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Colonial cemetery getting new gate
The Sunbury Colonial Cemetery contains graves dating back 200 years. - photo by Photo provided.
Liberty County’s tranquil Colonial Sunbury Cemetery, located in a town long gone, will receive new wrought iron gates tomorrow.
The St. John’s Parish chapter of the Georgia Society Daughters of American Colonists will have a dedication ceremony at 9 a.m. Saturday at the cemetery in old historic Sunbury, near the Sunbury Crab Company off Islands Highway.
Sunbury once was a thriving port, according to the DAC’s Colonial Sunbury Cemetery brochure.
The DAC donated funds for the gates, which cost $1,000 each, and has led the effort to preserve the cemetery since 1951.
“There are several family plots that have wrought iron around the plots,” said Dr. C. Martelia Cunningham, state regent of Georgia’s DAC. “We wanted to have a gate that tied in. That gave the cemetery an added presence.”
The two family plots already enclosed with wrought iron are the Dunham and Fleming-Law families, Cunningham said.
“The graves go back to the 1700s,” said Barbara Martin, a DAC member and Historic Sunbury Cemetery chairwoman. “We learned a number of years ago, when an archeologist came through with his Geiger counter, there are a lot of people buried there we know nothing about. There are multiple unmarked graves in the cemetery.”
Martin said there are 34 tombstones in Sunbury Cemetery and the oldest one is dated 1788. One of the largest tombstones belongs to the Rev. William McWhir, she said.
“He was headmaster at the then Sunbury Academy,” Martin said. “It was considered a prestigious school. It was said if you went to Sunbury Academy you could enter your second year at Harvard.”
Martin said a picture of McWhir hangs in the Midway Museum.
“He was not an attractive man,” she said. Martin said the reverend survived a bout of small pox and bore the disease’s scars.
Martin said former DAC state regent Helen Boyd “was instrumental” in establishing the cemetery as a historic site.
“In 1980, the whole cemetery was fenced and gated,” Martin said. In the 1990s, under the leadership of former DAC state regent Carolyn Quackenbush, wrought iron enclosures around the two family plots were restored, the chairwoman said.
“And they still look good today,” she said.
The Fleming-Law family and the Liberty County Industrial Authority helped with that project, Martin said, and added the authority continues to help with printing brochures and maintaining the cemetery.
“I’m always surprised — we have a lot of visitors to the Sunbury Cemetery,” Martin said. “They come from all over the country.”
Cunningham lamented that not enough colonial history is taught in schools today and emphasized the DAC strives to increase the public’s awareness of the past by helping to preserve America’s historic treasures.
Sunbury’s distinctly American history has long outlasted the town itself. It was the site of several battles against the British and was Liberty County’s first county seat.
The town also was home to a number of historic figures, including Dr. Lyman Hall, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and former Georgia governors Richard Howley and Nathan Brownson, according to Another signer of the Declaration of Independence, Button Gwinnett, spent a lot of time in Sunbury as a justice of St. John’s Parish and George Walton, Georgia’s third singer of the declaration, was held prisoner by the British in Sunbury during the Revolutionary War, the website reads.   

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