Boone County Kentucky Historical Society

Richwood Presbyterian Church


Boone County Historical Society July Program  

[Held at the Church Meeting house]

July 2014
Welcome to historic Richwood Church. I am Ruth Wade Cox Brunings and an Elder in the Presbyterian Church. As Richwood Church celebrates its 180thbirthday, I celebrate my s. From the early times of the church there has always been Bedingers and their descendants as members and church leaders - ministers, elders, deacons, sunday school superintendents and  teachers.
   1834 -2014
Richwood Presbyterian Church was organized in 1834 and is the oldest Presbyterian church in Boone County. The Presbyterian Church in Maysville, organized in 1792, is the oldest Presbyterian church in Northern Kentucky. Just as our country had thirteen original colonies, our church had thirteen original members. Several descendants of the early congregation still worship in our historic church.
The organizing minister was Rev. Joseph Cabell Harrison who, with Rev. John Beckenridge established the first religious paper in Kentucky, "The Western Luminary", in 1824. Rev. Harrison was a cousin of President William Henry Harrison. Rev. Harrison is buried in Richwood Cemetery as well as four other Richwood Church ministers. Rev. Harrison's wife was Sophia Rice, granddaughter of Rev. David Rice. The first pioneers came to Kentucky in the early 1770's, Daniel Boone built Fort Boonesborough in 1775, and at the request of these early settlers, Rev. Rice established four Presbyterian churches in 1784.
Originally all Presbyterian churches in Kentucky were organized under one Presbytery - Ebenezer. In 1935 Richwood Church was transferred to the Louisville Presbytery. In 1983 Richwood Church was transferred to the Cincinnati Presbytery.
The early Presbyterians opposed slavery and as members of the first constitutional convention were in the minority as they voted for Kentucky to be a free state. They lost. Rev. David Rice stated "I believe that a curse attends slavery and that national vi yes will be punished with national calamity." The early Presbyterian church voted that slavery was a sin but believed the way to end slavery was to change the hearts of men so they would change the law and end slavery. The church's mission was evangelical not social reform. Slaves were members of Richwood Church since 1843.
In the 1850's and 1860's the puritanical culture of the time was reflected in the recordings in the Session Books, the church records. Stern disciplinary action was taken by the Elders, the church elected leaders, with members who failed to obey the Ten Commandments or to fulfill their obligations as members. These documented transgressions included absence from worship, intemperate drinking, frequenting places of public resort, adultery, insubordinate conduct as a servant, use of profane language, and leading dissolute and worldly lives. Offenders were suspended from church membership until they repented. The names and sins of those suspended were announced from the pulpit.
Services were first held in homes and in a school house. In 1841 a "house for public worship" was proposed. In 1842 a lot was purchased and in 1843 it was recorded that Session met in the new church and a sexton was hired. The original church building was struck by lightning and burned in 1869. The building we worship in today was built in 1870. A Community House was built in the 1940's with a kitchen. Church activities such as wedding receptions, youth group meetings and pot luck dinners took
place in this building as well as Thanksgiving dinner for the neighborhood. In 1946 the current stone
Manse was built by Stanley Ranson with help from other men of the church. The Sunday School Annex was built onto the back of the church in 1960. Prior to this, Sunday School classes were held in the four corners of the church with the Kindegarten class taught by Mrs. Lucy Bedinger (a descendant of Rev. David Rice) in the small room in the church vestibule - the coat closet. Lucy Bedinger was my first Sunday School teacher. Kittie Utz Taylor taught grade school age children and Nan Chambers Ranson taught the high school age children during my youth. All were teachers by profession and outstanding teachers. Pins were awarded for perfect attendance. The Fellowship Hall with offices and additional classrooms was added onto the church to replace the Community House in 1991. The stone wall was built in 1930 with stone from the creek directly across the road. As teenage boys, Dr. J M Huey and David Houston helped the stone masons by bringing the stone over from the creek. This little white frame country church situated in a beautiful rural setting surrounded by a stone wall and maple trees opposite a creek has been the subject of many artists and photographers, including Caroline Williams and George Roth. Richwood Church has been called the most beautiful church in Northern Kentucky, due in part to its setting.
In 1971 a historical marker was awarded to Richwood Presbyterian Church by the Kentucky Historical Society and placed at the entrance to the church by the stone wall which surrounds the church and the cemetery. At this time an application was made to list Richwood Church on the National Registry of Historical Places based on history and culture. This application was denied. A new application is now being submitted based on architecture with the help of the Kentucky Heritage Council.
Richwood Cemetery separated from Richwood Church in 1930. Prior to that time persons buried there were Richwood Church members or their relatives. The first burial was George Michael Bedinger, Jr. who died in 1833 of chorea in Big Bone during the chorea epidemic. In 1880 the cemetery acquired an additional acre and was extended to Richwood Road on the East, now designated Division C. There are no slaves buried in Richwood Cemetery. The slaves who were members of Richwood Church had fled or moved away after the Civil War. The first burial of an African American was in Division C in 1933, Mary Sleet Sechrest, a member of the local Sleet family. An area near the stone wall by the entrance was designated a "Potters Field" for the burial of persons too poor to buy a burial space. The area next to the church on the East was designated for the burial of children.
