Robert O. Rouse Sought Confederate Pension

Robert O. Rouse (1842-1908)

In 1903, Confederate veteran Robert O. Rouse, of Ray’s Mill, GA, wrote to Pension Commissioner J. W. Lindsey, for help with his Confederate Pension application. In the Civil War, Rouse fought with the 50th Georgia Regiment, Company I, the Berrien Light Infantry. Rouse was horribly wounded in combat, captured by federal forces and held as a prisoner of war at Rock Island, MD.  Despite his service and sacrifice, his pension application was denied by Georgia authorities.

robert-rouse-envelope

1903-robert-rouse-letter

Rays Mill, Berrien County, GA
March 24, 1903
Hon J W Lindsy
will you plese let me now all about my pension. I weant of in war and stade till hit stopt in Macon Ga at Lee SoRender. i was shot and not abel to work.  plese help me in need i  have lade on  fros ind land til my life is short or me  excuse bad riten.

Robert Rouse
Rays Mill Ga

Robert O. Rouse, a son of Alfred Rouse and Elizabeth J. “Betty” Dixon, was born in Duplin County, NC and came to Berrien County, GA at a young age. His grave marker at Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, gives his birth date as November 1, 1842, but  his 1903 application for a Confederate Pension states he was born March 2, 1843.

Robert’s father, Alfred Rouse, died about 1848 or 1849; the estate of Alfred Rouse was probated in Duplin County, NC in 1849.  Nine-year-old Robert was enumerated on August 8, 1850 in his widowed mother’s household in the south district of Duplin County, NC. His siblings were enumerated as David W. Rouse (age 10), Mary S. Rouse (8), Bryan J. Rouse (7), Sarah J. Rouse (6), and Barbara C. Rouse (6).

1850 Census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse, Duplin County, NC.

1850 Census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse, Duplin County, NC. https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0629unix#page/n110/mode/1up

In the 1850s, Robert O. Rouse came with some of his Dixon relatives to settle a few miles east of  present day Ray City GA. According to Wiregrass historian Folks Huxford , about that time a number of families “moved to what was then Lowndes County…from their home community in Duplin County, N. C. Among these families were those of William J. Lamb, James Carroll, Jesse Carroll, William Godfrey, Andrew J. Liles, William Best, James W. Dixon and others. These all settled in or around the village then called Alapaha but now named Lakeland, Lanier County.”  In 1850, James Dobson moved his family and slaves from Duplin County, NC to Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA, settling on land lot 333 of the 10th District, just west of Ten Mile Creek in what is now Lanier County; Peter McGowan and Richard McGowan are believed to be two of the slaves Dobson brought from North Carolina.  William Hill Boyett, John Bostick, Treasy Boyett Bostick and Mary C. Bostick came from Duplin to Berrien in the mid-century, and A few years later, Jessie Bostick also removed from Duplin County to the area. James M. and Martha Gordon Sloan made their way From Duplin, NC to Berrien in 1874, via Mississippi and Echols County, GA.

The census of 1860 places Robert Rouse, enumerated as “Robert Rose,” in Berrien County in the household of James W. Dixon. James Rouse was also residing in the Dixon household. James W. Dixon was a farmer and a neighbor of George A. Peeples, William J. Hill, James Patten and General Levi J. Knight.

1860 census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse in the household of James W. Dixon.

1860 census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse in the household of James W. Dixon. https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu111unit#page/n363/mode/1up

When the Civil War broke out Robert Rouse joined a local militia unit, the Berrien Light Infantry, enlisting on April 1, 1862.  He was officially mustered into Company I, 50th Georgia Volunteer Infantry on August 23, 1862  at Calhoun, GA.  William H. Boyett, James I. G. Connell, William Evander Connell, J.W.T. Crum were other Berrien County men who mustered in to Company I, 50th GA Regiment on August 22-23.

Rouse  and the other men were was sent to join the 50th Regiment which by then had been deployed to Richmond, VA.  Among the men from the Ray City area serving with this unit were Green Bullard, Fisher J. Gaskins, Lemuel Elam Gaskins, Joseph Gaskins,  John Jasper Cook and John Martin Griner.

