Red Hill AME, also known as Turner Chapel AME, is one of those mysteries that we encounter all too frequently. She is located in a very remote part of Terrell County on a dirt road with no signs of habitation for miles. Scenes like this are moving to us and we would like to learn more about the origins and the history of this old remote treasure that is almost gone but not forgotten. These old churches disappear without a trace eventually but the cemetery and the headstones of the old congregants who worshiped here endure, although in a weed covered and unkempt environment. We estimate the congregation was formed in the early 1890s based on some of the oldest interments.
Typically these old abondoned rural churches have graveyards that reflect the economic fortunes of its congregants, most of whom struggled to get by in a world of share cropping and subsistance farming. Almost all of them have more than a few unmarked graves. Headstones were simply not affordable for many of them. However, the cemetery at Red Hill has some striking headstones, especially with regard to the Flewellen family plot that you will see in the gallery photos below. A little research into the Flewellen family reveals something even more remarkable.
The patriarch of the family was Jacob Samuel Flewellen. His headstone, as you will see, is made of specialty marble and gives you the impression of a prosperous, late 19th century white planter who created this impressive family burial plot surrounded by wrought iron fencing. This is indeed the case, with one important and significant exception. Sam Flewellen was born a slave in 1845. At the end of the Civil War, Sam would have been twenty years old, without a last name and unable to read and write. Further federal census information reveals that he could not read and write in the 1900 census , at the age of 54, but he could read and write in the 1910 census. His first wife, Mattie, died in 1895 and was almost certainly born a slave. Sam nontheless, became a man of some standng in Terrell County. He purchased land, borrowed money and paid a poll tax to vote.
A 1910 Terrell County map housed at the Georgia State Archives contains the name Sam Flewellen showing where his property was located. Just to the northeast of there the map shows Red Hill church and school as two separate buildings. The school building is now completely gone. Nearby Red Hill the map shows the name W. L. Randall, an African American born into slavery. The 1870 Terrell County census lists the occupation of W. L. (Wesley) Randall as “attending school”. He was 25 years old and free in 1870 but would not have been allowed to attend school while he was a slave. We don’t know where he attended school but later census records confirm he could both read and write. Though no tombstone exists for him he likely attended Red Hill Church and is buried in the cemetery there.
The name Flewellen is an unusual one, and we suspect Sam took the name of his former owner. Some research reveals that there were several slaveholders in the area named Flewellen. James Theweatt Flewellen was the largest with 76 slaves. He was a wealthy man who was a Lt. Col in the 39th Alabama Infantry Regiment. He was born in Jones County Georgia in 1828. He attended Oxford College, William and Mary and graduated from Harvard Law School. He was both a lawyer and a successful planter.
We will update any additional information if it comes forth. These old rural cemeteries are all over Georgia and we love to dig out a least a few “Tales from the Crypt” that tell us a little bit about the remarkable people who built this country. The old churches were the center of their lives and it is a shame to see some of them wasting away in the pines, soon to disappear altogether. Red Hill AME is one of those, but even though she is almost gone she is not forgotten.
Be sure to click and scroll on the photos below for more informations and more tales from the crypt.
It is remarkable how the pine trees quickly take over once the church is abandoned and neglected. Soon the roof is compromised and the structure collapeses, leaving only the old brick footings and perhaps some scraps of the rusty tin roof.
When we first slipped around the pine trees and brush that has now taken over the entry porch steps and door, this is the view that greeted us. Though the sanctuary is cluttered, the ceiling is falling in, the walls stripped and the interior cluttered, we can still recognize the interior layout and chancel of this old church. What is remarkable is the presence of pews, chairs, other furniture and even a piano and electric organ. Usually the interiors of abandoned old churches have been completely scavenged and picked clean. We can only guess that this is not the case at Red Hill AME because of its remoteness from any developed nearby areas.
The original pulpit has been removed from the chancel area and placed neatly alongside a wooden desk and an old piano. Perhaps someone intended to remove these items and put them to use at another site but they failed to return. It is usual for heavy items like these to end up left behind because they are so hard to move. Items like pianos can weigh hundreds of pounds because of their iron frames.
This is a view from the old chancel and pulpit area to the front door. Though the ceiling is tattered and falling and holes can be seen in the walls, it is remarkable that the interior of Red Hill reflects very little water damage and that so many of the old pews remain in the sanctuary, they are usually the first thing to go when a church is abandoned.
Here is a close-up view of the abandoned organ. It has clearly not been used for many years. The fact that this church contained not only a piano but an expensive organ like this signifies that the church was relatively well off at some point in time.
This is a final view of the forlorn interior of this old church. We are pleased to have been given the opportunity to document its existence and historic importance. However, rain and weather usually take a heavy toll on old church’s interiors. Though presently still intact, its collapsing ceilings, hole filled walls, open doors and other exposures to the outside will soon allow the wind and rain to do their damage and bring about its total collapse. Through our efforts, it will become gone but not forgotten.
