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A Tragic Tale in Old Savannah

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This is a photo of William James Barrett, Jr., Elizabeth Carswell Barrett, his wife, and William Henry Barrett. It was taken at Wilson’s Studio on Bull Street in Savannah, Georgia about 1897 – probably to celebrate Elizabeth and William’s wedding.

William James’ life is full of tragedy. He was only two years old when his father was killed in December 1864 during a skirmish with Union troops near Concord Church outside their hometown of Yazoo City, Mississippi. His mother wasn’t quite 40 when she died in 1878. He later moved to Savannah where he met and married Rhoda Henry in 1892. Their son, William Henry Barrett, was born July 29, 1894. Rhoda died a week later.

Elizabeth and William were married April 15, 1897 and would have eight more children between 1897 and 1910. The 1900 census shows that the growing Barrett family was living in the household of Isaac Henry, William’s former father-in-law. According to the census record, there were 16 people living in the house at 424 State Street.

A current view of the Henry home on State Street. 

As the family grew, they moved several times. William also held a number of different jobs. He went from being a clerk at an iron works business to a salesman for a beef processor before settling into a job as a butcher with Cudahy Packing Company. In 1910 William left the family in Savannah and went to Birmingham to take a job with the Jacob Dodd Company. His half-brother, Lewis Link, was living in Atlanta at the time and may have encouraged the move.

Not long after taking the job, William contracted malaria and died in Birmingham on October 9th. According to the obituary, Lewis Link was with him when he died. His body was returned to Savannah for burial in the Carswell family plot at Laurel Grove Cemetery. Elizabeth wrote in the Family Bible:

“We miss thee more and more the longer the time the more I miss my darling husband. Our Papa was a devoted husband and devoted father and we all loved him so much we will never feel right without his presence.”

Wm. James BarrettHis youngest daughter, Ethel, was born after his death and only lived a few weeks. She was buried with him. After his father’s death, William Henry went to live with his mother’s Henry family. Elizabeth’s Carswell family did all they could to help Elizabeth and the other children. It was a tough childhood for them all. Elizabeth died in 1945 and is also buried in the Carswell plot in Laurel Grove. Elizabeth Carswell

Today descendants of both the Henry and Carswell sides of this Barrett family are spread across Georgia and Florida, but Savannah remains a special place in all our hearts.

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Savannah’s River Street

Savannah's River Street scene

Savannah’s River Street by the author

For much of the second half of the 19th century, Captain Isaac Henry (my great great grandfather) was a riverboat captain carrying goods and people up and down the Savannah River. Today these buildings house shops, restaurants and nightclubs but in Captain Henry’s day there were no landscaped parks or fancy hotels. It was the commercial hub for goods moving into and out of Georgia.

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Savannah’s Vietnam Memorial

A while back, we enjoyed a brief visit in Savannah – an opportunity to do a bit of research and visit the cemetery where most of my Savannah Barrett ancestors are buried.  I also wanted to visit the Vietnam Memorial in Emmet Park – not only because it’s a beautiful memorial but also because it was created by Oglethorpe Marble and Granite.  It just so happens that they are part of my Savannah family.

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A huge piece of Georgia marble sits in the middle of a reflecting pool.  It has a map of Vietnam carved on its face and a pedestal at the top with an upturned rifle, empty boots, helmet and dog tags.  A five-pointed star of marble embedded in the cement fans out from the pool with the insignia of each of the branches of service carved at the points.  A large block of marble (shown here on the right) lists the names of the 105 area residents  who were killed or declared missing in the war. To the east, American and POW/MIA flags fly perpetually at half-mast.

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Like many military memorials, the funds to create it are donated by citizens, civic and fraternal groups and businesses.  Rings of engraved bricks were sold to raise funds and they are also embedded in the cement to show who helped make this memorial possible.  A spirit must have been guiding my feet as I walked over to get a closer look at the bricks, for when I stopped and looked down, I was surprised to find myself standing directly over a brick with my father’s name, W H Barrett, engraved on it.  Actually, it should not have been so surprising.  My father was born in Savannah, served in the U.S. Merchant Marine and during the Vietnam War he shuttled fuel from the Persian Gulf to Cam Rahn Bay. So, now I have an even closer attachment to this beautiful memorial.

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Details:  The map was carved in place from three pieces of Georgia marble with a total weight of 91 tons.  An overhead photo at the Oglethorpe Marble and Granite site shows a better perspective of the carved map.