(29) The Willie Community

The Willie Community

A book titled “The Willie Community” was compiled and edited by Mary Effie D. Smith, and printed by the Tattnall Journal in Reidsville, Georgia. It was later updated and re­printed by Carolyn Gooden Flowers and others in Reidsville. The following information was derived from that book:

Among the earliest settlers in the upper part of Liberty County, now a part of the Fort Stewart military reservation, to include the Town of Willie, were families with such sur­names as Warnell, Grice, Darsey, Elarbee , Girardeau, Swindell, Floyd, Kennedy, Caswell, Brannen, Ray, Whitten, May, Bacon, Jones, Stafford, Sheppard, Dukes, Edwards, Futch, Butler, and Gooden.

Ministers who served the Willie Methodist Church include R.F. Dennis, W.J. Churchwell, W.N. Hill, J.M. Rustin, E.M. Elder, J.D. McCord, J.E. Fair, E.J. Grimes, W.E. Dennis, C.B. Ray, and Hoke Bell.

Superintendents of the church Sunday School include James Smart Darsey, George Turner Darsey, Arthur Floyd May, Alma Darsey Heape, Charles Feston Darsey, and William Road Floyd. Organists for the church include Eva Darsey, Ruth Caswell, Julia Darsey, Effie Darsey, Eleanor Smith May, Emma Kate Brewton Bacon, and Mildred Smith Bacon.

The first automobiles in Willie were those owned by W.P. Gooden Sr., A.H. Guy, and J.O. Darsey Sr.

The Soules Chapel Methodist Church, which became the Willie Methodist Church, was probably established about 1850, but there were Methodists in the upper part of Liberty County who were members of the Taylors Creek Methodist Church as early as 1836. The Harmony Methodist Church was probably established in 1888, and some of its earliest members had surnames such as Floyd, Jones, Lowther, Richardson, Smith, and Lanier. Most of them were former members of Soules Chapel Methodist Church.

The Bethany Baptist Church was established about 1893 in the Ray com­munity by Richard Way, John Mobley, and a gentleman with the surname of Curry, on land donated for the purpose by a gentleman with the surname of Whitten. First pastor of the church was Reverend J.A.J. (“Ganos”) Smith of Daisy, Georgia. First person buried in the church cemetery, before the church building was completed, was two-year-old Darling Ray, daughter of Richard Ray. Baptisms for the church were held in Tan Trough Lake at the Richard Way landing.

The Willie Christian Church was erected about 1934, but mem­bers of that faith had been holding worship services for several years in the Willie Methodist Church, the court build­ing, and in the school auditorium. Some of the ministers who served the church were two gentlemen with the surnames of Aytry and Gunter, Bruce Nay, and Victor P. Bowers. The latter named gentleman was the last pastor of the church in 1941. Among the members of the church were E. Polk and family, Clevelend Darsey and family, Earl Bacon and family, and Will Hughes and family.

A U.S. post office was established at Oneida on June 1, 1887, in the home of the postmaster, Samuel B. Girardeau. James S. Darsey became the postmaster in 1899 and moved it to his home about two miles away. Upon his death in 1904, his son, Everett O. Darsey, became the postmaster. The Oneida post office was discontinued on March 15, 1906. After that date the community received its mail through the Groveland post office. There was a U.S. post office at Strum­bay, located in the home of Seaborn E. Jones, the postmaster. Lyman H. Sheppard was the second postmaster at Strumbay, and served until it was discontinued. After that time the community received its mail through the Hinesville post office. McCann, located in the Ryon community, also had a U.S. post office. It was discontinued and the community was served through the Hinesville post office.

The U.S. post office at Willie was established on February 25, 1911, and discontinued on June 30, 1941. Its postmas­ters and the dates of their appointments are Joseph Roswell Elarbee, February 25, 1911; Alma A. Darsey, October 22, 1914; Belle Caswell Floyd, January 24, 1916, and October 26, 1920, and William Preston Gooden Sr., November 15, 1921.

Residents of Willie and surrounding communities who served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II include Harley Aldridge Bacon, Lonnie J. Bacon, Donald L. Brown, William Miller Brown, James Marvin Caswell, James Tillman Darsey, Joseph Hendry Darsey, Peyton Eugene Floyd, Ro­land Daniel Floyd, Homer Gill, Robert Gill, Herbert Samuel Girardeau, James Clarence Roach, Francis Gordon Shep­pard, John Walter Sheppard, Benjamin Lee Whitten, Herbert Earl Whitten, Walter Sheppard Whitten, Cecil Empry Whit­ten, and Willie F. Lanier.

“Willie Day” was celebrated on September 4, 1961, at the home of Marcus May at Pembroke, Georgia. Many former residents of the Town of Willie and surrounding communities attended the reunion. A second “Willie Day” was celebrated in 1962 at the same location, and about 300 persons attend­ed that reunion. Marcus May is directly descended from William May (1814-1870), the first of that family name to settle in the upper part of Liberty County. William May married Eugenia Demotte Ryon, daughter of Richard and Elizabeth Ryon.

There were many black families in the Willie community with such surnames as Johnson, Adkins, Gethers, Hodges, Hines, Chisholm, Garrison, Ball, Hollard, Porter, Fraser, Logan, Strickland, Stewart, Collins, Mikell, Levant, Bacon, Haynes, Moody, and Nail. They engaged in the same occupa­tions as their white neighbors.

Pompey Hines reared a large family and all of his children did well for themselves. There were May and Lillie Johnson (sister of George Fraser), Arthur and Sophie Adkins Hunter, Lizzie and Frances Adkins, Abe Futch. John Martin, and Ferdie Futch, who was the fiddler for many a square dance. Mutch Logan had a barrel of fish shipped by rail from Savannah each Saturday, and sold them in the community.

Some of the most successful farmers in the community had surnames such as Hines, Ball, Garrison, Gether, Porter, and Johnson, Julius and Christine (“Missy”) Hines were excellent farmers, as were Jim and Etna Hines. Sam and Arlene Johnson were excellent farmers and naval stores workers, as were her brothers, Doyle, Lee, and Edward.