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
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
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
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
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
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)
Gann. C.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
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
"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
"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
"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
DEATH OF CAPTAIN
regret to announce the death of Captain
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
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:
School and Risley High School
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
thee our Dear Old Risley,
Crimson and the Gold
To they high and noble precepts,
We shall ever hold.
Risley we love thee;
True we�ll ever be,
Loyalty shall be our watchword,
Risley we love thee.
Dear Old Risley,
We shall ever be
Loyal to our Alma Mater;
Friends of Liberty.
keep our standards high,
As the days go by,
We shall never, never fail thee,
Dear Old Risley High.