The First Baptist Church of Hawkinsville was organized January 3. 1830, in Old Hartford, when the present site of Hawkinsville was little, more than a wilderness. The presbytery consisted of Rev. Wilson Conner, Rev. Job Thigpen, and Rev. Levi Bush. The following were the charter members: Joseph Hough, Edward Hough, Wright Lancaster, Furney F. Gatlin, Elizabeth McCreary, Lucinda Holliman, and a slave by the name of Berryman belonging to William Jelks.
For two years or more the church held its services in the Hartford courthouse, the courthouse not being moved to Hawkinsville until 1837. It is interesting to note that the church and Hawkinsville were chartered the same year-1830.
Rev. Wilson Conner, first pastor and leading spirit in the organization of the church, seems to have served as pastor approximately twelve years. He was a man of deep piety and great power as a preacher. Under his leadership the church grew rapidly. The monthly services were held on the second Sunday and the Saturday preceding. New members were received almost every month, many of whom were slaves.
The church was received into the Ebenezer Association in 1831. Great religious destitution on all sides of the young church challenged it to an extensive program of evangelization. In conference the pastor and certain of the members were authorized to receive and baptize those living too far from Hartford to attend there. As early as September 4, 1831, the church began her missionary contributions, receiving on that day an offering of five dollars.
I n 1839 the church moved from Hartford to a schoolhouse near the home of Wright Lancaster, just beyond where Bembry’s Mill now is, this being nearer the center of the membership. Meantime, the village of Hawkinsville had been growing. The courthouse had been removed from Hartford to Hawkinsville, and, since Hawkinsville bid fair to be the center of population the church again moved, coming to Hawkinsville in 1842. The name was then changed from the Hartford Baptist Church to the Hawkinsville Baptist Church.
Immediately plans were on foot for building a church house, the congregation meeting meantime in the courthouse. Mr. John Rawls gave the lot on which the present church now stands and a frame building was erected on it in 1842, and the church incorporated. Rev. Wilson Conner, John B. Mitchell, and Henry B. Hathaway were elected trustees. A great revival of religion under the leadership of Rev. A. T. Holmes, Rev. C. D. Mallory, and Rev. J. E. Davis followed upon the completion of the building.
This building was replaced in 1885 by what is known as the red brick church, one of the finest buildings of its ‘day and said to have been the first brick church building south of Macon. The Ladies Sewing Society took the initiative and collected a large part of the building funds. The church was built during the pastorate of Rev. E. J. Coates. Rev. G. R. McCall had agitated its construction during the years of his ministry, and was fittingly invited to return and preach the dedicatory sermon.
In 1917 the red brick church was replaced by the present handsome and modern church and Sunday school plant. Dr. Aquilla Chamlee, ably assisted by J. J. Whitfield, A. Chamlee, N. A. Jelks, T. H. Bennett, T. B. Ragan, L. H. Ragan, A. C. Pipkin, J. P. Brown, D. E. Duggan, and L. A. Jordan, building committee; W. A. Jelks,
T. H. Bridges, L. J. Henderson, F. P. Anderson, L. A. Whipple, H. F. Lawson, L. C. Durham, W. C. Hendley, Walker Batts, R. A. Anderson, R. G. Stone, J. M. Smith, L. M. Polhill, and L. M. Pate, finance committee.
These committees achieved the realization of beautiful and well conceived dreams in the completion of the present church building in 1919. By strenuous effort the church was dedicated without debt three years later, January 1, 1923, Mrs. C. T. Lathrop, the oldest member of the church and one of the most greatly beloved of all time, burning the mortgage. Dr. Chamlee, after seven very fruitful years, resigned to become president of Bessie Tift College. Rev. W. D. Ogletree fittingly followed Dr. Chamlee with his fine leadership in Sunday school work.
Early Stand On Temperance
As early as 1834 the church took a definite stand against the liquor traffic and the drinking of alcoholic liquors by unanimous vote, passing a resolution of total abstinence for its membership. Dancing and other questionable forms of pleasure were rigidly banned. The church was strict in matters of discipline, and many Saturday conferences resembled more a court trial than a formal service of worship. Exclusions were frequent.
In 1867, sixty-three colored members were granted letters to form a separate body. The whites gave their colored brethren great assistance during those early years. Dr. McCall was noted for his work among the Negroes. The Negro church was received into the Houston Association on agreement that they would elect messengers on the advice of the mother church and follow her leadership in matters of doctrine and practice.
The Hawkinsville church had one of the first Sunday schools to be organized in this section of the State. The Sunday school has a continuous record dating back at least 75 years. As early as 1866 there is a record of the organization of the “Infant Class,” and the school for older people antedates this by several years.
The first women’s society was organized in 1878, known as the Ladies Sewing and Mite Society. Its purpose was that of “beautifying the church and supplying its needs.” The following names are recorded as charter members: Mrs. M. Merritt, Mrs. J. H. Kendrick, Mrs. E. F. Way, Mrs. S. B. Oliver, Mrs. J. S. Willis, Mrs. James Argo, Mrs. J. S. Winn, Mrs. M. H. Taylor, Mrs. J. 0. Jelks, Jr., Mrs. T. Holder, Mrs. V. J. Holliman, Miss Docia Kendricks, Miss Bettie Whitfield, Miss Mary Jelks, and Mrs. A. C. Pipkin. Mrs. Merritt was president and Mrs. V. J. Holliman secretary.
