The Bethesda Baptist Church congregation dates back to the earliest days of Greene County in 1785, although the church was originally in Wilkes County until 1802. The current structure was completed in 1818 and is constructed of hand-made brick made on the premises. Bethesda Baptist is one of the oldest brick churches in Georgia, and gives an indication of the early wealth of the settlers that settled in this area of eastern Greene County. These were early settlers moving into Greene county just after the Revolutionary War and there were still plenty of conflicts with the native Americans. According to the church minutes, early settlers carried their guns to service for fear of attack by nearby Indians – two guards were stationed outside of every service, and the large iron brackets that held a beam across the entry door are still in place.
There are no records from the earliest days of the church from 1785-1817. During this time, the church was referred to as Whatley’s Mill. Samuel Whatley was the owner of a local grist mill and he donated the land where Bethesda Church now stands, in memory of his parents who were killed by local Indians. Planning for the new building dates back to 1815, and nearly two years were spent making all of the brick that were needed from the local clay. Jesse Mercer gave the dedication sermon after a two day fast on December 20, 1818.
As is true with all denominations before the Civil War, slaves attended the same churches and services as their masters. It was not until after slavery ended that segregated services became the norm. In 1834, a black member named Brother Sam asked for permission to administer to a separate black service. In spite of recent fears that included the slave insurrection by Nat Turner in Virginia, permission was granted to use the Bethesda Baptist church building for the second Sabbath of each month. However, this permission was taken away in 1836 due to “disorder.”
In 1850, the church building underwent several improvements. The congregation is still in possession of the contract between the church and a Mr. Benjamin Towns. The brick floors were changed to wood, glazed windows were added, and pews were re-built and re-arranged, along with many other smaller improvements. Work took place between June and October of 1850.
The church cemetery did not come into being until 1888. Land was donated by the Tuggle family and was to provide burial to both member and non-member free of cost. It was local custom to be buried in small plots near the family home prior to the establishment of a cemetery. Today the practice of free burials is restricted to church members. The Bethesda Baptist Congregation is still very active and strong. Care and maintenance of the building shows evidence of a caring and devoted membership.
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