Days Gone By - stories from the past

The oldest church in Jefferson County was in Jonesboro, Alabama and is still in existence


Oldest Church in Jefferson County

By Bess Stout Lambert

[Transcribed from The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 02, No. 04, Winter Issue 1940]

Old Canaan Baptist church, founded September 5, 1818, may well be called the mother church of the Baptist denomination in Jefferson County. This church was located near old Jonesboro when it was first organized. It has been moved many times since. The congregation has had its ups and downs but it still has a fine congregation, a well- organized Sunday school and all the departments of Christian service are alive and flourishing.

This church was organized sixty-eight years before the founding of Bessemer and for a long time was located just inside Cedar Hill Cemetery in Bessemer. Many of the first graves in Bessemer were located in the church yard.


Cedar Hill Cemetery, Bessemer, Alabama (Courtesy


First deacons and thirty members

Brothers Speer and Duncan were the first deacons. The church in that sparsely settled country had less than thirty members. Reverend John Henry was the first pastor. He was called May second, 1819, and served until June 22, 1822. Then Reverend Hosea Holcomb served from July, 1822, until December 3, 1834. During his term as pastor the membership increased and the church was extended.

Canaan Baptist Church (Samford University Library -Special Collection & University Archives)

Canaan Baptist Church (Samford University Library -Special Collection & University Archives)

Members got permission to start new churches at Rock Creek, Elyton and Rupee Valley. Then a helping hand was given to Rhuhama and a little later a new church was begun near Thomas Spring in September, 1825. There were a number of Negro slaves who were received as members and a few Indians.

Part of Mount Zion Baptist Association

In March, 1827, Canaan was received into the Mount Zion Baptist Association. Then in 1833 Canaan withdrew to help sister churches for a new association. The church was served from 1837 to 1847 by two pastors, Reverend Willie Burrus and Reverend John Lansing.

It is interesting to note that the first missionary funds were collected in 1847. This was the year that the membership dwindled from 105 to just 29.

Canaan Baptist oldest church marker

Church moved to Shades Creek

When H. G. Smith became pastor in 1850 the church was moved to Shades Creek. James P. Massey was the first treasurer of Canaan Church. The church history records show that the pioneers were even as humanity is now for the early members were disciplined for such sins as: dishonesty, dancing, lying, profanity, drunkenness, adultery, fornication and failure to attend church.

New Building dedicated at Morgan in 1906

The new church building at Morgan was dedicated in May, 1906 when W. S. Harrison was pastor. In 1910, Lacey’s Chapel was organized with Mr. and Mrs. Vester Gables, Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Sims and Mary Nolan.

The early roster bears the names of Drennan, Calfee, Moses, Pearson, Hogg, McMath, Buck, Janes, Davis, Garrett, Rolin, Mackcock, Wood, Harwood, and Hathcock.

Canaan Baptist Church (

Canaan Baptist Church, which started with fewer than 30 members in 1818, still carries on. Strange things have come to pass, wars, floods, disasters of many sorts and degrees. But still its spires waft the prayers of the goodly up into the blue ether and seem as fingers pointing the way to … GOD.

Bestselling novel RIBBON OF LOVE: 2nd edition – A Novel of Colonial America (Tapestry of Love Book 1) is the story of a first family in colonial America who fled to America to escape religious persecution, and eventually migrated to Alabama before it became a state 



  1. My grandmother and daddy are buried there – Edgar.

  2. I have the book, Canaan-Garden Spot by the Cuttacochee. 1818-1968. My 4x great grandmother was a member.

  3. My 4th great grandparents, Sarah and John Nicholas Jacks Jr were charter members of Canaan. They left with Hosea Halcombe to establish Rhuhama which was chartered in their home.


  5. We are a growing active church today. We are carrying on the legacy and truth of those who have gone before us. May the Lord continue to find us faithful. Worship services and Sunday School might be a little different than 200 years ago, but the message and application for today is still relevant!

    We still have some of the previous history books available for donations.

  6. My grandparents,several aunts,uncles and cousins now rest at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Bessemer Alabama. Thank you for sharing the information about the first Baptist Church in Jefferson County. It was a lot of knowledge that I was unaware.

  7. Most of my family is buried there. Siblings, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. I probably will be too.

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