by Kate Jones Martin and Preston Waite DeMilly
The Village in the pine lands
Down on the Georgia coast; I'll sing in humble lines
Though sometime I might boast Of courage, truth and pride
In those who early came To build their ingleside And make an honored name From tyranny and want They sailed so valiant, free
A noble band who staked their land And called it LIBERTY.
A house of worship and a school Was first their zealous care; An altar raised, a God to praise, A school for culture fair.
They farmed their lands and prospered well Till grim war crushed them down, But with a faith, still strong in death
A better home they found.
Mallard, Winn and Baker, Bacon, Jones and King; Delegal and Dunham, Screven too we sing; Names engraved with honor
On walls of church and state; Others who came later
Won an equal fate; Busby, Fleming, Stevens, Stebbins, Law and Waite,
A little band, yet o'er the land
Their deeds, men still relate.
A hamlet round a village square, Simple life and industry; Here civic pride and faith abide, And cordial hospitality.
Rev. Abbot L. R. Waite
Dorchester's roots are the same in most respects as those of all the communities in St. John's Parish, later Liberty County. In 1630 a band of Puritans, 140 in number, sailed on the ship the Mary and John and settled around Dorchester, Massachusetts, and Windsor, Connecticut. By 1695 descendants of this group established Dorchester, South Carolina, seeking fertile and spacious land to "settle the gospel." This area was originally part of a grant to John Smith from the British Crown. When John Smith died, leaving no heirs, the land was regranted to the Congregationalists from Massachusetts. The colonists divided most of their grant into farm lots. However, a certain portion of the land was reserved for a common, a mill site, and a "place of trade." The "place of trade" comprised approximately forty-five acres and became the town of Dorchester. Located at the head of navigation of the Ashley River, the town soon became a trading center and a point of distribution of goods for the frontier. By the year 1719 there were 113 English families living in the area, including 1,300 slaves. The town grew rapidly until 1752 when a general exodus to Georgia occurred. This was caused by the desire for more plentiful land and a healthier climate.
Here, I'm sure, all communities must needs over-lap, but I include it in the Dorchester sketch because so many of the people settled there. The names of the Dorchester people included in the first grant of July 11, 1752 (the grants all consisting of 500 acres each), were: John Stevens, Sr., Benjamin Baker, Samuel Stevens, John Winn, Sr., Samuel Bacon and Edward Sumner. Others came, of course, but the first two families were Benjamin Baker and Samuel Bacon.
It is well to note here that the Honorable Audley Maxwell came to Georgia in 1748 and was given a grant of land at the head waters of the Medway River, called Limerick, in 1749. He, therefore, was here four years before the first families arrived in 1752.
Dorchester Community, or Village as it was called, was the last of the villages to separate from the Midway church, the reason being their location. The early families had homes in Sunbury and plantations scattered over the parish or county. The plantations near Dorchester were many, and changed owners so often that it is difficult to keep up with them. For example, "Lodebar", later called "Harts", a plantation just west of Dorchester, was the home of William Maxwell and his wife, Elizabeth Jones Maxwell. They lived there in 1838, for it was there that Abial Winn and Louisa Vanyeverine Ward were married. Lodebar was the home also of Henry Hart Jones and his wife, Abigal Sturges Dowse, from 1846 to 1856. In 1856 Lodebar was purchased from Henry Hart Jones by Smith Screven Hart. Smith Screven Hart died at Lodebar in 1866, survived by his third wife, Harriet Atwood Newell Hart, who died in Dorchester, August 24, 1883.
"Laurel View" was another plantation which was owned by several people. In 1853 Andrew Maybank Jones, because of ill health, retired to Laurel View, which he had inherited. According to the records of Miss Julia King, Laurel View was originally called "Hester's Bluff" and was a grant to Thomas Maxwell.