The first young women’s organization, known as the Theophilus Society, was organized soon thereafter. Among the charter members were: Belle Wimberly (now Mrs. T. B. Ragan), Maggie Lee (now Mrs. James DeLamar), Loula Ferguson (now Mrs. W. J. Z. Fann), Ola Pipkin (now Mrs. L. N. Anderson), Molly Joiner (now Mrs. Whipple), Bee Clegg (now Mrs. Council, of Americus), Will Otis Hendley (now Mrs. I. C. Anderson, of Macon), Annie Willis (now Mrs. Huff, of Chattanooga), and Mattie Jordan (now Mrs. W. A. Jelks).
The State Convention Entertained
The importance of the church in 1891 may be judged by the fact that the Baptist State Convention met with it. Rev. J. F. Eden, fresh from Mercer and the Louisville Seminary and a forceful young preacher, was then pastor of the church. Dr. G. R. McCall, a former pastor, was clerk of the convention. The new brick church, the outstanding type of work being done by the church, and the far-famed hospitality of the membership, made a fitting place for the entertainment of the Convention.
The Centennial Celebration, held in January 1930, was another high point in the history of the church. Officials of the State Convention, several former pastors, and many from distant and nearby places, came hack to their old church for the occasion. It was a day of thanksgiving to God for His manifold blessings during the century, and of rejoicing in the noble achievements accomplished during its first 100 years of service. Contemplation of the outstanding lay-leadership in every generation, the noble men of God who had served as pastors, the sacrificial service of its membership, and the fine leadership furnished by this church in all things worth while gave those present just cause for pride in their great church and its fruitful history.
By no means least among its contributions to the cause of Christ are the six men whom it has ordained into the Baptist ministry. They are as follows: Rev. Wright Lancaster, 1836; Rev. James Polhill, 1844; Rev. Williams, 1856; Rev. R. O. Horton, 1869; and in later years Rev. Simon Anderson and Dr. Lucius Polhill.
The Church Today (1935)
We of the present will be the antiquity of a hundred years hence; accordingly, some word concerning the church of today seems fitting. We have 703 members, 12 deacons, Sunday school of 422 thoroughly graded from the Cradle Roll to the Home and Extension Department, with 60 teachers and officers, four B. Y. P. U.s in the Baptist Training Union, 74 enrolled; a Woman’s Missionary Society of 90 active and 45 associate members, and a Y. W. A. of 27, a G. A. of 32, and a Sunbeam Band of 69 members, a choir considered by many the best in Southeast Georgia, a handsome $4,000 Pilcher pipe organ given by the W. M. S., a church building which is not only the outstanding edifice in the city but which is considered one of the most beautiful churches to he found in any city of 3,000 population in the South. The shrubbery on the spacious church grounds is copious and artistically arranged. The contributions to the church in 1928-1935 ranged from $4,885 to $7,190 approximately 23 per cent going to missions.
Our present pastor, Rev. James L. Baggott, is a B.A. graduate of Furman University; Th. M. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; M.A. from the University of South Carolina; and had four years of voice study. The pastor’s wife is a graduate in music from the Chicora College for Women, Columbia, S. C., and a vocal soloist of great usefulness to the church. Aided by the generosity of the church, our pastor and Mrs. Baggott went abroad last year, visiting eight European countries on their way to and from the Baptist World Alliance, held in Berlin, Germany.
Our church rich in its blessings to past generations adheres to and preaches the fundamental doctrines of our faith and is still the center of highest ideals and the source of that strong moral integrity which characterizes the people of this community.
The First Baptist Church of Hawkinsville for the past 105 years has been a tower of strength not only in the immediate community, but in all this section of Georgia. For years it was the leader in Sunday school advances, young people’s work, and in missionary endeavor. She was the mother of some of the large churches of Southeast Georgia and the patron saint of weak churches far and near. Her laymen and ministers have always loyally supported the program of the State Convention and some of her pastors have been recognized leaders not only in the State but in the Southern Baptist Convention. The present pastor has within the six years of his ministry with us served on two of the leading Southern Baptist Convention committees. Hawkinsville has always been considered one of the strong Baptist centers in Georgia and the First Baptist Church as one of the leading churches of the State.
The following are the pastors who have served the church since its organization to the present: Rev. Wilson Conner, 1830; Rev. A. Holmes (a few months), -1845; Rev. J. Williamson, 1846-1861.; Dr. G. R. McCall, 1865-1881; Rev. E. J. Coates, 1882-1888; Rev. J. F. Eden. 1888-1892; Rev. T. W. O’Kelly, 1892-1893; Dr. W. A. Nelson, 1893-1895; Dr. J. D. Chapman, 1.895-1896; Rev. Robert Van Deventer, 1896-1900; Dr. A. M. Simms. 1900-1903; Rev. H. C. Buchholz, 1903-1906; Rev. C. L. Greaves, 1906-1908; Dr. Chas. H. Nash, 1909-1911; Dr. C. L. Greaves, 1911-1914; Dr. Aquilla Chamlee, 1914-1922; Rev. W. D. Ogletree, 1923-1928; Rev. J. L. Baggott, 1928- – . Strong men, all, “coming to the kingdom at such a time” as needed.