Civil War Group Hosting Event

Coweta's Old-Time Religion

by W. Winston Skinner


When Union and Confederate forces clashed in Coweta County 125 years ago, blue and gray fought amid a landscape filled with homes, mills, farms — and churches.

Some of those church buildings still stand.

Members of White Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church and Liberty Christian Church still worship each Sunday in buildings that stood in the antebellum period.

Many other churches have histories that reach back to the county’s earliest days. Yellows records and faded photographs recall the history of those churches.

“What was it that made our ancestors and our early settlers in this county decide to settle here and to start a church?” asked Jan Bowyer of the Coweta County Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee.

The Civil War itself spawned a new era in Coweta’s church history. Soon after the conflict ended, black Cowetans — who earlier had worshipped with whites — started their own congregations.

The Coweta County Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee is planning several events in July around the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Brown’s Mill, the major Civil War battle that occurred in Coweta County. One weekend will focus on businesses from the 19th century, and the weekend of July 19-20 will be a time to celebrate Coweta’s churches dating to 1880 and earlier.

About 30 representatives of several churches attended a luncheon at Newnan Presbyterian Church on Feb. 18.

Jan Bowyer and Carolyn Turner of the sesquicentennial committee talked with the representatives of the churches, and members of the Presbyterian Women at NPC served lunch.

Bowyer grew up in Springfield, Ill., where Abraham Lincoln lived for many years and is buried. Turner is a lifelong Cowetan, and both taught school.

Turner “has been a wonderful match for me,” Bowyer said.

The two talked about the county’s history and about what life was like during the Civil War era.

“We felt like we really wanted to focus on the churches,” Bowyer said.

The focus of the July 19-20 weekend will be on Coweta’s historic churches and what they have been — and continue — to mean. The agenda distributed at the meeting bore the heading “Historic 1800s Churches of Newnan and Coweta County.”

For that weekend, the lasting contributions of the churches will be emphasized rather than the Civil War.

“We don’t want to concentrate on that. We want to focus on the churches,” Turner said.

On July 19, churches will have tents, tables and information on the court square from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. — “very similar to what you would see on Market Day,” Bowyer said. She encouraged church representatives to bring historical information to share, and she said churches can choose to sell something during the display time.

Church representatives can choose to wear period clothing that day. Bowyer said church members can use their own creativity — and the resources their churches have — to share their story in July.

“That’s going to be up to you,” Bowyer said.

She encouraged churches to think about activities that youngsters visiting that day might enjoy — such as a coloring book or page or a craft that can be made and taken along. “As a former elementary school teacher, I always think: what is something the children might like to see and to do?” Bowyer said.

The following day, from 1-4 p.m., there will be a program of music from the Civil War era. Sacred harp, fa so la, shape note and long meter hymns will all be featured. “We’re going to focus on historic music,” Bowyer said.

“It’s going to be right downtown so people can come, bring their lawn chairs and listen to the beautiful old music of the 1800s,” she said.

Sacred music had a large presence in Coweta County in the period before the Civil War.

“There were two conventions of singers that were formed in 1852,” Bowyer said.

One was formed at Macedonia Baptist Church. The other, the Chattahoochee Convention of Sacred Harp Singers, later moved to Carrollton.

“They would have singings in the courthouse and would open the doors and windows so everyone in town could hear,” Turner said.

Another project related to the weekend will be a map that will show the original locations of the pre-1880 churches in the county. While some are still in or near their original locations, others have moved one or more times over the past century-plus.

There was a display of Newnan Presbyterian historical materials at the luncheon in the fellowship hall. Among the items were an antique Bible, a 19th century photograph, and minutes from a women’s group held more than a century ago.

Elsewhere in the room were resources for church history, including the 1965 Newnan Times-Herald Centennial Magazine.

Bowyer and Turner encouraged those present to get their churches involved in planning for the July event — and urged them to help connect with other historic congregations.

“Let’s work on this together,” Bowyer said.

The church history weekend is part of a focus during that month on “what life was like during the 1800s” in Coweta County, Bowyer said.

Downtown Newnan “will be having a great deal of activity” during July, Bowyer said. The battle site is now a park, but the battle re-enactment will be held at the Coweta County Fairgrounds because of a lack of parking and restrooms at the battle park on Millard Farmer Road.

“It’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for our community to be educated,” Bowyer said at the Newnan Presbyterian luncheon.

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