Liberty County, Georgia History
The Story of Georgia and the Georgia People 1732 to 1860
by George Gillman Smith, D.D.
Originally published c.1901
St. John’s, St. Andrew’s and St. James’s parishes were thrown into a county which was called Liberty. This county adjoined Chatham on the north and Glynn on the south, and its western boundary reached to the Altamaha. I have already given an account of part of it and a glimpse of the people in writing of the Dorchester settlement.
There was little of internal strife in this section during the Revolution. The Dorchester Puritans, who were the main body of the people, were almost universally Whigs, and the Tories gave little trouble; but the county was the most exposed part of the colony to the British ships, and being on the direct line of march from Savannah to St. Augustine, and from St. Augustine to Savannah, suffered much from the ravages of war. Whether the army is a hostile or a friendly one, the people among whom it moves are always sufferers. Three times the American troops had marched into Liberty, and then came the British. There was a sharp conflict at Midway, the church was burned, the country devastated. The invaders carried off the negroes, burned the houses, broke the rice dams, drove off the cattle, and left the country desolate. As soon as peace came the planters who had fled to the back country returned and began life over again. they had scarce begun to recover from the ravages of the war when the Creek Indians went on the war-path and made frequent and disastrous forays into the settlements, murdering the whites, stealing the slaves and cattle, and rendering it dangerous for the people to go to church unarmed.
Despite all these difficulties and drawbacks the thrifty people in the Dorchester settlement continued to improve their condition, and one of the most delightful chapters in Colonel Jones’s history of Georgia is the account he gives of this part of Liberty after society had settled down again in the last year of the old century and the first in the new. He says: “Ordinary journeys to church and of a social character were performed on horse back. When he would a wooing go the gallant appeared mounted upon his finest steed and in his best attire, followed by a servant on another horse, conveying his master’s valise behind him.
“Shortly after the Revolutionary war stick-back gigs were introduced. If a woman was in the vehicle and unattended the waiting-man rode another horse, keeping alongside and holding the check-rein in his left hand. When his master held the lines the servant rode behind. Men went often armed to church for fear of the Indians.
“The country was full of game, ducks and wild geese in innumerable quantities filled the rice-fields, wild turkeys and deer abounded, bears and beavers were found in the swamps, and buffalo herds wandered northward and south ward. There was no lack of squirrels, opossums, raccoons, rabbits, snipe, woodcock; wild-cats were the pests; the rivers teemed with fish.”
The planters had their homes in summer at Sunbury, where they had schools and where they had all the privileges of cultured society. Sunbury, after Dr. McWhir took charge of the academy, became the educational center of lower Georgia. While there was much culture and elegance in one part of the county, there was another in which it was not to be found. In the pine woods rice could not be planted, and rice culture demanded such an outlay that when a man had nothing, or had very limited means, he went from the swamps to the pine-barrens and began to gather his flocks and herds about him. These two classes of citizens, the rice-planter and the inland stock-raiser, were widely separated and hardly knew each other. The Liberty county rice-planters were in the main the Midway Congregationalists. They had removed from South Carolina together. They were many of them kinsmen, and they were generally in independent circumstances. They lived near each other, sent their children to the same school, and worshiped at the same church. Their slaves were generally recently imported Africans, and were at first exceedingly ignorant and degraded, but the planters did much to improve them.
The owner of the plantation grouped his negro cabins together on some high spot on his plantation, generally in a thick wood. The overseer was a white man and the driver was a trusty negro slave. The overseer gave the laborer his task and the driver saw to it that the slave did his work. The discipline of the plantation was very rigid. The negro was fed on rice and potatoes, and his work, except for a few times in the year, was very light, then it was excessively heavy. He had little to do with his master, and was responsible only to the driver and the overseer. The rice-plantation negro was content with no other place, and while he was perhaps the lowest specimen of his race in America, he was the most contented. The house slaves of the rice-planters were generally of a different class from the field hands and superior to them. These house servants were better fed, better clad, and had more civilizing influences around them.
The white man who lived in the pine woods has already been pictured in the account of Burke. There was but little difference in the life of the piny woods denizen as he was found in all this coast country. He had few or no negroes, and while an independent man lived a very plain life. As yet his timber was of but little value to him, and he depended on the cattle on his range, his sheep, his goats, and sometimes on some tar and pitch he carried to the market at Sunbury. He had no taxes to pay, no school bills, or store bills. He built his cabin with his own hands, and raised on his farm all that was necessary to supply his simple needs. In describing him I describe the men of his class as they appeared until the middle of this century, for no people ever presented fewer variations than the piny woods people of lower Georgia, until the railroads reached them over forty years ago. Then a great change passed over them, and a greater passed over the rice-planters.
Up to the beginning of the last war there were two different types of southern life side by side in this county, but when it ended there was but one. The elegance and culture and wealth, not at all overstated by Colonel Jones, disappeared as if it had been a dream. The negroes came back to their old homes, but the master did not. The rice-fields were marshes again, the homes were deserted or burned, the old Midway church was given up to the negroes, and the people who had worshiped there found homes in other sections of the State. The pine woods were brought into market by the building of the railways. Turpentine farms were opened, mills were set up, and lands which had been considered worthless were found to be of real value. The culture of long cotton, of sugar-cane and of upland rice gave profitable employment to these small farmers, and there are few sections of the State where there is more solid comfort than is now to be found in what was considered at one time the barren lands of Liberty.
Along the line of the Savannah and Florida railway flourishing villages have sprung up, and the white population is considerably increased. The population of the county in 1790 was 5,355, of whom 4,025 were slaves; in 1810 there were 5,828 free and 4,408 slaves; in 1850, 8,000, of whom nearly 6,000 were slaves.
The account given of the Dorchester settlement has rendered any further account of Liberty needless, and the history of Midway church told elsewhere is a part of early Georgia history. While the Congregationalists were nominally in charge of the pulpit, the Presbyterians were really the preachers. There was virtually the same congregation, but there were really two organized churches of this denomi-nation, one at Midway and one at Walthourville. The Methodists have been in Liberty since the latter part of the last century. The Baptists have a considerable following in the county.
No county has sent forth more distinguished sons than Liberty. Especially has it been famous for distinguished preachers who have gone from the Midway neighborhood.
Submitted by K. Torp, ©2007 ; From: http://genealogytrails.com/geo/liberty/history.htm