[Ed. Note: Miller’s history was updated by Miss Araminta Cranshaw, the last direct descendant of Silas Miller, in 1927. This material is used with permission of the Cranshaw estate. Further updates were added by the Wayfarer Weekly Oracle editorial staff.]]
Among James Oglethorpe’s comrades who settled the Colony of Georgia in 1733 was Lucretius Miller, a schoolmaster hoping to better his fortunes in the New World. In 1740, displeased by the lack of land ownership opportunities and the pro-slavery sentiments voiced by some of his fellow colonists, Lucretius and his wife, Isabella Cranshaw Miller, moved into the interior of the colony to make their home among the native peoples.
Descendants of Lucretius Miller believe he also sought a more private life to develop mystical interests of which he knew his more conventional neighbors would disapprove.
Lucretius supported his growing family by farming but mostly by raising sheep, cattle, and hogs. He also assisted the native peoples, members of the Creek confederacy, in marketing fur pelts. During the American Revolution, the tribes remained neutral. The War of 1812 saw a split in tribal loyalties, but this did not endanger the Miller family or the neighbors who had moved in the area seeking open-mindedness toward beliefs beyond the religions of other settlers in the Colony of Georgia.
The nearby Okefenokee Swamp, with its vast waterways, its mixture of peat and sandy soil, and its extensive wildlife, beckoned to the folk of the town as a source of experimentation with these natural forces. It was also a source of furs and meat. The swamp, whose name was said to mean “Land of the Trembling Earth,” served as a haven to native peoples in times of trouble.
The removal of native peoples from the state of Georgia in 1828 opened new lands for settlement. While native peoples were prohibited from owning land or serving as employees of white men, a few tribal members managed to remain on their ancestral lands.
By 1840, white settlement of the Georgia interior had increased. Several like-minded families, the Wickers, the Flynns, the Caulkinses, the Raders, the Kendalls, the Smiths, the Cranshaws, and the Barnstaples, among others, had settled near the Miller homestead. They incorporated as the Town of Wayfarer that year, with Ravenell Miller as the town’s first mayor, in an effort to bring the railroad through Wayfarer and increase trade.
Demetrius Cranshaw finished construction of the Wayfarer Inn and opened it to guests in 1843. The present structure was erected in 1857 and still serves visitors to town.
Unfortunately, the railroad bypassed Wayfarer in favor of Folkston and Waycross, which many residents did not feel was altogether a bad thing owing to the influx of people the railroad might bring and the small likelihood of all such newcomers sharing the residents’ openness toward the exploration of what they had by then come to call mystical forces. Because of their shared belief in tolerance and their openness to exploring natural forces beyond the visible, the citizens of Wayfarer did not encourage growth of their community.
During the great conflict between Union and Confederacy, residents of Wayfarer chose sides as they would, but the town itself attempted to remain neutral, so much as the Confederate government would permit them to do so. Cotton had never been a prominent crop in the county, and so slavery had never taken hold there. The towns of southern Georgia were fortunate in that they did not lie along General Sherman’s route of destruction, which he traced from Atlanta to Savannah. Members of the Seminole tribe had taken refuge in the Okefenokee during the Civil War but were ultimately forced to leave.
After the war, the town settled into peaceful obscurity, popular only with those who also sought insights into nature’s mystical power. These folk slowly swelled the ranks of the town. The annual Summer Solstice Festival, begun in 1958, commemorates their success in preserving this area of intellectual inquiry. The establishment of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in 1937 also brought a modest increase in tourism, especially during the fall and spring months.