Thanks to Jaci McKinnon for first making me aware of this interesting and little-known aspect of Coffee County’s history. In his History of Coffee County (1930), Warren P. Ward notes that Mormon missionaries came to the area in 1898, led first by Elder Nephi Henderson and an Elder Brewer. Elder Ben E. Rich established the church in Coffee County. He was succeeded by Elder Charles A. Callis. Early families who converted to the Mormon faith were those of Calvin W. Williams, Dan P. Lott, and Joseph J. Adams. “Many citizens of the county were excited over the appearance of the Elders. Some regarded them as messengers from Heaven, gave them shelter and lodging…Others regarded them as emissaries of the devil, wrecking homes and carrying away women…Coffee County has been a fruitful field for the Mormon Church, it having grown to a membership of over seven hundred. There are two churches in the territory-Cumorrah Church in Coffee County and the Utah Church in Atkinson County, formerly Coffee.” I’m not sure what happened to the congregation but will continue to research it and will photograph the nearby Mormon Cemetery the next time I’m in the area. (Thanks are also due to Andrew P. Wood for pointing me to Ward’s history of the Mormons in Coffee County).
D. O. Adams writes that this is the oldest standing LDS church in the Southeastern U. S. He also kindly shared the following history, which is the most detailed account I’ve ever seen regarding Mormons in South Georgia.
History of the Douglas Branch – Cumorah Church
Given by John (Son ) Adams in 1934, and recorded by his daughter Elsie Adams Sharp. Typed on computer by John (Son) Adams’s grandson Donald Orson Adams Sr. of Douglas, Ga. in the month of June 2001.
In as much as I John Adams President of the Douglas Branch, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was requested by President Le Grande Richards of the Southern States Mission to write a brief history of this branch. I shall try in a few words to give a brief sketch of the rise and progress of this Branch.
In order to do this it will be necessary to go back 35 years ago. The exact date I can’t remember but it was the 2nd or 3rd Sunday in June 1899.
My father, Joseph Adams was visiting at Benjaman Irving Spivey, his son-in-law. On Saturday evening Elder Nephi Jensen and Elder Sellers came to Brother Spivey’s home. The Elders began to teach the restored Gospel. All the evening they sat and discussed the Gospel with my father and brother Spivey. The Elders spent the night at Spiveys and on the next day, which was Sunday, the Elders had appointed a meeting at a church by the name of Old Mt. Zion of the Baptist profession. Father went over to hear them, but when he arrived the members of that Church were gathering in order to keep the Elders from preaching in the Church. Some of the men had knives and some of them had guns. There was one of the members had a little of the Spirit of the Lord, whose name was Frank Griffis. He told the people if they objected to the Elders preaching in then house that he would go in the church and bring out some benches and a little table and the Elders could preach outside under the oak trees. After having done all this the meeting continued. After the meeting was over with Mr. Frank Griffis, the man who had brought the benches out, said to his brother Hare, “You will have to meet that sermon in judgement for it is the truth.” Then father came forward and told the Elders that they were welcome at his home any time they would come.
Father arrived home late Sunday night and the next morning at the breakfast table father said, to the school mistress, “did you ever hear a Mormon preacher”. She said that she had never heard one so father began to tell the story of having met the Mormon Elders at Brother Spivey’s. He said, that those were the smartest men he had ever heard preach and that they were coming to his home the next day and preach.
From that time on the Elders visited us, also they found other homes and friends. I want to mention here, at this point of our history that the Elders began to canvas the country finding some very staunch friends, and among these were Uncle Dan Lott. He went to hear the Elders preach and he liked it very much.
Here is what my wife tells me for she is the daughter of Uncle Dan and remembers what he said, to his wife, Aunt Tilda, “if I have ever heard the Gospel I heard it tonight.” Uncle Dan had already said , that there was something wrong with all the other churches, but when he heard Elder Jensen it opened up the mystery to him and so the Gospel began to take root here. On October 15, 1899 Dan Lott was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. the foundation began to be layed which since then has grown to be a branch of the Church
I would like to mention here, that everything was not pleasant with the Elders. We know in all ages of time when God has put forth his hand to do a work among his children Satan has tryed to stop the work from progressing. The Elders were forced to sleep out in the woods with ” Uncle Sam” on account of the people not taking them in.
