JOHN BUIE SOUTHWELL, SR.
By Lois B. Mays
Charlton County Herald
September 4, 1985
In the first half of this century when the majority of the occupations of the citizens of the county depended upon the pine tree, the forests provided livelihoods from the cradle to old age. A schoolboy could help his father in the logging business, ride the rafts downriver when he was a young man, work the turpentine still when he was mature enough to know its dangers, and as he grew older, learn the one job that was not physically demanding, keeping books for a timber operation.
John Buie Southwell, one of Charlton County’s most respected citizens who died in 1976, grew up near Beasley Lake on the Satilla River and worked with the pine tree and its products all his life. He was the son of Andrew Jackson and Mary Ann Lorena Wainwright Southwell and was raised on a farm that was surrounded for miles in every direction with pineries that contained lush growths of the trees that were the key to the local economy.
Southwell began working as a young boy with his father and Joe Drury in a logging operation. They walked two miles or more each day to cut logs and haul them to the lake with a team of six oxen. The logs were stacked there to await a freshet so they could be floated to the river. When drifting the logs down the river to a mill, they rode the rafts and fished as the logs made their way and when enough were caught for a meal, they stopped, tied the rafts to trees, built a fire on the bank and cooked the fish. When the sun went down they built a bigger fire and slept there. They always brought along a lard can of food in case the fish weren’t biting. After getting the logs to the mill, they walked back home or rode if someone met them with the wagon.
Andrew Southwell’s ox team was a three-yoke, or made up of six animals. After working all day they were brought home and turned into the nearby woods. They grazed much of the night and were lavishly fed in the barnyard in the early part of the morning, then were taken off to the woods to work again. These animals were treated very kindly, were the family pets and were used as many other families used horses or mules. The Southwells had an ox to ride and another that pulled the wagon. When groceries were needed, oxen were yoked up to the cart and the trip was made to Burnt Fort for supplies.
As Southwell grew older he worked by himself all day in the woods cutting trees with an axe and then trimming the limbs from the trunk. These were pilings or mill logs and he could cut ten to fifteen in one day’s work. The ox cart took the logs, one at a time, to Boone’s Lake for loading. They had to be very tall trees and Southwell used as much time figuring the best place for them to fall as was taken to do the actual cutting, for if the top broke when the tree came down, the whole tree was lost. He cut many trees that were eighty feet in length. Wages for harvesting trees were fifteen cents for a saw-timber log and twenty-five cents each for pilings.
A special kind of tree, called heartwood pine with bark “as slick as glass” was used for fence railings. When one of these was spotted in the woods Southwell chopped a piece of bark from it, and if the wood underneath was red, he knew it would make good fence material. After chopping it down it was split into two sections, and if large enough, into four pieces. This was used for the interlocking rail fence which was effective in keeping ranging livestock from cultivated fields.
When John Southwell was a young man, he undertook one project that gave him much satisfaction. Joe Drury had five acres he wanted cleared for a field, so Southwell took the job, cutting trees and grubbing up bushes. He used his mule and a scooter plow to dig the roots which he piled on top of the tree stumps and burned, clearing the field in a few days. He was paid good wages, that being “a dollar a day and dinner”.
When he was about eighteen years old, Southwell “left home” and worked at a series of jobs which included store clerk, railroad ticket agent, bridge construction and timber surveyor before settling down in Toledo in Charlton County where he began a thirty-year association as bookkeeper for Toledo Manufacturing Company. However his roots in the South Georgia area went deep as he never ventured over seventy-five miles from home in any of his jobs.
He was employed for a while by Dave Lane at his general mercantile store in White Oak. In one corner of the store was the post office with twenty-six slots, one for each letter of the alphabet. A trip to the corner to check one of the twenty-six cubbyholes for mail was made each time a different customer came to make a transaction. The store was on the highway and the tourist industry was in its infancy, so it was a busy day when ten cars stopped for the owners to purchase gasoline. Southwell hand-cranked it, one gallon at a time from a one hundred gallon tank that had been equipped with a hose so it would reach the tourist’s car.
Southwell began a lengthy career with Walter C. Hopkins and Toledo Manufacturing Co. in 1925. His main responsibility was keeping books and taking care of the commissary. But he also found he had to help keep the peace in the community when Saturday afternoon fist fights erupted among the workers. He also became familiar with the operation of a turpentine still, including learning the art of making resin barrels. The dangerous job of stiller did not appeal to Southwell and he never tried to learn how to cook the gum and drain the turpentine and resin into barrels as the hazard of fires was too great.
The turpentine and resin was taken to St. George and shipped by railroad to Jacksonville. Later Press Coleman and Clyde Gowen hauled these distilled pine products to the Peninsular Naval Stores Co. Others working in this large naval stores enterprise with Southwell included Noah Stokes, Kenneth Hopkins, Mane Combs, Earnie Dixon and the owner W.C. Hopkins.
A comfortable home was built at Toledo for Southwell, his wife, Mrs. Marie Horton Southwell, and their children, Rosalie, Betty and John Buie, Jr. The family lived there for several years.
In a history making experiment, Southwell and County Agricultural Agent, A.B. Hursey, planted the first acre of pine seedlings set out in Charlton County. Using one acre of an old field on a Stokes home place two miles south of Toledo, Hershey and Southwell planted rows of nursery-grown seedlings, not knowing if any of the trees would live. The experiment was a resounding success and since that time, thousands of acres of Charlton County have been covered with the rows of planted pines.
Although the pine tree and its products played a major role in the life of John Buie Southwell, he still had time, as a man of absolute integrity, to serve as chairman of the building committee of Folkston’s First Baptist Church, a member for twenty years of the Folkston City Council and as State Representative in the Georgia General Assembly. He also was a partner in the Southwell-Hopkins Oil Company.
Many of the activities in the harvesting of timber products, such as logging with oxen, have been discontinued and many new inventions are used, but the value of the pine tree continues, as it did in John Southwell’s life, to be a major factor in the economy of Charlton County.