Midway Congregational Church, founded in 1754 and a seat of power in the Colonial period, was associated with three satellite congregations known as retreats, because their locations, slightly more inland than Midway, offered a respite from the malarial swamps of the coast. The last of the retreat churches to be established was located at Dorchester. Its origins can be traced to nearby Sunbury, a short-lived boom town founded in 1758 whose trustees were members of Midway Church. Sunbury thrived nearly from its inception, rivaling Savannah in commercial importance, but its proximity to Fort Morris lead to its capture and subsequent burning by British troops during the American Revolution. While many such casualties of the war recuperated, Sunbury never seemed to regain its prominence after the devastating four-year occupation that followed. The hurricane of 1824 and a yellow fever epidemic sent many of its residents scattering into the nearby countryside. Huge plantations with names like Laurel Grove, Arcadia, Melon Bluff, Cedar Point, and Palmyra were emerging in the countryside around old Sunbury. In 1843 upon the suggestion of Reverend Thomas Sumner Winn, a tutor for prominent Presbyterian minister Charles Colcock Jones, a site was chosen for a retreat between Sunbury and Midway. It was originally known simply as “the Village,” but was soon christened Dorchester, in tribute to the heritage of its citizens. Some families built summer homes at Dorchester, though many tore down their dwellings near Sunbury and rebuilt them on the higher and drier ground the retreat afforded. As this new location was only six miles from Midway, the idea of building a church was not initially entertained, though an academy was built in which Sunday school was regularly taught. By 1854, with the continuing decline in membership at Midway, the families of the village built a permanent church, which still stands today. The old town bell from Sunbury, dated 1799, was placed in the steeple. The land was donated by Bartholomew Busby, who owned the nearby Melon Bluff Plantation. At first it was used only in summer, but by the onset of the Civil War was in regular use. The church was officially recognized by the Savannah Presbytery in 1871 and named Dorchester Presbyterian Church. The church holds services on the first Sunday of each month at 5 PM.
National Register of Historic Places
Aaron and Joanna both came with their parents from England to Massachusetts, Aaron in 1630 and Joanna as early as 1637. Aaron was about 17 years older than Joanna. Some time after they were married they moved with their family to Salem Village, Massachusetts. They were in Salem Village at the time the teen-age girls were ‘witching’, but managed to keep their heads. Sons of Aaron and Joanna, William and his brother Aaron, Jr., are on record as being opposed to the belief in witches.
Aaron and Joanna’s son, Aaron Way, is known for his resistance to the Salem Witch trials. He was put in the stocks for speaking out.
Aaron died in 1695, and at this time some of his family decided to go to South Carolina, including his wife, Joanna. The injustice of witchcraft at Salem Village may not have been the only reason that his relatives wanted to leave there, but this seems to have been a contributing factor. They received their letters from the church after the termination of the witchcraft proceedings. The church records under the date of October 11, 1696 report the dismissal of William and his family.
“The dimission of our Breathern and Sisters, William Way and Persis his wife, together with their children to ye Church of Christ lately gathered in Dorchester in New England, and now planted in South Carolina, whereof the Reverend Mr. Joseph Lord is pastor, was consented to by a full and unanimouse vote at ye motion and disire of ye Brethern and Sisters: and accordingly letters Dismissive were written, 17 instant.”
The family decided to leave the Bay Colony and migrated to South Carolina after receiving a land grant from the governor. The Way family arrived in South Carolina around 1700, and the family is still resides in South Carolina.
Other members of the family founded the town of Midway, in Georgia, there is a large burial ground and a museum that records the activities of the Way family.
Hey there! Thank you for this great write-up on the Dorchester Presbyterian Church! There is a correction to the last sentence in your article: Church services are held monthly, on the first Sunday, at 5:00pm. (Information courtesy of Leah Poole, Liberty County Chamber of Commerce/Liberty County Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO)