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The Story of Rodney Presbyterian Church

PAGES FROM AN OLD SCRAP BOOK

 BY Anabel Power

 

The story of the old Presbyterian Church at Rodney, Mississippi
From the WPA files of Jefferson County at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and is as follows:



About three miles east of the town of Rodney and before 1824, was located the first building of public worship erected by what was known as the Bethel Congregation. Standing on the rear of the plantations of Smith Hubbard and James M. Bachelor “The Little Church Down Hubbards Lane” proved to be a means of Growth in grace to men who learned to give their thousands in the cause of Christ.
The prominent men in this new venture were: David Hunt, John Bolls, Smith Hubbard, Dr. Rush Nutt, John Murdock, M. McClutchy and Mathew Bolls, son of John. Mathews account of the first meeting to discuss the building of the church was rather ludicrous. According to him one man thought it would come to naught; another, that it would break up the races at Greenville, the county seat at that time; another that it might help to keep the women and children straight.
Nevertheless they concluded to try it and subscribed a dollar! In a short time “The little church around the corner” became inconvenient and efforts were made to erect two houses, one in the then thriving town of Rodney and the other at Bethel Crossroads two miles from the site of Oakland College (now Alcorn).
In the year 1828, the Legislature of Mississippi granted a charter to that portion of Bethel Congregation worshipping in Rodney and they were known as the Presbyterian Congregation of Petit Gulf. In the same act a charter was granted to the Presbyterian Congregation of Bethel two miles from the site of Oakland College.
The first stated minister of the churches was Reverend Samuel Hunter, a native of Ireland, who preached at other places as well. In 1828 he retired from the charge of Bethel and Rodney and the Rev. Zebulon Butler took charge in conjunction with the Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson for one year.
Then in November Rev. J. R. Hutchinson of Princeton preached at Rodney as stated supply for a few months. At this time there were but two members of the Presbyterian Church living in Rodney, but the heads of families formed themselves into a Bible Class and were instructed in the Scriptures. The first worship was the bar-room of a house of entertainment. On Sunday morning the landlord would ring the dinner bell,
wipe off the stains of bottles from the table, bring out an old Bible and the people would come trooping in.
Steps to erect the present brick church in Rodney were taken in 1829. It was dedicated on January 1, 1832 by the preaching of a sermon by Rev. Dr. Chamberlain from Exodus 20:24. “In all places where I record my name. I will come unto thee and I will bless the.” A debt of $1500 on the edifice was quietly paid by David Hunt.
The members of this congregation subscribed $12,000 toward the building of Oakland College, which was located near the little city of Rodney in 1830. Rev. Jeremiah Chamberlain served in the double capacity of president of the college and pastor of Rodney and Bethel Churches alternately for seven years. During that time the people contributed $1000 annually to the different causes of the church in addition to the pastor’s salary.
Rev. J. T. Russell was installed as pastor in 1837 and served five years being succeeded by Rev. J. R. Hutchinson, who was professor of ancient languages at Oakland College and pastor of the church.
Over a period of 30 years the congregation continued to grow. In the year 1845, alone, 50 persons became communicants. The Board of the Church, the American Colonization Society, the Salvation of Slave, and the Natchez Orphan Asylum received large contributions from the church.
On January 17, 1852 at a meeting of the Presbytery of Mississippi held in New Orleans the members of Bethel Church residing in and near and usually worshipping at Rodney requested that they organize a church separate from Bethel Church under the name of the “Presbyterian Church of Rodney.”
The request was granted and Rev. J. R. Hutchinson was appointed a committee to organize the Rodney Church. About 18 members constituted the congregation. Rev. Edward Wurts was pastor. Two ruling elders were elected namely; Thomas W. Beck and William Murdock. The Lord’s Supper was observed once in six months, the hour for worship was changed from 11:a.m. to 10:a.m. A collection was taken on the first Sunday of each month for repairs of the church and incidental expenses.
Mr. Wurts didn’t remain with them long for at a meeting on May 15, 1852 he had an oral communication delivered saying that, “the wants of the church are so pressing and his inability to discharge pastoral duty so complete and absolute as to aggravate his illness by superadding mental distress to physical disease.” His resignation was accepted.
The Rev. Robert Price was then called, the congregation agreeing to pay him $1000 per year payable semi-annually. Mr. Price served the congregation until October 1862, presumably, for after that date his name appears no more in the minute book.
The turbulent days of the War Between the States evidently put a quietus on church affairs for the next mention we find of a meeting of the session was in April of 1866, after hostilities had ceased. The purpose of that meeting was to call Rev. J. E. Wheeler as pastor.
