Piney Grove Primitive Baptist

Ware County
Org 1875
Photography by Randall Davis

Piney Grove Primitive Baptist is another of the group of churches referred to as Wiregrass Primitives. The Wiregrass Region of the southeastern United States is characterized by longleaf pine and scrub oak trees and generally sandy soil, 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. Both groups claim to be the legitimate Alabaha River Association, so when reference is made to one of the Crawford churches as belonging to the Alabaha River Association it usually followed by (Crawford faction) or (Bennett faction) for clarity. 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.

A split occurred at Piney Grove over the Sacred Harp/modernization controversy that resulted in the loss of their only elder. Faced with a dwindling congregation and no elder, the church disbanded in 1996. We are fortunate that the church still exist. During the years following disbanding it was the target of vandals; in one instance dry palmetto leaves were used to start a fire inside the church with the obvious intent of burning it down. The fire consumed the tender but the heart pine did not catch and somehow the fire burned itself out with little damage. Out of use for decades, the church is in a good state of preservation which can be attributed to care given by Thrift family members.

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