Days Gone By - stories from the past

Trials of members were held at the oldest Baptist Church in Pickens County, Alabama


Organized in 1823

Oldest in Pickens County

By Marion Johnson

written in 1940

Big Creek Church stone
Big Creek Church stone


The First Baptist church to be organized in Pickens County was in 1823 at the Garden, and it was called Enon. This organization was later moved to Aliceville, where it has been in continuous operation and will soon be housed in the finest and most commodious building in this part of the state. The second organization was at Yorkville, now Ethelsville, the church at that place having been organize by Elder Jacob Crocker in 1824. It has long since ceased to exist.

On January 10, 1829, the third church was organized at Big Creek. There were fourteen members in the original organization and they chose the Reverend Charles Stewart as their pastor. He labored there until his death in 1856. The first deacons were Notley Gore and Dempsey White.

Big Creek Baptist ca. 1940

Big Creek chuch Pickens county alabama

Records well preserved

One can spend an interesting hour in looking over the minutes of the congregation, which are now in the possession of the Moderator of the Union Baptist Association, the Honorable M. B. Curry, of Carrollton. This is not the original volume, for in 1843 the minutes to that time were copied in the present book and it is that volume that has come down to Mr. Curry. It is well preserved and the clerks of the congregation were with few exceptions excellent scribes. The writing is clear and distinct and easily read.

In the second month after its organization, the membership of the church had been increased to twenty, one a “Black woman, Melly.” That entry led to a close inspection of other similar entries in the book, for the question immediately presented itself: What was the attitude of slaveholders toward the spiritual development of their slaves?

Blacks included in the service

Entry after entry indicates that there was no neglect in this regard. The blacks (for that was the term used in referring to slaves) were given every opportunity to attach themselves to the church. An entry in August 1839. relates that a committee had been appointed “to examine the preaching talents of a black brother, Peter, and to report to the church.” As a result of the investigation, Peter was “permitted to exercise in singing, prayer, and exhortation among the colored people so far as the law tolerates.”

In another ten years, the minutes disclose that there were thirty-four black members of the Big Creek Baptist Church out of a total membership of one hundred sixty-four. In 1848 it was agreed that the church should build an addition to accommodate the “black population.” Another entry is to the effect that “the church permit the blacks to hold meetings in this church when it does not interfere with other appointments.” And again: “The church respectfully requests the gentlemen of the neighborhood to attend the meetings of the blacks as often as convenient.” All in all the minutes of this congregation throw a most interesting aide light on the race relations as they existed “before the war.”

Peace and harmony did not always prevail

Peace and harmony did not always prevail among the congregation, however. On church days the grievances of the membership were aired. Saturday before the regular preaching day in each month was the time when church conferences were held. On one occasion after the investigation of a claim of $35. brought by one brother against another, a charge of usury was made.

The trial was held openly with the membership of the church constituting the jury. In most cases, the verdict required the recalcitrant member of the church to present himself before the congregation, confess his fault and make amends. If one absented himself too frequently from church services an order was entered requiring the erring one to attend the next meeting of the congregation and “show cause”

Church membership carried responsibilities

Church membership in that day carried with it heavy responsibilities as to conduct. Trials for profanity, dancing, card playing and intoxication were not infrequent. In most cases the guilty one got off by standing before the congregation, acknowledging his fault and asking for forgiveness; but the minutes reveal a number of cases where a member was “turned out because of failure to answer a summons or for a repeated violation of the church rules.”

These early members of the Big Creek Church constituted some of the wealthiest and most influential people of the county, many of whose descendants still reside here. It was from this church that Mrs. Candace Bostick, the grandmother of Judge J. J. Willett, of Anniston, and of Mrs. Bessie Willett Elmore, of Demopolis, came with Mrs. Caroline Sherrod and Matthew Lyon and others, to organize the Baptist Church in Carrollton in 1846.

Other churches initiated by Big Creek church

From the congregation of Big Creek church sprung many other churches now in existence in Pickens County. While many value Big Creek Church because of the blood ties that connect them with someone on the long roll of those who have constituted the membership of that church, yet it has a historical value and importance for other reasons.

According to the best authorities, it was on the spot where the sacred old edifice now stands that there occurred the severance in the congregation which resulted in the organization of the Primitive Baptist Church, leaving the Missionary division to carry on in the old meeting house. This noteworthy fact gives to this simple and unpretentious House of God a claim to fame and should render it an object of solicitude and interest as long as the denomination survives.

The church divides

It was in 1837 that this severance of the church occurred. The anti-missionary spirit, which had been manifest for several years, reached a climax in that year when the Union Baptist Association met at Big Creek church. On this occasion two groups of delegates from Friendship, in Greene County, presented credentials.

