Governor Henry McDaniel served as Georgia’s top-ranking government official from 1883 to 1886. He’s known for being one of the first professors at one of my alma maters….Mercer University. During the Civil War he earned distinction for taking over his unit, the Georgia 11th Infantry, when all of the officers were killed. Later he entered politics where he served out the remainder of Gov. Alexander Stephen’s term following his death and was then elected in his own right. During his administration, the Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, was established and the construction on the current state capital building began.
As with most governors, McDaniel was often asked to review the cases of convicted felons for clemency. One particular case told the strange saga of one George Brown, a prisoner in the Dade County Penitentiary.
The 1886 article found in the New York Times states:
(please note the following newspaper article is presented here just as it appeared in the 1886 paper. Some of the language is offensive to us today, but it was commonly printed during the late 19th Century)
During the recent insurrection of the Dade County Penitentiary one of the prisoners named George Brown distinguished himself by his efforts against the mutineers. As soon as the time came for surrender a forge with blacksmith’s tools stood ready to fashion the shackles on the prisoners. As they came out George Brown jumped to the anvil, and seizing the sledge undertook the task of shackling his comrades. As he disposed of one prisoner he would call out, “Bring in another coon.”
Col. Towers recommended the pardon of Brown to the Governor. It was then that an interesting story was developed by Dr. J.A.Gray, who happened to be in the executive office. In 1878. Brown was a guard of a convict camp. A prisoner escaped and was pursued by Brown and the Sheriff. Under the Sheriff’s orders Brown fired and killed the fugitive. For this he was convicted and sentenced to death, but the sentences was commuted to life imprisonment.
In 1879, Dr. Gray visited the penitentiary with a legislative committee and being struck by Brown’s appearance secured his confidence and learned that he was under an assumed name; that his father was one of the most prominent citizens of Oswego, N.Y., but he did not wish his family to know of his unfortunate situation.
Dr. Gray, on returning to Atlanta, communicated with Oswego and found that the prisoner’s statement was correct. These papers he then turned over to Dr. Raines, the then principal physician, with the request that he would use them to secure Brown’s pardon. It was not until today that the case was recalled, when Dr. Gray ascertained that Dr. Raines had never taken steps in the matter, that on Raines’ death a couple of years ago, all the letters had been burned by his widow, and that he himself had forgotten the real name of the prisoner who was today set free by the executive clemency of Gov. McDaniel.
Strange Georgia history, huh? This would make a great plot for movie....if it hasn't already.