BIG CREEK BAPTIST CHURCH
Organized in 1823
Oldest in Pickens County
By Marion Johnson
written in 1940
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
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 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
- The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 02, No. 03, Fall Issue 1940 – This 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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