Southern Baptist Association (Free-Will Baptist)
The Southern Baptist Association for the fellowship of Free Baptists in the South was formed in 1876. The association seems to have been the “brain-child” of Dr. S. G. Scoven and whomever was the editor of the Baptist Review circa 1874-ff, probably B. W. Nash.[i] Barring further discovery, it appears that Scoven, a medical doctor, was initially a missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South,[ii] before joining the Regular or Missionary Baptists.[iii] The new associational body was effected, through the adoption of Articles of Faith, a Constitution, and By-laws, (as well as the name) at Deep Creek Free Will Baptist Church in Emanuel County, Georgia in May 1876 – even though Scoven and the editor were the only delegates who showed up for the meeting! Deep Creek church members were conscripted as proxy delegates and business was attended. This group appointed the first session of the association to meet with Friendship Free Will Baptist Church in Wayne County, North Carolina in September, 1877.
Other meetings that followed include:
- 1878 New Hope Church, Williamsburgh County, South Carolina, Lark O’Neall, mod.
- 1879 Mount Moriah Church, Pinkins County,[iv] Alabama, Ellis Gore, mod.
- 1880 Ebenezer Church, Tatnall County, Georgia
- 1881 Concord Church, Columbus County, North Carolina
- 1882 Union Grove Church, Henry County, Alabama
- 1883 Union Church, Lee County, Mississippi, Z. L. Burson, mod.[v]
- 1884 Bristol Baptist Church, Sullivan County, Tennessee
- 1889 Columbus, Georgia
Appletons’ Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1879, Volume 4 (New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1880, p. 70) reported on the association in this manner in 1879:
“II. Free-Will Baptist Church. ... The Southern Baptist Association has 66 churches, 68 ministers, and 3,108 members; it holds correspondence with the Chattahoochee, South Carolina, Tennessee River, and Butts County Conferences, and is represented by the ‘Baptist Review,’ La Grange, N.C.”
The report in Appletons’, though dated 1879 and printed in 1880, must be older information, probably taken from The Freewill Baptist Register, which says, “The Southern Baptist Association held its first meeting with the Friendship church, Wayne Co., N. C, in 1877. The next session was in South Carolina, and it embraced the Mount Moriah Association in Ala., Ogeechee in Ga., and Mount Zion, Ping Grove,[vi] Cape Fear and Pee Dee in North Carolina. The number of churches was 66, ministers 68, and members 3108. There were Chattahoochee, South Carolina, Tennessee River, and Butts Co. Conferences with which it held correspondence. The Baptist Review, published at La Grange, N. C, is the organ of this people.”[vii] The Baptist Review report gives the statistics as: 83 churches, 72 ministers, and 3,296 members. It appears that these statistics mean to represent the 1879 meeting.
The Weekly Transcript and Messenger report from the Baptist Review suggests the association ended in 1883. That year the Southern Baptist Association had grown to 121 churches, 102 ministers, and 4,440 members. Nevertheless, it was still meeting in 1889. The “Local News” in The Goldsboro Headlight tells that “Rev. B. W. Nash left the city yesterday evening for Columbus, Ga., to attend the Southern Baptist Convention which meets in that city to-morrow, lasting three days. We wish him a pleasant journey.”[viii] This is not the more well-known Southern Baptist Convention, which met in Memphis, Tennessee in May of 1889 – but rather the Southern Baptist Association.
It seems to have still existed in 1890, when the Philadelphia Free Will Baptist Church of Charlton County, Georgia adopted its “articles of faith, covenant and the constitution.”
“Early in 1887 in Charlton County, Georgia, Rev. Welch, a Free Will Baptist preacher, and Newton Roddenberry discussed creating Philadelphia Free Will Baptist Church. The church accepted the articles of faith, covenant and the constitution of the Southern Baptist Association on October 4, 1890.”
I have not found any reference to the association after 1890, and do not know how long it continued to exist.[ix]
[i] Geo. P. Rowell & Co’s American Newspaper Directory (New York, 1879, p. 259) lists the Baptist Review at La Grange, NC as a weekly 4-page paper established in 1875. In it “Rev. B. W. Nash” is listed as the “editor and publisher.” Nash probably was the author of the article about the Southern Baptist Association and the other person involved in organizing it. B. W. Nash apparently is Bushrod Washington Nash, Sr.
[ii] “Bethel Mission, Rev. S. G. Scoven, Missionary, is reported in an improving condition. “ – Minutes of the Georgia Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Macon, GA: Telegraph Steam Power Press, 1861, p. 13
[iv] This probably should be Pickens County.
[v] Weekly Transcript and Messenger, Friday, May 6, 1887, p. 8; A news item in the Jonesborough, Tennessee Herald and Tribune (Thursday, November 1, 1883, p. 3) mentions Z. L. Burson going to the Southern Baptist Association at Tupelo, Mississippi, mentioning that he is the moderator and has been for about 4 years.
[vi] Probably “Piny Grove”.
[viii] The Goldsboro Headlight, Wednesday, November 6, 1889, p. 5
[ix] It is hard to research “Southern Baptist Association” when so many references to it actually mean the Southern Baptist Convention (and in at least one case, above, where “Southern Baptist Convention” means the Southern Baptist Association).