New Civil War marker celebrates Macon’s religious life

lfabian@macon.comFebruary 27, 2013 

When Confederate Capt. Thomas Key arrived to help fortify Macon in 1864, he spent his first Sunday at the city’s largest church.

After visiting the Presbyterians and pew-hopping to visit Episcopalians and Methodists the next two weeks, he wrote: “How many privileges we are now enjoying stationed here, than we have had at any time during the war! Macon is truly a church-going city.”Across from First Presbyterian Church Wednesday morning, members of Macon’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee gathered to dedicate a new marker denoting the city’s religious history and Key’s observations.

Macon historian Conie Mac Darnell researched and wrote the text for the sign, which sits on First Street near the First Presbyterian parking lot at the southwest corner of Mulberry Street.

“There were a lot of differences between the races in condition and servitude ... 150 years ago,” Darnell said. “The one thing we had in common, that was our religious heritage.”

As the men of the South fought their brothers to the North, family members logged many hours in Macon churches that predated the War Between the States. Several white churches and three black congregations were established before the fighting began.

The local Presbyterian congregation was founded in 1825 and had erected an 800-person sanctuary just six years before Key spent his first Sunday there. It was the church’s third location, which is still in use today.

The Episcopal and Methodist congregations also organized in 1825, two years after Macon was chartered.

Blacks and whites worshipped together at the Baptist church organized in 1826, although separated by galleries until freedmen and slaves were provided their own church in 1845, 16 years before the Civil War began.

The new “colored” Baptist congregation at New and Cotton streets could recruit members, but they were led by a white pastor until emancipation.

Georgia’s oldest black Presbyterian church was birthed in Macon in 1839. As a freedman, the Rev. David Laney pastored Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church before, during and after the war.

Methodist freedmen and slaves worshipped in an old, wooden Mulberry Methodist sanctuary that was likely moved when the new sanctuary was built in 1849, the marker notes.

After emancipation, that fellowship rooted the Steward Chapel African Methodist Episcopal on Cotton Avenue and Holsey Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal on Washington Avenue.

Macon’s Catholic community came together in 1841 when the Rev. James Graham came to town.

In 1844, Macon’s United Hebrew Society organized -- 17 years before the Civil War.

Rabbi Larry Schlesinger of Temple Beth Israel presided over the dedication of the first of six new markers the committee is unveiling this year to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the bitter conflict that brought people to their knees.

“We are all children of one father and our various denominations and churches that we come from are really an expression of that,” Schlesinger said after the ceremony. “I thank God for our diversity. I think diversity is our greatest strength as a community, and it’s nice to be able to recognize that in a ceremony like this.”

Current pastors from Macon’s antebellum congregations attended the ceremony, which included a rendition of “Amazing Grace” sung by Cannonball House historical interpreter Mia McKie, who was dressed in a Civil War period costume.

The Sesquicentennial Committee’s other markers will depict Macon’s Civil War heritage related to hospitals, Rose Hill Cemetery, contributions of the black community, foundries and the Union passenger station.

To contact Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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