It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of Silas and Jesse Mercer and the Powelton Baptist Church to the remarkable growth and success of the Baptist denomination in Post-Revolutionary War Georgia. The history books are full of references to these icons and to the importance and stature of Powelton Baptist. The meeting house you see above has been modified several times over the years but the oldest part of the Powelton building dates from 1798, according to A History of the Georgia Baptist Association. This makes Powelton the oldest existing Baptist church building in the state, and it speaks to the importance of the village of Powelton at the end of the 18th century. The bell tower and the covered porch were added in 1822, just in time for the meeting of the first Georgia Baptist Convention. The church holds a special place in Baptist history – the General Committee of the Georgia Baptists was organized at Powelton Baptist in 1803, and the Baptist State Convention was formed here in 1822. Sessions were held at the church in 1823 and 1832. To make the history of Powelton Baptist even more rich, Georgia governor William Rabun lived in Powelton and was a member of the church.
Powelton was the site of many historical meetings as the Baptists aggressively recruited members and began to deal with the challenges of governance. The Baptists were highly decentralized, which appealed to these rugged individuals who had just successfully thrown off the yoke of British control. In the Baptist religion, there was little or no central authority and this presented challenges to the leaders of the movement such as the Mercers of Powelton and the Marshalls of Kiokee. The appeal of local control resulted in some dramatic growth – from 1780 to 1790, the number of Baptists in Georgia had grown from 261 to 3,355 – and most of that had come in the first few years after the War.
The Powelton church began with 26 original members and peaked in the early 1800’s at 250. The first pastor of Powell’s Creek Church was Silas Mercer, the father of the famous Jesse Mercer, for whom Mercer University in Macon is named. Jesse Mercer became pastor of this church in February 1797 and served as the pastor until 1825. During his ministry, 200 people were baptized in the still visible, spring fed baptismal font just across the highway. Amazingly, this sanctuary has been serving the surrounding community for well over 200 years. The present congregation, though small, is still going strong.
Be sure to click and scroll on the gallery photos below for more information about Powelton Baptist.
This sanctuary dates back to 1798, with later additions springing up around it. The interior of the church is spartan even today, as would be expected of a structure built of local materials in the late eighteenth century. The structural members and floors were all cut, and hand planed from the giant pine trees present on or near the site. At the rear of the sanctuary, two rooms were added during remodeling in the early 20th Century.
The pews are original. The subtle notches running down the middle of the backs of the center pews accommodated the railing that originally separated the sexes, men to the left, women and children to the right. This separation also extended to the original entry doors of the sanctuary. The men entered through one, women and children through the other.
A very historic church for the establishment of the Baptist denomination in Georgia. Well worth a visit. Especially given that there are two other very historic chuches nearby.
The 1798 structure consisted of a rectangular sanctuary alone. In the photo, that initial structure is represented by the larger center gable. Forward of, and to the left and right of that sanctuary gable, we see additions that were made in the early 20th Century. Other additions not visible in the photo include school rooms projecting from the sides of the original church building as well as a rectangular addition to the east wall which provided an expanded chancel/pulpit area and apse. The memorial seen within the enclosure the foreground is to William Rabun, who died in Powelton while still governor.
In a wooded hollow across the road is this spring-fed baptismal pool that we are told has been in use since the church was formed in 1786. Baptism by immersion remains one of the basic tenants of many southern Baptist churches.
Several years ago a researcher with the Georgia Baptist Convention discovered this remarkable photo in the Georgia Historical Society Archives in Savannah. The photo was taken just a few years after the Civil War. The camera was set up on the shoulder of the main road through the village, now County Road 22. We are looking at the building's southwest corner. According to the History of the Georgia Baptist Association, the first, much smaller sanctuary, was built on this site in 1798. That structure was left standing but expanded during the first quarter of the 19th century and was configured as shown above in this photo taken around 1869. In the photo, we see a traditional single gable, and a belfry/steeple located above the front entrance to the sanctuary which was common in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in rural Georgia. This is believed to be the way the church appeared in 1822 when the Georgia Baptist Convention, led by Jesse Mercer, was organized at the Powelton Baptist Meeting House. Jesse Mercer served as Powelton’s pastor for many years. Additions for Sunday School space and a choir loft were added to this building in the late 19th/early 20th century. The old steeple was removed and a new one was incorporated above the new Sunday School addition. Because the present church incorporates elements of the original structure and rests on its early foundation, we believe Powelton Baptist may be the oldest Baptist sanctuary and congregation that has been in continuous use in the state. Use of photo courtesy of the Georgia Historical Commission, Savannah, Georgia.
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Here is the deed record for the land:
2 June 1796 – WILLLIAM MADDOX Senr of county of Hancock and the Society of Baptists known by the name of Powells Creek Church in consideration of the sum of two dollars to him in hand…hath granted bargained sold released and confirmed…all that Lott of Land containing two acres situate, lying and being in county of Hancock in Pawallon…bounded…Eas the Spring, and including half the waters of the same…unto the said Society of Baptists by the name of Powells Creek Church…witnessed in presence of Samul Maddux, Wingate Maddux, Jas Harvey…recorded 4th Dec 1806
Source: Hancock County, Georgia, Deeds, Vols. H-I 1805-1812, H – 1806, page 140, citing William Maddox to Powells Creek Church , Digital images: Familysearch.org [database with images], image 114 of 630, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C95Y-PL9?i=113&cat=215305
The deed mentions the Spring which might be the bottom center picture.
This great Brenda. Thanks for adding to our body of knowledge about this important aspect of Georgia History.
My GGGF Moses Powell settled this area after the Revolutionary War. We are visiting this area in Nov. 2018.
Thanks Cecil. If you have any early history about the community of Powelton, we would love to see it. Just submit to [email protected].
Are there any early records for this church I have several Powell ancestors living is area in the late 1700’s early 1800’s…?
There should be a lot available in the Baptist archives in the Tarver Library at Mercer University.
Where is spring located
Across the road from the church.