The Story of Douglas Gilbert Risley, Colored Memorial, and Risley School; Glynn Co., Georgia


The Story of Douglas Gilbert Risley,
Colored Memorial, and Risley School

By Amy Lyn Hedrick
13 June 2006

            The name Risley may be familiar with many in the county, but while people recognize the last name, they may not know who this Risley was, nor even his whole name. One of Glynn County's most overlooked contributors to her history was one Douglas Gilbert Risley, who at the time, seemed to have only provided a small, and oft-times unwanted, service to the community as the head of the Freedmen's Bureau.
            Douglas was born on 5 September 1838 in Pomfret, Chautauqua County., New York to parents Oliver Wordsworth Risley and Sally Yale. He was one of nine siblings from a long established family in New England. His mother may have been related to the same family that Yale University was named in honor of in 1716. While the school was started in 1701, it was named for Elihu Yale several years later. It was understood that Elihu had no male heirs and left the bulk of his estate to the school; Sally may have descended from a collateral line.
            Sometime between 1850 & 1861, Douglas removed to Elkhart County, Indiana, and it is possible that a brother or other relative, John, moved there as well. A 32-year-old man named John Risley is living next door to Oliver Risley in the 1860 Chautauqua County, New York census. His three children were born in Ohio about 1852, Indiana about 1853, and New York about 1857. These birth dates chart the path of John Risley from New York, to Ohio, to Indiana, and then back to New York.
            On 26 January 1866, Douglas filed for an invalid's pension for wounds received during the Civil War. According to military records he enlisted on 24 April 1861 while living in Elkhart County, Indiana as a sergeant in Company C 9th Infantry Regiment Indiana, this was a "colored" troop. He was mustered out of this same company on 29 July 1861 in Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana.
            Another record shows that he was dismissed from this company on 13 February 1863, reportedly due to wounds received. A paper in his pension file states that he enlisted in Co. E 9th Regiment U.S. Colored Troop on 27 November 1863 and was discharged 15 May 1865.
            On 29 September 1864, while commanding this regiment at the battle of Deep Bottoms, Virginia, Risley was severely wounded in the right shoulder. He was leading his regiment in an attack on what was understood to be Fort Gilmor [spelling according to Edwin S. Babcock affidavit] also known as Fort Johnson. Capt. Babcock listed Risley on the casualty list as "mortally wounded."
            However, Risley survived his wound with a long stay in the hospital at Fort Monroe, and was granted $20 per month starting 15 May 1865. He was attended by a Dr. Henry on 16 February 1866 and deemed unfit for duty with total disability.
            The gun shot wound was repaired by a total resection "of the humerus upper third", basically fusing the upper arm bone to the shoulder, removing the joint causing total "loss of rise" of the right arm. During his convalescence, Risley suffered severe illnesses from this wound, which eventually led to his premature death in 1882 at the age of 44 years. The attending physician stated that from this surgery Risley was "enfeebled by loss of blood, long continued suppuration and suffering, there may have been deposited in the lungs, thrombi or emboli, which gradually developed into caseous masses, these in their natural courses breaking down, supporating, forming cavities and causing the hemorrhages which terminated his life."
            From 1866 up until his death, Dr. James Simeon Blain was Risley's physician, and according to Dr. Blain, his friend and neighbor as well. They did not meet until after the war when Risley came to Glynn County, Georgia and apparently later lived on the same street as Dr. Blain.
            After the war he was a Lieutenant in the 42nd Infantry in 1866 and by 1867 was sent to Glynn County as the head of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedman, and Abandoned Lands. The next year, 22 January 1868, young Risley married the widow of Jacob W. Moore, Mary F. (Scott) Moore. Jacob was shot and killed at Glynn Academy (today's high school) on 24 December 1857 during a heated debate at a town meeting.
            On 12 December 1882, Mary F. (Scott) Moore Risley was granted Douglas' pension to commence at $20 per month. According to these pension documents, Mary died 4 years later on 7 June 1886. No death date has been found for her other than in this document.
            In March of 1887, Sally Risley sent in a petition to receive her son's pension stating that she can not live without it. From 1861 up until the time of Douglas G. Risley's death, he had been sending her money to help sustain her and the family. To prove that her son helped greatly in aiding his family Sally sent the letters that Douglas wrote to her over the years mentioning the monies he was sending. Had she not done this, we may never have had such insight into Douglas Risley's personality today; these letters are contained within his Civil War pension file located at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C.
            One letter, dated Elkhart Indiana 15 March 1862, gives us a picture of Risley's strong abolitionist views, and his father's seemingly pro-slavery outlook:

               "The signs of the times would indicate that there need be but very few more Recruits raised, Rebellion being upon its last legs & desperately sick, but having grown like a 'strong man' it will die hard, & like a giant struck down in the midst of health & full bodily vigor it will struggle hard & desperately in its last throes & agonies.
                    Yet O how glorious a result is likely to be obtained by this war!
                    The first gun that boomed out upon the Southern air in Charleston Harbor, last April, sounded the death knell of Slavery!  This will is sure to be the inevitable result!  And the death rattle, in the throat of every volunteer who dies upon the battle field, or in the Hospital, tho a mournful sound to hear, shall yet be drowned in the glad shout of freedom, that will rise from the heart of poor oppressed blacks who will be made free!
                    Had I a thousand lives & the laying them down would release a thousand slaves, I would give them. God forbid that evil councils prevail with our [illegible] to put off this coming time!  Father hates an abolitionist, but I can't help it.  I must write just as I think, & whenever I speak, it shall be against this cursed sin of slavery, whether in public or private."

            According to Douglas G. Risley's pension file, Oliver, his father, was unable to care for the family in any capacity. Some of Douglas' letters allude to a possible addiction of his father's, maybe alcohol. The file states that in 1867 Oliver had one of his feet amputated, and on 10 March 1873 the other foot was amputated as well. It's possible that Oliver may have been diabetic, and this document further states that Oliver died on 11 January 1882 only months before his son. Douglas paid for his father's surgeries, and sent money for his parents' support from the time he enlisted in the service until his death in November of 1882. His parents were living in Ohio by this time, and it is assumed that they died and were buried there.
            Some online family trees has Douglas married twice, but according to his pension file he was only married once, to Mary F. (Scott) Moore. He died without having any children of his own, but was a father to Mary's only daughter, Minnie (Moore) GannC.P. Goodyear of Glynn County attested to this information, since having known Risley as a comrade in the Army during the Civil War. He also attested to the wound Risley received stating that he was with Risley when it happened.
            But let's go back in time just a bit, to 1870, when Risley secured the funds for the purchase of land in Brunswick for the first Freedman's School that was built on the corner of H & Albany Streets. After the Bureau closed, the American Missionary Association (AMA) operated the school until 1882; this school was later renamed Risley School in honor of D.G. Risley who died that same year.
            Many of the children in the African-American community went to small rural schools if they lived beyond the city limits. These schools only offered up to the 8th grade in education, after that there were no other options locally. The Risley School as well, only offered up to the 7th grade.
            Soon, due to expansion in population, new school buildings were built at the site of the original Risley School, since it could no longer accommodate the growing student population, and more grades were added. The original wood building was now outdated and newer larger accommodations were needed. These new buildings too, were soon bursting at the seams with eager scholars. The first of these new buildings was erected around 1922; it was a wooden school building that could accommodate 12 teachers. By 1923, a two story brick building was erected with 12 classrooms, a large auditorium, and seven additional rooms. Eventually, grades 11 and 12 were held in this building, thus providing the first African-American high school in Brunswick. This brick building, which is still standing today, was named the Colored Memorial School in honor of African-Americans who served their country during World War I, and it was built next to the Risley School.
            Enrollment soon superseded the capacity of the wooden school by 1930 so it was torn down, and a new brick building, mirroring the construction of the Colored Memorial building, was built in its place around 1936. The new building had 11 classrooms, a library, laboratory, rest rooms for students and staff, a principal's office, and a stock room. Colored Memorial became the grammar school for grades 1-8, and Risley High School was born.
            High School was taught in this building until 1955, when a more modern school was built further north on Albany Street. This new building became Risley High School, and the former building became a grammar school, then later the campus was used as an alternative learning center.
            In the files of Margaret Davis Cate we find a timeline of sorts that she created, charting the rise of Risley School from a small rural school, to part of the Board of Education Public School System:

"On 6 August 1867, Mayor & Council of the City of Brunswick leased for 99 years to Jack Morrison, James Blue, and Henry Byrd as Trustees for the Freedman's School...for educational and religious purposed for the benefit of the freedmen and their descendants...

