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Faith & Family: Jersey Settlers reunite for 75th time

Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Gary O’Neal, left, and Polly Scott are descendants of Richard and Samuel Swayze, Jersey Settlers who moved to Adams County in 1773. This is the 75th year of the annual meetings held at the Kingston Methodist Church.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Gary O’Neal, left, and Polly Scott are descendants of Richard and Samuel Swayze, Jersey Settlers who moved to Adams County in 1773. This is the 75th year of the annual meetings held at the Kingston Methodist Church.

NATCHEZ — Childhood memories fill Polly Scott’s mind and heart when she thinks about the annual Descendants of the Jersey Settlers Adams County reunion.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the reunion, and Scott can remember most reunions — except one.

“They started (the reunion) in 1940, that was the year I was born. I didn’t come that year,” Scott joked.

“But my mother was very instrumental, and she always brought us kids every year.”

As a child, Scott said she looked forward to the camaraderie of her relatives. She became knowledgeable, as she got older, in just how important her family’s history was.

In 1773, the King and Swayze families settled in Adams County after more than 100 years of religious persecution in England and the New World. The two families, which were Quakers, immigrated to Salem, Mass., in 1635 in hopes to escape the Church of England.

“They had a tough time,” Scott said. “They were not a part of (The Church of England) because they didn’t believe the same things. That’s why they were called Separatists.

“When they came to the colonies, the only thing is, (it was still run by the) Church of England. So they moved from Massachusetts to Long Island, N.Y., to New Jersey and from there to Natchez.”

The King and Swayze family still ran into persecution because of their religion once they reached the Natchez and Kingston area because of Spanish control, but people like the Rev. Samuel Swayze helped bring Protestantism to Mississippi.

Scott remembers hearing the stories of Samuel Swayze and the legend that followed.

“I remember each year a group of men would go to Sammy’s Creek to find what tree Samuel hid his Bible in,” Scott said. “Back then, (the Spanish) didn’t want the Protestants to have services. All of the Bibles had been confiscated, so (Samuel) had hidden his in a hollow tree on the bank of the creek.

“Since then, the creek has dried up, the tree is long gone and the Bible has not been found. None of us have any record of it.”

An interesting background filled with rich history is what brought Gary O’Neal to Natchez in 2001.

O’Neal, who was originally from Virginia, found out he was related to Richard Swayze, Samuel Swayze’s brother.

“I started doing genealogical research and found out my grandmother was from Woodville,” O’Neal said. “Researching her family, I found out we are descendants of the original Jersey settlers. I came down (to Natchez) in 2001 and visited the Kingston Cemetery, which is associated with the family. I found the Kingston United Methodist Church, and I got hooked.

“The more I visited here, the more I liked it and decided to move here.”

The cemetery and church are both filled with the history of the family, and each year, the Descendants of the Jersey Settlers comes back to Kingston and Natchez to celebrate their ancestors and educate each other about who they are and where they come from.

This year is the 75th annual Reunion Jubilee Celebration. Vice president of publicity Karen O’Neal said the event would be one to remember.

“The Samuel Swayze marker in front of the (Kingston United Methodist) church has been cleaned up, and the Samuel Swayze Chapter of the Colonial Dames XVII Century in Jackson restored the marker for us,” Karen said. “We’re going to rededicate that on (April 26).”

Karen said she expects more than 100 people to attend the reunion, which starts with registration from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. April 25 at the Natchez Grand Hotel.

Karen also said anyone related to the Swayze, King, Coleman, Griffing, Cory, Luse, Ogden, Carter, Callendar, Farrar, Eaton, McCaleb, McCraine, Sojourner, Drane and Tarver families are encouraged to come by Judge George W. Armstrong Library from 1 to 3:30 p.m. April 26 to learn more about their ancestry.

Scott is in charge of the research forum, and she said it is much easier for one to learn their history today, compared to when she was growing up.

“Nowadays with the computers, it is much easier (to track your heritage),” Scott said. “You used to just have to talk to people, look for a family Bible or write letters.”

The weekend ends with a 10 a.m. church service at Kingston United Methodist April 27, which will include remembering those who died in the past year, the reading from the Civil War diary of Alice Phipps and posing for a family portrait outside the church.

The deadline to register for the event is Tuesday, with a fee of $30 for adults and $15 for children. For more information, contact Karen O’Neal at 601-446-5742 or visit djs.org.

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