Come Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of God’s unchanging love.
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
These words are from an old hymn called “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, written by British pastor Robert Robinson in 1757. It’s one of my favorites. But there’s always been one part I didn’t understand and that was “Here I raise my Ebenezer”. What’s an Ebenezer and why would anyone raise it?
I hadn’t thought about that hymn in years until I pulled up outside Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church at the busy intersection of Spalding Drive and Dunwoody Club Drive. Established in 1829, it’s the oldest church in Dunwoody.
Over the years, Ebenezer has had four different church buildings. The first sat diagonally across the road from where the church stands today, which is built on the foundation of the third church. The story goes that Confederate soldiers burned a bridge over the nearby Chattahoochee River to keep Union soldiers at bay. Union soldiers took boards from that first church to build a pontoon bridge.
Ebenezer still holds Sunday services but membership has dwindled in recent years. A new pastor, Gus Harter, recently arrived after serving over 30 years as pastor of Bethany Primitive Baptist Church in Suwanee. He’s hoping to breathe new life into the church.
Unlike Stephen Martin Cemetery, Ebenezer is quite visible to the legion of cars that navigate this intersection daily. The church has a newer sign out front but I found myself drawn to the old one that’s leaning against the back of one of the old buildings behind the church.
Some websites say that the town’s namesake, Major Charles Archibald Dunwoody, is buried here. That’s probably because a memorial marker was donated in 2003 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to commemorate his importance. But Major Dunwoody (formerly spelled Dunwody) is actually buried over at Roswell Presbyterian Church Cemetery with his family.
Ebenezer’s cemetery holds about 300 people. Names like Adams, Ball, Carpenter and Beal are common. But the one that stands out the most, with about 50 graves, is Delong (or DeLong). Several generations of the family are buried here.
As the son of South Carolina-born Benjamin and Elizabeth DeLong, James DeLong and his wife, Elizer Jane, raised 12 children in the Dunwoody area. Several are buried at Ebenezer.
In the back corner of the cemetery are some of the oldest graves. Many have been broken or damaged by the ravages of time and weather. The 1998 tornado that came through didn’t help matters. The tallest marker in the cemetery is for Pacoletta Ball, who died a young wife at the age of 20. I haven’t been able to find out anything more about her.
Two graves that are off by themselves are those of Obediah Copeland and his wife, Salina. Lee Eula Copeland, their granddaughter, remembers being told by Salina that Obediah was away fighting as a Confederate soldier in Company A, 38th Georgia Regiment (known as Wright’s Legion) when Union troops came to the family home. After gathering all the food they could find, the soldiers started to go when Salina begged them to leave something for her children. One of the soldiers returned one bag of food for the family.
A few days before this, Obediah was taken prisoner in Rossville, Ga. and transported to a prisoner of war camp in Chicago, Ill. Salina told her granddaughter that her hair turned white from the fear that he’d died. He was released on June 16, 1865 and returned home to a very relieved wife.
There are two very old graves close to Pacoletta Ball’s monument for Samuel Perryman Cheek and his wife, Martha Ann Bruce Cheek. The Cheek name is well known in Dunwoody as one of the pioneering families.
Samuel and Martha’s son, Joberry, had his own farm in Dunwoody. In 1906, he built a one-story farmhouse for his son, Bunyan Cheek. The house sat on 2.5 acres of land in the heart of Dunwood and included a pasture, cornfield, barn, smokehouse, and a chicken house. In 1945, it was purchased by Carey and Florence Spruill, and became known as the Cheek-Spruill Farmhouse. Mrs. Spruill lived in the home until her death in 1993.
The Dunwoody Preservation Trust held a campaign to “Save the Farmhouse” after Mrs. Spruill’s death and raised more than $200,000 but the amount was not enough to purchase the property from the Spruill heirs. The Farmhouse was saved when Guardian Savings and Loan (in Houston, Texas) purchased the property in 1998 and donated the home and 1.5 acre of land to the DPT. Today, it is leased by the law firm of DelCampo, Weber and Grayson.
I did eventually find out what the story was behind “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” It comes from the book of I Samuel in the Bible, when the Israelites defeated the Phillistines. Samuel raised a stone to commemorate their appreciation for God’s help in saving them and called it Ebenezer or “Stone of Hope”.
In turn, I think Ebenezer Baptist Church and its cemetery are symbols of hope to the community, reminding those that drive by how the strong roots planted by these pioneers continue to shape its present and future.
That’s a true fount of blessing, isn’t it?