Emmaus Primitive Baptist in Charlton County (not to confused with Emmaus Primitive Baptist in Berrien County), sits at a bend of a remote sandy road that soon ends at the St. Marys river only a few hundred yards from the church. Like all the churches of the old Line Primitive Baptist faith, it is a plain unpainted box construction with absolutely no adornments, steeples, porticoes, window treatments etc.. We don’t know a lot about the church other than the fact that it was organized on May 22, 1858 with seven members. An undated article about the church states “Emmaus church…was constituted the 22nd day of May, 1858. The members at the time were Thomas Crawford, AP Murhee, William B. Connor, Mary Connor and Sarah Johns. The records prior to 1868 have been lost, but since that time the pastors from 1868 to 1879 have been: William R. Crawford; in 1880 John Crawford and in 1881 and 1882 William R. Crawford. From 1883 to 1911 John D. Knight; from 1911 to 1931 John O. Gibson. The clerks have been Henry M. Gainey, R. S. Davis, R. N. Chisom, A. W. Hodges, N. S. Connor and D. W. Connor. There are 51 members at the present time”.
The Wiregrass Primitives are organized by Associations but there are also “factions” within the Associations that developed as a result of doctrinal differences. Also one must understand that Primitive is misconstrued today to mean backward, but actually the meaning is “original”. In the 1870’s, during reconstruction, the Georgia Homestead Act was passed which allowed a debtor to repay only a part of his creditors due. The Primitive Baptists were generally against their members taking advantage of the law, but some did (or perhaps had to). One of which was the son of Reuben Crawford. Reuben was an Elder in his church. Another Elder, Richard Bennett, was strongly anti-homestead and the conflict between the two caused a major split in the Alabaha River Association. One faction became known as Crawfordites and the other Bennettites. Both had a number of churches align with them. Thus Emmaus was part of the Crawfordite (Hendrix Faction).
According to a county history, “The church became one of the churches of the Hendrix faction of the Alabaha River Association in 1960 and was disbanded about 1985 or shortly after that date. Elder Hendrix was the only Elder in the Hendrix faction (the Hendrix faction included three churches) and when he died in 1985 the faction was left without an Elder. With no Elder the ordinances of the church, communion, foot-washing and Baptism, could not be administered.” Without Baptism the church could not grow and the church became inactive shortly thereafter.
Emmaus is located within the “Big Bend” section of the St. Mary’s river, separating Georgia and Florida. The church was organized in 1858 but we think this is probably the second sanctuary and we would place the construction date in the 1870’s based on the architectural appearance as well as the oldest interments in the cemetery (which is still active). Like almost all of the older cemeteries, it will contain unmarked graves using wooden markers that have long since vanished. Wiregrass Primitive Baptists sprang up in this part of southeast Georgia in the early 19th century and continue to this day. For those interested in learning more about this fascinating and distinct denomination, that is limited to the Wiregrass region of south Georgia and north Florida we recommend Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South by John G. Crowley.
Because of their lack of paint or ornamentation of any type, every Primitive Baptist church in this area of Georgia tended to look alike. Emmaus is no exception. Another shared trait of these churches would be access to plenty of water. The table you see in the foreground was where a hand operated "pitcher" pump used to stand at the ready for services. It was here that members of the congregation drew water for drinking and, before services, for filling the pans used for "washing the saint's feet" in rituals peculiar to this Baptist sect.
This close-up of a corner shows that old, heart pine logs provide the foundation support for Emmaus as they do at other area Primitive Baptist churches. Note that the corners are crudely tapered to shed water and thus can last a hundred years or longer. Also, if you look closely you will see the fence wires that are strung between each of these logs. In this wild country, hogs were released and allowed to roam free until they were slaughtered for food. The fencing you see was not to keep hogs in but hogs and other animals out of the space beneath the church!
This photo provides a look at the interior construction, design and layout of a typical Crawfordite meetinghouse. The "open attic" design and lack of interior finishes is clearly discernible. The rudely finished pulpit, floors, benches, steps and no glass panes/only shuttered windows also stand out. However, there are other unfamiliar elements present that bring life to the scene. The rectangular, wooden structure in front of the pulpit with a hole in the bottom is the most puzzling. In olden times it would sit beneath a Communion Table. Water used in the ritual of foot washing would be poured into that structure for disposal. The always present short bench between the funnel and pulpit in these churches was for seating the clerk and the moderator; they were required participants at Primitive Baptist services.
Many decades of use have produced a lean to this old pulpit. The hand made nature of this relic encouraged its shifting and tilting. Some of the round support members of the frame appear to have been shaped using drawknives. These were then fitted into holes drilled into the square uprights, a primitive but effective "mortise and tenon" process. Deacons and others were permitted to address the congregation during services, but only those who were ordained "Elders" could "take the stand" as the pulpit was called.
We love this black and white view and the peculiar custom the holes in the floor reveal. You may have noticed these holes seeming to randomly appear throughout the meetinghouse in earlier photos. Apparently, chewing tobacco was wide-spread in this area and not frowned upon as a public activity. We have learned that these holes, drilled only into the floors in front of the pews on the men's side, were for the expectoration of tobacco juice. Apparently, using the floor was not acceptable. We have no answer to the question of how these spitters developed the accuracy to hit the center of these relatively small targets!
There are sixteen Gainey interments at Emmaus. The above graves are that of Henry E. Gainey, Henry M. Gainey and his wife Amanda. Henry M. and Amanda got married in 1865, one month after his release in 1865 from the 2nd Florida Cavalry. They had eleven children and lived many years on a farm in "Gaineyville". Unfortunately, Henry E. did not survive the war. He enlisted with the 26th Georgia Volunteer Infantry in August of 1861, and was killed at Spotsylvania on May 12, 1864. We do not know the relationship of the two Henrys but a likely assumption is they were first cousins. For a complete documentation of Emmaus interments click here.
This church's simple design and unpainted wood, framed by an old Water Oak and young sweet gum trees, make it appear to be an integral part of the natural landscape. We hope this view and this church will remain for others to see for years to come and allow them to enjoy, understand and appreciate its historic significance.
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