Category Archives: Sunbury GA

Sunbury Baptist Cemetery, Liberty County

Detail of Rachel Bowens-Pap monument.

The vernacular headstones of Sunbury Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery in the old Trade Hill-Seabrook area were memorialized by photographer Orrin Sage Wightman in Margaret Davis Cate’s beloved book, Early Days of Coastal Georgia (Fort Frederica Association, St. Simons Island, 1956). The images, made mostly in the 1930s and 1940s, depict monuments in much newer condition than we see today, and many which have vanished altogether. Still, its surviving collection of these iconic memorials make it one of the most important African-American cemeteries in Georgia.

Rachel Bowens-Pap (1886?-March 1937)

The most significant of these monuments were predominately wooden markers and whimsies thought to have been made by Cyrus Bowens. None of these survive at the site today but a small collection of concrete markers remain, also attributed to Cyrus Bowens. [Findagrave lists a Cyrus Bowens, who died in 1866, among those buried at Sunbury Missionary Baptist, but these graves were made much later than that. This Cyrus Bowens appears to have been active in the 1930s].

Chaney Bowens (1855?-18 February 1931)
Detail of Chaney Bowens monument, featuring a hand-incised dove.
George Bowens (?-7 August 1931) A right-pointing hand and a cross adorn this stone.
Frank Jackson (Dates unknown). The empty concave rectangle likely featured a photograph of the decedent at one time.
Lucy Bowens (Dates unknown). The empty concave oval likely held a photograph of the decedent at one time.
Boston (Last name unknown, dates unknown)
Brick Footstone (Name and dates unknown)
Symbolic headstone; broken vessel

In her essay “Negro Graves”, in Early Days of Coastal Georgia, Margaret Davis Cate writes: In old Negro burying grounds the grave is outlined with various and sundry items…The articles on the graves include every kind of container or utensil–sea shells…piggy banks…clocks…cups, saucers…Everything on a Negro grave is broken. To them, this is symbolic. Life is broken; the vessel is broken…Years ago Negroes put these broken articles on all their graves; but today, one finds them only in isolated communities far removed of the white man’s culture. To seek them out, one must leave the paved roads and search in remote areas…

Horace Fuller (26 July 1872-18 September 1933)

The Fuller monument and the seven images that follow feature delicate hand-incised natural forms and symbols.

Detail of Horace Fuller monument, featuring whimsical hand-incised flowers.
Ceasar Hamilton (7 September 1867-January 1938)
Detail of Ceasar Hamilton monument, featuring whimsical hand-incised flower.
Joe & Martha Baker (Birth dates unknown, Joe, d. January 1931; Martha, d. Feb ?) , with flower and hand pointing right.
Unknown decedent, with hand-incised symbol.
L. G. Delegal (1872?-December 1935)
Mary Mattox (1861?-29 June 1938)
Painted brick lot boundary marker
Edward Fuller (21 Jun 1896-29 March 1925) & Samuel Fuller (?-8 March 1924)
Julia Fuller (188?-1907) & Lila Fuller (Died 1900, Age 3 weeks)
William Fuller (?-20 June 192?)
Mamie L. Hague (?-1940)
Ira L. Williams, Sr. (12 October 1889-4 November 1969)
Ira Edwin Williams
Deacon Eddie Bowen – Son of Isaac and Mary – Born Colonels Island off the coast of Georgia in the 1890s. One of the oldest commercial fishermen who worked the coastal waters of Liberty County.

Though the present building was constructed in 1974, Sunbury Missionary Baptist Church was founded by Revs. Frank Harris and Andrew Neal, with 40 freedmen who had been members of Sunbury Baptist Church, which was burned by Union troops in November 1864. Sometime after the Civil War, the black congregation built a chapel near the Medway River. It was moved to this location, given by the Delegal family of the Trade Hill-Seabrook community, and reconstructed in 1918 and remained in use until the present structure was completed.


Sunbury Cemetery, 1758, Liberty County

Laid out in St. John’s Parish in 1758 on land originally owned by Mark Carr, Sunbury soon drew comparisons to Savannah as one of Georgia’s great seaports. Nearly 500 lots (not all occupied) were situated around three squares: King’s, Church, and Meeting.

St. John’s Parish fervently supported opposition to British rule and urged the rest of Georgia to revolt. Savannah was hesitant, so the parish sent Dr. Lyman Hall, a citizen of Sunbury, to the 2nd Continental Congress as a non-voting delegate. When Georgia at last joined the revolution, Dr. Hall, Button Gwinnett, and George Walton were chosen as the official delegates and signed the Declaration of Independence. Fort Morris was constructed for the defense of Sunbury but fell to the British during the Revolutionary War. Many of the pioneer families left during the occupation.

In 1777 St. John’s Parish and the neighboring St. Andrew’s and St. James were combined to form Liberty County. On 18 November 1783 the first session of the Superior Court of Liberty County was held in Sunbury and it remained the county seat until removal to Riceboro in 1797.

