Ways Grove Baptist

Jefferson County
Org 1865
Photography by John Kirkland

The haunting relic you see in this photo needs to be put into historical perspective, as it represents a watershed event in our country’s history.  We believe this is the original sanctuary of Ways Grove Baptist, one of the very oldest African American Churches in Georgia.  The original congregants were slaves who attended the white church, Ways Baptist, located nearby.  Both churches were located in what was then known as Stellaville. In February of 1865, months before the fall of Richmond and the surrender of Gen. Lee at Appomattox, several of the slaves petitioned the elders of the white church with the request of holding their own meetings.  The request was granted and services were first held in the white church and later on grounds near the church with the understanding that the grounds were to be used for “religious purposes only”. 

Then in May of 1867, sixteen of the newly freed slaves applied for letters granting them permission to join another Baptist church.  According to the history, ” on Friday, June 16, 1867, this church was organized with four white friends, Rev. Kilpatrick, W.W. Rogers, W.M. Davis and James Oliphant. The black members were Brothers Milo Jordan, Alfred Young, Charlie Redman, Lit Walker, Harry Benefield, George Beasley, Annie Beasley and Mariah Hannah.  Rev. Alfred Young was called to pastor this little number”.  We are told that Rev. Young served the church faithfully for twenty years and grew its rolls to 175 members. An article from the Louisville News and Farmer in March of 1884 stated “Rev. Alfred Young, a colored Baptist preacher of this county, died last Thursday.  He is said to be the only licensed colored minister that has died in the county since the war.”

We believe the church pictured above was the original sanctuary and also served, over time, as a school and a community center.  In 1888 a new church was built on the location where the current active church now stands.  We are told that the 1888 church is still there, but it was encased in brick in 1952.  The history also states that the church did not have electric lights until 1950. A photo of the current church is in one of the gallery photos below.  Also note that there are more cemetery photos than usual due to the nature of the cemetery itself.  There are 340 documented interments in the cemetery, making it one of the largest African American cemeteries in rural Georgia.  However, we are told that there are also over 200 unmarked graves, a common occurrence in older rural cemeteries where the congregants were simply too poor to afford headstones.  While there are a number of documented interments of people born into slavery,  there are many more in the unmarked graves as these newly emancipated slaves, who could neither read nor write, struggled to make a living in very harsh conditions.

For instance, Deacon Sebron (Seaborn) Brinson was born in 1811 and died in 1915 at the age of 104.  He would have spent the first 50 plus years of his live as a slave, and likely the property of John Brinson, the father of Stella Brinson that the Stellaville community is named for.  The 1880 census shows that Deacon Brinson lists the birthplace of his father as Africa.  The connection of these two churches, one white and one black, to our Georgia history is remarkable.  The white church, Ways Baptist, goes back to 1817.  Both of these congregations are still there, still thriving and serving their communities, both having seen sweeping changes and turmoil in our nation’s history.  We believe that the story of these two historic rural churches truly tell us where we came from and how we got here.  We are grateful to both congregations for their loving stewardship of these historic sanctuaries.

Be sure to click and scroll the gallery photos below for more information on Ways Grove Baptist.

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