Editor’s note — The following is an excerpt from “Black History of Highland County” authored by Kati Burwinkel, Myra Cumberland Phillips and John Glaze, in recognition of Black History Month. The book is available through the Highland County Historical Society.
The Carthegenia Baptist Church, located in the Gist Settlement, is reported to be the first church for African-Americans founded in Highland County. Samuel Gist, originally from England, was a land holder and slave owner in Virginia. Reportedly, as he aged, he appreciated more the methods used to make his fortune. In preparing his will, he provided that the slaves would be freed and could settle on one of four tracks of land he purchased in Ohio.
A white trustee was appointed to administer each trust and a school was to be provided for the children’s education. Gist wished that religious instruction for all of the settlements’ residents also be provided. The first church was constructed of logs in 1810 and was built by the settlers at their own expense. This structure, which lasted from 1810 through 1907, served as the school during the week and the church on Sundays. In 1907, a frame building was constructed for the church.
There appears no record of the pastors before 1937, when it is known that the Rev. B.M. Williams was serving the church. A severe storm took down that building in the early 1950s. It was replaced in the late ’50s with a one-room block church. The church was built with volunteer labor, monetary gifts and funds raised by holding fish fries, chicken roasts and hamburger dinners. When Sister Merle became pastor in 1974, the church’s name was changed to Carthegenia Full Gospel Church. She brought about adding a multipurpose room to the structure to include a baptistery, kitchen and restrooms.
After 1977, three rooms were added for a Sunday School, as well as other updates. Again, much volunteer labor and gifts, along with dinners and yard sales, covered the expenses. Sister Merle was a moving force in the church and area. She brought in such men as Dr. Howard Jones, an associate evangelist for the Billy Graham Crusades from Oberlin College, to speak and Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth to speak on the Civil Rights Movement, among many other activities.
The first African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greenfield was formed in 1841 on the lot on the south corner of Fifth Street. This early building was also the school through the week and a church on Sundays. Edward Rains was the first pastor. When Fred Patterson won his lawsuit to attend the white Greenfield schools, the church was named Shorter Chapel in honor of Bishop Shorter, who was the presiding bishop of that district. In 1866, the church was moved to the corner of Second and North streets. The church existed until 2007.
The Shiloh Baptist Church was organized July 8, 1866, at which time a council was held, of which elder J. Powell was moderator and elder J. M. Meek was clerk. The church as organized consisted of 14 members. John Cannon and T. H. Butler were elected as the first trustees. The Rev. George C. Braxton was the pastor for many years and was greatly loved and respected by the people of Greenfield. He had been a slave in Virginia and served in the Civil War. His slave master taught him to keep track of the years of his life by cutting notches on a “birthday stick.”
According to his count, he lived to the age of 115 years. He died in Columbus in 1942 and was buried in Greenfield. The citizens of Greenfield erected a monument over his grave with the inscription, “Slave, Free Man, Christian Gentleman.” In addition, his name appears on one of the stained-glass windows in the building. The church building was erected in 1874. The church now belongs to the Greenfield Historical Society. There is currently a fundraiser to repair the stained-glass windows and donations can be made to: Greenfield Historical Society, P.O. Box 266, Greenfield, Ohio 45123.
Sometime before 1851, a Sunday school was organized by Sam Highwarden, north of Hillsboro on S.R. 73. The Sunday school grew and created the need for a church. About 1854, the New Hope Baptist Church was organized by Mr. Highwarden, Charles Putty, John L. Young, James Harraway and James Campbell. About 1857, the old building where the Sunday School was held was torn down and the logs moved to the spot where the late William Woods made his home on North West Street in Hillsboro. A building was erected on that site.
The first pastor was elder Robert Allen. Many members of the old Clear Creek Baptist Church (Hansborough Settlement) became members of New Hope. Later, a brick building near the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (at the corner of West Beech and Railroad streets) was secured and remodeled at a cost of $1,050 (approximately $21,409 in 2021 dollars). In 1878, the Rev. C. M. Clark of Xenia took charge of the church with 32 members. The church belonged to the Eastern Division of the Union called The Eastern Union Anti-Slavery Baptist Association. A lot was purchased on East Beech Street sometime after 1901.
