“Shall We Gather at the River”: A History of Yellow River Baptist Church

I’m sorry I haven’t posted much lately. Given what my schedule is gearing up to look like during the holidays, I decided I needed to seriously focus on getting those few less than glamorous parts of a published book done, and the book uploaded to the printer’s website so I could get a final proof copy and the link live for purchase before we are too far into November. While the Table of Contents on a longer book can be mildly irritating to create, frankly doing an index is a serious pain. There are a number of ways to get one done, none of them easy. All are detrimental to the brain or to the pocketbook. But it is done now and I’m into recovery.

As much as I enjoy research and writing, finishing a book and sending it to the printer and waiting for a proof copy just feels good. This one maybe more than the previous two because in the middle I lost my Mom. The church was very important to her and she was eager to see the history finished. I immediately found myself needing to ask her something about the church or needing to clarify something cryptic in my notes. Even if you are an organized genealogist who sits down with the older members of your family or community and interviews them, once you start to write things into a narrative, you will find you didn’t ask something you should have, or your notes are just a “wee bit” confusing and now they are no longer there to help. That’s the ebb and flow of life.

I am about three-quarters of the way through the mini-research project I was going to write about in August and then September. I will do my best to get it completed and written up for publishing in late October or early November. No hard promises, but I will do my best. I usually take the holidays off so I will post the August blog in November, then take off until February. Let’s all focus on peace and goodwill during the holiday season, regardless of our chosen religious beliefs. This country needs to re-order its priorities and stop doing reality TV theater rather then governing. And peace and love of neighbor would be a good place to start our journey of re-prioritizing.

Now back to the church history. Attached you will find the Table of Contents and a snapshot of the cover. The book will be available at https://www.lulu.com/spotlight/sdmarsh. If you follow me on my page at Facebook, Northwest Florida History and Genealogy, you can click on the “Shop Now” button just below the photo. On my blog site, you can click on the “My Books” just under the photo and follow the link listed there. The church history will not be available on Amazon for the time being. I will likely make a decision on how best to sell through Amazon after the first of the year and I will let everyone know here and at Facebook. I will also be available for talks in the Florida Panhandle and some the south-central counties in Alabama after the first of the year and I generally have a few books available during talks.

If some of your ancestors initially settled in the northern part of what is now Okaloosa County (and once was Santa Rosa County) and the northwest corner of Walton County and up into Covington County, AL, you may find them listed as members of the church. It was founded in 1840 and well into the late 19th and early 20th century there were members from all three of these areas. As other churches were founded in the area, folks moved their memberships closer to home. The church was a Missionary Baptist church until well into the 20th century. Very conservative and very strict. Drinking, cursing, dancing, fighting, trespassing on another person’s property, “frolicking”, fornication, leaving your husband, bigamy, and unchristian-like conduct all were reported at some point, and the person called before the church members or visited by a team of brethren to help them see the sinfulness of their behavior, be sorry for what they did and ask the church for forgiveness. Sincerity was the key to a successful acknowledgement. If not accepted by the church, the person was excluded. While folks in the 19th century were much more likely accustomed to their church addressing behaviors in this manner, not all found this part of the church’s role appreciated.

Which brings me to the other reason I would suggest reading this book even if you don’t have ancestors in the right area. Most of the early Baptist churches were either Missionary or Primitive. They did function differently than most churches do today and many of these church records have been lost to time. Reading the summaries of each of the meetings Yellow River had generally after church services can give a reader insight into how their ancestors may have lived within their religious community. It gives us a deeper sense of the interactions of the community residents. It also highlights the ups and downs the small, rural churches experienced, and still experience, as time moves forward around them.

Of all the transgressions mentioned in Yellow River’s meeting minutes the two that appear the most often other than conduct unbecoming a Christian were dancing and drinking. The small community of Barrow’s Ferry that become Oak Grove was known for its moonshine and unfortunately many who made also over-used. It was a struggle the church attempted to meet for decades with little success. The debate on a resolution on making and drinking alcohol was likely pretty spirited based on the limited but pointed notes concerning its passage. Not that the resolution stopped the production or the drinking but it does provide a small window into how Prohibition got a toe hold at the national level.

Dancing really became a problem for the church after the Civil War. One of my ancestors, who lost her husband who served in the 1st Florida Union Cavalry, was reported along with her sister-in-law for dancing. While her sister-in-law was sorry for her behavior, asked for forgiveness and said she wouldn’t do it again, my ancestor said she wouldn’t say she wouldn’t do it again because she had enjoyed it. I will readily admit, I admire her for her honesty. She was excluded from the church for a decade or so before being restored to membership.

The book contains a narrative in 20-year segments with a summary of each church meeting minutes containing names of persons mentioned and any business worthy of mention. It also has pictures of all of the church buildings except the first one. It was replaced in the 1880s as far as can be teased out of the records. We don’t have a photo of the entire log structure built in the 1880s, but we believe we have a photo of the side of the structure with what appears to be a church gathering. The church moved its location in the early 20th century, moving to the location where the church is today. We have pictures of all of the structures at the current location. The book also contains a number of newspaper clippings about the church, a number of obituaries from members of the late 20th century and some photos of members who have passed on.

Some time this next year, I plan to create a book of just the digitized pages for the church and a few repositories so that the records are available in their original form for future research and to ensure the records survive into the future. The sheets of paper from the early 19th century are increasingly fragile and flaking apart. They won’t last much longer though they are now in archival boxes wrapped in archival paper with little need to disturb them further. I will post something here when that book is finished, and a decision has been made as to which repositories the books will be provided to.

Until Next Time


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