committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs









        By a call of some of the ordained ministers of our denomination, among whom was the pastor of this church, a convention met at Mitchellville, upon the island of Hilton Head, in South Carolina, on Friday, July 14, 1865. This church sent to that convention as delegates her pastor, Rev. U. L. Houston, Deacon A. Harris, and Brother S. Whitfield. Upon the assembling of that body, composed wholly of colored members, Rev. Mr. Houston was chosen chairman, and presided over the deliberations of the body until an Association was organized. The representation in that body consisted of four churches from Savannah, who were members of the Sunbury Association, and three churches of Beaufort District, South Carolina, constituted during the war. Rev. John Cox, pastor of the Second African Baptist Church, Savannah, and the oldest ordained minister in the body, was elected Moderator of the Association upon its organization; Brother K. S. Thomas was chosen clerk, and subsequently the pastor of this church, treasurer. He also preached the opening sermon before the Association from the text, "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest," Exodus xxxiii. 14. Thus this oldest church was recognized at the organization of the First Negro Baptist Association in the two States of Georgia and South Carolina by having the honor of first presiding, first preaching the word, and first holding the financial trust; and these honors were conferred by the colored brethren present, who were capable of knowing her true position, having been associated with her in the old organization of mixed Baptist churches for many years. The first honor was given this church, and the second honor to the Second, which was organized out of this in 1802, by Rev. Mr. Bryan and others. Moreover, in the appointment of a committee to draft the constitution and by-laws for the Zion Baptist Association, the committee stood: A. Harris A. Bourke, W. J. Campbell, A. Mercherson, and J. Jones,--this church having the chairmanship.

        To extend her usefulness in the kingdom of Christ and to give to the missionary cause her aid, she sent her pastor to meet the Consolidated Missionary Baptist Convention of the United States, which met at Alexandria, Virginia, in August, 1865, and offered herself for membership in that body, and was one of the first representatives from the Southern States in that convention.

        After the return of the delegates from the organization of the Zion Association the church decided that this was the proper time to designate this the oldest organization of a colored Baptist church, seeing that the God-given rights of discipleship in Christ and the power to act and control her own affairs was no longer restrained as formerly; resolved, as a fitting name and designation, she should be henceforward known as the First Bryan Baptist Church; and authorized her officers to take the necessary steps to procure for her chartered rights to hold and control the property in her now designated title,--which was subsequently done, and at the next session of the Association reported a title of her own choosing, a privilege never yet freely used. Constituted originally a Baptist body, her particular designation had ever been circumstantial and of the choosing of others: thus colored, from the shade of the physical complexion of her members; African, as to the country from which her early ancestors had come; the number as enrolled among the churches by the white brethren controlling the Association, Old Jerusalem, as an endearing appellation akin to the heavenly promise; but now choosing this name designed to perpetuate the name of her founder, and put herself back in her true position.

        The Zion Baptist Association met with the First African Baptist Church at Savannah, July 13, 1866, the delegation from this church being U. L. Houston and A. Harris. The first statistical report since 1864 to the Sunbury was given then. Her membership was 261. She reported at this latter session: baptized this year, 90; received by letter, 80; restored, 18; expelled, 10; died, 10; showing an increase of 118 and a loss of 20,--a neat gain of 98; and a membership of 462, and increase in membership of 201 since 1864. The next session of the Association met in Florida in July, 1867. The church, which was represented by letter, reported: baptized for the year, 51; and membership 513. The church had in 1866 ordained to the work of the gospel ministry, as an evangelist and missionary, Brother Andrew Neyle, whose labors have been wonderfully blessed. He entered the work upon the mission of the Association this session, and continued several years in their service. The church also in this year obtained her charter.





