By Larry E. Caver, Jr.
There are many long forgotten churches that once thrived in the early days of Autauga County’s history; churches which existed in the wildwoods adjacent to newly developing farms and communities. One such church was the Old Harmony Baptist Church located out from the old town of Independence near the present-day communities of Winslow and Evergreen. Today the only surviving evidence for the existence of this church is the old Harmony Cemetery where many early Autauga County settlers from South Carolina are buried, and the recently discovered church minutes covering the church’s history from 1847 to 1859. These old church minutes now shed some light into the history of this long forgotten church.
It is assumed that Old Harmony Church started in the 1840’s. The earliest recorded minutes start in January 1847. At that time the church had a total membership of 138. What may seem surprising to many, Old Harmony Church had a membership made up of both Caucasian and black (slave) members who attended the same services together for several years. The church maintained separate membership rolls by races. On the slave membership roll, slave owners were listed next to each member. Among the list of black members we find two people listed as “Ned D. & Leah G.” who appear to be listed as “free”.
Members were listed in the church minutes equally without any regard to race, whether it was a positive event in the person’s life such as conversion or joining the church, or whether it was an event of being publicly rebuked for “profanity” or “intoxication”. The Minutes contain many accounts for whites and blacks for “Un-Christian” behavior.
The church held meetings on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, most likely as a result of sharing a pastor with a church in another community. All members (including slaves) were required to attend the scheduled services and if not present, a “committee” would be promptly appointed to visit the absent member to inquire if the person had “just cause” for missing services. If “just cause” (illness, etc) was not determined the member would be “excluded” from the church within the following month or so.
The church had a pastor who was called or appointed by the congregation to serve for a term of one year. Each year the congregation either invited the current pastor to continue on or chose a new pastor. Most often the pastors at Harmony would be asked to continue on. The pastor at Harmony was usually “bi-vocational”. The church also had a church clerk and one or more deacons.
Bro. J.D. Moodie was pastor of the church from at least 1847 until May 1851 when he resigned because of conflict with his career as a physician. In May 1851, Bro. A. Andrews was called as pastor. He served until October 1853 when the congregation decided to call Bro. W. L. Cochran as pastor. However, Bro. Cochran declined the “call” to Harmony. In February 1854, Bro. B.B. Smith was called as pastor. He served until January 1856. The same month Bro. Isaac Wilkes was called as pastor and continued on until at least 1859 when the church minutes end. A “Rev. William Pressley” is listed on the 1859 church membership roll. It would appear that at some point in the church’s history this “Rev. Presley” served as pastor. There are alsoseparate entries on the 1859 church roll for two different members named “Rev. I.W. Wilkes” and “Rev. Washington Wilkes”. It is assumed that these entries are for the same Isaac Wilkes who served as pastor.
The church had at least two deacons. In June 1852, W.C. Adair was appointed as a deacon of the church. In June 1854, Thomas Adair was also appointed as a deacon. The church also had three members serve as clerk from 1847-1859: James Lamar, John A. Stone and E.G. Wagner.
The early church membership at Harmony was made up of several old Autauga County families. The list of surnames include: Adair, Apperson, Bishop, Griffis, Chamblis, Lamar, Nunn, Overstreet, Parker, Sherrer, Stone, Wagner, Wiggins, and Williams.
On the Sundays when Harmony did not hold services, members would join fellow Baptist Churches for services. A couple of the mentioned “Sister Churches” were Shady Grove Baptist Church and Bethesda Baptist Church.
In its early days Harmony Church was using some type of temporary structure for a house of worship. Most likely the structure was a log cabin. In August 1849 a committee consisting of J. Lamar, J.D. Moodie and J. Overstreet (James) was appointed to meet with the Protestant Methodist Church (also referred to as “Caver’s Church”) to discuss the proposition of a joint effort by both congregations to build a new house of worship. Apparently the two denominations intended to use the building on alternating Sundays. The joint effort was initially agreed upon by both congregations but by April 1850 Caver’s Protestant Methodist Church dissolved its participation in the effort. Harmony went ahead with the building project, but it appeared many obstacles postponed the new building from being complete until 1858.
