Friendship Baptist, built in 1857 and located in northwestern Sumter County, is the oldest standing church in the county. Much of the history of the church would be lost if not for the efforts of Jack F. Cox, of Americus, and Mrs. Scott Hart, of Schley County. Mrs. Hart preserved the original minute book of Friendship Baptist, and Cox completed a transcription of it in 1980. The transcription is a treasure, transporting us to a time when the church stood at the center of a vibrant community.
The minutes span a period from the church’s founding in 1839 to a generation later in 1872. The earliest minutes reveal the congregation’s origins during a time of agricultural prosperity for Sumter County. Names both obscure and famous dot the minutes, including the appearance of Wiley Carter in 1852: the great-great grandfather of the future president. While Carter, his wife, and a slave were welcomed as new members of the fold, others were expelled for unacceptable social behavior, including “Elisateth” Strong, who had become an Episcopalian.
When it comes to the Civil War, the minutes are largely silent concerning the conflict that thrust the state and county into the abyss. The total number of congregants who fought is unknown, although many veterans of the conflict can be found in Friendship’s cemetery. However, we must remind ourselves that these were the ones who survived and returned home.
The minutes end in 1872, during the social changes of Emancipation and Reconstruction. You may be surprised how the minutes describe black and white relations, especially at the war’s end. Friendship Baptist is indeed a treasure, with its structure and history worth preserving, and its people worth remembering. More information and commentary can be found in the gallery photos of the church and adjoining cemeteries. Some highlights of the minutes are below.
Dec. 15, 1839 – We a part of the church at Liberty being at the painful necisity of separation of ourselves from a parte of our Brethering at liberty in order to mantane our mutual rights in the spread of the gospel have this day convened in order to provide wayes and meanes fpr the constituting of ourselves into a church.
April, 1840 – the first mention of new white and black members – The church met and after pray meting the conference was opend for the reception of members when came forward sister Rebecca Boyet and sister Eliza a woman of color and brother James & Titus men of culler and was recd all being members from Liberty church whom we know to be in good standing bowth in faith and practice.
Jan. 16, 1841 – the first mention of unacceptable behavior – Brother Sraford an alagation against Brother Kneel Gillas of intoxication and agread to lay it over until the conference in April. Brother Staford prepared an Alagation against Jesse Parker for drawing a knife and quaraling agreed to lay it over to the next conference.
Dec. 31, 1842 – A charge of murder of a slave – Brought a charge against Bro. James M. Stafford for the murder of his Negro boy John when he was expelled from all the Privaleges of the church.
Jan. 20, 1844 – The first mention of a female transgression – On motion appointed Brethren Shuffield, Absalom Burke, N. Dardern, J. R. T. Lingo and Cauthen and Derrysay to see Bro. Teals Eiliza who is guilty of the sin of Fornication.
Aug. 1, 1846 – Expulsion for joining another denomination – On motion Elisateth Strong fomally a member of our church was excluded from our church for jining the Episcopalian church of Macan Geo.
May 27, 1848 – Prevarication and intoxication – Prefered to charges against John Teal one for intoxication and the other for prevarication……..Took up the case of Mrs. Heath and after some discussion being had on the case She was expelled From all the privilages of the church For intoxication.
March 22, 1851 – Dedicated service for African Americans – Agreed that Brother William Ross preach to the Black Peaople every fourth Sunday in each month in the evening.
Aug. 24, 1852 – Wiley Carter (President Carter’s gg grandfather) and his wife Sarah join the church – Rec’d by letter Wiley Carter and his wife Sarah Carter. Aug. 5 – Received by letter Lucy a servant the property of Wiley Carter.
Sept. 25, 1852 – Assisting a slave jailed for rape – Brought a charge against Zackariah Sheffield and Rolling Baker who, it is believed aided and assisted Sam a servant boy belonging to Robt. Sheffield to make his escape from the county gail of Marion County Ga. Who was in there for the crime of attempting to commit the rape on a white girl….the church Excommunicated Zachariah Sheffield and Rolling Baker More for the above charge.
Oct. 26, 1856 – A collection for African missions – Rev. J Stallings preached a Sarman on missions after which a collection of Som fourteen dollars was taken for Affrican missions.
Aug. 22, 1857 – Wiley Carter buys the old church building – Agreed to offer for Sale the old church building…… Sept 26 – the old church building was sold at fifty two dollars, Bought by Bro. Carter.
Apr. 26, 1862 – Appointments to keep order among the blacks – appointed Brethren James McCarrah, James Jones and N. Darden to Keep order among the blacks of collered people on Sabbath.
Aug. 24, 1863 – First mention of the Civil War – The church agreed to Send Several Numbers of the Index to the Sumter Flying Artilery Battalion.
Jan. 23, 1864 – The purchase of the school house next door – Agreed to purchase The School House & lot adjoining the church Lot South, There being five acres more or less attached to the primces….which as done this evening at the Sum of five hundred dollars.
Feb. 28, 1864 – Only other mention of the war – appealing to the “God of battles”- The Church agreed to have a general prayer meeting on Saturday before the fourth Sunday in March for our army and bleeding country. And that we invite the churches with whom we correspond to meet with us on that day and spend a fiew hours in prayer and humble devotion to the God of Battles.
July 26, 1865 – Emancipated slaves continue to join the church – Rec’d by an Experience of Grace Andrew McGarrah a Collered man; a collered woman Martha McGarrah by an Experience. Alsey Johson a woman of coller by Exeperience Mary Hart a collered woman.
May 25, 1867 – Black clergy emerges from the congregation – Granted Bro. Aaron May a freedman of coller License To preach with his race.
Aug. 21, 1869 – Emancipated slaves are still joining the church – Rec’d by an experience of Grace Sally Lansley & Emma Collier collered, Frances Deconey colored, Louiza May, colored, Caroline May, colored, Rosetta May, colored Artemoers Worty all collored.
Sept. 25, 1869 – “STATE OF THE CHURCH” report given, 40% of the members are black – Whites in Fellowship 85, Blacks in Fellowship 35
Oct. 22, 1870 – Most of the freed slaves now leave to start their own church – Ordered the clerk to give Letters of Dismission to all collered members who is in fellowship with the church for the purpose of constituting a Church of their own coller.
June 24, 1871 – More transgressions and charges – Charge prefered against Bro. Therilkill for Stabing Mr. Gearham, appointed Bro. Jesse Carter to notify im to attend the next conference To answer to the charge.
July 27, 1872 – Last mention of an African American in the minutes – Granted a letter of dismission to Julia Ross Col.
Sept. 21, 1872 – Last entry in the minute book