Among those who came over with Oglethorpe in 1733, or very soon thereafter, was Nathaniel Polhill, a London haberdasher, who is generally conceded to be the first Baptist in Georgia.
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Colonel Warren Grice, in an article on “The First Georgia Baptists,” describes him as a man of strong convictions and great faith. He further says: “Perhaps our great debt to Nathaniel Polhill is for the large number of consecrated Baptist men and women who are descended from him. From the day he set foot on Georgia soil until this good hour, he and his have been zealous to do the Master’s work, and their name is legion, and their activities have spread to many parts of our State.”
As this paper deals particularly with that branch of the family connected with Pulaski County, no attempt is being made to tell of the history and achievements of the Polhills elsewhere in Georgia and in neighboring states. They are all descendants of Nathaniel, of whom Colonel Grice goes on to say: “Let us add another trait to him whom we shall call our first Georgia Baptist-the ability to transmit to those who declare his generation the religious characteristics of the progenitor, for somehow almost invariably in every decade of our denominational history, his descendants have seemed to partake of his faith and zeal, and generally, too, his interpretation of the scriptures; for he has given us deacons, consecrated women workers and preachers by the scores. Many have been the churches in Georgia where their influence has been felt, and many a city, town, and community in our State has been benefited by their religious lives and teachings.”
The history of the Polhill family in Pulaski County begins with Judge James Polhill, son of Rev. Thomas Polhill, a Baptist minister, who was born in Chatham County, January 12, 1760, and died in Burke County, November 24, 1814.
Rev. Thomas Polhill, called by Dr. John E. White “a gentleman and a scholar,” was a direct descendant of Nathaniel Polhill. He had several children, three of whom attained especial prominencethe above-mentioned James being judge of the Southern Circuit of the Superior Court, while his brother, John Goldwire, presided over the Ocmulgee Circuit. A third brother was Joseph, a distinguished minister of Burke County, who died in 1858.
Judge James Polhill and his wife, Martha Jones, with their family, moved from Burke County to Hawkinsville, Pulaski County, where he died April 10, 1836, at the age of forty-five. Their children were James, Thomas, Augustus Jones, William, John Carter, Mary, Martha, and Louisa. James and Augustus moved to Florida and left worthy descendants who still live in that state. Martha married Lucius Ellis and moved to Dallas, Texas, where her grandchildren now live. William and Louisa died early in life. Thomas Goldwire was a well-known teacher of his day in Hawkinsville. He died without marriage. Mary married Oliver Jelks. This union produced some of the most prominent and useful citizens of Pulaski County and the State. Their history is recorded elsewhere in this volume.
John Carter Polhill, Sr., one of the sons of Judge James Polhill, was born in Burke County, June 6, 1827, and was a small boy when his father moved to Pulaski. He married Margaret Caroline Pickett in 1862 during the War Between the States. He gave loyal service in the Confederate army, being a member of Company K, 49th Regiment, Georgia Infantry. He died August 14, 1892, honored and beloved by all who knew him. The children of this union, in order of their births, were: Lucius Ellis, John Carter, Jr., Emmie, Jane Cook, Augustus Jones, James William, Thomas Goldwire, and Edwin Jelks. These sons and daughters were all born in the same house where their mother first saw the light of day. The old home, more than a hundred years old, still stands on the plantation five miles from Hawkinsville, and is still in possession of members of the family.
Lucius Ellis, eldest son, born June 22, 1863, died June 19, 1914, married Ada Brown of Houston County, and their children are: Margaret, Eliza, Ruth, and Rutherford. Margaret married Richard A. Stratford, and their young son bears his father’s name. Eliza married James Hubert of Quitman. She died in April 1935, leaving a daughter, Mada. Ruth is Mrs. Counts Johnson of Tampa, Fla., and her son is named Lucius Polhill, for his grandfather. These daughters were all graduated from the Georgia State College for Women, and engaged in educational work prior to their marriages. Rutherford, only son, was educated in the Hawkinsville schools and the State University, where he was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He is a young man of sterling worth and excellent business qualifications.
John Carter Polhill, Jr., born August 29, 1864, died December 11, 1915, married Rosa DeVaughn of Montezuma, and three sons and a daughter were born of this union:
DeVaughn, Lucius McLendon, John Carter III, and Elizabeth.
DeVaughn received his education in the Hawkinsville public schools, Gordon Military Institute, and the University of Georgia. He has large farming interests and is an authority on agricultural subjects. He has served the Hawkinsville Baptist Church as deacon and clerk for years. He married Mrs. Mary D. Horn, and Rosalyn is their lovely young daughter.
