Donated and built by John Walt, this was the meeting place of the International Free & Accepted Masons and Order of the Eastern Star, known as Johnson Lodge No. 37. It was an African-American lodge. A list of Walthourville’s historic resources in the most recent Liberty County Joint Comprehensive Plan dates it to circa 1845, but I believe this to be an error. If it was originally a white lodge, it could date to the antebellum era, but the style of construction doesn’t support that date. Furthermore, its African-American association precludes that date as such organizations and gathering places for blacks were illegal at the time. My guess is that it was built in the late 1800s. Whatever its history, it’s an important landmark and should be preserved.
Tag Archives: African-American Culture of Coastal Georgia
Located on the opposite corner of the intersection of the E. B. Cooper Highway and Barrington Ferry Road from First African Baptist Church, First Zion was established by members of the “Mother Church” in 1870-1871 with the Reverend U. L. Houston as its first pastor. The present structure was built in 1971 during the pastorate of Reverend B. N. Jones. The churchyard is a beautiful spot shaded by old-growth oaks.
The First African Baptist Church of Riceboro is considered the “Mother Church of all Black Churches in Liberty County”; the present structure was built in the 1960s to replace the original church. The community, just west of Riceboro, is locally known as Crossroads.
A marker placed by the Liberty County Historical Society notes: The First African Baptist Church, the oldest black church in Liberty County, had its origins in the North Newport Baptist Church, founded in 1809. In 1818 the North Newport Church, composed of both white and black members, purchased this site and erected a church building here [circa 1849] which had a gallery for the slave members. In 1854 the North Newport Church moved to Walthourville, but the black members in this area continued to use the old building. In 1861 the black members formed their own church organization and the first black pastor was the Reverend Charles Thin. On July 20, 1878 the North Newport Church sold the building to A. M. McIver for $225 for use by the First African Baptist Church.
One of the early white pastors of this church was the Reverend Josiah Spry Law to whom a cenotaph was erected here in 1854 by both blacks and whites.
Three other neighboring churches have been formed from the membership of this church: First Zion Baptist Church in 1870, First African Baptist Church of Jones in 1896, and Baconton Baptist Church in 1897.
This neighborhood grocery was owned by Ralph Waldo Quarterman, a leading African-American citizen of Liberty County and founder of the local branch of the NAACP. I believe this area was once part of Allenhurst but changing boundaries now place it in Walthourville. His home is visible to the right of the store.
African-Americans were baptized in this swamp beginning in the 1840s. It’s just downstream from a well-known fishing and swimming spot known as Round Hole and was likely chosen for its proximity to that natural landmark.
Baptisms were first performed on enslaved persons by white members of the nearby North Newport Church. When the white congregation moved to Walthourville in 1854, the slaves renamed the church First African Baptist Church and continued ritual baptisms here until the 1940s. Some of their descendants are the Geechee people who still live nearby.
Today, the Historic Baptismal Trail has been memorialized as a public park with a boardwalk, including signage identifying plants and trees that were historically important to the community.