Baptists and the American Civil War: September 9, 1865

Freedmen in Richmond, Virginia.

Freedmen in Richmond, Virginia.

The Van Wert Baptist Church of Paulding County, Georgia closed its doors in late 1864 due to the battles raging in and around Atlanta. Reassembling in January 1865, the congregation since has struggled. The minutes of a church conference (business meeting) held this day refer to post-war realities.

“After the opening of conference as usual, a Letter of Dismission was granted to Moses, the property formerly of T. Jones, and with the liberty to exercise in public. Resolved that this Church extend an arm for the reception of members at the schoolhouse in the neighborhood of Mr. Kilgo’s. Resolved also that we get our old house back if we can, and repair it. Appointed Brother Heaton a committee to attend to it. Granted a Letter of Dismission to Sister Mary Jane Hunt. William Coalson, Moderator John A. Rentz, Church Clerk”

The phrase “exercise in public” is a reference to preaching. The congregation, in short, grants freedman Moses permission to preach with their formal approval. This is not particularly uncommon in post-war months, as black Baptists en masse leave white-led churches to form autonomous congregations.

Common, too, is the need for meeting house repairs. Fortunate are the congregations of the South whose buildings need only repairs. Many lie in complete ruins.

In Texas, meanwhile, Baptist layman and former slaveowner Jacob Eliot reflects upon the uncertainties facing both whites and blacks alike in the post-war South.

“A negro woman and her five children, the wife of Negro Jo — they belong to Theo Medor, came to my ranch two days ago. What to do with them, I do not know. Should his master consent, I would care but little, … two negro boys left last night for parts unknown and it will afford me pleasure if some others who are feuding will do likewise. There is very little work in free American citizen of African descent….”

Sources: Minutes, Van Wert Baptist Church, 1860-1870 (link); see also Bruce T. Gourley, Diverging Loyalties: Baptists in Middle Georgia During the Civil War, Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2011 (link); Jacob Eliot Diary, September 9, 1865 (link)