Pilgrims Rest Primitive Baptist Church was organized with 8 members in 1904 and was a member of the Alabaha River Association during its entire history. It was one of a group of churches to which we refer as Wiregrass Primitives. The Wiregrass Region of the southeastern United States is characterized by longleaf pine and scrub oak, extending from the coastal areas of southeast Georgia and northeast Florida inland to southeastern Alabama. Wiregrass is a type of coarse grass adapted to life in a sandy pine and scrub oak habitat.
In the 1830’s and 1840’s there was dissent among Baptists over missions and other issues not mentioned in the scriptures. A schism occurred and by 1844 two distinct denominations had emerged, one known as the New School (pro-mission, later to become the Southern or Missionary Baptists) and the other known as the Old School (anti-mission, later to become the Primitive or Regular Baptists). Erroneous interpretation of the term Primitive in describing the denomination has been inflammatory over the years, and the term should be construed as meaning simply “of early times; of long ago; first of the kind; very simple; original.”
During Reconstruction, in 1868, the Georgia Homestead Act was passed that allowed restructuring of individuals’ debts. Among the Primitive Baptist in Southeastern Georgia, anti-homesteaders considered the “avoidance of debt” to be a breach of contract, even if legal. The controversy was divisive enough within the Alabaha River Association that it created a split, and two factions emerged. The pro-homesteaders, led by Elder Reuben Crawford of Shiloh Church, became known as Crawfordites, and the anti-homesteaders, led by Elder Richard Bennett of Rome Church, became known as Bennettites.
Pilgrims Rest was a member of the Crawford faction. The Crawford faction had adherents in the area of southeastern Georgia including Brantley, Charlton, Ware, McIntosh, Pierce and perhaps other counties and in northern Florida. Only four Crawford faction churches remain active with three Elders among them. Pilgrims Rest disbanded in 1964.
Crawford Faction churches resisted “improvements” such as the addition of carpets, wall paneling and ceiling boards. They have no electricity or heating/cooling systems and as a consequence these old meeting houses give a glimpse into our past. At one time there were hundreds of Primitive Baptist churches across South Georgia and they all were similar in appearance to those few remaining today. Though similar, the Crawford meeting houses are not identical. Pilgrims Rest is unusual but not unique, in that it has two double doors on each end where single doors are expected.
The interior of the old Crawfordite meeting houses was arranged with two (sometimes three if there were two doors in the front) aisles that were perpendicular to each other. One aisle connected the two end doors and the other connected the front door and the stand (the pulpit). Elderly men used one side entrance and sat to one side of the stand and women used the opposite end and sat on the side of the stand opposite the men. The general congregation used the front entrance. The benches (pews) look as if they were agonizingly uncomfortable, especially considering the very lengthy services.
The stand or pulpit in the Crawford meeting houses was invariably elevated and had a window placed directly behind. There is a book rail for bible and songbook of the presiding Elder. A short bench, usually of the same design as the benches for the congregation, was located in the stand and was for the use of Elders, there often being several members of the same church who were Elders. Another bench was placed, along with a table, in front of the stand for the use of the clerk and moderator.
Crawfordites do not allow ornamentation of their meeting houses, believing it distracts from the worship of God. Elder Jason Deal of Comfort Chapel Primitive Baptist Church in Waycross, Georgia, noted that conservative Primitive Baptists use “only the basics for the meeting house, so that the believer is not distracted by the ornamentation found in other more decorated and more modern facilities.” Crawfordite meeting houses are plainly constructed, unpainted, and have no features introduced for the comfort of attendees.
There are only two Confederate veterans in the cemetery. One of them is William Thomas Bennett (1833 – 1907), who served in Clinch’s 4th Ga Cavalry. He had been drawing an annual Indigent Confederate Pension of $60 for several years, wherein he stated he had no assets and no income. His widow Jerusha applied for the $60 pension that was due him when he died in January of 1907. The Federal Census of 1870 shows him living with Jerusha in Subdivision 130 in Ware County along with seven children.
Here lies Henry P. Grantham who served with the 29th Ga Infantry. His military headstone shows a birth date of 1840 but the Federal Census of 1900 and other records indicate a birth year of 1843. In 1900 he is shown as single and living in Jesup with his brother Francis along with his wife and three children. His occupation is listed as “Timber & Civer Tie Cuter”. We think this was probably a transcription error and should be “Timber and Cross Tie Cutter”, servicing the railroads. Let us know if you think we missed it.
The preservative power of metal roofing and heart pine construction is evident as this building has been out of use for fifty-three years and remains solid. The heart pine foundation blocks have been replaced with cement blocks, and portions of the “boards” (weatherboards or siding) have been replaced. Two sets of wooden steps remain. There have been a few efforts at maintenance, probably done by family members of some of those buried there. The old church still stands with dignity in the rural piney woods of Brantley County.
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