Pine Barren Church

Contributed by: Daniel Ward

Religion was a very important part in the life of the farmers and country folk in the back wood areas. The Ward’s were early members of the Pine Barren Missionary Baptist Church that had been established in 1852 (see paragraph about J. L. Bryars). The rosters of the church are full of Ward family members from near and far. Many in the family served the church in many ways, from helping dig the graves for the recently departed to serving as “messengers.” The messengers of the church represented Pine Barren at the annual Baptist conventions. Oscar Ward was selected as a church messenger in 1916 for the convention that was held at the Bratt Baptist Church. He was reselected in 1917 and attended the convention at the Gonzalez Baptist Church along with several other Ward family members.

The early rosters of the church show how the families had become interrelated through the years so that most of them wound up kin to each other in some form of fashion. Some of the stalwart members of the congregation listed continuously on the rosters were Uncle Ben and Aunt Low Bryers, Wes and Rose Bryers and their two kids, as well as the brothers Jack and Union Grimlar, both born in 1865, and their two wives, Addie and Josephine.

There was also Old Man James Dockens born in 1835 and his wife and sons, Tom and Mandy. James ran the gristmill for Elijah “Lige” Ward and was a veteran of Company “I” of the 29th Alabama Regiment during the “War of Northern Aggression,” or as some of the southern ladies referred to it as “The Late Unpleasantness.” Uncle Celestine “Babe” Ward and Aunt Melissa attended along with their children as well as Uncle Henry “Wardie” Ward and Aunt Feenie, who was another son of Mean Teen Ward. Aunt Georgia Baker and her husband Mack Baker and their family attended the church all of their lives and are buried behind it in the Pine Barren cemetery. William and Rebecca Ward’s son-in-law Hudie Graham and their daughter Hattie Ward Graham were lifelong members as well as one of the best known of the local midwives was Aunt Betty “Majors” Ward. Happy Jack Baker and his wife Susie were also long term members along with Aunt Martha Holland the woman credited with saving the life of Carrie’s son, James Woodrow in 1918 from the Spanish Influenza.

There was also the most unusual and flamboyant Beck family headed up by “Hush yo fuss” Columbus Beck. Columbus had a long jagged scar across the top of his baldhead where a Yankee officer had slashed him with a saber during a close quarter fight with Union cavalry during the war. He never tired of telling his old war stories to the children who gathered around him after the church services out on the grounds where the wagons were parked. He would recite to them on how he gave the Yankees hell all during the war and was still an “unreconstructed” Rebel. One of his idiosyncrasies was in the naming of his children. For whatever reason old man Beck gave his sons and daughters strange names such as Barn-Burner, Little-A, Big-A, and two grandsons, Sock-a-dollar and Dollar-Bill Solomon. The Beck family lived four miles up in the woods and was connected to Wardville only by a narrow three-notch trail. They had an old coon dog named “Old Coon” that was infected with the same strange ways as his owners. Old Coon was addicted to sucking eggs and was a master at breaking into smokehouses and hen houses and having his way with the eggs and meats. He was a hospitable old cuss and in his younger days enjoyed coming over to the Ward house and sucking on a dozen eggs, then creeping upstairs and sleeping it off with the boys. There was nothing unusual with the men and boys sleeping up in the loft and as often as not one could always find Old Coon in the middle of them after he ate. After he slept it off he would mosey on home or on to the next hen house whichever struck his fancy. On one occasion the boys decided to use Old Coon in a practical joke on a man from Mobile who was courting one of their sisters. While he was in the parlor with his intended sweetheart, the boys covered the stairs up to the loft with strings attached to pots and pans. They knew Old Coon would head upstairs as soon as he finished sucking his eggs. Sure enough here came Old Coon who became enmeshed in the strings that in turn knocked all the pots down the stairs in such a clatter that their sister’s suitor took off and never returned.

Old Man Welch was also a member of the church along with his daughters, Jenny and Clarsie, but his wife was listed as a non-believer therefore could not be entered on the rolls as a member. Oscar’s brother Walter was the one that married Old Man Welch’s daughter Jenny and abused her most of his life. The Welch’s lived about a block from the church and the old man earned a living digging wells and other odd jobs. He was the one who dug the well for Henry and Martha Davis when they built their home on Highway 97 after moving down from Marengo County as he did for many of the surrounding families. Welch was sloppy and unkempt by nature and a procrastinator by habit. These were only a few of the families that made up the Wardville community and the Pine Barren congregation for over a hundred years. The cemetery is full of those members that dedicated their lives to God and the Pine Barren Church. One of the first to be buried in its sacred boundary was Mrs. Mary K. Cruit, one of Carl’s early relatives, who died on January 13, 1890 at the age of 70 years old. There were also the seven children of John Bradley who all died of eating poisoned peaches. The lives and deaths of all the members centered around the Pine Barren Church.

