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Mallette a founder of annual camp meeting
07.12 echoes tabernacle
The tabernacle at the Methodist camp grounds in Springfield - photo by Photo provided

Gideon Mallette was the first generation of his family born in this country. Of French heritage, he learned the French language and loved God. For some unknown reason, his family moved to England, where he finished his education and learned the English language.  

From England, they came to America where they believed they would be free to worship God as they chose. In 1744, they settled in Purysburg, S.C. which is near the present town of Hardeeville. The family often paddled a boat some 10 miles upriver to worship at Ebenezer.

Mallette served under the command of Gen. Francis Marion, “The Swamp Fox,” during the Revolutionary War. Mallette was given 550 acres of land in what is now Effingham County by the government for his distinguished and loyal service. This land grant was described as on the Middle Ground Road, northwest of Springfield. It was on this tract where he built his home and settled there with his wife, the former Miss Hannah Deloach, also from the community of Purysburg.  

The Mallette couple had the following children: Hannah Elizabeth, Gideon, Mary Ann, Abraham, Daniel, John Henry, Lewis, Jeremiah and Elizabeth Margaret.  

Worship in the area formerly had been under a brush arbor in the vicinity of the Turkey Branch Methodist Cemetery.  After Gideon built his home, he built a house of worship from logs in 1785.  This was known as “Turkey Branch Meetinghouse” and is said to have been about 300 yards south of where the Turkey Branch United Methodist Church sits today. It became part of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1795. This was within one-half mile of Mallette’s home. It is believed that he did some of the preaching there.

Few lived in the area other than the Mallette family. Luke and Jerry Wilson lived west of the church and Elder Tryune Pace lived near the Runs Creek a few miles from the church and worshiped there. In 1790, Hope Hull was assigned as the first preacher at Turkey Branch. According to oral history, in that same year, members of the congregation and people from all parts of the county organized the first “camp meeting.” Mallette family history tells that Gideon Mallette and George Powledge established what is now known as “the old camp ground.”  

The camp ground was built on the property of George Powledge. The people from all over the county built tents (rustic sheds) for their families to live in during camp meeting until there was a line of tents on all four sides of the camp grounds. The site was in the vicinity of the Tillman Arnsdorff place on the hills of Turkey Branch (creek), four miles north of Springfield, near the Sisters Ferry Road. This site is now a field near the home of Marty and Diane Deloach.  

Camp meeting time was always from Friday night before the first Sunday in October of each year and closed out on Wednesday morning of the next week with a sunrise prayer meeting, and then they would close their tents and move back home. The fall dates were chosen to accommodate the campers who farmed.  

In 1801, George Powledge and his wife moved away and sold the 200-acre tract of land housing the camp ground to Gideon Mallette. The camp meetings continued and some of the early tent holders were: Robert Nease, Nathaniel Shearouse, Gideon Mallette, George Powledge, William Spear, Edward Mingledorff, John Mingledorff (better known as “Old Uncle” Mingledorff) and Edward Bird. Mallette’s family continued to have a vital part in camp meeting after his death in 1822.

Although no records show this, according to oral history, when the men in the neighborhood returned from the Civil War in 1865 after Sherman’s ravages on the South, they found the camp ground in ashes. They were sad but not disheartened and did not build back on the site. For two years, 1865 and 1866, they held camp meeting in a brush arbor beside the present cemetery at Turkey Branch Methodist Church. Two men, Nathaniel Shearouse and William Spear, built tents there.  

After this, Col. Edward Bird gave the trustees of the camp ground 10 acres on the south side of Springfield and they erected a huge tabernacle that seated 1,000. Tents were built there and camp meeting was held on this site from 1867 through 1907.  

When George Brinson needed part of the camp grounds for his railroad in the early 1900s, the camp ground was relocated south of Springfield to the present site. Over the years, camp meeting dates changed to encompass the third Sunday in August. With the changing of the school calendar in more recent years, camp meeting is now held to encompass the third Sunday in July. The 217th meeting will begin Friday.

Thanks to the perseverance of Gideon Mallette and others, the tradition of camp meeting is still a thriving part of Effingham County’s history and tradition. The Methodists are often joined by people of all faiths who are welcomed and enjoy attending services. Everyone is invited to attend. Friday night the voices will echo the lovely tunes of the old familiar hymns, the preacher will read the gospel, the ladies will fan with paper fans held in their hands, the smells of great food like fried chicken will fill the air around the tents and the laughter and fellowship will again encompass the holy ground of Effingham County’s Methodist Camp Ground.    

Information for this article was obtained from “History of the Campground” by Mr. Hinton Morgan; Turkey Branch Methodist Bicentennial Celebration Folder, 1985; History of Turkey Branch, 1976 by Dreta Wilson and Teresa Weaver; Turkey Branch Methodist History, 1985 by Jennye Tyler; and 1990 Vol. 20 of Historical Highlights of the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church section “Effingham County Camp Ground: Then and Now” by Dr. Ernest Seckinger Sr.

This article compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society.  If you have photographs, comments or information to share with Historic Effingham Society, please contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email: