After the American Revolution, a Protestant religious movement referred to as the Second Great Awakening or the Great Revival swept across the new nation, and especially so in the South. It fueled the growth of Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian congregations across Georgia. An outgrowth of this movement, the camp meeting ground, resulted in the establishment of many of these special meeting places across the state, which still exist and are going strong. Campgrounds were especially popular in the Methodist faith and White Oak Methodist Campground is one of these, having been established in McDuffie county in 1832 on 158 acres of land “situated on the waters of Greenway’s Creek”.
The campground was established by the congregation of White Oak Methodist, who can trace its roots back to 1796 when it is mentioned in Bishop Asbury’s journals. The first meetings were in members homes but his journal of 1802 reports “Preached at White Oak and rode home to dinner with Capt. Ignatious Few”. The campground prospered until the Civil War when The history of McDuffie County tells us that the campground was abandoned for religious purposes during the War Between the States. It is referred to now as the Old White Oak Campground. No meetings were held there for several years but in 1873, a New White Oak Campground was built “several miles further east, just across the line from McDuffie in Columbia County”. An old 1872 newspaper article tells us “The building committee of White Oak Campground advertised for sealed bids for building an arbor, pulpit and preacher’s tent………In August the stand was finished and Camp laid off and the first meeting was begun Friday night before the 2nd Sabbath in Sept. 1873”.
Research for White Oak also revealed a dark incident which took place in September of 1899. The McDuffie Weekly headline states “A SENSATIONAL TRAGEDY” with the subhead “A Colored Preacher Killed“. Subsequent articles from The McDuffie Weekly and The Savannah Morning News speak to a sermon delivered at White Oak Campground by Rev. H. B. Battle to a mixed audience of blacks and whites. Apparently the sermon addressed some of the inequality issues between the races that was considered incendiary by some of the whites. Rev. Battle was subsequently murdered by an unknown assailant while working in the field at home. Such was the nature of racial tensions at the turn of the century. We mention this as a point of historical interest in that this is the first instance of campground sermons delivered by an African American preacher that we have seen….and apparently to an audience of both races.
These old campgrounds contain a lot of history and the fact that they have survived and prospered after well over a century of service is a tribute to the families and their stewardship of these sacred grounds. Visitors welcome. Be sure to click and scroll the gallery photos below for more insight into White Oak Campground.
Here we see a photo of the extensive Campground property. In the distance, we see the existing Tabernacle structure which is the central activity site and is located near the center of the “tents village” which is where the wooden home structures, known as tents, are located. This is clearly a tranquil setting and a perfect location for holding the campground religious meetings throughout the year as well as other events.
Here we stand in the main aisle at the rear of the Tabernacle with a view of the pews, main stage and pulpit area. As you can see, the interior is large and wide open on all sides with the exception of the pulpit area. The structure is post and beam construction typical of all Tabernacles of the 19th century and early 20th century era. The open interior with all of the structural elements exposed creates a geometric, almost architecturally decorative atmosphere within these grand old edifices.
The tents are fairly similar in design but vary greatly in their condition. Here we see an attractive and well-maintained tent, probably owned by the same family for over a hundred years. It is a single gable building with first floor rooms and probably loft rooms in the gable area. The tin roof, though showing some signs of rust and wear, still keeps the interior dry. The siding also shows its age and wear as well. But, overall this tent remains in excellent condition. The new, shingled shed roof covers seen over the air conditioning units are signs of the loving attention and care this family continues to give to this old family treasure on the grounds at White Oak Campground.
In this black and white photo of a cluster of old tents, we view a neighborhood of similar structures. We are sure this view is much as it was in the 19th century and authentically represents a bygone era in Georgia history.
The ancient screen door inhibits the entry of all manner of mosquitoes and other bothersome insects into the front screened porch area. These porches are ubiquitous and ground central of most all of the tents at White Oak campground.
Here we see a charming red porch swing as well as a slatted bench. We can see that this tent has a screened breezeway where the family members can gather protected from flies and other insects. Remember, these camp meeting often took place for weeks so the tents had to be as comfortable as possible while serving as home for extended periods of time.
Some of the tents have not been will maintained and have fallen into disrepair. In this photo we see that much of the siding has deteriorated and in danger of falling off. If not repaired soon, the weather and rain will invade the framing and wall structure. We hope that this tent will be rescued soon. Given the community nature of these camp grounds, such a rescue is quite possible.
Here we get an intimate look into the interior of one of the larger tents. This breezeway serves as a hallway and gathering place for the family members. And, since it is screened at each end, the insect protection is welcomed. It also provides circulation of air and a welcoming cool breeze within when the weather gets hot. The addition of ceiling fans makes the interior even more comfortable.
This shot provides another insight into the proximity of neighboring tents at the campground. This closeness helps create and support the cooperative and familial atmosphere that permeates White Oak. The view also provides another look at the normal tent front porch area and the swings and rockers that are “must have” items at each dwelling. It is remarkable that this 19th century way of life is still practiced and remains instrumental to the religious life of countless families in Georgia in the 21st century.
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The sign in front of White Oak Methodist Church states that it was started in 1792, not 1796.
Thanks William. It is not unusual for different founding dates to be used based on old records. Our date of 1796 was based on the first mention of it in Bishop Asbury’s travel journals. They must have another source for the 1792 date. These can be arbitrary some time.
So many of our ancestors came from Columbia County and Wilkes County to Southwest Georgia! What a wonderful story of this old campsite and its founding!
Oh that’s a beauty! Do you know about Salem campground near Conyers off I 20? Methodist. And there is one in Heard County too but I can’t recall the name.
Thanks for the tip. We will take a look.