Kiokee is Georgia’s oldest continuing Baptist church. Seventh Day Baptists began the first Baptist church in the state (1759) but the congregation existed only a short while.
It appears evident that Big Stevens Creek Church (South Carolina) established a mission point in Appling. The congregation became a Baptist church in the spring of 1772, probably taking the name “Kiokee” after the creek on which it was located. Legend asserts that “kiokee” was a term common to both the Cherokee and the Creek Indians for whom the Fall Line was a tribal border.
It has been suggested that the creek system which is now known as Kiokee came to be so named in order to indicate that the water in the area was “sweet” or drinkable. The venerable Dr. Louie Newton suggested that an alternate interpretation of the term may have been “falls creek.”
Kiokee has the distinction of having had a father, son, and grandson as pastors during the first sixty years of its history. Daniel (1772-1784), Abraham (1784-1819), and Jabez (1819-1832) Marshall set a record which few other churches have known. Few, if any, Georgia pastors have had the extensive evangelistic and missionary ministry of Kiokee’s first two pastors. Daniel preached his way to Georgia after catching his “seraphic fire” under the influence of the Great Awakening. His arrest and trial when he began reaching in Georgia was not unlike an experience in the life of Paul the Apostle. Marshall, the “stammerer,” who was “no scholar” had a warm heart. Though a “Separate” with strong convictions, he reached out with love and affection to his brother of the “Regular” tradition, Edmond Botsford, founder of the Botsford congregation in Burke County in 1773. Abraham preached to thousands on New England tours in 1786 and 1792. The ministry of Jabez was cut short due to his death by measles on March 29, 1832. Collectively their commitment to cooperation was the beginning of a great denomination. It acquired the best characteristics of both groups. The denominational and organizational skills of the “Regulars” were combined with the evangelism and missions passions of the “Separates” to shape the Southern Baptist Convention as we know it today.
There is an equally impressive list of churches whose origins can be traced to Kiokee: Red’s Creek (Abilene), Little Brier Creek, Fishing Creek, Upton’s Creek (Greenwood), Grove, Phillips’ Mill, Bethesda, Clark’s Station, Sharon, Damascus, Marshall, Powelton, the First African Churches of Augusta and Savannah, and the First Baptist Church of Augusta.
The location of Kiokee’s first church building remains unknown. The congregation erected a structure around 1792 called “Marshall’s Meetinghouse.” In 1808, the Old Kiokee building was erected on this site where we meet today. An Appling chapel was built about 1828 and used as a mission of the church until it was destroyed by a tornado in 1875. Legend suggests that this same tornado provides an explanation for the turnbuckles seen in Old Kiokee. The turnbuckles are said to represent the effort of the trustees of that era to pull the top half of the building back around in line with the bottom. The fifth structure was an abandoned Methodist church building known as “St. Mary’s.” It was bought and moved to Appling in 1907 and used until 1937. The sixth meeting house currently serves as a chapel and was erected in 1937. The seventh and current meeting house was completed in 1995.