History of Shepherd Church

How and why Shepherd Church was established

By Mrs. Buren A. Sullivan
June 3, 1962

In the beginning, all the Baptist churches were Primitive Baptist, even the early state Baptist conventions. The oldest Primitive Baptist churches in this section were Bethel, Salem and Spring Hill.

Bethel was located on the Black Warrior River near what was later Northport and Tuscaloosa. It was established in 1818 with 19 members. Our Yerby and Poe ancestors were charter members.

The second church, Salem, was located near New Lexington, Alabama and established in 1824.

The third, Spring Hill, was located in the northern part of Tuscaloosa County, three miles from Newtonville. It was established in 1827 by elders James Holloway and Nathan Roberts, with 21 members.

John Poe and wife, Sarah Threat Poe, sold Spring Hill Church, 17 ¾ acres of land for $22.50. We have a copy of this deed which includes the Primitive Baptist doctrine 128 years ago. The deacons were Simon Poe, Charles Lucas, John J. Reynolds, and Cornelious Holloman, all of whom were living here in Newtonville, as the people of Newtonville and their slaves attended Spring Hill church.

In 1832, brother David Andrews, a Missionary Baptist preacher, born 1801 in Laurens district, South Carolina, moved to Tuscaloosa County and settled near Bethel Church on the Warrior River. Brother Andrews was a friendly man with a good personality and inspired with Missionary Baptist religion. Most people soon loved him. In fact, I've often heard my Mother-In-Law and other elderly people speak of him Uncle Davie Andrews.

Soon after his arrival in Tuscaloosa County he was asked to hold a revival at Bethel Church. Dozens of people were saved, and so many of their members were converted to Missionary Baptist beliefs that Brother Andrews was called as their Pastor for the next year.

In a few weeks, Brother Andrews was asked to hold a ten day meeting at Salem Church near New Lexington. It was a great success also, with 97 people being converted.

This made the staunch Primitive Baptists very angry. The said David Andrews and his followers would never get very far. Time has proven how wrong they were, even though Brother Andrews and his early Missionary Baptist followers were greatly persecuted.

Brother Andrews organized the North River Baptist Association with 20 men whom he called his cloud of witnesses. Among them were two prominent men from Newtonville, Issac Shepherd and Hogan Yerby.

In 1834, Brother Andrews had been preaching to members of Spring Hill Church which was still Primitive Baptist. The church passed a resolution that if any of their members went to hear Brother Andrews preach, they would be excluded from the church. So, 8 or 10 members from Newtonville were excluded.

Brother Andrews met with these people in the home of Issac Shepherd 128 years ago and established Shepherd Church, the third Missionary Baptist Church in this section of Alabama.

Issac Shepherd's home was located, according to deed records, on what we know as the Uncle Mack Willingham place near Bear Creek, one mile west of the Clanton farm place, later Bunyan Gibson farm place.

Issac Shepherd was born 1800 in Anson County, North Carolina, and was the son of William and Elizabeth Yerby Shepherd. He came to Alabama in 1826, was converted and joined Spring Hill Church in 1828.

His mother, Elizabeth, came to Alabama in 1845. She was murdered by her slave, a Negro woman by the name of Pherbee, and is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in this community.

Issac was an older brother of Jacob Shepherd, who served as a deacon for years in Shepherd Church.

The first church service was held in Issac Shepherd's sheep house or pen, until they could build a church. The first church was located about 100 yards west of the present Negro school. It was built of logs with a chimney, and was also used as a school building.

There are still signs of a large cemetery in the woods near where the first church stood. We visited this cemetery a year ago, and found one monument which reads, "In memory of Sarah Blakney, born A.D. 1807, died Feb. 13, 1861, wife of Thos. Blakney."

Shepherd Church was moved between 1850 and 1860 to its second location to what we people call the Old Shepherd Church. It was located west of the Dan Patterson farm on the land given to the church by Thomas Blakney.

This church was build of logs. I have often heard my Mother-In-Law tell of the time when, as a young lady, she was attending this church. Brother J. M. Chism was up preaching, and a bench of young ladies suddenly jumped up and screamed. The preacher stopped preaching, and was amazed at what had happened. An elderly lady, Aunt Martha Thornton, was sitting nearby and said, "Brother Chism, just go right ahead with your preaching, it was just a little green snake ran across the girls' laps."

Issac Shepherd founded Shepherd Church in 1834
Painting of baptism at
Shepherd Baptish Church
Painting of Shepherd Baptist Church and Cemetary
Painting depicting Annual Reunion at Shepherd Baptist Church

In 1898 some people were dissatisfied with the location of this church and wanted it moved nearer the center of the population. They also needed a new building, so, in 1898, the following men were chosen to select a new site for the third church. They were Joseph Gibson, J. M. Shepherd, John Sullivan, P.P. Mayfield, J. L. Patterson and W. W. Gravlee.

The contract was given to J. N. (Bud) Yerby to furnish material and build the church for $325.00. He had a saw mill on Martin Creek and cut and distressed the lumber there. His son, Vertus Yerby, hauled it to the church site with oxen.

The land was located just across the ditch from her and was given by Dr. W. W. Jones children. The deed reads:

Jones estate to Shepherd Church. That for, and in consideration of the esteem and love which we have toward the Baptist Church at Newtonville, named Shepherd, we do hearby give the said Chruch the following real estate to have and hold for the use and benefit of said church, as long as it may be used for such purposes. Signed: Tolly W. Jones, Dora Graham, W. A. Graham, Wilmetta Mayfield, and P. P. Mayfield, Sept. 19, 1903.

The first service held in this third church was the association in October, 1898. since the church records were destroyed prior to 1871, we do not know who they early Pastors were.

Brother George W. Gravlee served this church longer than any other Pastor. It was said by those who knew him that Shepherd Church was his heart and life.

In 1871, Shepherd Church had 56 members. In 1888, there were 84. Since that time, over 423 people have united with this church.

Just a few years ago, Shepherd Church was moved to its fourth location, which is here in this lovely brick building.

Tuscaloosa County Records by Jones and Candrud
History of the early Baptist by Hosea Holcombe
Microfilm of Minutes of 1837 State Baptist Convention
Minutes of New River Association beginning 1871
History of Tuscaloosa County Baptist by Foster
History of North River Association by David W. Andrews
Manuscript by Rev. L. A. Connell


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