THE GROWTH of CAMP MEETINGS in HARRIS COUNDTY

Camp meetings were popular in pioneer days at Mulberry Grove and Cataula. The best and most noted preachers came to preach. Such revivals were first held in the open, with only a simple roof of pine boughs or other tree tops for protection from the sun. The people came and stayed for several days or a week of "camping"; hence, the name "Camp Meeting." Some slept in wagons; some on the grounds. Many stayed with friends and neighbors who resided nearby. Later, crude huts and buildings were erected at a chosen site. The grounds were reserved from year to year for camp meeting.

On these occasions, several ministers would come together from near and far. The revivals were an uplifting series of services. Souls were fed on heavenly manna, and at the noon hour, feasting and fellowship were enjoyed. People came by carriage, by buggy, by wagon. At the hour of noon, delicious food was spread in tempting array upon the long tables under the trees.84

BRIEF HISTORY OF CAMP MEETINGS

Camp meetings were interdenominational in origin. Two brothers, Joe McGee, local Methodist preacher, and his younger brother, William McGee, a Presbyterian, in 1799 set out from western Tennessee toward Ohio on a preaching tour.

Later all other denominations were co-operating in itinerant evangelism, but only for a brief period. All the other churches gradually withdrew, and to all other intents and purposes, the camp meeting became a Methodist institution.

By 1812 there were at least four hundred Methodist camp meetings held annually. Before Asbury's death in 1816, it was estimated that six hundred camp meetings were sponsored by Methodists in Georgia. From 1801-1802, when the first Methodist camps were established in Oglethorpe and Wilkes County, until about the middle of the century, camp grounds continued to multiply. In 1838 the Georgia Conference started a curtailment of these camps, for there was at least one( and sometimes two) in every county. Individual Charges had two or more.

Ordinary camp meetings followed a common pattern in Georgia. There was a square plot approximately several hundred yards along each side. Around the sides of the square were cabins, called "tents", with a hall down the center and sleeping apartments on both sides. Sometimes the tents had two stories. There was carpeting of straw. Tent holders brought simple supplies: milk, the cow, coops of chickens, hams, cakes and pies, and cooking utensils for open fires. Often they brought stoves, horses, mules, wagons. Some families entertained fifty or more guests at one meal.

In the center of the plot there was a tabernacle for worship services, with a box pulpit, a large altar space surrounded by a rail, and benches-many without backs. The men and women sat separately. Straw was scattered on the ground. The place was lighted with small lamps without chimneys. Around the tabernacle and over the grounds were low scaffolds on which pine knots were burning for the illumination. Preaching services each day were at eight, eleven, and three o'clock. At night there were "candle light" singing services. As the sermon advanced, shouts would now and then break out and the services would sometimes close in great emotional fervor.

Camp meetings were occasions of social importance in the nineteenth century. From time to time, a penitent soul would "come through" shouting. Then another and another would "get religion".

In sober truth, it may be said that some of the greatest preaching heard on this continent was brought to eager multitudes at Georgia Camp Meetings.

As was to be expected, the camp meetings changed as conditions changed. They were in their hey-day when the circuits were large and a revival at each church was not practicable. 85


84 "Mrs. J. W. Thompson, Cataula, Georgia, Camp Meeting Memories, as told to Mrs. Barfield June, 1956. (Mrs. Thompson died 11-30-1956.)
85 Alfred M. Pearce, History of Methodism in Georgia, pp. 80-84.

BACK