlessness and villany” and “a den of thieves.” The citizens of Milledgeville, also, disliked having the penitentiary in the middle of town. However, despite its many detractors, it remained on one of the main squares in Milledgeville, being restored and expanded for even greater prisoner capacity.

After the Civil War, the population of the penitentiary tripled, and the population became three-fourths African-American. Prior to the Civil War, offenses by slaves were punished on plantations, but after the war, the state became responsible for penal functions for all citizens. In 1868, Georgia moved to a “convict lease” system, a predecessor of the notorious chain gangs of later decades. This leasing system incentivized localities and the state to have a “good supply” of prisoners (particularly new freedmen) at all times to ensure funds were raised to help pay for state and local services. By 1870, 85% of the prisoners at the penitentiary in Milledgeville were African-American and only seven were not “leased out” to companies. In 1897, Georgia created the position of state prison warden and established a prison farm two miles west of Milledgeville. Convict leasing officially ended in 1908, but as the prison farm could only accommodate 600 convicts, the chain gang system increased in usage. Continue reading “Hello from Penitentiary Square!”