The church is laid out in the characteristic fashion of early Primitive Baptist Churches in the Wiregrass area, with doors on each end and in the case of Union, a single double entry in the front of the building. All the benches (pews) are arranged to face the stand (pulpit) from three directions. The church is atypical in that it was provided with a fourth door in the rear of the building, visible in this photo. If that door is not original to the building it was placed before 1900. The bracing against the door is a deterrent to vandals.
The Burnt Church Primitive Baptist Church restoration effort was completed in 1998 by Lanier County. Though the flooring has been replaced, efforts obviously were made to retain authenticity. In 1854 the current building began as a frame building with shutters covering the windows and the rafters exposed. Over time wall boards and a ceiling were added, along with sashes with glass panes, though the building never had electricity. It was provided with a wood heater at some point but cooling in warm weather was left to open windows and doors and whatever breeze may be stirring.
In this view of the interior of the stand (pulpit) we see the short bench on which elders sat until it was their turn to speak. The location of a window directly behind the stand is typical. It is not difficult to imagine the early elders of the church delivering inspirational sermons from this spot. They would have been inspired by the legacy of Elder Albritton, who was well-known and was in great demand among the churches. He was active both in spreading the Baptist faith and in forming new churches. He served Burnt Church and other associated churches until his death in 1850.
Gravehouses were once much more common than they are today. They were partly ornamental in nature but, since cemeteries were generally not fenced, served practical purposes as well. Allowing livestock to roam was a common practice in earlier times, and most often fences were built to exclude livestock and wildlife rather than to restrict it to a specific area. Most graves, if they were marked at all, were marked with wooden grave markers, on some of which had been painted the name, dates of birth and death, and an epitaph. Covering the grave with a roof not only protected these grave markers from weathering but gave the family a sense of taking care of their lost member. This gravehouse shelters the remains of Kizzie Knight Rentz who died in 1882. Her brother was Barzilla S. Knight, a 1st Lieutenant in the Ga. 29th Infantry, who was killed at Chickamauga on Sept. 19, 1863 at the age of 27.
The cemetery at Burnt Church contains the remains of many of the areas early pioneers. This monument marks the grave of one of them, Major Levi J. Knight. Both of his grandfathers served in the Revolutionary War. Major Knight’s father, William Anderson Knight, played a significant role in the growth of Primitive Baptist churches throughout the Wiregrass area, so Levi grew up in the church. At just 15 years old, he served as a private in the Wayne County militia, who were then engaged in defending the frontier settlers from Indian attacks that continued, even after the Creek War of 1814.
James M. Patten was born in the Camden District of South Carolina on November 1, 1796. He was the son of William Patten, a Revolutionary War soldier. He served in the Civil War for three years, enlisting in May of 1862, in Co. “E”, 54th Georgia Infantry Regiment. He was an ordained Primitive Baptist minister, having been received into Empire Church in Berrien (now Lanier) county, Jan. 23, 1864 and later ordained to the full Gospel ministry (though the church minutes fail to show just when). He was pastor of Prospect Church in Clinch county, 1886-1888. On July 27, 1889, he was expelled at his own request, but was restored Apr. 23, 1892. He was again expelled at his own request, Oct. 25, 1901, and apparently was never a member again. He died Dec. 20, 1907, and was buried along with his wife, Elizabeth, in the cemetery at Union church.
Here is a rare instance where wooden grave markers have been supplemented with a stone marker providing names and dates of the interred. It is significant in that it shows these types of wooden makers were in use as late (and probably later) as 1923. Wooden markers were commonly used (along with field stone) in some rural cemeteries where poverty was a fact of life for many of the interred.
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