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It is a historical fact that Baptists, whose descendants now dwell in Georgia, came over in the same ship with Oglethorpe, when he settled the province in 1733. Among the earliest settlers were Wm. Calvert, Wm. Slack, Thomas Walker, William Dunham, and a
gentleman named Polhill, a well-known Baptist name in Georgia at the present time. These probably united with some of the converts of Nicholas Bedgewood and formed a branch of the Charleston Baptist church at Whitefield's Orphan House, nine miles below Savannah. Nicholas Bedgewood, an Englishman, came over with Whitefield about 1751, and was put in charge of the Orphan House. He was converted to Baptist sentiments in 1757, and joined the churchat Charleston, being baptized by Rev. Oliver Hart, the pastor. Two years after this he was ordained, and in 1763 he baptized several converts among the officers and inmates of the Orphan House. Among these was Benjamin Stirk, who became a minister and settled at Newington, eighteen miles above Savannah, in 1767. He preached in his own house, and at Tuckasuking, about forty miles north of Savannah, where he constituted a branch of the church at Euhaw, S.C. with which he had connected himself, there being no Baptist church in Georgia. He died in 1770. The following year Edmund Botsford, from England, converted in Charleston, and a licentiate of the Baptist church there, sent out as a domestic missionary, came over from Euhaw, S.C., at the call of the Tuckasuking brethren. He began in June, 1771, a ministerial career of most zealous usefulness in Georgia, which continued without intermission for eight years. Ordained in 1773, he preached all over the country from Augusta to Savannah, baptized 148 persons, organized the Botsford church twenty-five or thirty miles below Augusta, and laid the foundations of future churches, Having embraced the American cause in the Revolutionary struggle, he fled first to South Carolina and then to Virginia, when, in the spring of 1779, Georgia was conquered by the British. This was the second source from which Baptist principles found an entrance into the State; a third was still farther northward.
In January, 1771, Rev. Daniel Marshall, an ordained Baptist minister of great piety, zeal, and ability, originally from Connecticut, moved into Georgia from South Carolina with his family, and settled on Kiokee Creek, about twenty miles northwest of Augusta. In the spring of 1772 he organized the Kiokee church there, the first Baptist church constituted in Georgia. Botsford church, formed the following year by Edmund Botsford, was the second. Daniel Marshall continued pastor of the Kiokee church until his death, in 1784, being succeeded by his son, Abraham Marshall, who was succeeded in turn by his son, Jabez P. Marshall, in 1819.
In 1784 the first Baptist Association, known as the Georgia, was formed in the State, probably at Kiokee church. At that time there were but six or eight Baptist churches in Georgia, and it is probable that the following were the original constituent churches of the body: Kiokee, Red Creek (now Abilene), Little Brier Creek, Fishing Creek, and Upton's Creek. To these were added next year Phillip's Mills and Whatley's Mills (now Bethesda). The principal ministers at that time were Abraham Marshall, Silas Mercer, Sanders Walker, Peter Smith, Lovelace Savidge, William Franklin, and Alexander Scott. The growth of the Association, which at that time embraced the whole denomination, was very rapid. In 1788 the churches numbered 31; in 1790 they numbered 32, with 2877 members, and 20 ministers, 17 of whom were ordained; and in 1792 the number of churches had increased to 56, scattered over a wide scope of country, some of them being in South Carolina. In 1794 the churches which were in the southern part of the Association were dismissed to form the Hephzibah Association, the second formed in the State. About this time the churches in South Carolina were dismissed also. In 1798 other churches obtained letters of dismissal, and formed, in 1799, the Sarepta Association. Notwithstanding all these withdrawals, the Georgia Association still contained 52 churches in 1810, when all south of the Oconee petitioned to be dismissed. These were constituted into the Ocmulgee Association, the third formed directly from the Georgia. The Savannah River Association had been organized in 1803; there were now five Associations in the State. The early ministers of the denomination, impelled by a burning desire to preach the gospel, went everywhere proclaiming the Word, and the Lord blessed their work greatly. Again and again great and general revivals of religion swept over the State in consequence of their faithful preaching. In 1802 not less than 3345 new converts were added to the four Baptist Associations of the State. In 1812-13 over 1200 were baptized in the Sarepta Association alone, and a great blessing descended upon the entire State. In 1827 a memorable and most remarkable revival of religion commenced in Eatonton under the preaching of Adiel Sherwood, and resulted in the addition of not less than 15,000 or 20,000 to the Georgia Baptist churches. More than 5000 baptisms were reported that year in three Associations, -- the Georgia, the Ocmulgee, and the Flint River. After a sermon preached in the open air by Dr. Adiel Sherwood at Antioch church, in Morgan County, during which the Holy Spirit gave him uncommon liberty, 4000 persons came forward for prayer, and for fifteen years afterwards persons who joined the Antioch and other churches referred to that sermon and time as the cause and date of their conversion.
