Tag Archives: Coastal Georgia in the Antebellum Era

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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Filed under -LIBERTY COUNTY, Dorchester GA

Plantation Plain House, Groveland

Though it’s hard to see due to its overgrown state, this is one of the tallest Plantation Plain houses I’ve ever seen. My guess is that it dates to the mid-1850s. This vernacular style is also known as an I-House.


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Filed under -BRYAN COUNTY, Groveland GA

Lower Black Creek Primitive Baptist Church, 1859, Bryan County

Constituted in 1839, Lower Black Creek Primitive Baptist is one of the most historic churches in Bryan County. The present church was rebuilt after a fire in 1859. As of 2011, the congregation had dwindled to just two members, Deacon Gene Bryant and Thelma Kangeter. Deacon Bryant, with the assistance of Chip Killingsworth of Brewton-Parker College, is attempting to have a historical marker placed at the church and organizes a reunion for member families each year.Mrs. Kangeter’s son, Benny, was leading an effort to ensure the church remain in use for reunions, weddings, and funerals and the inside is well-maintained and restored, as well. The exterior remains in relatively good shape.

It’s so nice to see a church with such a history be preserved in a meaningful way. The unpainted pine finishings of the interior add to the primitive appearance of Lower Black Creek.

Copies of the “songbook” Primitive Hymns and funeral home fans sit at the ready on every pew, awaiting congregants and reminding one of what a busy place this once was.

The cemetery, among the largest in the area, indicates that the membership here was once very large, and it’s my hope that efforts to have a historic marker placed will be successful. It would be a shame to see a place so important to so many simply be forgotten. (Note- The bulk of my photographs of the cemetery were recently lost to a digital glitch and I will be replacing them soon).

Minnie Lee Cox (4 October 1895 – 13 August 1917)

Ed Nolan writes: My GGG Grandmother and Grandfather are buried here. According to my Grandmother their house was the old one on the left, on the curve towards Hendrix Park up the road from the church/cemetery. Assuming that’s still there…..haven’t been around there in some years.Story was that when Sherman’s men came thru, Grandmother Lavinia Geiger welcomed them into her home (after stashing Grandfather and the children out in the woods somewhere.
Giving the soldiers food, etc…..they went on their way without burning their houses, etc.


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Filed under -BRYAN COUNTY, Black Creek GA

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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Filed under -LIBERTY COUNTY, Flemington GA

Savannah-Ogeechee Canal, 1830

The sign pictured above, in the parking area, illustrates the method of towing a barge in the canal.

The Savannah-Ogeechee Canal is a national landmark of early engineering located on the edge of Savannah. The 16.5-mile canal, conceived by turnpike owner Ebenezer Jenckes, was constructed by slave laborers and Irish immigrants between 1826-1830 to expedite transportation of cotton, lumber, and other valuable market products from the Ogeechee River to port at Savannah. It also served as a means of moving consumer items from Savannah to the state’s interior. DeWitt Clinton, Jr., son of the New York governor associated with the Erie Canal, was the first chief engineer. In 1827, he abruptly left the project, likely due to investors’ refusal to incorporate a feeder canal. His assistant, Edward Hall Gill, briefly assumed engineering duties, but was replaced in 1828 by Loring Olmstead Reynolds.

The Savannah-Ogeechee Canal (originally known as the Savannah-Ogeechee-Altamaha Canal) was the first and most ambitious of three built in Georgia during the Canal Era and is the only one retaining significant structural components today. Plans to connect it to the Altamaha and eventually the Flint and Chattahoochee were never realized.It was beset with problems from the beginning and at least three local newspapers dubbed it “the Folly”. In 1826, Peter McIntyre, a local subcontractor, paid the passage for one hundred Irish laborers to work on the project. They worked for about a month but by December began to riot. McIntyre and another subcontractor, Eze Baldwin, absconded with their payroll, leaving the workers “in deep distress” and a “state approaching starvation.” They were aided by members of the local Hibernian Society before returning to Ireland or dispersing elsewhere. Such unexpected labor disputes lead to cost overruns and heavy debt. Nonetheles, work on the canal was completed by December 1830.

By 1836, the canal was bankrupt, and sold at a sherrif’s sale. Investor iterest in canals had been replaced by the promise of railroads. The new owners set out to improve it, replacing wooden locks with more substantial brick locks, and the canal began to turn a profit, albeit not the margin expected. Portions of all the locks survive, some nearly in their entirety. Five of the locks also featured a keeper’s house.