Here is an incident that happened near Uncle Dan Lotts home. I think it was in the late summer of 1899. Elder Nephi Jensen and companion while traveling through the country preaching and tracting were trying to make their way back home; ( or what they called home was Uncle Dan Lotts). They got lost and it was getting late at night so they stopped at farm house and asked for intertainment but were denied. The man finally told them they could sleep on the porch.
They awoke the next morning and found that they were only about one mile from Uncle Dans. They hastened on home and were just in time for breakfast. On another occasion rotten eggs were thrown at the Elders.
Now as the year 1900 comes in with more blessings. The Elders had been away for sometimes; as it was the custom for the South Georgia Elders to labor in Florida in the winter and here in the summer. The South Georgia District belonged to the Florida Conference.
I want to say that in the year 1900 and especially in the spring and summer of this year that it brought many, wonderful blessings.
My mother and several others who now belong to the Axson Branch were baptized into the Church. This made two groups that were baptized here. Uncle Dan Lott and Richard Jewel belonging to the first group that joined the Church. Leavey Jewel also was baptized in the first group. The Gospel began to make great progress in spite of opposition.
Now I come to the part of this history that is very strange to me. It is here that I felt like writing the words of the poet. God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform, he plants his footsteps on the sea and rides upon the waves. The part that is strange happened in the year 1900.
The first few months of the year come very pleasant weather. Everything acted, as if, we were going to have a prosperous year. The crops were up growing fine and then it began to rain. It rained as I have never seen before are since then. We didn’t make athing and father was certainly worried. He then began to make an effort to sell out his farm.
At that time there was a tract of land near Douglas, the county seat, that father could buy. He then made arrangements to sell his farm and in turn bought this one near Douglas where our Branch Chapel now stands.
I shall pick up the other family that helped to make the Douglas Branch possible which family is Uncle Dan Lott.
As I said, before on account of the rain father sold out his old farm and moved. Along about this time Uncle Dan was having trouble also with his financial, affairs. He also sold out his farm near Pearson, or Kirkland, I might say and bought a farm joining the one dad had bought. All of this transactions seems to be the providence of God.
When all this trading was made known to me it pleased me very much, for this selling and buying brought the Adams family and Lott family closer to-gether; who were to build the Douglas Branch up.
Here is the main reason that the selling and buying of these (2) two families pleased me so much and, that is, that I had my eye on the girl that was to be my wife who was the daughter of Uncle Dan.
We all moved to our new homes late in the year 1900 and also early in 1901. Then for several years these two families worked very hard trying to overcome the bad luck that they had the years before.
During these years the Elders continued to labor in our midst preaching first at fathers place then at Uncle Dan’s.
God certainly moves in a mysterious way his work to perform. The time had come for these two families to prune the Lords vineyard and it commenced in this way. In the month of July 1907, Elder George L. Tate and Elder Foote were holding a meeting at Uncle Dans’ home and after the meeting was dismissed the subject was brought up of building a Church house. In a few minutes it was decided upon and my father gave the land on which the little chapel was built. Soon the work was began and Elder Tate gave the first dollar toward the work. The construction of the chapel began in the latter part of July 1907 and in five weeks the little Chapel was ready for use. Elder Nephi Jensen preached the first sermon in it on the 5th Sunday in August 1907. At this time Elder Jensen was on a short term mission. The little chapel was named by Elder Tate , and he saw fit to name it Cumorah. The name was recently changed by President Richards as the Douglas Branch.
The Sunday School was organized August 4, 1912. C.H. Williams as superintendent, B.B. Adams as first assistant and John Adams second assistant. The Sunday School remained like this until 1916 it was disorganized . B.B. Adams was elected as superintendent , John Adams first assistant. This organization continued until November 23, 1919. Bro J.L. Henderson was appointed 2nd assistant.
Note: This is the end of the history of the Douglas Branch ( Cumorah Church) as given by my Grandfather John “Son” Adams” to his daughter Elsie Adams in 1934. Elsie Adams married Earnest Sharp in 1941 and lives in Huntington, West Virginia. ( Typed on computer June 10, 2001 by Orson Adams of Douglas, Ga.)
Historial information from 1934-1975( Some events taken from the Douglas Branch Historical Record in the possession of Orson Adams , Douglas, Ga. )
In the early part of 1934, President Le Grand Richards of the Southern States Mission organized the Cumorah Church into the Douglas Branch with John “ Son” Adams as it’s first President. In the fall of 1934 an MIA was organized making the Douglas Branch a more fully organized Branch of the Church.