The first minister of Chestatee Baptist Church, John Edward “Jackie” Rives, was a successful farmer and merchant who turned preacher in 1833 after hearing a stirring sermon on swearing, a sin he admitted he was guilty of.
He swore off swearing, began to preach and became one of Northeast Georgia’s most respected, versatile and well known citizens. He even served two terms as state representative from Hall County.
The Rev. Rives reluctantly left an autobiographical sketch of himself that he wouldn’t allow read until after his death. “What good can be accomplished by a review of my humble life work?” he asked no one in particular.
Rives’ family moved from North Carolina to Jones County, Ga., when he was 9 years old. They moved to near Jefferson when Rives was 15, and eventually to Bark Camp in Hall County, where he said he crossed the Chattahoochee River at Shallow Ford for the first time in March 1821. He remembered when neither Dahlonega nor Gainesville existed as cities. “Not even a good wagon road,” he wrote.
Rives continued work with his father on their farm until he married in 1824 and bought his own small farm on Yellow Creek. He also served as clerk for Patrick Murray at what was then called the Old Fork Store. Murray, one of the first merchants in the county and for whom the community of Murrayville is named, wanted Rives as a partner. Rives wouldn’t agree at first because he opposed the sale of liquor.
“I was firm,” Rives wrote, “contending that if liquor brought custom and profit to us, it carried misery and want to our customers.”
Murray protested, pointing out that liquor brought numerous Indian and white customers, but he finally relented, though moving the store six miles up Wahoo Creek.
“Thanks be to God,” Rives continued, “I have never made a man drunk ...”
The Rev. James Whitten baptized him at Yellow Creek Church, he was ordained in 1833 and took charge of Liberty Church in a log building.
Rives was among several who organized the first Sunday School in the area at Yellow Creek. He later became clerk of Chattahoochee Association and also served as moderator from 1843 until 1882.
While ministry was his priority, he also had continued operating a store. When the Civil War ended, customers owed him $2,000. Considering the families’ condition, many who lost loved ones in the fighting, some who had no land or livestock, he forgave all their debts.
When Rives finally quit the mercantile business in 1873, he again forgave every debt owed him.
During his ministry he would start out early Saturday morning to his churches, some of them 19 miles away.
“I neither ate, except my pocket lunch, nor warmed, save by a brush fire, till I had ridden five or six miles after meeting,” he said. “I rode to my appointments when I had a horse and walked when I did not have one.”
Describing life in those days, he said “we carried our Bible and hymn book in saddle wallets, thrown over the shoulder or across the saddle. Stock then was not so plentiful ... and conveyances, except wagons, were seldom seen in the country. The women clad in goods of their own make, walked to meeting barefoot, till within sight of the church ...”
The Rev. Rives served Chestatee Baptist from 1874 to 1883. He died in 1895 at his home in Woolley’s Ford near the church and is buried in the church cemetery. He had sold the land for the church and cemetery to the church for $5 when it first started.
He surely must be smiling down on the little church and present pastor, David Skinner, as they build a new building.
kinner had preached a sermon there before he was pastor, telling members, “Whatever’s on your heart, git ’er done.”
They voted that night to build, but when Skinner later was called as pastor, they told him they didn’t have the money.
“I told them if they wanted a new church, the Lord will build it,” he said. Skinner says he’s been amazed since about the donated materials and labor that have raised the building that the church hopes to complete by summer.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.