Can we save this historic treasure?
Jasper County tax records lead us to believe Hopewell Baptist was built prior to 1850. The story of the church is, to a great extent, the story of the Blackwell family. Samuel Blackwell came to the Hopewell section of Jasper County from North Carolina in 1820. He bought a large tract of land and started a plantation about a mile south of where the church is now. In 1847, he and some other friends organized Hopewell Baptist Church. Samuel was a prominent member of the community who served as sheriff as well as serving in the state legislature. He was a deacon of Hopewell Baptist for more than 50 years and was buried at the church at the age of 95. Seven of his eight sons served in the 32nd Ga infantry during the Civil War. More of the church’s history was found in The History of Jasper County published in 1984.
Hopewell Baptist was organized in Conference on April 16, 1847. A short time previously a group of Presbyterians had organized a church in the dame community of Hopewell and, for a short time, the two denominations shared the small meeting house. At the April 16, 1847 meeting is was decided to keep the name Hopewell as the nae of the church. Records of the church show that on Sunday, April 18, 1847 Rev. Carter was joined by Rev. T.U. Wilkes and Rev. William Jarrell and after a sermon proceeded into Conference where the letters of the prospective members were examined, a constitution was adopted and William H. Preston was elected clerk. A few weeks late the church adopted a set of rules of decorum. These rules were:
- Any male member who is absent from Conference shall give his excuse for that absence at the next meeting of Conference. His excuse shall be ruled on as acceptable or unaceptable by the Moderator, Clerk and two Deacons.
- When conference is called to order all members shall take their seats and shall not engage in laughter, or idle talk. They shall give their full attention to the business.
- Any member who wished to speak shall stand and address the Moderator. He will not begin to speak until he is recognized by the Moderator. He shall not be interrupted unless he depart from the subject or use unbecoming language.
- No member shall speak on a subject more than three times unless given permission by the Moderator.
Rule number 1 was to cause some discontent later when some excuses were accepted and others not. On Sunday, Oct. 31, 1847, Rev. Carter was elected permanent pastor. Also Hosiah, manservant of Mr. Samuel H. Blackwell was accepted as the first black member, he having been a member of another Baptist church before becoming the property of Mr. Blackwell.
In 1849, a conference decided to hold separate services each Sunday after noon for the black members of the congregation. Also in 1849, Rev. Carter informed the church that his duties at Providence were such that he would be unable to serve as pastor. Rev. William Atkinson was elected and served until 1855 when he moved to Harris county. this was the beginning of a close association between Hopewell and churches in Harris County. They often exchanged lay ministers over the next 10 years.
It was during the period of Rev. Atkinson’s ministry that discontent surfaced over Rule no. 1 in the rules of decorum. Dr. Shaw who had been absent the week before, submitted as his excuse that the subject of Rev. Atkinson’s sermon has bee “Baptism.” On the previous saturday he had discussed the subject with Rev. Atkinson and found that they disagreed on certain points. Not realizing it was conference Sunday he had absented himself. His excuse was not accepted. A few months later, Dr. Shaw moved his membership to Shiloh.
In the 1850’s the church began a number of small mission churches. This activity was carried on mostly by members who were ordained as ministers by the church. The were call “lay ministers.” Some of these missions were listed as Bethel, Liberty and Kelly.
During the 1860’s the minutes often show the following “Excused from Conference to satisfy Military Commitment ,” showing that many of the men were serving in the Confederate Army.
The church is active today, holding services the third Sunday each month. It is served by the pastor of the Monticello First Baptist Church.
Sources: Church minutes; Mrs. Clara Hutto.
Hopewell has been abandoned and neglected for many years and is now in a very perilous state. Without a new roof and some foundation repair, she will not be with us much longer. We are very hopeful that some local support will emerge to at least stabilize this important part of Georgia’s rural history. Time is running out.
Be sure to click and scroll on the photos below for more information about this treasure and the hardy pioneers who built her and worshiped there for over 170 years.