Second Ward Councilman: 1860, 1861, 1862
Born in South Carolina in 1823 but “reared in Henry county, Georgia,” James R. Crew came to Marthasville in 1843. His parentage is unknown, but he was apparently a relative of James Camak, who helped secure James Crew employment in Marthasville with the Georgia Railroad. James was married to Jane Louisa Killian in February 1850 by the Rev. John Simpson Wilson, the first minister of Atlanta’s First Presbyterian Church.
The 1850 federal census found James, a railroad conductor, living in a hotel in Atlanta with Jane. He soon after “bought a lot on Mitchell Street opposite the city hall” and built on it “a one-story frame structure with a kitchen in the yard, the kitchen being connected with the house by a covered walk.” (This 1871 map shows the James R. Crew House on Mitchell Street across from City Hall. Nearby Crew Street was named for James.) The home was still standing in the late 1930s (located at 22 Capitol Square SW) when it housed a department of state government. It was demolished in 1938 and the Coverdell Legislative Office Building stands in its place today.
James “was made General Ticket Agent for the Georgia, Atlanta & LaGrange, and Macon & Western railroads” in 1851. The 1860 federal census enumerated James and Jane in Atlanta’s Second Ward living with J. B. Brantley, a 35-year-old railroad agent, and George Thomas, a 25-year-old attorney. He also owned three slaves: a 55-year-old man, a 50-year-old woman, and a 15-year-old girl.
When James was elected Second Ward Councilman in July 1860, a local newspaper noted that he “will make a most excellent Alderman, and being a good Douglas man, beat his competitor one hundred majority. Hurrah for Douglas and Johnson.” He served in that position in 1860, 1861, and 1862.
During the War, James stayed in Atlanta and served in several official government capacities. When his brother-in-law died at the Battle of Peachtree Creek in July 1864, James buried his body at Oakland Cemetery the next day “amidst the shells that were falling in the cemetery.” Atlanta soon fell to Sherman, and Mayor Calhoun appointed James and another citizen to carry letters from General Sherman to General Hood discussing Sherman’s plans to evacuate non-combatants from the city. Hood disagreed vehemently with Sherman’s plans:
And now, sir, permit me to say that the unprecedented measure you propose transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war.
In the name of God and humanity, I protest, believing that you will find that you are expelling from their homes and firesides the wives and children of a brave people.
Sherman disregarded Hood’s protests and forced the evacuation. He justified this action in a letter to Mayor Calhoun and several councilmen: “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.”
James and others “rendered assistance eminently valuable to the citizens in the removal of their effects” from Atlanta under Sherman’s order. He went to his wife’s hometown of Madison, Georgia, but soon returned to Atlanta to work on rebuilding the railroad. In December 1865, James “fell a victim to the lawlessness of the times”:
On the evening of November 29, 1865, Mr. Crew had come home at six o’clock, eaten a hurried supper, and returned to his office, which was in a temporary wooden building at the corner of Loyd Street (Central Avenue) and the Georgia Railroad. As he worked on that moonlit November night he little suspected that a plot was afoot to rob and if necessary murder him. . . .
When Mr. Crew left his office on foot about 9 o’clock, his route home took him down Loyd to Alabama; thence to Washington, and by the City Hall to Mitchell, where he turned left. When about twenty-five feet from the residence of William Solomon, where he and his wife were boarding, he having previously sold his own home next door, Dennis Harris slipped up from behind and struck him on the head with the iron bar. As he was falling he uttered two words, “Oh me!” At this juncture Henry Brown ran up and searching the victim’s pockets, found only a key. Thinking it was the key to the ticket office, the robbers returned to the office but failed to gain entry. The key, it turned out, was to the door of the Central Presbyterian Church, in which Mr. Crew was deeply interested and his wife a charter member. Some while later Crew recovered sufficiently to stagger to the gate of the Solomon house and up the walk, where he fell insensible on the steps. Two days later he died of a fractured skull, having regained but slight consciousness.
In an obituary, the Intelligencer called James “a practical business man, a public-spirited and benevolent citizen, a faithful and warm-hearted friend, an exemplary and devoted husband, and a most useful member of the congregation of the Central Presbyterian Church, to which he was strongly attached and upon whose services he was a constant attendant.” He was buried at Oakland Cemetery, and his friends, William Solomon and Lemuel P. Grant, served as bondsmen when his estate was probated in February 1866.
Widowed, Jane left Atlanta and both the 1870 and 1880 federal censuses found her in her father’s home in Madison. She married Lemuel Pratt Grant in Atlanta in 1881, and they moved into the “Second Grant Mansion” on Hill Street. She remained in the home after his 1893 death, and the 1900 and 1910 federal censuses located her there. When she died in April 1912, the Constitution wrote:
Ever a friend to the friendless, a prop to the needy, her life was an inspiration to all with whom she came in contact. In a true sense she was a “mother to the community.” It is eminently fitting that both council and the park board, attending her funeral yesterday in a body, should have symbolized the city’s sorrow at the passing of a noble woman identified with the loftiest phases of the city’s career.
Jane had moved James’s body to Westview Cemetery, where he lies next to her; she lies next to her second husband, Lemuel P. Grant; and Grant, in turn, lies next to his first wife. James and Jane had no known children, and some of their letters and papers held by the Atlanta History Center.
Atlanta Constitution. “The Death of Mrs. Grant.” April 14, 1912.
———. “New State Building on Capitol Square Sought By Rivers.” June 19, 1938.
Atlanta Intelligencer. “Died.” December 28, 1865.
Augusta Constitutionalist. “Election of Alderman.” July 29, 1860.
Cooper, Walter G. Official History of Fulton County. Atlanta, GA: Walter W. Brown Pub. Co., 1934.
Garrett, Franklin M. Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events, 1820s–1870s. Vol. 1 of Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events. Athens, GA: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1969.
Killian, T. D. “James R. Crew.” Atlanta Historical Bulletin 1, no. 6 (1932): 5–27.
Rose, Michael. Atlanta: A Portrait of the Civil War. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 1999.
Sherman, William T. Memoirs of General William T. Sherman. Vol. 2 of Memoirs of General William. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1875.