Independence Methodist is located in the little Town of Tignall in Wilkes County, once a crossroads known as Independence Campground. Camp meetings were held across the road from the present church location. These campground meetings were non-denominational gatherings of people who came together over several days to enjoy the social sense of community and to hear multiple ministers preach the gospel of Christianity. It began in the late 18th century and became known as the Second Great Awakening. Some of the old campgrounds still exist and are meeting and thriving today in much the same manner. It was a powerful movement in Georgia and you can learn more about it here.
In the beginning, the history tells us the church was built for all denominations, and perhaps the name Independence was chosen as a result. There is another school of thought that the Independence name stemmed from our recent victory in the Revolutionary War and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Either way, some sort of dispute arose in the 1830’s and, as a result, the Methodists claimed the church. This claim was disputed and taken to court, where the Methodists were represented by noted Wilkes County lawyer, Robert Toombs. The Methodists prevailed and the church has been Methodist ever since.
In 1840, Thomas L. Wootten deeded the lot on which the old church building stood to the trustees. After the Civil War, this church building was “sold to the black people who moved it to land given to them in Tignall”, by John S. Poole. This African American church became known as Black Rock AME and the church thrives today after almost 150 years. A new church was then erected across the road and dedicated in 1871 by Bishop George F. Pierce. The history tells us that a Sunday school celebration was held in 1879 with the President of Emory College, Dr. A. G. Haygood presiding, that attracted almost 1,000 attendees.
Over the years, the church has been remodeled several times. The original entrance had the traditional two doors for men and women with two aisles and a three foot high partition separating the two sides. There is now a single door and a single aisle with pews that were installed in the 1950’s. Gas heaters were installed in 1949 to replace the wood heaters. In 1953, some renovation work was done to make the exterior look like the original and the beautiful green shutters were restored.
Over time, many prominent Methodist ministers have preached in the old Tignall church that was begun six years before George Washington was elected president. We are fortunate that Independence Methodist has had a vibrant and loving congregation serving the local community for well over two hundred years. Thank you for your stewardship that will allow many more generations to appreciate this wonderful part of rural Georgia history.
The eight, imposing Gothic windows of this church allow ambient light to stream into the sanctuary when their shutters are open. On the other hand, when closed, these restored shutters add an architectural and decorative flair that is quite attractive. Note that the old-style, strap hinges used add quite an air of authenticity to these dark green shutters as well.
This view from the rear of the sanctuary shows that the original two entryways were replaced by one wide aisle that leads to the chancel. Many modern touches are seen including carpet, mid-20th century pews, etc. But the original interior design presenting a simple, unadorned and plain architectural statement shines through into the 21st century.
The chancel, pulpit and apse, though remodeled in the 20th century, still maintain authentic design elements that were present from the beginning. The arched apse entry reflects the style of the 1870’s and along with the wide board, vertical ceiling sheathing, stay true to Independence Methodist’s past.
The elegance and simplicity inside Independence Methodist is striking. This view from the chancel displays the airy and bright atmosphere that pervades the sanctuary. We also can appreciate the obvious careful maintenance and thoughtful stewardship of generations of congregations.
Joseph Elijah Blackmon (1825 – 1909) served in Co. D, 1st Georgia Volunteers. He was the son of Lewis William and Sarah Baker Blackmon and was born in North Carolina. He married Cornelia Hudson in Chester County, South Carolina. It is not clear how many children Joseph and Cornelia had but his occupation in the 1880 Federal Census was listed as “keeping mill”.
There are nine Wilkinson Interments within this family plot, with deaths ranging from 1844 to 1980. Here lies the oldest of them, John Joe Wilkinson (1796 – 1844). Note that his remains were “MOVED FROM THE H. HILL PLACE 1956”, which is very unusual. There must be a story here, but we have not found much. We do know his father was Benjamin Wilkinson and his will of 1817 indicated he was a man of some wealth.
Staring back at the old church building from the cemetery in this photograph, we look across time. The crumbling, ancient false crypts from the early 19th century are in the foreground. The eye, moving on, then crosses into the 20th century where we see grave markers of that era… and finally into the area where the death dates take us into 21st century burials. So much significant history is reflected and memorialized at these Historic Rural Churches throughout Georgia. And, we all owe so much to those congregations and others who strive to keep their churches and histories alive. This provides us an opportunity to experience today and into the future their special stories and understand our past.
Your tax-deductible donation to Historic Rural Churches will help keep history alive through digital and physical preservation efforts for Georgia’s rural churches, their history and the communities that support them.
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