From a letter written by an eyewitness we have an interesting account of the part the Presbyterian Church of Rodney played during the war: During the summer of 1863, Mr. Baker, pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Red Lick, Jefferson County, Mississippi, came to Rodney seeking transportation to the north. He was a Union man at heart and resigned his pastorate to go north. While waiting a north-bound boat he was the guest of acting master W. W. H. Fentress in the U. S. gunboat “Rattler”, lying off Rodney on the morning of September 12, 1863.
Rev. Robert Price of the Rodney Presbyterian Church, invited Mr. Baker to fill his pulpit this day, Mr. Baker accepted and extended his invitation to Capt. Fentress and Ensign Strunk, with 18 or 20 seamen, came to service in the church. Under cover of the organ and choir music, Lieutenant Allen (Confederate Service), with 15 scouts, surrounded the church. Lieutenant Allen, standing in the church door , commanded their quiet surrender. Immediately Ensign Strunk fired at the Lieutenant. Lieutenant Allen fired at the ceiling of the building and ordered “no more firing”, however the firing continued until about 30 shots were heard. But as it seems, only one man was injured, a seaman was slightly wounded in the arm by Ensign Strunk’s ball.
Captain Fentress, the ensign and 15 or 17 seamen were captured. Captain Fentress raised his hand as he stood outside the church door and requested permission to speak, Lieutenant Allen bowed courteously. Captain Fentress asked that a message be sent his boat for clothing, etc., for his men. The message was sent and properly answered.
The officers were placed in some of the carriages still standing at the church gate; the seamen fell into file and all were marched out of town. The congregation, mostly women and childr4en, had scarcely dispersed when the “Rattler” began to shell the church and town and the town was fired in several places. Lieutenant Allen hearing this, sent a message to say that if shelling did not cease and order prevail, he would hang every prisoner in his charge. Hence lives were saved and property preserved.
One seaman boasted that a lady saved his life. This was a natural happening. The lady, aged and infirm, Mrs. I. D. G., kept her seat in a high back pew, the seaman, quick to embrace opportunity, crawled under the lady’s skirts. It may be related that in 1933 a man from a Northern city came to St. Joseph, Tensas Parish, Louisiana, searching, he said, for a girl (?) who saved his life under her hoop skirt during a church fight in the Civil War. The man wore a gray beard, of course, and the lady was long since laid to rest.
During the firing on the town, the church walls were penetrated by the shells and the scars are perceptible today.
Rev. J. E. Wheeler accepted the call but the church records from 1866 to 1869 were destroyed by fire in the office of Dr. Bemiss in April of 1869, therefore the next session minutes mention Rev. Bartlett as pastor. The usual routine was continued, marriages, baptisms, causes, elections of delegates to Presbytery, and increase in membership. It was decided to hold regular communion and administer the Lord’s Supper every three months.
The following ministers have filled the pulpit of this historic old church: Rev, John S. Shaw 1877-1881. In 1881 Rev. Scott was called there is no mention of his acceptance, however. Rev. George Woodbridge served from 1885-1888. In 1888 Rev. Mr. Hyland was called, but he evidently didn’t accept as we note in the minutes of September 1889, the presence of Rev. A. Newton. He served until 1893, at which time Rev. W. B. Bingham assumed the duties of pastor until 1897, when his name disappears from the record and that of Rev. J. L. Stitt takes his place as moderator of the meeting of the session until 1903.
The church then was without a minister, but the pulpit was filled by Rev. E. M. Stewart of Fayette, Rev. H. H. Brownlee of Port Gibson, Rev. J. F. Eddins, and Rev. W. H. Hill. Rev. A. W. Duck was called in 1916, the congregation obligating themselves to pay him $200 per year for his services on the 4th Sunday only. He resided at Red Lick and filled the pulpit there also. Finally, in 1923, when Mr. Duck tendered his resignation, the Rodney Church was included in the Fayette-Pine Ridge-Red Lick group of churches and is served by the pastor Rev. J. W. Currie, who makes his home at Fayette.
In 1884 extensive repairs were made on the old church, but the bullet holes were left intact, grim remainders of that lamentable conflict of 1861-1865. Frequently mention was in the minutes of a series of meetings. One in 1877 and again in 1884 by Rev. D. A. Planck. Many were added to the communion of the church on profession of faith and by letter. Godly parents presented their children for baptism.
As the years have rolled by many changes have taken place. Eve the river changed its course and left the sleepy little village, but this old brick church still stands upon the hillside, and the bell molded of silver dollars contributed by the congregation of yesterday, still rings out in clear sweet tones, to remind the villagers that there is a God who says, “Forsake not the assemblying of yourselves.”

 

Contributed by Annette Bowen

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