15 June 2018

Louisa Polhill Butts (d. 1892) & the Georgia Lunatic Asylum

Louisa Mary Polhill was born about 1822 in either North Carolina or Georgia. According to the granite marker placed at her burial site in Rose Hill Cemetery – likely added some years after her death – Louisa was a daughter of Harriet Allen Taylor and John Goldwire Polhill, a judge of the Superior Court of Georgia. (Harriet was also buried in Rose Hill upon her death in 1873.)


Louisa married James Rogers Butts (1802-1869) on 7 July 1841 at Baldwin County, Georgia. This couple had at least seven children:

  • Catharine G. Butts Atwood (d. 1870)
  • Tallulah Ellen Butts Atwood (d. 1909)
  • Harriett Laura Butts (1854-1855)
  • Elijah Polhill Butts (d. 1892)
  • Jessie C. Butts (1859-1953)
  • James Albert Butts (d. 1930)
  • John G. Polhill Butts (d. 1913)

James and Louisa settled in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia after their marriage. Per the 1860 census, James owned real estate valued at $90,000. He worked as a land agent and surveyor until his death in July of 1869, and the 1870 mortality schedule of the US Federal census provided James died of "Congestion of the Brain."


It's possible Louisa did not handle the death of her husband well. Her name – Mrs. Louisa Butts of Bibb County – appears on a list of Georgia Lunatic Asylum Patients in Robert Davis's Georgia Black Book: Morbid, Macabre, & Sometimes Disgusting Records of Genealogical Value, admitted between the years of 1853 and 1870. Louisa is a head of household in Macon for the July 1870 census, so it's possible she was admitted to the Milledgeville hospital shortly thereafter.


1937 view of front, Milledgeville State Hospital. Parts of central building date back to Civil War.
Photographer L. D. Andrew, public domain.

According to the 1880 Baldwin County, Georgia Federal census, Louisa was still a patient at the "State Lunatic Asylum," and noted specifically as "insane." I presume Louisa was a patient at the asylum until her death in 1892. Though I have not come across a specific record that states as much, her obituary noted she died at Milledgeville.

For that same year census, Louisa's three youngest children (Jessie, James, and John) were residing with their oldest living sister, Tallulah Butts Atwood, in McIntosh County, Georgia.

Louisa's Legacy: Notes on Her Children

  • Catharine Butts Atwood at Rose Hill CemeteryCatharine G. Butts was born 10 September 1843 in Georgia. She married William Henry Atwood, son of Henry Skilton Atwood and Ann McIntosh, 16 August 1867 at Bibb County, Georgia. They had one child, Louise M. Atwood, before Catharine died 8 October 1870. She was buried in the James R. Butts lot at Rose Hill Cemetery. (Image of her tombstone at right.)
  • Tallulah Ellen Butts was born 5 October 1850 in Georgia. Tallulah, after the death of her sister Catharine, also married William Henry Atwood on 17 October 1871 in Fulton County, Georgia. This couple had at least six children: Henry G., Maud A. (1875-1957), James R., Jane C., Elliott McIntosh, and Sibyl Jessie (1890-1919). Tallulah died 1 November 1909, and was buried at the Atwood Family Cemetery in McIntosh County.
  • Harriett Laura Butts was less than a year old when she died 17 January 1855. Hers was the first burial in the family lot at Rose Hill Cemetery, James purchasing the lot the day after her death.
  • Elijah Polhill Butts was born in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia about 1856-1857. He married Ada Creswell after 1880, and they had at least four children: Carolee J., Adrienne C. (1887-1950), Julia P., and Catharine Isle (b. 1891). Elijah met an accidental death 11 January 1892 while working as the "Resident Engineer" on a reconstruction project on the Burlington Bridge in Des Moines County, Iowa. He "was struck on the head by a stone, receiving a fracture of the skull which proved fatal. No one saw the accident, but he was found unconscious under [a] pier."
  • Artist unknown - Mary Baker Eddy, "Rudimental Divine Science," first published in the United States 1891, courtesy of Project Gutenberg, Public DomainJessie C. Butts was born 22 May 1859 in Macon. By the early 1900s, it seems she had devoted herself to the Christian Science belief. In a 1903 Christian Science Journal, Jessie was noted as a "first reader" for services at the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Terre Haute, Indiana. The 1910 McIntosh County, Georgia Federal census gave her an occupation of "Doctor, Scientist," and her 1953 death certificate stated her usual occupation as "C. S. Practitioner." Jessie, who never married, died at "Mrs. Della Anderson's Rest Home" in Austin, Travis County, Texas.
  • James Albert Butts was born 12 August 1861 at Macon. Some time after reaching adulthood, James made his way West. I'm not certain how he spent his time between 1880 and 1910, though I should note his death certificate gave him the occupation of miner dating prior to 1903. – For the 1910 Maricopa County, Arizona Territory census, James was an inmate at the "Territorial Insane Asylum." He was at the same institution in April 1930, then called the Arizona State Hospital for the Insane. James died 8 months later. His death certificate noted he had been a resident of the institution for 27+ years. Cause of death was chronic myocarditis, with a contributory factor noted as psychosis.
  • John G. Polhill Butts was born in Macon just before Christmas in either 1886 or 1887. He became a civil engineer for the railroad, and maintained a residence in Macon. On 11 April 1906, John married Sara Wright Flournoy in Morganfield, Union County, Kentucky. This was noted as his second marriage. John contracted pulmonary tuberculosis, and died at a sanitarium in El Paso, Texas 8 December 1913. Per his death certificate, John had been at the Homan Sanatorium 10 days; in the state of Texas 6 months. The disease was contracted at Macon, Georgia, and the same location was noted to be his usual residence. Burial was at Evergreen Cemetery in El Paso.

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