Little church looms large in Black history

Chubb Chapel United Methodist Church was founded in 1870 by the Chubb family and other black residents of Chubbtown, Georgia. Before and during the Civil War, the Chubbs were free blacks, something rare in the rural South at that time. (Photo by Sam Hodges, UMNS)

Chubb Chapel United Methodist Church was founded in 1870 by the Chubb family and other black residents of Chubbtown, Georgia. Before and during the Civil War, the Chubbs were free blacks, something rare in the rural South at that time. (Photo by Sam Hodges, UMNS)

Tall trees have reclaimed what used to be farmland and nearly all traces of the once-thriving businesses, such as the grist mill and blacksmith’s shop, have been erased by time.

But Chubb Chapel United Methodist Church endures, a repository of Black history that’s still home to a small, intensely devoted congregation.

“There’s no place I’d rather be,” said Kathy Freeman, referring to the church and the surrounding rural community founded by her ancestors. “This is where I feel completed.”

Chubb Chapel United Methodist is at least unusual, probably unique, as a rural Methodist church established by Southern Blacks who had been free during slavery days.

The Chubb family settled in this area, about 80 miles northwest of Atlanta, either during or just before the Civil War. They created a self-sufficient farming community called Chubbtown.

And in 1870 (five years after the war and the liberation of fellow African-Americans) they and their neighbors built the church.

The same white frame building, now with indoor plumbing, is lovingly maintained by a congregation of 25 that meets for worship every second and fourth Sunday. It’s the only non-residential structure left of Chubbtown, an unincorporated community near Cave Spring, Cedartown and Rome, Georgia.

Recognized in 1990 by the National Register of Historic Places, Chubb Chapel has enjoyed new attention lately.

It’s featured on the popular website Historic Rural Churches of Georgia. And both CBS and ESPN have done broadcasts on what Chubbtown and Chubb Chapel mean to Nick Chubb, a star running back at the University of Georgia and descendant of the founding family.

While the overwhelming majority of African Americans in the South lived in slavery through the Civil War, there were thousands of free Blacks, many of them skilled artisans who had managed to earn their freedom.

Most lived and worked in the cities. Free Blacks in the rural Deep South were extremely rare.

There were free Black Chubbs in North Carolina as early as 1820. Isaac Chubb had moved to North Georgia by 1833, possibly to work in the gold rush that occurred there.

At least by 1864, as the Civil War wound down, his sons had bought land in Georgia’s Floyd County, where they established the community that would come to be known as Chubbtown.

Kenneth Jones, a lawyer in Augusta, Georgia, is a Chubb descendent and principal researcher on the family’s history. His work led to the designation of Chubb Chapel United Methodist on the National Register of Historic Places.

But for all his knowledge (and of his respect for what they must have gone through) Jones remains mystified about the Chubbs’ trajectory.

“The burning question is: Why did they come to Georgia?” he said. “Why did they come south instead of going north?”

Isaac Chubb had eight sons who are generally credited with founding Chubbtown, with Henry, the second-oldest, considered the leader. But Clemmie Whatley,

herself a Chubb descendant and one of the first two African American women to earn a degree from Georgia Tech, points out that there were also sisters.
“That’s an issue I’m working on, trying to bring to life the women and see their connections,” she said.

One widely-told story is that soldiers under Union General William T. Sherman left the Chubbs alone in the March to the Sea through Georgia.

Jones heard it from his grandfather, who in turn heard it from his grandfather, George Chubb, one of the eight brothers.

“He told my grandfather that the Union troops came by, confiscating livestock, and asked who did they belong to, assuming they were slaves,” Jones said. “They said they didn’t have a master, they were free, and they gave them back their livestock.”

The Chubbs would attract other Black families to the community, and over time it included a store, post office, cotton gin, saw mill, syrup mill, wagon-making shop and other farm-related businesses.

A flood in 1916 is the likely catalyst for the gradual decline of Chubbtown as a self-sufficient community, Whatley said. Her mother, Elvira Mae Chubb Bray Stone, who died in February at age 97, remembered the location of all the businesses. By the time Whatley and her sister, Cynthia Akers, came along, those were gone, but the church was still a crucial gathering place.

Whatley and others said the recent attention to Chubbtown and Chubb Chapel, particularly the award-winning ESPN documentary, has raised pride and awareness among younger church members and Chubb family members.