The 1784 Indian Massacre in Rainbow City Part one


Through the years, many people have asked The Vagabond about how the late Jerry Jones, who was the former Etowah County Tax Assessor, first became interested in genealogy and history.

When Jerry was eight years, old he went with his family to Old Harmony Cemetery in what is now Rainbow City. The purpose of the visit was to clean the graves of family members buried in the cemetery. This trip took place on a Wednesday. The next day, Thursday, was to be Decoration Day, which is held on Thursday before the first Sunday in August of each year.

Jerry’s theory is that the Indian massacre, which took place at the site in 1784, is the reason for the date. It has never been changed and is still observed on that day, which sometimes falls in July and sometimes in August.

Jerry arrived very early in the morning, and the family was given an area that was to be cleaned. Their instructions were to clean every grave of any grass or weeds and then rake and re-mound each gravesite.

Jerry remembers being lifted over a large rock wall that surrounded three graves. The walls were high and he could not see over the top. He worked for what seemed endless hours and finally his oldest brother, H.C. Jones, came by and told him it was time for their lunch break. H.C. assisted Jerry in climbing back over the wall. Many other people had arrived, and everyone was working in a different area of the cemetery.

Jerry’s family gathered on the hill top under six large cedar trees, where his mother unpacked a large amount of food. While they were eating, Jerry asked his daddy, “Is our work about finished?” His dad’s reply was, “There is still work to be done.”

Jerry then asked, “Who are all these people buried in all these graves?” 

“Nearly everyone buried here are kinfolks, or connected to kinfolks,” his dad replied.

“That is my mother, and my little brother and sister buried right here,” pointing to three graves.

Jerry read the inscription, which read, “Lela Gilliland, wife of G.W. (George Walter) Jones,” and gave the dates of her birth and death. There were two small stones on each side of her grave that read “Louie Jones and Beulah Jones.” Adjoining these graves, under the cedar trees, were a number of small markers.

“These are my mother’s brothers and sisters who died while they were young,” his father said. “The big stone is my grandmother, Mary Jane Bentley Gilliland.”

Jerry’s great-grandfather Andrew J. (Jack) Gilliland was still living. Jerry knew him as he visited the family many times, sometimes staying for a week or more.

Jerry and his daddy were standing next to a large area enclosed by a wrought iron fence. They walked to the gate and read the inscription, “W.J. Bentley.” Upon entering, there was a large stone with the name W.J. (William Jackson) Bentley. On the same stone was Amy G. (Amy Gilliam) Adams, wife of W.J. Bentley. 

“These are my great-grandparents,” Jerry’s daddy said.

A stone on the other side of W.J. Bentley read “Elizabeth Stephens, second wife of W.J. Bentley.”

“We called her Aunt Puss,” Jerry’s daddy said.

Inside of this same fence were markers for the brother and sisters of Grandmother Gilliland and children of William Jackson and Amy Gilliam Adams Bentley.

As they came out of the Bentley Plot, Jerry’s daddy moved over to two stones and said, “These are my great-grandfather and grandmother, Wiley Buford Gilliland, and his wife Martha Burnett Gilliland.” 

He moved over a couple of rows and pointed to another stone. 

“Now here is Aunt Dame Gilbert. She was a sister of my great-grandmother, Martha Burnett Gilliland, and married Pleasant Gilbert.” He was buried in the grave beside her.

“When I was a boy, they were our closest neighbors,” Jerry daddy said.

As they were leaving that area, Jerry’s father went to his father, George Walter Jones, who was called Daddy Jones, and asked if Jerry would like to go with them. They moved down the hill, and as they passed gravestones, one of them would tell Jerry how they were connected to his family.

They came to another plot with a wrought iron fence. Inside were two graves with marble sides and a marble slab over the tops, and they appeared to be buried above ground.

“Now these are my mother’s parents,” Daddy Jones said. “Rev. Charles Best and his wife, Jane.”

Jerry asked, “What was her maiden name?” Daddy Jones said, “I have never known.” Even at this time, no one knows the maiden name of Jane Best. 

Jerry’s father moved past them, and buried next was his father and mother. This was a tall Masonic tombstone that read, “M.D.L. Jones (Marcus De Lafayette Jones) and his wife Ari Ann Best Jones.” Moving his arms around, Daddy Jones said, “These are all the families of Hugh Jones.” By that time they were standing at the big rock wall that Jerry had spent the morning cleaning.

“These are graves of my grandparents, Hugh and Elizabeth Phillips Jones,” Daddy Jones said. He then said that Hugh Jones had a large plantation in Whorton Bend on the Coosa River, and these stones came from a quarry that was located on Dunaway Mountain (the east side) where the old Agricola Dairy Farm once was located.

