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.
This ornamental steeple was added to the building in the 1960s when Union Church was updated and expanded.
In 1973, 16 new stained glass windows were installed when the church was updated. Each window represents a Psalm. 8 of the windows were donated by the Jarrell Family (McCants descendants) and the rest were donated by collection of donations from the rest of the congregation.
The altar and rail originally belonged to Carsonville Methodist Episcopal Chruch, but was salvaged when the church was torn down in 1925 and moved here.
This Do In Remeberance of Me
These altar pillows were hand sewn by congregation members, led by Corrinne Jarrell, who took on the church updating project with her husband in the 1960s.
These unique grave markers are called Grave Houses and they mark the resting places of some of the oldest burials in the graveyard. They were made locally of pine and feature shingle shake roof.
This view of the cemetery gies us a good idea of the varied types of grave markers found here. The unique grave houses, wrought-iron fencing, and variety of stones found here all helped to contribute to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jeremiah G. (Crealman) McCants was born July 3, 1808 in Fairfield County, South Carolina and died August 9, 1866. He married Tabitha Adelaide McCrary (1816-1854) on June 7, 1832 in Taylor County, Georgia. They had 13 children. In 1860 he owned 15 slaves, ages 10 months to 45 years. He owned more than 3000 acres of land including an old mill place.
Robert Partin Hays was born June 1, 1800 and died December 31, 1884. He was married to Elizabeth Trawick Hays (1804-1881). In his will he requested that he be buried at Camp Ground Graveyard close to his beloved wife. He was the son of George Newton Hays. In 1860 he owned 12 slaves. One of his sons, Henry Franklin Hays, (1840-1862) was in Company E, 45th Georgia Infantry, CSA. Henry was wounded at Richmond, Virginia in June 1862 and died July 16, 1862 from his wounds.
PVT Malachi Henry Foy served in Company E, 45 GA Infantry CSA. He was born October 1, 1837 and died June 30, 1862. He was killed at Richmond, Virginia. Malachi’s brother, William Wesley Foy was a sergeant in the same company. William Wesley was wounded at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Jericho Ford. He was paroled at Macon, Georgia, May, 1865. The 1860, Talbot County census shows Sampson T. Foy, age 46 with his son Malachi, age 20, and William W., age 17 and three other younger children. William Wesley Foy is also buried in the Union Methodist Church Cemetery.
Mark Kindred Smith was born June 18, 1848 in Hancock County, Georgia and died February 25, 1901 in Taylor County, Georgia. His tombstone states that he was the husband of L. F. Smith. 1900 census records show 10 children with all ten still living in 1900. In 1850, Kindred Smith, age 3, was living in Houston County in the household of William H. Smith, age 50, Sarah, age 47 and 8 other children.
Silas Monk was born November 9, 1822 and died May 4, 1884. He married Louisa Rodney on October 11, 1844 in Talbot County, Georgia. They had three children. A notice in the Columbus Daily Inquirer Sun, May 9, 1884 reported “Mr. Silas Monk, one of the most worthy and highly citizens of this county, died at the residence of his son, Mr. J. T. Monk, on Sunday last, after an illness of several weeks.”
James Whittle was born in South Carolina in 1807 and died September 22, 1891. His wife, Mary McGee Whittle, was born in 1805 and died December 14, 1893. They were married in Crawford County on September 22, 1837. They are both buried at Hays Campground (Union Methodist). The 1860, Taylor County census shows James, age 50; Mary, age 55 and five children ages 12 to 22. They had several sons who served in the Confederate Army. Their son, Irwin G. Whittle served in Company H, 9th Georgia Regiment. He was captured during the war and released at the end of the war at Point Lookout Maryland. Some records say James Whittle had six sons who served in the Confederate Army but his youngest son, Joseph, was just 12 years old in 1860.
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Thank you for thisHistorical Parker I enjoyed it much
It’s a shame that churches established in 1840 cannot be included because they are still being used for worship and have been improved and maintained by their dedicated congregation. Wesley Chapel UMC in Clay county was founded in 1840 in a brush arbor. The present building was built in 1932. The cemetery has graves dating to the 1800’s with many unusual marchers. At present there are 10 fulltime, dedicated members.