Old Florida Church Buries its Founder

Midway Church of Christ | Union County Florida | c. 1907

Born in 1844, George Washington Thomas arrived just months before Florida gained statehood. The frontier in which he was born had seen two Florida-Indian wars, English ownership, Spanish ownership, and invasion by U.S. troops in its last 50 years, but the second half of the 19th century would bring more changes than anyone could’ve ever imagined.

On May 21, 1864, George enlisted in Florida’s 1st Infantry, Company I at Lake Butler for the Confederate States of America. At the close of the war, he would return safely to his home in Union County, and in 1869, married Civility “Sylvia” Gaskins, whose father had succumbed to wounds he suffered in battle in 1864. Sadly, she would die 4 years later while giving birth to their second child. In 1874, he married Sarah Dowling, and 11 more children were added to George’s family.

Back then, this section in Bradford County, Florida was made up of a few farming families who intermarried over time and created a small but vibrant rural community.

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A New Church Is Formed

The people of this section had met for worship in the homes of members until 1907 when George, age 63, deeded this piece of land In for a church, schoolhouse, and cemetery. Building began that same month, but sadly, George would pass away in November, never getting to see the finished church for which he was patron.

A Unique Memorial To George Washington Thomas

But the community wanted to show their appreciation for the contributions he left behind and they came up with a unique way to honor him. As the story goes, they thought he should have one service in the place he worked so hard to create, so his casket was laid crosswise along the exposed floor beams of the half-finished church while a minister from a neighboring community delivered his funeral service. He was the first to be buried beside the church in the graveyard on land that he donated.

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In those immediate years after the war ended, I think about how much different life was before and after. All of the changes and shifts in the post-war period must have been challenging to say the least. But people like George kept moving, kept building, kept farming, and kept growing their families. He was active in and nurtured the surrounding community and left a long line of descendants to carry his memory. And luckily for his community, he left this place as well.

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