In September 1855 neighboring Bethesda Baptist Church in Independence proposed to the congregation at Harmony that both churches should join together as one Baptist congregation and locate the sanctuary somewhere between Independence and the Harmony Community. Harmony Church was receptive to the idea of joining together with Bethesda but insisted that Bethesda join them at their present location. Obviously Harmony had already spent five hard years trying to finish the new sanctuary and had no intentions of giving up the effort. Bethesda Church was not inclined to the counter-offer so the whole effort was dissolved. From this point on the relationship between the two sister churches became strained.
In January 1859 a committee from Harmony was appointed to meet with Bethesda Church to insist that they change their meetings to different Sundays. Apparently Bethesda had started holding services on the same Sundays as Harmony. This move prevented members from both congregations from visiting the “Sister church” on their “off” Sundays. By this time the membership at Harmony had dropped from 138 members in 1847 to 104 members. It may have been too that members from Harmony were leaving to join Bethesda. Whatever the case, Bethesda didn’t budge on the issue and continued to hold services on the same day.
Another “schism” had developed at Harmony sometime during the mid-1850’s. The reasons are not clearly known but in April 1858 the white members of Harmony decided that the slave members should no longer attend joint services with the white population. It was insisted though that slaves should attend a separate service following the services for the white members. This “separation” of the races was probably the first step in the establishment of a nearby black congregation later known as the New Harmony Baptist Church.
Harmony Church survived the Civil War era but apparently existed only with a handful of church members. In the mid 1880’s many of the members left to join the newly organized Evergreen Baptist Church just a few miles away. Tradition has it that the Harmony Church disbanded around the turn of the 20th century. Descendants of the charter members of Harmony Church would return yearly to “clean the cemetery” where their ancestors were buried. The old Harmony Church building was left standing vacant for several years. In April 1925 the old church building accidentally burnt.
1847 Harmony Church Members
|John Lamar “dead”||Mary Lamar “dead”|
|Jacob Griffis||Mary Apperson|
|William Adair||Nancy Adair “dead”|
|Joseph Adair||Mary Bishop “dead”|
|Elija Sherrer||Jane Griffis|
|Henry Chamblis||Nancy Wiggins|
|Wiley Wiggins||Sarah C. Nunn “Dismissed”|
|James Apperson||Elizabeth Garratt|
|James Overstreet||Sarah Sherrer|
|Warner (Warren?) Hurst||Bethany Parker|
|James Lamar “Dismissed”||Rebecker Baker “Dismissed”|
|John Adair||Amanda Dortch|
|Crawford Nunn||Ann Adair|
|James Adair||Mary J. Lassiter|
|Elija W. Sherrer||Mary E. Lamar|
|John A. Stone||Susan Apperson|
|Francis Shields “Dismissed”||Mary Overstreet|
|John Bishop “Excluded”||Sarah Apperson|
|Christopher N. Williams||Hester(Sister?) Smith “Dismissed”|
|George W. Apperson||July Hamock “Dismissed”|
