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Mt Zion Church History
Restoration of the Mt. Zion Cemetery
Generously donated by Johnnie Rhodes Knight
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Records are transcribed below

Letter detailing history of the Church written by Vera Tomberlin Rhodes

By: Vera Tomberlin Rhodes


According to the Land Deed, Deed Book K, Page 35, in the Wilcox County Courthouse, Abbeville, Georgia (then Irwin County), James L. Willcox did deed 20 acres of land, more or less, as the deed called for in Lot 168.

To take the two holes of water known by the name of "Spectackles," the old church, and well, and the grave yards. Also, the new church, and lands whose title now stands, given to the said Baptist Church of Mount Zion, and I do desire a committee to manage and see that the church has her rights, and to sustain her cemetery.

This deed was made the twenty-sixth day of April 1857. His death shows that he (Willcox) passed away July 14, 1861, four years after making the deed to the church and cemetery. He died in his 58th year.

Record show that this was a cemetery before the church or before he gave the land.

Mark Willcox, a child of James Lea and Elizabeth Willcox, was buried there in 1829.

I find 14 graves put there before James Lea Willcox gave the land. It was believed by old settlers that this was a family cemetery and he gave the land later.

Elizabeth Willcox Tomberlin, Mother of James W. Tomberlin, was the first grave to be in the upper part of the cemetery, referred to as the new cemetery. She died on Feb. 15, 1875; as her grave was dug it filled with water. After trying four times, her remains were buried in the new cemetery.

Thus the new cemetery was started. Although the dates show that the old cemetery was still in use, as some dates are as new as 1910, and the McDuffie couple, and the Vicker's Child was 1911.

There are 14 old brick stacks

2 square cement graves

4 baby graves

2 child graves

2 markers

There are numberous places that are sunken that resemble graves.

I have found 26 names, birth dates and death dates that are buried in the old cemetery.



Letter written by Vera Tomberlin Rhodes

Abbeville, Ga.

We are a small group of Willcox family descendents who have met together, and made the decision of updating the James Lea Willcox family cemetery at Mt. Zion Church, once called Spectacle Church.

Our first thought was to repair all the graves that had begun to fall apart through weather conditions and age. All but three names had been lost, but thanks to church records, family records and court house records we do have a list of _ all buried there, along with their births and deaths.

We started a fund for the work and materials to rework all the graves, and to add a few markers where the original markers had disappeared, leaving only a sunken spot in the earth.

We collected a little more than $900.00 among ourselves and from our close relatives, thus we were able to get the work done. We were advised by a funeral home to use the old hand made brick without cleaning them in order to keep the old look that we like.

Now that the graves have been repaired we have decided we need a memorial marker in the center of the plot, with names, births_ and deaths listed on the monument. We want the monument to be 5 or 6 feet tall and 20 inches square, with room for 10 names on each side (20 inches).

Mr. James Lea Willcox donated 20 acres of land for the two churches very near his family cemetery, with plenty of room for the present church cemetery, where your loved one is buried. This new monument would be in his honor. Also, honoring members of his family not buried there, as well as, preserving the names of his relatives buried there.

Now we need your-help in buying and placing the memorial monument. We have started a fund for this and we want you to have a part in this project if you feel you want to help. Any amount would be appreciated, from $1 to $50. If you are not interested, or do not feel able to help, please remember we will understand. We would like to hear from you either way. Also let us know what you think of this plan.

With kindest regards to you,

Dale Tomberlin Harrell Vera Tomberlin Rhodes

Jamie Tomberlin
Gretchen Fuller Cox

Please send contributions to:     Mrs. Vera T. Rhodes     Rt. #2 Box 99 Abbeville, Ga 31001


Letter written by Gretchen Fuller Cox




James Lea Willcox donated twenty acres of land for a

church and cemetery for both white and black people. In the center of this land were two ponds, separated by a small strip of ground, forming an imaginary pair of glasses or spectacles, On the east side of the ponds Mr. Willcox's family plot was already established, with his son, Mark Willcox being buried there in 1829. According to a sign on the highway this church was constituted in 1844 and named Mt. Zion. It is located 8 miles south of Abbeville on Highway 129, one mile west of the highway.

Mr. Willcox's family continued to use his family plot for burials until the death of his granddaughter, Elizabeth Willcox Tomberlin, a daughter of his son John Woodson Willcox and Nancy Reid Willcox on February 17, 1875. Three attempts were made to dig a grave for her, each grave filled with water. Thus, the church cemetery was begun.

