The story of Liberty Methodist Church reads like a great novel, with history, mystery, intrigue, a near death experience, a resurrection, and a great comeback. With all of this, the resilient church has stayed the course for over 200 years. A booklet on the church by Susan Douglas Anthony states, “The history of Liberty Methodist Church is largely a matter of speculation and family tradition, little of which can be proven”.
Liberty church was organized about 1775 by the Collins brothers, Samuel and Stephen, who had come from Cork County, Ireland prior to 1773. Samuel had a part in the Boston Tea Party and fled to Maryland to avoid possible arrest. He and his brother Stephen came under the influence of Bishop Francis Asbury, one of the founders of the United Methodist Church. Asbury later sent them to Georgia as Methodist missionaries. Bishop Asbury preached a sermon here in during his 1790 trip to the area.
Now part of the mystery begins. Settling south of Augusta the brothers started what became known as the “SC” church. Bishop Asbury’s journal in March of 1790 states that he traveled to the “SC church in Richmond County”. The church was probably named after Samuel Collins, but there is some speculation the name came from nearby Spirit Creek or possibly Stephen Collins. Historical information from the daughter of Samuel Collins, born Augusta 2, 1794, attributes the name to her father. Again, part of the mystery of the church.
The exact date of the construction of the first church is not known and it, like many churches of that time, was likely a log structure. A second structure was built on the current site and replaced the log cabin. Again, the construction date is not known. A deed dated January 9, 1804, describes the transfer of title of the property on which the present Liberty Church is situated. The description is followed by a statement, “Having a house of worship just built on it”. In view of this statement it is accepted that the current building was built prior to 1804.The antiquity of the present structure has been confirmed by architect Norman Askins. He dated it in the very early 1800’s.
According to a 2012 article from the Augusta Chronicle, “The earliest history of Liberty is vague, with most accounts – including the book A Lost Arcadia about the early history of Methodism in Georgia and The History of Old Liberty Church by Robert Rhodes – dating the founding to a few months after the official birth of the United Methodist Church in Baltimore in 1784. What is known is that the church was well established and recognized as the oldest in the state when the sanctuary building was erected in 1804. Francis Asbury, one of the founders of the United Methodist Church, gave a sermon in the log cabin that served as the church’s home in 1790. The church is recognized as not only the oldest Methodist church in Georgia, but the third oldest in the United States”.
In the 1960’s Liberty suffered from life threatening ailments. People were migrating from the rural life to urban areas. Worship was held only once or twice a month. Many of the supporters left the church. The current “plank church” fell into disrepair and services were moved to a small nearby building. The life and very existence of Liberty Methodist Church was in jeopardy. In 1979 Pastor Robert Taylor came on the scene. He had grown up nearby, first attended church here, and his parents are buried in the cemetery. Liberty had inspired him to enter the ministry.
Pastor Taylor’s ministry was coming to a close, his final task was to close the struggling Liberty church. The congregation was down to four people and the “plank church” building had not been used for years. Pastor Taylor retired, channeled his energies into Liberty, and found families and friends to repopulate the church. The sanctuary was rebuilt, but kept very original. There is a modest sound system and ceiling fans. The lighting is period based. A wide, oversized door still swings well on it’s hinges. As you enter the restored building you see the pews that are still separated in the middle. You are thankful for the originality of the church.
Today Liberty Methodist Church thrives and is well on it’s way to being here for many years into the future. A great story indeed.
As you have read in the introduction, we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Pastor Robert Taylor who with the help of friends and family resucsitated this marvelous and authentic rural Georgia church in the 1980’s/90’s. Though some modern conveniences are seen, its historic interior was faithfully restored and the basic meeting house design and structure remains as it was over 200 years ago. The presence of the rail dividing the men from women and children is an example of historic detail. It is a lovely sanctuary and quite striking as an example of an early 19th century church. Wide heart pine planks are used for flooring, the walls are sheathed with narrow horizontal pine lumber and the ceiling finished with wider @3 inch pine boards. Crown moulding is very simple. Other decorative embellishments are limited to simple wall sconces, doors and window frames formed of simple, flat plained pine lumber. This interior is charming in its simplicity and reflects well the styles and design popular in rural Georgia churches of the early 19th century.
In this, view of the chancel, communion table and pulpit area we see that 20th century furnishing and decorative items are used. However they are of a design in keeping with the earlier, 19th century period in which the church was built and thrived. Note that the back wall of this area is sheathed with wider boards than the other sanctuary walls… a simple but effective decorative touch.
