The Life & Times of Grandison Harris:

My Life in Augusta: Episode IV:


by Terence L. Johnson

Former Professor, African and African American History

Former Field Archivist

United States


Link for Citation Purposes:


Author's Note: The following story is based on accounts of real events from various newspaper and journal articles. Many scenes in this story have been dramatized with fictional accounts.  Whenever possible, every attempt has been made to maintain the integrity of the events as they have been reported.


One thing that I can tell you is the fact that colored folk may look different from whites, but they were no better and no worse than the whites.  They can use their influence for good or ill.  The city of Augusta, Georgia serves as a witness to the crimes that colored men sometimes engaged in.


On Monday night, August 11, 1873, at about 10 O’clock, just as services were concluded at Thankful Church, located at the corner of Lincoln and Walker streets, a Negro man named Lewis Ambrose made a desperate assault upon one of the male members of the congregation, Gus Jones, with an open razor.  Making a vigorous lunge at his victim, Ambrose inflicted a gash some six inches long on the breast of Jones, cutting to the bone in some place, producing a very painful, if not dangerous wound. Ambrose immediately broke and ran, although pursued for several squares by Officer J. H. Neibling and several members of the congregation, he made good his escape.


 The County court convened yesterday morning, August 12, 1873, at 10 o’clock, judge Claiborne Snead presiding.  Several colored men were charged with petty crimes.  One of them included Alfred Rogers, who was charged with gambling on Sunday, was fined $25, in default of payment of which he was committed to jail.


Robert Quarterman, colored, was arraigned before Justice Olin, yesterday morning, August 12, 1873. Quarterman was charged by Andrew Jackson, a colored constable for me, Grandison Harris, a colored Justice of the Peace, with obstructing the execution of a legal process issued by the sable court, in preventing a levy from being made.  The accused was bound over in the sum of $300 for appearance at the County Court for Trial.


I recall an assault upon a colored man by five Negroes, because the man resented insults offered to his wife at the time, on Saturday night, near Bassford’s brickyard. Early Sunday morning two Negroes, named Alfred Pelot and Isaac Alson, who had been charged with engaging in the affair, were committed to jail, charged with assault with intent to commit murder, and late yesterday evening another Negro, named Joseph Walker, was committed on a charge of assault, as being engaged in the same matter. All of these parties were committed to jail by me, Judge Grandison Harris.


I remember a particularly important case that I was involved in:


To the best of my recollection it was in the evening between twelve and four o’clock on Sunday the 15th of September 1872.


 I seem to recall one night when I stood in my house on Twiggs Street.  I saw Mr. Callahan, a white man and member of the police force, pass Doc Adams' shop; a coffin-maker and carpenter. Doc Adams would later be involved in a series of incidents involving white and colored desperados.


But on Sunday, the 15th of September 1872, Mr. Callahan went in the yard next to my shop.


Last Sunday afternoon, about 2 o’clock, Mr. Thomas Callahan, who was a white policeman, and who had emigrated from Ireland, stepped into a bar-room in that portion of the new territory of Augusta known as Braytonville. Soon after entering the room, he was asked by a man named Thomas Costello to take a drink. Callahan refused. This made this man called Costello angry, and he commenced using abusive language towards Callahan. After some words between the parties, Callahan was induced to leave by the keeper of the bar-room. Shortly afterwards Costello and three others; George Rutledge, William Viding and Joseph Bennett, also left the bar-room, and proceeded to a house on the Savannah road, kept by a woman of bad repute. Callahan, a short time afterwards, went to that same house. At the gate of that house, he was met by one of the women, who told him not to go in.


He spoke and said “No, I have as much right here as you have.”


Immediately two of the Negro Men; George Rutledge and William Viding tried to put him out.


One of them struck him with a stick and knocked him down. Before he could rise, the men stumped and beat him up.


When Callahan got to the gate of the home, the men that were in the house came out. As Callahan walked up to the steps, he caught hold of the arm of one of the men.


Then that George Rutlege said “G—d d—n you, what did you come here for, catching hold of me.” He then stepped hack and said “G—d d—n you, go away from here; what in h—l did you come here for?”


