Tag Archives: Churches of Liberty County

Dorchester Presbyterian Church, 1854, Liberty County

Midway Congregational Church, founded in 1754 and a seat of power in the Colonial period, was associated with three satellite congregations known as retreats, because their locations, slightly more inland than Midway, offered a respite from the malarial swamps of the coast. The last of the retreat churches to be established was located at Dorchester. Its origins can be traced to nearby Sunbury, a short-lived boom town founded in 1758 whose trustees were members of Midway Church. Sunbury thrived nearly from its inception, rivaling Savannah in commercial importance, but its proximity to Fort Morris lead to its capture and subsequent burning by British troops during the American Revolution. While many such casualties of the war recuperated, Sunbury never seemed to regain its prominence after the devastating four-year occupation that followed. The hurricane of 1824 and a yellow fever epidemic sent many of its residents scattering into the nearby countryside. Huge plantations with names like Laurel Grove, Arcadia, Melon Bluff, Cedar Point, and Palmyra were emerging in the countryside around old Sunbury. In 1843 upon the suggestion of Reverend Thomas Sumner Winn, a tutor for prominent Presbyterian minister Charles Colcock Jones, a site was chosen for a retreat between Sunbury and Midway. It was originally known simply as “the Village,” but was soon christened Dorchester, in tribute to the heritage of its citizens. Some families built summer homes at Dorchester, though many tore down their dwellings near Sunbury and rebuilt them on the higher and drier ground the retreat afforded. As this new location was only six miles from Midway, the idea of building a church was not initially entertained, though an academy was built in which Sunday school was regularly taught. By 1854, with the continuing decline in membership at Midway, the families of the village built a permanent church, which still stands today. The old town bell from Sunbury, dated 1799, was placed in the steeple. The land was donated by Bartholomew Busby, who owned the nearby Melon Bluff Plantation. At first it was used only in summer, but by the onset of the Civil War was in regular use. The church was officially recognized by the Savannah Presbytery in 1871 and named Dorchester Presbyterian Church. The church holds services on the first Sunday of each month at 5 PM.

National Register of Historic Places

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Flemington Presbyterian Church, 1852

Flemington Presbyterian was the second of the Midway retreat churches. It remains the most active of all the congregations associated with Midway Congregational Church. In 1815, Midway member William Fleming established Gravel Hill, a retreat in the pinelands of Liberty County. Like the settlers of Walthourville before them, the people who came to Gravel Hill established a more permanent presence as time passed. For many summers, worship services were held in homes and then in a log structure which also housed a magistrate court. The first permanent church was built in 1832 on land given by Simon Fraser and was used for twenty years. The church followed the organization of Midway and was seen as a branch, not a mission, of Midway. In 1850 the name of the retreat was changed to Flemington in honor of William Fleming. A new home for the old Gravel Hill church was constructed between 1851 and 1852, and one of the selectmen of the congregation, T. Q. Cassels, was the architect. Though an amateur, he was well read in classical civilization and its monuments. The impressive steeple, to this day the pride of the congregation, was built by member Irwin Rahn. By the end of the Civil War, those who had settled in Flemington found the ten-mile trip to Midway nearly impossible, sought and were granted independence. In the spring of 1866, they officially adopted Presbyterianism. Upholding Puritan values of good education, a school was established, known by the 1830s as the Tranquill Institute. Confederate, then Union soldiers, used the old school as a hospital in 1864, and three of the Union casualties are buried in the Flemington cemetery. By the Victorian era, the Flemington Musical Society’s influence on popular entertainment in the area illustrates the shift away from Puritan roots toward a more secular society.

National Register of Historic Places

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Ebenezer Presbyterian Church & Reverend Joseph Williams Memorial, Freedmen’s Grove

Freedmens Grove GA Liberty County Midway Area Ebenezer Church Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Founded in 1887 by the Reverend Joseph Williams, Ebenezer Presbyterian is an important African-American congregation. Reverend Williams’s headstone, which faces the church from across US 17, reads: In Memory of Rev. Joseph Williams – Founder of Presbyterianism among the colored people of Georgia – Born in Providence Island West Indies A. D. 1805 – Died at Riceboro Ga U.S.A. Nov. 22, 1899.

Freedmens Grove GA Liberty County Reverend Joseph Williams Memorial Ebenezer Presbyterian Church Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

“A Chronicle of Black History in Liberty County, Georgia”, by Lillie Walthour Gillard, gives insight into the work of the Reverend Mr. Williams, as he was widely known.

The Reverend Joseph Williams, a native of the West Indies, came to Liberty County from Macon, Georgia, in the year 1867. On April 12, 1868, he organized a Presbyterian church in the building of “Old Midway” church with 300 members and worshipped there for eighteen years. This congregation became part of Knox Presbytery and of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., and was known as the Midway Presby­terian Church. Following a period of controversy over the rights of occupancy of Old Midway-Congre­gational or Presbyterian-the Reverend Mr. Williams organized a group of forty-six persons formerly members of a church pastored by Dr. C. C. Jones. In 1880 the church moved to Riceboro where a new building was constructed with the assistance of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

http://libertyhistory.org/topics/black-history/61-a-chronicle-of-black-history-in-liberty-county-georgia

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