About Providence Baptist Church
According to the Texas Historical Marker outside the church, Providence Baptist Church was organized in 1841 in the Republic of Texas by James A. Prewitt, the first deacon. Until the calling of the pastor, 32 members met 3 or 4 times a year, with planters from Brazos bottoms and their households (including slaves) in attendance.
By 1875 this was one of the most influential churches in the area, known for its 2-weeks brush arbor or tabernacle meetings.
It has had 25 pastors. The original church was of split logs. The present building is the fourth.
Centennial observance in 1941 was attended by the Lieutenant Governor and other officials. (1968) Marker No: 8649
History of Providence Baptist Church
On March 2, 1836, at the Convention of 1836, elected delegates declared independence from Mexico at Washington on the Brazos. About that time, River Boats were just beginning to come up the Brazos River to Old Washington. March 6, the 13-day siege at the Alamo ended. April 21, 1836, General Sam Houston and the Texan Army defeated General Santa Anna’s Mexican army. September 5 Sam Houston was elected as the first president of the Republic of Texas. Sometime that year, Providence Cemetery was officially established, but it is believed it was used earlier. There are graves marked with just a stone, some are sandstone and some are the red Iron ore stones found in the area.
Southern cotton planters created the cemetery. These owners and their slaves also founded a temporary place of worship called the Providence Meeting Place. In the cemetery, there is a marker where an Arbor was built for the services. These were not conducted every Sunday, but 3 or 4 times a year for major events, spring homecoming, and reunions, usually between planting, harvesting, etc.
Planters and slaves alike attended the services.
In Sept 1841, the congregation formally organized the church under the leadership of James A Prewitt.
The Providence Baptist Church, for many years, was one of Texas frontier’s largest Baptist churches, and know for its 2-week tabernacle meetings. People would pitch tents around the church. The men would return home during the day to work crops and return at night for services. Throughout its history, Providence Baptist has had over 30 pastors. The current building is the 4th. The first Sunday School was held in 1879.
The first structure was an Arbor built in the current site of the Cemetery. There is a marker showing the spot. The first church building was a split log hut. Visiting or traveling preachers used the church, as well as slave preachers who would teach and lead the congregation. Slaves also became members.
There is a marker in the cemetery where 40 slaves were buried together in a large grave. Bad water was responsible for the death of the slaves who worked farms in the Bottom.
We don’t know much about the second building due to a fire that destroyed the records.
The third building, built of lumber, was constructed in 1908. This structure was in front of the current church and faced FM166.
The current building was completed in May of 1954. Many of the congregation helped in the building. On Sunday afternoons, women and children pulled nails out of the old timbers so they could be used in the new building. Some of the wood in this church is over 150 years old. With a lot of volunteer labor, the church charged lumber at Woodson’s lumber. When the church was completed, Harry P Woodson, brought the bill and forgave 1/2 of the amount.
There was a hand-dug well, great water for many years. Charles Engleman recalled how he would ride his mule to church and tie it next to the well. His older brothers rode horses. One Sunday, after an extra-long sermon, he fell asleep riding home and fell off his mule.
Church meetings were as much social as ideological. Here families came from miles around, dressed in Sundays best. They included suppers, bazaars, and basket parties; they lasted all day, with religious services in the morning and at night. They were known for two-hour sermons, delivered by circuit riders or local laymen; men and women listened from separate benches.
Much of the goods had to be brought in from the port at Galveston by wagon train. There is an ornate tombstone of an angle for the grave of Elizabeth Vassiliades who died in 1930. This carving came from France by ship to Galveston then brought to Providence by wagon train.
In the early 1890s, a number of Italian immigrants settled in the Tunis vicinity, and in the late 1800s, the town had a restaurant, a cotton gin, a general store, a blacksmith shop, a saloon, a mortuary, a school, and a church. At one time four physicians practiced in the community. Tunis had an estimated 187 residents in 1904, and an estimated 100 in 1936, Its population climbed to about 150 in 1941. Farm Road 166 was extended through the town in the 1950s.
In 2009 the Fellowship Hall was added and in Pavilion by the cemetery was built in 2015 with funds donated by Johnny Lions who is buried in the cemetery. His grave is marked by a standing lion. The Pavilion is used for funerals and burials, fellowship meals, Vacation Bible School, and other events.