Kiokee Baptist

Columbia County
Org 1772
Photography by John Kirkland

The old Kiokee church is just an amazing piece of rural Georgia history that deserves some attention. Kiokee is the oldest continuing Baptist Church in the state, having been founded in 1772 by Daniel Marshall and continuing to this day. Kiokee was originally a mission outpost from Big Stevens Creek Church in South Carolina and became a Baptist church in the spring of 1772, probably taking the name Kiokee after the creek on which it was located. The congregation of Kiokee Baptist has assembled in six different buildings over the course of its history. ‘From 1772 to 1792 the church met in the log cabin constructed by Daniel Marshall. This small building was similar to Quaker-style constructions of that era, probably twenty feet wide and twenty-four feet long. In 1792 a second building was constructed on the site, or near the site, of the original house of worship at Kiokee Creek. A more commodious brick building became the third church building at the same site in 1808, and it still stands to this day. An Appling chapel was built about 1828 and used as a mission of the church until it was destroyed by a tornado in 1875. The fifth structure was an abandoned Methodist church building known as “St. Mary’s.” It was bought and moved to Appling in 1907 and used until 1937. The sixth meeting house currently serves as a chapel and was erected in 1937. The seventh and current meeting house was completed in 1995.’

There are three things about the Kiokee Baptist church history that are totally unique i.e. the longevity of the church, the legacy of the Marshall family and the architecture of the church you see above. In terms of longevity, the congregation of Kiokee has been in continuous service for almost 250 years. Or put in another perspective, the church was founded by Daniel Marshall 17 years before George Washington became our first President. The history of Kiokee is also unique in terms of the legacy of the founding pastors, Daniel Marshall (1706-1784) his son Abraham (1748-1819) and grandson Jabez (1795-1832). The Marshall family thus served Kiokee for 61 years and were instrumental in the organization of the Baptist denomination all across Georgia and the south. Finally, the church is very special in terms of construction technique, quality and architectural style.

In order to build the structure you see above, you would have to be highly skilled at brick-making, masonry, carpentry and architectural design. Bricks were very unusual as a building material in this time period due to the fact that it was a highly skilled, time consuming and therefore expensive process requiring an abundance of quality raw material and transportation manpower. There are only three rural churches made of brick built prior to 1820 in Georgia that we know of i.e. Jerusalem Lutheran in Effingham County (1767), Bethesda Baptist in Greene County (1818) and Kiokee (1808). The little church above is a tribute to a master builder.

We wish we knew more of the details surrounding the design and construction of Kiokee but one can make some good assumptions based on the realities of what would be required to construct a church like this in an 1808 setting in a remote location in the Georgia backcountry. Regardless of design expertise it would take a lot of very skilled labor. This sanctuary was built by highly skilled tradesmen who were at the top of their craft, and these skills could only be found in the wealthy planter class of these early settlers. We need to keep in mind that great wealth was beginning to be created in this part of Georgia due to the presence of three major economic events, one technical and two social. The technical enabler of the wealth creation was the cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney in 1794. The social aspect was two fold 1) the huge importation of slaves necessary to manage the labor requirements of the plantation system and 2) the vast amounts of fertile land that had been ‘ceded’ by the Cherokee and Creek nations. Given the fertility of the East Georgia soil and the fact that the Indian cessations had created huge amounts of it at a very low cost, there were fortunes to be made. The little church above is a very good example of some of the best skills this new economic ecosystem had created. King Cotton had arrived in the Georgia backcountry.

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