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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mary Phillips Gainer and John Dill in Fort Gaines GA

Some of my direct ancestors were in Fort Gaines, Early County, GA, which I began talking about a few days ago, HERE. They were Mary C. Phillips Gainer, her two sons, and her second husband, Samuel Gainer.  Looking again at their lives just before the Civil War and whatever can be found during and I consider the US Census of 1850.

We know Mary Phillips Gainer's birth year of 1803, and her sons: Marion Phillips, born in 1823, and William Philllips Jr. born in 1832.

Before he died as a Confederate Soldier during the Civil War, William Phillips Jr had two daughters. One of these daughters became my great-grandmother.

There are quite a few William Phillips' in Georgia in the 19th century, but by looking closely at birth years, I have determined one of them was the father William and one the son.  I've added the sufix Sr. and Jr. to their names for my own clarification.

 Mary C. Phillips married in 1841 to her second husband, Samuel Gainer (a lawyer as stated occupation on the census.)

They lived in the town limits of Fort Gaines.  How do I know this? A neighbor listed 2 away from their household on the census is General John Dill. (I had thought they were out on a plantation in my mind's visualization all these years, but there they are in the town itself. This of course doesn't mean they didn't also have a plantation.)

General John Dill had been the farsighted man (with his mercantile partner) who purchased all the lots that became Fort Gaines.  His home still stands..  There is a very interesting story associated with how he built this home, having married a widow who had been captured by Indians.  Elizabeth Stewart Dill lived with the Indians 4 months before being "recaptured" by American troops.  The "story" says she collected paper money while she had been captive, that the Indians didn't know its value, and following her return and then marrying John Dill, they built their beautiful home.

John Dill house
DILL HOUSE ~ John Dill (1788-1856) of S.C., military aide to Gen. Gaines, commander of Fort Gaines, and leading pioneer citizen, is said to have built this, “the finest home on the frontier,” with money his wife had saved while a captive of the Indians. Hoarding and hiding paper money, which her captors discarded after raids, she took it with her when she fled to freedom. The original part of the house, now a hotel, contains elaborate mantles and intricate carvings. Gen. Dill established a mercantile business with his partner, John W. Sutlive, in 1821. He added a tannery, one of the finest harness and shoe businesses in the South, a brick kiln, and cotton warehouses to his interests. He and his wife are buried in a cemetery on Carroll Street. 

Later General Dill's partnership dissolved.  The "tall tale" about her windfall during her Indian capture continues as seen in the paragraph quoted above. Toward the end of his life, General Dill tried to establish a lottery, which contributed to his losing his long term business partner.  General Dill apparently lost everything and became empoverished before he died in 1856, all his properties being auctioned by the sheriff.according to land records.

This information as posted in Ancestry, is from a 1986 letter from a Fort Gaines attorney, with sources of various books. He and others have published evidence that the Indians by the 1830s had been trading for a long time with Europeans and knew the value of paper money, thus exposing the paper money windfall legend as bogus.

US Census, 1850, Early County, GA
Which brings me back to the Dill House and the census of 1850. My ancestors, the Gaines/Phillips household were listed as family number 16, while the Dills were number 18, with just a single (unmarried) farmer between them as number 17 (or across the street.)

Great great grandpa William Phillips was just 18 at that time, and listed as a student.  His older brother Marion was 27 and his occupation was merchant. I'm not sure what the following values represent in the column named "Real Estate." Marion has 1000.  And his step father Samuel Gainer has 4975.  But look at General John Dill. He lists 10,000. I would guess this was before the fall of the Dill empire.

A question did occur to me, if the story about the Indians and paper money is false, how did the Dills obtain the money to build that beautiful house?  I'm thinking a man who did so much real estate wheeling and dealing, and who promoted lotteries, might have obtained the money in another way, which might not have been as colorful, or perhaps was more colorful.

I am trying to give the history as accurately as possible, but my own viewpoints will come through some of the time.  I am grateful to the historic society of Fort Gaines for having placed many historic markers about the town to provide much of the information I share with you here.

Quote for the day:

Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned. — Peter Marshall

Letter from P.C. King, Jr, Attorney, Fort Gaines, Georgia dated Feb. 27, 1986, to Ms. Thelma Stevens of Barnwell, Alberta Canada following a telephone inquiry by her, in which he lists his  sources. He also talks about how the legend of Mrs. Elizabeth Stewart Dill and the Indians is being used to help sell the house when it was in need of rennovation.

Fort Gaines and Environs, by Mr. P. C. King, published 1976

The Legend of Mrs. John Dill, Builder of Fort Gaines Dill House, by Mrs. Elizabeth King Folger, (sister of P.C. King.)

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