High Bluff was organized in 1819 by Isham Peacock, a legend among the Wiregrass Primitive Baptists. Elder Peacock began his religious life in 1802 at the ripe old age of sixty, and retired from Providence Church in Ware County in 1844 at the age of 101. He was typical of the Primitive Baptist preachers of the early 19th century in that he was not a man of letters but was able to convert the wild frontier cattle drovers who inhabited this part of Georgia in great numbers. The religious doctrine they founded was strict and extended to their architecture, their dress, their services and every aspect of the hard life in this part of wiregrass Georgia. It still exists today in much the same form as the unpainted structure above will attest. These unpainted Wiregrass Primitive Baptist churches are all located in this small region of Southeast Georgia and a few in North Florida. The visual similarity of the construction of these old sanctuaries, both inside and out, is amazing. The Georgia Wiregrass Primitives are a unique subsection of the Baptist religion and worth some investigation if you are so inclined. John Crowley’s book, Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South is one of the few reference books on the subject.
High Bluff Primitive Baptist Church had its beginnings in a settlement on a high bluff (hence the name) of the south bank of the Satilla River. The origins of the settlement are lost but history seems to indicate that the pioneers had come up the river in boats and may have been previous members of the Little Satilla Church, whose location is now unknown. Eventually these early pioneers settled in and found the need for a church. High Bluff was constituted in September of 1819 with nine members. The Presbytery was made up of Isham Peacock and Fleming Bates, two ministers who would be active in the establishment of other churches in South Georgia and North Florida. A meeting house was built that included a cemetery and, beginning in 1821, Fleming Bates was the pastor.
In 1823, 13 members of High Bluff were granted letters of dismissal to become a constituted church at Kettle Creek. At some point, within the next few years, the congregation at High Bluff moved to become members of Big Creek. The minutes make no mention of the cause for the move, but tradition says that there was a cholera outbreak in the High Bluff area. The only solution to cholera at the time was to move away. So the little church on the bluff was closed. Today few signs can be found of the original church. In the late 1870s, the name of the Big Creek Church was changed to High Bluff.
High Bluff is still an active house of worship today and is among the oldest continuing congregations in this part of the state. Its cemetery is very old, but as with many of these historic churches, few of the graves of the old settlers have survived. Among the tallest of the existing stones in the cemetery is that of Lydia Stone, known as the “Queen of the Okefenokee.” Lydia was an unschooled, independent, iconoclastic girl of the swamp. With a unique and colorful style, she made the swamp her life and became a self-taught and shrewd businesswoman who died a millionaire. The river brought many of the early settlers into this area. And today, it holds the story of their struggles and successes, their sins and their redemption, and the ongoing story of the High Bluff Church.
Although most Wiregrass Primitive Baptist Church’s appear to be constructed from the same plans, they are not. They appear to be similar in appearance because they all follow and adhere rigidly to the strict…” no frills, no ornamentation(exterior or interior, pictures, statues, brackets, etc.), windows covered by simple, wooden shutters, no floor coverings/rugs and the plainest possible wooden pews and pulpits. The sanctuary must not in any way distract the congregation from the principal task of worship.
This black and white photograph emphasizes the unfinished wood elements throughout the interior of the Wiregrass sanctuary. It also accentuates and reveals the “open” attic, frame construction found in each of these buildings as well as the eye-pleasing, skeletal geometry of the wooden ceiling beams and cross bracing.
These two primitive and battered side chairs present us an example of the auxiliary seating provided for the church leaders, preachers, deacons and other honored guests. Where you might find high-backed, elaborately carved, walnut or oak, perhaps upholstered seating near the chancel, pulpit or alter of other nearby churches of the period, the congregation of High Bluff offers the most modest of seating for their leaders. It is their tradition and a badge of denominational austerity and distinction.
One look at a rude and totally functional pulpit such as this confirms that this is a Primitive Baptist Church. You might think that this photo was taken in an old and failing rural church… perhaps even years and years ago. It was not. High Bluff still meets and welcomes a small congregation every 2nd weekend of each month in this fine old sanctuary! The tradition still lives in Brantley County, Georgia.
Here lies Lydia Stone who was known as the ‘Queen of the Okefenokee’ for her business acumen and marriage exploits. She led a very colorful life and managed to accumulate an estate valued at over a million dollars when she died in 1938.
Here lies baby Brainard Ammons who died at the age of three on November 14, 1888. He lies beside his four year old brother, Owen, who preceded him in death by twelve days on November 2, 1888. Infant deaths were all too common in the backcountry, especially at birth. We can only speculate, but this was probably an epidemic of some sort. Whatever the cause, how tragic to lose two children within two weeks. Rest in peace boys.
There are over 2,000 interments in the cemetery and over 250 of them are the Griffin family. The above graves are that of John and Peter Griffin who served with the 26th Ga. Infantry. John was wounded on August 28, 1862 at 2nd Manassas and died on September 5. Ironically his brother, Peter, had been discharged on “disability” at Richmond on August 16, 1862 – less than two weeks before his brother was mortally wounded.
