Whitesville United Methodist is another example of a once vibrant rural community that has virtually disappeared, leaving only the old churches behind – such as the beautiful structure you see above and an African American church, Jehovah Baptist, that was formed in 1867 right after the war. The town was founded just after 1827 as a main stop on the stagecoach road which ran from Columbus all the way to Rome in the north. According to the history, the town once had a 32 room hotel, general store, tanneries, wagon and buggy factories, doctors and dentists as well as saloons and male and female academies. The church was founded about the same time as the town, in an earlier church located at the same location. The present church was completed in 1854 and the size of it reflects the prosperity of Whitesville in the pre-Civil War years. The church and the cemetery were both placed on the National Register in 2001.
We are fortunate in that some of the original minutes of the church from 1855 to 1883 have survived and tell us a bit about life in this part of rural Georgia in a crucial part of our state and our country’s history. In the early and mid 19th century, the church performed its central role as the provider of stability and justice to the community in addition to spiritual comfort. “We do charge Sister E G Cotton with telling a falsehood by telling Bro Jas. G Cotton that a certain note held by her last husband Smith Cotton dec. against one Mr Geo Hamilton had been taken up or paid. When it could be proved that it never had been paid. It was order that Sister E G Cotton should be notified to appear before the church for trial.”
It is also interesting to note that the war years and the aftermath were usually not a prominent feature of the minutes, and are sometimes almost ignored. However a careful reading exposes a notation here and there such as this in June of 1861, “Sunday Brother Rush preached to the Volunteer Company……….Brother J G Cotton concluded with a full and very appropriate exortation & we all bade them farewell. May He keep them in the day of danger & be near by on the battle feild to preserve them from harm & God grant that they may all come back when the War ends unhurt & unharmed.” Or this quote from 1861, “This service closed up the conference year which on account of the excitement of the times and the Distracted Condition of the Government has been a year Hardness the peoples minds having him to much Shserlud with Politics & War but amid it all the Lord has Preserved us as a church & a Nation. Let every knee bow to him & every life Prais him.” The lack of Civil War veterans in the old cemetery will attest to the fact that many Whitesville citizens were called but either failed to come back at all or moved on after the war. Prior to 1865, services at the church were conducted separately for the whites and blacks. “Service for the colored people in the evening…….Preaching to the whites at 11 and service to the colored at 5”. “27 Persons as joined the church on Probation…..15 Whits and 12 colored”.
Nonetheless, the old church continued to prosper and significant architectural elements such as the twin towers and fish scale shingles were added at the turn of the century. Electricity was added in the 1930’s and the old wood burning stoves on either side of the chancel were replaced in the 1940’s. A fellowship area and kitchen were also added underneath the church and these improvements have kept the rural congregation together to the present time. We are grateful to the congregation for keeping the old church maintained with such historical integrity, so that she may continue to serve for generations to come.
We are also grateful to Joe Talley for transcribing the original minutes and making them available. There are seventeen Talley interments in the old graveyard, with the oldest from 1864. Mr. Talley and his ancestors have been stewards of this church for over 150 years. Interestingly, Mr. Talley’s great aunt shows up in some of the disciplinary hearings at the church. “Case of Sister Susan Talley was mentioned and it was again postponed in hope she might soon show a repinstory spirit before next meeting…..Susan F. Talley – Expelled Dec. 1875”. According to Mr. Talley, it turns out that Sister Talley was spotted dancing at the girl’s school located across the street. She apparently did not show the required “repinstory spirit” and paid the price.