Muster roles show Robert Rouse was present with his unit in Virginia by August 31, 1862.  As the last weeks of summer slipped into fall the 50th Georgia Regiment fought through some of the bloodiest battles of the war. At Fox’s Gap, South Mountain, MD on September 14, 1862 the 50th Georgia Regiment suffered a casualty rate of 86 percent. William Guthrie was one of six men of Company I (Berrien Light Infantry) killed that day. Another was mortally wounded and 4 more suffered non-fatal wounds. Lemuel Gaskins was wounded, captured and sent to Fort Delaware, MD as a POW. As terrible as the Confederate losses were at South Mountain, they were just a “bloody prelude” to the Battle of Antietam fought three days later September 17, 1862 at Sharpsburg,MD. Almost every surviving soldier in the 50th Regiment was wounded.  On October 2, 1862 Rouse was sent to Winchester Hospital where  thousands of Confederate wounded had been taken. Virtually the entire town of  Winchester, VA was a hospital, with wounded laid up in every home.

Muster Rolls for January and February 1863 show Robert Rouse was absent “at hospital.” On April 16, 1863 he was admitted to the General Hospital at Stanton, VA with pneumonia. In July, Rouse was at the 1st Division General Hospital, Camp Winder, Richmond VA.

By November 1863 Robert Rouse was recovered and was back fighting with the 50th Regiment in Tennessee when Confederate forces under the command of Major General James Longstreet attempted to dislodge the Union occupation of Knoxville. On the approach to Knoxville Rouse’s unit saw relatively little action.   But in the final days of November, the 50th Georgia participated in a disastrous assault on Fort Sanders, a part of the Union’s ring of earthwork defenses around Knoxville.  A week into the siege of Knoxville,  the Confederates determined Fort Sanders was the most vulnerable point of attack. In reality, Union engineers had employed supreme effort and ingenuity in fortifying Fort Sanders.

The Confederate assault on Fort Sanders, conducted on November 29, 1863, was poorly planned and executed. Longstreet discounted the difficulties of the physical obstacles his infantrymen would face. He had witnessed, through field glasses, a Union soldier walking across a 12 foot wide defensive ditch that surrounded the bastioned earthworks Fort Sanders  and, not realizing that the man had crossed on a plank, believed that the ditch was very shallow. Longstreet also believed that the steep walls of the earthworks could be negotiated by digging footholds, rather than requiring scaling ladders.

The Confederates moved to within 120-150 yards of the salient during the night of freezing rain and snow and waited for the order to attack. Their attack on the dawn of November 29th has been described as “cruel and gruesome by 19th century standards.” The advancing Confederate troops were initially confronted by telegraph wire that had been strung between tree stumps at knee height, possibly the first use of such wire entanglements in the Civil War, and many men were shot as they tried to disentangle themselves. When they reached the ditch, they found the vertical wall to be almost insurmountable, frozen and slippery. Union soldiers rained murderous fire into the masses of men, including musketry, canister, and artillery shells thrown as hand grenades. Unable to dig footholds, men climbed upon each other’s shoulders to attempt to reach the top. A succession of color bearers were shot down as they planted their flags on the fort.

For one brief moment the flag of the 50th Georgia Regiment flew atop Fort Sanders’ bastion, planted by Sergeant James S. Bailey, of Company B, before he was captured. Also among the captured was Private John Woods Smith, Company G, who would later become a resident of Ray’s Mill, GA.

In  James W. Parrish’s documentary on the history of 50th Georgia Regiment,  he wrote,

” Although the Southerners fought gallantly, devastating enemy fire forced them to retreat. The ditch trapped many soldiers who were killed, wounded or captured.”

Re-created depiction of Confederate dead at Fort Sanders. 2008 Photo by Wendell Decker http://www.battleoffortsanders.com/Site/Albums/Pages/Wendell_Decker.html#0

Re-enacted depiction of Confederate dead at Fort Sanders.  Photographed by Wendell Decker with Civil War period equipment, 2008.  http://www.battleoffortsanders.com/Site/Albums/Pages/Wendell_Decker.html#0

“After only twenty minutes, Longstreet mercifully called off the assault.”

“As the Rebel offensive collapsed, the retreat proved as deadly as the attack.  Enemy musketry and canister raked the men as they ran back across the open field toward the cover of the wooded ravine.  Lieutenant [William F. “Billie”] Pendleton reported on his narrow escape: ‘We jumped up and dashed down the hill, then cannon opened up on us.  I was caught up in the telegraph wire and forward down the hill.’ ” (Pendleton was eighteen years old).

“The Confederates suffered 813 casualties, including 129 killed, 458 wounded, and 226 captured. Federal losses in the fort were only 13. The attack had been an unmitigated disaster.”

In the bloodbath at Fort Sanders, Robert Rouse was horribly wounded in the face. Both cheek bones were broken and his vision was impaired. Captured by Union forces on January 5, 1864, he was sent to a hospital. He was held at Nashville, TN until January 17, then sent to a military prison at Louisville, KY. On January 23, 1864 he was transferred to Rock Island Prison, Illinois.

