“January 19, 1736, was a mild winter day along Coastal Georgia. The Reverend John McLeod from Isle of Skye, Scotland, newly ordained by the Presbytery of Isle, said to the Highlanders around him, `Let us pray.’ Thus was born Presbyterism in Georgia, and Darien became its cradle.” With these words, Savannah Presbytery historian, the Reverend Frank C. King, began his award-winning article on the early days of Presbyterism in Georgia.
In October 1735 some 177 Highlanders had sailed from Inverness, Scotland. They landed at “Barnwell’s Bluff,” one mile east of today’s Darien. In their new settlement the Highlanders “built a chapel for Divine Worship,” and the Reverend Mr. McLeod began preaching in Gaelic. Somewhat later, a “meeting house” for the scattered Highlanders was built some eight miles north of Darien for worship and civic gatherings. It is worthy of note that on Sunday, February 22, 1736, General James Oglethorpe visited Darien and participated in worship. Oglethorpe later spoke of this group as his “favorite colonists.”
It is also note worthy that John Wesley in 1737 attended the services conducted by the Reverend Mr. McLeod and was “surprised to hear an extempore prayer before a written sermon.” John Wesley praised the congregation and their persuasive minister, and the next day wrote in his journal, “I prayed extempore!”
Although it is difficult to trace a consistent historical line for the following decades in Presbyterian History, it is known that in 1808 the Presbyterian Church in Darien was officially organized and in 1822 plans were made for a permanent structure for the Presbyterian Church there.
The only other church within the Presbytery that can trace its history to the 18th Century is the White Bluff Presbyterian Church in Savannah, which was organized in 1743 as a congregation of the German Reformed Church. In 1944 the congregation became a member of Savannah Presbytery and it has remained one of its strong congregations.
Presbyterism grew slowly in the early years of the 19th Century, with only three churches organized: the St. Marys Church in 1822, the First Church, Savannah in 1827, and the Mt. Vernon Church in 1851. It is note worthy that two churches, Flemington (1866) and First Church, Brunswick (1867) were organized in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. The last three decades of the 19th Century proved to be a remarkable time of expansion and New Church Development, with twelve churches organized during that 30-year period.
The momentum of expansion continued in the early part of the 20th Century with seven additional churches being added by the early ’30’s. Following World War II another period of expansion began, with eight churches organized by the end of the ’60’s.
Following the organization of the Skidaway Island Church in 1978 there was a 13-year period in which no new churches were organized, and in the late 1980’s Savannah Presbytery adopted New Church Development as a major priority. The effects of this have already been felt as four new churches have joined the ranks of Savannah Presbytery during the ’90’s, and two additional new church developments will probably be organized before the end of the century.
In the 1984 Savannah Presbytery entered into a partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the construction of the Swainsboro Presbyterian Apartments. This ministry, which provides housing for low-income elderly, has proven to be one of the very useful efforts of the Presbytery.
In 1986 Savannah Presbytery celebrated 250 years of Presbyterian witness in Georgia with a gala celebration held in Darien. Some 1,000 people attended the event, which featured former moderators of the General Assembly as well as high-ranking political figures.
The ministers, forty congregations and two worshiping communities of Savannah Presbytery, composed of more than 5,800 active members, give thanks to God for the workings of Providence that have allowed the Presbytery to serve and to flourish during an extended history in this part of Christ’s Kingdom!