High Bluff Primitive Baptist Circa 1819
High Bluff was organized in 1819 by Isham Peacock, a legend among the Wiregrass Primitive Baptists. Elder Peacock began his religious life in 1802 at the ripe old age of sixty, and retired from Providence Church in Ware County in 1844 at the age of 101. He was typical of the Primitive Baptist preachers of the early 19th century in that he was not a man of letters but was able to convert the wild frontier cattle drovers who inhabited this part of Georgia in great numbers. The religious doctrine they founded was strict and extended to their architecture, their dress, their services and every aspect of the hard life in this part of wiregrass Georgia. It still exists today in much the same form as the unpainted structure above will attest. These unpainted Wiregrass Primitive Baptist churches are all located in this small region of Southeast Georgia and a few in North Florida. The visual similarity of the construction of these old sanctuaries, both inside and out, is amazing. The Georgia Wiregrass Primitives are a unique subsection of the Baptist religion and worth some investigation if you are so inclined. John Crowley’s book, Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South is one of the few reference books on the subject.
High Bluff Primitive Baptist Church had its beginnings in a settlement on a high bluff (hence the name) of the south bank of the Satilla River. The origins of the settlement are lost but history seems to indicate that the pioneers had come up the river in boats and may have been previous members of the Little Satilla Church, whose location is now unknown. Eventually these early pioneers settled in and found the need for a church. High Bluff was constituted in September of 1819 with nine members. The Presbytery was made up of Isham Peacock and Fleming Bates, two ministers who would be active in the establishment of other churches in South Georgia and North Florida. A meeting house was built that included a cemetery and, beginning in 1821, Fleming Bates was the pastor.
In 1823, 13 members of High Bluff were granted letters of dismissal to become a constituted church at Kettle Creek. At some point, within the next few years, the congregation at High Bluff moved to become members of Big Creek. The minutes make no mention of the cause for the move, but tradition says that there was a cholera outbreak in the High Bluff area. The only solution to cholera at the time was to move away. So the little church on the bluff was closed. Today few signs can be found of the original church. In the late 1870s, the name of the Big Creek Church was changed to High Bluff.
High Bluff is still an active house of worship today and is among the oldest continuing congregations in this part of the state. Its cemetery is very old, but as with many of these historic churches, few of the graves of the old settlers have survived. Among the tallest of the existing stones in the cemetery is that of Lydia Stone, known as the “Queen of the Okefenokee.” Lydia was an unschooled, independent, iconoclastic girl of the swamp. With a unique and colorful style, she made the swamp her life and became a self-taught and shrewd businesswoman who died a millionaire. The river brought many of the early settlers into this area. And today, it holds the story of their struggles and successes, their sins and their redemption, and the ongoing story of the High Bluff Church.
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