Rock Island Prison, Rock Island, IL. Federal guards stand in the foreground; in the background confederate POWs turn out for roll call, December 3, 1863.

Rock Island Prison, Rock Island, IL. Federal guards stand in the foreground; in the background confederate POWs turn out for roll call, December 3, 1863.

Construction of the Rock Island Prison Barracks began in August 1863, with the first 488 confederate POWs arriving on December 3, 1863 before construction was completed. Within weeks the prison population swelled to over 5000 confederate soldiers.

“The prison, rectangular in shape, covered  approximately twelve acres of land. Eighty four wooden-framed barracks, 22 x 100 feet in size, arranged in six rows of fourteen barracks each, comprised the containment area. Each barracks had a kitchen, with a stove and a forty gallon kettle for cooking, located at the west end of the building. Captain Reynolds built enough bunks in each barracks to accommodate 120 prisoners. A main avenue running east to west divided the camp and led to the two main gates. The barracks were enclosed by a twelve foot high rough board fence. A guard platform built four feet from the top of the stockade fence, on the exterior side, had a sentry box every 100 feet. Trenches maintained inside the fence served as a warning line. Sentries were ordered to fire at prisoners venturing beyond this point. The “dead line” supposedly deterred prisoners from tunneling under the stockade. In addition, the closeness of bedrock to the surface prevented tunneling near the southern side of the stockade”

The first few weeks of the camp’s operation were particularly hellish. It was bitterly cold weather, the southern soldiers were ill clothed, there was a shortage of blankets, and disease was rampant.  Some men died from the cold, others from small pox.

By the time of Rouse’s arrival at Rock Island Barracks in January, 1864, 329 prisoners and 4 guards had died of small pox.  The prison had no hospital and inadequate medical supplies or equipment. Prisoners with contagious diseases were housed among the general prison population. The prison grounds were a mudpit, as the site was situated on low ground near a marsh causing water to drain into the compound rather than out. Conditions were unsanitary with no provision for the disposal of garbage or wash water, which were dumped on the ground near the barracks. The water supply was inadequate and prisoners disposed of privy waste in the river that flowed through the camp. Cornbread fed to the prisoners was rancid and made men sick.

In Rouse’s first month at Rock Island, small pox killed another 350 confederates and 10 guards. On March 4, 1864 420 more small pox cases were reported and 644 were sick with undiagnosed diseases.   Although conditions at Rock Island significantly improved over time, 1,964 prisoners and 171 guards died there by the War’s end. Robert Rouse survived Rock Island Barracks and was released March 27, 1865.

Federal parole of Robert O. Rouse, Confederate Prisoner of War, March 27, 1865.

Federal parole of Robert O. Rouse, Confederate Prisoner of War, March 27, 1865.

Headquarters Department of Richmond
Richmond, Va. March 27th 1865

           In obedience to instructions from the Secretary of War, the following named men (paroled prisoners) are granted leaves of indulgence for 30 days (unless sooner exchanged ) at the expiration of which time, those belonging to commands serving north of the Southern boundary line  of North Carolina, and in East Tennessee, will report immediately to them, if exchanged; other wise they will report to Camp of Paroled Prisoners, Richmond, Va.  All other paroled prisoners, except those whose commands are serving  within the limits above mentioned, will also report, at expiration of their furloughs, to Camp of Paroled Prisoners, Richmond, Va.

Priv. R. Rouse Co. I 50 Ga Inf

Quartermaster will furnish Transportation

By order of Lt. General R. S. Ewell

After release from Rock Island Barracks, Robert Rouse was sent to Boulware and Cox’s Wharves, James River, VA for exchange. Bouleware’s Wharf  was described as “the Graveyard” by Colonel Robert Ould, Confederate Agent of Exchange in Richmond, in a letter to Ulysses S. Grant dated December 27, 1864.

Boulware’s Wharf was located on the James River, about 10 miles below Richmond, where Osborne Turnpike intersects Kingsland Road. Cox’s Wharf was located just down river.  By the time of Rouse’s parole, the James River up to and including Cox’s Wharf was under the control of federal forces.  Boulware’s Wharf was under the eye of Fort Brady held by Federal troops at Cox’s Wharf, and also in the shadow of the Confederate Fort Hoke located about two miles up stream.  Under a flag of truce Bouleware’s Wharf for a time became the point where Confederate prisoners were exchanged for Union POWs.

