The Pleasant Grove African Methodist Episcopal Church celebrated its Annual Camp Meeting Oct. 23- Nov. 1. This year’s theme was “Still on the Journey, The Best is Yet to Come.” One of Liberty County’s oldest religious traditions, this year’s culminated with a drive up church service and memorial tributes on.
Organized June 29, 1869, Pleasant Grove had its beginnings at Taylors Creek, Georgia, now Ft. Stewart. Other nearby communities included the town of Willie and the communities of Cypress Slash, Tom’s Creek, Boggs Town, Stewart Town, Strum Bay, Mill Pond, Sugar Pond, Greasy Tom, Thomas Hill, Martin Town, Futch Town, Baker Town, Tom’s Creek, King Town, Red Bluff, Possum Trot, Wynn Town and many other communities, churches and schools dislocated to establish Ft. Stewart in 1940-41. Pleasant Grove’s Camp Meeting and the Taylors Creek Cemetery Association are the remaining observances to preserve the memories of life on the “reservation” or in the “area” as it is called by former residents and descendants. At Pleasant Grove Camp Meeting is considered the tie that binds.
Tales of Taylors Creek, Willie and Cypress Slash was the focus on, Oct. 26. An inspired group of “seasoned” panelist namely, Elder Henry Frasier, Sr., Mrs. Carrie Hill Mobley and Mr. Henry Baker, Sr. shared their experiences about their livelihood in these lost towns.
Elder Frasier attended the Pleasant Grove Church and adjacent Taylors Creek School. He vividly recalled walking home by moonlight approximately two miles after the close of the festive Camp Meeting Services. “On each side of the pulpit were kerosene lamps so the preacher could read the scripture. People would come from miles around to attend Camp Meeting. Although the church was small everybody came to consume the good preaching and ole time singing. Members sold all kinds of products to include peanuts, sweet potatoes, sugar cane and other freshly harvested crops. Mules and wagons, horses and buggies and a very few vehicles would line the road to the church.”
His grandmother, Irene Baker Thomas, was determined not to leave Taylors Creek. She had just rebuilt her home after a fire. Her new home had two fireplaces on a farm with bountiful crops, fruit trees and live stocks and she could not accept the idea of walking away. About a year after being notified to move “I remember a young Lieutenant came to her doorsteps and told her “Auntie, I’m sorry but you have to move said Elder Frasier. If you’re not out in two weeks we will bulldoze your house down. You have to go.” Grandma started to cry, then went into the house and started to sing and pray. She then walked the 5 miles to Hinesville from Taylors Creek in search of housing. But she had waited too late with most housing already gone.
Carrie Hill Mobley, from the Willie area shared a similar story about her grandmother, Mary Nelson. She too was not going to move. The family had 35 acres of land on which they lived, an abundance of livestock and all their belongings. The family had accumulated a total of 100 acres of land and two houses. One day a soldier came and told my grandma “we don’t want your house, you can have it. We want the land.”
The family was paid $750.00 for their property and belongings. They relocated to a farm on 196 near Glennville. Much to his dismay Ben Nelson had to lay aside his pride and resort to sharecropping to feed and house his family. Ms. Mobley also shared stories of her grandfather’s memories of slavery and its brutality. Grandpa was 17 years old when slavery ended, He said “you couldn’t look up or talk back. You had to have a note to travel.” Her grandfather’s mother was whipped and salt rubbed into the wounds after the whipping. “All the white people weren’t bad.” After freedom my Grandfather’s brother Flem Nelson worked for a white family. The Misses taught him to read and write. When he visited his siblings he taught them. He was also taught to play the organ.
Mr. Henry Baker, Sr., a former resident of Cypress Slash recalled his family’s ownership of big farms. “Everyone’s cows had their ears marked and were allowed to roam and graze freely. If the cows did not come home in the evening the children had to round them up. We would listen for the bell on the lead cow, find him and the other cows would follow right on behind.” Hence, the expression “until the cows come home.”Like the Thomas and Nelson family his family also refused to leave. They were inspired to leave at first by the big search lights in the sky shining over their homes at night. About a week later the big guns began shooting that sometimes shook the house. Now living in fear they decided to leave. Mr. Baker readily admits he was spoiled and allowed to attend school at the age of 4. His sister would walk him to school and walk him back each morning after devotion, approximately one mile each way across Johnson Branch. His Aunt, Janie L. Baker was the teacher and would share special treats, apples and oranges with him