this group of believers was coming together to form a church family called Providence.”
First Providence Baptist Church
First Providence Baptist Church in North Augusta was founded in 1860 in the now-extinct community of Hamburg. Although this port town initially thrived – even attracting a line from the South Carolina Canal and Railroad – it lost its competitive value in 1853 when the Hamburg-to-Augusta rail bridge opened. This new bridge diverted commerce from Hamburg and led to a near-exodus of white merchants and their families. During this upheaval, just one year before the outbreak of the Civil War, African-Americans from Thankful Baptist Church across the Savannah River in Augusta formed a church in the evaporating town, calling it Providence Baptist Church.
Thankful Baptist Church was organized in 1840 as Independent Baptist Church and served both slaves and free blacks in Augusta and Hamburg. It was established to provide a sanctuary for people after Springfield Baptist Church – a black Baptist church in the Augusta village of freedmen called Springfield – became inaccessible to slaves whose owners had begun to prohibit them from traveling long distances. As the need for a church to accommodate local worshipers became evident, Independence Baptist Church was formed. The church changed its name to Thankful Baptist in 1844.
Meanwhile, across the Savannah River in Hamburg, travel to Thankful Baptist had become prohibitively expensive due to a toll on the only bridge to Augusta. There was no other house of worship nearby for free or enslaved blacks – in fact, there was no other church in Hamburg. As a result, Thankful Baptist Church members organized a new church in Hamburg at the onset of the Civil War, calling it Providence. Following the war the former shipping town was adopted and partially revived by a group of freed African-Americans who settled there.
In 1876 an event known as the Hamburg Massacre rocked the town and resulted in the deaths of seven men – one white, six black. A state-sanctioned black militia, established by Governor Robert Scott, found itself the target of white Democrats who wanted the militia to disarm. When the militia refused, gunfire erupted. Two men – one white and one black – were killed during the battle, and at least one other black man was shot while trying to flee. Later, four other men were called out and executed by the white rioters, who numbered between one and two hundred. (Accounts of the number of blacks killed ranges from 6 to 7.)
Following the tragic event, Hamburg remained relatively stable, if sparsely populated. Businesses such as the Rutherford and Company brick factory kept the town alive until a devastating flood in 1929 led to the town’s evacuation. Providence Baptist Church was dismantled and moved to higher ground in North Augusta following the flood. The sanctuary was rebuilt using new and salvaged materials on its current site in 1930. Church deacon Andrew Jay sold the deed to his property in order to fund the completion of the sanctuary. The church added an education annex in the mid-century and constructed a modern sanctuary next door in 1992. Today the 1930 church building is the site of the First Providence Learning and Development Center, a preschool operated by the church.
In 1916 a monument was erected in North Augusta’s J.C. Calhoun Park to commemorate McKie Meriwether, the sole white man killed in the Hamburg Massacre. No marker nor memorial existed to acknowledge the other victims of this tragedy until an historical marker was unveiled in 2011. The marker, seen above and below, is expected to be placed at the 5th Street bridge, near the site of former Hamburg.
Until then, the marker will travel between First Providence Baptist Church and Second Providence Baptist Church, a neighboring congregation founded in 1899 as a sister church to Providence Baptist Church. When Second Providence Church formed, it was called New Providence Church, while the original Providence Church was referred to as Old Providence Church. Over time, the names have been changed; the original is now called First Providence Church and the 1899 congregation Second Providence Church.