Big Buckhead Baptist

Jenkins County
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Org 1774
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Photography by John Kirkland

Big Buckhead Church, the third oldest Baptist church in Georgia, was organized in 1774 and named for nearby Buckhead Creek. Completed and dedicated in 1855, the current Greek revival meetinghouse represents a type of architecture popular with wealthy planters in this part of Georgia.    It is the fourth sanctuary located on this site.  There is a small cemetery in the woods across the street that tells the stories of some of the wealthy white enslavers in this part of Georgia, and it shows how close the family relationships were.  Big Buckhead is one of the most historically significant churches in all of rural Georgia.  Located in Jenkins county, it was built in what was then Burke County.

The Baptist reverend Matthew Moore was pastor when Big Buckhead was organized. A Loyalist, he was the only Baptist minister in the state to side with the Tories when the Revolutionary War began in 1775. Moore fled to Savannah before returning to England shortly after, and the church became inactive during the war as a result. According to R. L. Robinson’s History of the Georgia Baptist Association, apparently the bulk of his congregation was also Loyalist. “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 . . . was led by two notable pro-partisans and produced George Liele, the black preacher whose concern for freedom from slavery fired his anti-American feelings.”

George Liele was man enslaved by Colonel Henry Sharp, a loyalist deacon in the church. Liele was converted under the ministry of Reverend Moore and later freed by his master prior to the revolution in order to preach the gospel.  He helped establish the First African Baptist Church in Savannah and also became the first Baptist missionary to Jamaica, where he fled following the revolution.

It took a full four years after the war ended for the Big Buckhead Church to get on its feet again, many of its Tory members having fled the state. The congregation reorganized on September 11, 1787. The current meetinghouse is the fourth church to stand on or near here. The first was of logs, and the second was framed and completed in 1807 at a cost of about three hundred dollars. In 1830, the congregation, mostly local planters, funded construction of a brick church–the bricks would have been brought in at great expense–for the princely sum of about four thousand dollars. Ironically, a construction defect led to this third building being declared unsafe and ultimately dismantled. The fourth and current church was built in 1855.

Big Buckhead Church has witnessed a number of important events. Bishop Frances Asbury, first American Bishop of the Methodist Church, preached at Buckhead on January 23, 1793 and The Hephzibah Association was organized here in 1794. When the Georgia Baptist Convention met in the third, brick incarnation in 1831, it resolved to establish a school which became Mercer University (now in Macon). After the Civil War, black members left Big Buckhead to form their own nearby church, Carswell Grove. The Big Buckhead meetinghouse, which is opened for special events, is now privately owned.

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