Note: The following history of Jackson Baptist Church is presented by John Kirkland who is also the photographer.
Screven County, Georgia, named for General James Screven, who served in the Revolutionary War (1775-83) was once called “a place in the woods” by poet Cuyler Young but Screven County and the area near the town of Sylvania have had a long rich history beginning with the Indians that originally inhabited the area before Georgia became a colony in 1752. In 1779, Patriot forces were defeated at the Battle of Briar Creek during the American Revolution, in 1791, President George Washington visited the area, in December of 1864, the Union Calvary under General Judson Kilpatrick filed through the area during General W. T. Sherman’s march to the sea.
Soon after the Civil War, the hearts of eight men and women were stirred and Jackson Baptist Church, also known at Jackson Missionary Baptist Church was organized. Many of those founding family names, Beard, Booker, Conner and Smoak can be found in the large cemetery next to the church along with early settlers of the area and veterans from the Civil War. Rev. C. E. Barefield preached Jackson Baptist Church’s first sermon in November of 1870. Originally the church met in a home known as the Brown House in which it is said that George Washington spent the night when he visited the area.
In December of 1870 William H. Beard Sr, donated a parcel of land from his homestead located about ten miles east of Sylvania on the old Savannah and Augusta Stage Road at the 57th mile post. Here at this location the first church was built, named Jackson Baptist Church after Rev. G. L. Jackson and the rules of Christian belief were adopted. The first Presbytery of the church included: Rev. G. L. Jackson, Rev. M. N. McCall and Rev. C. E. Barefield. The church must have grown because after only twenty years, Alf Bryant was contracted in 1890 to build the second and present church that you see today. John Edenfield, a deacon of the church financed the contractor’s salary and the church was dedicated on the fifth Sunday in March 1891.
Life was harder back then but these folks found ways to overcome. Let me give you a snapshot of life in Screven County, Georgia in the 1800s from some research I did on the Beard family members. I did not find much on Williams Henry Beard but having died at 65 his widowed wife remarried another man from the area who was listed as a farmer in the census. Then as well as today agriculture plays a big part in this area. Several families I spoke to while visiting the church had multiple members who were farmers. Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Beard enlisted 1861 at the age of 23 with Screven Troop and was transferred to the 5th Georgia Cavalry Regiment in 1863 as a teamster. A teamster was someone who drove horse or mule drawn wagons that kept the troops supplied by making trips back to the supply base (a dirty and sometimes dangerous job). He was paroled at Hillsboro, North Carolina in May 1865. He married in 1866 at the age of 28, became a framer and died in 1910. Bainbridge Decatur Beard was born in 1845, enlisted in 1863 at the age of 18, married after the war in 1871 at the age of 26, had the first of five children in 1878 at the age of 33 (all five were girls) and died in 1919 at the age of 74 probably as a farmer.
Isn’t history fun…here are a few things I learned while researching this church:
President Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act (the draft) in 1940, but the Conscription Act of the 16th of August, 1862 passed by the Confederacy which was in need of troops was actually the first effective military draft in America and the Federal government instituted its own draft a year later, in March 1863. It stated in part…”All male persons between 18 and 45, excepting idiots and those convicted of crime are to be enrolled and subject to draft by order of the President”.
The reason for moving the county seat from Jacksonborough to Sylvania (only miles apart) is unclear but some say it was due to a curse placed on the town by the Methodist preacher Lorenzo Dow who was badly mistreated and threatened while preaching against the lifestyle of those in Jacksonborough. Once a thriving town, a few years after the curse only one building remained. The Seaborn Goodall house where Dow was allowed to stay in safety until leaving.
Over the years Jackson Baptist Church ordained two pastors for the ministry who had a major impact near and far, one as far away as Cuba. The Rev. Moses McCall spent thirty-nine years ministering to the people of Cuba. He was instrumental in developing the Southern Baptist presence there, planting churches and founded the oldest evangelical institution in Cuba, the Havana Baptist Theological Seminary in 1906. The Rev. G. R. McCall pastored churches in and around Screven County and faithfully served the Georgia Missions Board for many years. The McCall family name was very prominent in Georgia. Many were pastors, doctors and military men. Even though Jackson Baptist Church wasn’t around until after the Civil War, its cemetery holds many of the settlers and veterans from that era.