The Early Years of One of Georgia's Oldest Churches
On August 1, 2007, the members of Poplar Springs North Baptist Church will celebrate their 200th anniversary as a church. The church appears to be the oldest active Georgia church congregation west of the Oconee River. Poplar Springs Church was actually consecrated four months before the land upon which it stood changed from Wilkinson County to Laurens County. The members of the community chose a site centered among the most well populated regions of the southern tip of Wilkinson County. A small meeting house was constructed half way between the Oconee River and Turkey Creek near the Lower Uchee Indian Path. Today the church sits near the original site on Highway 338, a little over a mile from U.S. 441 North.
The founding presbytery consisted of the Rev. Charles Culpepper, Rev. Isiah Shirey, and Charnick Allen Tharp. Rev. John Albritton is thought to have opened the services. Amos Love was chosen as the first church clerk - he also served as the first clerk of Laurens County Superior Court.
The charter members of the Poplar Springs Church were Ann, John, Margaret and Richard Albritton; George Blair; Mr. and Mrs. John Bowen; Mary Culpepper; John, Edith, Sarah and Elizabeth Gilbert; Elizabeth and John Kent and their daughter Elizabeth; Amos Love; John and Mary Manning; Eleanor O'Neal; Richard Painter; Jessey Pollock; Jessey Stevens; Mr. and Mrs. Elijah Thompson; Josiah and Nancy Warren; Nancy, David and Sarah Watson; and Elizabeth and Joseph Yarborough.
Mary, probably a slave belonging to the Albrittons, was the first African-American church member in Laurens County history. Among the first slaves to worship in the church were Jeff, Dublin, Clarissa, Phebe, Silvy, Ephram, Fanny and Tabitha. After the end of the Civil War, black members formed their own churches, primarily at Spring Hill and Mt. Tilla.
Several early members were prominent in the first century of Georgia's history. Amos Love, was the first clerk of the church and the county's first clerk. His son, Peter Early Love, became a leading statesman of Georgia, serving as a solicitor general, superior court judge and U.S. Congressman. Love was one of the delegation of Georgia congressman who walked out of the Congress when Georgia seceded from the Union. The first man to pastor an organized church in Laurens County was the Rev. William Hawthorn. Rev. Hawthorn, a soldier of the American Revolution and a native of North Carolina, moved to the Allentown (Wilkinson County) area about the year 1806. In August of 1808, Rev. Hawthorn was called to Poplar Springs Baptist Church. Rev. Hawthorn served the church for 10 months. His home became a part of Twiggs County in 1810. Rev. Hawthorn also served his community in state government. In 1814, the Reverend was elected by Twiggs Countians to the State Senate. From 1819 to 1821, Rev. Hawthorn represented Pulaski County in the Senate. Rev. Hawthorn moved to Decatur County, where he represented that county in the Senate in 1827 and again in 1829. Rev. Hawthorn may have been the only person in the history of Georgia to represent three different counties in the Georgia Senate. During his lifetime, Rev. Hawthorn also served in the local governments of four counties. Rev. Hawthorn died on May 15, 1846. His lasting legacy is the Hawthorn Trail, which follows the modern highway from Albany to Tallahassee to the Gulf of Mexico.
Lott Warren was born in Burke County, Georgia on Oct. 30, 1797. The Warrens moved in 1804 to what later became Laurens County. Lott, an orphan at the age of 12, went to live with his uncle, the Rev. Charles Culpepper. While working as a clerk in a Dublin store, Warren was drafted into the Georgia Militia. The young man was elected Second Lieutenant of the Laurens County company. Lt. Warren was then appointed Adjutant of the detachment. Lt. Warren returned home and studied law under Daniel McNeel before being admitted to the bar in 1821. In 1824 Col. Warren represented Laurens County in the Legislature. In 1826 Warren served as the Solicitor General of the Southern Circuit from 1826 to 1828. Warren moved to Twiggs County, representing that county in the Senate in 1830. In 1831 Col. Warren began a three year term as Judge of the Southern Circuit. Judge Warren moved to Americus. In 1838 he was elected to the United States Congress. After serving two terms in Congress, Lott Warren returned to private practice. Judge Warren returned to the bench serving as Judge of the Southwestern Circuit from 1844 until his resignation in August of 1852. Lott Warren was a faithful member of the Baptist Church and followed the teachings of Christ in his legal and political career. Judge Warren fell dead while making a speech at the courthouse in Albany on June 17, 1861.
Eli Warren, son of revolutionary war soldier Josiah Warren and Nancy Doty, was a native of Laurens. Eli Warren represented Laurens County in both houses of the Georgia Legislature. He was a member of two constitutional conventions and a brigadier general in the Georgia militia. At the height of his legal career, Gen. Warren was said to have had one of the largest practices in the state. Gen. Warren had many notable descendants. His grandson, Kittrell J. Warren founded "The Macon News". One of his daughters married James W. Lathrop, founder and first president of the Savannah Cotton Exchange. Warren Grice, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, was also a descendant. Eli Warren's brother-in-law was Peter Early Love. Love was a Solicitor General and Judge of the Southern Circuit. Love was also one of the members of the Georgia Congressional delegation when the Civil War broke out in 1861.
Rev. Charles Culpepper, a leading pioneer Georgia Baptist minister, served as pastor at Poplar Springs from 1809 to 1830. Whiteford S. Ramsay, founder of the Dublin and Laurens County School systems, served as pastor for 30 years from 1870 until his death in 1900. Rev. Ramsay served as a minister longer than anyone else at Poplar Springs. Ramsay, at 21 years of age, was one of the youngest Colonels in the Confederate Army.
Deacons Joseph Yarborough and Matthew Albritton were appointed to lay out a lot of land to build the first church on in 1809. The first church, a small log building, served the members of the church until 1830. The second building was constructed on the site in 1830 and lasted until 1889. A third and more substantial church building was erected in 1889 and lasted until a Sunday morning in December 1943, when it caught on fire shortly after morning church services had begun. The present building, built in 1945, has been modified and enlarged several times to meet the needs of the growing church membership.
Congratulations to the members of Poplar Springs North Church on their bicentennial celebration, which also coincides with our county's 200th anniversary. We are all fortunate the minutes of the church have survived for 200 years. The church has such a rich history that a full account can not be given in this column. I refer you to The History of Poplar Springs North Baptist Church by R.M. Johnson. It is an outstanding history of Laurens County's and one of Georgia's oldest churches.