Bryan Neck Presbyterian

Bryan County
Org 1830
Photography by Wayne Moore

Bryan Neck Presbyterian owes much of its roots and its relative prosperity to the fact that it was located in one of the richest rice growing areas on the eastern seaboard and the resulting planter class that dominated the trade. These “Rice Kings” represented some of the wealthiest people in America and included storied families such as Clays, Maxwells, Arnolds, Rogers, and McAllisters. Thousands of acres were under cultivation and were worked by one of the largest slave populations on the coast. The rice production peaked, according to Richmond Hill Reflections, in 1860 when the Bryan Neck plantations along the Ogeechee produced 1.5 million pounds. This prosperity created a need for a local congregation to support these families who had previously been affiliated with churches in Savannah or the Congregational church at Midway. Bryan Neck Presbyterian was established by several of the planter class families in 1830 with the official sanction of the Savannah Presbytery and with assistance from the Congregational Church at Midway.

The first church was established in November of 1830 by Trustees John Maxwell, Thomas Clay, Richard Arnold, Edward Footman and George McAllister, some of the wealthiest planters in the region. The church, which was incorporated on December 27,1831, made use of a former Episcopal church building until a new church building was dedicated in 1841. This building was a wooden framed building with two entrances, a belfry and a slave gallery. This church served the community for over 40 years until it was destroyed by fire in 1882. After the second church was destroyed by fire, services ceased to be held until two church leaders, Habersham Clay and C. C. Maxwell, began conducting services. These men eventually purchased land for the current church approximately two miles from the original site and provided funds for its construction in 1885. The church is very unusual in it’s size, architectural configuration and interior finishes. The present congregation has done a remarkable job of maintaining the original structure.

The church cemetery, known as Burnt Church Cemetery, is located at the original 1831 church site. The cemetery includes the family plots of early church leaders, such as the McAllisters and Clays. Thomas Savage Clay was a devout Presbyterian who led the movement on Bryan Neck for the “Religious Instruction” of the slaves of the local plantations. He was instrumental in enabling the Bryan Neck church to become a leader in this movement in coastal Georgia. Bryan Neck Presbyterian was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 and furnished much of the above history.

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