Sunbury Academy, established in 1788, was one of the most prominent schools in early Georgia. A Baptist church was organized in 1810 and held services into the 1830s. But the community was already in decline. The Hurricane of 1804 and the Hurricane of 1824 did major damage to the area, dispersing the remaining population. It was a ghost town by the 1840s and nothing remains today except the cemetery. Many stones have been lost or destroyed over time, some due to storms and others to residential development.

Reverend William McWhir, D. D. [9 September 1759-31 January 1851] & Mary McWhir [27 September 1757-16 December 1819]

Dr. McWhir, a devout Presbyterian who migrated to Georgia from Belfast, Ireland, was one of the founders and the Principal of Sunbury Academy for 30 years. He died at the home of Roswell King.

Josiah Powell [?-21 July 1788]

Josiah Powell’s brick tomb, topped with a marble slab, is a common form on the coast.

Dunham Family Plot, Ironwork Detail

The exquisite ironwork surrounding the Dunham family plot is a work of art in itself. Family genealogy suggests headstones are replacements for earlier markers, dating to around 1900. The fence was likely installed at that time, as well.

Dunham Family Plot

The Dunhams were prominent citizens of the area and many remained even after Sunbury’s decline. Reverend Jacob Dunham, who died in 1832, spent ten years as a missionary for the Sunbury Baptist Association, ministering mostly to slaves.

Thomas H. Dunham [1840-12 October 1870]

Though Dunham was a later burial, the willow tympanum on his headstone was likely a nod to the earlier settlers, whose stones were commonly marked in this fashion.

Eliza Ann Richardson [1820-23 October 1831]

Eliza Ann was the daughter of Edmond & Elizabeth Richardson. Her slate headstone features a willow and urn tympanum.

Law & Fleming Families

This plot is the final resting place of the Law & Fleming families and their relatives.

Reverend Josiah S. Law [1808-4 October 1853]

The Laws were a very devout family, counting two prominent ministers among their ranks.

Reverend Samuel Spry Law [1774-4 February 1837]

Spry’s mother, whose maiden name was also Spry, successfully defended her home from the British during the Revolutionary War. Law received his most formal education while living with the family of a French Marquis on Sapelo Island. He was married three times, first to Mary Anderson, then to Rebecca G.  Hughes, and finally to Temperance Wood.

In 1811, Reverend Law was a captain of the local militia. He became a Baptist in 1815. In his final years, he preached to poor whites and slaves in rural sections of Liberty County.

Mrs. Temperance  Wood Law [1780-16 October 1857]

Temperance Wood is proclaimed the last consort of Reverend S. S. Law. (Per genealogy, her name is apparently misspelled on her headstone).

Lieutenant Charles H. Law [?-1887]

Gable Front House, Sunbury

Remains of Sunbury Plantation

The grand two-story plantation home of Mr. & Mrs. Allen Stevens once stood at this site on the Medway River. All that remain are a few outbuildings. I’m not sure when the house was built.  I got the impression from the present owner, Allen Fillingame, that the site was never a working plantation in the historic sense and wasn’t even built until the late 1950s.

Meredith Belford writes: This was owned by my grandfather John Porter Stevens’ brother Allen to whom he had given money to purchase the property as a straw buyer. Allen refused to sign the property over and decided to keep it. According to my mother and her best friend who were there, the brothers had a brawl over the deal at the property on December 7, 1941. Obviously, other events that day overshadowed the brothers’ altercation.

My understanding of the property’s history is that it contained the site of the main square in colonial Sunbury at the head of the Sunbury Road. As the town declined in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many of the town lots were consolidated resulting in a larger tract including the home site you are discussing and the area known as The Pointe.

It was separated from the Screven family’s Seabrook Plantation by a few other parcels. Seabrook Plantation included the area around the boat ramp all the way south along Dickinson Creek to Springfield and Palmyra Plantations (owned by the Stevens, Baker, and Maxwell interrelated families since the 1750s). Seabrook was subdivided into 7 parcels in the 1800s by Screven descendants. The northernmost parcel—running from Marshview Drive to around the boat ramp—was sold and subdivided prior to 1930. My grandfather purchased the other 6 contiguous parcels in 1930. These are now under permanent conservation easement.

The entrance was quite elaborate, among the most ornamental on the coast. The two enclosed terraces were once filled with oleander, surely a fantastic site when they were in full bloom. The view of the river hearkens to a time of much grander properties, more akin to those on the Mississippi River than the Georgia coast. The house burned at some point, many years ago, and these outbuildings are all that remain.

Ostrich Barn/Kennel
Storage Barn
Guest House
Cold War Fallout Shelter

I understand (as of 2021) that the site has been completely cleared of the remaining structures.

Beauty Shop, Sunbury

I believe this is a beauty shop, judging by the signs, but I’m not sure.

Update: As of 2017, this structure is no longer standing.

Vernacular House & Garden, Sunbury

“Yard farms” were once common in the historic African-American communities of Coastal Georgia and beyond, but aren’t seen as often today.

Medway River, Sunbury

The Medway is one of numerous tidal rivers along the Georgia coast. Formed by the confluence of the Laurel View, Belfast, and Tivoli rivers, it’s only 11 miles long, and makes up part of the border between Liberty and Bryan counties. It was named for the Medway River in Kent, England, from which some of the settlers of old Sunbury hailed.