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Johnny Vardeman: Story retold of churches that divided on theology
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

Whenever “Dewberry No. 1” or “Dewberry No. 2” appear in the paper, some readers inevitably want to know “the rest of the story.”

The story of those two venerable Baptist churches is well known to long-timers hereabouts, but so many newcomers to this area might not have heard it. Just like a good song deserves to be heard more than once, so does a good story worth telling again.

Hear more Hall history

Johnny Vardeman discusses local history in a new podcast, Hall Tales, Episode 1: History and mystery of Lake Lanier. Listen here.

Dewberry Baptist Church No. 1 is on Clark’s Bridge Road, Ga. 284, north of Gainesville. 

Dewberry Baptist Church No. 2 is on Gainesville-Cleveland Road, U.S. 129. The churches are about 3« miles apart.

Harve Craig was a local newspaper publisher, but he told the two Dewberries story in an Atlanta paper in 1929.

 “In 1821,” Craig wrote, “a little band of Baptist brethren got together, organized and erected a small church building and named it Dewberry.”

It was a charter member when the Chattahoochee Baptist Association formed five years later. Dewberry at the time had 23 members. Two of the church’s leading members were Philip Byrd, a native Hall Countian, and George Chapman, who had moved from South Carolina in 1831.

“Brother Byrd was a man of strong opinions, especially on theology,” Craig wrote, “and of obstinate and irascible disposition. Argufying was his natural element ... He and Brother Chapman were constant contenders in the arena of religious disputation. Brother Byrd held firmly to the doctrine of Election and Reprobation — that God had from the beginning ordained that certain individuals should be saved for a life of future bliss and others irretrievably lost ...”

Chapman doubted that, saying that it didn’t look to him like fair play for the Deity to send a soul into this world with a mortgage on it that never matured and couldn’t be paid off. Byrd would respond, sometimes heatedly, it didn’t matter a straw how it looked to him, it was taught by St. Paul in his epistles.

“And thus they had it,” Craig said, “nip and tuck, and these old fathers would argue in bootless discussions on theology. Out of these discussions and the rancor engendered by them a storm-child was born.”

They carried on their debate from time to time, but then it overlapped into their choice for a pastor. Byrd’s following wanted the Rev. Thomas Kimsey, and Chapman had rallied some members behind the Rev. Jackie Rives. That was kind of the final crack that deepened the divide.

One day Chapman and Byrd were eating together, but continuing their theological tiff. 

“Brother Byrd,” Craig continued, “as usual, by reason of his ready tongue and aggressiveness, had Brother Chapman about faded, and with an exultant glance at the enemy, he stabbed his fork into a choice piece of fried chicken, waved it aloft and exclaimed, ‘Brother Chapman, it was predestinated before the foundation of the world that I was to eat this piece of chicken.’”

Chapman’s response was to pick up a biscuit, and with it knock the chicken off of Byrd’s fork.

Craig’s version of the story has “a gloomy, flop-eared dog near the men just waiting for someone to throw a morsel in its direction. He smelled the delectable morsel as it swished through the air and made such a catch as would do credit to a big league infielder.” 

The mutt plucked that chunk of chicken out of the air, digesting it before anybody could retrieve it.

That incident, legend has it, caused the church to finally split. Craig’s account had Dewberry with 75 members by this time, all but three of them pulling out to find refuge in an abandoned Methodist Church called “Red Stick.” The three faithful remained with Byrd, who continued Dewberry with a preacher coming once a month.

Ironically, 27 years after the split, Chapman’s son, the Rev. Joseph Chapman, became the pastor. He had married Byrd’s adopted daughter.

In 1867, the two churches became Dewberry No. 1 and Dewberry No. 2 because the Chattahoochee Baptist Association was having a hard time keeping two Dewberries’ records straight.

Since their parting, the two churches have thrived in their own missions, still small rural churches doing big things, but co-existing minus any apparent discord.

No. 1 remains on the original Dewberry site, and No. 2 somehow kept the original minutes of the church.

And, paraphrasing Paul Harvey, “That’s the rest of the Dewberry story.”

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays; e-mail.

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