Testimony to Pioneer Baptists:


Benevolence Church 1868

The exact organizational date of Benevolence Church is not known. We do not know the first pastor nor is there a list of charter members.  We do know that Reverend Jeremiah Hayman began preaching in this area in 1851 and 1852.  This was a forerunner of the work that was to come when a small band of Christians organized Benevolence. Perhaps it was under his leadership, and he was the first pastor. Or perhaps it was another who picked up the work and led in the organization.  John W. Hendry may have been the one to do this.

Benevolence was the first Baptist church to be organized in what we now know as Manatee County, and was the first church of any denomination to be organized north of the Manatee River. The church served as a meeting place for Christians of all faiths in the vast and sparsely settled territory that was bordered on the south and north by the Manatee and Little Manatee Rivers and Tampa Bay on the west. On occasion, folks would come from as far away as Duette and New Zion on the east, and Braidentown and below on the south.

The earliest date on record that we have for Benevolence is October 2, 1868, when messengers from Benevolence attended the second annual session of the South Florida Association at Peace Creek Church with J. M. Hayman moderator.  Benevolence joined the Association that year and was called a new church in the Association minutes; this was the beginning of a very active participation in associational work. The South Florida Association was organized the previous year at Bethel Baptist Church in Polk County, and J. M. Hayman was the first clerk.

The statistical record of the Association reveals no pastor listed for 1868.  Messengers to the Association were G. B. Harrell and J. N. Anders. The membership of the church was eighteen. Who were the other sixteen? Perhaps the wives of Harrell and Anders and their children accounted for several of them.

Mr. and Mrs. James Green Williams and family must surely have been counted in the list. They had come, a young married couple, from Randolph County, Georgia, in 1844. Settling first on Sneads Island, they moved two years later to Terra Ceia Island. Later they lived for a time in the Rye section and then came back to the Frog Creek area.

Mrs. Williams is credited with the naming of the church Benevolence for her home church at Benevolence, Georgia, a small country town centrally located northward of Dawson and Cuthbert, Georgia. Descendants of this family are now scattered throughout the county, and a grandson, S. B. (Sam) Williams, now deceased, was interviewed at length in the preparation of this history. Also, a granddaughter and sister to Sam, Mrs. Virginia Ruth Williams Marks, was interviewed on two occasions in May, 1970.

Mrs. Williams did not change her name when she married. Her maiden name was Miss Mary Isabella Williams. The children born into the James Green Williams family were Mary Lucebia, who married Erasmus Rye; Elizabeth Jane, who married Daniel Lafayette Hawkins; Joseph, who married Rebecca Weeks; Martha, who died when about fourteen years of age; Annie, who married Fletcher Gillet; Charles, who married Mattie Davis; and Virginia, who married Frank Armstrong;

James Green Williams was born March 16, 1822, and died October 18, 1870. He is buried in the Gillette cemetery.  Mrs. Williams later married Jesse J. Robertson.

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