‘Footsteps of Early Alapaha Catholic Settlers’

Jeremy Roberts
39 min readMay 11, 2018
What originated as a chronicle tracing the Catholic ancestry of Alapaha, Georgia, flourished into a colossal manuscript consisting of innumerable interviews conducted with citizens of all faiths and 80 vintage photos illustrating many previously unknown aspects of the little town with a big heart’s colorful, often checkered history as co-written by Becky Davis. In the accompanying still a scenic portrait depicts the Alapaha River near flood level in modern times, taken from the Highway U.S. 82 bridge at Sheboggy on March 3, 2013. Photography by Jeremy Roberts

Some of the first settlers in the Alapaha, Georgia area were Irish immigrants and among those were James (1809–11/23/1891) and Jane Murray (née McDonald; 1823–9/18/1896). They courageously sailed to the United States from Ireland around 1840, arriving in the Charleston, South Carolina area. They lived for two years on one of the surrounding islands until James decided to venture south. His brother, Edward (Ed) Murray, went north [Author’s Note: Evidence presented during our research process by Joanne Connell (née Akins) indicates that Bernard Murray may have been a close relative of James Murray. Bernard’s obituary, stored safely in a frame by James’ son John Murray, listed his parents as being natives of County Derry, Ireland and residing in South Carolina at the time of his death on March 9, 1875].

Left Image Credit: The Joanne Akins Connell Collection; James Murray and Jane McDonald are seen at right. Image Credit: The Darlene Jernigan Turner Collection

James eventually came to South Georgia and lived in Worth County. James and other Irish people worked for General Abbott H. Brisbane on the Brisbane Railroad, clearing the right of way from Albany to Mobley’s Bluff on the Ocmulgee River. James was an educated man and avid reader who always tried to help his neighbors. He taught school in Worth County for the Irish families and others who wanted to learn. James expected much from himself and wanted others to reach their potential.

James and Jane appear in the 1850 U.S. census for Irwin County (now part of Berrien County). All of their 10 children, including two sets of twins, were born in Georgia. Their names were Mary Ann, Eliza, John, Ellen, Jane, Sarah, twins Robert and Edward, and twins Jacob and Isaac.

James, his family, and other Irish Catholics moved from Worth County to Alapaha after the Brisbane Railroad went broke. With money divided from a railroad settlement and/or land lottery, the Irish settlers planted roots east of Alapaha in fertile and densely wooded land populated with many animals along the Alapaha River, Rowetown area, St. Luke Church area, and past Willacoochee to Mora. Holy Family Catholic Church was built and is still active in Mora today. Jane’s brother, Edward McDonald, settled in the Mora area.

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Jeremy Roberts

Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ something fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net