Daddy then took Jerry to the different graves and said, “Here is Aunt Polly Ann Silvey, and below her Aunt Becky (Rebecca) Gilbert, and Aunt Tula ( Taloola) Brown, and this is Uncle Edmond C. Jones, and Aunt Georgiana Gilliland, a sister of Granddaddy Gilliland – they were neighbors on the other side – and here is Aunt Mandy (Amanda) Thomas.”

Daddy Jones then pointed out the markers for two of Aunt Mandy’s husbands, both named Best. As they moved up the hillside, they saw a large double marker of Aunt Nannie (Nancy) Gilbert and Aunt Cath (Catherine) Cline. All of these people were children of Hugh Jones.

Daddy Jones then stepped up and said, “This is the grave of my brother, John Jones.” Jerry asked, “Who is the third person buried inside the wall?”

Daddy Jones said, “This is Isaac Moragne Jones, the oldest son of Hugh Jones. He was in the Civil War.”

Jerry’s dad then spoke up and said, “We missed the grave of another of their sons up on top of the hill.” He was referring to John S. (John Sheffield) Jones. “He married Aunt Amanda Newton Yeats.” 

As they walked over this large plot, there were two graves next to the rock wall, with a slab of cement over the graves but with no names.

Jerry asked, “Do you know whose graves these are?” Jerry’s dad looked at Daddy Jones, and Daddy Jones replied, “These are Clayton and James Jones. They were afflicted sons of Edmond Jones.”

Of course, this triggered another question from Jerry. “Who is Edmond Jones?”

Daddy Jones said, “He was my great-grandfather and the father of Hugh Jones.”

Jerry next question was, “Where is he buried?”

They pointed to an area across the cemetery driveway and said, “Inside the rock wall over there.” As we made our way, Daddy Jones stated, “He is the one who gave the land for this cemetery and for the church.”

Inside the wall were four graves. Daddy Jones pointed them out as Edmond Jones and his wife, Nancy (Croxton) Jones. The other two graves are Edmond Jones, Jr. and his wife, Cynthia Jones. Aunt Cynthia was a sister of Elizabeth Jones the wife of Hugh Jones.

There was a grave just outside the wall. Daddy pointed to it and said, “This is Leeper. He was the favorite slave of Edmond Jones, and they were very close.”

Jerry asked Daddy if this was the same Leeper that he met when he had taken him to a barber shop in Attalla a couple of years before for his first barbershop haircut.

He said, “No, but he was a son of the Leeper buried here. The younger Leeper worked on the Gilliland farm for many years, but he was never a slave.”

Of course, Jerry remembered him well. He was in the barber’s chair when a tall, very straight and white-headed colored man walked in the shop. Daddy immediately went to him and they shook hands. They were talking when suddenly the colored man turned and came over to the chair and picked Jerry up. Smiling, he said, “And another little Jones.”

Jerry was shocked and a little frightened, but daddy was smiling, so Jerry knew everything was all right. This Leeper lived to be near 100 years old, and Jerry remembered he died when he was nearly grown. When Granddaddy Gilliland moved to Attalla, Leeper also moved there.

Jerry’s next question was, “Who was Edmond’s father?”

They both stated they did not know his name. Edmond was an orphan boy, and his father was buried at the top of the hill. They walked there, however, and could not show Jerry the grave, but they knew that he was buried in that area.

Jerry’s father took up the story from there. 

Edmond’s father was moving from Georgia to West Florida along with a group. He had his two sons, Edmond age 5, and another son, age 3, with him. They had camped at the large spring. This spring was located where the latest building of Harmony Baptist Church now stands.

They were following the old Indian path that traveled south to Cahawba. During the night, they were attacked by a group of Indians on horseback. They circled the camp and thought that everyone was dead, but Edmond Jones awoke during the raid and peeped out of the wagon. He saw the Indians on their horses, and one of them had his younger brother in his arms. They rode away and this child was never found. Jerry’s grandfather thought his name was Joe Jones.

They continued the story that Edmond was found by a white man, who had heard of the attack, but whose name they did not know. He came to investigate and found the boy. He buried the dead. Both Jerry’s father and grandfather thought they were all buried in a common grave.

There were also some Indians that had been killed and were also buried at the same site, but it is not known if they were in the common grave. Edmond was reared by the man that found him, and when he was grown, Edmond started a search for his family. They said that when the Indians ceded the land in Alabama, Edmond Jones returned to the site of the massacre. He obtained the land where his father was buried and built a meetinghouse, Harmony Meeting House, as a memorial to his father.

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