Minnie and Porte Tracy, Part of Legend of Traders Hill
By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Ga. Historian
Porte Crayon Tracy, as a young man, could see Charlton County’s wooden courthouse across the St. Marys River from his home on the Florida side of the river at Traders Hill. He was living in the home built by his grandfather, Colonel E.D. Tracy, a high level Florida political figure.
The stately old Tracy family home was called “Brooklyn”. It was built in 1854, the same year Charlton County was created by the Georgia Legislature at the state capital in Milledgeville, from what had been a portion of neighboring Camden County.
President Millard Fillmore, in 1852, gave the land for the home to Colonel Tracy for his services during the Indian Wars of the 1830s. When Porte Tracy was born in the home, on August 7, 1866, his mother, Ada, named him for a popular poet of the period, with the same name, and whom she admired.
Young Porte Tracy grew up on the Florida side of the river at Traders Hill when that riverfront town was a hustling, sometimes boisterous trade center. His grandparents prepared him for the future by giving him an outstanding education for the period.
Following his early education in the public schools of Nassau County, in Folkston, and in Waycross, when he was only sixteen, he enrolled in Holy Communion Institute in Charleston, S.C., from which he graduated. Later the institution changed its name to Porter Military Academy.
Six years later, in 1888, at age 22, Tracy enlisted in the Waycross Rifles. This unit later became a part of the Georgia National Guard. A devoutly religious man, young Porte Tracy joined the Traders Hill Methodist Church, an association that continued until his death.
The nation, in 1888, was in the midst of a severe yellow fever epidemic. The people were near panic. Porte Tracy was appointed by the federal government to assist with the construction of “Camp Perry” a quarantine station near the St. Marys River at Boulogne. Those who had been exposed to others with yellow fever were interned in the military-like camp. Later researchers learned that the disease was not transmitted by people, only by the mosquito. The camp was dismantled and its internees released.
Tracy, a towering, muscular man, went on to become one of the area’s best qualified land surveyors and timber cruisers. He built a ferry between his home and the Georgia side of the river at Traders Hill. In 1909 he was appointed postmaster for the post office at Traders Hill, a position he held until the office was closed.
The happiest part of Porte Tracy’s life began when he was 49. On September 22, 1915 he married nineteen year old Minnie Haddock.
His bride was the attractive daughter of a prosperous Nassau County farmer, Joseph William (Peeler) Haddock, whose 3,500 acre farm was on the Florida side of the St. Marys River just across from Camp Pinckney and seven miles upriver from Kings Ferry.
Minnie was from a family of ten children, five boys and five girls, although one of the girls died when only five years old.
Minnie and her family, like the family of Porte Tracy, were raised on the picturesque banks of the St. Marys River. She stood and watched as the tug boats and sailing ships passed on the busy river, making their way to Camp Pinckney, Kings Ferry and Traders Hill, loaded with passengers and supplies for the people who inhabited the area.
Minnie’s father also operated his own ferry at Camp Pinckney. When the people in their community needed a doctor, he would come from Folkston and cross on Peeler Haddock’s ferry to get to his patient.
Some time the ferry became quite a chore. The Georgia side of the river at Camp Pinckney was abruptly deep, but the Florida side tapered off gently. When baptisms were scheduled for Camp Pinckney churches, they had to take place on the shallow, Florida side.
The entire congregation would cross into Florida, and the services would take place on that side. One Sunday the church at Camp Pinckney scheduled 35 baptisms. A record crowd from both sides of the river attended the service. Peeler Haddock was well into the night ferrying the huge crowd back to the Georgia side.
Porte and Minnie Tracy loved their busy lives on the fascinating river at the home called Brooklyn. Minnie worked hard tending to the home and the garden while Porte worked at the river’s edge.
Loggers floated huge pine trees downriver to Traders Hill. Tracy would lay a “boom” or huge logs tied together, across the river at Traders Hill to trap the trees for the loggers there. The floating trees would strike the boom violently, bolt high into the air and then settle down in Tracy’s catch-basin. Tracy would help load the trees onto barges for the tug boats to pick up later. In the process he would tally up the amount of wood on the barges for the lumbermen.
On several occasions, storm-driven waters from the rampaging river would rise up into their home, forcing them to move all their belongings to the second floor.
The Tracys soon had four daughters, Meta, Ada, Agnes and Leila who livened up the home. Ada and Agnes were twins. As the four girls grew up their lives became interwoven with the activities of their neighbors at Traders Hill. They would cross the river from their home, run up the road from Traders Hill to catch the school bus into Folkston where they all attended school.
Porte Tracy, a studious man, wanted the best for his family. He and his wife Minnie saw that the children got the best education possible. He would teach the girls words from the dictionary at mealtime and encourage them to get all the education available.
Controversy developed when people in the growing town of Folkston wanted the county seat moved from Traders Hill to Folkston. The change came at the turn of the century, but not before Porte Tracy witnessed the last execution at Traders Hill.
The prisoner, who had been convicted of murder, was hanged from a huge oak tree, a mile from the wooden courthouse at Traders Hill. Stories still abide of some of the ladies of the community who wore their finest to witness the execution. The streets of Traders Hill took on a carnival-like excitement for the execution. Porte Tracy, a gentle person, was sickened. He said he never wanted to see another execution as long as he lived. He never did.
Activity at Traders Hill gradually subsided. Traffic on the river slowed as much of the county began to get their supplies by the newly-laid rail lines through Folkston. The post office at Traders Hill was closed down and the mail delivery turned over to Folkston post office in 1913.
Porte Tracy breathed a sigh of relief when the post office closed. He had taken the part-time job only as a favor and the duties often interfered with his other work. The Traders Hill post office then was in a small building called a “cooper shed” where barrels were made. Earlier postmasters had the post office in their homes. Porte Tracy was the last postmaster at Traders Hill.
On Friday afternoon, August 9, 1943 at one o’clock Porte Crayon Tracy died of a heart ailment in the same home in which he was born 77 years earlier. He is buried in the cemetery at Traders Hill. His widow, Miss Minnie, and four daughters survived. Only one was living at home at the time. The others were married and lived away.
To supplement her income, Mrs. Tracy began renting fishing boats from the Traders Hill landing near her home. She owned as many as twelve boats at one time. Her business flourished. A short-lived marriage followed in 1949 to Daniel Peterson of Douglas, one of those renting fishing boats. The marriage ended shortly when he refused to leave Douglas and Miss Minnie wouldn’t leave Traders Hill. Peterson died several years later.
Later, in 1949 Minnie Tracy Peterson left her home at Traders Hill after 34 years there. She and her daughter, Ada, moved into a home in Folkston on the corner of Sixth and Cherry Street.
The historic old home place, Brooklyn, at Traders Hill was sold. The hundred year old Tracy home was dismantled and its ceiling was used in a new brick home built in the Boulogne area.
On August 23, 1986, “Miss Minnie” Peterson was honored on her 90th birthday with a party given by her four daughters in the social hall of Folkston’s United Methodist Church. Friends, relatives and well-wishers were there to help her celebrate. She died June 16, 1994 and is buried in Pineview Cemetery in Folkston.
Miss Minnie and Porte Crayon Tracy, pioneer settlers, and their family have etched their names deeply in the history of Charlton and Nassau Counties and of the St. Marys River.