In 2013, when I was documenting all the Crawfordite churches in Southeast Georgia, I happened upon a little church and cemetery on my way to Sardis. The church I stopped at, Bethel Methodist, was historic in its own right. It’s a white congregation, but there is a small African-American cemetery adjacent to it. It was there that I met this gentleman, who drove up in a new Cadillac. He was an old-timer, he said, and if I recall was about 80. He shared a bit of the history of why the African-American cemetery was located beside the white church, but unfortunately, I lost that information. He didn’t mind his photograph being made and when asked his name, for documentary purposes, he said to just call him ‘Champion for Christ’, no names otherwise.
Thanks to Sheilia Willis for sharing the location of Mrs. Canaday’s grave, and for this history, some of which (corrected) comes from a Charlton County history published in 1972: In terms of Chief Osceola [born in present-day Tallassee, Alabama to John William and Polly Coppinger Powell. John William Powell was Scottish or Irish and Polly was Creek] , his lineage is most interesting. When he was a boy, some of his family and their friends were given sanctuary in the Moniac area after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend when many of the Upper Creeks fled to Florida. His sister was Missouri Powell who married John Milledge Canaday. He was supposedly a Creek warrior who was born in Coleraine, Ireland, and also had the name of Ossio Yahaltla. Perhaps John’s father was there going to school as some Native Americans did during the 1700s.
In 1800 John traveled up the St. Marys River and built a cabin near what is now Moniac. Then he visited relatives in Northern Alabama where he met and married Missouri Powell. Later, he went back up there to fight Andrew Jackson but when the Red Stick Creeks were defeated in 1814, he brought his wife’s family, including Osceola, down to this area. The Canadays remained here and Missouri’s sister’s family later went to adjacent Columbia County, Florida, but the rest of Osceola’s family moved farther down into Florida where he grew up and became famous as a leader of the Seminoles who you know had some of their origins from the Creek/Muscogee Nation.
The Canadays had many children and one of their descendants lives in St. George and runs the Canaday Gas Station there. My father and I always do a pit stop there when we go to the VA hospital in Gainesville.
Of Missouri’s children, John Milledge Canaday, Jr and his wife Sarah Howell Canaday are buried in North Prong Cemetery, which is a few more miles south and then on the west side of the St. Marys in Baker County, Florida. Sarah’s family was killed by Indians at Toledo. The death of the Howells is sometimes mixed up with the Canaday children but if you check the births, deaths, and marriages, you will see the difference. [The other children were Osceola Nikkanochee Canaday b. ?; Elizabeth Canaday b. 1823; Mary Ann Canaday b. 1824; Henry Canaday b. 1829; James Canaday b. 1831; William Jackson Canaday b. 1833; and Frances Marion Canaday b. 1840.
Also buried with the Canadays is Old Man Jernigan (Johnnygan). I’m unsure at this time as to his connection.
Adjacent to Moniac Baptist Church is the historic Canaday Cemetery, established in 1830. Notably, it’s the final resting place of Missouri Powell Canaday, the sister of the Seminole chieftain Osceola. Many of the pioneers of this section were assimilated Native Americans.
Just east of the Florida state line at the St. Marys River, Moniac is a an isolated community in deepest South Georgia. What they lack in population, they make up for with this friendly store, which doubles as a restaurant. Since I’d already had lunch in Yulee, I bought some Mexican 7-Up (made with real sugar) in glass bottles. They had several brands in glass bottles.
Joe Hopkins writes that this the was commissary for the turpentine operations at Toledo. I would go there on Saturday mornings when I was a kid with my great uncle to pay off the turpentine employees. The store housed basic staples and dry goods for the workers living at the Toledo settlement and the business records of the company. The dirt road on the porch side of the commissary was the original road running from Folkston to St.George.
The Cherokee of Georgia are descendants of the Cherokee who avoided being rounded up by the government during the forced migration known as the Trail of Tears in the 1830s and are therefore recognized by the state as a tribe but not by the federal government. Their ancestors were able to survive through assimilation.
They host Pow Wows here at least twice a year.
Georgia’s southernmost town, St. George, is located within the “Georgia Bend” of the St. Marys River. This historic postcard, mailed from St. George, illustrates a picnic held along the river in February 1909. I have no idea what occasion warranted such a photograph. It must have been a really mild winter, though, as a few of the boys are standing in the river.
Though some sources give dates for the Alabaha/Crawfordite churches, there is really no way to determine this as they do not keep the type records which would validate these dates. Since this congregation dates to 1882, it is assumed that the church was constructed around that time.
