Hopeful Baptist Church has a rich history. According to the church history, the original property for the church was likely part of the grants given to Alexander Carswell by King George III in 1773. Mr. Carswell also acquired land through American Revolutionary War service. Part of this tract of land became known as Hopeful Plantation and, since several members of the Carswell family are buried in the church cemetery, it is reasonable to assume that the land came from their plantation.
Between 1815 and 1855 there were four buildings built on this location to house the church. The first house of worship was of pine logs with the bark on, the second was of hewn logs, and the third was a frame building called ‘Piney Woods’. The building standing today is the fourth building, and was built between 1851 and 1855 at a cost of $5,000.00 in the pure Greek Revival Architectural design. It is majestic in scale and very unusual for a rural church in the Georgia back country. The size of the sanctuary and the quality of the construction attest to the wealth that King Cotton was bringing to this part of Georgia in the pre-Civil War years.
The sanctuary has been incredibly maintained and is a great testament to the durability of Georgia long-leaf, yellow pine. Hand-made, square-headed nails were used in the structure. The steps are made of granite from Stone Mountain, Georgia that were shipped by Georgia Railroad to the Grovetown/Augusta area, and then hauled by ox cart to the church site. The church doors were made wide in order to accommodate the ladies fashion of that day…….large hoop skirts. When it was finished, it was said to be the most magnificent rural church in Georgia. The steps, doors, door knobs, pews, high pulpit and many other items are original. The church is in a very rural location and certainly attests to the prosperity of the planters who built this magnificent edifice. According to church records, there were 91 members in 1865 (56 white and 35 black). As was common in the post war south, the black members separated in 1867 to build their own church, Second Hopeful Baptist Church, which is active today.
This church, as Baptist, never aspired to an elaborate sanctuary. When it was built, and as it is now, the interior reflects the simple, local-rule Baptist values that drove that faith into first place among the earliest Georgia denominations. Strict rules of conduct, separation of the sexes (see the still existing center partitions keeping men and women apart) and mandatory attendance kept the flock in order and the Church in charge. Airy, high-ceilinged, bright and welcoming, this place has been a welcome home, rock and refuge to generations of rural Baptists in Burke county.
This view at Hopeful, from the pulpit to the rear of the church, provides several hints as to why the congregation remains intact and prosperous. First, the congregation is still in the vicinity, solid and dedicated to this landmark. Second, the overall feeling and aura within the sanctuary remains appealing and consistent with its generations of humble and unostentatious history… emotional feeling and attachment that cannot be replicated in a "new" sanctuary. Finally, the Church Fathers recognized that to keep the old church alive the place had to offer comfort in the form of air conditioning, plumbing/bath rooms and electricity to provide light and 21st century communications equipment. These kinds of improvements will help many old churches survive the siren call to move to a new, "modern" facility.
This image evokes the reverential feeling and the 'spell' that is cast in Hopeful's sanctuary . Is it today? Is it 1850? Is it tomorrow? It is all these things. It is Hopeful. It is home.
Here lies Lewis Vinton Winter. Born in 1847, he would have only been 14 at the outbreak of the war. He served with Company C, 1st Local Troops (Augusta, GA). The final days of the war saw a lot of young, as well as old men, pressed into service as Sherman began his Georgia campaign.
Here lies Nancy Palmer Johnson, the first grave in the cemetery. At her request the grave was sited so that the eyes of the minister could rest on her grave as he stood in the pulpit. She is the mother of Herschel Vespasian Johnson (1812 - 1880). Mr. Johnson was a former Governor of Georgia, US Senator and in 1860 was the Vice Presidential running mate for Stephen A. Douglas. He had quite a storied career. For more information click here. This large obelisk at Nancy's grave is revealing in that it was acquired and placed by her son, Governor Herschel Johnson. This was a period when 'classical' monuments were again in vogue. Americans such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers embraced the ancient western cultures as well as Greek Revival, Roman History, law, customs and lore. The ever-present obelisk began to reappear in many settings at this time. There are few monuments more popular and long-lived (from at least 3,000 BC until today) than the Obelisk. In the mid-19th century, the Obelisk, an Egyptian symbol related to the Sun God Ra, was widely re-channeled from paganism to Christianity as representing a mother figure. Thus, the "Ray of Sun" that rises above Nancy was her son's 19th Century way of monumentally honoring her. It is also worthy of note to mention the elaborate grave enclosure of very fine (and expensive) cast iron. Mounted on an elaborate brick wall and foundation, the whole tableau reflects a son's true fondness and love for his mother. It also reflects the fact that this was a very prosperous and important family.
The church recently celebrated 200 years of service, all from the same location. One cannot help but marvel at the scale of the proportions as well as the quality of the maintenance. This church was built over 150 years ago and rises up out of the Georgia countryside in majestic testimony to a congregation that has treasured its history, its legacy and continued commitment to service. We salute you.
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