Prater's Mill Descendants Gather For Special Program

  • Wednesday, September 28, 2022
  • Mitch Talley, Whitfield County Director of Communications

History always seems to be in the air at Prater’s Mill. 

But a recent meeting of the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society at the historic site in Varnell in Whitfield County was even more special as direct descendants of the men originally responsible for the construction and operation of the 167-year-old landmark gathered under the pavilion to receive framed copies of a photo made there in 2015. 

The photo, taken by Whitfield County Director of Communications Mitch Talley, with the mill in the background, was created to resemble the painting “First Reading of the Proclamation of President Lincoln” by Francis Bicnell  Carpenter. In the painting, Carpenter depicts Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, and his Cabinet members reading over the Emancipation Proclamation, which proclaimed the freedom of slaves in the 10 states in rebellion against the Union in the American Civil War on Jan.1, 1863. 

Included in the 2015 re-creation were Judson Manly, whose great-great grandfather John Pitner joined forces with his son-in-law, Ben Prater, to build Prater’s Mill in 1855, and Billie Prater, who was a direct descendant of Charles Prater, a Cherokee Indian boy whose parents chose to stay legally in Georgia by voluntarily becoming slaves of Pitner. The two families became connected in 1852 when Ben Prater married John Pitner’s daughter, Amanda, and Charles Prater married Rebecca, an African slave of Ben and Amanda Prater. 

Also in the photo are Judson’s son, Mike Manly; Billie’s daughter, Teresa Prater Burse; and Harold Brooker, who played a key role in the mill becoming the property of Whitfield County a few years ago as a county commissioner and is also a descendant of Jane McGaughey and Henry Brooker. 
During a program on Sept. 18 organized by longtime Prater’s Mill volunteer Judy Alderman, copies of the photo were presented to the people pictured. Since Billie Prater passed away in 2017, his son Aaron Prater accepted in his memory.  

Aaron also told the crowd about the history of his family, and his two sons, Ariel and Anton, entertained with vocal, saxophone, and keyboard selections. 

Before Varnell received its name, it was known as Red Hill. Alderman said the special program literally allowed “something to come to pass,” as she quoted Martin Luther King Jr: “I have a dream that one day in the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

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