If you go back 140 years, you find Columbia County was an agricultural region where regular folks lived quiet lives.
Perhaps that’s what attracted a New England religious leader named Joseph Curry and his followers.
The sect settled on a farm called the Stearns place, “about 11 miles” from Augusta.
Soon, Curry began calling himself “Yahveh” and dressing in white robes. While this might have seemed odd to his neighbors, they were impressed with his knowledge of the Scriptures.
Curry was also an orderly man, drawing up a list of laws that his community – called New Canaan – was ordered to follow with “blind observance.”
Though the white robes and Bible teaching might have impressed his flock, the strict rules apparently did not, and many started heading back to Massachusetts.
Among them was Curry’s wife, who, according to The Augusta Chronicle, was “shocked and disgusted” at what her husband was doing.
No problem for Curry.
He abolished his marriage vows and appointed a new “queen” – a younger woman named Mariah Clapp, who was described as “handsome and intelligent.”
She began her “reign” in an elaborate and luxurious tent, and what she and Curry did in that tent was not exactly a secret.
That is what seems to have pushed their Columbia County neighbors to take action.
According to The Chronicle, W.H. Jones and Charles Baston swore out a warrant charging Curry with adultery and fornication.
He was jailed in Appling, and his trial in March 1873 must have been a sight.
Curry and his queen were present in white robes, and he was defended by two lawyers. One of them – Robert Toombs – was not only a former Confederate general, but also secretary of state of the Confederacy.
Curry’s legal team tried for an insanity defense, but it didn’t work.
It took the jury 30 minutes to declare Curry guilty, but it recommended mercy and a suggestion that the defendant just leave town.
Perhaps that’s what happened.
The Chronicle later reported that Curry mysteriously escaped from the jail in Appling.
And the newspaper ended its accounts of the episode with this commentary on Columbia County and its failed cult: “Thus closed the history of the New Canaan colony. Many of the poor dupes … will long have cause to remember with no pleasant feelings this experience.”
Sometimes our history recalls tales of human courage, brave leadership and community sacrifice. And sometimes we come across a story of a robe-wearing Bible expert, sex, cults, courts, a Confederate general and an unexplained jailbreak.