Mt. Zion Primitive Baptist

Thomas County
Org 1845
Photography by Steve Robinson

Located in Thomas County, this is another one of the Georgia Wiregrass Primitive Baptist churches, a very unusual, little known and fascinating part of early Georgia religious history. They are also known as Hardshell Baptists, and the architecture and design of these Wiregrass Primitive churches are representative of this all pervasive, conservative approach to life and religion. All the churches were built on site of native materials with local church labor and therefore will vary slightly from church to church. However, the basic design was always the same…… paint, no steeple, no window treatments, no distinct doors or entry points, low to the ground etc. etc.. The inside is just as sparse, quaint and unusual as you will see in this series of images. Note that the WPB’s did not allow musical instruments into the churches. No distractions like pianos or organs, yet they loved to sing and according to John Crowley’s book – Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South – singing formed an important part of worship and, in the absence of a preacher, furnished the bulk of the devotions.

We do not know the exact date of the formation of Mt. Zion but we think it would be prior to 1850 and perhaps prior to 1840. This is based on the fact that the oldest documented grave in the cemetery is 1851. In addition, Mt. Zion was part of the Ochlocknee Association of WPB’s, as was the Bethlehem church located in nearby Brooks County that we know was formed in 1834. The only Mt. Zion reference in Crowley’s book revolves around an internal dispute over a doctrine that was considered heretical by the more conservative members and came to be known as “Coonism” – based on ideas attributed to Isaac Smith Coon. The book states that in 1876, the Ochlocknee Association dropped Antioch, Mt. Zion and Mt. Moriah from the roles for ‘advocating the two seed doctrine‘ attributed to Brother Coon, Elder Daniel Parker and other prominent “anti-missionary” proponents. Mt. Zion was returned to the Association in 1879.

The records of Mt. Zion are either missing or incomplete, but it is believed that Mt. Zion is the oldest church in the community. The present building is not the original one but no contemporary records have been found to date it. Early records were kept by the church clerks in their homes and were often unintentionally taken along in a move to a new locale. The cemetery is also the oldest in the community with many graves from the mid to late 1800s. Cemetery listings note many unmarked or unidentified graves.

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