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‘Nature in its rudeness’: Flower Hill Baptist Church



David Boone, kaiser blade in hand, stands in the middle of Flower Hill Cemetery which was a virtual jungle before he began restoration of the abandoned site last year.

Until a little over a year ago, few folks had ever heard of Flower Hill Baptist Church and Cemetery.

A motorist might glimpse a few tombstones that marked the abandoned graveyard, but no building had marked the spot for about a century.

Flower Hill was known only by the name on the road sign in northeast Warren County.

All that began to change in March 2018 when David Boone and some friends began restoration of the cemetery. David’s wife, Martha, is a member of the Vicksburg Genealogical Society, and a friend, Beverly Harris, told her about the cemetery where Beverly has ancestors.

David Boone was interested, and though restoration was a task just shy of impossible, he decided to tackle it. What began as a chainsaw job soon included kaiser blades and other tools.

Boone didn’t have to do the job alone, for some others joined him. They included Stan Whitaker, Zack Hearn, Buster Irvin, and Johnny McBroon and his son Payton. Some were interested in heritage and history, and some had relatives buried there.

Photo from the Find a Grave website.

Flower Hill Baptist Church was constituted on March 17, 1838 with six members: John W. And Lucinda Estes, John and Lydia Thetford, Matilda J. Cummings and Eliza Curtis. John Thetford, who had been a deacon at Brushy Creek Church in Copiah County, was chosen deacon and also church clerk.

Thetford was instructed to buy a record book to keep an account of the church’s business. In 1994—156 years later—Cecile Hintson donated the small volume to the library at the Old Court House Museum. Without it, most of the history of Flower Hill would have been lost forever.

In January 1844 a northern visitor, Dr. Edward Gilbert Messinger, attended church at Flower Hill. It was “a log meeting house with few graves in the wood with no fence about,” he wrote. That “is all that constitutes Flower Hill, but nature in its rudeness and religion in its simplicity I always admire.

“Mr. Roberts, the minister, a plain, unassuming Methodist looking man was the preacher. … I was disappointed in the ability of the speaker and was much pleased withall, until a division of the Christians was called to partake of the Lord’s Supper, it being the communion season of the Baptist Church. The meeting was full and many Presbyterians and Methodists were present.” (Historically, Baptists practiced closed communion: The sacrament was not open to other Christians.)

The church and cemetery occupied two acres, bought for $30 from William Davidson. The earliest sanctuary was a log structure, and in 1847, plans were made to repair the building. Instead, it was decided to construct a new one 34 feet wide by 50 feet long. With only $550.75 in the treasury, however, it was necessary to downscale the building to 28 feet by 40 feet.

It was in the same period that members voted to buy a stove and have the cistern repaired. Also in 1847, the church began a Sabbath School.

Preaching was held only twice a month. Discipline was strict, and one could be excluded for using profanity, committing adultery or dancing.  The rules of decorum also deemed that when one was called upon to pray, he should kneel.

Elders William Allen and Robert E. Green helped establish the church, and among those who served as pastors were Elders Barnes, Sexton, Sims, W.H. Taylor, B.B. Gibbs, W.W. Bolls and J.S. Antley. (Early Baptists often used the title Elder rather than Reverend.)

Though the sanctuary was small, the membership was large. In the 21-year period from 1838 to 1859, Flower Hill had 160 white members and 197 slave members. The first names of the slaves and who owned them are listed in the record book.

In 1849, there was a division in the church, and some members withdrew and started another congregation, Bethany, at Milldale. The clerk of Flower Hill was one of the 22 who withdrew to form the new church, and he took the record book with him. The group failed to meet during the war, reorganized in 1872, but their minutes end abruptly in 1875.

For a number of years, Flower Hill most likely did not meet, but in 1894 it was reorganized with some of the former members who had founded Bethany, returning along with the record book. For a time the church was also used by Methodists.

Photo from the Find a Grave website.

Flower Hill’s membership began to dwindle. On Nov. 14, 1909, when no one came for services except the pastor, Rev. James M. Lewis, he wrote that it would be his last time to come to Flower Hill.

“These people have been a great disappointment to me,” Lewis wrote. “I cannot pronounce God’s richest blessings upon them. May God pity them is all I can say.”

Almost 10 years later, on Nov. 2, 1919, Rev J.A. Wells also left a note in which he said the seed that Lewis had sown had germinated “and Flower Hill is once more alive.” He described the congregation as “interested and good-sized. … Flower Hill people will always have a warm place in my heart. God bless them all; May we all meet in the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

How long Flower Hill Church lasted and what became of the building is unknown. In 1984, Marlene Rutland Brooks cataloged the information on the tombstones. There were 17 visible markers, the oldest bearing the date 1837 (before the church was organized) and the last in 1943. Another stone, for Sarah Jennings, was recently unearthed.

Many of the larger stones, ornate with carvings of flowers, are evidence of the wealth of some of the church members. Many stones are broken, victims of fallen trees, and some trees have grown into the iron fence, twisted and broken, which once enclosed a family plot. Among those buried at Flower Hill is one Confederate soldier: William B. Harris.

A large round hole indicates where the cistern was located, and though the site of the building is undetermined, it was no doubt near the cistern.

There’s an old saying, “Gone but not forgotten.” Thanks to David Boone, the folks at Flower Hill may be long gone but they haven’t been forgotten.

Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.


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