Sunbury & Liberty County
By Sam Burnham
The next stop on our Summer Road Trip carried us to Sunbury and Midway in Liberty County. Georgia is often noted for its strong Tory presence during the war but Liberty County was a patriot stronghold of sorts. The county's name was chosen by the fact that St. John's Parish, which would join St. Andrew's and St. James' Parishes to form one county, was the first in the state to vote for Liberty. St. John's Parish residents Lyman Hall and Button Gwinnett would join Augusta resident George Walton to be Georgia's three signers of the Declaration of Independence. Midway Church Cemetery is the final resting place of numerous warriors of the cause of Independence, including Daniel Stewart and James Screven.
Down the road from Midway is Sunbury. This town, nestled on St. Catherine's Sound, along the River Medway, was once a bustling seaport that rivaled Savannah in importing, exporting, and passenger travel. For several years, the friendly rivalry between Savannah and Sunbury urged each town to work to increase their productivity to overtake the other and be the top port. Sunbury had churhces, businesses, homes, and, of course, the protection of Ft. Morris. The depth of St. Catherine's and Medway made this river one of the deepest south of the Chesapeake. The fort was set on a location that offered it a clear line of fire on approaching ships before they could position for a broadside assault. It was an excellent site for a coastal town.
But disease and other factors took their toll and Sunbury died. The forest took back the land that once was home of Georgia's greatest port. Nothing remained but the old cemetery and memories.
But over the last several years, residential development has returned to Sunbury. People are building homes on the old development plots of the town. St. Catherine's Sound creates a beautiful view for these homes and jobs in nearby Hinesville and the Savannah area make this a great place for a home.
On the grounds of Ft. Morris State Historic Site is a memorial - a monument and a Live Oak that commemorate the first Masonic meeting in the colony of Georgia which was presided over by James Oglethorpe in February of 1734. The meeting was reportedly held in the shade under a giant oak that has since died. The new oak was planted as a suitable replacement and the monument was placed with the inscription telling the story.
Ft. Morris saw action in the American Revolution. British forces, wishing to both control the port of Sunbury and punish the rebel hotbed, came to the area in November of 1778 and demanded the fort's immediate surrender. Col. McIntosh decided he wasn't ready to leave yet and, being a typical grouchy Georgian, suggested that perhaps the British should "Come and take it!" (Emphasis his). This suggestion was not one the British agreed with considering the force they had with them. They retreated to Florida and returned the following January with more men and then did take the fort.
Ft. Morris would later serve the United States again, being renamed Ft. Defiance during the War of 1812.
One of our favorite stories however, was a true Georgia "hey y'all watch this, somebody hold my beer" moment.
There was an old cannon left over from the fort. Some folks who lived in the general area had located the old relic and decided that a good early 20th century thing to do to cure boredom might be to fire the old thing. So they came up with a makeshift cannon crew of good old Georgia boys with little to no experience or knowledge in artillery. They packed the barrel and fuse hole with powder. While the rammer was packing the barrel with a mop (in lieu of a real ramrod) the inexperienced and trigger happy guy at the fuse lit the disaster off prematurely. The rammer, scared out of his wits, fled the scene, leaving the mop shoved in the muzzle of the gun. The powder went off, Somewhere between the structural integrity of the cannon - compromised by advanced age, the muzzle obstructed by the mop, powder measured out by the 1st Georgia Amateur Artillery's Hold My Beer Battery, general user error, and Murphy's Law, that cannon went all to pieces. I don't mean metaphorically. The remains of the cannon, at least a half a dozen pieces, displayed like Tolkien's Shards of Narsil, awaiting the day when the King of Georgia will return to reforge the gun and battle the forces of evil. But he'll probably just blast the cannon into pieces again.
Jokes and funny stories aside, Liberty County, of which we've really only sampled two towns so far, is a history buff's paradise. A stop in Midway is a must and we highly recommend Ft. Morris State Historic Site.
The road continues.
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Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire