Changing Times (1866-1876)

When the Civil War ended some plantation owners in Liberty County deserted their land and former slaves and relocated elsewhere. Others leased their property to anybody with money. Still others deeded parts of their land to their former slaves. Most of the plantation owners, however, re­mained on their land and weathered out the reconstruction years. A comparison of the ante-bellum and post-war Liberty County digests tells the story.


No cotton was exported by the South during the Civil War because of the federal blockade of Southern ports. Cotton was badly needed by England’s textile industry. The market was wide open. Slave labor was gone, which meant that Liberty County had to produce cotton with paid labor. No­body in the county had money, so the obvious answer was share-cropping.


A railroad depot was established a few miles north of Mc­Intosh just after the Civil War, primarily for the convenience of officials of the freedmens bureau a few miles away. It became known as Fleming because it was adjacent to the old plantation of William Fleming, for whom Fleming was named.


Some old institutions in Liberty County came to an end after the Civil War. Liberty Union Lodge No. 96, Free and Accepted Masons, at Taylors Creek, surrendered its charter to the Grand Lodge of Georgia in 1866.


Seventy members of Midway Church residing in the Flem­ington community, made application for dis-membership to Midway Church in 1866 for the purpose of organizing their own church. They adopted the Presbyterian form of govern­ment and were, on application to the Presbytery of Georgia, duly elected into a Presbyterian church on April 6, 1866. The building used as a branch house of worship of Midway Church became the Flemington Presbyterian Church. Its first pastor was Reverend D.L. Buttolph.


The last pastor of Midway Church was Reverend D.L. Buttolph. He departed Liberty County forever in the autumn of 1867. Thus, after 113 years Midway Church, cornerstone of Liberty County history, ceased to exist as a regular house of worship. Its members would not, or could not, keep it going.


Midway Church, when it was established, was an inde­pendent Congregational church. It had a Congregational pastor from 1754 to 1773 and from 1785 to 1791. All of its other pastors were Presbyterians. The church, after 1791, regularly contributed funds to the Presbytery of Georgia. Members of its congregation organized themselves into Pres­byterian organizations. It developed three branch houses of worship. All of them became Presbyterian churches. It never developed a program of organizing other Congregational churches in Liberty County. Its members never sought to change Midway Church to a Presbyterian house of worship. They clung tenaciously to their tenuous link with the Con­gregational Puritans who founded Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1630.


Reverend James L. Stacy, a Presbyterian minister whose grandfather and father were both clerks of Midway Church, said its members were deeply religious people, but not Puritans. He wrote this about the denomination of Midway Church.


“With the exception of Messer’s Osgood and Holmes, the church, although Congregational in form, always had Presby­terian ministers. It supported the Presbyterian church, send­ing her contributions through that channel, and was generally known and in parlance termed, a Presbyterian church; all the ministers going out from it have been of other denomination, not one having embraced the Congregational form of govern­ment.”


Many people in Liberty County after the Revolutionary War became critical of the dual denomination of Midway Church. Reverend Charles Odingsell Screven, a Baptist minis­ter and son of Brigadier General James Screven, once termed members of Midway Church “Congregational Presbyterians.”


Midway Church now stood empty and unattended. It was the center of all religious, social, and political life in Liberty County from 1754 until the Revolutionary War. In its ceme­tery lay many of the people who shaped Liberty County history for more than 100 years.


Baptist churches in Liberty County organized themselves as the Sunbury Association before the Civil War. In 1866 they reorganized themselves as the New Sunbury Association. One of its first members was Jones Creek Baptist Church, a member of the Piedmont Baptist Association before the war.


There was a meeting of the Hopewell Presbytery at Athens, Georgia, on April 18, 1866. During the meeting a request was made by black members of a white church in Macon, Georgia, that they be set off in a separate organization. The request was granted.


At another meeting of the Hopewell Presbytery at Macon, Georgia, on May 10. 1866, Joseph Williams was one of three black members of the new church ordained Presbyterian ministers and designated missionaries. Reverend Williams was sent to Liberty County to do missionary work and organize Presbyterian churches for black persons in the county. The first church he organized was the Medway Presbyterian Church near Midway Church. He was its first pastor.


No taxes were collected in Liberty County from 1864 through 1866. In 1867, total county taxes collected amount­ed to only $314.90. The tax collector at that time estimated that the value of all real property in the county was $938,163.


Members of Midway Church, known as “right-holders.” in early 1867 appointed J.B. Mallard. Ezra Stacy. and L.J. Mallard to manage Midway Church and its cemetery. They offered the church building to the freedmens bureau for use as a school and house of worship for black persons. The offer was accepted and a school was established in the building. The three gentlemen, at this time, divided religious items belonging to Midway Church, among its former branch hous­es of worship at Flemington, Walthourville, and Dorchester.


The Taylors Creek Camp Meeting took place on schedule in October 1867. Reverend John E. Sentell was pastor of the Taylors Creek Methodist Church that year, and under his guidance a large crowd attended the event.


Hinesville Lodge No. 271, Free and Accepted Masons, was established on October 29, 1869. James D. Zorn of the Gum Branch community was its first Worshipful Master.


A U.S. post office was established at Fleming in 1869. During the next 117 years only 14 persons served as its post­master, and six of them came from the Clark families, John S. Clark became the Fleming postmaster on March 17, 1876.