Callahan said he had as much right there as any of them.


He did not make any resistance. Mr. Callahan recovered, then they shoved him out and latched the gate. He soon stood not more than two feet from the other men. One gentleman, dressed in a black suit, stood inside the fence about the same distance from the gate, that is, about two feet from Callahan.


Mr. Costello called him a d___d puppy. Both of the men then made a start at Callahan at the same time. They knocked him down on the ground. Costello kicked him and then stepped back. Callahan then rose and staggered to the gate. The men threw Callahan down and beat him viciously. He rose and they knocked him again. He fell and rolled over the sidewalk to the street. Callahan staggered up again.


Costello immediately shot, him in the right shoulder, over the fence. The fence was low. Then Callahan said to him, “you think I am afraid of you. I am not afraid of you, Nigger.” At this, Costello said, “Don’t call me a------- again;’’


The three colored men ran toward him; one returned to him and said, “Callahan, go home, Costello will shoot your head off.”


He said, “I don’t care a d—n If he does; I am going to shoot now myself."


Thomas Costello cocked his pistol at his side immediately. He then raised his pistol and put his arm across the fence and shot Callahan in the left side.  Callahan’s pistol fell out of his hand and he hit the fence and fell to the ground. After the Negroes shot Callahan the second time all three ran away. Two went into a house nearby.  When the last shot was fired, Callahan put his hand to his side and said he was shot, showing that he was hurt.


I, Grandison Harris, then come out of my house and walked in the street on the same side. Mr. Callahan, whom I later discovered was a policeman, walked up to my door waving his pistol about. The blood commenced oozing out and running through his shirt, I stood near Callahan for about five minutes and then I quickly walked away and closed my door.


I later learned from all who saw Callahan, discovered that he felt that he was badly wounded, went home and sent for a physician.


This all happened to Mr. Callahan one Sunday afternoon, while he was off duty, but he died on Tuesday evening, about 7 o’clock, from the effect of his wounds.


Costello and Bennett, two of the men charged with killing Callahan, were put in jail, and carried before Justice. 


At City Hall, Justice Snead presided in the case.  The Court room was well filled with spectators. After the death of Callahan, the charge against Costello was charged to murder, and the charge against Bennett along with Routledge, who was found to assist the other two men, were both found to be accessories before the fact to the offense of murder.


In the State vs. Thomas Costello the verdict was voluntary manslaughter.


Now my story of Costello and Callahan proves that the Negro was not always victims, and the white man was not always the one doing horrible things in society.


In our little city of Augusta, Georgia, there were other colored men and boys who found themselves in trouble. One day, three colored boys stood in my court.


I said to the two men, “Ben Williams, Buck Tutt, George Rountree you are convicted of simple larceny.  How do you plea?”


I breathed in and breathed out heavily.


Ben Williams said, “not guilty your honor.”


I deeply believed that Williams was guilty, I had heard from other colored people that the boy was rotten. 


“Did you not steal a trunk containing shoes and dry goods?”


Williams looked around and then gave me an answer.




I stared the three colored boys in their eyes and said, “The evidence against you is without a reasonable doubt.”


I struck my gavel on my bench desk.         


“I sentence you to twelve months to work on Mr. Hallahan’s farm.”


Hallahan’s Brickyard was rented out from a man by the name of Mr. James Burke.


Hallahan’s Brickyard lay north of fifty to one hundred acres of bare land. Near the Brickyard was the Central Railroad.  Hallahan’s Brickyard was valuable for Guano, which is seabird and bat dung, as well as being surrounded by all sorts of warehouses.


Several resolutions were passed expressive of the sentiments of the colored people in regard to the action of Mr. Dennis Hallahan the other day.  Hallahan served as the overseer of Hallahan’s Brickyard; which also served as the chain gang for Richmond, Lincoln, Warren and other countries in Georgia and South Carolina.  In 1873, Hallahan received fifty dollars a year for each prisoner that he received.  During that time, his brickyard had fifty convicts. 


Hallahan used an office in the store of C.A. Williams & Cp., on No. 259 Broad Street. The Irish immigrant also sold his bricks at that company.  