"October 1, 1870 Commissioner in Charge, Gen. O.A. Howard, transfers to above Trustees. April 19, 1880 said Trustees acknowledge they cannot operate the school and 'whereas Mrs. L. North of the City of Brunswick by her acquaintance with the American Missionary Association and their interest in the education of the freed men in the South...if she is given full and absolute control' and without such control the Association will not aid the school...

"July 21, 1880 Mrs. L. North (wife of the Yankee postmaster) to American Missionary Society.

"February 23, 1882 paper signed by John Morrison, Henry Bird, and James Blue, Original Trustees, and Rev. John Williams, Pastor of the First A.B. Church, A.R. Lawrence, M.J. Scarlett, Rev. C. McDowell, and F.M. Jones addressed to Rev. J.E. Roy, Agent A.M.A., Atlanta, Ga. stating that in their judgment the school and school property should be turned over to the local school authorities.

"May 19, 1882 A.M.A. of New York to the Board of Education of the City of Brunswick--John T. Collins, J.M. Dexter, and A.V. Putnam.

"September 4, 1900 Superior Court, Judge Jos. W. Bennett, presiding, named Rev. John Williams, C.A. Clark and Jeff Williams as Trustees of Risley School. These Trustees petition the Court for authority to deed the property to the Board of Education of Glynn County. This was done in October 1900. Right to sell provided proceeds are reinvested for....[end of notes]"

            It is unfortunate that the notes were cut off, but the general history of the rise of the Risley School can be ascertained.

            On 18 November 1882, Brunswick, Glynn County, Georgia dear old Captain Douglas Gilbert Risley passed away at the age of 44 years, 2 months, and 13 days. His obituary in the Brunswick Advertiser and Appeal, reads as follows:

Advertiser & Appeal; Saturday 25 November 1882; pg. 6 col. 3


                We regret to announce the death of Captain Douglas G. Risley, which occurred on Saturday night, 18th inst., from hemorrhage of the lungs, having broken a blood vessel in a severe fit of coughing. Capt. Risley was on the retired list of the U.S. army, having been invalided from severe wounds received in the late war. He was a Lieutenant in command here after the war, under the Freedmen's Bureau, and built the Risley school house, for the education of colored children. In 1871 he was elected county treasurer on the Republican ticket. Some two years since he organized a cigar factory here, which, after doing a good business, was burned out in June last, being almost a total loss, with but little insurance. Since then Capt. Risley has been sick nearly all the time, and has at last succumbed. We tender our sympathies to his sorrowing relatives and friends.

            The Risley Campus, including all current buildings, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and an historical marker was erected on 2 July 2004, which reads:

Colored Memorial School and Risley High School

Brunswick's first public school for African Americans opened in 1870 as the Freedmen's School, later changed to Risley School to honor Captain Douglas Gilbert Risley, who raised funds for the school's construction. In 1923 the adjacent building, Colored Memorial High School, was built and named to honor African-American veterans in World War I. In 1936 Risley High School was built on the site of the 1870 Freedmen's School and remained in service until 1955 when a new Risley High School was constructed. Both the Colored Memorial School and Risley High School are landmarks of African-American education in Glynn County.

Erected by the Georgia Historical Society, the Glynn County Board of Education, and the Risley Alumni Association.



Risley High School Alma Mater

Hail to thee our Dear Old Risley,
Crimson and the Gold
To they high and noble precepts,
We shall ever hold.

Dear Old Risley we love thee;
True we'll ever be,
Loyalty shall be our watchword,
Risley we love thee.

Hail to thee our
Dear Old Risley,
We shall ever be
Loyal to our Alma Mater;
Friends of Liberty.

We shall keep our standards high,
As the days go by,
We shall never, never fail thee,
Dear Old Risley High.







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