Rock Springs CME

Elbert County
Org 1868
Photography by Scott MacInnis
One of the earliest African American churches in Georgia

According to the church history – “In 1868, in the community of Nickville, there were no black churches. The Webb (white) family gave two brothers 2 acres of land for a church  The brothers were Elzie Moon and Byrd Eberhardt. As former slaves, Elzie and his brothers were farmers for different slave masters from whom they received their names which is why their last names were different. The acts read “as long as there is a Rock Springs CME Church, you will have two acres of land.” The name Rock Springs comes from a spring about three-quarters of a mile below the church. The water flowed between two rocks and the spring is still there. The one-room church served the community for 15 years before a Baptist church by the name of Antioch was built located over the hill from where the present Rock Springs Church now stands. However, both churches shared the Rock Springs cemetery until the 1980s. This is the story told by Reverend J.H. Heard.” If you’re interested in more genealogy of these original founders, download by clicking here.

Rock Springs is one of the oldest African American congregations in rural Georgia, and they have worshiped at this same spot in rural Elbert County for over 150 years. The church was formed only three years after the Civil War, which means the original congregants were all born into slavery.   We have to appreciate the fact that as they began their journey to create a better life for themselves and their children, these early founders could not read or write and they had only taken last names shortly after the war ended. By looking at the few records that are available in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century, we can appreciate how the churches were a major part of that journey. All would have worked on nearby plantations and virtually all of them, in this post-Civil War environment would have started their journey as sharecroppers or domestic servants, a difficult path but the only one available to them.

Since they were now part of the record-keeping Federal and State bureaucracy they needed last names to enter the system.  Some of them chose the surnames of their previous owners but they were free to choose any name they wanted, partly explaining why the most popular African American surname is Washington.  Many of the surnames in African American cemeteries match those of white slave owners in the records.  The largest slave owner in Elbert County was Joseph “Squire” Rucker who, along with his son Tinsley, owned almost 300 slaves.  According to Findagrave, he was born in 1788 and died in 1864.  He owned as many as twelve plantations and was said to be Georgia’s first millionaire.  The surname of Rucker is prominent in many of the African American cemeteries in the region.

The cemetery at Rock Springs contains many graves of formerly enslaved people, as well as many unmarked graves of these former slaves.  All of the early Rock Springs congregants were in this category.  County Death Certificates recorded in 1919-1928 give us some insight into those early church members resting in the unmarked graves.    As the years went by, the census records and death certificates of some of the Rock Springs congregants, begin to yield more of our history.  They became more educated, their children became literate, their occupations more skilled, and some of them became part of the great migration north in search of a better life than the one they had known. 

In order for us to understand how our nation developed, it is necessary to understand the importance of these early post-Civil War black churches.  We are indebted to the leadership of Rock Springs for their stewardship of this history.  The present church is the second one on this site and replaced the original church in the 1970s.  Fortunately, the members have preserved a painting, an old photograph, and some pews from the original church.  All are discussed in the gallery photos below.

Be sure to click and scroll the photos below for more good history and Tales From the Crypt that always come out of these old cemeteries.  Click Here for some very interesting research on the historic Rock Springs cemetery.

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