Men and women on Hallahan’s chain gang did not only make bricks but were hired out all around Augusta to build roads, canals, and bridges.


Now Dennis Hallahan had control of massive amounts of manpower. His treatment of that manpower proved to be another matter.


For reasons that were never clear to me, Dennis Hallahan, a white man from Ireland, whipped Ellen Wright, a colored laundress. Elbert Wright, a colored man, was very much incensed at the awful treatment of his wife, and endeavored to bring about a prosecution. It was rumored on Saturday that Elbert had sent a challenge to Mr. Hallahan, and on this account it is presumed that Mr. Hallahan gave vent to such an extraordinary anger.


One Saturday night, about 9 o’clock, Mr. Dennis Hallahan came to the city, bringing with him six of his Negro convicts and his henchman, a Mr. Harvey Shaw. They went to the market, where Elbert Wright, and colored man, kept a vegetable stall. In my day, we called a man who sold these type of items a huckster. Mr. Hallahan ordered the colored convicts, Jackson Granbery, Nathan Malone, and George Gracey to beat up Elbert Wright.


While the convicts did Mr. Hallahan’s bidding, Mr. Shaw held his pistol toward Wright so that the hoodlums could continue do their awful deeds.  The gang of convicts beat him so badly that Elbert Wright face was horribly mangled. So much disfigured was he, that this huckster could scarcely be recognized by men and women who knew him.  After the beating, Mr. Hallahan went to the City Hall and gave bond for his appearance before Judge Snead, about ten o’clock in the morning.


In the cases of State vs. Dennis Hallahan; Harvey, Mr. Hallahan, Mr. Shaw, and the colored convicts were charged the sum of $300 each. The others, being convicts, were not required to give bond.   Later, Hallahan and Shaw’s bonds were even forfeited.  In other words, they were later not required to pay a bond for their early release from jail.


The City council of Augusta adopted a resolution that stated: Whereas, The peace and good order of this city has been most grossly violated by the parties who on the 4th day of this month assaulted Elbert Wright a colored citizen of this city, while he was pursuing his legitimate and peaceable vocation at the lower market house, and whereas this City Council is determined that all persons within their jurisdiction without regard to race or color, shall be fully and duly protected in person and property; Therefore be it Resolved, That his Honor the Mayor be authorized, and is hereby instructed to employ at the city’s expense, legal counsel to prosecute to the full and proper extent of the law all persons connected with the said recent assault upon Elbert Wright.


It was a resolution that had no effect on the later actions of Dennis Hallahan. He and his mentions would go on to do serious injury to the men and women that he had dominion over.      


Then for a moment I think about the evils that men, white and colored, have done in my lifetime.


Now the month of August and the year of 1873 in Augusta was a time when an unpleasant event occurred.


About ten o’clock one night, William Grant, colored, was arrested by Policeman Howard, on the charge of Assault with intent to murder Thomas Jones, colored, on the first day of last July.  The prisoner was carried before Justice G.A. Snead, who bound him over in a bond of $1,000, to appear his morning for a preliminary hearing. Failing to give the required bond, he was committed to jail.



Now let me enter into another topic of my concern.  My career.  If you read many of the Georgia newspapers of my day you will find numerous articles that relate to myself and some of the events in the life of my family.


I had greater ambitions than remaining a justice of the peace.  Night after night I studied law books with the hope of an application for admission to the bar at the term of the Superior Court of Richmond County in Augusta.


I wrote the bar saying,  “I desire to say to you that I wish to Come before the bar to be Examined to practice Law on the Different Methods of Law at Some Convenient time Towards the Latter part of the Sessions of the Court. ”


As a Justice of the Peace, I myself became an enemy of what I considered the white man’s law. I assembled a group of coloreds and many of them fired pistols assembled at my office after holding a political meeting.  That happened sometime in April of 1874.


