We love the old Wiregrass Primitive churches and this is a very historic one. Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church was organized in 1833 in what was then Ware County, Georgia but is now Pierce County. At the time, the Baptist Church was struggling with the question of support for missions. This issue ultimately caused a split in the church, with those supporting missions as an arm of the church retaining the Baptist name and those who disagreed taking the Primitive Baptist name.
The Piedmont Baptist Association was the first Baptist association established in the deep south and counted as its members many of the remotely situated Baptist churches in south Georgia. For a while, it was able to maintain a somewhat neutral stance regarding missions. But, eventually, tensions within the Association caused many of the churches to fade from Piedmont as they were drawn to associations that mirrored their anti-missionary beliefs. Shiloh, though closer to Piedmont, initially petitioned to join the Ochlochnee Association but was rejected because of a constitutional defect. In 1837, after some reorganization, Shiloh joined the Suwannee River Association.
Shiloh is the oldest church is Pierce County. Established in the early 1830s, the structure has been rebuilt three times. The present building was built in 1927 but its construction personifies the old style primitive form of worship. Little has changed in the way of architectural style or construction techniques over the years. The strength of its building is testament to the determination of its builders to honor the tenets of their predecessors and the original church. It is still an active church and looks today, thanks to excellent care, much as it must have looked in the later part of the nineteenth century.
The cemetery is also the oldest in the county, dating to the 1830s. Many of the graves of the earliest settlers are there but now unmarked and lost to time. The earliest identified grave belongs to Samuel Sweat who was buried in 1849 and was the son of a Revolutionary soldier. The cemetery is also the final resting place of two Revolutionary soldiers as well as veterans of all American conflicts……including ten identified Confederate graves. James Thomas served in the South Carolina state militia. His grave is now marked by a monument placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The other Revolutionary soldier is Isham Peacock ( b. 1741 d. 1852), who served in the North Carolina state militia. However, his importance in Georgia history goes much farther. He was the most beloved and influential Primitive Baptist preacher in Georgia for his time. Known as “Father Peacock”, he was instrumental in the formation of the Piedmont Association as well as the establishment of numerous Primitive Baptist Churches in south Georgia and north Florida. His grave was commemorated by the Sons of the American Revolution – click here for more information on Isham Peacock. His tenure was followed by Reuben Crawford, who led the faction that bears his name – the Crawfordites. During the twentieth century, “Crawfordite” churches became the most austere and conservative Primitive Baptists in Georgia. Elder Crawford was pastor at Shiloh Church for almost 50 years and is buried in the church cemetery.
We normally do not present church structures that were built less than 100 years ago. We make an exception for this one to make a point. The Shiloh Primitive Baptist congregation was founded in @1833 and continues as an active congregation to this date… that’s 182 years …. making it quite old and venerable. We include this structure in our catalog because it reflects the bedrock principles of the Primitive Baptists. Though it was built only 88 years ago in 1927, it adheres to the initial design features set forth in the early 19th century. Those were and still are… no paint, no steeple, no decorative architectural features inside or out, no window treatments, no distinctive doors or entry points, plain, unjoined wood shutters, plain hand wrought pews, indistinct foundations that are very low to the ground, no grandiosity of any sort…. keep it simple! This view of the interior and the preceding exterior view prove that this sect was serious about maintaining those principals well into the 20th century. Its active status today proves that those principals of austerity and simplicity still prevail in the 21st century as well.
The “keep the church sanctuary as plain and simple as possible concept” is on display in this picture. Instead of the raised chancel, altar, pulpit, and nave area you would find in most rural churches, here we find a Shaker-style, rude table, hard, un-upholstered bench and the plainest raised pulpit area imaginable with no apse, all stuck on a side wall of the sanctuary. These people wanted to provide a focused environment where sincere worship was the only purpose. We declare in this scene…… “Mission Accomplished”.
Imagine a long four hour service spent sitting on these spartan, hand-made pews. They include no formed planking or even bull nosed boards. We see just plain flat, 10 inch slabs of heart pine… and certainly no plush upholstery, carpet or other distractions to interfere with contemplation of the Word. The only decorative element we can find within Shiloh are the carefully cut arches that form the feet of the pews.
Aren’t these beautiful sawed heart pine boards? Shiloh is in the center of what was Georgia’s heart pine country. Lumber from these forests found its way into homes and structures throughout the south and even into the cities of the north throughout the 19th and into the 20th century. The fact that these old growth, wide boards were still available for use when this church was built in 1927 attests to the enormity of the pine lumber that was once growing in this area… alas, all long gone now. Finally, we were struck by the presence of this colorful blue/green, rush seat chair. It is certainly an anomaly amidst the austerity that is Shiloh sanctuary.
This shot displays the low foundation principal found in these churches. Foundations tended to morph into decorative elements covered with plaster or stucco, faced by dimension stone or brick, all developments to be avoided by this sect. Here we see a huge floor joist resting on a plank that is laid down directly onto the sandy soil. What you see has been in place for 88 years and appears ready for another 50 or so. How can this work? The answer lies with the sandy, well drained soil of the area and the resistance of the heart pine wood to insects and rot. That heart pine wood and its incredible strength and resistance to the elements is why so many of these old buildings remain to this day.
These old cemeteries are a treasure trove of genealogical history, changing burial customs and evolving styles and materials used for burial memorials for several centuries since the revolutionary war. The photo above represents an attempt to introduce a new style of marker for mass use in the late 19th and 20th century. Markers of stone were preferred materials from the beginning of time. But stone was heavy, hard to chisel and relatively expensive into the 18th century. As iron and steel became readily available, some thought they would be the perfect material for grave markers. The manufacturer of this monument offered the best of all worlds, the decorated steel or cast iron marker with a frame into which a flat stone or tile could be inserted with the appropriate description. They rusted, expanded and contracted more readily than the stone insert in cold and heat thus causing the identifying slab to break or fall out. Above is a rare remaining example of that failed experiment. Seemed like a great idea at the time!
Above are three members of the 26th Georgia Infantry. Two of them, Private James Stewart and Sergeant Colquitt Stewart were brothers serving in Company D. The third is Lieutenant James Sweat of Company N, who was related by marriage. Colquitt fell in battle at Spotsylvania. James died in defense of Atlanta and James Sweat died of exposure while leading a scouting party in a small, open boat near St. Simons Island. There are other Confederate graves located nearby, and most of them were either related or were neighbors and fellow church members. The impact of these tragic war deaths was far reaching in this remote part of the Wiregrass country.
What a beautiful parting shot of old Shiloh Primitive Baptist. She has been serving this community in the Georgia Wiregrass for almost 200 years and is still going strong. Long may she reign.
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