In the days leading up to the capture of Savannah in 1864, Union and Confederate troops were encamped near the canal and were involved in several skirmishes. Damage was done to the canal but by 1866, it was operational once again. In 1876, Captain Charles Sheftall lead weekly excursions along the canal that included music, dancing, dining, and other reccreational activities. Heavy rains in June 1876 did serious damage to the canal. A yellow fever epidemic that followed claimed over a thousand lives and officials blamed the canal’s stagnant waters, overflowing banks, and inadequate drainage.

After years of losing business to the railroads, the canal was purchased by the Central of Georgia in 1888 and officially ceased operation.

The walking trail begins at Lock No. 5 (Young’s Lock).

Much of the 1.6-mile trail follows the historic towpath.

A heavy stone bearing associated hardware bears the date of 1830, the year the canal was officially opened.

Lock No. 6 is located at the point where the canal meets the Ogeechee River.

Details of the architecture are visible from the south side.

The bricks were made on site.

This important resource is an amazing survivor and its accessibility as a public recreation area is the result of the work of the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Society, who oversee the property and offer interpretive background.

The boardwalk follows the shoreline of the Ogeechee and offers great views of this historic river.


National Register of Historic Places






Laurel Grove Cemetery, 1853, Savannah

Set aside from the old Springfield Plantation lands of the Stiles family in 1850 to meet Savannah’s burgeoning need for new burial grounds, Laurel Grove* was officially dedicated by Henry Rootes Jackson at a ceremony  in 1852 and opened for burials in 1853. The cemetery was so popular that it was deemed “full” by the early years of the 20th century and closed to new burials. As a result, it contains one of the largest concentrations of Victorian-era funerary sculpture and ornamentation in the state. It fell into a terrible state of disrepair for decades but preservation efforts, sometimes contentious, in recent years have vastly improved its apppearnce.

*To distinguish the white and black sections, divided by the I-16 connector, the terms North and South are used today. The white section is referred to as Laurel Grove North Cemetery.

Many famous Savanniahans rest here, including: Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girls Scouts; James Lord Pierpont, author of Jingle Bells; and famed Jewish Confederate nurse Phoebe Pember. Also present are an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court (James Moore Wayne), cabinet members, United States Senators and Representatives, at least two dozen Savannah mayors, eight Confederate generals, a Union General, namesakes of numerous Georgia counties and towns, and a Bishhop of the Episcopal Church (Stephen Elliott) who was also the only Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. Most of these are not included in the post at the present time but will be added soon.

Perhaps the most-visited memorial in Laurel Grove is not of any celebrity but rather this Cararra marble angel marking the final resting place of Louisa Porter. This work by Italian sculptor A. Caniparoli has drawn admirers since it was installed and continues to wow to this day.

Louisa Porter (8 May 1807-5 August 1888)

Louisa Porter’s father, Dr. Adam Alexander emigrated from Inverness, Scotland, to the United States in 1776. He served the Colonial Army as a surgeon during the Revolutionary War. Her mother, Louisa Frederika Schmidt, was German. Louisa was born in Liberty County in 1807, following an older brother, Adam. In 1824, she married Anthony Porter, president of the Bank of Georgia. Though she had no children, Louisa was quite dedicated to philantrhopic efforts, especially those involving children. Over the years she served on the board of the Savannah Free School and as the director the Savannah Female Society. Her greatest contribution, perhaps, was her role in the creation of the Industrial Relief Society and Home for the Friendless. Upon her death, much of her wealth went to the society and its name was changed to the Louisa Porter Home for Girls.

George W. Martus (31 May 1861-24 June 1940) and Florence M Martus (7 August 1868-8 February 1943)

Florence and brother George Martus were the lighthouse keepers on Elba Island in the Savannah River for 35 years. Florence will forever remembered by Savanniahans as “The Waving Girl” and has been memorialized by a popular statue on the downtown riverfront. A Georgia Historical Commission marker (at another location) reads: For 44 years, Florence Martus lived on…Elba Island with her brother, the lighthouse keeper, and no ship arrived for Savannah or departed from 1887 to 1931 without her waving a handkerchief by day or a lantern by night. Throughout the years, the vessels in return watched for and saluted this quiet little woman. Few people ever met her yet she became the source of romantic legends when the story of her faithful greetings was told in ports all over the world. After her retirement, the Propeller Club of Savannah, in honor of her seventieth birthday, sponsored a celebration on Cockspur Island. A Liberty ship, built in Savannah in 1943, was named for her.


Othelia Strasser Forrest (15 November 1875-11 December 1905)

Henry C. Heuisler (10 November 1849-24 July 1901)

This monument depicting a weeping widow was placed by Emma Getz Heuisler (1857-1938) after the loss of her husband.