In September 1874, on a Saturday, I attended a Republican meeting of colored men at the City Hall.   At the meeting, I served as the secretary of the meeting. Thirty-two delegates were present representing the 1st, 3rd and 4th wards and the 123d, 124th and 125th districts, all colored. No whites participated with us.  We nominated our colored candidates.  Then I made a speech on taxation. I told everyone that I didn’t believe the taxation had been so high since the beginning of the days of Adams, George Washington, or Buchannan.  After this, we adjourned.


In October, I, Grandison Harris led the charge to nominate colored Republicans to the local legislature.  Through my efforts, I was able to help nominate the colored Radicals Solomon Richardson, Daniel Brocks and John Mitchell.  The whites knew that I was one of the moving spirit of the colored Republicans in Augusta.


Around that time our colored community experienced a great loss.  Alfred Harper, a colored engineer who worked at Mr. J.M. Turpin’s Mill on a cotton gin.  Harper did something that he was told not to do. Alfred Harper placed a brick on the safety valve of the cotton machine in order to get a good head of steam.  Two other colored men were in the engine room and, observing stream escaping from the wrong place, warned Harper to get away, but he thought it was all right. The other two men left the room, but then part of the fire box was blown off and the scalding water and stream rushed with full force against Harper.  Alfred Harper was scalded on the stomach and suffered greatly.  Every attention was given to preserve his life. But to no avail.  


He later died.


Life in that day and time was very harsh and bad times often fell on every man, woman, and child. For many of us Christ was the answer for all our woes and suffering.


We Negroes in Augusta did our best to not only live beside the whites, put uphold the highest standards of the Christian faith.


A colored temperance society was formed on the evening of Friday, September18, 1874 at the Bethel Methodist Church.  The church sought to lodge an Order of True Reformers. The society hoped to stamp out the evils of alcohol.


In January of that same year, I had a malpractice charge in State vs. Grandison Harris. On July of 1874, I issued several warrants.  I had ones for Oliver Baily, charging him with obstructing a legal process. I also issued peace warrants to Robert Quarterman, Henry Johnson and Wesley Alexander.  All these men were colored.  When I sent a man to jail, these men attempted to stop this action in court.  Around the same time, Allen Low, my constable, also had a warrant issued against Doc Adams, another colored man, who had attempted to obstruct a legal process.


I had another run in with Adams in the State vs. Doc Adams. One Dutch Cummingham had been arrested on a Saturday and brought before my court.  I ordered that Cummingham be ordered to jail. Doc, being a friend of Dutch, said, “I’ll be d—d if Dutch shall go to jail.”


But Doc Adams claimed to have said, “If bond can keep him out, he shan't go to jail to-night.”


When Doc Adams left the court, a man by the name of Moore, another colored Constable, summoned a posse of three men and carried him to jail.  Some say that I was kicking up the dust and that Doc was trying to keep the peace.  But Doc Adams had a reputation for joining other Negroes and keeping up a fuss amongst white and Negro alike.


 I think back to the deeds of one Mr. Dennis Hallahan; another man who kept up a lot of fuss in Augusta.   


Dennis Hallahan and his wife Bridget Hallahan emigrated from Ireland at a time in its history, when the potato famine destroyed the potato plant, the staple of the Irish diet. Dennis Hallahan and his wife Bridget eventually settled in Augusta, Georgia and had a total of eight children which included, Michael, Alice, Elizabeth, John, Mary, Catharine, and a daughter named Bridget.    


In the early 1870s Dennis Hallahan secured laborers, meaning his prisoners, for his brick yard in Augusta, in Richmond county. That gentleman entered into a bond of $2,000 for the performance of his part of the contract, agreeing to provide the necessary guard, clothing, food and medical attendance for each and every convict delivered to him by the county authorities. These convict laborers thus were secured to make “bricks” by a large majority of the evil-doers consigned to the chain gang.


Judge Wm. M. Reese, of Wilkes, was the Senator from the Twenty-ninth Senatorial District. Judge Reese, ever watchful of the interest of the people and the State, in and out of the Senate chamber, while in the city visited the brick yard of Mr. Hallahan, where the convicts from the County Court were confined and worked.