One group favored non-fellowship with all missionary enterprises, while the other group adhered to the policy of missionary extension. It was agreed that a vote of the Association as a whole be taken to determine which group should be recognized. The Reverend Henry Petty was Moderator of the Association and upon taking the vote he announced a tie—twenty-six votes having been cast by the anti-missionary element and the same number by the missionary adherents. Some insisted that the vote had been miscounted and that the missionary element had a majority of one. This being Saturday it was agreed that the matter should go over until the following Monday.

After much discussion on Monday and apparently no vote upon the merits of the case being in sight, a motion was made and seconded that the Moderator be removed from the chair. Without putting the motion, Mr. Petty arose and called upon his friends to follow him from the church. Upon leaving the building he was followed by twenty-five delegates. They formed themselves into a separate Association and thus was born in Pickens County that branch of the Baptist faith known as Hardshells or Primitives. This church grew to be a strong influence in the county and numbered many good and influential men among its membership. Big Creek ceased to exist as an organized church in 1931.

Church building remained several years – abandoned

The church building remains, cared for by a few whose ties of family bind them to the spot. It sits just off the Carrollton and Pickensville road and daily many pass who do not know of its existence. Close by is the burying ground where for generations families of the community have placed their sainted dead. Like an aged patriarch, the old church house sits in the sun, forgotten by many, revered by a few, brooding upon the memories of other days.

Big Creek Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery
Big Creek Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery

Big Creek Missionary Baptist Cemetery – an abandoned cemetery can be found at this location:

N.33° 15.650 W. 088° 09.321

16S E. 392387 N 3680798

The cemetery is on the former site of Big Creek Missionary Baptist Church – It is abandoned in the woods across from a well-kept cemetery. In this cemetery, you will find tombstones of many of the prominent local families of the day, including the Spillers, Wrights, Blissetts, Seymer, Heritage


  1. The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 02, No. 03, Fall Issue 1940This article by Marion Johnson, of Carrollton, Ala., was transcribed from a series of articles about old churches in the state that was carried in the Alabama Historical Quarterly. January 1941 marked the 112th anniversary of the founding of the Big Creek Baptist Church, the oldest church in Pickens County.



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  1. I have relatives buried there and hope to visit it someday soon.

  2. I have relatives buried there,

  3. Does anyone have the cemetery transcription of this cemetery?

    1. Check the genealogical society in Gordo. They do have a list of the grave stones.

  4. How would one find out if ancestors are buried there? Is this cemetery listed on

  5. Suzanne Smith Pearson, Ivy Teressa Pearson, Neely Suzanne Pearson, Sydney Pearson

  6. I visited this cemetery this spring. It was much cleaner than this pictue.

  7. I have been doing research on Civil War soldiers buried in Pickens County and have been to this cemetery several times. Took a friend there two weeks ago because she wanted to see the old cemetery. Four confederate soldiers is buried there. Two cemeteries side by side with different names , one was for the whites and other for blacks. Someone has been taking care of both cemeteries. Wasn’t grown up like the picture except where The Big Creek stone across the road is located.

  8. Where is Big Creek Church?

    1. I believe the church could be just past the cemetery, but I have not been that far. Cemetery is a little ways outside Carrollton on HWY 86

    2. I know exactly who has been improving this cemetery & providing the care & attention it has received! Contact me & I will tell you!
      I visit this cemetery EVERY year – have done so for years/ Others that I know have, also

  9. I want to visit that cemetery

  10. And did they get to sit in the front pews?

  11. The Dempsey White mentioned as one of the first deacons is my relative. Really enjoyed reading about the church. Wish I could visit. Always wonderful articles on Alabama Pioneers! Thanks for all your hard work!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Glad you enjoy the articles.

  12. too bad nobody maintains this. that’s sad

  13. The first church Enon baptist, had the land donated by my great great great grandfather Parks E Ball…in the garden community just northwest of Aliceville. The cemetery there is well maintained….also, his home is the oldest in the county (found a bluestone in the fire place during restoration with April, 1820 etched into it.). We are restoring the home now….

