How It All Began

The congregation of the White Meeting House in Dorches­ter, South Carolina, numbered about 70 in 1752. They started making plans to move themselves and their church to Georgia because, they said, their area had become overcrowded, their land in some instances was unhealthy, no more grants of land were available in South Carolina, and they needed more land for their children. A better reason they wanted to leave South Carolina might be that the British governor at Charleston had demanded that their church help support the Established (Episcopal) Church put there under British law. They had no intention of doing that.

Grants of land were available in Georgia in the Midway District because the Council of Georgia wanted settlers there to discourage incursions to the north by Spanish mili­tary forces in East Florida. Three members of the congrega­tion arrived in the Midway District on May 16, 1752 met with plantation owners already in the area, reconnoitered the terrain and returned home with their findings. The congrega­tion was not impressed with the findings. It dispatched five more of its number to make a more extensive study of the land and present a petition to the Council of Georgia asking for better land if their findings were the same as those of the first group.

After a two-week reconnaissance in the Midway District, the five appraisers found the first group’s findings were ac­curate. They then went to Savannah and presented the peti­tion asking for more suitable land. The petition was not granted. They received grants of land amounting to 21,700 acres in the Midway District. They then returned home with the grants. Some members of the congregation were still not satisfied with their efforts.

A new petition for more suitable land than that in the Midway District, with the term “quality land” in it, was taken by six other members of the White Meeting House to colonial officials at Savannah, Georgia. The petition was denied. This time the congregation was granted 9,650 acres of land in the Midway District. Colonial records indicate that the two grants of land totaled 31,950 acres of land, but records of the Midway Church indicate that the figure was 32,550.

The six representatives, all of them traveling with members of their family, slaves, wagons, horses, and provisions, now returned to the Midway District to survey their two grants of land, some traveling by ship and some by land. A disas­trous hurricane prevented much surveying, so they traveled back to Savannah. Some left the ship there and journeyed home by land. Those who sailed home were hit by still another hurricane during which a slave drowned and two horses washed overboard.

Members of the White Meeting House during the summer and autumn of 1752 surveyed the property granted them in the Midway District, marked property boundaries of each owner, and some of them cleared a part of their land and built a dwelling. Benjamin Baker and Samuel Bacon and their families relocated to their grants of land in December 1752. Baker’s wife died the day after their arrival.

Parmenas Way and his family relocated on his grant of land on March 24, 1753. They appear to have been the only members of the White Meeting House to settle in the Midway District that year.

There was no mass movement of families from South Carolina to the Midway District until 1754 when 17 families and two single men made the migration. Heads of the families were John Stevens, Richard Spencer, Richard Baker, Josiah Osgood, Samuel Way, John Elliott, John Quarterman, Rever­end John Osgood, Samuel Burnley, Edward Way, Edward Sumner, William Baker, John Shave, and Nathaniel Way, all from Dorchester, South Carolina. John Mitchell, Sarah Mitchell (a widow), and Benjamin Andrew, from the Pon Pon district of the lower Edisto River in South Carolina, migrated with them. The two single men were John Quarterman Jr. and Moses Way from Dorchester, South Carolina.

Six families and two single men arrived in the Midway District from South Carolina in 1755. The single men were Thomas Peacock from Charleston, South Carolina, and Joseph Massey from the Pon Pon district. The men with families were John Gorton, John Winn, John Lupton, Joseph Bacon, Andrew Way, and Isaac Girardeau, all from the Dor­chester-Beech Hill area.

William Graves, John Graves, John Stewart Sr., John Stewart Jr., and Daniel Dunnom and their families, from the Dorchester-Beech Hill area, arrived from South Carolina in the Midway District in 1756.

Samuel Jeans, James Andrew, and Lydia Saunders (a widow) and their families migrated from the Dorchester-­Beech Hill area to Saint Johns Parish in 1758. More than ten years went by before any other residents of that area migrated to Saint Johns Parish. It was in 1771 that Jonathan Bacon, William Norman, and Isham Andrew and their families joined their former South Carolina neighbors in Saint Johns Parish.

A total of 38 families and three single men came from South Carolina to the Midway District and Saint Johns Parish during the period 1752-1771 under the aegis of the White Meeting House. By the latter year there were an esti­mated 350 whites and 1,500 slaves in Saint Johns Parish who could claim some sort of a connection with the White Meet­ing House in Dorchester, South Carolina.

Some of those persons who received grants of land in the Midway District in 1752 apparently decided not to relocate in Georgia. Some of the earliest settlers of the Midway Dis­trict are not mentioned here because they are not a part of Midway Church records and therefore are unknown. Emphasis here has been placed on the persons mentioned because it was they, more than anyone else, who developed the Midway District and Saint Johns Parish from a wilderness to a thriv­ing center of religious and social culture.

Historians have ambiguously referred to the first settlers of Midway District as “descendants of Puritans from New England.” They were denominationally descended from those Puritans, but only the Way and Sumner families could possibly have traced their ancestors back to Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1630.