|Thomas Adair||Alice Griffis “Dismissed”|
|Richard Adair||Sister Grant “Dismissed”|
|Henry M. Oates||Martha S. Sherrer|
|M.D. Adair||Lucretia Rodgers|
|L.B. Parker||Elizabeth Shields|
|Daniel Apperson||Jane Shields|
|E.G. Wagner||Eliza Clark|
|(-) not readible||(-) not readible|
|Mary E. Jones “Dismissed”|
|Margaret C. Nunn “Dismissed”|
|Mary E. Edwards (Golsan written beside this)|
|Mary J. Griffis|
|Mary A. Apperson|
|Elizabeth M. Adair|
|Martha A. Lamar|
|M. Caroline Nunn|
|Mary M.E. Limbrick|
|Boneta M. Parker|
|Lucy J. Wagner|
1847 Colored Members of Harmony Church
|Ned G.||“Free” ?||Jerdy||John Apperson|
|Jack G.||(-)Lassiter||Leah G.||“free ne??”|
|Daniel G.||(-)Lassister||Easter||Mrs. Lanear|
|Henry G.||Wiley Wiggins||Milley||Mrs. Lanear|
|Jack D.||N. Clarck||Roda G.||G. Goodwin|
|Mansor J.||L.B. Parker||Puna G.||G. Goodwin|
|Hilliard C.G.||Lanear||Rose||Mrs. Lanear|
|Elick D. Mrs. Lanear||Ann||Dr. Houston|
|Frank “dead”||J. Lamar||(-)||B. Underwood|
|Peter||B. Underwood||Milley||C.G. Lanear|
|(-)||Major (-)||Hulda G.||A. Braodnax|
|Bas G.||T. Dunaway||Gincy||R.H. Gaston|
|Jim D.||W.G. Love||Monie||L.B. Parker|
|John||D. Kirkland||Juda G.||T. Goodwin|
|Abram G.||W.Wiggins||Dina||C.G. Lanear|
|Anda||T. Griffis||Nelly||B. Underwood|
|(-)||C.G. Lanear||Mary||C.G. Lanier|
|(-)||C.G. Lanear||Nancy||L.B. Parker|
|Peter G.||Mrs. Baker||Daphny||L.B. Parker|
|Henry G.||George Body’s||Clarissa||(-)*not Parker|
|Tom||B. Underwood||Dinny||L.B. Parker|
|Bill||C.G. Lanier||Fanny||L.B. Parker|
|Isaac||Chas.M. Holston||Caroline G.||Moton|
1859 Harmony Church Members
|William Adair||Mary Lamar “dead”|
|J.J. Lamar “Dismissed”||Nancy Motley|
|G.W. Apperson “Excommunicated”||Nancy Wiggins|
|Richard E. Adair||Mary E. Lamar Wilkes|
|M.D. Adair||Mary Overstreet|
|L.B. Parker||Eliza Clark|
|Daniel Apperson||Rodusea Chambliss “Dismissed”|
|E.G. Wagner||Elizabeth V. Adair “Dismissed”|
|Rev. William Pressley||Mary E. Golsan|
|T.J. Law “Dismissed”||Sarah Apperson|
|Rev. I.W. Wilkes||Elizabeth W. Adair|
|Rev. Washington Wilkes||Martha A. Lamar|
|John L. Golsan||M. Caroline Nunn|
|William G. Ivey||Sarah Mitchell “dead”|
|Wilford Goodwin||Nancy Lassister|
|Galaspie Wallace||Boneta M. Parker|
|Walter M. Wagner||E.A. Whetstone|
|Edmund Bishop||Lucy J. Wagner|
|John D. Ivey||Jane Wilkes|
|Wiley D. Lassister||Frances A. Adiar|
|William Overstreet||Martha C. Wiggins|
|James M. Bishop||Sarah Nunn|
|John Bishop||Harriette Overstreet|
|Richard Chambliss||Mary A. Goodwin|
|Joshua R. Tyus||Nancy A. Ivey|
|William Clark||Mary A. Wallace|
|John Taylor||Mary A. Nunn|
|John Fendleyson||Georgiana Garner|
|John Garner||Martha A. Fendleyson|
1859 Colored Members of Harmony Church
|(-)||C.G. Lanier||(-)||L.B. Parker|
|(-)||C.G. Lanier||Jinney||L.B. Parker|
|(-)||W. Hall||Fanny||L.B. Parker|
|William||L.B. Parker||Letty||D. Caver|
|Jack||Estate Wm. Nunn||Nancy||Estate Wm. Nunn|
|Charles||L.B. Parker||Harriette||L.B. Parker|
|Elisha||L.B. Parker||Nancy||L.B. Parker|
|Jobe||L.B. Parker||Martha||L.B. Parker|
|Antony||Nancy Lassister||Lucy||L.B. Parker|
|Cash||M. Lanier||Sarah||Estate Wm. Nunn|
|Oliver||Estate Houston||Martha||W. Wilkes|
|(-)||L.B. Parker||Martha||Nancy Lassister|
|Jacob||L.B. Parker||Sarah||Wilford Goodwin|