The Confederate POWs would be brought by steamboat to Aiken’s Landing, at the point where the Varina Road reaches the James River.

According to the testimony of Colonel Ould, “It is simply impossible, owing to the relative positions of the military lines, to the conditions of the roads, and the deficiency of transportation, to convey in vehicles even the sick (returning Confederates) from Varina (Aiken’s Landing) to Richmond, a distance by way of Boulware’s of some fourteen miles. The Federal steam-boats which bring our prisoners stop at Varina. This point is some four miles from our lines, and the prisoners are either marched or transported to Boulware’s Wharf, which is nearly on the dividing line of the opposing armies, and about four miles distant from Varina.”

With the war ended, Robert Rouse was furloughed. On April 10, 1865 his furlough was extended for 30 days at Macon, GA.  Rouse returned to Berrien County, GA to the 1144 Georgia Militia District, the Ray’s Mill District.  County tax records confirm his presence there in 1867.

On December 9, 1869 Robert O. Rouse married Nancy Kisiah Parrish in Berrien County, GA.

Marriage certificate of Robert O. Rouse and Mary K. Parrish

Marriage certificate of Robert O. Rouse and Nancy K. Parrish, Berrien County, GA.

Kisiah’s father, Matthew A. Parrish, had also enlisted with Company I, 50th GA Regiment during the Civil War, but had been detailed as a carpenter to help construct Guyton Hospital at Whitesville, GA three months before Rouse joined the unit. It appears that her father was furloughed home and died in Berrien County in October 1862.

Robert and Kiziah Rouse took up married life in the farm house of Robert’s uncle, William Dixon. Robert assisted his uncle with farm labor and Kisiah kept house.

1870 Census enumeration of Nancy Kisiah Parrish and Robert Rouse in the household of William Dixon, Berrien County, GA.

1870 Census enumeration of Nancy Kisiah Parrish and Robert Rouse in the household of William Dixon, Berrien County, GA. https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0135unit#page/n468/mode/1up

From Ray’s Mill, the William Dixon place  was out the road now known as the Sam I. Watson Highway, on the northeast bank of Ten Mile Creek (formerly known as Alapacoochee Creek).

About 1875 William Dixon  and the Rouses moved across Ten Mile Creek to Lot 333 which had been acquired by Dixon.  The 1880 census shows Robert Rouse enumerated next door to his uncle, William Dixon. It appears Robert had his own domicile, but still on his uncle’s property. By this time, Robert’s household included his wife and their children: Sally, age 7; Alfred, age 5; James, age 4; and William, age 2.  They were neighbors of Rhoda and George Washington Knight, and John C. Sirmans.

Robert O. Rouse 1880 Census

1880 Census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse, 1144 Georgia Militia District, Berrien County, GA https://archive.org/stream/10thcensusl0134unit#page/n411/mode/1up

In 1883 a fifth child, Josie Rouse, was born to Robert and Nancy Kisiah Rouse.

On Sunday, October 19, 1884 tragedy struck the family, with the death of little James Rouse. The  boy was laid to rest at Empire Cemetery.

Grave of James Rouse (1874-1884), son of Robert O. Rouse. Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of James Rouse (1874-1884), son of Robert O. Rouse. Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Robert and Nancy Kisiah Rouse were enumerated in the Census of 1900 still on the farm on Ten Mile Creek near Empire Church, which they had acquired from Robert’s uncle William Dixon. In their household were sons William Rouse and Josie Rouse, who helped work the farm. Also boarding with the family was Will Dias, who was employed as a teamster. Their son, Alfred L. Rouse,  and his wife, Mary Jones Rouse, were living in an adjacent home; boarding with them was uncle William Dixon, now retired.  Daughter Sarah J. “Sallie” Rouse had married D. Edwin Griner and the couple owned a nearby farm. Still residing next door to the Rouses were George Washington Knight and Rhoda Futch Knight.

1900 Census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse and family, Berrien County, GA

1900 Census enumeration of Robert O. Rouse and family, Berrien County, GA  https://archive.org/stream/12thcensusofpopu179unit#page/n769/mode/1up

From 1900 to 1903, Robert Rouse, now in his 60’s, tried in vain to qualify for a  Invalid Soldier Pension from the State of Georgia.

Georgia Invalid Soldier's Pension Application submitted by Robert O. Rouse, Berrien County, GA.

Georgia Invalid Soldier’s Pension Application submitted by Robert O. Rouse, Berrien County, GA.

