Emmaus Primitive Baptist in Charlton County (not to confused with Emmaus Primitive Baptist in Berrien County), sits at a bend of a remote sandy road that soon ends at the St. Marys river only a few hundred yards from the church. Like all the churches of the old Line Primitive Baptist faith, it is a plain unpainted box construction with absolutely no adornments, steeples, porticoes, window treatments etc.. We don’t know a lot about the church other than the fact that it was organized on May 22, 1858 with seven members. An undated article about the church states “Emmaus church…was constituted the 22nd day of May, 1858. The members at the time were Thomas Crawford, AP Murhee, William B. Connor, Mary Connor and Sarah Johns. The records prior to 1868 have been lost, but since that time the pastors from 1868 to 1879 have been: William R. Crawford; in 1880 John Crawford and in 1881 and 1882 William R. Crawford. From 1883 to 1911 John D. Knight; from 1911 to 1931 John O. Gibson. The clerks have been Henry M. Gainey, R. S. Davis, R. N. Chisom, A. W. Hodges, N. S. Connor and D. W. Connor. There are 51 members at the present time”.
The Wiregrass Primitives are organized by Associations but there are also “factions” within the Associations that developed as a result of doctrinal differences. Also one must understand that Primitive is misconstrued today to mean backward, but actually the meaning is “original”. In the 1870’s, during reconstruction, the Georgia Homestead Act was passed which allowed a debtor to repay only a part of his creditors due. The Primitive Baptists were generally against their members taking advantage of the law, but some did (or perhaps had to). One of which was the son of Reuben Crawford. Reuben was an Elder in his church. Another Elder, Richard Bennett, was strongly anti-homestead and the conflict between the two caused a major split in the Alabaha River Association. One faction became known as Crawfordites and the other Bennettites. Both had a number of churches align with them. Thus Emmaus was part of the Crawfordite (Hendrix Faction).
According to a county history, “The church became one of the churches of the Hendrix faction of the Alabaha River Association in 1960 and was disbanded about 1985 or shortly after that date. Elder Hendrix was the only Elder in the Hendrix faction (the Hendrix faction included three churches) and when he died in 1985 the faction was left without an Elder. With no Elder the ordinances of the church, communion, foot-washing and Baptism, could not be administered.” Without Baptism the church could not grow and the church became inactive shortly thereafter.
Emmaus is located within the “Big Bend” section of the St. Mary’s river, separating Georgia and Florida. The church was organized in 1858 but we think this is probably the second sanctuary and we would place the construction date in the 1870’s based on the architectural appearance as well as the oldest interments in the cemetery (which is still active). Like almost all of the older cemeteries, it will contain unmarked graves using wooden markers that have long since vanished. Wiregrass Primitive Baptists sprang up in this part of southeast Georgia in the early 19th century and continue to this day. For those interested in learning more about this fascinating and distinct denomination, that is limited to the Wiregrass region of south Georgia and north Florida we recommend Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South by John G. Crowley.