Sunbury, now listed among the dead towns of Georgia, was Midway’s and Saint John’s Parish’s port. It was General James Edward Oglethorpe, who decided upon establishing a fortification there in his plans for defense against the Spanish. The site made an ideal getting for the town that was located there and a 500 acre grant to Mark Carr was made by the English crown on October 4, 1757.
A year’s later three hundred acres were transferred to James Maxwell, Kenneth Billie, and John Stevens of the Midway District for the purpose of dividing it into lots. One hundred acres was set aside as a town commons. The name of Sunbury was for the original Sunbury-on-Thames in England, near the city of London.
It is said that as many as seven ships entered the port in a day. It was made a port of entry in 1761 and its first appointed officers were, Thomas Carr, collector; John Martin, naval officer; Francis Lee, searcher. The town had a commission form of government which continued until 1825 after which continued until 1825 after which no elections were held and the town gradually dwindled away.
Sunbury was the county seat of Liberty County until 1797 and the first session of Liberty County Superior Court was held there. Member of the Midway community as well as the citizens of the port of Sunbury, which was eleven miles away from Midway Church, made up the list of the county’s first grand jury.
The Sunbury Academy was the chief seat of learning in this part of Georgia. Further reference of the famous old school is elsewhere in this edition of The Herald. Possessions of its noted principal, Dr. Wm. McWhir are to be seen on exhibit in Midway Museum.
The Sunbury Baptist Church, organized in 1806 by rev. Charles O. Screven, listed among the Baptist ministers that it sent out into Georgia and other states some of the leading clergy men of that denomination.
Sunbury Baptist Church is said to have been of the same architecture as the Midway Church building. The soldiers of the Union army burned it during the Sixties as a signal to the Union gunboats in the outer waters that the land forces had taken command of the town of Sunbury.
The late J.W. Morgan who lived in the old Screven house on the water front at Sunbury told in an interesting way how he furnished the torch to the Union soldiers to burn the church. As a boy at the time he obligingly gave the enemy soldiers a torch presumably to light a camp fire. At his death he was probably the oldest citizen of Sunbury section who remembered the event.
The old Screven house, so typical of the architecture of the period, stands on the Sunbury waters edge in a state of decay. Nearby is the old Sunbury cemetery where are buried so many of the early settlers. Sunbury business men carried on thriving trade between them and the other ports – especially the West Indies and the town at one time had a population of nearly a thousand.
The inhabitants lived the easy lives of typical Southern planters and the hospitable homes were the scenes of a gay social life. Perhaps the important revolutionary fort, Fort Morris, is Sunbury’s chief claim to military fame and the ruins of the old fortification are still in evidence. The earth works fort cover an acre in size.
Colonel John McIntosh of the Continental Troops perpetuated the history of the fortification’s brave stand when he sent back his famous message to the British command to surrender when he replied, “Come and take it.”
SOURCE: Liberty County Herald November 26, 1959