Rouse’s pension application was supported by a letter from Alexander W. Patterson, Ordinary of Berrien County, GA.

robert-rouse-letter-from-berrien-ordinary

Office of Ordinary
A. W. Patterson, Ordinary
Nashville,GA., Berrien County

This is to certify that R O Rouse is still in life and entitled to any benefits that may be due him as an Invalid Confederate Soldier.
    Given under my hand and Seal of the County Ordinary, This 22” day July 1902

A W Patterson
Ordinary

Rouse was examined by Dr. L. A. Carter and Dr. W. B. Goodman who attested, “We find applicant almost blind. We believe it was caused by a wound in the face, the missile entered on the left side behind the molar and came out in front of the right molar. Said wound is so near the eyes that it caused iritis which left the eyes permanently injured.”

Three witnesses confirmed Robert O. Rouse’s service with the 50th GA Regiment, that he was wounded in action and permanently disabled; John Page Bennett, John Woods Smith, and Timothy W. Stallings. John Page Bennett, a private in Company G, 50th GA Regiment was wounded by a shell fragment in the Battle of Fredricksburg and permanently lost the use of his left arm. He received a disability discharge on April 27, 1863. John Woods Smith, a corporal in 50th GA Regiment, Company G, the Clinch Volunteers was captured November 29th, 1863 at the battle of Fort Sanders, the same battle where Robert Rouse was shot in the face.  After the War, John Woods Smith married Mary Jane Whitehurst and moved to the Rays Mill District of Berrien County; In 1900 he was living in Rays Mill, GA. Timothy W. Stallings was a private in Company K, 50th GA Regiment; in 1900 he was living in Nashville, GA.

Rouse’s pension application was denied. In June 1901, the Office of the Commissioner of Pensions, State of Georgia, noted, “The statements and proofs submitted does not show blindness, and that his condition was result of service. Physician must state in what way injury could have injured the eyes.  It is probably that present condition of eyes is result of old age and not of the wound or service.”  In 1902 the further notation was added by J. W. Lindsey, Commissioner of Pensions, “No pension allowed from partial blinding. Disapprove file.”

Robert O. Rouse died March 22, 1908.  He was buried at Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.

Grave of Robert O. Rouse, Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Robert O. Rouse, Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

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Related Posts:

Old Union Primitive Baptist Church, also known as Burnt Church

   Located in present day Lanier County, GA, the old Union Church lies about 10 miles east of where Levi J. Knight settled on Beaver Dam Creek (now Ray City, GA).  It was the first church to serve the pioneer settlers of this region.  L. J. Knight’s parents, Sarah and William Anderson Knight , were among the organizing members of the church.  Built on land provided by Jesse Carter, the church was originally referred to as Carter’s Meeting House, and later designated Union Church.

The church and cemetery  were on a trail used by the Creek Indians traveling between the Chattahoochee River and the Okefenokee Swamp.  During the Indian Wars, 1836-1838,  the church building was partially burned.  The fire-damaged timbers were used in the reconstruction, and since that time Union Church has also been known as Burnt Church.

  “Union Baptist Church, on the Alapaha River ….was constituted October 21, 1825, the first church in the old area of Irwin County.  The original members William A. Knight; his wife, Sarah; Jonathan Knight; his wife, Elizabeth; Joshua Lee; his wife, Martha; James Patten; his wife, Elizabeth; Mary Knight; Josiah Sirmans, deacon.  The Rev. Matthew Albritton served the church as its first minister.”

Union Church, Lanier County, GA

Union Church, Lanier County, GA

In Pines and pioneers: A history of Lowndes County, Georgia, 1825-1900,  author J. T. Shelton gave the following description described a Big Meeting at Union church:

“The old church had a door on every side for easy access, a rostrum along one wall with seats facing it from three directions. The arrangement allowed the seating of slaves on one side. With feet planted firmly on the wide floor boards, the congregation sat on the pews, each a single plank. The women of the church had scrubbed down with potash and homemade soap both pews and flooring, and the wood had a soft, silvery sheen. The pulpit was seven feet long, twelve inches wide and two inches thick; three to five preachers sat on a long bench behind the  pulpit until each had his turn to address the assembly. The exhorter then paced up and down the generous space provided, and he held forth for two hours before the next preacher had his chance. Listeners came and went; mothers carried out crying babies; little boys believed that they would starve to death before they could get outside to the loaded dinner tables that were as much a part of Big Meeting as the preaching.”