    1. Jason, my Ball family has many relatives/ancestors who lived in Aliceville, some are buried in the old Garden Cemetery. You and I are related through Parks E Ball, my GGGGrandfather too. His son Franklin Harris Ball/Susan Richey Ball, his son Oliver Owen Ball/Mary Minta Ball, my father Edward Louis Ball was born on the farm in 1914 and later was in WW2/France 1944-45. Mom & 4 brothers moved into Aliceville to live next to our Grandparents when Dad was in France. My Mom was Juliette Windham Derryberry Ball and my 4 brothers & sister were All born on the Ball Farm except me. She had me at Druid City Hospital in 1947. Our family moved to Clearwater Florida in 1949 but visited over the years. My family are all deceased except my sister Suzanne in Texas now and my brother Wilson Ball in Alberta Canada. I live in Northern Virginia. Respond if you want more information. My Mother was from around Gainesville. My Aunt Olivia Ball Sullivan owned the old Phoenix Hotel across from the Courthouse in Carrollton. We used to stay there when visiting in the early 1950s. Related to other old families named Ball, Hines, Proctors, Ellis’s, etc. two other Ball homes that are probably gone now were on Rt 14. The land was sold in the last 4-5 years or so by my cousins Rebekkah Ball in Tuscaloosa & her brother Jimmy Ball, now deceased. Jimmy owned guitar shops but he and his wife both died in the last few years. They had the Ball family Bible so it’s probably with their relatives or children. Ball family lived there when Alabama was a territory.

    2. That’s correct…..we have most of that history recorded…..we are restoring the old ball plantation home and trying to put some of the acreage back together…..send me all the linage you have and let me see what is missing on Come see us sometime.

    3. And….add me on Facebook

  14. There’s a old cemetery in Brecon subdivision in Talladega. Dating back to the 1880s

  15. Do they have a list of people buried there?

  16. Such an interesting article written back in 1940. My husband was born in Pickens county in 1932 and is presumably related to the Sherrod name that was mentioned. Love that area and all the beautiful old churches. My husband’s cousin, Bobbye Craft Winston, did extensive, well researched genealogy on this area, its families and churches. We are eternally grateful for all that she accomplished for all of us.

  17. I would be glad to talk with any of you all, or others about the history of that church and others in Pickens. 2017 will be the bicentennial of the settlement and the coming of the Gospel light to Pickens. You can help me prepare. I have some mysteries. e.g. Halbert Mission Missionary Baptist Church near New Hope, Ms. Could this mark an early Choctaw Mission? Henry Sales Halbert from Yorkville, Al devoted much of his life to learning the language and tales of the Choctaws. The location of Bethany Cumberland Presbyterian Church mentioned in the Synod minutes from 1825. Ebenezer ME on Cold Fire Creek–did it become Pickenville ME? Location of Antioch Baptist Church ca 1830. in Buttehatchie assn. Lettered early members of Fellowship BC. G. Farley, dom of Pickens Baptist Association

  18. Be nice to read if not for the damn pop up!

  19. Parks E Ball….my ggg grandfather gave the land to start the enon Baptist church in the garden…..I now live in his plantation home

  20. As an amateur genealogist who explores old cemeteries in AL and TN, including church and private ones, the comments to this article are so good to see and especially to read.

    I want to add an additional note regarding the referenced history of some Baptist Churches and more specifically the religious approach towards black folks, as mentioned in the several paragraphs in the article. My note is just for additional clarification.

    Following the Nat Turner slave rebellion in Southampton County, VA, in 1831, there was a far-reaching change in how white leaders across the South handled religion for black folks. Church leaders were included. Some changes were self-generated, and others were imposed, as the reference article says, “as far as the law tolerates”. For example, after the rebellion, new state laws were passed in slave states that prohibited an assembly of more than 3 blacks, even for religious purposes. Stricter laws were passed to prohibit teaching blacks to read and write. Any black male who possessed preacher-like talents, as Nat Turner did, was restricted from doing so. Black congregations were allowed to sit in white churches only if they met outside the church on Sunday afternoon and only if the white preacher was preaching. It became almost impossible for blacks to self-learn anything about religion. I got my first glimpse into this “other side of church history” after readying a diary of a Baptist preacher from Virginia who rode a circuit around “The Fork” area in Alabama and the personal struggles of his soul as the Civil War approached. The general situation of that day is ably documented in more scholarly books on the complex subject of race and religion across the South. Knowing about it helped me understand the conflict a genealogist of any skill level feels when looking back on Southern slave history, even as it relates to the history of church cemeteries.

  21. I used to sit on the front porch on my grandmother’s brother and listen to his stories and watch him chew tobacco and spit into a Samka coffee can. The name of his tobacco was Footprints. He lived in Wicksburg, the only doctor for miles around. I have looked high and low for this brand. Can anyone help me? There was the imprint og a bunnies footprint on the bottom of the can.

  22. […] NOTE: Read more about Big Creek Baptist at Trials of members were held at the oldest Baptist Church in Pickens County, Alabama […]

  23. Some of our Ancestors are buried at Fellowship Baptist-old Reform/Gordo HWY

  24. Wish people living close would help clean this up!

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