Then, on Sunday morning, Feb. 7, 1904, a storm blew the old church down. Before a new church could be built, services were held in the Carroll Hall on West Main Street and later in the courtroom of the Highland County Courthouse. The current church was built and the cornerstone reads “1854-1908,” thus indicating the date of construction. By this date, the membership had grown to 150. Remodeling upgrades continue. A time capsule was buried at the 150th anniversary to be opened on the 175th.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church, Wayman Chapel is located on West Pleasant Street in Hillsboro. The congregation worshipping here was organized in 1835, by the Rev. Peter James. A one-story frame church was put up on East Walnut Street, in what was then known as “Black Rock.” The lot was purchased from Mrs. Esther Roberts for $5 ($152 in 2021 dollars). The congregation continued to worship in the old frame building until the present church was completed about 1879, and dedicated the first Sunday in June, by Bishop Wayman of Baltimore, assisted by elder P. Tolliver, and the Rev. B. M. Carson, the pastor.
The church is named Wayman Chapel after the Bishop, and is a neat one-story brick structure, which cost about $2,000 ($53,411 in 2021 dollars), and will seat about 300 people. The church belongs to the Ohio African Methodist Episcopal Conference. When the efficient pastor, the Rev. Carson, took charge in September 1878, the church was much run down, but mainly through his efforts was built again to a prosperous condition and the congregation, with a church completed, was out of debt.
The Wesleyan Methodist Church belonged to the Miami Conference and was organized in 1873, under the pastorship of the Rev. T. H. Clinton, and is located on North East Street in Hillsboro. There was no church building at the time of organization, and only 15 members. The services were held regularly; however, at the houses of the members, and the following year the present church building was erected. The church building is a good, one-story brick structure, seating about 300 people. The congregation has a creditable record also financially, in being able to write itself out of debt.
The doctrines of the Wesleyan Church are the same as those of the Methodist Episcopal Church, but there are no bishops, the church government being congregational. The ministers of the Methodist Episcopal are appointed for one year, with the privilege of re-appointment for a second or third year, but those of the Wesleyan are chosen by the congregation and remain as long as both parties are satisfied. The Sunday School connected with the church was organized in 1874, under the superintendence of H. W. Brownlee. Elder Rita Lee, who was active in the community as well as the church, was one of the moving forces in the fight for integration, joining the march with the Marching Mothers. In addition, sister Lee was president of the NAACP and the Magnolia Twig. She was involved in civil rights struggles of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Sister Lee was also a writer and a lecturer and was asked to speak on numerous occasions. She taught classes on the Bible in her home with many children, giving them games, snacks and an enormous amount of love.
She was co-founder of the Alder Street Chapel and a matron and counselor at the Women’s Christian Association. Lee passed away Oct. 29, 1980.
The African Church was organized in 1840, Edward Raines, Thomas Bird and Solomon Turner being the first trustees. The first house of worship of this society was a log building, constructed in 1843 near the corner of North and Fifth streets in Greenfield. The building now in use was purchased in 1866 from the trustees of the Free Presbyterian Church. That body was disbanded in 1865. This location was on the corner of North and Second streets. A Sabbath-school was begun in the African Methodist Episcopal church in 1864, C.P. Hackett being the first superintendent. The church was later named Shorter AME Church in honor of Bishop James A. Shorter. This building served as the school for Black children until Ohio law changed and Greenfield became one of the first towns in Ohio to fully integrate.
The Free Presbyterian Church in Greenfield, composed of 21 members, was organized on Oct. 13, 1848, by a committee consisting of the Rev. John Rankin, the Rev. W. G. Kiphart, and William Keys. James McConnell and William Smith were elected elders. On Nov. 13, 1848, the Rev. A. L. Rankin was chosen “stated supply” for one-half of his time. In 1849, the church building was erected. It is now the property of the African Methodist Episcopal Society. The Rev. D. M. Moore was called as stated supply in April, 1851, and continued his labors until 1865, when slavery, having been abolished, and there being no longer any need of a distinctive “free church,” the society was disbanded.
The Clear Creek Church was built by the residents of Hansborough and was ready for use in 1842. It was located near the Penn Township line on land belonging to Betty P. Hansbrough. There was also a plot laid aside for a cemetery. The church was closed around 1900.