Oliver Perry Owen first gained my notice when I read an 1891 article from Douglasville's "The New South" paper that stated, "Perry Owen, treasurer of the grand jury failed to show up the last day. An investigation revealed the startling fact that he was twelve and a half cents short, and there is some talk of sending a detective to Canada to look for him."
Feeling I might be able to uncover a man on the run, I dug further, but I found no follow up stories involving a posse or citizens marching on the Owen farm brandishing pitchforks and blazing torches over a financial shortage involving a measly twelve and a half cents.
What a minute … twelve and a half cents? How could that be?
Back in the earliest day of settlement in North America the Spanish dollar, or "piece of eight," was often the common currency. It was worth eight Spanish silver reales, and one eighth of a dollar or one silver real was often referred to as one "bit." In 1794, the United States adopted decimal currency and the U.S. coin worth one-eighth of a dollar or 12 and a half cents went away, but the terms "one bit," "two bits," etc. remained in the language with "four bits" equaling a half dollar. The United States also minted their own half-cent coins from 1792 through 1857. While this doesn't exactly explain how Perry Owen's figures ended up twelve and half cents short in 1891, we now know as my former students would say that twelve and a half cents was indeed something that existed.
With a little bit of digging I found another term in history that Perry Owen was connected to besides a bit or twelve and a half cents. Owen can be described as a Galvanized Yankee.
Oliver Perry Owen was born in 1842, the son of John Owen who by 1860 was living in Campbell County with his wife, Permelia Jefferson (Embry) Owen. and his three sons. Based on "The New South" article, Oliver Perry Owen went by his middle name "Perry." Like his father he was a farmer and like many of his neighbors he enlisted in the Confederate army. Records reflect he joined Company K of the 30th Georgia Volunteer Infantry on Sept. 25, 1861. Company K was known as the Chattahoochee Volunteers and was comprised of men living in Campbell and Carroll Counties mainly along the Chattahoochee River.
The 30th Georgia Volunteer Infantry fought in many engagements during the war, but it wasn't until the fighting came to Georgia that Perry Owen found himself captured near Kingston, Georgia, toward the end of September 1861 and sent to Rock Island, Illinois, to the prison there.
Rock Island prison was located on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River between Davenport, Iowa and Moline, Illinois. The prison was often compared with Georgia's horrendous Andersonville prison though at least at Rock Island, Perry Owen would have had some form of shelter that historians describe as crude shanties. Prisoners had to deal with extreme cold temperatures with little to no heat, sanitation efforts were minimal, and smallpox was rampant.
Conditions were so terrible at Rock Island that I can completely understand why men like Oliver Perry Owen became what is described as Galvanized Yankees -- a term which refers to a Confederate prisoner who turned his back on the Confederacy by joining the Union army. Just a few days after arriving at Rock Island, Owen enlisted in Company C, 2nd U.S. Volunteer Infantry.
For the next few weeks Owen and other Galvanized Yankees were sent west and used for scouting, wagon train escorts, and operations against Native Americans. Some members of the 2nd U.S. Volunteer Infantry were present at the signing of the Little Arkansas Treaty between representatives of the United States and a few different tribes. The regiment mustered out at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on Nov. 7, 1865, a full seven months after Lee's surrender at Appomattox.
Owen made his way home to Campbell County where he picked up where he left off marrying Lavinia Jane Brooks in 1867 and eventually had eight children. He is buried at Ebenezer Church cemetery on Highway 166 where his unique tombstone reveals he was also a member of Woodmen of the World, a fraternal organization where members were concerned with helping others, promoting patriotism and civic responsibility, and providing financial protection for their families revolving around insurance and other financial services.
From what I can tell Owen's status as a Galvanized Yankee and the missing twelve and a half cents never plagued him with his neighbors and friends. He lived a long life finally passing in 1914 at age 73.
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County in the Weekend Edition of the Sentinel. You can find her book "Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County" online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her books can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art, The Farmer's Table and Lithia Springs Pharmacy.