After going through the spacious brick building assigned to them, and after seeing how they are fed, clothed and provided for, he expressed himself as very much pleased with the manner in which they were treated. Judge Reese describe the rooms in which they were confined are large and provided with beds, and a sufficiency of bed clothing, and so arranged that they well ventilated in Summer and heated in Winter.  But when Judge Reese left the so called model prison, the day to day affairs of Hallahan’s estate loomed with an air of darkness. Men or women who tried to escape would be shot at. If one crossed the line from Hallahan’s property, the guards would shout them down to stop them from running away.


Many of the day watchmen were themselves convicts and participated in what became a place of a sort of chamber of horrors.  


Men like police Chief J. A. Christian of Augusta testified in court that the general character of the convicts was bad. Police Chief Christian believed that the men who engaged in the crimes were usually thieves and the women were mostly street walkers.


In Augusta, in for a decade, the newspaper stealers were again on the rampage. A number of papers would disappear in the early morning, especially on Greene Street, after our carriers have left the papers on their proper places. It was later discovered that boys followed the carrier, and when the carrier was at a safe distance off, they slipped up to a door or in a piazza and grabbed the papers, and then sold them.


This was annoying to subscribers as well as publishers.  The publishers wrote in the later editions of our newspapers: “We hope those who fail to receive their papers will call at the office and get a copy. We are endeavoring to detect the parties who steal the Constitutionalist after it was left at the houses of subscribers.”


 If caught, the thieves would be forced to make brick for Mr. Hallahan.


In another case, a policeman saw a small Negro boy, about 11 years of age, coming out of the store of Brigham & Dix, on Broad Street. As the movements of the young boy were very suspicious the officer approached him, when he ran back as if to get in the store. The officer shot at him, but he succeeded in getting in the store again.


A light was procured and a search revealed that he hid him hid inside under some goods. He had made ready for shipment a lot of goods. How he got inside is not known, but it is supposed he concealed himself in the store during the evening, and that after the store bad been closed up he commenced to take observations and goods.


Now this is what may be called enterprise and in keeping with the enlightened age. However, many white newspapers described the young Negroes actions as “a premature development of a proclivity for which his race is noted. Hallahan no doubt will teach him the rudiments for a while to come, after which he will be in a fair condition to win laurels.”


One day, a colored individual named Abram Bennefield got on a Benzine Bender, meaning intoxicated with alcohol and drew a knife on a colored brother, besides kicking up such a fuss generally as to cause a policeman to take him in tow. In return for his actions, the Recorder gave him the privilege of paying $100 or working at Mr. Hallahan’s brick yard for three months. Poverty compelled him to accept the latter alternative.


Then there was the case of Raas Scott, alias Cudgel Jones, who was confined in jail, waiting a requisition from Gov. Chamberlain. Yesterday, Constable Harris, my son in Edgefield, who appeared, duly equipped with the required legal documents, took hold of Scot| and both of them left on the evening train for South Carolina. The double murder, with which Scott is charged, was a very atrocious affair, and likely he will dangle in space while his breath depart forever for the offense.


Scott and a negro man named Jones got into a quarrel on the 15th of July, near Edgefield, and Scott becoming enraged at something Jones said, drew a pistol and shot Jones, killing him dead and also a young child which he, Jones, held in his arms. Scott fired, ran away from the scene of the crime, came to Augusta, got to stealing, was caught, and was sent to Hallahan’s, where he was recognized by a fellow convict, who informed on him. Rass Scott was a young, evil looking Negro, probably not more than 20 years of age.


Some Negroes believed that the colored man was always a victim of the white. But victim and victimizer go hand in hand. At Callahan’s prison, some of the guards were white men and even some were colored. A few of the guards were also convicts themselves, who were even paid for guard duty.


The cost of the convict guard for the month of April, amounted to two hundred and five dollars, and this may be added the additional expense of feeding the prisoners, purchase of implements, &c., and the board of that valuable country mule at twenty-five dollars per month.


Not only mostly Negro men and boys found their way in Hallahan’s prison but also Negro women or girls.


These women strumpets or ladies of the evening were often all and about Augusta. Bridge Row in Augusta used to be so bad on account of the street walkers that no lady could pass by there. Other areas in that very same city were used to be very bad on account of street walkers and thieves.