A new and, in general, a more cultivated class of ministers, and, perhaps, not one whit behind the former generation in zeal and piety, next appeared;
and from that day to the present, the ministers, as a class, having better opportunities for education, have kept pace with the advancing intelligence of the age. Many of the Georgia Baptists, in their associational and conventional action, have manifested an ardent desire to promote the cause of missions in the world, and of education in the denomination.
Their organization for mission work extends back to the beginning of the century, while their efforts to promote education have resulted in the establishment and maintenance of one first-class university, two large high schools for young men, six colleges for young ladies, all of high grade, and one high school for the young of both sexes. These institutions have real estate and endowments worth at least $480,000. They have unflinchingly, and from the earliest period, shown themselves opposed to all union of church and state, the friends of entire religious liberty and of human rights. It was owing to a protest of the Georgia Association, in 1785, presented by Silas Mercer and Peter Smith, that the State Legislature repealed a law, then recently enacted, "giving two pence per pound to the minister chosen by any thirty families, for his support, to be paid out of the State treasury." At that time the Baptist denomination was largely in the ascendancy in point of numbers in the State its ministers were the most numerous, and, consequently, the largest amount of the State grant would have come to them.
It was owing to a petition drawn up by Dr. H. H. Tucker, and presented to the State Legislature, in 1863, signed by a number of distinguished Baptists, that the following section in the new code was immediately repealed: "It shall be unlawful for any church, society, or other body, or any persons, to grant any license or other authority to any slave, or free person of color, to preach or exhort, or otherwise officiate in church matters." The principal plea made was that the section was a violation of religious liberty, to which the Baptists of the State would never submit.
At its session in 1864, the Georgia Association adopted the following resolution unanimously; it is condemnatory of the practice of separating husband and wife, which sometimes occurred during the slavery era:
"Resolved, That it is the firm belief and conviction of this body that the institution of marriage was ordained by Almighty God for the benefit of the whole human race, without respect to color; that it ought to be maintained in its original purity among all classes of people in all countries and in all ages till the end of time; and that, consequently, the law of Georgia, in its failure to recognize and protect this relationship between our slaves, is essentially defective, and ought to be amended." This resolution, also, was drawn up and offered by Dr. Henry H. Tucker.
In 1794, in the Georgia Association, which met at Powell's Creek meeting-house (now Powelton), Hancock Co., a memorial to the Legislature, that a law be made to prevent the future importation of slaves, was presented, read, and approved, and ordered to be signed by the moderator and clerk. Henry Graybill and James Sims were appointed to present the memorial to the Assembly. Abraham Marshall was moderator, and Peter Smith clerk.
In general, when a course of action has been decided, the Baptists of Georgia are harmonious. In regard to church order they are very strict, and in doctrine they are strongly Calvinistic.
The progress and growth of the denomination will perhaps be best exhibited by the following statistical table, which, though only approximately correct, is rather under than over the true figures:
Year Churches Ministers Members Associations 1788 32 31 2,877 1 1790 42 72 3,211 1 1794 75 92 4,800 5 1812 163 109 14,761 5 1824 264 145 18,108 10 1829 356 200 28,268 16 1832 509 225 38,382 18 1835 583 298 41,810 22 1840 672 319 48,302 43 1845 771 464 58,388 46 1851 847 613 65,231 50 1860 996 786 84,022 65 1870 1218 831 115,198 70 1880 2663 1553 219,726 83
Of these, there are 27 Associations with 912 churches, 700 ministers, and 98,000 church members, who are colored Baptists. Of the remainder, about 10,000 are anti-mission, leaving the approximate number of white Baptists friendly to missions 112,000.
According to its report the State Mission Board of the Georgia Baptist Convention employed, during the last Convention year, twenty-four missionaries, for all or a part of the year, four of whom were colored. The present year it is employing about the same number, of whom five are colored. The Rehoboth Association sustains J. S. Morrow, white, as a missionary in the Indian Territory, and he has the guidance and supervision of many churches which have pastors.
Cherokee Baptist Convention of GeorgiaOn the 23d of November, 1854, a number of brethren appointed by the Middle Cherokee and Coosa Baptist Associations met at Cassville, Ga., to form an organization to take charge of the Cherokee Baptist College at Cassville. There were present John Crawford, J. W. Lewis, A. W. Buford, A. R. Wright, and Z. Edwards from the Middle Cherokee Association, and E. Dyer, W. Newton, J. M. Wood, C. H. Stillwell, W. S. Battle, and S. W. Cochran, from the Coosa Association. G. W. Tumlin from the Tallapoosa Association, and N. M. Crawford, J. S. Murray, Wm. Martin, J. D.
