It is hard to believe that the wood frame church before you was built in 1792. It is simply a stunning example of colonial architecture that would look at home on the banks of the Potomac as a fitting tribute to the richest class of English planters. In fact, Midway was built by rich planters who had migrated from the Dorchester region in South Carolina. They were prosperous planters accustomed to the production of rice, indigo and other crops, who quickly developed a strong agricultural economy aided by the recent legislation which had rescinded the prohibition of slavery in the colony.
Slavery had been banned by the Trustees in the original colony but this law was rescinded in 1751. The lifting of the Trustees’ ban opened the way for Carolina planters to fulfill the dream of expanding their slave-based rice economy into the Georgia lowcountry. The planters and their slaves flooded into Georgia and soon dominated the colony’s government. Within twenty years some sixty planters, who owned roughly half the colony’s rapidly increasing slave population, dominated the lowcountry rice economy of Georgia.
The village of Midway was built by Puritans who migrated into the area from Dorchester in South Carolina as a result of a land grant of 31,950 acres from the Council of Georgia in 1752. The grant was given to these first settlers in order to create a southern buffer against the Creeks and the Spanish for the emerging port of Savannah. Midway Congregational Church was founded by Congregationalists and were so named because the affairs of each church were directed by its own congregation, a decentralized approach to religion that greatly appealed to the independent nature of these earliest Georgia settlers. The original church was completed in 1752 on the site of the present structure. Land was reserved for a cemetery just to the west across the road that connected Savannah with Darien and Fort Frederica.
As the fever for American Independence heated up, the settlers of Midway were strongly in favor. In 1775 they elected Lyman Hall, a member of the church, to attend the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, along with Button Gwinnett of Sunbury and George Walton of Augusta. Another Midway resident, Nathan Brownson, served in the Continental Congress from 1776 to 1778 but did not sign the Declaration. It is well to remember that in 1770, Georgia’s total population consisted of just 23,000. In contrast, the South Carolina population was 124,000 and Virginia had a population of 447,000. This sparse population was clustered along the lower Savannah River and a narrow stretch of coastline south of Savannah. All other land that we would come to know as Georgia (approximately 40 million acres) belonged to the Creeks in the south and Cherokees in the north.
At the time, Georgia was organized into eight ‘parishes’ with uncertain boundaries, but this began to change as Georgia converted to the county system. In 1777 St. John’s Parish, St. Andrew’s Parish, and St. James’ Parish combined to become Liberty County. The patriots at Midway paid a price for their fervor during the war and the Midway Congregational Church building was destroyed by the British in 1778. After taking the town and sacking the local farms, the British commander, Colonel Prevost, ordered the church to be burned to the ground by his troops as they retreated. It would take 14 years, but another church would eventually rise from the ashes of the original. That structure, the one you see before you, was completed in 1792 and has been lovingly maintained by the local citizens. Midway Congregational is a fitting tribute to the Colonial period history of Georgia. In 1973, the Midway Historic District, encompassing the Midway Congregational Church and Cemetery, the Midway Museum and the Old Sunbury Road, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.