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Johnny Vardeman: Minister found ancestor buried in Hall cemetery
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

Lyndon Eubanks, a retired Methodist minister, accidentally found out about his ancestors, who included a Civil War Confederate veteran.

Eubanks once operated a soda shop at Skylake, a mountain community near Sautee-Nacoochee in White County. He was talking to an employee, Jenny Merritt, who had been researching her family history and saw the name “Stella Bailey” among her papers. That turned out to be his grandmother.

That inspired Eubanks to dig into more genealogy, finding his great-great-great-great-grandfather, Stephen Merritt, the Confederate veteran. He visited the Habersham County Library, which has an extensive collection of Civil War history and where veterans are buried. Some of the battles Merritt fought in included Elkhorn in Tennessee and Corinth and Vicksburg, Mississippi, where Confederates lost in a critical encounter.

Eubanks learned that his ancestor was born in White County and farmed there. He also surprisingly discovered where he and his wife were buried — Pleasant Hill Baptist Church cemetery on Browns Bridge Road in Hall County only a few miles from Eubanks’s home in Gainesville. Stephen Merritt was born Aug. 20, 1843, and died Dec. 29, 1928.

The missing piece of the puzzle, however, is why the Merritts were buried in Hall County. It might have some connection to C.P. Davis, a great-great-great-grandfather, who also is buried at Pleasant Hill.

The late Shirley McDonald, a White County historian, wrote about what is known as “the Merritt cemetery” in Cleveland. It is near the former location of the old Babyland General Hospital off Main Street. Among the Merritts buried there is J.J. Merritt, Stephen Merritt’s uncle and also a Confederate veteran.

A friend made Eubanks a Confederate flag with names of the major battles Stephen Merritt was in. It hangs in a frame in his office.

Building, and rebuilding, a church

Eubanks, a native of Atlanta, was chief executive officer for a large corporation, for a while resisting a call to the ministry until he finally surrendered to it. Eventually he became pastor of one of the earliest churches in Northeast Georgia history, Nacoochee United Methodist. Naturally becoming interested in the church’s origins, he has accumulated a lot of history about it.

The church in Sautee-Nacoochee Valley was originally known as “the White Church,” because it was one of the few buildings painted in those days. It was organized in 1834 by circuit-rider the Rev. Jesse Richardson and built on 6 acres deeded to the church for $4 by Major Edward Williams, a pioneer settler. Richardson earlier had started a Methodist congregation near Robertstown.

The original church building converted to a school in the 1860s, and a new church rose in 1867 on the site where the present brick building stands. That 1867 church burned in 1943. Some at the time thought it wouldn’t be worth rebuilding because of the small membership. However, the few members met the day after the church burned, decided to rebuild and had their church back within 10 months. Membership has grown since.

An airborne Bible

One story people laugh about today involves the pastor at the time, the Rev. Abraham Littlejohn, and Major Williams, who deeded the property on which the church sat. Custom at the time was to seat the women on the right side and men on the left. One of the two wanted to break away from that tradition, arguing that putting the women on the left side would be the cooler side of the sanctuary.

The two argued in church on a non-Sunday, and the exchange became so heated that one of the men threw a Bible at the head of the other.

It changed nothing. The seating arrangement and the custom of women on one side and men on the other continued until after the turn of the 20th Century.

A bad O’Bailey

Another piece of historical trivia Eubanks ran across during his genealogical research: His ancestors, the Bailey family who came from Ireland, actually were the O’Baileys. But one of the O’Baileys turned out to be a horse thief, and the rest of the family didn’t want their name associated with him. So they dropped the ‘O’ off of their names, and it’s been that way ever since.

Eubanks also discovered he’s a direct descendant of John Adams, second president of the United States.

Watch for more local history in this column next Sunday.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone 770-532-2326; email vardeman1956@att.net.