Also named in Miss Julia King's records are many plantations on Colonels Island, which changed ownership many times. One was called "Sulligree," because people named Sulligree, great fishing people, once lived there. Colonel Audley Maxwell bought Sulligree from Mr. Shadrach Butler of South Carolina. He bought Yellow Bluff from the Bacons and other tracts of land from Colonel White. These tracts adjoined Colonel Audley Maxwell's grant on Colonels Island.
Another plantation, "Maybank," was in the same area. Maybank was the home for many years of Andrew Maybank (1768-1834). Andrew Maybank left Maybank and some thirty slaves to the Reverend and Mrs. Charles C. Jones. It was across the river from Montevideo and was well loved by them. Maybank was much later bought from the heirs of C.C. Jones by Mr. George Brown.
The Maxwell plantation was called "Maxwellton." Miss Julia King's father, James Audley Maxwell King, gave her the land south of Colonels Island causeway and called "Kings Land," and it included Hickory Hill.
Colonel Joseph Law had a summer home on Half Moon Bluff, not far from the Kings' Bird Refuge. Roswell King, grandfather of Miss Julia King, bought the Law place on Half Moon from the heirs of Colonel Joseph Law. It was called, simply, "Laws." This same Roswell King built a big beautiful house at quite a distance from the river and he named it "Woodville." This place, according to Miss Julia King, was known far and wide for its beauty and hospitality. Roses, flowering shrubs, trees, fruit trees and grape arbors were there. She says, "Storms and hurricanes and forest fires, and time have all done their worst! The last time I saw Woodville it was a pathless wilderness."
Another plantation was called "Mellon Bluff." It was west of Half Moon. It was the plantation of Joseph Austin and was so named because of big melons grown there.
North of Colonels Island was a plantation called "Cedar Point" or the Dunham Place. It was in lower Liberty County near Springfield. Here lived Thomas J. Dunham and his wife, Anne Harris Dunham.
The Stevens plantation, "Palmyra" was next to Springfield. It was the plantation of John Stevens (1777-1832) and his wife, Aramintha Munro. Here were born many of the John Stevens children. John Stevens (1804-1877), Henry Munro Stevens (1808-1888), James Dana Stevens (1810-1845), Harriet Elizabeth Stevens (1811- 1887), Joseph Law Stevens (1814-1862), Mary Anna Stevens (1817-1885) and William Crawford Stevens (1820-1887).
Colonel John Baker once lived at Springfield Plantation. It was also at one time owned by John Elliott Ward, according to a deed in the collection of Alice Waite Winn. The deed from Louisa Vanyeverine Ward Winn who was a sister of John E. Ward and whose power of attorney is also in Alice Winn's collection, reads, "Louisa V. Winn to Josiah L. Fleming and Frank W. Law." "Springfield Place" consisted of 175 acres, more or less bounded by lands of Wm. S. Norman and O.W. Stevens on the north, east by lands of Mary A. Fleming, on south by lands of T. J. Dunham and on the west by lands of Wm. S. Norman. This deed was dated 1882. On January 25, 1884, Frank W. Law sold his share to Josiah L. Fleming.
The Winn Plantation was between Riceboro and Dorchester. Peacock Creek was one of its boundaries. It was owned by Abial Winn, later by John Ward Winn, and later by J. W. Winn's widow who married 2nd Abial Winn who planted it and lived there in the winter, moving to the Winn house in Dorchester in the summers. There were many other plantations, but space does not permit naming them all.
In 1843, the Reverend Thomas Sumner Winn, who was at that time a tutor in the home of C.C. Jones, suggested the expediency of establishing a community in some area halfway between Midway and Sunbury. The spot selected was to become Dorchester. Dorchester was pronounced Dor-chester by the old timers. Dor-chester by the late comers. The location was selected because the area was high and dry. The land was purchased from Mr. B. A. Busby (Bartholemew Austin), who had inherited it from his uncle, Joseph Austin, in 1829. Mr. Austin had obtained the property by a land grant. Twenty-eight acre homesites were placed around a four-acre "square" in the center of the Village. Some people built new homes, as did Captain Abial Winn, but many families had their former homes in Sunbury torn down and reconstructed there. Around each homesite there were planted pear orchards, vegetable gardens, grape arbors, plum trees and flower gardens. There were also wild olive trees and tea plants or bushes. Many families had plantations in the vicinity, where rice, Sea Island cotton, corn, sugar cane and so on were planted.