This elaborate, wooden picket fence, grave plot enclosure still stands in High Bluff Cemetery. Though store bought wire or cast iron is the usual material found for enclosures like these, this one was obviously hand-made and erected by a local family. Made of the readily available, heart pine of the area, it still stands many, many decades after its last loving coat of paint. It also follows the prime rule for these austere, Wiregrass congregants… keep it simple.
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Pamela Fewox Kimes email@example.com
I have been researching some of the original Primitive Baptist Churches which were included in the Piedmont Baptist Association which was constituted in October 1816, convening at Jones Creek Church, Liberty County, GA. The maternal side of my family are Griffins, Stricklands, Lees, Dowlings, and Millers who are counted among the early Wiregrass Pioneers. Many of my Griffin, Strickland and Dowling ancestors are buried at High Bluff BPC, Lees at Mt.Olive PBC (whose graves are shown on this website), Antioch Church, Bethany Baptist (Boney Bluff) in Fargo, Clinch Co., GA., Kettle Creek in Waycross, Ware Co., GA.
Some of your readers might be interested in the following information.
The USGenWeb site had Archives of the Piedmont Association and churches who were united and/or dissolved during the early pioneer years. Charles Westberry transcribed several years worth of Minutes of the Association. His email several years ago was listed as firstname.lastname@example.org, but I do not know if this is accurate today.
Many of the churches on this site are mentioned in the transcribed Minutes mentioned above. Delegates to the yearly Meetings are included, and this was helpful to me while researching my ancestor John Lee, Rev. Soldier, NC, an early pioneer in Georgia and listed as a delegate for Beards Creek Baptist Church, a Piedmont Association Church, Tattnall Co., GA , and later the Little Satilla Baptist Church on the Satilla River in Appling County,. GA. during the years of 1817-1820, and 1823. In his last few years, John Lee’s home was in Ware Co., GA, now Clinch Co., and he is buried at Boney Bluff Baptist Church Cemetery at Fargo. His grave was marked by the John Floyd DAR Chapter in 1961, as being a Revolutionary Soldier serving in the 2nd Regiment of North Carolina in Martin’s Company. I already have Census proof of his residency, but additional proof in Church records or Bible records are significantly important to have.
I am searching for records of the Boney Bluff Church to note John Lee’s membership, and also to determine if his wife, whom I believe to be Elizabeth Jordan Lee of North Carolina, was buried in the cemetery. Some have said she is, but I need proof if it can be found. If Elizabeth is buried there, it is unmarked , but I am interested in finding a record of any information about her in church records. I do have a copy of their Marriage License/Bond from North Carolina. Their son George Lee is discussed briefly below.
Catherine Miller Lee was daughter of WIlliam Miller, R.S. NC and Amey Barker Miller, Ware County, who helped establish Kettle Creek Church in Waycross, and she was mother of several Lee children including my great grandmother Mary Lee Griffin, wife of P.D. Griffin, both of whom were High Bluff PBC members. James Lee, son of George Lee, grandson of John Lee, R.S. and his wife Catherine Miller Lee are my ancestors who are buried at Mt. Olive PBC, and their grave markers are described in the caption under the photos included in this website.
George Lee was a member of Waycross, GA, Antioch Baptist Church and he is buried there. His second wife Rebecca Griffis Lee is the mother of my ancestor James Lee. I am also searching for Rebecca’s grave site which may be at Antioch PBC. Any records from that church which mentions George and Rebecca Lee would be valuable to me.
If anyone else is researching any of these ancestors of mine and their kin, please contact me at the current email given above.
Also, I am interested in any information on any of the other Wiregrass region PBC Associations and their churches, to add to my knowledge and family research. I am particularly interested in Church records of members.
Thank you in advance for any help or information relevant to my queries.
Keep the faith.
Pamela F. Kimes
Good afternoon, and thank you for the work that you are doing to preserve our history. While not a Wiregrass Primitive Baptist, this church is very close to our family home, and many generations of my family are buried there.
Within the last year, the members of the church replaced the walls, windows and doors to the church, and for a while it lost the blackened exterior. It was strange to see it more of a yellow pine color, but it is quickly returning to the way it looked before.
We’re glad to hear that members have taken the time to keep up with the maintenance of this old structure. Thanks for the update, Steven.
I hope that you are doing well. Do you have a phone number, website, or e-mail address for the church?
Thank you in advance.
Scroll to the bottom of the page and you will find a map with a link to directions.
I have family there be there a saw the old church
Is there a point of contact for the High Bluff Primitive Baptist Church that I can speak with?
Paul, sent you an email.
Does this church still meet regularly?
Yes. We think so. At least it was active when the photographer did his work.
Who were the members around 1822?
We do not have this kind of information. If it exists at all, it would be within the original church minutes, and they are probably lost to time.
Do you know where copies of the High Bluff Primitive Baptist Church are located? Thank you.