Union Methodist

Taylor County
Org 1848
Photography by Tony Cantrell

To learn about the history of Union Church is to learn about the history of early European settlement in inland Georgia for the story of this church is intertwined with the histories of the Creek Indians, pioneer settlers, and the development of a small but vibrant rural crossroads.

The Creek Indians called this area home when the first white settlers arrived, but during the 1820s, they would be displaced by treaties in 1821 and 1827 that removed them from their land along the Flint River. Settlers of European descent began to move into the area, traveling along the Federal Road that paralleled the old native trading routes. The Old Federal Road connected Ft. Hawkins (now Macon) to the Alabama River above Mobile and was eventually called the Old Wire Road. These new settlers came to claim large land parcels that they won in the Georgia Land Lotteries.

As planters, they cultivated land, planted crops, and intermarried with other families to establish new communities. Here, where The Old Federal Road passed, a rural crossroads community emerged, led by a handful of early families. 

One such family was the McCant Family who had migrated here from South Carolina. Led by their matriarch, Sarah Black Hamilton McCant, a family of brothers came here with their mother.  Sarah was twice a widow and arrived in Talbot County (later Taylor County) looking to set out a better future for her sons. Another early family to settle here was the Hays Family who also came from South Carolina after the Land Lottery and laid down roots here at this crossroads.

These two families would marry sons and daughters, solidifying their prominence and influence in this rural crossroads community that has been known as Union and Jarrells on the maps over the years. Their large-scale farming, which relied on enslaved labor, brought much development to the area, including a sawmill, a grist mill, and a cotton gin. 

On March 10, 1840, landowners Robert P. Hays and Jeremiah C. McCants deeded 5 acres of land to Hays Church and Campground, establishing the first Methodist church in the area. The original building, constructed in 1848, stood along the Old Wire Road, about one mile from the current church location. It served a congregation until the Civil War when services halted.

During the war years, the Methodist church building was dismantled and services at the Primitive Baptist Church halted as well. But when the dust began to settle and men returned from war, the small community needed something hopeful and Rev. Hays decided to open monthly worship services to both Baptist and Methodist community members in the old Primitive Baptist Church. Because both denominations met together during this time, the church came to be known as Union Church.

In 1874, the first Camp Meeting was held here and the following year, a tabernacle was constructed of heart pine wood with rustic benches on dirt and straw floors. Camp meetings were held here until 1896 but today, no signs of the tabernacle or camp structures still stand. But in 1883, a new Methodist Church was constructed and Rev. James Hays led as the first minister. 

The church has served continually ever since the war and in the 1960s, its congregation decided that it needed to be updated. Locals Corrine Jarrell and Harold Jarrell, McCant Family descendants, decided to take on the project of updating and upgrading the church building. The church was moved to face the road, enlarged, and remodeled. Corrine even organized a group of church members to hand sew the new pillows for the altar. At that time, the sanctuary was air-conditioned, a new piano and organ were donated, and new carpeting installed. Sunday school rooms and a steeple were completed in 1963. In 1973, 16 new stained glass windows were installed depicting a Psalm and were donated by the Jarrell Family and other members.

The Union Church/Hays Campground Cemetery has more than 200 burials with the oldest dating to 1847 and has separate burial areas for whites and blacks. Although the church did not qualify for the National Register of Historic Places, the Cemetery is on the register and includes some unique grave houses that mark some of the oldest burials on site.

Union was a pioneer among the churches in this section of Georgia and remains a vibrant part of its rural community more than 170 years later. In fact, today you will still find descendants of Sarah McCants worshipping here, eight generations later.


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