In 1928-30, The Clinch County News published a series of articles on the history of Union Church, portions of which are excerpted below:

HISTORY OF OLD UNION CHURCH
Established 1825

Chapter I

Union Primitive Baptist Church, the mother of all the churches of this faith in this immediate section of Georgia, was organized or constituted October 1st, 1825.  The presbytery consisted of Elders Fleming Bates and Mathew Albritton.

As is well known, the church is located on the banks of the Alapaha River about 1 1/2 miles south of Lakeland formerly old Milltown.  It stands to-day where it has always stood for the past 108 years (1933). The cemetery close by contains the graves of many pioneers and old citizens of east Lowndes, southeast Berrien and western Clinch counties.  Baptisms have always taken place in the nearby river, it not being over one hundred yards from the church to the river.  A high bluff with a sharp bend in the river’s course is the visitor’s introduction after he has passed the church.  Several steady-flowing springs of fine drinking water are to be found on the banks, and eminating from the walls of the bluff.  Part of the bluff slopes off to the river’s edge at the river bend thus making an ideal place for baptism purposes.

The little log-house which was the first building on the site of the present church, had come to be known as Carter’s Meeting House prior to the organization of the church.  For some months prior it had been the scene of monthly meetings or services, and it was the expression of the desire of the settlers to have some kind of divine services in their midst, for there was not a church to be found of any denomination from the Altamaha River to the Florida and Alabama lines.  The settlers in this immediate vicinity were more numerous than in most of the settlements, and many of them Carters.  The meeting-house took its name from old man Jesse Carter and he probably gave the land and his boys had a hand in building the original log house to hold services in.   The earliest settlers had only been living here four years at the time, while the most of them had not living here hardly a year.  Knights, Carters, Giddens and Lees made up most of the settlers west of the river while on the east side of the river were to be found Tomlinsons, Sirmans and Fenders, Corbitts and Mathises.  Further down the river could be found the Wetheringtons, Swilleys, Peters, Walkers, and Roberts.

Elder William A. Knight, at that time a layman, was one of the leading spirits in the formation of the church.  As already stated it was Elders Bates and Albritton who presided at the organization of the church, but to “Old Father Knight” as many people called him in his lifetime, may be attribute more than anyone else the religious activities of the community in those days when the first settlers were moving in.  He led in prayer and in song, and when the preacher failed to keep an appointment because of lurking Indians, high waters or other providential hindrances it was Bro. Knight who took charge and carried on the service. Five years after the church was organized he was licensed to preach the Gospel and two years later (1832) he was ordained to the full Gospel ministry.

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 Union Church had been constituted under the auspices of the Piedmont Primitive Baptist Association, but by 1827 the establishment of a number of new churches prompted a desire to divide the association.  According to a history thesis by Michael Otis Holt,

On August 24, 1827, a council met in Thomas County, Georgia to determine the feasibility of forming a new association in the region. The council arranged for another meeting at Mt. Gilead Church in September and requested that all interested churches send messengers with a statement of faith and the date of their constitution together with names of the ministers taking part in it. The careful attention to detail was necessary, because many churches in the area had cut corners in their organization. An example is Shiloh Church in Ware County. In 1833, the Ochlocknee Association would not accept Shiloh Church because it was constituted “illegally.” However, the association did offer instruction on how to craft a new constitution, which Shiloh did. The council decided to go ahead with the plans for a new association. In October, 1827, the Piedmont Association, “received and read a petition from seven Baptist churches situated between the Alapaha and Flint River praying ministerial aid to constitute them into a new association.” The Piedmont set Matthew Albritton and Fleming Bates to oversee the organization of the Association. Both were members of Union Church, near present day Lakeland, Georgia, which requested and received dismission from the Piedmont to join the new association.

The association held an organizational meeting at Bethel Church in what is now Brooks County, Georgia, in November, 1827. Six churches took part in the constitution of the Association. Union Church, was almost certainly the church that joined at the first session of the new association, which called itself Ochlocknee. In the first year of its existence, the Ochlocknee Association claimed 138 members among its seven churches. The initial meeting went well and Bates and Albritton reported to Union Church that, ‘much harmony and love abounded.’ 

The new association grew quickly. By 1833, the Ochlocknee had thirty-­five churches with 1,010 members. Though migration to the region was steadily increasing during this time, it did not account for all of the increase. In 1833, 179 were baptized into the association’s churches. Fourteen new churches applied for membership during the same year. So many neophytes comprised the new churches that the association appointed William Knight to instruct them on the proper duties of churches to the association. The rapid expansion expanded the Ochlocknee’s borders to extend from the Piedmont Association to the St. John’s Association. The expansive size of the association prompted a proposal to divide at the 1833 meeting.

