Ebenezer Presbyterian

Jefferson County
Org 1774
Photography by Randall Davis

The story of Ebenezer Presbyterian begins with the establishment of the Township of Queensborough near present Louisville, for the purpose of encouraging Scots Irish migration to Georgia. In 1763 Governor Wright and British Superintendent for Indian Affairs John Stuart, abetted by influential traders Lachlan McGillivray and George Galphin, arranged a cession of Indian territory between the Savannah and the Ogeechee rivers as far north as the Little River (near present day Crawfordville). After the cession, the Township of Queensborough consisted of a 50,000-acre tract along the Ogeechee River. After the American Revolution, the new capital of Louisville was then located nearby. However, trouble with the Indians was a major issue. According to the history, “One settler was murdered in December, 1771 and thirteen between Christmas Day 1773 and sometime in January 1774. And when Georgia militia were sent to protect the settlers, they were defeated. This heightened the settlers’ fear for their families, and many more moved away from the frontier.”

Some of these Scots Irish settlers came on redemption but the greater part paid their passage. Boundaries and lots were surveyed and each numbered lot in the town consisted of 5/6 of an acre. An interesting insight into the nature of at least some of the settlers of this era is provided by this quote from the Georgia Encyclopedia: “In the 1760s the English, both at home and in colonial America, were applying the term cracker to Scots-Irish settlers of the southern backcountry in southern Georgia and northern Florida, as in this passage from a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth: ‘I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.’ ”

The only public building ever built at Queensborough was a log meeting house that served as the Presbyterian Church, which was abandoned after a short time because of constant Indian deprivations on horses, cattle and corn. Another meeting house was built on Buckhead Creek which was moved and became known as Bethel Church. In the early 1800s this Buckhead Bethel moved again. Finally, in its fourth and final move, the church was moved to the small town of Vidette (Burke County), where it is located today. This building, erected in 1908, now stands as an active Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and is still known as Bethel.

Political fervor was high in the colonies in the 1770s and this section of Georgia was no exception. The Revolution created a division among the Presbyterians resulting in the Tories remaining at Buckhead while the Whigs established a new church on land donated by Richard Fleeting that was known as Fleeting’s Meeting House. This church was later known as Big Creek and finally as Ebenezer. Exact dates concerning Fleeting’s Meeting House and Big Creek Church are as yet unknown as the church records prior to 1887 are missing. However,we can say with certainty that Ebenezer was organized in the early 1770s by the Presbytery of the Carolinas and Georgia.

At first, the Buckhead church and Ebenezer shared the same pastors, who also preached occasionally at the meeting house at Louisville. The first of these pastors on record was the Rev. Thomas Beattie, who lived only a short while. He was followed by a Scotsman, the Rev. William Donaldson who was a Tory. Since the congregations were mostly supporters of the Revolution, he was forced to leave in 1776. He was subsequently captured and, after being released, he left Georgia never to return.

After the war ended, the Presbyterians sent to Ireland for a pastor and the Rev. David Bothwell was sent to Queensborough in 1790. Rev Bothwell was not only the minister to several Governors of Georgia, he was also a close friend. It was while he was visiting in the home of his friend, former Governor Jared Irwin, that David Bothwell died and was buried on the former Irwin plantation in Washington County. Jared Irwin was an elder in the Ebenezer Church as were former Governors James Jackson and David Emanuel. Also of interest was the fact that Ira Sylvester Caldwell, who was the father of Erskine Caldwell, was also a Pastor at Ebenezer.

In 1849 a young pastor by the name of David Gardner Phillips came to serve as the Ebenezer pastor and, since the church was so remote, he was invited to live in the home of the Ruling Elder, William Little and his wife. Here a romance began with Elder Little’s daughter and Julia Little became the bride of Rev. Phillips. He was subsequently the pastor at Ebenezer for 43 years and is buried in the cemetery along with Julia. The little church by the road has served now for almost 140 years at this location. There are not many historic rural Presbyterian churches in middle Georgia and certainly not many with roots that predate the American Revolution. The congregation is still going strong and we are grateful to them for their stewardship of this wonderful part of Georgia History.

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