A little more than a century ago, a great man passed from our midst. He was an educator by ancestry, a soldier by necessity, and a minister of the Gospel by divinity. His life in our community spanned the depths of the dark days following the end of the Civil War to the zenith of prosperity at the turn of the twentieth century. Whiteford Smith Ramsay was born on June 8, 1839 in Milledgeville, Georgia. His father's family was rich in its Scotch heritage. The progenitor of the American Ramsays, William Ramsay, married Caroline Randolph, granddaughter of William and Mary Randolph. The Randolphs were the namesakes of William and Mary College in Virginia and the ancestors of three of the more famous Virginians, Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, and Chief Justice John Marshall.
Ramsay's parents, Randolph Ramsay and Mary Cleghorn Ramsay, were children of eminent men. James Ramsay served North Carolina in the Congress of the United States and wrote a widely acclaimed history of his state. Dr. George Cleghorn was a physician and scientist from Edinburgh, Scotland. Randolph Ramsay moved his family to Milledgeville in 1839 following his graduation from Yale University. Ramsay took a position as rector in the prepatory academy for admission to Oglethorpe College, which was located at Midway, near Milledgeville. Randolph Ramsay taught his son, Whiteford, at Oglethorpe until the younger Ramsay transferred to Princeton University in 1858. Later that year, the 19-year old Ramsay came to the floundering town of Dublin, Georgia to open an academy.
In April, 1861, the then 21-year old teacher led the organization of "The Blackshear Guards," a group of local men who would later be designated as Company H of the 14th Georgia Infantry. The men elected Prof. Ramsay as their Captain on July 14, 1861. Two days later, Capt. Ramsay was elected Lieutenant Colonel of the 14th Georgia. Col. Ramsay may have been one of the youngest colonels in the Confederate Army. The company was mustered into Confederate service on July 23, 1861. Twenty five days later, Col. Ramsay resigned his commission from the army.
Ramsay returned to Dublin. The true reason for his return is not known today. In the war years, Ramsay was led toward the ministry. In 1870, Rev. Ramsay converted and was ordained as minister of the First Baptist Church of Dublin. Rev. Ramsay served the congregation for over two decades, retiring as an active pastor in 1891. In addition to his service to First Baptist Church, Rev. Ramsay served at Poplar Springs North Baptist Church for twenty years and four months, the longest period of service in the history of Laurens County's oldest church. In fact, not only did Rev. Ramsay serve as pastor of First Baptist and Poplar Springs North, he also served Rocky Creek Church - all at the same time. During his thirty years in the ministry, Rev. Ramsay also served Ohoopee Baptist Church, Jeffersonville Baptist Church, and Bethlehem Baptist Church, Laurens County's second oldest church. Ramsay was also active in the Ebenezer Association, the governing body of Baptist churches in our area, serving as moderator for eight years and as an officer for over twenty years. It has been said that Ramsay preached more funerals and baptized more people than anyone in the history of Middle Georgia. Many of those baptisms were held in the Oconee River. Ramsay would wade out into the middle of the river and call those wishing to be baptized to join him in accepting Christ as their savior.
In accordance with an act of the 1870 Georgia legislature, the Laurens County Grand Jury of the 1872 April term established the first county board of education. The initial board chose Rev. Ramsay as the county's first school superintendent. The board established stringent standards for teachers, which included passing a seven part exam. The superintendent was not exempt from the exam. Ramsey accepted the challenge and made six perfect scores and missed a seventh one by two-thirds of a point on the school law test. In addition to his duties as a trustee of the school system and as superintendent, Ramsay served as Principal of the Dublin Academy, which was then a two-story wooden building that stood on the site of the present City Hall.
During the 1880s, Dublin's religious leaders led a temperance movement in the city to rid it of the sale of alcoholic beverages. At one time, there were nearly a half-dozen bar rooms in the city. At that time, Dublin had a population of less than five hundred, half of which were women, and half of the remaining people were not allowed to drink because of their age or their race. Eventually the "dry" folks won, and the bar rooms closed.
Rev. Ramsay's contributions to his community extended beyond his religious and educational work. In October of 1884, Ramsay joined other civic leaders and businessmen in seeking the location of a railroad into Dublin. These men knew that a railroad was the key to any future growth of Dublin. Stock subscriptions were sold, and the leaders formed the Dublin and Wrightsville Railroad, which later merged with the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad. The Wrightsville and Tennille came into Dublin in 1886 and gave Dublin a connection with the powerful, and profitable Central of Georgia Railroad. Rev. Ramsay served as treasurer of the D&W Railroad and was elected to serve on the board of directors of the W & T Railroad following the merger.
Rev. Ramsay was one of the foremost leaders of Laurens Lodge No. 75, F. & A.M. in Dublin. Ramsay was made a Master Mason in 1874. He later became a Royal Arch Mason and member of the St. Omer Commandery Knights Templar. Rev. Ramsay served as chaplain of several Masonic organizations and as chairman of the Foreign Correspondence Committee of the Grand Lodge. He served as Worshipful Master of the Laurens Lodge for eight years - longer than anyone in the one hundred fifty two year history of the lodge.
Whiteford Ramsay was re-elected to another term as county school superintendent at the dawn of the 20th Century. During the winter of 1899-1900, his health began to fail. His physicians did all they could do. Ramsay's family decided to send him to St. Joseph's infirmary in Atlanta. After a week of unsuccessful treatments, Rev. Ramsay decided that home was the best place for him to be. On March 16, 1900, Ramsay returned to his home on Bellevue Avenue at its southeastern corner with the street which bears his name. Rev. He passed away just two hours later. A pall was cast over the entire county. Laurens County's most beloved man of the 19th century was dead.
Thousands of mourners, many of them from all parts of the state, came to pay their respects. The old wooden First Baptist Church was too small to accommodate the crowd of people who came to the funeral. The front porch of the church was used as the pulpit. The crowd extended across the street and beyond the academy where Rev. Ramsay once taught. Rev. Ramsay was buried in the Old City Cemetery in the Thomas N. Guyton plot. Ramsay's wife, Henrietta Jane Guyton, survived him by sixteen years and was buried beside her husband in the family plot. Ramsay's elaborate marble monument, made locally by W.F. Womble, was placed over his grave over two years after his death. Rev. Whiteford Ramsay's contributions to our community are still felt today, one hundred years after his death. He truly was, in the strictest sense of the word, a noble man.