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.
For map and location of Hancock County churches click here.