Elizabeth “Bessie” Brown Fetzer (1868-1896) and Laura Fetzer (1878-1904)

Robert Clifford Fetzer (?-20 February 1920) placed this memorial to honor both of his wives.

The Jewish section is quite large, reflecting a prosperous community with roots reaching back as far as the founding of Georgia. The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life notes: By the time of Oglethorpe’s landing, the Jews were already on the way. Apparently, the Jewish community of London seemed just as eager to dispose themselves of their own dependent citizenry, and in 1732 a committee of prominent Jewish Londoners organized a ship to transport their financially strapped brethren across the Atlantic, out of sight and off the community dole.

The William and Sarah, chock full of 42 Hebrews, left London the following January, a month before Oglethorpe had even set foot in the New World. After a perilous journey, the ship finally reached Savannah on July 11, 1733. Upon their disembarking, Savannah instantly became the site of the largest Jewish settlement in the New World. Although the colony’s trustees were unhappy with the appearance of Jews in Savannah, James Oglethorpe welcomed them with equanimity and optimism. He defended his decision by pointing out that the Georgia charter only excluded Catholics and slaves, and made no reference to Jewish settlers.

The passengers aboard the William and Sarah were largely of Sephardic descent, with a smaller population of German Jews. The eight German Jews consisted of Benjamin and Perla Sheftall, a man named Jacob Yowel, and the brothers Abraham and Simon Minis and their families. The Sephardic immigrants included Dr. Samuel Nunes Ribiero, a prominent physician who arrived with his family. Dr. Ribiero was not fleeing poverty, but persecution. When the Portuguese Inquisition returned with a vengeance in 1720, Dr. Ribiero and others who secretly preserved their Jewish identity fled the country in large numbers. Dr. Ribiero and his family left for London, and from there secured passage to Savannah.


Lena Ehrlich (15 May 1820-13 August 1884)

Henry Rothschild

Ornamental ironwork abounds in Laurel Grove. Oaks and acorns are among the most common themes.

This section of Laurel Grove contains the remains of over one hundred men who died in battle at Gettysburg in 1863. Their bodies were brought to Savannah after a ladies’ memorial society raised money for proper burials.

The dead are watched over by “Silence”, a statue originally placed in a gazebo beside the Confederate monument in Forsyth Park, but removed to Laurel Grove to placate ladies who felt she looked as if she were in a cage.

The old Confederate Veterans Association of Savannah likely placed this memorial around the turn of the last century. A carronade cannon said to have seen service during the 1864 Siege of Savannah rested here for many years. The cannon was removed to Fort Jackson by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1990.

Dr. Samuel A. T. Lawrence (?-11 October 1860) and family.

Gilmer-Minis Family Pavilion

Louisa Frederica Alexander Gilmer  (9 June 1824-19 November 1895)

Louisa Gilmer was the wife of Confederate Major General Jeremy Francis Gilmer (1818-1883), Chief of the Confederate Corps of Engineers, and was the sister of Confederate Brigadier General Edward Porter Alexander.

Margaret Marshall (1841 or 1842-26 May 1866)

Elizabeth Wyman Westberry (13 November 1916-11 January 1918)

Reverend Willard Preston (29 May 1785-26 April 1856)

Enduring examples of all manner of Victorian funerary art are found throughout Laurel Grove.

Selected Mausolea of Laurel Grove

William Clark (1791 or 1792-30 October 1872)

Captain Joseph Samuel Claghorn (22 January 1817-8 April 1879) and family.

Captain Claghorn was born in Norwich, Connecticut, and came with his family to Savannah in 1827. In 1846 he married Sarah Campbell Hunter. Claghorn was elected Captain of the Chatham Artillery in 1856, a post he held until 1862.

Francis Sorrel (4 May 1793-5 May 1870) and family, including Confederate Brigadier General Gilbert Moxley Sorrel (23 February 1838-10 August 1901).

William Wright (birth and death dates unknown)

William Seabrook Lawton (1824-1893) and family.

Lawton was the brother of Confederate Brigadier General Alexander Robert Lawton, and Captain Edward Payson Lawton, who died from wounds received at the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The tall Gothic spires on the Lawton mausoleum are being restored.

Richard Farr Williams (1785-1838) and family.

John Henry Haupt (23 August 1780-?) and family

Isaac William Morrell (1794-23 January 1865) and family.

George Anderson (1767-1847) and family.

Dr. William Richard Waring (23 February 1827-26 November 1889) and family.















