St. John’s Methodist Church c. 1844
Joseph Pottle Barco was born in Camden County, Georgia in 1826 but by August of 1848, had made his way to Columbia County, Florida where he married his wife, Caroline. Just 4 years later, they would relocate a bit south to the newly formed Marion County where Joseph would work to establish a new community based around his plantation and Methodist church.
Although a small congregation of early settlers had gathered in the area for worship since 1844, the first frame church was built here in 1860 by Joseph and his cousin William with local lumber that was cut and processed at the James Agnew Saw Mill and then brought by ox cart to the site. The town was named Cotton Plant as cotton was Barco’s main agricultural crop, and a community began to grow around it with the church at its center. The building worked as a school, worship, and community center.
Its location in the very center of Florida brought much turmoil to the area around Cotton Plant in the days of early settlers skirmishes with Natives. But nothing would seal the fate of this small village like the oncoming years of war between North and South. Joseph would enlist in Company K of the 9th Florida Volunteers and fought for the Confederate States as a lieutenant. In the Summer of 1864, he was badly wounded in battle and taken as prisoner to Fort Delaware where he died on July 29th.
After his passing, the people of Cotton Plant tried to redefine themselves in the new social landscape of America after the end of the Civil War. They undoubtedly faced many struggles in this new framework and without Joseph, but the community must have tied together, at least for a time, to continue to grow a congregation. By 1892, they had expanded their original building in to the current structure that still stands today.
161 years later, people still meet to worship here every Sunday. Of the 620 internments in the cemetery (dating to the 1860’s), many are veterans of domestic and foreign wars. The community surrounding the church has long since disappeared but the congregation that meets here maintains the property immaculately. If Joseph were here today, I think he would be proud of the community he worked to pioneer that still (somewhat) exists today.
[Marion County, FL]