Usually, when my name appears in newspapers other than The Brunswick News, it is unflattering and includes phrases such as “according to police” and “witnesses testified.”
And there my name was Wednesday, front page of The Darien News. My first and last names were the opening salvos in a story hanging beneath a headline that included the words “shotgun” and “shooting.”
Before I could protest, the colleague who tossed the recent edition of McIntosh County’s weekly paper of record on my desk said, “Just it read it, Hobbs.” So I did.
As it turns out, my only crime is getting scooped on the local history beat — and it was quite a scoop. What unfolded below in black ink on white print was a finely-spun tale containing the rest of the story on perhaps the most notorious firearm in Brunswick history. That would be the double-barrel “10 Bore” Parker brand shotgun wielded by the deranged Monroe Phillips, who went on a shooting rampage in March of 1915 that left five dead and 32 wounded in downtown Brunswick.
I wrote about Phillips’ shooting spree and his formidable firearm in the history column for Aug. 4. The column found its way to Robert Lee Everson Sr., a long-time McIntosh County native who descends from McIntosh County natives. Among other pursuits, the 75-year-old Everson delivers The Darien News. He also writes, which is how we learned what became of that shotgun after its role in the infamous shooting.
“This same 10 Bore later was owned by my grandfather, Moses Green,” Everson explained in The Darien News article.
The man who sold it to Green way back then made sure he knew the story behind the “10-Bore,” or 10-gauge shotgun. As a young boy, Everson saw the gun often when visiting his grandfather, who lived on the marsh off Landing Road in McIntosh County.
“Granddaddy would show the gun to people who would visit him and he would tell them the story,” Everson wrote. “I remember him telling me, ‘Give me that 10 Bore, both barrels are loaded with buck shot.’ He kept it behind his front door, along with a 44 rifle. He was much of a man to stand and shoot that 10 Bore.”
Here we see Everson’s gift for understatement. Indeed, it is difficult to determine which legend carries more weight — that of the shotgun, or of the tough-as-oyster-shells man who came to own it. Should the Gullah-Geechee culture need a legend in the tradition of Paul Bunyan, he should embody the traits of Moses Green.
Mose, as he was known to most, made his living off the bounty of our coast — harvesting oysters, crab and fish. He prospered, in fact. And despite the social dictates of an era in which black folks were constantly marginalized, Mose would cower to no man. He stood resolutely against even the most powerful of white men when they tried to wrong him, Everson recalled.
That he stood at all was testament to Mose’s strength. “He had one leg and a half of a foot,” Everson wrote of his grandfather. “His right leg was cut off below the knee.”
Among Mose’s assets were a pair of artificial legs. “He had two peg legs, both carved out of cedar — one was for work when he was picking oysters and such and the other peg was to wear on Sunday to go to church.”
Mose leased some waterfront property he owned to a group that constructed a dock there for shrimping concerns. A white man who saw that Mose was profiting from the venture sought to take the land outright. Mose told the man to meet him in court.
Everyone, white and black, knew who really owned the land. But many suggested Mose compromise for his own sake, ceding only a portion of the property “’because you know you weren’t going to win with that white man.’”
Nothing doing. “He said, ‘I’ll die the death of a polecat and stink on my way to hell, before I give him one damn inch,’” Everson wrote. “’It’s my land and he knows it.’”
Mose was not alone in his righteous stand. A local white lawyer, Julian Bennett, stood resolutely in his corner, vowing “to fight the case even if Moses Green never gave him another dime,” Everson said. Mose sparred with his antagonist through a decade of court battles before ultimately emerging as the victor. At one point during the protracted struggle, however, the exasperated Mose contemplated taking up the old “10 Bore” and giving his detractors some lead to eat along with their Jim Crow.
“That case almost got the best of the toughest man I’ve ever known,” Everson wrote.
Sometime later, Everson recounts, tobacco heir R.J. Reynolds began carving a road through Everson’s property to reach his Sapelo Island dock. Mose took the island’s millionaire owner to court and was awarded equitable compensation for the intrusion. “My granddaddy won the case and was paid,” Everson wrote.
Mose eventually sold that land to a white man named William B. Brannan, no doubt for a price he deemed fair.
Mose has long since moved on to that great bountiful marsh in the sky. And the shotgun? “He sold that 10 Bore to a man in Darien, whose name, I believe, was Mr. Smith. That has been more than 50 years ago.”
Everson recalled that his grandfather used to sit on his porch and blast away with the shotgun from the berth of a favored rocking chair. “After the shot, the chair would be rocking,” he recalled. “That 10 Bore kicked like a young mule!”
So too did its resilient, one-legged owner.
“Granddaddy was a man of extraordinary strength,” Everson wrote. “He had guts!”