A court case ensued due to the fact of a series of injuries and deaths discovered from in prison.


According to the testimony of Lieutenant King testified in court saying, “I know Isabella Miller. She is a Negro strumpet. She was caught in the act of committing adultery on the streets.”


Isabella Miller, sworn—testified.


“I was put to bearing off bricks the next morning after I got there. Three of us had to bear off six rows. After the days get longer we had to bear off 7,000 bricks—Could do it if the moulder gave them to us. Sometimes I finished my task early and after that had nothing to do.”


Tears flowed down Isabella Miller’s eyes as she continued her confession.


“I was whipped four times. When I said I was sick I was bucked and whipped with the stick. I don’t know how many licks I got. I went to work the next day. I never razed the gauntlet. Mr. Hallahan whipped me once when I said I was sick. I wasn’t playing off sick. When I had chills and fever Mr. Hallahan gave me medicine and excused me from work when I had the fever. I got plenty to eat and had good fire. I never played off sick. Don't know whether or not any of the prisoners played off sick.”


Many prisoners at Hallahan’s chain gang were beaten and often gagged for their rude behavior.  That behavior referred to their failure to follow orders will at Hallahan’s facility.


Mr. Olive, one of the prison guards, revealed that sometimes white men and women were also being held prisoner for their crimes. Even some whites who had done no wrongs were kept as almost little more than slaves.


Fanny Green was sworn in, and this white woman gave her testimony in the court.


“I was at Mr. Hallahan’s, but was not a prisoner. My father, mother and brother were prisoners, they carried the rest of the family, five in all, out there. I worked 12 months just like the prisoners, was paid nothing. Was whipped twice. I went away [hurt or sick] and two colored men came after me and carried me back. They said Mr. Hallahan sent them after me. My husband was a prisoner, he was one of those who came after me.” 


She told the court of the type of cruelties that she saw while on Mr. Hallahan’s chain gang.  She began to weep as she said, “I was whipped that time because I went off, was whipped again by Mr. Olive, because I said I was sick. I was whipped so I couldn’t work for two days. I saw Bill Cumming’s covered up with clay. He ‘hollowed’ and they let him out, when he said he would work. They put him in a hole and put planks over, it as if it were a grave, they threw right smart dirt on him.  Cummings was buried to make him work.”


Cummings himself even explained to the court the circumstance that led to his imprisonment in Hallahan’s residence to the court.


“I live in Carolina. I was sent to Mr. Hallahan’s for taking a pair of shoes. Was sent there for 90 days. I was kept there much longer than 90 days. Stayed a month longer for costs. They buried me because I was sick and couldn’t lift some wood. Then they took me and put me in a hole and put boards over my head like a coffin and covered me up with dirt. I made so much fuss that they took me out. They didn’t hurt me. I suppose they did it in fun.”


Then there was the case of Amy Williams. Amy Williams had the task of baking bricks.  She was whipped because she did the task incorrectly. They whipped her at times. She was bucked and stripped. Amy got 25 lashes, with a strap, on each turn.


Worse than the beatings and the treatments of torture were the number of deaths that befell the Negroes. In the case of Anna Brown, a colored woman. She was sick and stayed at the prison quarters. She died about two weeks after she first said she was sick with Pneumonia, on April 16th 1874. She was buried in town, from the quarters, the next morning after she died. Cruel and inhuman treatment of colored inmates was found to be more often the case than not.


Dr. Gercke recalled how he visited Hallahan’s brickyard a year ago. He saw William Boyce (also known as William Lowe), a Negro.


Dr. Gercke told the court,


“The man was very sick when I arrived. The man died in June of last year, I think. I think he would have died anyhow, whether I had been called or not. He had been sick for a long time. He received attention before that. I found him in bed at the quarters. When I saw him it was three or four days before he died. He had no swelling of the body or legs. He walked some, I kept no memorandum. I didn't enter the name in my books. I was told he had a hemorrhage the day he died. I didn’t observe on his body any marks of whipping or cruelty. He was not attended to by the guards. It was not as late as last October that the man died. He was about fifty years old.”



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