In 1834, Friendship, Union, and Elizabeth churches in Georgia, and Providence, New Zion, Concord, Newington, and New River in Florida, were dismissed from the Ochlocknee Association to form a new association.  In a reflection of the intense territorialism of the associations of the period, the new body was given a boundary that extended up the Suwannee, Withlacoochee, and Little River. The association took the name Suwannee River and scheduled a constitutional meeting at Concord Church for December, 1834.  The delegates duly arrived at the meeting, but the ministers failed to show. At a  rescheduled meeting held in September, 1835, only one appointed minister showed, so the delegates co­opted William A. Knight as the other member of the presbytery and proceeded to formally organize the association.

The Suwannee River Association did not experience rapid growth like the Ochlocknee. The Second Seminole War was the primary cause for the association’s slow growth and sparse representation. The 1838 session recommended that the churches increase their days of fasting and prayer, ‘that the Lord might divert the judgments which seem to hang over us.’ They also suggested they put off any general business of the association, “by reason of the unsettled affairs of our country.”  The 1839 session met in the safer Georgia territory and again suggested more prayer and fasting, “so that the warwhoop of a savage foe, might not be heard any longer in our land to the great disturbance of our fellow citizens, while numbers of our women and infant children are falling victims to their relentless hands.”  Nearby associations “lamented the situation of the Suwannee Association, on account of the Indian War in that vicinity.” 

By the beginning of the 1840s, tensions in the region had eased and the Suwannee was experiencing growth. The 1840 minutes of the Suwannee Association speak of a revival that was strongest among its congregations in Georgia. However, this period of growth and expansion would eventually produce discord and division among the Baptists of South Georgia.

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In 1856 the Union Association was constituted with twelve churches formerly belonging to the Suwannee Associationmost of whose churches were in Florida.  A division was agreed to, making the State line the dividing line between the two Associations The constituting presbytery  was composed of Elders J. E. W. Smith, William A. Knight and J. B. Smith met at Union Church. Her ministers were Elders William A. Knight, Moses Westberry, Ansel Parrish, J. D. Hutto and E. J. Williams, with perhaps two licentiates. Harmony prevailed for a number of years, and the progress of the Association was upward and onward.

Clinch County News
September 20, 1929

HISTORY OF OLD UNION CHURCH
Established 1825

Chapter XIII.

As has been stated before, the minutes of the church from the beginning in 1825 to 1832 have been lost.  We understand, however, that Rev. William A. Knight was the first pastor as well as the guiding hand of the church during these early years.  It is certain that he was one of the charter members and the only ordained minister holding his membership with the church during that time. Assuming that he was pastor during those seven years, the list of pastors up to recently [1929], is as follows:

  • William A. Knight                          1825-1832
  • Matthew Albritton (died)              1832-1850
  • William A. Knight (died)               1850-1860
  • Ansel Parrish                                1860-1865
  •                               (No record, 1865 to 1873)
  • Timothy William Stallings            1873-1888
  • Wm. H. Tomlinson                       1888-1900
  • Timothy William Stallings           1900-1902
  • A. A. Knight                                     1902-1907
  • J. A. Chitty                                       1907-1911
  • Aaron A. Knight                                1911-1913
  • Isham Albert Wetherington                        1913-1915
  • Orville A. Knight                          1915-1916
  • E. R. Rhoden                                1916-1918
  • I. A. Wetherington (died)         1918-1923
  • Wm. H. Tomlinson                    1923-1925
  • Orville A. Knight                        1925-1927

If the writer could properly write the life of these earnest consecrated servants of the Lord, it would be equal to writing an account of the religious life of this section in the Primitive Baptist denomination.  Fearless in fighting sin and bold in preaching Christ and faithful in contending for the Faith, they have served nobly and well and unborn generations will bear witness to the fruits of their work.  With few exceptions the writer has not sufficient biographical data at hand now to write of their individual lives, but we know of their godly records.  We hope to write later of the lives of these great preachers.

Church Clerks

The clerks of the church likewise contain a list of fine men, known throughout their communities and  counties for their good, upright lives, and their staunch Christian characters. We do not know who the first clerk was.