        "This Indenture, made this seventeenth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven, Between Richard D. Arnold, Farley R. Sweat, and Lewis C. Tebeau, all of said County and State, of the first part, and Alexander Harris, Lewis Ross, I. W. Toer, Quibus Fraser, and Daniel Butler, also of said County and State, Trustees as hereinafter mentioned, of the second part, Whereas, by a certain deed of Indenture entered into and executed on the third day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-seven between Andrew Bryan, a free black man and a preacher of the Gospel by lawful authority ordained, of the one part, and Thomas Polhill, William Matthew's, David Fox, and Josiah Fox, of the said State of Georgia, of the other part, it was witnessed, that the said Andrew Bryan, for and in consideration of the sum of Thirty pounds sterling money to him in hand paid, did grant, bargain, sell, aliene, convey, and confirm unto the said Thomas Polhill, William Matthews, David Fox, and Josiah Fox, and the survivors and survivor of them, and to such successor and successors of them as might be appointed by the survivor of them in the manner in the said deed directed, in trust and to and for the use of the Baptist Church of Blacks at Savannah, over which the said Andrew Bryan did then preside, and had for some time presided, as pastor and minister, one equal moiety, being the half of all that lot of land (most part of said lot) situate lying and being at Yamacraw above the City of Savannah, known by the number seven (7) in the village of St. Gall, fronting Bryan or Odingsell Street, containing nearly ninety-five (95) feet in front and one hundred and thirty-two and a half (132 1/2) in depth; bounded West and South by land of the late Doctor Zubly, deceased; East by a lot late the property of Richard Williams, deceased; and North by the main street leading from Yamacraw to the Brick Meeting-House, together with the Brick Meeting-House thereon erected and standing, and all and singular the houses, out-houses, premises, and appurtenances to the same belonging. To Hold the same for the sole use and purpose of the public worship of God by the society of Blacks of the Baptist persuasion, and for no other use or purpose whatsoever, and that on the death of any or either of the above-named Trustees the survivor or survivors might or should within one year thereafter nominate and appoint a successor or successors in the room of such deceased Trustee, which successor or successors so appointed should be considered as a party to the said deed for the uses and purposes thereby intended, all of which will more fully appear, reference being had to said deed. And, Whereas, in accordance with the provisions of said deed, the said William Matthews, as surviving Trustee, did nominate, constitute, and appoint by his deed of Indenture, dated the sixth day of December, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-four, Moses Cleland, Josiah Penfield, and Edward Coppee to be co-trustees of the said property, under and by virtue of said deed. And Whereas the said Edward Coppee, as survivor of the said Trustees hereinbefore last mentioned, did nominate, constitute, and appoint by his deed of Indenture, dated the _________ day of April, one thousand eight hundred and forty, William W. Wash, Richard D. Arnold, and Abram Harmon to be co-trustees of the said property under and by virtue of the said deed. And Whereas the said Richard D. Arnold, as survivor of the Trustees hereinbefore last mentioned, did nominate, constitute, and appoint by his deed of Indenture, dated the twenty-third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and sixty, J. W. Rabun, Farley R. Sweat, and Lewis C. Tebeau to be co-trustees of the said property under and by virtue of the said deed, all of which will more fully appear, reference being had to said Indentures. And Whereas the said J. W. Rabun has departed this life and the said Richard D. Arnold, Farley R. Sweat, and Lewis C. Tebeau are the surviving Trustees under said last-mentioned appointment, and by virtue of the provisions of the said original Indenture. And Whereas, by the ordinances and laws of the State of Georgia, the members of and constituting the said Baptist Church of Blacks are now invested with full and equal legal rights and capacities, and are no longer subject to any legal disabilities. And Whereas, under and by virtue of said laws, the members of said Church were duly incorporated at the January Term, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, of the Superior Court for Chatham County under the name and style of the First Bryan Baptist Church, as will fully appear, reference being had to the records of said Court. And Whereas, in and by said Act of incorporation, it is amongst other things provided that the said Church may appoint such officers and Trustees as to it may appear proper, who may manage the affairs of the said corporation, and may receive and hold the property thereof to them and their successors in office, and may control the same for the use and benefit of the said Church according to the rules of discipline and method of Church government. And Whereas, in and by a decree in Equity had and obtained at the January Term aforesaid of the Superior Court for the County of Chatham, it is ordered that the said Richard D. Arnold, Farley R. Sweat, and Lewis C. Tebeau, Trustees as aforesaid, do grant, transfer, and assign to the said Church, or to the Trustees thereof and their successors in office, the estate and property of the said Church held by them as aforesaid, to be received, held, and controlled by the said Trustees for the use and benefit of the said Church according to the trusts upon which said property was originally granted, and the Trustees of the said Church and their successors in office are by the said decree appointed and constituted Trustees to receive and manage the said property as aforesaid. And it is further ordered and decreed that upon executing such grant and transfer the said Richard D. Arnold, Farley R. Sweat, and Lewis C. Tebeau be relieved from all further trust and from all responsibility in or about the said property, all of which will more fully appear, reference being had to said decree. Now, therefore, this Indenture Witnesseth, that the said Richard D. Arnold, Farley R. Sweat, and Lewis C. Tebeau, said parties of the first part, in consideration of the premises and of the incorporation aforesaid, and by virtue of the power in them vested by the said decree, and for and in consideration of the sum of Five dollars to them in hand paid at and before the sealing and delivery of these presents, the receipt, whereof is hereby acknowledged. Have granted, bargained, sold, assigned, transferred, released, and confirmed, and by these presents Do grant, bargain, sell, assign, transfer, release, and confirm unto the said Alexander Harris, Lewis Ross, J. W. Toer, Quibus Fraser, and Daniel Butler, said parties of the second part, Trustees of the said First Bryan Baptist Church and their successors in office and assigns, the said lot of land and Brick Meeting-House and all and singular the premises and property of the said Church, held by them in trust as aforesaid, and all of the estate, right, title, property, and interest of every nature and kind of the said parties of the first part, To Have and To Hold the said bargained premises and every of them unto the said parties of the second part as Trustees of the said First Bryan Baptist Church, and to their successors in office and assigns forever. In Trust, nevertheless, for the use and benefit of the First Baptist Church, and to and for the several uses, intents, and purposes in the said original deed of trust specified and hereinbefore in part recited, and to and for no other uses, intents, or purposes whatsoever.

