Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Mill for the Settlement - The Souther Mill (Part 2)

Jesse William Souther, Jr. was a bachelor, age 35, when he moved from Wilkes County, NC to Choestoe, Georgia in 1848. He and his two brothers, Joseph and John established the Souther Mill in that same year. It was a boon for citizens in the settlement.

Jesse Souther began to court beautiful Malinda Nix, a daughter of William and Susanna Stonecypher Nix, who lived near Cleveland, GA. We don’t know the story of their courtship, but maybe Jesse met Malinda on one of his trips across the Logan Turnpike to take goods by covered wagon to Gainesville. It was customary for the wagons to stop for the first night at a campground at Cleveland near the Nix home. Or maybe Jesse and Malinda met at the Frank Collins home. Malinda’s sister, Rutha Nix, had married Collins on January 6, 1841 and moved to Choestoe.

Malinda’s grandfather, John Henry Stonecypher, Jr. of Eastanollee near Toccoa, had figured prominently in the Revolutionary War and also in the Indian Wars. Jesse and Malinda were married January 12, 1851, two months prior to Jesse’s 39th birthday. Malinda was born in 1829 and was sixteen years younger than her husband.

Jesse Souther added to his land holdings by purchasing a tract from Ivan J. Collins, a son of Thompson Collins, first settler on Choestoe. In a note dated May 12, 1862, Jesse gave his bond to pay $125 for the Collins land along Cane Creek that adjoined the property he had secured from his brother, Joseph Souther, before he went west in 1853.

To Jesse and Malinda Nix Souther were born eight children, four sons and four daughters. Fairlena (died in infancy); Nancy Elvira (b. 1853); Joseph G. (b. 1855); John Baptist (b. 1857); Sarah (b. 1861); Mary (b. 1863); William Jesse (b. 1864); and Jeptha Freeman (b. 1865).

It was the last-born, Jeptha, who was to remain on the Souther farm and continue the milling operation started by his father and uncles.

Jesse Souther was a prominent citizen of the Choestoe District. He was official treasurer of the Militia District # 834. In records kept meticulously by him, are these notations: “In 1849, paid W. L. Howard, teacher, $22.16 for 134 children (for the Choestoe School). On January 3, 1860 paid the District Treasurer, Jesse Souther, for teachers in the district, $155.85. Various other allocations were made over the years for teachers. On record are payments to these teachers from the amount allotted to Treasurer Souther: John C. Ballew; William L. Howard; Andrew Young; S. S. Hanshaw; William Neel; F. M. Swain; H. J. Sparks; S. R. Wright; F. S. Hughes; Jacob Butt; William Rich; Davidson Crumley; W. S. Wiley; and Thomas Bull. Some of Jesse’s bookkeeping notations indicate that the teachers were paid on the basis of 4 and 1/6 cents per day per pupil.

A school term was on the average of four months per year, usually in the winter months when no crops demanded work from the pupils. A notation indicated there were, at one time, 182 school children in the district of Choestoe. Treasurer Jesse Souther paid teachers who worked at Choestoe, New Liberty, Old Liberty and Union (Hood’s Chapel) Schools in houses that served as classrooms during the week and churches on Sundays.

His brother, John Souther, served on the County School Board from Choestoe District, and was also one of the earliest teachers in the district, even before Jesse William Souther, Jr. arrived there. The teachers probably went by the Souther Mill to collect their money on days taught and records of pupils served.

The Civil War years were hard on the Jesse Souther family, as well as others in the Choestoe Settlement. So far as we know, the mill kept operating, but probably not on as big a scale as during pre-war years. Jesse’s son, Joseph, was six years old when the Civil War broke out. He wrote in his memoirs: “Thirty men from Choestoe enlisted, one-half of them never returning to once-happy and prosperous homes.” When he was nine, Joseph became a scout for one of the Home Guard units and continued until the year ended in 1865. Knowing what we know now about Home Guard members and their ruffian methods, being a scout was no easy task for a nine-year-old.

Mourning pervaded the house when Jesse William Souther, Jr. died on May 5, 1869. He was laid to rest in the old Choestoe Cemetery not far from the Souther home. His death left an invalid wife, Malinda, seven children, the oldest of whom was Nancy, age 15 at her father’s death, and the youngest, Jeptha Freeman, age four. Joseph states in his memoirs: “Nancy helped with the younger children and the housework, I, at age 13, worked on the farm. With a single old mare who knew more about keeping the rows straight than I. I plowed the rows of corn.” Malinda Nix Souther died in 1894.

Records are somewhat sketchy about the operation of Souther Mill following Jesse’s death. Various millers were employed, probably on shares, to operate the grist mill and sawmill. In his book, Between the Blood and the Bald (Matthew’s Press, 2000), John Paul Souther, grandson of Jesse and son of Jeptha, tells about how his father at a young age became the miller. Jeptha Freeman Souther was naturally skilled in technology and built a millrace thirty feet long, stretching from the millpond at a higher level to turn the turbines at the mill. The millrace, also called the penstock, was made of three-inch thick lumber a foot wide, and had no leaks. A personable and wise miller, Jeptha kept the clients entertained with his stories, his knowledge of world affairs and his ability to relate genealogical ties of the families in Choestoe District.

Edward Shuler in his memoirs, Blood Mountain (Convention Press, 1953) recalls trips to the Souther Mill when he was a child as highlights for learning about the area and its people from the miller, Jeptha Souther.

Three years after his mother’s death, Jeptha married Mintie Iva Ann Dyer in 1897, a daughter of Henderson Dyer. He brought her to the house his father Jesse had built in 1850, and there they reared their five daughters and four sons: Mae, Fannie, Viola, Mary, Eva, Theodore, John Paul and Hubert.

John Paul Souther stated that his father sold the mill in 1919. Some of the operating millers following the sale were Bud Ballew, Martin Jones, Joe Townsend, Bert Watkins, Newt Curtis, Virgil C. Collins, Jimmy Self, and Ivan Collins. Unfortunately, the mill burned in 1943. The Depression years had caused the mill to gradually fall into disrepair. Gristmills were becoming a thing of the past and the glory days of Souther Mill were no more.

On a misty morning in Choestoe, one can almost imagine the gentle splash from the waterwheel and the steady whirling drone as the millstones grind a turn of corn, wheat or rye.

Descendants related in some way to the entrepreneurs who began Souther Mill in 1848 are almost as numerous today as the turns of corn that knew the pressure from the grinding stones of Souther Mill so many years ago.

Life goes on, layer upon layer, with what is good from the past lighting the way into the future.

Note: For sources I am indebted to Watson B. Dyer’s Souther Family History, 1988; John Paul Souther’s Between the Blood and the Bald (2000); Edward Shuler’s Blood Mountain, 1953); my own childhood memories of Souther Mill when my father, J. Marion Dyer, took me there where he had his own corn ground; and an article I wrote in the Autumn, 1993 issue of North Georgia Journal (Legacy Communications) entitled “Memories of the Old Souther Mill.” The photographs are courtesy of John Paul Souther.)

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 28, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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