Records show that the first settlers were: B. A. Busby, W. S. Baker, Dr. Edward J. Delegal, Dr. Benjamin King, Cyrus Mallard, John L. Mallad, William Thomson, Abial Winn, and later Thomas Mallard, Benjamin Allen, Dr. Troup Maxwell, William Stevens, Henry Jones and Dr. Raymond Harris.
Since Midway Church was only six miles distant from the Village, the villagers decided there was no need to construct a church. An academy or school, however, was built on this four-acre tract given by Mr. Busby for a school and church by deed dated June 14, 1852. Sunday School was conducted in the academy. Although the villagers continued to be members of the Midway church, they erected the Dorchester church in 1854. In the belfry is the historical old Sunbury market bell, used there on so many occasions. The marble baptismal font is that font given by Dr. William McWhir to the Midway church, where it formerly stood for many years. The silver communion service of the Midway church was divided among the Walthourville, Flemington and Dorchester churches, Dorchester receiving a silver tankard or pitcher, bread basket and one goblet. They are now in the Midway Museum. The pulpit, or lectern, was built by Arthur Waite, the son of the Reverend James Thomas Hamilton Waite.
At first the church was only used for summer services. Soon, however, due to the general dispersion and impoverishment of the people of the area, caused by the War Between the States, the people of this area sought to organize their own church. For a year the pulpit was supplied by the Reverend N. P. Quarterman, who also ministered to the churches at Walthourville and Flemington, previously organized. On January 6, 1871, a committee went before Savannah Presbytery and the Dorchester church was officially organized. This committee consisted of the Reverend N. P. Quarterman, the Reverend C. B. King and Elder Ezra Stacy. Elder E. J. Harden, another member, was not present. The church was organized with one ruling elder and fourteen members. They were as follows: L. J. (Lazarus John) Mallard, Mrs. Sarah S. Mallard, Miss Mary S. Mell, Mrs. Harriet N. Bacon, Mrs. Louisa V. Winn, Mrs. Jeannette Martin, Mrs. Lizzie O. Stevens, Miss Annie Delegal, Miss Julia Winn, Mrs. Mary E. Busby, Mrs. Rebecca E. Bacon, Mrs. Sarah L. Mallard, Miss Mary A. Mallard, and Mrs. Carrie Mciver. Mr. L. J. Mallard was the ruling elder.
From 1871 to 1881, the Reverend J. W. Montgomery served this church, serving at the same time the sister churches at Walthourville and Flemington. The Reverend R. Q. Baker was pastor from 1881 to 1882 and again the Reverend Mr. Montgomery from 1882 to 1893. From 1893 until 1895 the Reverend E. W. Way was pastor. The Reverend L. T. Way served from 1896 for some years. Records show that in 1898 there were forty-nine members. After the Reverend L. T. Way, the church was served until about 1900 by the Reverend Mr. Allen and the Reverend Mr. Smith.
The ministers served Walthourville one Sunday, Flemington the next, and Dorchester the third. The fourth Sunday was also rotated so that every three months each church would have the minister two Sundays. Normally he lived in Flemington and when he would come to Dorchester, he would be the guest of one of the families for the weekend.
The ministers were remembered with much love and gratitude, but the church could not have survived had it not been for the devotion and inspiration of its members. They took over when no minister was there, and kept the church open. Major Preston Waite was one of these. He conducted Sunday School and church services, and sometimes even substituted as organist. Charles Berrien Jones performed the same services later except that of organist, but this was in the early 1900s.
