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Gum Branch: Working turpentine along a creek
Liberty Lore0204
Rev. Lewis Price Jr.
Last Monday at noon I had the honor of being a guest at the Gum Branch Baptist Church Senior Citizens Ministry meeting. I was asked to speak about some of the history of Gum Branch and should have been the one sitting in the audience listening to the members speak of their homeplace.
Direct descendants of at least four families of the chartered members were in the audience; Longs, Groovers, Mobleys and Wells. A 2003 church cookbook which, was used as a fundraiser for their social hall, was presented to me. This is truly a great treasure, filled with much valuable history as well as great recipes.
Gum Branch is said to have got its name from the fact that the production of naval stores was among the earliest work efforts of its residents and a stream or branch bisected the community. The stream in 1976 became a drainage canal developed by the Liberty County Commissioners to aid row crop farmers in the area.
Gum Branch became one of the chief food baskets in Liberty County after the county seat was moved from Riceborough to Hinesville in 1837 and the population there increased. The industrious pioneers built the homes, churches, schools and stores from lumber and logs sawed on their own land. The log cabin on the Delk property was moved and restored to its original state on Skidaway Island. There were two schools in the areas. One was called Providence and the other Gum Branch. The old school house is still in existence across the road from Ogden Long’s home.
The Gum Branch Baptist Church dates back to 1833 when a few members of the Beards Creek Primitive Baptist Church assembled at a brush arbor to organize a congregation. This was located about a half mile from the present church site. They met there for five years. In 1838, the first sanctuary was built on land donated by Fashaw Long Jr. Church services were held once a month. No music was allowed in the worship service. Primitive Baptists did not condone Sunday School. They did not object to the school as such but only thought it should be used to teach the poor children how to read and write without any spiritual teachings. That needed to come from listening to the preacher during church services. It is ironic that over the years the Sunday school has become the backbone of the church.
The founders were very stern and had their rules that they obeyed and expected everyone else to obey. They cited someone at almost every meeting and expelled them from the church. The deacons were charged with investigating charges against the members for using profanity, drunkenness, card playing, non-attendance and nonpayment of church dues, unchristian conduct, dancing or playing music for the dancers. One lady told me her daddy had been expelled because the preacher caught him playing solitaire! Swimming on Sunday was forbidden.
In October of 1891, the treasurer’s report named all those who had not paid their dues of 50 cents for the year. That was required of all male members above a certain age. Back then, that was a lot of money and some just did not have it. Some trapped quail or gathered quail eggs and sold them to make the half dollar. Sometimes they had to go before the church and plead their case as to why they could not pay and the church would excuse them.
The Gum Branch Baptist Church has always seen the need to help those less fortunate in their community or nearby. The children’s orphanage in Baxley received many barrels of syrup, meat, and produce as early as 1909. If a farmer was sick and his crops needed planting or plowing the men were there to do it. The same holds true today and whenever someone is in need the church is there to help and minister.
In 1925 there was a split of the congregation over policies. The minority left and built a church across the street. It is Liberty Baptist Church. They share the same cemetery. In 1976, 35 members left Gum Branch and founded Faith Baptist.
The first recorded pastor the church had, in 1860-1861, was Lewis Price Jr. He was the son of Lewis and Mary Price and was born in Liberty County in 1828. Lewis Sr. took his family to live at the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp when the child was 4. But the Indians became so bad that they were forced to move back to Liberty County four years later.
The county was destitute of school advantages and “means of grace.”
At age 21, Lewis Jr. united with Gum Branch Church. At age 23 he was still unable to read but recognized his ignorance and thirsting for education he left his father’s house and entered an academy in another portion of the county. Because of the Presbyterian person who taught Sunday school at this academy I presumed it was the Tranquil Academy at the Flemington Presbyterian Church. Another account said it was Jones Creek. Price was forced by failing health and lack of money to leave later. But, he had enjoyed attending a Sunday school.
Upon returning to Gum Branch Primitive Baptist Church he was subjected to discipline by the church and turned out of the association. He later became a Baptist minister, a missionary to the Florida coast, and later a school teacher. While in Florida he married Sarah F. Geiger and they had 10 children. When hostilities broke out in Florida, he came back to Liberty County and became the pastor for a couple of years of the very church he had been expelled from earlier in life. The church had by that time adopted Sunday school instruction. Brother Lewis Price Jr. died at the age of 65 and was buried in Baggs Cemetery near Ludowici.
In looking at the recorded history of the church there have been 41 pastors. Brother Roger Wilkins and his wife Vicki came to the church in June of 1981. After almost 25 years of pastoring and leading the congregation, Pastor Wilkins went on to greener pastures on Feb. 2, 2006. This Sunday, the church is having a “Special Day of Remembrance for Roger Wilkins” beginning at 10 a.m. The Rev. Buddy Wasson from Waycross is the interim pastor and invites everyone to attend.
For 174 years, Gum Branch Baptist Church has served as a shining spiritual light in this great rural community and continues today.

Love is president of the Liberty County Historical society, but writes this column for herself and the Courier. You can contact her at
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