The first Baptist church founded in Georgia was Kiokee, established 18 miles northwest of Augusta in 1772. By Kiokee and her daughters the Georgia Baptist Association was organized in 1784. Out of this body came the Hepsibah association in 1794. The bounds of the Hepsibah covered Baldwin county when the capital was removed, in 1807, from Louisville to Milledgeville. It was about the year 1807 that lots were laid out in Milledgeville by the state commission and donated to the various denominations. Recorded tradition indicates that the Baptists built a house of worship on their lot which was used for a time, and later was converted into a printing office.
Rev. James McDowell, later missionary to Florida and founder of the First Baptist church of Jacksonville, is said to have been among the first pastors at Milledgeville, about 1809.
Laid out in the year 1803, Baldwin county was organized in 1805 and separated from Wilkinson in 1808. The land sold at from 9c to 25c per acre. Immigrants had entered the county long before the county was laid out and organized, and Baptists were numerous among the early settlers. With the location of the capital at Milledgeville in 1807, stage roads made the little city a center of trade and travel. The town also early became an educational center.
The Baptists of the county had superior cultural advantages as compared with many other sections of the state.
Rev. Lorenzo Dow included the county in his tours thru the state and Dr. Adiel Sherwood preached in it long before he became pastor in its capital town.
It was in Laurens county in 1829, just after the completion of the state building in 1828, that the Baptist state convention met and received the Josiah Penfield gift to ministerial education, which led to the founding of Mercer University.
Pastors at Milledgeville have included some of the best men in Georgia Baptist history. - Adiel Sherwood, J. H. Campbell, C. D. Mallary, S. B. Daniel, N. A. Bailey, Edward Butler, A. J. Beck, J. D. Chapman, John A. Wray, Lamar Simms, J. F. Singleton, etc. Such men have furnished high ideals to the county and state.
Among the leading spirits whose lives and labors were for good in the county were such men as I. B. Battle, R. Gunn, Wm. H. Stokes, Benjamin Roberts, Asa Duggan, Gov. William Rabun, etc.
Choopee and Black Springs churches have had a cultured and competent leadership and constituency. Their age and their fruitage demand attention and respect. The county churches formerly surpassed in aristocracy, culture and organic strength.
Baldwin Baptists have been allied from the beginning with the missionary and progressive branch of the Baptists.
Camp Creek and Mt. Olive churches are ancient in Baptist history, but their affiliations have been with those who opposed missions and an educated ministry. They have reaped what they sowed, Mene, Tekel is their lot. Old Ramah in Wilkinson County is of their type.
Founded about the year 1817, Camp Creek severed connection with the missionary element in 1837, when she and Mt. Olive went out because they were not of them.
Yet among the good citizens of Baldwin may be mentioned many of the Camp Creek families, viz., the Iveys, Sharps, Coopers, Rutherfords, Lewises, Davises, Joiners, Blacks, Wests, Fullers, etc. Many have moved away and many others have joined the missionary branch. Dr. Sherwood and Dr. J. H. Campbell piloted the Milledgeville church thru the period of schism and disturbance. Doubtless the influence of these ministers was deeply felt in the county in the anti-missionary discussions of 1826-1840.
Mt. Olive has given some fine families to the county, among them being the Moran, Ennis, Allen, King, Whittaker, Willis, and other families. The "old time" Baptists had many admirable traits. They often disciplined members for not paying notes, for taking the homesteads, and for petty meanness of various types. These old time sterling traits are not to be despised, but are to be commended. But the old time Baptists did not buy up the time. They can influence movements very little now, except in furnishing a stabilizing factor. The methods and activities of the churches today are different from the days of 150 years ago, when the first Baptists came into the section from the north and east. There is evolution even in church and life and polity. Some innovations have been [____rs. - blurred].
All new things are not good - yet "still stands God's ancient sacrifice, a humble and a contrite heart."
Associational activities and records of former days in this section differed much from those of today. Organized benevolence was in its infancy. Statistics were meagre, and little detailed information is given. The association met, had an introductory sermon, enrolled delegates, elected officers, appointed correspondents, to other associations, appointed a preaching committee and much of the time was given to preaching and hearing the word. Queries were often introduced involving cases of disorderly polity. Business was transacted slowly, and much time was taken in intermission. Union meetings were provided for, and sometimes preaching tours were arranged for itinerant ministers. Credentials were examined and new churches were received. Circular letters were read and ordered printed. Then it was time to go home, and it was a long way home, often over muddy and rough roads.
Baldwin Baptists have been loyal to the dear old historic Washington Association, which now has about 6,000 members in its churches. The Baldwin churches have aided and not impeded its programs and purposes. In 1840-1850 the association sent her missionaries into the counties of Montgomery, Telfair, and further south. Baldwin Baptists helped to send the first Bibles to the sections around McRal, Vidalia, Alma, Tifton, Waycross, etc. The gospel must keep going. Let us send it.
[From Walter M. Lee, editor, Baptist Historical Record, Westminister, S.C., August, 1927, p. 4, 8 & 9. Document from Boyce Digital Library On-line, SBTS Archives, Louisville, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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