Miss Annie Lou Mallard was the church's first organist. Others were Miss Mary Mell, Miss Olive Waite, Miss Annie Mallard, Miss Ruth Waite and Miss Vanyeverine Greene.
Prior to the War Between the States, slaves attended the services and sat in the balcony. Even after the war, Negroes attended the services until they acquired a building of their own. The Reverend James Thomas Hamilton Waite, who ministered to the blacks, for many years resided in Dorchester. Arthur Waite carved the wooden hand pointing to heaven which was on the steeple of the Negro Presbyterian church in Midway. When this church was razed and a new building erected across the road, the Negroes gave this hand to the Midway Museum.
There was always a hive of bees in this church, which delighted the children of the congregation when a bee came in and disturbed the organist (who was often stung), and especially when it would disturb a long-winded speaker.
The academy was but one room and one teacher. There is no record as to who the teachers were, but in one of Louisa V. Ward Winn's letters to her daughter, Elizabeth O. Winn Stevens, she speaks of the boys going to school to Mr. Mciver. This was Augustus Monroe Mciver. Other teachers believed to have taught there was Miss Lila Martin, Miss Mary Mell, Mrs. Lizzie O. Winn Stevens, and later Miss Lillian Baker, and Mrs. Etta King.
Friday afternoons were given over to reciting poetry, reading original compositions or performing charades or tableaus.
On Sundays there would be church in the morning and Sunday School in the afternoon at four o'clock. After Sunday School, the young people would gather on the bricks in front of the church and that gathering was the main social event of the week. In later years, the dance for the following Friday night was planned at that time.
The social life of the Village consisted of musicals, hay rides, games of croquet, walks, cane grindings, possum hunts and dances. Music for dancing provided by two or three Negro men who played guitars and tambourines.
An old newspaper clipping dated July 4, 1884, described a public parade and contention in the Village by the Liberty Independent Troop:
"Almost 200 people gathered for the occasion. The troop gathered on the Sunbury road and advanced in fours up Dorchester Avenue, with banner waving and saber flashing. They halted in front of the Winn house and were greeted by W. C. Stevens. Captain Miller replied to the address of welcome. Miss Rosalie Scriven decorated the standard of the troop with a beautiful wreath. Ensign Waite responded to the compliment "in an earnest and appropriate speech." The troop then performed their usual drill, and then went to the church where the Reverend Mr. Montgomery after a prayer by the Reverend Mr. Waite, delivered an address. After this the bugle sounded for dinner. The main table was set under the trees for ladies and guests, but the troopers were served in the academy where seated, they could more enjoy their meal after the warm and tedious exercises of the day. The contention began late in the afternoon. Mr. Fleming Martin, the junior member of the troop, was awarded first prize, a twenty dollar saddle. As the troop was disbanding, the captain was encircled by a group of Dorchester girls and was presented a beautiful bouquet of flowers by Miss Annie Lou Cay. The dance opened at nine o'clock, and after the first quadrille, the other prizes were awarded. Mr. Joe Norman was given the second prize, a handsome cake, and the third prize, a wreath with which to crown the "Queen of Love and Beauty," and was awarded to Mr. J. W. Winn. Private Winn took the wreath and placed it upon the head of Miss Rosalie Scriven as the chosen queen of the dance. The dancing continued' 'until the short hours of the morning."
The War Between the States was very destructive to the people of Dorchester. Many families left and took refuge with relatives and friends in Thomasville and adjoining Baker County. the story goes that Union soldiers set fire to Confederate uniforms in an upstairs bedroom of the Winn house and rode off, leaving the house to burn. However, some of the loyal slaves were successful in putting out the blaze. The floor which was burned was never repaired and was still that way when the house burned in 1932.
Dorchester is today a deserted village. The church is opened once a year for services on the third Sunday in October. Descendants of the old families gather, and while there are few who remember before the turn of the century, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have been so steeped in the wonderful memories it is always a pleasant reunion.