The roots of New Ford Baptist, one of the oldest congregations in Georgia, go back to 1795 when George Washington was still in office. The church was originally located on the banks of Newford Creek, located not far away from the present location. One of the first pastors of Newford was James Mathews, Sr. who moved into Georgia in 1782. His first wife had died but Rev. Mathews remarried in 1786 and had twelve children as a result of this union. According to a church history written in 1882, his pastorage was very successful and he Baptized over 100 new church members. He was a close associate of Jesse Mercer, who preached at his funeral in 1822. In 1832, the current church was built on land donated by William McLendon and over the years, the name evolved from Newford Baptist to New Ford Baptist.
The first Federal Census in 1790, reveals that African Americans made up 19% of Wilkes County population. However, Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin in 1794, and the resulting boom in Wilkes County cotton production greatly increased the black population. By 1860, it was 69%. Since the 1830’s, people of color had been allowed to unite as members of the church but worshiped in separate services. Church minutes reveal that in 1857, New Ford had a membership of 125 members and that 86 of these were black.
After the war, in November of 1866, a specific request was made that the colored members of the congregation be allowed to have separate worship services at New Ford and the church was shared in that fashion with the white members. Later, in the 1870s, the white congregation decided to build a new church a short distance away in Danburg and discussions were held to transfer ownership of the original 1832 church to the black members. In 1879, the African American congregation of New Ford purchased the old church and approximately six acres of land on which it stands.
New Ford has an active congregation and a proud history that goes back over 200 years. We are indebted to the membership for being such wonderful stewards of this important part of Georgia history. We are especially indebted to the Rev. Ed Anderson, Sr. who has long been a student of Wilkes County African American history. He is also a fifth generation member of New Ford and serves as the Church Assistant Pastor and Adult Sunday School Teacher. More of his historical coverage of New Ford Baptist can be found HERE
As we saw in the first lovely exterior photo, this old church is in remarkable condition given its age. Its added on, matching twin towers are flanked by the original single gable structure and its double door entryway and porch. Here we are looking at an external photo that is focused on the Northwest corner of New Ford. In the southern background we can see a portion of its cemetery. We are not sure when the matching towers and the front porch were incorporated into New Ford’s design. We think it was probably in or just after 1879. That was when the white congregation moved to Danburg and the African American Congregation of New Ford purchased the original 1832 Church. This design was used by a number of post Reconstruction African American congregations in that era.
We are now within the present building looking from the pulpit toward the double door’s entryway . Of course, this sanctuary view of 2021 bears little resemblance to the original, New Ford, 1832 Sanctuary. On the other hand, the continuous, loving stewardship provided by New Ford congregants presents us with an immaculate and welcoming sanctuary which remains active and effective having lasted over 200 years with many more to come. There are few such resilient and historic rural churches still serving in Georgia.
New Ford offers an active and joyous house of worship. Though the musical instrument support is not large, this wonderful old piano stands at the ready to provide accompaniment to the congregation or choir as well as others who attend. It doesn’t take a lot to make a joyful noise at New Ford.
Here we see that the chancel, pulpit, apse and choir area is prepared for continuing services of all kinds for the congregation after over 200 years of service. We know that the roof does not leak, the structure is solid and the building is sturdy and sound. Because the church is famous and revered throughout Wilkes and adjacent counties, it is clear that this beloved relic stands a good chance to still remain in service for another century or so. We are delighted to be able to tell its unique story and offer it support in any way we can.
The cemetery at New Ford is the site of a lot of unmarked graves African American graves or those marked with simple fieldstones. This was simply a matter of economics since headstones cost money and the freed slaves and their first generation children had very little in this post Civil War sharecropping system. There also would be some white graves in the cemetery that may be unmarked, since there is only one documented white grave. In this period many of the white burials would have been made on the home property rather than church property.
Drewie J. Bradley’s tombstone reads “Georgia PFC Co. A 529 Engr SVC BN World War I”. He was born September 25, 1890 and died April 21, 1962.The application for a military headstone for his grave was applied for by his widow, Fannie B.Bradley. The 1940 Wilkes County census lists Drewie J. Bradley, age 49, farmer, owns own home, and Fannie Lou Bradley his wife, age 39. The 1900 Wilkes County, Georgia census shows Drew J. Bradley, age 10, son of John Bradley, age 54 and Caroline Bradley, age 45. Drew was the youngest of 8 children in this household. Both of John Bradley’s parents were born in Virginia. The 1910 Wilkes County census shows John Bradley, Sr. Mulatto, living on Plantation Road.
