Southern Ohio Churches


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As soon as the people of color began to achieve real independence, that is as soon as the indenture period was over, the "Church" began to develop.



Organized in 1807, this church was built on Charley Creek Hill near Burlington Ohio, in Lawrence County. The church at first was reached by means of a trail that lead up the hill. Many slaves running for freedom slipped past this church on the trail to Canada. This is the first recorded African American Church in Ohio.

The church was rebuilt in and bell tower added in 1894 The church is registered with the Ohio and National Historic places.


Thirteen African American familes settled in Pebble Township of Pike County, Ohio in the early 1820's. The settlers, former slaves and freemen, were a multi-talented group of people. They used these talents to build a community. In addition to talents, they brought a good measure of wealth with them. They built a school, meeting hall and organized a church. The church met for several years in the homes of the settlers, but in 1824 a log structure was built on land donated by one of the settlers, Minor Muntz.

The church became the center of activity in the settlement. Through the church, families associated with persons in other nearby settlements. They attended a convention in Brown County in 1847, and to a Baptist Association of churches in 1848. Attendees to the convention were from churches in Columbus, Xenia, Cincinnati, and Chilllicothe. These religious gatherings allowed an exchange of ideas, as well as spiritual guidance. The returning delegates to the Pee Pee Settlement (as it was called) brought news from other places. Several of the members, as a result, became active in the Underground Railroad.

Members of the settlement were harassed and some of the homes were burned, the church, however, continued to prosper.

The church membership grew after the Civil War because of the migration north of scores of African American families to Southern Ohio. The church continued to be the center of activity. Festivals, picinics, holiday dramas, concerts homecomings services, and basket dinners,were enjoyed at the church in addition to the worship services held every Sunday morning. Worhippers came from every direction summoned by the ringing of the bell.

Great orators brought the "Word" to the Sunday services. During weekday evening, however, classes were taught to help educate the unlearned.

The church still stands today and continues to provide spiritual guidance to its congregation. Recently a historical maker was placed at the church to commerate the PP settlement and the Eden Baptist Church for their efforts during the Underground Railroad movement.


The Union Baptist Church of BlackFork was organized in 1819. The congregation built a log church building on the Wicky Jones farm. The first minister was Rev. K. L. Carter of Franklin Valley. As the church grew, it relocated to the farm of John Keels. The timbers used to construct the new church were recycled from the Saunders Church. Many members of the church were involved in the work of the Underground Railroad.


Established in 1821 by Rev. Peter James, the congregation withdrew from the white methodist church. Peter James and others were dissatisfied with the treatment of the Black members who were forced to sit in a gallery area of the church and take communion after the white members finished.

The new congregation put themselves under the ledership of Rev. Richard Allen of Philladelphia in 1823. Among the founding members were Adam Brown, Thomas and Jemima Woodson, Fanny Demint, Burwell and Amelia Kurtland (Burwell was the half-brother of Peter James)and others.

The church helped to educate many People of Color in Chillicothe. In the 1840's, they secured land on which a school was to be built. Unfortunately, the money promised by subscribers was not forthcoming, therefore the school was never built.


On July 13, 1824, David Nickens, Elder William White, DD of the Deer Creek Presbyterian Church and Rev. Nathan Cory, a Baptist, met with several African American citizens at the Nickens home with the purpose of organizing a Baptist Church. David Nickens, Abraham Nickens, William Thomas, Benjamin Jonas, Minty Day, Sarah Nickens, and Ruth Nickens were present at this meeting and questioned concerning the articles of faith. Elder White read the Covenant and then gave those assembled their charge and extended the right hand of fellowship. It was in this way that the First Regular African Baptist Church of Christ in Chillicothe was born. William Collings recorded the events. Five days later, the Revs. Cory and White began preparing Nickens for ordination. He was granted a license in October 1824 and ordained in 1825. He was the first man of color to be ordained in Ohio. The ordination permitted him to perform marriages and serve the sacraments of the Church. The new congregation baptized 20 new members and ordained the first deacon, Abraham Nickens. They then established articles of decorum with one important item pledging them to work for the abolition of slavery.

The new church adhered to the strictest moral standards. Drinking alcohol was not allowed, working on Sunday was not permitted, and persons living together must be man and wife. Women who bore children out of wedlock were also censured. Members were required to attend church and forbidden to take part in “worldly plays.” Many of the new members were skilled craftspeople and workers and were property owners in the community. On July 5, 1832, Nickens and his congregation joined with the congregation of the AME Church to protest the inadequacy of the rights for people of color. He charged that “the racial suffering of African Americans was linked to an unjust government.” Later in this same year, Nickens went to Cincinnati to assist in the organization of an Anti-slavery Baptist Church, but continued to serve the Chillicothe church until 1836 when Rev. Wallace Shelton followed Rev. Nickens as pastor. In 1842, Rev A.D. Fox was called to pastor the congregation and was afforded a salary of grand sum of $300.00 per year. He was followed by Rev. W.C. Carter in 1845 and Rev. John Bowles in 1848. Bowles served as pastor until 1860.

Prior to the Civil War, the congregation was instrumental in providing education for the young people of the community. Rev. John R. Bowles and Mrs. A.E. Chancellor were early teachers operating a school in the church building. Members of the congregation excelled in the field of music. In the 1850’s, Rev. Bowles organized a choral group with James D. Hackley as the director. Hackley’s fine tenor voice was well suited for leading songs for this group and the choir was considered the finest in southern Ohio.

In 1869, the congregation purchased a brick structure at 65 West Fourth Street from the New Jerusalem Society. This same year, the name was changed to First Baptist Church. In 1894, the baptismal pool and Sunday school rooms were added. Then, in 1896, an extension was added at the back of the church and the stained glass windows dedicated.

The late 19th century found the Sunday School Department of the church active and the Sunday School meeting regularly with sister churches in the Second District Sunday School Convention. Ministers serving in the latter part of the 19th century were: Rev. Jesse Meeks, Rev. Isaiah Redman, Rev. H.H. Butler, Rev. John W. Carter, and Rev. Wallace Shelton for the second time, Rev. H.H. Williams, Rev. A N Howe, Rev. H. J. Storts, Rev. J. F. Walker, and Rev. Henry Randolph.

The church was quite active in community affairs during the 20th century. The congregation affiliated with the Ohio Baptist Association and the Eastern Union Baptist Association. The congregation purchased a parsonage and both properties adjacent to the church. Other improvements to the church structure were made and the auxiliaries of the church flourished.

The following ministers served the congregation in the 20th century: Rev. P. H. Hill, Rev. B. S. Merchant, Rev. Forest Mitchell, Rev. Charles Douglas, Rev. W. H. Reynolds, Rev. A.L. Dooley, Rev. Melvin Woodard, (20 years), Rev. Bernard Cooper, Rev. Paul Schooler, Rev. J. A. Outlaw, Rev. Donald Thompson, Rev. Melvin Woodard (10 years), and Rev. David Tanneyhill, Rev. Jonathan McReynolds and Rev. Michael Alston.

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