The ‘Esau of Georgia’ Part II

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - ROGERS

In Part I of “’The Esau of Georgia,’” John T. Prior shot and killed the des­per­ado Jack Colquitt in self de­fense while at­tempt­ing his ar­rest.

On April 6, 1865, Haden Prior had gone to visit a Mr. Hampton, who lived be­tween Prior’s Sta­tion and Cave Spring. When Haden and his per­sonal slave be­gan to de­part Hampton’s home around 10 a.m., they were con­fronted in the road by three mem­bers of the Colquitt gang, Phillips, Mont­gomery and Bishop. Hampton stood watch­ing as Phillips spoke with Haden Prior.

“Phillips then drew his pis­tol and de­lib­er­ately killed my fa­ther, shoot­ing him at close range through the heart,” John T. Prior said, who did not learn about the mur­der un­til later that morn­ing when he re­turned from a hunt­ing trip. Upon hear­ing of his loss, John T. Prior sad­dled his horse, rode to the scene of his fa­ther’s death and found out as much as he could about the per­pe­tra­tors. Once he’d learned who they were, he im­me­di­ately set off to find and kill them, es­pe­cially Phillips.

Ag­o­niz­ing weeks passed be­fore Prior heard that Phillips lived on a farm in Har­al­son County and set off with one of his broth­ers and two friends. Prior and his party reached the Phillips farm about 1 a.m. and lay in wait in the woods for the vil­lain to leave his house at dawn. When Phillips ap­peared, Prior fol­lowed him to a field, where Phillips set to plow­ing. “He plowed on to the end of the row ... and just as he was go­ing to turn around I stepped out from the woods and cov­ered him with my gun. ‘Phillips,’ says I. ‘I want you.’

‘Let me go to the house first and see my wife,’ says he.

‘No, I want you right now,’ says I.” Prior led Phillips into the woods and fin­ished their busi­ness.

Ac­counts of John T. Prior’s story, with dif­fer­ing de­tails, are in­cluded in Ge­orge Bat­tey Jr.’s “A His­tory of Rome and Floyd County” and Larry Carter’s “Polk County, Georgia: The First One Hun­dred Years,” but only Harper’s ar­ti­cle in­cludes the story as told by John T. him­self.

Prior’s tale lives on, pass­ing down through sub­se­quent branches of the fam­ily across the United States. Richard Fer­gu­son,

of An­nis­ton, Ala., and Ramie Hart­man, of Wash­ing­ton state, both Prior de­scen­dants, re­call hear­ing the story many times dur­ing their child­hoods.

“We had some Prior de­scen­dants here from Texas a few years ago,” said Greg Gray of the Polk County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. “When I asked if they knew the story of John T. Prior, they said, ‘Well, we know the Texas ver­sion,’ so we sort of ‘com­pared notes’ and the Texas and Georgia ver­sions were just about iden­ti­cal.”

In his later years, John T. Prior would go West with his daugh­ter, Anna Lou Prior. Hart­man pro­vided the text of a let­ter from her great-great grand­mother, Ju­lia B. Prior, telling of John T.’s fi­nal years. “They sold the home­place at Prior’s and came out (to Ore­gon) in 1906. They were liv­ing with us when An­nie (John T. Prior’s daugh­ter) mar­ried. She went to Port­land then and was there nearly two years. But her fa­ther’s health was bad so they came back here (to Rose­burg, Ore.), and we lived right near each other, and he lived with both of us. He was so proud of his grand­chil­dren, and they were at his heels all the time.” John T. Prior passed away peace­fully at age 70 and was in­terred at Rose­burg Me­mo­rial Gar­dens, Rose­burg, Ore.

Ross Rogers is a news­room as­sis­tant and staff writer at Rome News-Tri­bune. He may be con­tacted at [email protected]

/ richard Fer­gu­son

John T. Prior’s grave marker at Rose­burg Me­mo­rial Gar­dens, Rose­burg, Ore. The spelling of the Prior fam­ily name was changed from Pryor to Prior fol­low­ing the fam­ily’s move to Georgia from North Carolina.

Haden M. Prior, fa­ther of John T. Prior and son of Asa Prior, was mur­dered April 6, 1865, by mem­bers of the Colquitt gang be­tween Prior’s Sta­tion and Cave Spring.


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