        "In Witness whereof, the said Richard D. Arnold, Farley R. Sweat, and Lewis C. Tebeau, Trustees as aforesaid, have hereunto set their hands and seals the day and year first above written.


"R. D. ARNOLD, [L.S.]
F. R. SWEAT. [L.S.]

"Signed, Sealed, and Delivered in presence of us,

"Not. Pub., C. C., Ga.

"Not subject to stamp duty,

"A. N. WILSON, Coll.

"Recorded May 11, 1867, Book 3 Zs, folios 26 et seq.

"I, Barnard E. Bee, clerk of said Court, do hereby certify the writing on this and the foregoing six pages to be a true copy of the above deed, as appears of record in this office in Book 3 Zs, folios 26 et seq. "In Testimony whereof, I have hereto set my official signature and affixed the seal of said Court this 26th day of January, A.D. 1884.

"Clerk, S. C. C. C."


        In 1868 the church was represented in the Association by Rev. A. Neyle and A. Harris. (The pastor had leave of absence to be in attendance as a member of the Georgia Legislature, he having been elected to the lower house, representing the county of Bryan in that body.) The statistics were: baptized, 33; received by letter, 13; membership, 541,--gain, 28. In 1869 the delegates were Rev. U. L. Houston and A. Harris. Baptized, 53; received by letter, 14; membership, 574. In 1870 represented by Houston, G. Frazer, A. Harris, and James Andrews; baptized, 20; received by letter, 2; membership, 583. The pastor was still engaged in his duties as a member of the State legislature, and attended this session by leave of absence from that assembly. After he returned to Atlanta, the seat of government, a conspiracy was formed to oust him from his pastorate, which he had held for about nine years. By his zeal and the grace that had been given him from God, evidenced by the success he had attained,--a success beyond any pastor that had served the church since Mr. A. Marshall,-- he had endeared himself to a large majority of the members, and in many ways was quite acceptable to the community, until, for two or more years past, he had taken some part in the political affairs of the State, which became necessary under the new order of affairs in the country, giving the franchise to the emancipated slaves and creating them citizens by law. In seeking out men to represent the colored people in the councils of the nation and State, it was believed that the most competent men were to be found, with few exceptions, among the ministers of the gospel of Christ; and while it is to be deeply regretted that this was so, on account of a sound principle in the government of this country, that it is best to have a separation of Church and State, yet in the very nature of things in the past of our people it was unavoidable; and thus many pastors and preachers necessarily had to leave their flock and legitimate field of labor to enter the arena of politics in order to secure right and justice for their people. And the people instinctively felt this necessity, and consented to their spiritual deprivation for the time being, not withstanding the white citizens among whom they lived and served, and the late owners, constantly spoke disparagingly of the ministers who served in these positions. They very often convinced some men of weak judgment and vacillating minds among our race, and thereby excited dissension and division even in our churches; but there were also some men of intelligence and ability, capable of better judgment, who, jealous of the success of others in the positions they were chosen to, became easily incited to opposition and evil designs, and fitting tools for those whose purpose it was to divide and weaken our people, the better to prey upon and again enslave them by weaving a web of circumstances around them of secondary bondage inexplicable, at least for many years; thus many new trials arose with which the church had never had any experience, and which they now had to meet and overcome by faith and humble prayer.

