Liberty Baptist is a stunning and majestic rural church located just north of the Florida line. To get to it you have to travel on a rural dirt road that is a mixture of red dirt and white sand, with large oaks loaded with Spanish moss on both sides. Nothing prepares you as you round a slight curve in the old road and suddenly there she is……nestled among the oaks and the moss. My goodness, what a sight.
The story of Liberty Baptist goes back to a time of conflict within the south Georgia Baptist community. During the years 1837-1841 the Baptist denomination in this part of the state was wrestling with the new questions of Missions, Sunday-school and ministerial support. In 1841 the Ocklochnee anti-Missionary Baptist Association added an article to their original Articles of Faith making the famous Thirteenth Article, in which they declared non-fellowship with any member who engaged or believed in Sunday-school work, missions, theological schools or any other new-fangled institutions of the day. This was the beginning of the beautiful Liberty Church. When the above was passed, Sister Nancy Hagan, a resident of Thomas now Brooks County, asked for her letter from Mount Moriah Church and, at her own request, was excommunicated. She and seven others of like mind constituted this church, and named it Liberty at the request of Sister Hagan. As the historical marker points out, Mt. Moriah ceased to exist long ago.
The church you see is the second location of Liberty Baptist. The original church building was evidently located on, or near the old King Plantation, as it was sold to them when a new Church was built. About 1857, the Trustees moved that a new church be built and it was decided to do so. The new structure, to be located at Grooverville, would be 40 by 50 feet. The new building was constructed of sturdy pine timbers with a steeple, high gothic windows and columns of heart pine at the entrance. It also contained a gallery with graduated pews and sawdust on the floor where the black members worshiped. In the main building, metal cuspidors were placed as ‘some of the brethren used tobacco freely.’ The first meeting in the new church was held on June 19, 1858 with preaching by Elder W.J. Bluett.
The original missionary heritage of the church was an important aspect of Liberty Baptist and continued to be so for many years. The church sent missions to several foreign countries and also served as the mother church for this part of Georgia, giving birth to several strong Missionary Baptist churches in the area. Thank you for supporting Historic Rural Churches of Georgia and helping us spread the word. Please be sure to sign up to receive new postings on featured churches.
Reaching for the heavens, this uncommon, obelisk style steeple speaks volumes about the congregation which founded Liberty. It says, “… this is a special place.” This steeple, rising from the front gable, center steeple design structure makes a very grand statement. Furthermore, the ornate belfry and the relatively fine finish carpentry seen on the pediment upon which it sits represent an architectural sophistication not found in many rural churches of this era.
When you visit Liberty Baptist and stand before the front door, you have a view that has not materially changed in 156 years. This front door has welcomed parishioners since the building’s consecration in 1858. The styling, millwork, fit, finish and well formed Gothic arch enclosing the tall, four panel doors are made of heart pine. The quality of this door and frame also reflect the fact that the Brooks County community of Grooverville was at that time, a relatively prosperous agricultural community. To put up a church this grand took talent, fine materials and money.
It is significant that the six matching gothic windows at Liberty perfectly match the front doors. “Doors?”, you ask? Yes, there are two front doors, one for the white congregation and one, smaller Gothic door for the colored parishioners just to the left of the white entrance. You will see that doorway clearly in our closing photograph.
Slave galleries were common in prosperous white churches in the first half of the 19th century. The entry to the gallery is through the smaller, gothic front door mentioned in the previous text. If you look closely at the right rear corner in the photo above, you will see the area where the boxed-in slanted steps are concealed. No mingling of the races. After the war, African American churches began to spring up all over the south as the races began to worship separately. According to church history ‘In 1844, John Norris, a slave, was accepted as the first colored member of Liberty Church. From that time slaves were, received as members until some time after the war when they withdrew to organize a church of their own.’ John Norris and several other freed slaves then built their own church, it was called First Elizabeth MBC. We are pleased to report that it still exists today about a mile down Grooverville Rd. It is very active and well attended.
This close-up view of the altar area and two of the windows again shows the sophistication of the mid-1800’s design and decorative elements we find at Liberty. The Gothic panels outlined along the rear wall repeat the recurring window and door treatments throughout the church. The Gothic tracery of the arch points at the apex of each window are another example of complex design and execution that could not possibly have been replicated by most rural Georgia churches of the time. Cotton was selling at all time highs since the War and prosperity seemed to be guaranteed for years to come! Just as important as Liberty’s successful embrace to maintain the original features and design elements of the sanctuary is the fact that the church has survived and remained viable by tastefully bringing 21st century improvements to their mid-19th century domain. Electricity, AC/fans, modern bathroom facilities provide what the congregation needs in 2014 to survive in and enjoy the historic sanctuary. One feels comfortable and within the historic embrace of Liberty in the sanctuary pictures above.
The initial view as you enter the sanctuary is stunning, peaceful and reverential……..just a remarkable juxtaposition of images. Vertical columns, horizontal gallery support, the signature Gothic arches and the simple church pews are blended in the most delightful way. On a sunshiny day, the lighting is perfect and the unimpeded sight lines invite the eye and spirit to drink in the whole delightful view. Welcome to the house of the Lord.
Liberty Baptist is a south Georgia architectural masterpiece that has been well cared for by the Grooverville community for over 150 years. How majestic is this image of her profile against the clouds and nestled in the bosom of the oaks and moss? Long may she reign! Oh yes, and remember that slave door to the gallery entrance we pointed out?
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As a descendent of Nancy Cone Hagan, I wish to thank you for the history and the photograph of this lovely and historic church. It makes me so happy it has been so beautifully preserved.
Your map is incorrect as well as the description of it “being around a bend” on a dirt road. While it is on a dirt road, it’s just off Grooverville Rd, out of Quitman going southeast. This church is located on Liberty Church Rd. just down from my grandmother’s blueberry farm.
Corrected the coordinates. You can’t see the church until you get right on it and that was what we were trying to describe. Thanks for helping us with the map.