During and following the Civil War, teachers and workers of the American Missionary Association filtered into the South and established hundreds of schools for Negro freedmen. Shortly after the Civil War, a representative of the organization “stumbled” upon Midway Church, investigated the local situation, and excitedly wrote a letter back to the home office.
“The influence of this old church on general intelligence, good morals, and genuine piety,” the letter said, “can hardly be paralleled in any other church in this country. At the breaking out of the recent war, it is said that three-fourths of the white male adults of Liberty County were graduates of college.”
The missionary, in the letter, related that hundreds of school teachers from Liberty County were “scattered from Carolina to the Golden Gate.” She said that two of the teachers were professors at the University of California at Berkeley, while two other Liberty Countians were “members of a distinguished law firm in New York.”
“Upon her roll of honored names,” the missionary wrote, “are four governors, two distinguished judges, scores of lawyers, and some 83 ministers of Christ.” She recommended that the AMA establish a school for black persons in Liberty County.
William A. Golden, a former Liberty County slave, established a one-room school in 1866 on property probably deeded him by William B. Gaulden. The property was located between Midway and McIntosh and became known as “Golden’s Grove.” A teacher for the school was supplied by the freedmens bureau. After the school failed, the AMA sent Rose Kenney and Eliza Ann Ward, white teachers from Massachusetts. to teach at Golden’s school. The women resided with black families because the white people of Liberty County would have nothing to do with them. The change in their lifestyle caused them to become so ill and broken in spirit that they returned home in less than two years.
Reverend Floyd Snelson, a black Congregational missionary, came from Andersonville. Georgia, to Liberty County in 1872 to do missionary work and possibly to be with his brother, Reuben Snelson, who had migrated to Liberty County the year before with his wife, Yalula, and their two children. He found Golden’s school at a complete standstill, and asked for and got permission and funds from the AMA to enlarge the school and broaden its academic scope.
Buildings for the facility were erected by the AMA and Liberty County black persons on 87 acres of land deeded to William A. Golden,and other former slaves with the surname of Golden, by William B. Gaulden after the Civil War. The school eventually had a seating capacity of 100 and its term was six months. Reverend Snelson named the school Dorchester Academy for towns of that name connected with the first settlers of Liberty County. He was its first principal but all of its other teachers for many years were white and came from the North.
Students at Dorchester Academy operated a large farm on the school campus. They raised the food they ate and sold chickens, eggs, hogs and cattle they produced for school operating funds. They were taught standard academic subjects, and also received training in fields where they most likely would find employment upon graduation, such as the menial occupations.
Reverend Snelson also taught in the black school in Midway Church. He also preached in the church and therefore became the first Congregational minister to fill its pulpit in more than 80 years, even though the church was of the Congregational denomination.
Reverend Snelson discovered that about 70 members of the Medway Presbyterian Church were former members of Midway Church and were willing to help him found a Congregational house of worship. He attempted to take possession of the “appurtances and franchises” of the Medway Presbyterian Church. He said his actions were justified because a majority of its members wanted to change their denomination, and move the organization to a church building to be erected at Golden’s Grove.
Reverend Joseph William, pastor of the Medway Presbyterian Church, asked for help from the Presbytery of Georgia. It sent help in the person of Reverend J.T.H. Waite, missionary doing work along the Georgia coast. He came to Liberty County, took the matter to the Liberty County Superior Court, established the claim of the Medway Presbyterian Church to its “property and franchises.” became its pastor, and by the turn of the century had occupied its pulpit for 25 years.