Elizabeth Willcox Tomberlin was the daughter of John Woodson Willcox, James Lea's oldest child, and wife Nancy Reid Willcox. She was the wife of John A. Tomberlin. She died from childbirth, leaving a three day old baby boy, James W. Tomberlin, who became the father of Dale Tomberlin Harrell, Vera Tomberlin Rhodes, Jamie Tomberlin, Sallie Mae Tomberlin Dowdy, and Verlyn Tomberlin Willcox.

Dale Harrell and Vera Rhodes have lived their entire lives within five miles of this church and cemetery. The two sisters attended church, taught Sunday School and were active members of this church. They also watched their family plot become a shambles, with graves falling apart.

In February 1984 their cousin Guy Fuller died, He had recently shown them the spot where his great grandmother, Abigail McDuffie Willcox was buried in James Lea Willcox's family plot, marked only by a rock at the head and foot. She was the wife of Thomas Lea Willcox, James Lea's brother.
     After Mr. Fuller's death Dale and Vera met with Mr. Fuller's niece Gretchen Fuller Cox, his nephew, A.T. Fuller and great nephew, Rev. Ken Drew Fuller, all descendants of Thomas Lea and Abigail McDuffie Willcox. Dale and Vera had already started a cemetery fund to renovate the family plot. When their cousins John D. and Pauline Willcox from Eastman, Ga. joined the group wanting to help, the work soon began. They are both descendants of George Mitchell Willcox, James Lea Willcox's fifth child. John D. has been updating old Willcox family cemeteries since his retirement as a building contractor in Eastman, Ga. His experience and knowledge were most welcome, especially when he agreed to take care of the detail work to be done.

The cemetery fund grew when Willcox cousins learned of the project. Every donation proved to us that people do care, and do love the memory of their forefathers. Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, brothers, sisters, and friends mailed or brought donations to Vera for the fund. Soon we had the money to begin.

We were advised to keep the old look by using the old hand made brick without cleaning them, to reduce the height of each grave from ten to twelve brick high, to three or four brick high, and to put a cement slab over the top. All the names were gone from the graves, but we had a list from family Bibles, church records and courthouse records. We were very fortunate that Jamie Tomberlin, Dale and Vera's brother, and Dale's son Billie Harrell would do the brick work.

We realized we could not put a name plate on each grave, so a memorial monument was the answer. There are forty-two names on the monument with the names of those buried there, Family members not buried there have a cross preceding their name. This includes James Lea and Elizabeth Willcox, their eleven children and children's spouses, some grandchildren and Elizabeth's parents, Murdock and Abigail Currie McDuffie. A headstone was placed on Abigail Willcox's grave, wife of Thomas Lea Willcox, similar to Elizabeth's headstone. Thirty-one graves were reworked.

The memorial monument is beautiful light grey granite. Mr. Willcox is to be commended for the distinctive design, arranging the lettering, and having it placed in line with his great-great grand­father's beautiful, tall monument.

James Lea Willcox and Thomas Lea Willcox were sons of John Willcox II and Mary Lea Willcox who settled in Telfair County around 1807. John II was born in Gulf, N.C., a son of John Willcox I, who was born at Ivy Mills, Penn., a son of Thomas Willcox and wife Elizabeth Cole Willcox. Thomas came to the United States from

England in 1718 and established a paper mill near Philadelphia, Penn. At this mill the nations first paper used for paper money was produced, Thomas and Elizabeth had ten children, John I being the oldest and it was through him that our Georgia Willcoxes descended, most of them from his son John Willcox II and wife Mary Lea.

James Lea Willcox and Thomas Lea Willcox married sisters, Elizabeth and Abigail McDuffie. They were daughters of Murdock and Abigail Currie McDuffie.

Three members of James Lea Willcox's family, a son-in-law

and two grandsons will be honored soon with Confederate Monuments being placed in the family plot. One is Abner Brown, private, husband of Mary (Polly) Willcox Brown, born in 1836, died April 12, 1862. Another is James V. Hollingsworth, private, son of Sarah Willcox and husband, James V. Hollingsworth II. He was born

in 1844 and died 1862. The third is John Willcox Hollingsworth, private, son of Sarah Willcox and husband James V. Hollingsworth,II. He was born 1846 and died 1864.

Mt. Zion Church was destroyed by fire on June 13,1982. A beautiful new church has been built, completed in the spring of 1985. The wood tone color of the church blends into the background of trees, and the landscaping around the church fits perfectly

into the setting.

Submitted by Gretchen Fuller Cox






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