Lucius McLendon took his B.A. and M.A. degrees at Mercer University, where he was a member of the Kappa Alpha fraternity. For several years he was dean of Bessie Tift College. He attained his Ph.D. at Louisville Theological Seminary, where he was an honor graduate and afterwards an instructor. He married Elizabeth Bowen of Tifton, and their son bears his father’s name. He is now pastor of the Baptist Church at Vinton, Va.
John Carter Polhill III also graduated at Mercer in literary and law departments, afterwards taking a law degree at the University of Florida. He is a member of the Kappa Alpha fraternity. He married Mildred Lester of Thomasville, and they live in Clearwater, Fla., where he is engaged in the practice of law. He is city attorney and a member of the Rotary Club. He also serves as deacon and clerk in the Baptist Church of his adopted city.
Elizabeth, only daughter of John Carter, Jr., and Rosa DeVaughn Polhill, is a graduate of Bessie Tift College, and is a cultured and talented young woman. She is now teaching in North Carolina.
Augustus Jones, third son of John Carter, Sr., and Margaret Pickett Polhill, was born March 9, 1872, and died September 1, 1932. He married Emmie McCormick of Hawkinsville, and a daughter and a son were born to them. Annie Katherine, now Mrs. Paul B. Mason, has a little son, Paul, Jr. Augustus Jones, Jr., attended Mercer University, where he was a member of the Kappa Alpha fraternity. He is a capable insurance man, now living in Atlanta. His wife was the former Virginia Hill of Birmingham.
Lucius Ellis, John Carter, Jr., and Augustus Jones, Sr., the three older sons of John Carter, Sr., and Margaret Pickett Polhill,, lived practically all their lives in or near Hawkinsville. They were prominent farmers, merchants, and business men, who won and held the esteem, respect and affection of their fellow citizens by their honorable, upright, useful lives.
Emmie Polhill married Rev. John M. Woodward and is still living in Hawkinsville, where she is deeply enshrined in the affections of all who know her.
Jane Cook Polhill, born January 24, 1870, died in early middle life, beloved for her sweet Christian character.
James William, born February 16, 1874, graduated at the State Medical College in Augusta and was a practicing physician in Hawkinsville at the time of his death, July 21, 1911.
Thomas Goldwire, born November 14, 1877, graduated with honor at Mercer University, where he was a member of the Kappa Alpha fraternity. He attained prominence in educational circles of the State, serving at one time as president of the Georgia Educational Association. He was superintendent of schools in several Georgia cities. From 1904 to 1912 he was superintendent of the Hawkinsville public schools, which was his home town. In 1912 he moved to LaGrange and was for some time connected with the city schools. Afterwards for eight years he was superintendent of the Troup County schools. During this time he consolidated the many small scattered schools into nine community centers. For many years he has been superintendent of the Sunday school and a deacon in the First Baptist Church of LaGrange. He married Mary Park of LaGrange.
Edwin Jelks, youngest son of John Carter, Sr., and Margaret Pickett, was born November 2, 1882. He engaged in business in Quitman and Valdosta before locating in Decatur, Alabama, where he is a member of the firm of Jones Cotton Company and is one of that city’s most successful business men. He is a member of the Kiwanis Club, and as evidence of the confidence and high regard of his fellow citizens he has held various civic offices. He has rendered service to his church as deacon and clerk for many years. He married Irene Jones of Decatur, and their daughter, Emmie Frances, is a highly educated, widely traveled and cultured young woman. She is a B.A. graduate of Judson College, Alabama, and holds a Master’s degree from the University of North Carolina.
Joseph A. Polhill, grandson of the Rev. Joseph Polhill, Burke County, mentioned in the first part of this sketch, was also a citizen of Pulaski County for several years. Moving to Hawkinsville from Macon about thirty years ago, he engaged in the drug business until his death. He was one of the county’s most substantial citizens. His widow, the former Kate Daniel of Carrollton, and his daughter, Katherine (Mrs. W. N. Pate), still live in Hawkinsville. Another daughter, Bessie (Mrs. Theo. Nipper), lives in Griffin; and a son, Joseph, Jr., in North Carolina. A son, Jack, died several years ago.
From the days of the coming of Nathaniel to American shores, the Polhill name has been an honored and respected one. The family has at all times stood for the upbuilding of their communities, and has contributed a not inconsiderable share to the social, religious, civic and educational advancement of their day and age. Wherever they abide, among the number may be found preachers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and honorable business men, and outstanding women with high ideals and noble desires to serve God and their fellow man.