Pleasant Grove Baptist is a classic 19th century rural church located in a very remote location in Stewart County. The community was once known as Julia, but is now known as Union. Local sources tell us they think the name Julia was for one of the original founder’s daughters. Even though the location is remote today and sparsely populated, things were very different when the church was founded in 1851. In the 1850 Federal Census, Stewart County was the tenth most populous county in Georgia. Cotton was king and Stewart County was one of Georgia’s top three cotton producers (more than 7.6 million pounds in 1850).
Stewart County was formed in 1830, shortly after the 2nd Treaty of Indian Springs which ceded Creek lands between the Flint River and the Chattahoochee. However, hostilities were frequent as the Creeks resisted being pushed across the river into Alabama. Stewart County settlers called on Governor William Schley for protection. He sent state militia volunteers to build three forts, Ingersoll, Jones, and McCreary. On May 15, 1836, the river settlement of Roanoke was burned by a reported 300 Indians. On June 9 the Battle of Shepherd’s Plantation marked an end to skirmishes in the county and, essentially, in the state.
The church and the adjoining cemetery have been well maintained. Many of Stewart County’s early settlers are buried here, such as Bryant W. Steely who was an elder of the church when it was established in 1852 and served as its pastor until his death in 1858. There are 176 recorded interments in the cemetery, the most recent dated 2020.
A 1902 obituary in the Lumpkin Independent tells us there was once a church-sponsored school at this location, described as a “little log house” that was attended by the deceased in 1878. Another article from the Lumpkin Independent, dated Oct. 1896, tells us the “The Baptist Association was held at Pleasant Grove last week. Immense crowds were there each day and everything passed off very pleasantly…..tables were laden with an abundance of good things and no one was neglected….The people of Pleasant Grove deserve great praise for their zeal and energy….May they always prosper and their history of good deeds continue”. We do not know when the present church was built, but we estimate sometime in the late 1880s.
Pleasant Grove is indeed a jewel, a step back into the 19th century. We are grateful for the stewardship that can be passed on to subsequent generations. Be sure to click and scroll the photos below to learn more about this rural treasure.
Standing at the pulpit looking out at the sanctuary gives us a lovely view of the warm light that pours in through the large, nine over nine windows.
The interior space of this church is a simple but elegant place to worship.
The sanctuary has undergone very few changes over the years, providing us a glimpse into what worship might have been like in the late 1800s.
John McDowell was born October 25, 1808 and died June 24, 1880. Sarah Ann Massey McDowell was born March 30, 1835 and died April 11, 1890. The 1860, Stewart County census shows his occupation as overseer. The value of his real estate is shown as $600 and the value of his personal estate as $4000 which would include his 4 slaves. In the same household is McDowell for R. Toombs with real estate shown as valued at $30,000 and personal estate valued at $67,300. The 1860 slave schedule shows McDowell was overseer for R Toombs. Deeds in Stewart County show Robert Toombs from Wilkes County owned a plantation in Stewart County along the Chattahoochee River.
Mary A. Burks was born December 6, 1834 and died October 24, 1906. In the 1850, Marion County census, she is shown as 15 years old. She was the daughter of Marshall and Lily Perdue. He was born in 1801 in North Carolina. Lilly Murkeu Stewart Perdue was born in 1802.
Thomas Monroe Harden was born in South Carolina and died May 13, 1889. He married Mary Frances Newby (1831-1881) in 1847 in Jasper County. Her obituary states she had been a member of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church for 28 years. They had 10 children with nine still living at the time of her death.
William Thomas Pope was born March 1, 1826 in Laurens County and died May 27, 1899. He married Julia Ann Elizabeth Chesnut (1833-1909) in 1850 in Stewart County. He served in Company E, 31st Georgia Infantry, CSA. He was hospitalized in Lynchburg, Virginia and discharged October 5, 1862 due to disease. His father, Wilson Pope married Nancy Gilbert Rowland on December 28, 1818 in Greene County.
Charles Walter Chestnut was born April 8, 1808 in South Carolina and died January 22, 1891. His wife was Martha A Jones (1812-1889). His obituary states “he built the mill house owned by R. H. Varns near town. He was a Mason and a consistent member of the Baptist Church for more than fifty years.” Lumpkin Independent, January 24, 1891.
Elder Bryant Whitefield Steely was born December 26, 1810 and died March 9, 1858. His marker states “He constituted this church in 1852 and was its pastor until his death”. He married Frances Delk (1805-1863) on September 2, 1838 in Crawford County. They had five children.
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To the best of my knowledge an ancestor of mine named Charles Chesnut was a founding member and Deacon there. He is burried there along with other relatives.
Thanks for sharing this part of the story with us, Gary.
Please research and add Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church in Americus Georgia, established in 1866,located at 225 Forrest Street
Americus, Georgia 31709
You can suggest churches here: hrcga.org/suggest-a-church