Filed under -CHATHAM COUNTY, Savannah GA

Cannon’s Point, St. Simons Island

Acquisition of the Cannon’s Point property (608 acres) by the St. Simons Land Trust (SSLT) in 2013 has affected the preservation of the last contiguous wild maritime forest on the island. The peninsula, at the northeast end of the island, features over six miles of salt marsh, tidal creek, and river shoreline. Ancient shell middens, essentially the trash piles of Native American settlers, are also present. At the dock just beyond the parking lot is this idyllic view of a small tributary of the Hampton River, located at the former site of Taylor’s Fish Camp.

Free and open to the public Saturday-Monday 9AM-3PM, Cannon’s Point Preserve is staffed by volunteers who will give you a bit of history and information when you arrive. Be aware that the walk down Cannon’s Point Road, the main trail in the preserve, is 4.4 miles roundtrip. Bring water, bug spray, and good shoes.

The old camp store remains and has recently been restored.

The first structure you’ll likely notice as you begin the hike to the Couper house ruins is this tabby barn. Built circa 1925 by Charles, Archibald, Arthur, and Reginald Taylor as a storage shed, it’s a great example of tabby architecture. The Taylor brothers established a business in 1919, farming, raising livestock, and operating as fishing guides. This part of the Cannon’s Point Preserve was known as the Lawrence Plantation and the brothers purchased it from Anna Gould Dodge, widow of Christ Church rector Anson Gates Dodge, in 1921. The Taylors were the largest producers of  beef and pork in the area until the 1960s. In the early 1970s, the barn was used as a set location in the movie Conrack.

The road to the north end is characterized by palmetto and live oak, dominant species of the Atlantic maritime forest.

There are numerous “ancient oaks” throughout the preserve, some well over two hundred years old.

Holly (Ilex) is also found throughout.

Cannon’s Point is known to be a haven for the curious Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), a widely cultivated edible and medicinal variety.

The first site along the trail is the ruins of a slave cabin. All that remains is this hearth. From the establishment of the plantation in the 1790s until 1861, the cotton plantation at Cannon’s Point was wholly dependant on the labor of enslaved Africans.  Archaeological excavations undertaken here in the 19790s suggest that the slave cabins were built as 40×20 duplexes, with each family living in a 20×20 section. At this particular location, four cabins housing eight families surrounded a central well.

The site of the overseer’s house is beyond the slave cabin ruins. Research has indicated that overseers were very transient at Cannon’s Point, staying on average just a year and a half. They were paid between $200-$400 per year. The ruins confirm that it was unusually large when compared to other such structures on the coast. Most were two-room affairs, similar to slave cabins. The Cannon’s Point example was comparable to the owner’s house on small plantations. It’s thought to have been built in the 1820s.

Upon their acquisition of the property, the SSLT determined that the chimney was in danger of collapsing. They stabilized it using loose bricks found at the site.

The hearth remains, as well.

At the end of the long walk over the peninsula are the extensive ruins of John Couper’s Cannon’s Point House (built circa 1804). The human history of the area dates back at least 4500 years, when the first native people are thought to have been present. In the 1660s Spanish missionaries established Santo Domingo de Asajo to minister to the Guale Indians. Pirates drove missionaries and the Guale from the island by 1684, but the Guale returned over time. Daniel Cannon, a carpenter at Fort Frederica, was the first English owner, having been granted property here by the Trustees of the Georgia Colony in 1738. He didn’t stay long, though, and was in South Carolina by 1741.

John Couper, who came from Scotland to America prior to the Revolution, acquired Cannon’s Point in 1793 and with James Hamilton made Sea Island cotton the dominant crop of St. Simons Island. Couper served as a representative to the Georgia constitutional convention of 1798 and in 1804 gave the land known as Couper’s Point for construction of a lighthouse on St. Simons Island.

John Couper built this house by 1804 and lived here with his wife Rebecca and their five children throughout the antebellum era. Vice President Aaron Burr was among the first visitors. The labor of over 100 slaves kept the plantation running. (This image is from a painting by Couper’s grandson, John Lord Couper, circa 1850). Rebecca died in 1845 and John in 1850, at the age of 91. They’re buried in the cemetery at Christ Church, Frederica. Couper’s oldest son, James Hamilton Couper, managed Cannon’s Point until 1861 and it passed out of family hands in 1866. Several owners attemptd to maintain it over the next few decades with little success. The house burned in 1890.

A chimney with ovens and its tabby foundation are all that remain of the detached kitchen, which was built in the late 1790s. The slave cook Sans Foix produced wonderful meals for the Coupers and their guests, drawing acclaim from far and wide.

Beyond the kitchen are these ruins, which are presently unidentified.

Beautiful views of the Hampton River and Little St. Simons Island abound at Cannon’s Point.






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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, St. Simons Island GA