Big Buckhead Baptist

Jenkins County
Org 1774
Photography by John Kirkland

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.

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