Elected

  • Owen Smith              September 7, 1832
  • Joshua Sykes              January 12, 1839
  • Isaac D. Hutto                  April 13, 1845
  • William Patten                  May 10, 1851
  • William Lastinger              July 8, 1854
  • John Studstill                       Jan 9, 1858
  • William Giddens                May 7, 1863
  • E. R. Rhoden                 October 8, 1891
  • W. R. Rhoden         November 10, 1894
  • J. L. Robertson        February 12, 1898
  • Wm. J. Knight                  May 12, 1900
  • J. A. Weaver                 August 10, 1901
  • G. L. Robinson      September 12, 1924
  • J. A. Weaver          September 12, 1925
  • J. S. Shaw                     October 8, 1926

A good portion of the minutes is in the handwriting of assistant clerks.  These assistant clerks were generally elected by the church, but of late years there have been no assistants.  The list of assistant clerks is as follows:

  • William A. Knight          1834-1837
  • Levi Drawdy                  1837-1848
  • James Walker                1853-1854
  • Richard H. Burkhalter 1861-1862
  • John P. Tomlinson       1887-1900
  • John T. Watson            1900-1902

Deacons

The church has had but few deacons during its 105 years [as of 1929] of existence.  There were apparently never over two at the time, and when elected they served for life unless sooner dismissed by letter or otherwise.  The list given below is full of as fine men as ever lived in this section.  We do not in the list make any attempt to show how long they served except in those cases where they died members of the church.  We do not know who the first deacons of the church were.  List follows:

Bro. Edmund Mathis, one of the deacons, having removed his membership, Bro. Joshua Lee was elected in his place March 10, 1833, and ordained April 13, 1833 by Elders Peacock, Friar and Knight.

September 6, 1839, Bro. Edmund Mathis was received back into the membership by letter from Concord church, Hamilton County, Fla., and acted as a deacon until dismissed again by letter April 10, 1841.

On June 13, 1841, brethren Jacob Hughes and John Lee were ordained deacons.  Members of the presbytery not shown by minutes.

March 13, 1852, brethren Richard H. Burkhalter and J. D. Peters were elected deacons.  They were ordained June 12, 1852 but the minutes do not show who constituted the presbytery.  Bro. Burkhalter died in 1862 and Bro. Peters also died a member but we do not know when.

The minutes do not show any further ordination of deacons until 1891 when Bro. John P. Tomlinson was elected on May 9th.  On June 13, 1891 he was ordained by Elders J. A. O’steen and T. W. Stallings.

On December 9, 1899, Bro. James L. Robinson was elected a deacon but was never ordained.

On November 10, 1906 Bro. Israel G. Carter was elected a deacon and ordained January 12, 1907 by Elders B.P. Lovett from Salem Church, I. A. Wetherington from Unity church,  A. A. Knight , the pastor.

On October 9, 1909, Bro. J. A. Weaver was elected deacon, and ordained February 12, 1910 by Elders Wetherington, Chitty and A. A. Knight .

Treasurers

The minutes do not disclose that the church ever had any treasurer until 1909 whem on October 9th, Bro. J. A. Weaver was elected as such.

Historic Marker - Union Church, organized 1825. Sarah and William A. Knight were founding members.

Historic Marker – Union Church, organized 1825. Sarah and William A. Knight were founding members.

Some other members of Union Church:

  • George Harris – received August 7, 1841, dismissed by letter March 12, 1842; joined Providence Primitive Baptist Church near their home soon after that church was constituted in 1844
  • Julia Ann Westberry Harris – received August 7, 1841, dismissed by letter March 12, 1842; joined Providence Primitive Baptist Church near their home soon after that church was constituted in 1844
  • William Hughes  – joined by letter, December 8, 1838
  • William Wesley Johnson – baptized August 10, 1839
  • Amelia Sherley Johnson – baptized June 13, 1840
  • John Lee – joined by letter, June 8, 1839
  • Elender Wetherington Lee – joined by letter, June 8, 1838
  • Joshua Lee – constituting member, October 1, 1825
  • Martha Ford Lee – constituting member, October 1, 1825
  • Moses C. Lee – baptized September 11, 1841
  • Jincey Register Lee – baptized September 10, 1854
  • Thomas Mathis – united 1839, dismissed by letter December 12, 1840
  • Eady Mathis – united 1839, dismissed by letter December 12, 1840
  • Tyre Mathis – joined by letter April 12, 1828, dismissed by letter December 11, 1847
  • Nancy Lee Mathis – joined by letter April 12, 1828, dismissed by letter December 11, 1847
  • Mehala Rice Monk – joined by letter 1838
  • Elizabeth Skinner Register – received by letter into Union Church, September 13, 1828, from Fellowship Baptist Church, Appling County, and dismissed by letter April 10, 1841 from Union to participate in constituting Wayfare Church
  • William Patten – baptized September 9, 1848, dismissed by letter March 11, 1854 to organize Empire Church

 

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