Big Buckhead Church, the third oldest Baptist church in Georgia, was organized in 1774 before the Revolution. The present Greek Revival structure was completed and dedicated in 1855. This type of architecture was popular with wealthy planters in this part of Georgia. Bark Camp Baptist and Hopeful Baptist, both located in Burke county, are very similar. Named for nearby Buckhead Creek, the congregation predates the Revolutionary War and was one of the few Baptist churches who sided with the Tories. Matthew Moore, the Baptist minister who organized the church, was a Loyalist who returned to England near the onset of the war and the church remained inactive during the war as a result. According to A History of the Georgia Baptist Association, ‘Although most Baptists in Georgia supported the American cause, one obscure Separate church was comprised of Tories. Existing first from 1774 to about 1776, the Big Buckhead congregation (Burke County) was led by two notable partisans and produced George Liele, the black preacher whose concern for freedom from slavery fired his anti-American feelings’.
The church was reconstituted on 11 September, 1787. James Matthews was the pastor and Sanders Walker & Josiah Taylor were the Presbytery. Significantly in the history of the Georgia Baptists, the Hephzibah Association was organized here and the first plans for Mercer University were proposed. This is the fourth church to stand on or near this same site. The first was of logs, the second was framed and completed in 1807 at a cost of about three hundred dollars. The third was built of brick in 1830, costing about four thousand dollars. Quite a sum in those days and a rural, brick church in 1830 would have been very unusual. Only the wealthy planter class could complete such a project. However, because of some defect in construction it was deemed unsafe and at some point and gave way to the present building. Maybe the brick making skills left something to be desired in 1830. Some important events have occurred at Buckhead Church. Here the Hephzibah Association was organized in 1794. The Georgia Baptist Convention met there in 1831 for its annual session and adopted a resolution to establish a classical and theological school known today as Mercer University. Bishop Frances Asbury, first American Bishop of the Methodist Church, preached at Buckhead on January 23, 1793.
Big Buckhead Church was also the scene of fierce cavalry action resulting in a Confederate victory during Sherman’s March to the Sea. On Nov. 28, 1864, the Union Army 3rd Cavalry Division under Brig. Gen. J. L. Kilpatrick was driven south from Waynesboro by the Confederate Cavalry troops under Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler. Retreating under constant harassment by Wheeler’s men. Kilpatrick´s command crossed Buckhead Creek east of the church. Wheeler moved upstream, effected his crossing, and again attacked Kilpatrick´s command which was entrenched about three miles west of the church near Reynolds plantation. As darkness sat in, Gen. Kilpatrick managed to extricate his command and retreated six miles toward Louisville where Sherman’s left wing was encamped. Wheeler then resumed his mission of attacking Union foraging parties which were attempting to strip the countryside of animals and provisions.
The exterior presentation of Big Buckhead is that of a Greek temple – huge columns resting on brick piers – a grand white building supported by a pierced brick foundation – the entry porch with two elaborately framed doors… one for women and children, the other for men. However, the meeting house interior is a relatively quite modest and intimate space. Big, 16 x 16 windows well framed, yes, and crown moulding with modest, wooden pilasters at each corner, yes. But, but on the whole, it was just a more robust version of the many other, more humble churches that had sprouted in the rapidly expanding state of Georgia from 1800 to 1850. The high ceilings and big sash windows were a big help in the sweltering, south Georgia heat. The crown moldings and window treatments simply reflected the quality construction and affluence of the congregation.
This sanctuary reflects the thoughtful but almost austere approach to the services that were attended by some of the most successful and powerful planters in the Georgia back country since before the Revolutionary War.
It is unusual that the double entry doors that provide access to the sanctuary are at the front of the church. Quite an incentive to arrive on time.
There is a small cemetery located just across the road from the church. Most of the successful planters had family plots on the plantation.
For a full documentation of Big Buckhead Baptist interments click here.
What a wonderful job the local historical society has done maintaining this magnificent Greek Revival temple of the Lord in the Georgia back country. This structure is over 150 years old and, with this kind of maintenance, it will last for the ages. Well done.
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Are there any records that would indicate if Rev. Benjamin Davis pastored the church around 1790-1800? He is a ancestor of mine
Could you tell me if there is someone we could contact about possibly going into the church?
We don’t have a contact but the church is somethimes left open for visitors we think. Good luck. It is very beautiful inside.