Effie Benson was born May 10, 1873 and died October 10, 1945. In the 1910 Wilkes County, Georgia census Effie Benson is listed as age 30. She is shown as married to Sidney Benson, age 23. They had been married two years and this was a second marriage for Effie. Three children were in the household and listed as step children to Sidney Benson. The children all had last name Tait.
George W. McLendon died April 1917. The 1910 Wilkes County census shows George W. McLendon, age 53, with race mulatto. He was a farmer. He was able to read and write and owned his farm free of mortgage. He had been married 36 years. His wife, Thersey McLendon, was 52 ears old and had given birth to 14 children with 9 still living in 1910. George’s wife, Thena/Thersey is also buried at New Ford Baptist Church Cemetery.
Charity A. McLendon was born October 1, 1820 and died September 26, 1904. Charity McClendon, age 37, is shown in the 1870 Wilkes County census. She was a widow with seven children age infant to 18 years. By 1900 she was living in the household with her son, Toombs McLendon and his family. Both Charity and Toombs and some of Charity’s other children are listed in some records as mulattos.
Joe Sutton was born May 15, 1855 and died April 30, 1917. The 1900 Wilkes County census shows Joe Sutton, age 46, married 26 years with occupation brick mason. In the same family were his wife, Joanna, age 43, with occupation laundress. She had given birth to 9 children with 4 still living. This census also included 3 children, ages 4, 6, and 10. They were shown as living on Freedman Street. Joe Sutton married Joanna Ganus February 25, 1875 in Wilkes County. The 1879-1883 Georgia property Tax Digest shows Joe Sutton a freedman working for J. A. Sutton. Four other Suttons, Aaron, George, Andrew, and Clark are also listed as freedman working for J. A. Sutton. J. A. Sutton was the son of Moses Sutton who died in 1855. The estate records of Moses Sutton mention slaves Aaron, Clark and George.
Charles Robinson was born in 1843 and died December 20, 1906. The administrator for his estate was W. A. Booker. On August 2, 1867, Charles/Chas Robinson’s name appears in Georgia, U. S. Returns and Qualified Voters and Reconstruction Oath Books, 1867-1869. The name next to his is Anderson Robinson. Anderson Robinson was about four years old than Charles Robinson.
Ben Robinson’s marker reads “Georgia PVT 372 Inf 93 Div”. His World War I service card shows he was born at Danburg, Georgia. He was inducted into service February 26, 1918 at Toccoa, Georgia at the age of 23 years. His card shows he was severely wounded in action September 29, 1918 and that he served overseas from June 30, 1918 to February 11, 1919. It states he was honorably discharged April 25, 1919 and was 0 per cent disabled. He died May 15, 1932.
Emily McLendon/McClenon’s tombstone says she was born in 1826 and died in 1898. She was the wife of Ben McLendon who died in 1904. A death certificate for Harry McLendon in Glynn County, Georgia shows he died at age 48 on March 27, 1931. His parents are listed as Ben McLendon and Emily Jones, both born in Washington, Georgia. The 1870 Wilkes County, Georgia census shows Benjamin McClendon, age 40, farm laborer with his wife Emily McClendon, age 37, keeping house, and children Augustus, 17; Moses, 15; Jacob, 10; Eviline, 6; Budd, 3; and Sarah, 2. By the time of the 1880 census Ben was 57 and Emily was 40. Their children were Ben, 19; Jack, 13; Sallie, 11; Thomas, 7; Allen, 5 and Harry, 2. By the time of the 1900 Wilkes County, Georgia census Ben McClendon is shown as age 70, married 47 years and his wife Emeline McClendon is shown as age 63, has given birth to 14 children with 9 still living. Emily’s tombstone states she died in 1898 but it was apparently put up sometime after her husband died in 1904 since his death is also on her marker. Since Emeline/Emily is the wife of Ben in 1900 and they had been married 47 years there is possibly an error on her marker for her date of death. Also, the name on her marker is spelled McClenon but should probably be McClendon.
Martha B. Bradley’s date of death and birth are difficult to read but she may have been born in 1885 and died in 1886 making her just an infant when she died. If she was born in 1865 as suggested by Rev. Anderson she would have been about 21 when she died. Either way, no record of her was found except what is on her cemetery marker.
Samuel T. Haws died December 21, 1849 at the age of 21 years, 6 months, and 25 days. Although no record of him was found other than what is on his tombstone, we can surmise that he was white as no slave would have died in 1849 and had this type of tombstone.
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