This detail gives us a chance to really appreciate the genuine nature of the interior of this church. Non-distracting but of-the-period narrow gauge, horizontal wall sheathing. Very wide heart pine floor boards on which rest simple pews with graceful arm rests. Handsome wainscoting capped with a simple moulding chair rail. Striking 16 over 16 windows filled with clear glass panes. The light from these floods into the pure white sanctuary helping to create the warm and welcoming atmosphere within.
This view from the pulpit appropriately presents the “warm and welcoming” atmosphere that exists within Liberty Methodist today.
This view of the chancel provides evidence that Liberty Methodist is no longer in danger but is, in fact flourishing. The organ, pennants, microphones and lovely, well kept furnisings/decoration indicate the presence of a lively and loving congregation. Here we see an example of a revitalized church who’s actual existence was threatened a few decades ago because of loss of congregation and the subsequent neglect occurring because of the hollowing out of so much of our state. The turn around came at the hands of people who chose to embrace a lovely old church and return it to its rightful mission. At HRCGA, we promote and encourage this kind of restoration and revitalization through our photographic documentation of these treasures and by offering to help find financial and organizational support for groups that want to take the successful path of Liberty Methodist. We see this pursuit of our mission as our gift to future generations.
There are 28 Seago interments in the cemetery. The two headstones on the left are that of Robert Middleton Seago and his sister Jeannette, who both died in 1897. The two large markers on the right are that of the Rev. Thomas Verdal (1871 – 1937) and his wife, Louise Seago Verdel who died on August 23, 1914. According to her obituary, she married Thomas “about a year ago”. The obit does not mention that she had surviving children, but according to the Findagrave record, she had twins (a boy and a girl) born on August 21, 1914. We think is is safe to say that Sister Verdel must have died from childbirth complications……..another sad Tale from the Crypt. On a more positive note, son Thomas went on to become a Lt. Colonel in the air force and served in both Korea and Viet Nam and is buried in South Carolina at the national Beaufort National Cemetery. Thank you sir for your service.
There are not many CSA headstones in the cemetery. This one is for Robert T. Winter. There are no dates on the marker but the application for it shows that Private Winter enlisted in February, 1963 and was discharged in May or 1865. It also shows he was born on May 19, 1943 and died on October 29, 1909. The application is signed by George B. Walker and dated September 3, 1947.
The earliest documented headstone is from 1828. However, as in all the older church cemeteries, there are many unmarked graves that were originally marked by wooden markers or small fieldstones that have slowly faded away. There are 202 documented graves in the cemetery according to Findagrave.
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Under denomination, you have Liberty listed as Presbyterian by mistake.
The Collins Family lore does not mention Stephen Collins – only Samuel who was the likely father of a ‘Tribe of Collins Brothers’ who came thru Augusta after the American Revolution.
Stephen did exist but lived in Columbia County, 30 miles north of Liberty Methodist.
Stephen was part of the Collins Tribe but was not the Founder of the ‘S.C. Church’ – the S.C. stood for Samuel Collins, as per very strong Collins Family Tradition from multiple sources including my direct lineage.
The other Collins Brothers in that Tribe in addition to Stephen were likely Sam Jr., Leven, Moses, Lewis, Joseph, John, and George and maybe others.
The Founder of what became Liberty Methodist was the Father of these Collins Brothers.
Thanks for catching the denomination error Matt. Fascinating history on the the Collins founders. Thanks for sharing.
HRCGA.org has done a great service for old churches in rural Georgia.
More people like Dr. Robert Taylor, the man who saved Liberty Methodist, are out there.
It’s my hope that they find HRCGA.org and are inspired by the sacrifices Bob made to resurrect what only had a pulse, in 1980.
So many families have benefited from what Bob was able to accomplish through teamwork and shear will. Liberty Methodist has thrived for 40 years after that Miracle, and will continue to be there for Augusta area families to enjoy forever, hopefully.
As a proud descendant of Samuel Collins, who could be called a Founder of Methodism in our great state, I’d like to thank Bob Taylor’s family and thank the people who attend Liberty now and in the past.
Keep up the great work at HRCGA. Awesome photography and copy writing !
Thanks Matt. It take strong local leadership to save some of these old treasures. We have seen many examples of “preservation angels” that emerge locally as they become aware of the opportunity. Many thanks for the kind words.