The Houston Praise House in the Savannah River Plantation Era


 The City of Port Wentworth has a very rich history that connects its past back to the foundations of Georgia as the 13th Colony and the founding of America as a nation. The earliest history of the area dates back to early Native American habitation and trade in Georgia and also includes the remnants of the Savannah River Plantation Era as well as several significant Civil War Era sites.

Quite recently much of Port Wentworth’s cultural heritage has been examined to determine how to best preserve that rich past while also continuing to grow as an active part of Georgia’s Economy.

One of the major concerns of local residents and city officials alike has been the preservation of this rich past that tells the story of a city and surrounding community that has helped to shape the State of Georgia and our Nation as a whole. This concern has led to some recent activity involving the area’s cultural heritage and sites of historic significance.

The efforts to preserve the Houston Praise House Historic Site & Cemetery along Highway 21 in North Port Wentworth are currently underway with great help and enthusiasm from the City of Port Wentworth, The North Port Wentworth Citizens Council, The Port Wentworth Chamber of Commerce and the S.E.A.R.C.H. Institute along with many other active volunteers and committed individuals. This site in particular is a Plantation Era and Late Civil War Era site located along the boundaries of one the original plantation land plots along the Savannah River. The site includes a cemetery and remnants of a praise house that is currently undergoing reconstruction and restoration. The site is significant to the African American community that lived and worshipped during this pivotal era in American History.

This project constitutes a dedicated commitment by the surrounding community members and leaders to actively take charge in preserving the area’s rich cultural heritage and quite possibly save some of the last evidences of this important era of history in Port Wentworth, Ga.

We look forward to sharing our progress on the Houston Praise House Project and others like it in the area, so please join us for frequent updates!

By: Dr. Phillip T. Ashlock II, Archaeologist & Preservationist

The S.E.A.R.C.H. Institute

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Area history overview from the late Ms. Della Steele


Putting the history of Port Wentworth together requires input from a little bit of everyone because we are so connected, yet we are scattered in the different areas of the land mass. I’ve lived in Port Wentworth 56 of my 63 years, and I’ve been told about everything from the rice fields to the different small living quarters to the juke joints to the people who made these places and activities interesting. I think the best way to start a decent conversation is to talk about the churches. That is the African American or as called at an earlier time, the Negro churches. Because Port Wentworth, the city, as it is named now, was not always a part of the Monteith, Meinhard, 12Mile (Augusta Road) or Rice Hope community, we must focus on the four churches that were synonymous to these areas, White Oak, Mount Moriah, Richmond and Houston Baptist. Now, before becoming a church, they started off as praise houses.

Praise Houses were located on each plantation or large community. A place of worship was felt to be something that should be provided to the plantation workers even after slavery. When we research the history of each of these, now churches, once they were formally organized they were now churches, no longer praise houses, we will find that each one came from a neighboring plantation. White Oak, Drakie Plantation, Mount Moriah, Godley Plantation, Houston, Rice Hope Plantation and Richmond, Richmond Plantation.

In order to ensure good participation in all churches, the earlier worshippers staggered the meeting or service Sundays. For instance, Abercorn Baptist Church, which is located on Old Augusta Road in Effingham is connected to these churches in this area, is the oldest in the bunch, is a hand me down from the Salisburgers, affiliated with the Chatham County churches as a union church and met on the 1st Sunday, Richmond and Mount Moriah, met on the 2nd Sunday, Houston met on the 3rd Sunday and White Oak, the 4th Sunday. Thereby giving you a place of worship each Sunday.

Even more intriguing is that before there were praise houses, nice little wood frame buildings, worship services took place under bush arbors or hush arbors. And it means just what it reads, bush arbors, hidden areas of refuge constructed of vegetation entwined to make a shelter strong and durable enough to seclude the worshipper from exposure. An interesting topic of future discussion.

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