Every Sunday morning the congregational singing could be heard for miles and constituted a large part of the services. Their heart strings were touched by the resounding of “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” “Shall We Gather At the River,” and “Rock of Ages.” When the singing stopped the preachin’ began and was full of fire and brimstone. The ministers constantly reminded their congregations of the uncertain length of their lives and the inevitable arrival of the great day of judgement. They stomped and bellowed that when that day came there would be no church bells or fire whistle that allowed anyone a four minute span of grace in which to repent, flings a few things in their suitcase, and get out of town. There would be nowhere to go. Sinners would be caught red-handed and it would be too bad for them. At times preachers would be brought in from out of town especially those known to be powerful orators and exhorters. Each night during a revival they would deliver vigorous sermons and in the daytime eat unbelievable quantities of fried chicken and layer cake in the homes of various members of the church. Each night followed the same pattern. First the place rocked with the songs to get everyone stirred up and their hearts racing. Then came the sermon and after a full hour of impassioned pleading to forsake their sinful ways the preacher retired to his bench and mopped his forehead. It was always hot work wrestling with the souls of the congregation and he sat and rested while the congregation indulged in another hearty revival song. At some point in time the plate would be passed of which the preacher would receive his stipend for his expenses.

The church was also the center of the farmer’s entertainment world as well with its picnics, holiday activities, and cookouts. Charitable church projects were among the few activities outside of the home that were considered worth of a proper, feminine woman especially if the woman was young and single. William and Rebecca’s daughters were allowed to take part in the fund raising events for the church such as quilting bees, auctions, musical recitals, or box socials where they would prepare a hearty lunch and pack it in a fancy box to be bid on by the eligible men. The proceeds of these type of activities were donated to the church or used as financial relief for the local poor. In an era before social welfare programs, these events supplied not only charity for victims of poverty but a socially acceptable means through which young people could meet and begin to practice the rituals of courtship. Serious courtship usually began at a very early age, about 17 or 18 for boys and as early as 14 for girls. On the other side of the spectrum the typical male pursuits for William’s boys were hunting, fishing, checkers and cards, gambling, and drinking (as long as the church didn’t find out about it).

All of this spiritual and social activity took place under the watchful eye of the good Reverend James Lazarus Bryars, a well-known and respected Baptist minister in the northwest Florida and southeast Alabama area. (*For more information contact Judy Jolly). He was born on December 7, 1832 in Baldwin County, Alabama and was one of seven children born to the union of Charles Edward and Catherine Margaret Hubbard Bryars from South Carolina. He began his spiritual career at the age of 24-years old at the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church and still found time to fall in love and marry Erin Elizabeth “Lizzie” Miles in Escambia County on March 1, 1857. Lizzie died at the age of 30-years old on August 20, 1868 and was buried in Wawbeek, Alabama. He remarried shortly thereafter to Malinda Caroline Daily who helped care for his six children and gave birth to two more of their own. In the early 1870’s they homesteaded on land that had been granted to him in Bluff Springs and raised cattle and hogs as well farming and cultivating his fruit trees. On Sundays he traveled his religious circuit where he preached to as many as twenty churches at one time. In 1882 he recorded as many as 3,775 miles and gave 194 sermons from the pulpit. He organized Sunday schools, baptized converts, made religious visits, ordained preachers and deacons, and officiated at marriages and funerals. He was paid a small sum by the Elim Association Missionary Board in addition to the offerings given to him by the congregations where he preached. Some offering were as small as 25 cents and others were in the form of cans of syrup, a bushel of flour, chickens, or darned socks.

Some of the churches and groups this stalwart man of God helped to organize was the:
    Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, 1856

    Sardis Baptist Church, 1865

    Elim Baptist Association, 1872

    Flomaton First Baptist Church, 1878

    Perdido Baptist Church, 1882

    Oak Grove Baptist Church, 1883

    Atmore First Baptist Church, 1886
In addition to these he and his family would travel each Sunday to attend to the following congregations:
    Cora Baptist Church

    Coon Hill Baptist Church

    Damascus Baptist Church

    Pine Level Baptist Church

    Spring Hill Baptist Church

    Pleasant Hill Baptist Church

    Pine Barren Baptist Church

    Beulah Baptist Church

    Mitchell’s Creek Baptist Church

    Union Hill Baptist Church

    Pleasant Grove Baptist Church

    Ferry Pass Baptist Church

    Navy Yard

    McKinnon’s Lumber Camp

    Johnson’s Lumber Camp

    Shelby’s Lumber Camp

    William’s Station
At one time Bryars and his family would walk four and a half miles to the small railroad community of William’s Station, which would later be renamed Atmore, and go into the sawmill shop room belonging to John Roberts. His daughters would quickly sweep the floors of all the sawdust while their father carried in sawed off pine blocks and laid boards across them for benches. After the Sunday services he and his family would walk the four and a half miles back to their home near Davisville, Florida.

In 1885 he was elected the Escambia County Surveyor and during the same year became a member of the Escambia County School Board where he served with the likes of H. Crabtree, A. V. Clubbs, Philip Keyes Yonge, and George S. Hallmark.

On November 13, 1908 while serving as the pastor of both the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Bluff Springs, Florida and the Pine Barren Baptist Church in Davisville, the good reverend passed away at the age of 75 years old. At the time of his death he had served his God for a total of 52 years. His funeral services were held at Pleasant Hill and he was buried in the Crary Cemetery next door. His second wife Malinda joined him in death on October 15, 1917 and was buried at his side.