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Marker Notes Cemetery, Mill, Irishness

The latest historical marker erected by the Bulloch County Historical Society has two sides: one honoring the Ridgon Cemetery; the other, commemorating Rigdon’s Mill. As the dedication ceremony Thursday revealed, there could be a third, marking their Irish connections.

It was a sunny first day of spring, three days after St. Patrick’s Day, when the circle gathered in the shade of a cedar in the Rigdon Cemetery, on Lakeview Road north of Statesboro. The marker, in the corner of the cemetery, is the 14th erected by the Historical Society in the past three years in a program chaired by Bill Waters.

“These historic markers are permanent reminders of things that happened in Bulloch County and the people that made Bulloch County what it is today,” said Historical Society President Joe McGlamery.

Dr. Charlton Moseley, a retired Georgia Southern University history professor with ancestors buried in the Rigdon Cemetery, wrote the script for the two sides of the marker.

The oldest grave is that of Daniel Rigdon, 1788-1847, who built the mill and owned 3,039 acres in the vicinity. His wife Mary “Polly” Touchstone Ridgon, 1788-1853, is also buried there. The new marker makes special note of the grave of their son-in-law William Patrick Gould, 1818-1905, described as “itinerate Irish dirt worker and Confederate soldier.” In the 9th Georgia Infantry, Gould served throughout the Civil War and was among Gen. Robert E. Lee’s troops when he surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, Moseley said.

The “dirt worker” description requires more explanation. Irish-American men in the 19th century were known for working with picks and shovels.

“There was an old saying back in that day and time that if you had to dig a canal or move any dirt, you needed three things: a shovel, a barrow and an Irishman,” Moseley said.

Gould helped build the mill. Members of other families represented in the cemetery – including the Blands, Boyds and Robertses – worked at the mill over the years.

To read the cemetery side of the marker, one faces into the cemetery. To read the side about Rigdon’s Mill, one faces away from the graves, toward Mill Creek. The mill operated there from about 1840 into the 1920s. Backed by a 100-acre impounded lake, it was powered by a low-set turbine rather than a water wheel, Moseley noted.

The mill ground corn, and the turbine was also used to power a saw mill and cotton gin. Its name changed over the years, becoming Roberts’ Mill under the ownership of William H. Roberts around 1880. He served as postmaster for the Gem, Ga., post office at the mill site.

From Roberts it passed to his son-in-law, James Boyd, buried in the cemetery after being killed in an accident at the mill in 1912. Charles Bland, who bought the mill in 1920, transformed it into a music venue with a swimming hole and water slides outside. The dam broke in 1928 and was never repaired.

John Gould, a great-great-grandson of William Gould, attended the ceremony, as did descendants of the Rigdons and others buried in the cemetery.

Photo by Scott Bryan, Statesboro Herald. Howard Keeley, the director of the Center for Irish Research and Teaching at Georgia Southern University, speaks about the heritage of local families as the Bulloch County Historical Society dedicates a historical marker for the Rigdon Mill and Cemetery Thursday.

Dr. Howard Keeley, the director of the Center for Irish Research and Teaching at Georgia Southern University, was special speaker for the ceremony. He spoke on the Irish origins of not just the Goulds, but the Blands, Brannens and other Bulloch County families, of the influence the Irish more generally, and the attachment that Irish immigrants, displaced from their land in Ireland, felt for land they occupied in America.

“At the end of their lives, the sandy Bulloch County soil that, spring after spring, they opened up to farm placed its firm grip on those women and men – not a few of them of Irish origin – interred here for holy rest,” Keeley said.

The marker, like others placed by the Bulloch County Historical Society and those obtained through the Georgia Historical Society throughout the state, is made of cast aluminum lettered with gold leaf. The next will be placed later this spring at Akins Mill upstream on Mill Creek, society members said.

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