Two scouts, Samuel Bacon and Benjamin Baker, came to Midway and checked out the territory on December 6, 1752, and decided this would be a great place for the Puritans of Dorchester, South Carolina. The colony had lived there for 56 years and had prospered and grown so much that they had outgrown their bounds and needed more space for their large families and for farmland. The council of Georgia in Savannah granted the South Carolinian’s 22,400 acres. By 1754, the largest group came to make their homes in Midway. The first Midway Church was built in 1756.
Some of the most distinguished men in the public life of our nation descended from the early settlers of Liberty County. It has produced two signers of the Declaration of Independence (Lyman Hall and Button Gwinnett), two generals of the America Revolutionary War (James Screven and Daniel Stewart), one President of the United States (Theodore Roosevelt, descendant of Daniel Stewart), and the wife of another President (Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, granddaughter of Rev. I. S. K. Axson. One of the early pastors of the Midway Church was the father of the famous poet, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. From the LeConte Plantation near Riceboro came two famous scientists, John and Louis LeConte, who helped establish the University of California.
The Revolutionary War took place and we had many killed from 1775-1783. The thirteen “United Colonies” declared their independence from Britain as a new nation, the United States of America, in 1776. The Midway Church was burned by the British in 1778.
Fort Morris was commanded by Col. John McIntosh. British commander, Col. Fuser, sent a messenger to Co. McIntosh advising the surrender of the fort. His famous reply was “Come and take it.” The Georgia Legislature presented McIntosh a sword later with those words engraved on it.
In 1777, Liberty County was formed by the legislature. It was composed of the parishes of St. John, St. James and St. Andrew.
Sunbury was the first county seat. In 1797, it was moved to Riceborough. In 1837, it was moved to Hinesville where it remains today.
Liberty County flourished with many large plantations in the coastal areas. Sunbury was a very busy port. Rice and indigo were the main crops worked by hundreds of slaves. Some of the plantations were: Montevideo, Springfield, Social Bluff, Woodmanston, Retreat, Rice Hope, South Hampton, Arcadia, Lambert, Mallard Place, Woodville, White Oak, Liberty Hall, Maybank, Lodebar and Bonadventure.
According to the Liberty County Digest in 1851, there were about 100 plantations along the county coast. Only six were larger than 1000 acres and had over 100 slaves. They were owned by Joseph H. Jones Sr., T. B. Barnard, Moses L. Jones, Roswell King Jr., George Washington Walthour and Jacob Walburg. Walburg’s was located on St. Catherine’s Island, which he owned. Mary Jane Hazzard Bacon, resided just a block from the Liberty County Courthouse and owned 44 slaves.
The Civil War (1861-1865) created havoc in Liberty County. In Sherman’s March to the Sea, many plantation homes were burned or destroyed and all the crops and animals killed or stolen. The Midway Church and Cemetery were desolated by the corralling of the animals in the cemetery and using the church for a slaughterhouse. Again, we lost many to this cruel war. Georgia lost 25,000 men in the war. Many people from Liberty County fled to other parts of the country such as Thomasville and never returned.
With the end of the war and all the slaves freed, the rice growing was ended. Without the free labor the plantation owners could not get it done. The plantations were abandoned or sold to the freed slaves in small parcels.
County taxes collected in 1869 amounted to $987. The tax collector estimated that all the property in Liberty County that year was worth only $50,292.
The Hinesville Gazette was established by Samuel Bradwell and in late 1872 the first issue of the newspaper rolled off the press. The paper was issued each Monday morning and carried legal advertisements for liberty and surrounding counties. The subscriptions were $1.00 per year.
The first graduation exercises of the Bradwell Institute were held in 1873. Professor Samuel Dowse Bradwell established this school.
The Liberty Independent Troop, the oldest cavalry troop in the state, was organized in 1786. During the Civil War it was divided. In 1874, it was reorganized and William A. Fleming was elected Captain.
Several important communities were in Liberty County. Willie and Taylors Creek were two of the ones that exist no longer. Walthourville, Allenhurst, Flemington, Riceboro, Fleming, Dorchester, Sunbury, Freedmen s Grove, Crossroads and Gum Branch are other existing ones.
In 1886, the population was about 10,000. There was more than 34,000 farm acres. Smaller communities in the county were Toms Creek, Smiths Chapel, Beards Creek, Macedonia, Oak Dale, Pleasant Hill, Elim, Persimmon Grove, Jones Creek, Vickers Still, Camel, Donald, Wayland, Springfield, Retreat, Baconton, and Jug.
The Savannah, Albany and & Gulf Railroad completed tracks through McIntosh County and passed in front of Allen Johnston’s home in 1857. A depot was built there and a community grew up around it calling it Johnston’s Station. A change in county lines took Johnston’s Station out of McIntosh County and put it back in Liberty County. The citizens changed the name of their community to Liberty City. In 1905, a German roofing tile manufacturer, William Ludowici, made a generous contribution for a new school building to be built with the stipulation that the town’s name be changed to Ludowici.
Dorchester Academy by 1896 could accommodate 500 pupils with one principal and eleven teachers. The first graduation took place that year. An old, gray haired black man attending the exercises said, “This is what I prayed for back yonder in the dark that the children might have the light. I am glad the light has come.”
Dorchester Academy is an important center of the African American Heritage. The school was started in 1870 by the Freedmens Bureau with help from the American Missionary Association on one acre of land. It closed in 1940. In 1948 it was converted into a community center. The Dorchester Academy Boys’ Dormitory was the primary training site for the Citizen Education Program sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to educate thousands of mostly rural African-Americans about their legal rights and responsibilities during the civil rights movement of the 1960′s. The Academy trained thousands of teachers, who returned home to instruct others, resulting in an increase in the voter registration of African Americans. The initiative furthered the goals of the civil rights movement and ultimately passage of the voting Rights Act of 1965. In September of 2006, it became one of only 2500 historic places in the United States to be awarded the title of a National Historic Landmark.
Liberty County needed a new courthouse but the majority of the people lived in the Ludowici area and had a much larger shopping center than Hinesville. They wanted the county seat moved to Ludowici so they voted no each time to a new courthouse. Finally, they asked the state legislature to cut them out of Liberty County and create a new county for them. Long County was created August 14, 1920 and named after Dr. Crawford Long, who discovered ether as an anesthetic. Liberty County finally got a new courthouse in 1927.
Camp Stewart was established in 1940 from lands of many farmers in the area by President Roosevelt and was named in honor of Gen. Daniel Stewart. The government paid the landowners $15 per acre and gave them a short time to move off the reservation. It consists of 279,270 acres and was designed for an anti-aircraft artillery training site for the United States Army. It is the largest military installation east of the Mississippi River. The name was changed to Fort Stewart April 7, 1956. Liberty County would forever be changed after the military came to make it their home also. Fort Stewart is the home of the “Rock of the Marne.” This military installation plays a vital part in the life of Liberty County and the surrounding counties.