“The Work of A Fiend” screamed the newspaper headline just after October 7, 1890. Captain John C. Forsyth of Normandale, Superintendent of the Dodge Land Company in south Georgia, lay dead from a shotgun blast fired through his window as he read a newspaper.
The Lightwood Chronicles presents the history and the fiction associated with this tragic tale. Essays by Brainard Cheney, Caroline Gordon and Ashley Brown discuss the fiction. Articles on the pine barrens, the 1890 trial, and other topics address the facts.
Author Brainard Cheney, a native of the area, published the novel Lightwood in 1939, basing it on the convoluted events of the Dodge Land Wars. The author of four novels, all based in the area, Cheney was a contemporary and friend of Robert Penn Warren, Caroline Gordon, Flannery O’Connor, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom and many others of the Agrarian and Fugitive literary movements.
Forsyth’s “assassination,” as the locals deemed the murder, culminated nearly thirty years of struggle between local landowners, called squatters, and the Dodge Company, the northern investors. The Dodges owned 300,000 acres of prime timber land in a remote area of the state, labeled “wild lands” by some historians. Purchased under disputed legal title just after the Civil War ended, some of the land was home to many subsistence farmers.
Local attorney Luther A. Hall, a giant of a man who wore an eyepatch as a result of a disfiguring childhood accident, fought for the squatters in court. His charisma carried the day in the local courts, but faltered when the Dodge used political influence to take the cases to Federal Court. As the squatters were thrown off of their land by the courts, they turned to violence and sabotage against the timber concerns. In 1890, a conspiracy allegedly formed to murder Forsyth and included Luther Hall, a local sheriff and assorted squatters. They were convicted in Federal court and sentenced to life terms.
This legal case made its way through the courts for more than fifty years, ending in 1923. Many legal experts consider this to be one of the most complex legal actions in United States history. Its settlement left a devastated landscape and many victims in the piney woods of south Georgia.