        Since the death of the aged deacon, Adam Johnson, in 1853, no deacon of the church, it seems, possessed those controlling qualities which he exhibited in the degree that brother Alexander Harris did, whose highly intelligent mind and indomitable will gave him the leading place in the affairs of the church in the absence of the pastor; and in some measure controlled his actions in the rulings incumbent in his office. Step by step he seemed to gain ascendancy in this direction; and not always using the power with due propriety, and with that special regard for the glory of God, but mere purpose of exhibiting his personal strength and influence, while most of his brethren in the church and in the deaconship with him, having less mental ability and business qualities, yet being more kind and considerate of the Christian needs of the members, bore more weight with the majority of them. In the conference meetings for the disciplining of members, or devising ways and means for the progress of the church, using his superior powers of debating,--tenacious of his views, not always the best, most beneficial or agreeable,--there naturally arose such a degree of friction between himself and colleagues in office that his best help became irksome to the most of them. Brother Harris as a man seemed to be compounded of some opposite natural qualities. Physically, like Mr. Johnson, he was above the medium, tall and commanding in appearance as he moved, finely developed head, and well-cut, regular facial features, large, full eyes, roundly-turned chin, medium large mouth and clear voice. Yet his natural manner and way of acting were peculiarly repulsive. Quick of perception, deep thinking, having an impediment of speech, his delivery became difficult, and naturally, when opposed, irritable and pugnacious in a moral sense, but quickly affable when in concord with. Thus, like the traveller on the road, the fierce blinding wind and storm made him hold the more tightly his cloak; and it is the warm, bright genial sun that makes him lay it off. So to his brethren he became powerful but unpopular. Wise and wilful but unlovable by the people, he was most interested in as a public servant of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. His brethren feared him more than they respected him, and in the church often yielded to his opinions because they feared his power; and therefore with a view to harmony in their council, they invited or requested him to exercise his gifts in a different part of the work, by licensing him to preach.

        The church had connected by membership branches in the country among her scattered members, located upon St. Catharine and Skidaway Islands; and a part of the members of the Great Ogeechee church, which had become much demoralized by the war, she sheltered under her watchful care, and fed them at stated times with the Bread of life at a plantation called Woodstock, where Brother Harris had customarily attended them with the word, at least once each month. It was upon a Sabbath day of one of these visits, and he absent, that the church in conference removed him from the deaconship, passed the resolution inviting him to preach; against which act, upon learning, he strongly protested; proclaiming that he never had said to any one that he felt called on to preach, and the church by his request rescinded her actions and restored him to the deaconship.

        It must not be supposed that with the several objectionable features of this brother's character and manner he had neither admirers nor followers. In certain secular contingencies that had arisen in the church some of the very qualities he possessed seemed both necessary and desirable, and with men of intellectual equality and distinction would be admired and respected; and in the church there were a number of those who had been reared up from childhood under the care and Christian teachings of Mr. Johnson, and whose parents had been his stanchest supporters in the earlier days of the church, that saw in this brother his prototype and successor, and were prepared at all times to be guided and controlled by his advice, and therefore stood by and supported him. With this class of followers, and a few others whom he bound to himself by particular or personal services rendered, and who felt obligated to him, he attempted, in the absence of the pastor, to usurp his place.

