By some accounts, Bethel Baptist is the oldest surviving congregation in Hancock County. Land for the first church was purchased from Benjamin Thompson in 1801 and it was constituted in October 1802 by Elders Thomas Mercer and Benjamin Thompson, with twelve members. It was located on Old Bethel Hill about three miles east of Sparta on Shoals Road.
I’m dating the structure to 1828 based on the Baptist Association Minutes of 1880, which state: This church was first located on what is now known as Old Bethel Hill about three miles east of Sparta. We are unable to tie the history of this church from its constitution, till the year 1828. In February, 1828 it was removed to its present site, six miles east of Sparta, near the banks of the Little Ogheechee [sic] river. The land for the new site was deeded by John S. Latimer, and the deed names the following trustees of the church: Jesse Lockhart, David Hitchcock, William Barksdale and Byrd W. Brazill. It’s possible that this notation only indicated that the congregation itself changed locations and the church structure came later but the minutes make no mention of this.
They also note that before the Civil War, a third of the membership was African-American, indicating that members brought enslaved people to services. After Emancipation, they formed their own church, known as Hickory Grove.