Editor’s Note: South Georgia Today is very pleased to announce our new History Column, Pioneer Trails and Tales, written by C.E. Hightower, Jr. Mr. Hightower has published a book pertaining to the historical records of Lowndes County, and has another similar project pending publication. Genealogy and history have always been two of his favorite areas of interest, and South Georgia Today is very excited to have him as a Contributing Author.
Local Area-mainly Lowndes and Brooks County Georgia
Henry Briggs was born August 5, 1810 in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. His ancestors had moved directly from England to that state
around 1635. In 1833, he graduated from The Berkshire Medical Institute, which at the time was a part Williams College. No later than 1836 Dr. Briggs married Catharine Monroe Converse, the widow of Dr. Elihu William Converse of Connecticut. Prior to the death of Dr. Converse on December 28, 1832 their marriage had produced one child, Albert Converse, born January 1,1830 in Connecticut.
About 1838, Dr. Briggs, his wife Catharine and their children Albert Converse and William Henry Briggs moved to Darien, Georgia (William was born July 1, 1836 in Connecticut). There are numerous stories and many versions of stories as to why this family removed from New England to Georgia. This same type of multiple story scenario also applies to their lives in and around Dairen prior their moving to the new county of Lowndes in southwest Georgia. Dr. Briggs and his family were however residents of Lowndes County, Georgia, residing in the county seat of Troupeville, no later than 1840. Their last child, James Monroe Briggs, was born there in 1841.
Troupeville, from its inception, and even more so as time went on, developed the reputation of being a frolicking frontier town, full of opportunity, where a man of good wits could make a name for himself and perhaps have some fun doing so. This atmosphere must have served Dr. Briggs well as his medical practice prospered was appointed and elected to several local governmental offices and his name became associated with political organizing as well as significant business enterprises in and around southwestern Georgia.
Catharine Monroe Converse Briggs died September 29, 1859 at Troupeville. In recent years her marker has been one of the few findable and readable grave stones at historic, but unfortunately generally neglected, Troupeville Cemetery. On December 27, 1859, Dr. Briggs married Racheal Simmons. She was daughter of Major Ivy Simmons, who had died at Troupeville in 1855, and his wife Piety Joyce (Joice). Major Simmons was an early settler of Lowndes County, Georgia and an active player in the town of Troupville. His lands began near that town on the east bank of the Little River and then ran due west on both sides of present-day Highway 133, not stopping until the general location of the currently active Providence Methodist Church.
Events took place in 1858 and 1861, which for lack of a better word, drove the legacy of Dr. Briggs somewhat away from Troupeville and Lowndes County westward. In 1858, on motions made by members of the Legislature from Lowndes County, the State of Georgia, using sections of Thomas and Lowndes counties, established Brooks County, Georgia. The county site, as it was referred to at the time, of the newly formed county was named Quitman. A State Convention called by Governor Joseph E. Brown was held at Milledgeville during January 1861 to decide whether the State of Georgia would secede from the United States of America in favor of the newly formed Confederate States government. Dr. Briggs was a delegate to that convention from Brooks County, Georgia and voted in favor of Secession. From this general time forward, with the exception of a few short periods, the life of Dr. Briggs became closely associated with Brooks County, Georgia and its towns of Quitman and Morven.
The Confederacy was well served by the children of Dr. Briggs and his first wife. Albert Converse and William Henry Briggs volunteered and served with Company D “Valdosta Guards” 50th Georgia Infantry Army of Northern Virginia. They were both fortunate enough to survive the conflict. James Monroe Briggs, at the young age of 20, was instrumental in organizing and securing the Bond needed to form what was eventually known as Company I 12th Georgia Infantry Army of Northern Virginia. His Company was firstly Captained by Troupeville and later Valdosta Attorney James W. Patterson who fell at the Battle of McDowell (Virginia) in 1862. James Monroe Briggs entered Company I as a 2nd Lieutenant and had achieved the rank of Captain shortly before his death at the Battle of the Wilderness (Virginia) in 1864. He was killed in action and his body was not recovered from the battlefield.
After the War Albert Converse and William Henry Briggs successfully built their lives in the City of Valdosta. Dr. Briggs, his second wife Rachael and their four daughters made their lives in Quitman and Morven in Brooks County. Just prior to the War, Dr. Briggs invited young Dr. E.A. Jelks, who was just out of medical school, to join his practice at Troupeville. Before they could achieve real momentum in the partnership, Dr. Jelks was called away by the Confederacy (26th Georgia “The Piscola Volunteers” of Brooks County) and served until the surrender at Appomattox. Upon his return to southwestern Georgia, the Briggs-Jelks practice was rekindled and succeeded in spite of difficulties obtaining medical instruments and other medical supplies.
Between 1861 and 1869 Dr. Briggs was a part of a Quitman mercantile business known as Briggs, Jelks & Company. The partnership included Mr. H.F. Mabbett and Dr. E.A. Jelks, and later became more popularly known as Jelks and Polhill. In 1873, he helped re-organize and became President of the Quitman Factory, a spinning mill of significant note in the history of Quitman and Brooks County.
The latter part of the life of Dr. Henry Briggs involved him less actively but still maintaining his medical practice and monitoring his business interests in the town of Quitman. Dr. Briggs lived what can justifiably be called a “full life” between birth state of Massachusetts and the State of Georgia. He died at his home on April 23, 1885 after returning from visiting a patient. He is buried at Providence Methodist Church in Brooks County, Georgia beside his second wife Racheal. The county records, county histories and newspapers of Brooks County, Georgia are full of the many steps he made during his time. One of my favorite stories, and for me one of the most indicative stories describing his personality and nature, was reprinted in the Quitman Free Press, Centennial Issue, March 26, 1959. The original story was written by Mr. J.D. Wade Jr. within a series of articles under the title “Reminiscences and Stories of Pioneer Days and People” which appeared in the Quitman Free Press of 1906. I quote that story from source material in my personal files as follows.
In 1872, as your older readers will remember, there was a disease which prevailed all over the country among the horses, which the wise men for want of a better name. called epizoatic About this time a young man came to Quitman. He was a stranger, not acquainted with Dr. Briggs. While standing on the street corner in conversation with several local gentlemen, including Bryan Creech, he saw an old gentleman with long white hair, an unkept beard, wearing a homemade suit of clothes and with his shoes untied, coming leisurely down the street. He asked one of the locals who the old codger was. Upon being told that it was Dr. Briggs he said, “Watch me chaw when he gets here.” Bryan Creech said “If you succeed, I’ll buy you the best hat in town.”
When the Doctor came up, the young stranger stepped in front of him and the following colloquy took place.
“Is this Dr. Briggs?” asked the young man.
“It is” said the Doctor.
“Doctor,” said they young stranger, “I want you to examine me and see what is the matter with me.”
The Doctor looked at the young man and sized him up at a glance and said: “I do not think you are sick.”
“Doctor,” replied the young stranger, “I think I have the epizoatic.”
“You are mistaken,” said Dr. Briggs, “I have never heard of a jackass suffering from that disease.”
Please note: These articles are based on research conducted by the writer/author utilizing a variety of reliable source material. Those wishing to learn more regarding source material utilized or those who may have any other questions, should contact the writer/author via South Georgia Today.