The memorial pictured above is unique, so far, among these meeting houses. It states that the church was chartered in 1882 and first members were: Henry & Jane Prescott; James J. & Nancy Hendrix; David R. & Millie Wasdin; James & Ester Johns; and Sarah O’Berry. LeAnne Oliveira writes, in part: “The memorial sign was made by my daddy, John Prescott. After his retirement he returned to Charlton County and became very active in the upkeep of Corinth. The Prescotts on the sign were his paternal great-grandparents and the Wasdins were maternal great-grandparents. A board was formed to oversee the upkeep of the cemetery. Because the land was deeded by my great great grandfather to “the members” of Corinth Church the last two surviving members had to sign a quit claim deed in order to legally deed the land and church to the board. My father was buried here in November 2011 at the feet of his father. In order to be buried here today a person must have ancestors or blood relations buried there already. I have a plot marked off for myself and my husband, at the feet of my father. No meetings are held in the church any longer, but the Prescott family holds our reunion on the grounds every April. This church has always been a large part of my life and it sure makes my family tree easier to trace as I can cover half of it back four generations right in that cemetery.“
The interior is plain as are those of all the Alabaha/Crawfordite churches. Since this one has glass windows under the wooden shutters, I presume it is still an active congregation. There’s a privy on the grounds, as is emblematic of these churchyards, but there’s also a nice pump house.
The meeting house and a rather large historic cemetery can be found at the end of a dirt driveway. This is the view when you’re leaving or arriving.
In his fascinating thesis, The “Gold Standard” of the Wiregrass Primitive Baptists of Georgia: A History of the Crawford Faction of the Alabaha River Primitive Baptist Association, 1842-2007, (Valdosta State University, 2009), Michael Holt makes special note of the architectural distinctions of the Crawfordites: “[An] aspect of the Crawfordite tradition that remains today is the construction style of the meeting houses. While other Primitive Baptist Churches, including those in the Bennettite faction of the Alabaha Association, have begun to use brick, mortar, carpet, and other modern construction techniques, Crawfordite churches remain exactly as they would have appeared over a century ago. They are still fashioned from unfinished pine, with no electricity, carpet, or running water…this austere architecture helps keep the connection with the past strong. It should be noted that in recent years, 0ne part of the church grounds has adopted more modern conveniences. The outhouses that adorned the grounds of all the churches in the association have now been replaced with outdoor restroom facilities with running water, though this change was made primarily to bring the restroom facilities in line with public health regulations. However, this addition has not encroached on the overall intended affect of the architecture…“
The Crawfordites are named for Elder Reuben Crawford. Dr. John G. Crowley, the leading authority on the history of Primitive Baptists notes in his article “The Sacred Harp Controversy in the Original Alabaha Primitive Baptist Association,” Baptist Studies Bulletin July 2004 “[they] emerged as a subset of the Primitive Baptists in the 1860s and 1870s. During the Twentieth Century the “Crawfordites” became the most austere and conservative Primitive Baptists in Georgia, eschewing radio, television, neckties, painted and heated meetinghouses.” Michael Holt further notes in his thesis: “Whereas every other Primitive Baptist association has altered somewhat from the original tenets of the denomination, the Crawford Faction of the Alabaha has remained unchanged since the time of its founding in 1842…“
Dr. Crowley’s article can be accessed here. Just scroll down to Primitive Baptists.
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: This is not a complete photographic record, as there are more Crawfordite churches in the area I’ve not yet visited. They will be added as they are documented.
Sardis is the oldest congregation in Charlton County, founded 7 January 1821. It moved to its present location around 1840. Some sources incorrectly note that this church was built in 1821, but that is not the case, as it didn’t even locate here until 1840.
The pulpit is said to be from the original church (circa 1821) and to contain a bullet hole from an overexcited soldier defending the meeting house during the Indian Wars.
The interior is typically unadorned, as are all the Crawfordite churches. I love the worn floorboards seen in the photograph of the entrance below.
The next image shows a detail of one of the holes in the floor. These are found in some of the Crawfordite churches and are used for spitting tobacco.
The support buttresses below the beams are unique (in my travels so far) to Sardis.
As the weather was unsettled while I was photographing Sardis, I didn’t have time to fully explore the cemetery, which is quite large and the final resting place of many Charlton County pioneers. I was drawn, though, to the statuary of the Lowther plot.
To the left of the children’s memorials are the graves of Edwin P. Lowther (19 May 1867 – 19 August 1913) and Avey E. Robinson Lowther (4 September 1861 – 21 December 1903). I believe an infant and another wife, named Birdie, are buried here, as well.