Alcester Mote Walls was born April 13, 1858 and died June 16, 1919. She married Reuben Walls December, 1879 in Terrell County. She was listed in the 1870 Terrell County census as Alcester Mote, age 14, born in Georgia, cannot read or write. She was living in the household with Anthony Mote, age 50, born in Virginia and Clarissa Mote, age 42, and 6 other children ages 2 to 18. No one in the household could read or write and Anthony and two of his sons worked as farm laborers. By 1910 Alcester was listed as having given birth to 11 children with 8 still living in 1910. All of the children over age 6 in the 1900 and 1910 census records were able to read and write. Reuben Walls died December 17, 1939 and his death certificate shows him buried at Red Hill Cemetery which is another name for Turner Chapel Cemetery.
Roxie Harper was born October 18, 1856 and died August 19, 1881. She was married to Isaac H. Harper. The 1880 Webster County census shows Isaac, age 28, Roxy A., age 23, son Sidney, age 4 living in the household with Jane Harper, mother of Isaac, and others. Isaac Harper’s parents were Jennie Marshall (born about 1830) and Joseph Harper (born about 1820). Isaac Harper died September 19, 1931 and his death certificate states he was buried at Red Hill, another name for Turner Chapel.
Adeline Peters was born June 12, 1886 and died August 15, 1914. The 1910 Terrell County census shows Adeline Peters, age 24, married 7 years, has given birth to 4 children, 4 children living in 1910. Her husband is Steve Peters, age 29 in 1910. Her husband Steve Peters and their son, Thomas Roosevelt Peters are also buried at Turner Chapel AME church cemetery.
These two pictures show graves of the Flewellen family. Jacob Samuel Flewellen was born September 15, 1845 and died March 4, 1915. The 1900 Terrell County census showed he had been married 30 years, he was a farmer, could not read or write and owned his own home free and clear of mortgage. In 1878-1882 he is shown as living in Randolph County and having paid a one dollar poll tax but he owned no real estate or personal property. Moses Elijah Flewellen was born August 6, 1884 and died July 1966. His WWII draft registration card lists his wife, Jennie Flewellen as his nearest relative. He was medium build, medium height, with brown eyes and black hair. May Flewellen was born in 1919 and died in 1974. She was the daughter of Mose and Jennie Flewellen. Mattie Marshall Flewellen (1860- June 26,1895) was one of two wives of Jacob Samuel Flewellen. Curley Flewellen was born February 6, 1896 and died March 8, 1899. She was the daughter of Jacob Samuel Flewellen and his wife Lucy Harper Flewellen. Saphronia/Sunfrania Flewellen Smith was born September 23, 1876 and died April 7, 1917. She was a daughter of Jacob Samuel Flewellen. Saphronia’s daughter Euola Smith (December 5, 1916-May 14, 1917) is also buried at Turner Chapel AME Church cemetery.
Jacob Samuel Flewellen 1845-1915 – see Flewellen family photos above. Mortgage Records, Feb. 4, 1899 show Sam Flewellen borrowed $100 from Cook Brothers for supplies to carry on his farming business. He put up two mules as security. In October 1893 he signed a promissory note for a buggy harness. He stated: My plantation in Terrell County Ga I hereby mortgage to them as security for the payment of the promissory note aforesaid one piano box, buggy, and harness. Again on January 15, 1894 he borrowed money for provisions for plantation and household supplies. Mortgage Book, Terrell County, GA, 1882-1902, pages 419 and 611. On April 12, 1898 W. J. T. Whaley of Randolph County sold 202 ½ acres in District 11, Lot 208 to Samuel Flewellen for $1400. Book P, page 268. Lot 208 was in the northwestern part of the county on the border with Randolph County.
Mattie Marshall Flewellen (1860- June 26,1895) was one of two wives of Jacob Samuel Flewellen. Curley Flewellen was born February 6, 1896 and died March 8, 1899. She was the daughter of Jacob Samuel Flewellen and his wife Lucy Harper Flewellen. Saphronia/Sunfrania Flewellen Smith was born September 23, 1876 and died April 7, 1917. She was a daughter of Jacob Samuel Flewellen.
Saphronia Smith was born September 23, 1876 and died April 7, 1917. No records have been found for her except this cemetery marker. There was a Fronie Smith, age 27 living in Randolph County in 1900 that could possibly be her. She was living with Tom Smith, age 25, and Beauty Smith, age 2. She had been married 7 years, had given birth to 5 children with 1 still living.
Another shot of the Flewellen family plot. The disconnect between the image of the Flewellen plot the flimsy construction of the church is striking.
A final shot of the old graveyard in the lee of a church soon to totally disappear into the piney woods. She may soon be gone but she will not be forgotten.
Almost Gone But Not Forgotten
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Love reading about the history! Thank you for posting this!