Celebrating 150 Years
During this year of 2007, the members of Mount Carmel Baptist Church are celebrating the church's Sesquicentennial anniversary. The history of Mt. Carmel, the seventh oldest Baptist Church in Laurens County, is like all other churches, the history of a people, and not just a history of buildings. An attempt to chronicle the entire 150-year history of Mt. Carmel within the confines of this column would result in an entire book, a project which is nearing completion as you read these words. So, instead of compiling a litany of one fact after another, I will attempt to tell you some of the more interesting pieces of the early years of the church's history.
Mt. Carmel Baptist Church was constituted on March 15, 1857. The church was named for Mount Carmel, a small mountain range located in northern Israel and the West Bank and a sacred location in the ancient culture of the Canaanite.
One might wonder why would a church be founded far away from any town. At the time of its founding, the closest town was in Dublin, some 15 miles away. Even the current nearby counties of Dodge and Bleckley did not exist and were actually a part of Pulaski County, even more distant from Dublin. Despite its remote location, the land around Dexter was highly sought after by farmers. Much of the area was owned by the non-resident timber companies and northern investors and availability of squattable land was too much to resist for the rightful occupants of the fertile farms which surround Mt. Carmel.
Ironically it took a war between the states over the issue of state rights and slavery to desegregate our local churches. Before the Civil War, white and black churchgoers attended services together. Although slaves were not treated to the same status as their fellow white members, they were accepted into the church as children of God. On the very first day of church, the members of Mt. Carmel took turns in subscribing their names to a covenant to give themselves to one another and receive one another in the Lord. Joining the Alligoods, Hobbs, Hills, Witheringtons, Shepards, Fountains and Grimsleys was Sealy, a woman of color, who was the property of Hardy Alligood, the first deacon of Mt. Carmel.
On the 1st day of August, 1857, Gilbert, a black brother belonging to Francis Clark, was received by experience into the church. According to the minutes of the church, no new black members joined the church until April 1862, when Patty, another slave of Francis Clark, was received into the church. By the fall of 1864 when six colored sisters joined the church on one day, seventeen of the worshipers at Mt. Carmel were slaves. After they received their official freedom, the former slaves established their own churches. Calvin Hoover was the last former slave to leave the church in November 1866.
The Civil War also had a profound impact on the life of the church and its members. On the first Sunday in November in the fall of 1861, the members resolved to excuse the absences of John Hobbs, William A. Witherington and Mathew L. Alligood, who three months earlier had enlisted in Co. C of the 2nd Regiment of the 1st Brigade of the Georgia State Troops, later the 57th Georgia Infantry Regiment. The following spring, the church's two Davids, Alligood and Hobbs, joined local companies of the 49th and 57th Georgia regiments. Only 5th Corporal Witherington, who lived to the ripe old age of eighty, would return to the sanctuary of Mt. Carmel. Although church clerk Berry Hobbs was reported to have "gone to war," he may not have been involved in combat. Private Mathew Alligood died of disease in Lexington, Kentucky in 1862. 2nd Sergeant John Hobbs was wounded in the shoulder at Baker's Creek in 1863 and was killed at Jonesboro on the last day in August 1864, during the Confederate army's retreat out of Atlanta. David Alligood was severely wounded in his breast and captured at Gettysburg. He was released two months later, only to be killed by an enrolling officer on November 18, 1864. David Hobbs may have been wounded at Baker's Creek or during the siege of Vicksburg. He died at Point Clear, Alabama in July 1863. After the end of the hostilities, Hardy Blankenship, George W. McDaniel and James Robert Shepard left the ranks of the army and joined the ranks of the church.
With many of the male members serving their newly created country, church services took on a more somber tone. A special Thanksgiving service was held on the 4th Thursday in November 1861 to "fast and pray for the peace and prosperity of our nation." The state of Georgia began assembling even more companies of young men and boys in an all determined effort to win the war in 1862. In compliance with a proclamation issued by the governing body of Laurens County, it was agreed that the members of Mt. Carmel would join their fellow Christians on March 7 for a day of "humiliation, fasting and prayer which was set apart by us that God divert his judgment from our land and nation, that he would aid us in the present strife of Union that is upon us." When the war began for real in May, the members resolved to write the soldiers once a month and to gather together on the 4th Sunday of each month to emplore upon the mercies of God for their protection and the comfort of their loved ones. Before the members of the 49th and 57th left to live out their destiny in hills of Virginia and the fields of Mississippi, Rev. Larry Hobbs prayed for the safety of their souls.
It may have only stood for twelve and one half years, but the story of the third church building at Mt. Carmel may have been one for the record books. On December 3, 1916, the proud members of the church held a dedicatory service for their new house of worship. Erected out of green lumber fashioned from trees from the area and kiln dried at the mill in Dublin, the $2500.00 church was completed in a record seven weeks. Deacons W.A. Witherington, F.R. Faircloth and F.R. Witherington saw to the needs of the church including in their design ten Sunday school rooms and a 30 foot by 50 foot auditorium, a facility unparalleled in any country church in the county.
On April 25, 1929 a horrific tornado came up from the direction of Cochran. Turning more to the north than northeast, the storm headed straight for the Mt. Carmel community. Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, one of the most modern and best equipped church buildings in the county, was totally destroyed. The Mt. Carmel School and the teacherage, located across the road from the church, were amazingly untouched. Several homes in the community were destroyed. The J.D. McClelland home and that of Mrs. W.A. Witherington were destroyed. No one in the McLelland family was harmed, but Mrs. Witherington, her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Milton Witherington, and infant grandchild were seriously injured. Jim Dawkins lost his house and most of its contents. Thankfully and most mercifully, his wife and five children only suffered minor injuries. Calvin Patisaul's house was destroyed. Almost all of his large family suffered some type of injury, though none too serious. Lee Floyd's wife was badly injured when their house was destroyed. One vacant tenant house and the vacant old Dave Fountain home were torn to pieces. Tornados don't distinguish between occupied and unoccupied houses.
In the aftermath of the storm, two children, a nine-year old daughter of W.J. Southerland and a baby daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Knight, lay dead among the rubble of the cyclone, most likely the only known fatalities from a tornado in Laurens County.
These are only a few of the thousands of stories which make up the heritage of Mt. Carmel Church. This Sunday, October 6th, the church and its members, guests and friends will belatedly celebrate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of one of the county's oldest and most historic churches.