Wayfair Primitive Baptist
Wayfair Primitive Baptist Church (not to be confused with Wayfare Primitive Baptist in Echols County), is the only example of the Crawfordite meethinghouse located in McIntosh County. The church and a small cemetery sit among long-leaf pines and palmetto palms in the eastern portion of the wiregrass region that encompassed south Georgia, southeastern Alabama and the Florida panhandle. Like all the churches of the Primitive Baptist faith (Crawfordite), it is of plain, unpainted, rectangular 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 in 1873 with sixteen members. The church disbanded in recent years. The cemetery is unremarkable with the oldest grave dating to 1927. Considering the remoteness of the area and the devastated economy after the Civil War, we speculate that there could be older, unmarked graves. We have also seen mention of the fact that severe hurricanes in the 1890’s may have resulted in a relocation of the church, but this is speculation at this point.
Since the first Baptist churches were established in Georgia, they have organized themselves into associations. As time passed, differences of opinion concerning doctrinal interpretations arose, and splits occurred. In the 1830’s the most serious of these splits occurred over the establishment of missions. The conservative elements felt that churches should not participate in mission boards, bible tract societies (Sunday schools), and temperance societies since they were not mentioned in the Scriptures and therefore were not in order, and by 1844 two distinct denominations, the Missionary Baptist and the Primitive Baptists (also known as old-line or hardshell Baptists), had arisen. The use of the term Primitive in this context should be interpreted to mean Original.
In 1866, 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 this law, but some did (or perhaps had to because of the devastation caused by the years of war). One of those who took advantage of the law was the son of Reuben Crawford, an Elder in his church (Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church in Pierce County). Another Elder, Richard Bennett, was strongly anti-homestead and the conflict between the two caused a major schism in the Alabaha River Association in 1871/72. In 1871 the Alabaha River Association suspended correspondence with other Associations and that isolation continues today. One faction of the split became known as Crawfordites and the other Bennettites. Both had a number of churches align with them.
Wayfair Primitive Baptist Church was organized just a year after the Crawford/Bennett split and aligned with the Crawford faction. Most of the early Primitive Baptist churches (Bennettites and others) of the area appeared at one time as the Crawfordite meetinghouses do today, simply designed and without ornamentation. As time passed most congregations began to “improve” their buildings, but the Crawfordites saw comforts in their churches as distractions from their worship of God. That view persists today and the few remaining Crawfordite meetinghouses appear much as they did in the nineteenth century. One source claimed, concerning the austere appearance of the Crawfordite meetinghouses, that the members felt the buildings should appear as God made them, unornamented. Another felt that the lack of creature comforts was a reflection of the wish not to be distracted while engaged in worship.
Little information regarding Wayfair Primitive Baptist Church is available. No hierarchy exists in the Primitive Baptist Associations. Each church has a clerk who records and safeguards the minutes, and since no hierarchy exists no copies of the church minutes exist. When a church disbands, as many of the Crawfordite churches have, the fate of the church records becomes questionable. We don’t think it is important to delve too deeply into the Primitive Baptist theology. It should suffice to say that they take a conservative, literal interpretation of the scriptures and those views reflect in their daily lives. Among the articles of faith of the Wiregrass Primitives – “We believe that baptism ‘(immersion)’, the Lord’s supper ‘(communion)’, and washing of the saint’s feet are ordinances of Jesus Christ which are to be perpetually observed by the church…”