        The conspiracy seemed to have begun soon after the adjournment of the Association, which met at Grahamville in July, 1870, and while the pastor was still at Atlanta, in attendance as a legislator of the State. The custom of the church at this time was to call their pastor yearly, and as his term would expire in a short while, and his term of office in the State Assembly expired nearly about the same time, he had stood for re-election, received the nomination from his constituents of Bryan County, and was busily engaged in the canvass of county and State. Mr. Harris, seeing this, made a pretext for advising the church not to recall him the next year, as his service to the people in their political interest was such that they must make the sacrifice and do without him. However, the officers felt that the pastor should not stand for re-election, because while in the legislature they found it very difficult to fill his place on communion days, as he was anyway; but he persuaded the church that, should he return, the period of the term would be short, as they by law could sit only forty days. Deacon Harris insisted that the pastor could not tell anything about that, as the body could change the law, and that he ought not to go, and if he went the church ought not to recall him. Houston's reply to this was that he was again nominated by his constituents, and nothing would keep him from going but defeat in the polls. Thus, when he went into the canvas determined to be re-elected, he left the deacon determined to defeat his recall; and he had the decided advantage in the argument made against the pastor's running for the political office, as he could show the need of the pastor's presence at home, so that when he was absent after this argument before the people, he picked the favorable opportunity, and got a resolution passed not to recall him.

        The church had reported this year a membership of five hundred and eighty-three, two-thirds of whom resided in the city and generally attended conference at the time. Those present at the conference, April 15, 1871, vary in the estimate of the number present, but all agree that there were not less than between one hundred and fifty and two hundred. Brother Harris in the chair, the church proceeded to elect a pastor. Revs. Andrew Neyle, David Watters himself, and Brother J. S. Habersham, were nominated. A brother arose and nominated Rev. U. L Houston. The chair stated that the nomination was out of order and could not be entertained. The brother persisting in his purpose to nominate Mr. Houston, and being seconded by several brethren, Brother Harris called Rev Mr. Neyle to the chair, and proceeded in a very boisterous manner to show that they could not use that name; and it was disorderly, because they had at a previous conference resolved by vote that they would not recall Houston. After silencing the parties completely, without any allusion to the right of the body to reconsider the previous vote he alluded to, and knowing their ignorance of usual parliamentary usages, those who understood it somewhat seemed to be with him, he resumed the chair and took the vote on the four already nominated, which, when called to rise and stand until counted, stood: Neyle, 15; Watters, 15; Harris, 34; Habersham, 16. We do not vouch for the perfect correctness of these figures, but are sure they are a close approximation. This vote was in the aggregate cast for the four candidates nominated, only about half of the members being present, the others not voting because they desired to vote for Mr. Houston, and urgently expressed themselves to that effect. But the chair positively refused to permit an expression of their choice by vote, and declared himself duly elected, having received the largest plurality of the votes cast, and thus became elected pastor of a Baptist church of five hundred and eighty-three members, about two hundred being present, and receiving only thirty-four votes of the whole. The meeting adjourned with a general murmuring of dissatisfaction, many expressing the determination that the said election should not stand; but a majority of the members, with Christian meekness and patience, bore the injustice. The bold action of the man seemed to paralyze the church and the deacons who had not joined in the conspiracy with him. Some of them, not feeling competent to act in the matter, sought counsel of brethren of other churches no stronger than themselves, and who endeavored to act as arbitrators, but with no success; all appeals for Christian fairness availed nothing; this brother's mind seemed made up to a purpose that he would not desist from. Suffice it to say, that he gathered together a council of brethren weak enough to suit the purpose, used the name of the church in calling them to act as an ordaining presbytery, had himself ordained, had himself and the clerk of the church appointed delegates to the Association, and appeared there July 14, 1871, as pastor of the church.1

