In December 2004, I wrote an article about some local fellows playing a prank by dismounting the old cannon from the Liberty County courthouse square and consequently blowing it all to pieces in the wooded area that is now is front of the old hospital site.
Recently, I found some history of the cannon that was destroyed that I want to share with you. Sometimes history is that way. We put the cart before the horse but in researching, one bit of history tends to open another can of worms.
Most of this information was recorded in the Atlanta Constitution, April 14, 1889, and was taken from the Hinesville Gazette.
"A big cannon which has a history of more than ordinary interest is now in front of the south portico of the Liberty County Courthouse. According to tradition, the cannon was brought over from England during the colonial days and first placed on the wharf at Old Sunbury when that was laid out to be a rival of Savannah. It was used to fire signals and to herald the approach of vessels in the harbor.
"Indians occasionally raided the parish of St. John’s and maybe this cannon was to keep them in awe. When the tyranny of the British began to awaken a feeling of resistance, the people of St. John’s Parish were the first to give open utterance to the desire to free themselves from the yoke of oppression. They erected a fort at Sunbury and the old cannon was mounted on this.
It was behind this gun in 1778 that the brave Lt. Col. John McIntosh sent his famous reply “Come and take it” when summoned by the British to surrender the fort. The Georgia Legislature later presented McIntosh with a sword with the words COME AND TAKE IT engraved on it. I wonder where this sword is today.
The colony became the state of Georgia and St. John’s Parish was changed to Liberty County after the war. The old fort went into decay. It was rehabilitated in the War of 1812 and more guns were added as it was feared the British would effect a landing at Sunbury. After peace was declared Sunbury once again sunk into obscurity and the old fort was allowed to crumble away. This old cannon succumbed to the earth and was covered with grass and weeds.
Hon. Charlton Hines, who was then the representative of Liberty County in the legislature, had the old gun hauled up from Sunbury to the parade ground which was owned by the state about a half mile from the village. The parade ground had been used since 1800 for musters and drills. The old gun was used to celebrate Fourths of July and political party triumphs. This was some time in the 1830s before the courthouse was located in Hinesville.
Zoucks Old Field was located next to the parade ground and the Liberty County Commissioners purchased the field to establish the new location of the county seat in 1837. Slaves belonging to Senator Hines were hired to clear the land.
An immense gathering of the Whigs and Democrats was in the early 1830s to discuss the issues of the day. Judge William B. Fleming was the Whig champion and Judge James Wayne was the orator for the Democrats. Wayne was appointed to the U. S. Supreme Court in 1835 by Pres. Andrew Jackson. Both judges were men of giant intellect and both sides claimed victory at this political rally.
The meeting adjourned for dinner which was an old fashioned barbecue. While dinner was going on, N. Dreggors was in charge of the firing of the cannon. He had as his assistant, Joe, a valued servant of Mr. Charlton Hines. After several rounds had been fired, and the gun was warm, a charge that was being rammed in exploded prematurely. Joe was blown over a tree and killed instantly. Dreggors had his thumb mangled and his whiskers, hair and eyebrows were completely burned away.
For some time after the cannon was not used as it was regarded as a death remembrant. Being it was convenient to the village, it was again brought into service when any important event took place. The last time it was used was to celebrate New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden’s victory in his bid as Democratic candidate for president of the United States in 1876. However, this election went down in history as the Disputed Election of 1876. Even though Tilden had received a clear majority of the popular vote the Electoral Commission gave the presidency to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. Just as a tidbit of information, Tilden, a single man, died at the age of 72 and left his vast amount of wealth to establish a free public library for New York City.
Thursday, April 11, 1889, the young and old citizens turned out en masse and hauled the old cannon up in triumph and placed it before the main entrance of the courthouse where the curious could take a look at this old relic, antedating the guns given by Washington to the Chatham Artillery of Savannah and perhaps any other cannon in Georgia.
On July 4, 1976, during the bicentennial celebration at the Midway Church, Olin Fraser presented the pieces of the old famous cannon to the Sunbury Museum where they now rest. Now, you know the rest of the story—or the beginning of it!