Sunday, November 30, 2014

Little Utah

NoteRelationships, such as grandmother, 2nd great, etc., are expressed from the perspective of the grandchildren of Willis Edgar and Carrie (known as) Mae (Merritt) Musgrove.

Two weeks ago my father and I made a trip to Waycross, Georgia to research our family. We met with Fae McCary, a relative and a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS). My father and Fae are standing by a marker at the entrance of the Little Utah cemetery in Atkinson County, Georgia, in the picture below. Some of our ancestors are buried there.

The monument, paid for with donations by some of the members listed on it, was designed by Jesse Gray and Byron Cole Williams, descendants of Calvin Greenberry Washington Williams, our great uncle - our great grand-mother's (Mary Jane Elizabeth Williams') brother. It reads (in italics);

Fae McCary and
my father, Melvin Musgrove
"In the spring of 1899 the first Mormon missionaries came to this community and began to hold meetings."

In 1891, eight years before the Mormon missionaries came from Utah, our great grandmother, Mary Jane Wiliams, married our great grandfather, George Henry Merritt. I'm not sure how that timeline fits with the Merritt family genealogist's story about the family disowning our great grandmother. At least one living relative remembers her coming to family get-togethers. Still, it was a good story.

"The first members were baptized on 9 January 1900 by Nephi USC Jensen of Salt Lake City, UT. They were Irvin and Laura Spivey, Calvin W. and Sarahan Williams, Sara A. Williams, Morning Parker Davis, mother of Sarahan Williams."

In the paragraph above, Sara A Williams was our 2nd great grandmother, Sarah Ann (Parker) Williams. Morning (Parker) Davis was the sister of Sarah A. and mother of Sarahan. Calvin W., our great grandmother's brother, was married to Sarahan, his cousin. 

The picture on the right is of the Williams family. They are, from left to right, our 2nd great grandmother, Sarah Ann (Parker); our great grandmother, Mary Jane Elizabeth, on her lap and Calvin Greenberry Washington, her brother, on the lap of our 2nd great grandfather, Allen Raymond Williams.

Calvin Greenberry
Washington Williams
"On June 10, 1905, Calvin Washington Williams who owned a 600 acre farm  surrounding this spot, donated and deeded these two acres of land to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to be used for building a church and cemetery.

A small church made of rough lumber was built on this site in 1905 and was used for church and school until 1917. The building was then purchased and moved across the road to the south, where it was used as a school and tenant house.

The new church (depicted below) was built in 1918. The building committee consisted of Jesse Green Williams, J.G. White and William M. Bennett. "

The following families were contributors to the building fund:
picture courtesy of
Sunstone Magazine

 Ivey Davis, J.B. Bennett, M.D. Davis, T.H. Matthews, Ira Bennett, Charlie Tillman, Fisher Gaskins, C.R. White, Hardy Williams, A.F. Wilson, J.G. White, Dan White, Roan Mizell, W.J. White, W.C. Petty, Jim Higgs, Colman Wall, Y.O. Matthews, Isham Mizell, W.W. Stewart, E.H. Brown, C.W. Williams, Corey Wall, Clyde Bennett, Dinah Shadd, Jode Adams, Son Adams, Gord White, F.G. Davis, Harvey Davis, Jim Davis, Willis Davis, C.H. Davis, Jim Mizell, John Fussell, J.G. Williams, O.B. White, P.P. White, W.M. Bennett, Ellias Bennett, W. M. Davis, J.H. Covender, Son Mizell."

Fae took us to meet other relatives of the first LDS members. They say the church cost $1800.00 to build. 

Our 2nd great grandfather's headstone;
the oldest in the cemetery.
Little Utah wasn't the name the members chose. Officially, it was the Axson Ward LDS Chapel, named the 'Satilla Branch' after the river that served as it's original baptismal font. Local non-members called it, derisively, 'Little Utah' because missionaries from Utah baptized the first converts there. The members eventually embraced the name.

The cemetery is all that's left at the original location of the church. The oldest headstone in the cemetery belongs to our 2nd great grandfather, Allen R. Williams. He was the first person buried there; a fact known by every LDS church member we interviewed.

The church is in disrepair now.

The church was moved down the road, is abandoned and has fallen into disrepair. The furnishings inside the church were stripped out and sold. Some of the pioneer LDS family's descendants want to see it restored but there's some dispute among members about the cost. They wish the LDS leadership in Salt Lake City would officially recognize the historical merit of the building and help with the finances to refurbish it.

So it turns out our grandmother, Carrie Mae (Merritt) Musgrove - in fact, all the Merritt's from our line in the Waycross area - are descendants of the deserted son of a Connecticut Yankee, born in the Okefenokee Swamp, and a daughter born to a family who were among the first Mormon converts and were founding members of the LDS church in the area of Atkinson County.

One might think my search for an Indian story in our family would end without one here. One might think that...but one would be wrong. In fact, a well documented Indian story took place at the home of our 3rd great grandfather, father of Sarah Ann Parker, a few years before our 2nd great grandmother was born.

I'll tell that story in the next post.


  1. I live in Arkansas and find this to be an interesting history. My son-in-law's family are buried there - Duke family.
    Ron Spradlin

  2. I am planning on visiting this area next fall and would like to visit the cemetery and church building. I have located the cemetery on the map but I cannot find the location of the church. Any help would be appreciated.