Early Settlers of Union
Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
Choestoe Baptist Church Homecoming
Sunday, June 10
Sunday in June has long been "Homecoming" Day at Choestoe Baptist Church.
People who still live in the community and are now active members of
the church as well as those who live in far-flung places mark the day
on their calendar.
Homecoming Day draws near, people think of going back to the place of
their spiritual roots. It is a good day in June, an uplifting day.
There is something special about "going home."
2007, marks at least the 173rd anniversary of the church. Why do I say
"at least"? The exact founding date of the church has been lost through
the mists of time. The earliest extant minutes of a business session of
the church were dated September 5, 1834, but
these were not the founding minutes.
1833, Choestoah (as it was spelled then) Baptist Church had
ten members and was affiliated with the Mountain Baptist Association.
Other churches participating in that 1833 meeting of the association
were Wahoo Baptist Church of North Hall County and Tesnatee
Baptist Church of White County. Although the written record has been
lost, it is reasonable to believe that the church was formed as early
as 1832, the year of Union County's
formation, or even before that date as the first settlers came into Choestoe Valley.
commendable that the early members of Choestoe Baptist Church
desired to join in fellowship with churches of like faith and order in
an associational meeting. Even though messengers had to travel over
rugged terrain and mountain trails on horseback to get to these
meetings, it was a reflection of the desire for fellowship members had
known before they moved from more populous regions like the Pendleton
District of South Carolina or from Wilkes
In those areas
from which early settlers to the Choestoe Valley had
migrated, they had tasted the sweet fellowship of associational work.
Famed Baptist leader, Luther Rice, had traveled as a representative of
the Triennial Baptist Convention, organized in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in
1814. As Rice journeyed, seeking support for Adoniram
and Ann Judson, missionaries to Burma and
other foreign lands, he helped to organize Baptist churches wherever he
went. He also sought to have the churches cooperate in the cause of
missions and urged them to form an association for fellowship of
churches within a geographic area. The chief aims of a local
association of churches was fellowship, promotion of mission causes in
the United States and in foreign countries, support of benevolent work,
starting Christian schools, and examining churches for orthodoxy of
beliefs and practices. It was in this tradition of Baptist purposes
that Choestoah Baptist Church
functioned from its beginning in the early 1830s.
There is a
certain degree of pride and thanksgiving as we read the minutes of
Choestoe (modern spelling) Church so astutely recorded and maintained
since 1834 by faithful church clerks. The minutes are a part of
historical records both at the Georgia Archives of History in Atlanta and
at the Mercer University, Macon, Library, which houses Baptist Archives of
church clerk was my ancestor (great, great grandfather) John Souther
who kept the minutes from 1834 through 1847, and again from 1850
through March, 1853. It was in 1853 that he decided to join a new
church forming "at Brasstown," a few miles further up on Choestoe. New Liberty
became the name of this church and was founded and built on an acre of
land Mr. Souther gave for the church and cemetery.
In 1853, before
the term "church planter" was ever a part of missions
vocabulary, John Souther founded a new church in the shadow of the
highest peak in Georgia, Enotah Bald Mountain. His
departure from Choestoe Church may
have been precipitated from a falling out with another church member
who purportedly cut timber on Souther's
property and did not make either restitution or apology. Such disputes
show the carnal nature of church members. At the same time,
disagreements within the membership have proven to be the seeds of a
new church. God often brings good from unpleasant situations.
recorded pastor of Choestoe Baptist Church was
the Rev. John Chastain from 1835-1837. There were many John Chastains who were Baptist preachers, all
descending from the French Huguenot immigrant, Pierre Chastain, a
medical doctor who settled in 1700 at Manakin
Township, Virginia, on
the James River. One
of immigrant Pierre Chastain's sons was the famous Rev. John "Ten
Shilling Bell" Chastain, a visionary and associate of the fiery Baptist
preacher, the Rev. Shubael Starnes. Both
Chastain and Starnes were active in forming churches and associations
North and South
Carolina. The Rev. John Chastain who was
pastor at Choestoe was in the line of descent from Dr. Pierre Chastain
and the Rev. John "Ten Shilling Bell" Chastain.
Rev. Abner Chastain was Choestoe's
pastor twice, 1837- 1838 and again in 1841. In Rev. Abner's first tenure at Choestoe, the membership
hosted the association for the first time. It is not clear in the
minutes whether the association was the Mountain Baptist or the Chestatee Baptist Association in which Choestoe
then held membership. Rev. Abner Chastain
was the grandson of the famous Rev. John "Ten Shilling Bell" Chastain. Abner Chastain and Susan O'Kelley
14, 1826 in Habersham
Four of the couple's thirteen children were born in Union County. He
was a circuit riding preacher whose ministry ranged over north Georgia and
into North Carolina.
After the Civil
War, Rev. Abner Chastain, his family and
about 250 others from Union County migrated west in a large wagon
train. Many of this group settled on the Huerfano River in Colorado at
St. Mary's. Rev. Chastain organized a Baptist church there, and in the
fall of 1870 baptized his first convert in the Huerfano River.
Sadly, his wife had died on the journey west. In Colorado, he
married Amanda Elzey. Rev. Chastain died
of pneumonia in April, 1871. In a measure, Choestoe Church of Union
County had an influence on the organization of the Huerfano Baptist Church in Colorado, as
one of the former pastors led settlers there to form a church much like
the one they had known in the mountains of Georgia.
outstanding early pastor was the Rev. Elisha
Hedden who served in 1840. A circuit-riding
preacher, he was noted for his church starting and his evangelistic
zeal. He was much in demand as a preacher in summer camp meetings. He
had the distinction of leading to Christ two men who later became
outstanding ministers, educators and denominational leaders: The Rev.
Dr. George W. Truett and the Rev. Dr.
Fernando Coello McConnell.
A Union Countian, the Rev. Charles Edward Rich, was
pastor twice, in 1898-1899 and again from 1903-1915. Known as Preacher
Charlie Rich, he had the distinct privilege of being educated at the Hiawassee Baptist Academy
founded by Dr. George Truett and Dr.
Fernando McConnell. He was greatly influenced by these two outstanding
leaders who instilled in the young preacher a love for missions,
evangelism and education.
The length of
this article precludes a thorough listing of many other outstanding
leaders, both pastoral and laypersons, who have rendered noble service
at Choestoe Church. One
was Dr. Harry V. Smith who, at the time he pastored
Choestoe, was also president of the Blairsville Collegiate Institute.
Dr. Smith went on to be an administrator at Mercer University in Macon.
From 1937 until 1953, the Rev. Claud C.
Boynton pastored the church. Other pastors
(not necessarily in order of service) were the Reverends Jim Hood,
Aaron Souther, Luther Colwell, Sim Martin,
Richard Hardy, Tom Smith, Marlow Stroup, J. Lake Gibson, Jim Geer, and
Charles Richard (Dick) Stillwell. Rev. Troy Acree
served as interim pastor on several occasions. The Rev. Ken Zollinger, current pastor, and members are
expecting a crowd June 10 in the new Multi- Purpose Building
completed in recent years.
<>Going home to
the church of our youth will be a rich experience on June 9. Its 173+
year history proves that God has been with that congregation through
more than seventeen decades. They welcome all to help them celebrate.
c2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 7, 2007 in The Union
Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights
Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.
She may be reached at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org;
phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708
Updated January 2, 2009
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