As I previously mentioned, Midway’s first church would serve as a foundation for local slave religion and Gullah-Geechee spirituality in Coastal Georgia.
Visitors are often surprised to hear that white members and their African American slaves would attend this same church. The Midway Church has a ‘slave gallery,’ where slaves sat during services. In the picture above – you will see a central entrance, which was used for the white attendants. The smaller door on the right was used for the enslaved attendants to enter the upstairs gallery.
In the years since the abolition of slavery and desegregation, many churches remodeled or removed their galleries, as they were no longer being used. At the time, this may have been viewed as progressive, but, consequently, it erased a significant feature of African American and Southern history, both of which are deeply intertwined with the church. Various preservation groups and churches have made recent efforts to restore galleries, where possible. The Midway Church is one of the few historical churches that retained its upstairs gallery in its entirety.
One of the most well-known (and somewhat scandalous) stories regarding those buried in Midway Cemetery is that of Senator John Elliott. John was born and raised locally, attended Yale University, and married Martha “Patsy” Stewart from Savannah. Martha was 17 when she married John - a widower old enough to be her father.
Martha was known for being beautiful, stylish, and having her choice of suitors. One of these suitors was her fellow Savannah native, James Bulloch (grandson of GA Governor Archibald Bulloch). James and Martha grew up together, but for reasons unclear, Martha wouldn’t marry him. Instead, she proceeded to take her time weighing her options – eventually attracting the attention of the much older John Elliott, who was known to be destined for the Senate. She began to court John Elliott – but imagine her shock when she learned that her childhood beau, James Bulloch, had proposed to John Elliott’s daughter!
Within a week, Martha became engaged to John Elliott – thus becoming the step-mother-in-law of her former suitor, James. The timing was questionable -- and, if that wasn't awkward enough -- Martha was younger than her husband's prior children.
The year that Martha married John Elliott, he was elected to Senate. She accompanied him to Washington, DC, where the young legislator’s wife turned heads. She welcomed the glamour and attention and was described as wearing an ostrich feather hat that “hung down to her belt.”
However, after only a decade, John Elliott passed away. Martha was widowed at only 30-years-old.
Elliott family tomb in Midway Cemetery. Resting place of John Elliott (Martha "Patsy" Stewart's first husband)
In my previous posts, I mentioned that Midway was political.... and I mean very political. Most residents were well-educated, die-hard patriots who fiercely supported the revolt against Britain - a stance that many would pay dearly for.
Their parish (St. Johns Parish) was the first in the colony to assert its independence. Later, its town of Sunbury would be the last in Georgia to resist surrender to the British.
After the Revolution, Liberty County was established (containing Midway). Liberty which was honored with its name for providing two out of three of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence (Lyman Hall and Button Gwinnett). Additionally, six congressmen (two of whom were senators) and four governors had been Liberty County citizens. Over time, five Georgia counties would be named for Liberty County citizens, too.
Lyman joined local patriots and attended meetings of the “Friends of Liberty” in Savannah. At these meetings, Lyman became friends with Button Gwinnett (Gwinnett County’s namesake) who lived in neighboring St. Catherine Island. Lyman and Button became leaders of Georgia’s revolutionary movement and would later become two of Georgia’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence.
However, Lyman sacrificed everything for his patriotism. In 1780, when British troops occupied Savannah and overran the surrounding areas, George Washington urged Lyman and his family to flee to Connecticut. In doing so, Lyman lost his homes, property, and nearly all his income.
After British troops withdrew from Georgia, Lyman returned and quietly resumed his medical practice in Savannah. He was later elected as the 12th governor of Georgia and insisted that the state grant land for a university – the University of Georgia. Lyman died in 1790.
“Doctor Hall in his person, was tall and well proportioned. In his manners he was easy, and in his deportment dignified and courteous. He was by nature characterized for a warm and enthusiastic disposition, which, however, was under the guidance of a sound discretion. His mind was active and discriminating. Ardent in his own feelings, he possessed the power of exciting others to action.” (Charles Goodrich)
For such a small community, Midway produced an unusually high number of historically significant personalities. A quick glance at the history of Midway reveals two major themes – religion and politics.
From almost the very moment the Puritans arrived, they established a church. The Midway Church and Society would later be formally erected in in a simple log cabin (1756). This church would play a crucial role in the development of the area – and the preservation of Coastal South culture.
The congregation was composed of both slaves and slave owners, and the church even would come to advocate for the religious instruction of slaves. Not only was this a rare exposure to a form of education, but the experience would later serve as a foundation for local slave religion and Gullah-Geechee spirituality in coastal Georgia.
For the white population, the cabin also served as a meetinghouse for political discussions – most importantly, Georgia’s independence from the British crown. Consequentially, it would later be burned by the British during the Revolutionary War. However, the cemetery has survived.
Here's some spooky southern folklore, courtesy of the Midway Museum.
However, as the wall was completed and the grave began to settle, a crack in the wall developed. Multiple attempts were made to repair the wall, but each time the crack determinedly reappeared. Finally, the ground below was dug up and the slave’s bones were discovered and removed.
However, even after refilling the ground and repairing the crack one final time, it reappeared. It is recorded that an elderly black local once explained the legend of the crack, “Ain’t no use fer de white folks fer men’um. Dat hant gwine crack um fas’ es it get fix.”
Just off Highway 17, about 10 miles south of Richmond Hill, sits a small historic town named Midway, GA. In colonial days, the area was called ‘Midway’ because it served as the halfway point between the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers.
Like much of our coast, Midway was settled by Europeaners in search of religious freedom and farmable land. Those that settled Midway were English Puritans, who made their immigration obvious to trace.
The Midway settlers originated in Dorchester, England. From here, they moved to Massachusetts – and fittingly named their first settlement Dorchester, MA. They eventually continued their journey to South Carolina, where, once again, they named the area Dorchester, SC.
However, in the late 1600s, members of their group moved once more – further south to the area of Midway, GA. What did they name their new village? Dorchester, of course!
"One of our morning turtlers came across this loggerhead hatchling trying to make its way to the ocean. Unfortunately, this hatchling got caught up in a human’s trash and would've most likely exhausted itself, had it not been found. We cannot stress this enough, but PLEASE remember to pick up after yourself (and others). We don’t just make the beaches ugly when we litter, we are also affecting endangered animals & costing lives."
- Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program
This little guy almost didn't make it to the ocean after falling down someone's umbrella hole! Thankfully, a turtle walker found him.
Just a friendly reminder to fill in umbrella holes and level sandcastles, so that these guys can quickly make it to the water! This is a great opportunity to teach others about respecting our coast.
When baby sea turtles hatch, we call it a "turtle boil." The whole nest works together to break up the sand as they squeeze to the surface. It uses up a lot of their tiny energy reserves, so any additional hurtles are extremely difficult for them. However, due to local community efforts, the East Coast has been leading the charge in sea turtle conservation and education.
Posts are a combination of my own research, visits, and conversations, plus various information found around the web. I try to provide sources, but if you have specific questions, feel free to ask!