The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881
Collins, T. G. Barton, J. H. Rice, H. S. Crawford, and M. J. Crawford, were also present, and were invited to take seats and assist in.the deliberations. Rev. John W. Lewis was elected moderator, and C. H. Stillwell clerk. On motion of C. H. Stillwell, "A Convention, to be known as the Cherokee Georgia Baptist Convention," was organized, and a constitution was prepared and adopted. The principles upon which the Convention was constituted were those "exhibited in the Scriptures, and generally received by the Baptist denomination of Georgia;" the specific objects were declared to be, "1. To unite the friends of education, and to combine their efforts for the establishment and promotion of institutions of learning, where the young of both sexes may be thoroughly educated on the cheapest practicable terms. 2. To foster and cherish the spirit of missions, and to facilitate missionary operations in any or every laudable way." These objects were afterwards enlarged, and were made to include the distribution of the Bible and other good books, and the education of indigent young ministers and orphans.
There was no money basis to the representation, and Associations, churches, and societies approving and co-operating, might send messengers. The Convention grew to be a strong and useful body, very earnest in the advocacy and support of its measures, but was broken up entirely by the war. In sentiment it was what has been denominated as "landmark," generally. The following are the names of those who have officiated as president during its existence: J. W. Lewis, J. M. Wood, Edwin Dyer, and Hon. Mark A. Cooper. Among the instrumentalities which this Convention put in operation for the promotion of its operations was a paper called The Landmark Banner and Cherokee Baptist, which it determined to publish at its session in Dalton, in the spring of 1859. Rev. Jesse M. Wood was selected for editor, and the first number was issued at Rome, in October, 1859. The paper was published in Rome until June, 1860, when it was removed to Atlanta, and the "Franklin Publishing House" was formed. Soon after, Rev. H. C. Homady was added to the editorial staff, A. S. Worrell becoming also the book editor. The paper had the service of much talent, and made itself felt in the denomination, being outspoken and very decided in some of its views. The war coming on, serious financial embarrassments occurred. The publishing house was sold to J .J. Toon, and the paper passed into other hands, and finally suspended, crushed out of existence by the exigencies of war. Before it expired its name was changed to The Banner and Baptist.
Colored Baptists of GeorgiaIn a work of this sort the distinction between white and colored Baptists must be preserved, since their organization, history, and operations are at present entirely distinct.
The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881
Previous to and during the war the colored Baptists were generally members of the white Baptist churches, although in many instances they had separate houses of worship, and sometimes their churches were independent. Their training, discipline, and religious worship were supervised by the white Baptists, who regarded them strictly as members of their churches. They assisted in their conferences, sustained their pastors in whole or in part, and aided by advice in troublesome cases of discipline. In many country churches a part of the building was assigned to the colored brethren, or else a time for their special services was given to them, when the pastor of the white church preached to them. No white pastor ever presumed to ignore or neglect the colored members. The Associations nearly always appointed missionaries tothe colored people, and in the State Conventions their religious wants were sacredly regarded. The result was that at the conclusion of the war there was all over the South an immense number of colored Baptists, many of whom were organized into churches. These statements would hold good in regard to the Methodists of the South. There was no ecclesiastical separation of the races until after the close of the war. The colored Baptists were then "dismissed" from the white churches, generally in a formal and regular manner, at their own request, and they formed themselves into churches, being always advised and assisted when necessary by their white brethren. They were also aided by them largely in the formation of their Associations and Conventions, and in many cases the white ministers held Institutes for the instruction of colored ministers. The consequence in Georgia has been that the best feeling exists between the white and colored Baptists. The latter are organized very much after the manner of the white Baptists, and they have exhibited a zeal and intelligence in the highest degree commendable. All this, however, is largely to be attributed to the training received from the white Baptists, and to the good feeling and pleasant relations existing religiously between the two races. That the white Baptists have not done more for their colored brethren since the war has been solely because of inability on account of the generally impoverished condition of the country.
OrganizationThe colored Baptists of Georgia are formed into 28 Associations, which contain 875 churches, with a membership of more than 108,000. At least half of these churches maintain Sunday-schools. The Associations send delegates each year to a State Convention organized on missionary principles, called "The Missionary Baptist Convention of
Georgia," the main object of which is to organize and establish churches and Sunday-schools throughout the State and to promote theological education, as may be seen by the following:
"It shall be the object of this Convention --
"1. To employ missionaries to travel through the waste places of our State and gather the people and preach the gospel to them, and aid them in every way possible, and especially in organizing both churches and Sunday-schools.
"2. To establish a theological institute for the purpose of educating young men and those who are preaching the gospel and have the ministry in view, or any of our brothers' sons that sustain a good moral character, and to procure immediately some central place in Georgia for the establishment of the same."
Auxiliary to and a part of this State Convention is the "Missionary Baptist Sunday-School Convention," which is actually a separate body, though composed of the members of the State Convention, and governed by the same rules. It is well officered and is a very efficient body, and it is doing a good work in establishing Sunday-schools. Its last report embraces over 200 schools, containing nearly 1000 teachers and 14,000 scholars, which raised during the year $321.61.
The school at Atlanta for the education of colored ministers is doing a noble work for a large number of students, and through them for the numerous churches to which they shall minister. ===========
[William Cathcart, editor, The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881; reprint, 1988, pp. 441-445. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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