        Mr. Houston, having failed of re-election to the legislature for another term, and having timidly remained away from his post of duty to a people who really loved him, with the few exceptions stated, finding his place now usurped, went to the aid of a Baptist people who were put out from the white brethren of a church in Liberty County. He organized them under a bush arbor as the Zion Baptist Church of Liberty County (now a large and flourishing church), and also went to the Association meeting at Brunswick, Georgia, representing it as pastor, and applying for recognition and membership; but claiming also by letter to represent a majority of the members of the First Bryan Baptist Church, with Deacon William Green as associate. When the question of the contesting delegations came up, the Association, after considerable debate, laid the question on the table the first day, because of this vexed question retarding the business. They took it from the table on the fourth-day morning, and debated it until the hour of adjournment. The subject was resumed in the afternoon, then, and decided by a vote of twenty to eleven that "the letter from the First Bryan Baptist Church, borne by Rev. A. Harris, was the legal letter of that church, and must be received," and, as it seems, to soften somewhat the glaring wrong which they felt was perpetrated upon that people, passed this resolution:

        "Resolved, That we as an Association sympathize with the majority of the members of the First Bryan Baptist Church of Savannah. But as it is out of our power to interfere with the internal affairs of individual churches, we would recommend that they endeavor to reconcile affairs within themselves. And the clerk be instructed to forward by the hand of Brother William Green a copy of this resolution, with the regrets of this body that such should have occurred."

        It is not very clear what is meant by "such should have occurred," whether it be what Brother Harris did towards the majority of the church, what they did in receiving the usurping delegation, the impudent actions of the brother in that body, or that this old mother church should be suffering as she then was again a second time. We suppose the latter; but the peculiar and indefinite wording of the resolution, especially the closing sentence, would cover any or all of those points. But the sharpness of the third will be better seen in his having himself appointed chairman of the committee on nominations for next session by offering the motion to appoint them. Three other very weak brethren were appointed upon that committee with him, one only of whom could not be controlled by him, who reported back his own name to preach the introductory sermon.

        The statistical report made that year read as follows (and we suppose is correct, as the figures must have been taken from the books by the clerk, who was also one of the delegates): baptized, 65; received by letter, 8; restored, 22; dismissed, 2; expelled, 13; dropped, 13; membership, 427. Twenty days after the adjournment of the Association, on the 7th of August, Mr. Harris presented to a called meeting of the church a committee from a council of ministering brethren, held in the Savannah Baptist Church,--Rev. Farley Sweat (white), Rev. W. J. Campbell (colored). The former read the decision of the Council, made upon the ex parte statement of Harris and his friends. "The decision declared Mr. Harris elected pastor of the church by the silence of the majority, who did not vote because he (Mr. Harris) would not let them vote as they pleased, or as an honest Christian brother in the chair should, whose duty it is to regulate the debates and facilitate the business of the conference, especially upon so sacred a duty as the calling of a pastor."

        After reading the report Brother Sweat asked what action should be taken upon it, and it was moved, seconded, and unanimously voted that it be received. It was then immediately moved and seconded also that it be adopted, but that vote was largely in the negative, showing the church's respect for the brethren of the council and committee but not for their opinions upon this case. What the Church bound on earth shall be bound in heaven, is the promise of the gospel, not what a small faction of the Church and an ex parte council did. The true body of that Church present on that evening showed by their action then and there that their eyes had become opened and that they had not thus bound themselves, though seemingly bound, and trusted God to loose them if they were.  Brother Campbell, of the committee, then made some persuasive remarks, which the church heard with respectful silence. Seeing he could do nothing, Mr. Harris then sang the Doxology; and before he could declare the meeting dismissed, Deacon William Green requested the members to remain, when, on motion, the church resolved itself into a conference and called Brother Green to the chair, who, after leading in prayer, asked what should be done, seeing the dissatisfaction with the report. On motion it was resolved that as the committee of that council simply gave their decision,--which was respectfully heard and differed with by so large a body of the members,--they should have inquired the reason for their refusal to adopt it; as they did not, that no more notice be taken of it. On motion they restored to his rights Brother J. S. Habersham, whom Mr. Harris had impeached. Also, on motion, and by a unanimous vote, two of the three living trustees--namely Alexander Harris and Daniel Butler--were removed, and Brother Quives Frazer, Revs. J. M. Simms and David Watters were elected, and the conference adjourned. Thus the proceedings of opposition, commenced at the meeting of the Association for the first time after the usurpation, were resumed here as an irrepressible conflict between right and wrong in the church.


1 Minutes of Zion Baptist Association, 1871, pages 5, 6, 7, 11, 16,17,25.
2 Minutes of the First Bryan Baptist Church, August 27, 1871.

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