Bethel Primitive Baptist

Brooks County
Org 1826
Photography by Tony Cantrell

Bethel Primitive Baptist is a very historical church, organized in South Georgia on September 2, 1826.  Bethel is a member of a remarkable denomination known as Wiregrass Primitive Baptists.  Much of the history for Bethel came from John Crowley’s book, Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South 1815 to the Present.  The Wiregrass Primitives are also known as Hardshell Baptists, whose conservative approach to theology and austere lifestyle has thereby earned the nickname.

Nothing could be more representative of this all pervasive, conservative approach to life and religion than the architecture and design of the Wiregrass Primitive churches. All the WPB churches were built on site of native materials with local church labor, and therefore will vary slightly from church to church. However, the basic design was always the same – no paint, no steeple, no window treatments, no distinct doors or entry points, low to the ground etc.  The church is now covered in vinyl siding for protection, but there is an older photo in the gallery that reflects the original. The inside is just as sparse as you will see in the series of images below.  Note that the WPB’s did not allow musical instruments into the churches. No distractions like pianos or organs, yet they loved to sing and according to Crowley’s book. singing formed an important part of worship.  

The WPBs were organized by Associations.  A new Association was formed in 1827 at the Bethel meetinghouse to accommodate the growth of the denomination in southwest Georgia and northern Florida.  It began as the Ochlocknee Association with seven churches and 138 members.  By 1833 it had 35 churches with 1, 010 members.  Two nearby sister churches are Bethlehem Primitive Baptist in Brooks County and Mt. Zion in Thomas County,  In order to accommodate this growth, a new Association, the Suwanee River Association was formed to focus on those located in North Florida.  However, the Second Seminole War began in 1835 and began to disrupt growth in South Georgia and Florida.  This was the time of Indian relocation as a result of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 in the administration of Andrew Jackson.  The war is quoted in Wikipedia as “the longest and most costly of the Indian conflicts of the United States”.  

The cemetery contains 645 documented interments, containing some of south Georgia’s earliest pioneers.  There are many stories there, including the sad story of the Strickland brothers that is told below.  We are grateful to the many people who have helped preserve this important piece of Georgia history.  We thank you for your stewardship.

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