Person:Joel Flanegan (1)

Joel Lycurgus Flanegan
d.3 Jan 1863
Facts and Events
Name Joel Lycurgus Flanegan
Gender Male
Birth? 30 Oct 1818 Georgia, United States
Marriage to Elizabeth A. Unknown
Marriage 27 Nov 1840 Polk Co. GAto Mary Caroline SANSING
Occupation? Physician
Death? 3 Jan 1863

Dr. Joel L. Flanegan is an ancestor that makes genealogicalresearch worth it, though for the wrong reasons. Besides beinglocally prominent as a physician and prosperous landowner, Dr.Flanegan made it into the records of his church, and indeed,even the minutes of the Supreme Court of Georgia. In both cases,it was for things out of the ordinary -- entertaining to apoint, but also tragic and instructive.

The records of the church -- Van Wert Baptist Church in PolkCo., Georgia -- are available in transcript at the Rome / FloydCo. [Georgia] Public Library and seem to paint a picture of aman at odds with others often. He joined the fellowship with atleast one of his slaves on Sunday evening, May 20, 1854, andwithin two months was an alternate for a district meeting. Theninexplicably, several months later, in January 1855, he sent aletter to the church asking that his name be removed from therolls; investigation led to a charge that he had whipped hiswife. By the following May, he returned to the church andacknowledged his sin and was restored to fellowship. Some of therecords following are unclear, though it appears that he and hisfamily asked for and were granted letters of dismission in thefollowing November [of 1855], but remained or quickly rejoined.Almost immediately, in March 1856, he got involved in anotherdispute, this time with an R. W. Whitehead, and the churchappointed a committee to investigate, which a month later madeits report:

"We, your committee, recommend that the Church charge BrotherFlanegan with unbrotherly conduct in trying to obtain a warrantagainst Brother Whitehead's negroes without first going to seeBrother Whitehead. And Brother Whitehead charges BrotherFlanegan (from the report of his family) with coming to hishouse during his absence from home, and shooting his dog, andvery much frightening his family. We also recommend that theChurch charge Brother Flanegan with falsehood in denying theaccompanying charge of Sister Whitehead, when we suppose it canbe proven: 'I charge Brother Flanegan with circulating reportsderogatory to my Christian character and of using languageunbecoming a lady, much less a Christian.'"

Dr. Flanegan, not to be outdone, wrote this classic response,which was read at the May 1856 meeting of the Church:

"Brethren, you don't wish me to live with you, neither do Idesire to do so. Excommunicate me and I will be as muchdelighted as some of you will be gratified. Hoping that the Lordwill smile upon you and me, and that we may at last meet wherestrife, envying, malice, hatred, and ungodly combination willnever come. I am respectfully, Joel L. Flanegan"

The church complied with his request, some members no doubtbeing very pleased to do it!

What may or may not have been known within the Van Wertcommunity as a whole was a particularly shameful liason that hadoccurred a little over ten years before. Though married in 1840to Mary Caroline Sansing, Dr. Flanegan had had an illegitimatechild, Joel Sansing Flanegan, born September 20, 1845, by hiswife's sister Dorcas -- and who had been only fourteen at thetime of the forbidden affair! This had been the family rumor forover a century, but the rumor was finally confirmed as fact whenthe Reports of the Supreme Court of Georgia, Vol. 28 (1859), pp.136-139 were examined and found to have made public Dr.Flanegan's private shame. It started as a financial dispute inPolk Co. Superior Court in 1858, and went from there to Atlantaon appeal. Without going into the legal technicalities of thecase heard by the Court in March 1859, it was made clear thatDorcas was the mother of the child, Joel, who was conceivedwhile Dorcas was a ward under Dr. Flanegan's guardianship, andthat Dr. Flanegan was -- by his own admission -- Joel's father.

We do not know for sure what effect this behavior had had on hisfamily, though taken together with the wife-beating incidentrecounted above, it is probably safe to say that his was not ahappy home. The son, Joel Sansing Flanegan, would grow up tohave his own destructive defects of character, due no doubt inlarge measure to his father's example. Dr. Flanegan's case is sointeresting, perhaps, because sin makes for interesting, "juicy"stories, even if for ultimately tragic ones. Perhaps it isinteresting because people weren't supposed to be like that backin the "good ole' days." Of course, there never were "good ole'days," and human beings -- ever since our first parents hidunder the cover of a garden in shame -- have struggled withthose things which would destroy their souls and lives if giventhe chance. His life is an earnest reminder of the power andgravity of our choices. Perhaps the greatest lesson of all isthat life is a series of choices, and what you choose -- inwhatever arena of it, no matter how seemingly insignificant --determine what and who you will be, and ultimately, whose youwill be in the end. All of life, I suppose, is a choice betweenlife and death.