Among the long list of dedicated, beloved ministers are the following who served for the longest terms. Rev. J. Russell Cross served two five-years terms and was active in community organizations including the Boy Scouts. Rev. Jean Hyde Frable was the first female minister and served for nine years. Rev. Everett Wade Bedinger was the longest serving minister in the church's history, eleven years, both before and after the Civil War. Two of his sons became Presbyterian ministers; two of his daughters
married Presbyterian ministers, one nephew and one grandson also became Presbyterian ministers. One son, two daughters, one grandson and one niece became foreign missionaries. Rev. Bedinger, his second wife and many of his fourteen children and their descendants are buried in Richwood cemetery. As a small church, Richwood Church was not always able to support a full time minister. Some early ministers were employed on a part time basis and served other churches as well. Some had other sources of income, such as farming, or other employment, such as teaching: Rev..Samuel Lynn had a school and boarded students during the week. Rev. William White also had a private school, White Haven, on US 42 down the road from the current public school, New Haven. Rev. White had boarding accommodations for both girls and boys. There were periods when the pulpit was filled with "stated supply" from Presbytery, seminary students (licentiates), guest ministers, or Richwood Church Elders. In order to support a part time minister, my grandmother, Agnes Roberts, provided room and board for Rev. Cross during his first term as minister and the manse was rented with the income used for church expenses.
Richwood Church was founded by a domestic missionary of the Presbyterian Church, Rev. Harrison, and has a long and sustained commitment to missionary work, both at home and overseas. As early as 1843 there is documentation in the church records that the minister was requested to preach on the subject of mission and a special collection was taken to be sent to the Board of Domestic Missions. Rev. Charles Foreman, a missionary to India and under the care of the Ebenezer Presbytery in Kentucky, was invited to preach and special collections for his support were taken in 1848. Two descendants of Rev. Foreman, Emily and Mary Foreman, were also missionaries to India. The son of Rev. William White, Rev. William White, Jr., was a missionary to China. There is documentation in church records of a special collection being taken for domestic and foreign missions on the first Sabbath in August in 1861. Rev. Everett Wade Bedinger had two sons, two sons in law, three daughters, one grandson and one niece who were foreign missionaries to the following countries: Brazil, Mexico, Korea and the Belgian Congo in Africa. Both Rev. Bedinger and his grandson Rev. Robert Dabney Bedinger served as home missionaries to Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina. Rev. Bedinger's daughter Anna Bedinger contracted the disease Sprue in Korea and had to return home after many years due to ill health. His niece Jessie Bedinger (my grandmother's sister) contracted tuberculosis in Mexico, returned to Phoenix, Arizona were she died at age 47. Both Anna and Jessie are buried in Richwood Cemetery. Some of these Richwood missionaries were self supporting and some were supported by the Presbyterian Board of Missions. Richwood Church had an early Missionary Society organized by the women of the church to help support foreign missionaries.
The commitment to mission extended to the local community. Revivals, called protracted meetings, were held and new converts were brought into church membership. New converts included slaves in the Richwood community.
The-first slave to join Richwood Church was Moses Carter on January 5,1843, followed by Rachel, Drusylla, Plato, Hannah Patterson, Hannah Hughes and Margaret Garner. In 1855 there were 26 white members and 7 slave members. Slaves were seen as equal before God. Plato was hired as the church sexton in 1844, on completion of the church building and continued in this
paid employment until December 1856 when he moved to Covington with h
is owner, William Menzies.
Margaret Garner joined Richwood Church in 1856. Her mother, Drusylla, was also a member. They lived at Maplewood, the farm next to the church on the West. Their owners, the Gaines family, were members of the Episcopal Church in Covington. Margaret fled slavery with her husband, their four children and his parents in January 1856, less than a year after she joined the church. Upon capture the next day at her cousin's home in Cincinnati, she killed one of her daughters and attempted to kill her other children rather than allow them to be returned to slavery. After a lengthy trial, the slaves were remanded back to their owners under the Fugitive Slave Law. The federal case for the return of fugitive slaves took precedence over the state case for the capital crime of murder of a child. Before Margaret was requisitioned to be returned to Ohio to stand trial for murder, the Garner family was "sold down the river" to a plantation in Mississippi where Margaret died of typhoid fever several years later. The trial received national attention at the time and has been the subject of fiction since. The novel "Beloved" by Toni Morrison, the movie "Beloved" produced by Oprah Winfrey and the opera "Margaret Garner" are works of fiction based on the life of Margaret Garner. Many visitors come to Richwood Church to visit the Margaret Garner sites and to hear her story.
As a member of Richwood Church during puritanical times, Margaret would have known the Ten Commandments and church discipline for transgressors as well as criminal justice for murder. The impact of this event on Richwood Church and the Richwood community was profound. Everett Wade Bedinger was an Elder, Clerk of Session, an opponent of slavery and in the absence of a minister was the preacher. He recorded in the Church records on June 1, 1856 that Session met and ordered a day of fasting. Members were instructed to "repair to the house of God for solemn worship, confession of sin and deep humiliation before God on account of our sins and departure from Him as a congregation and as individual members" and for the return of God's spirit to enable the conversions of others. This same language was used by Governor Winslow following violence on the part of Indians toward Plymouth Colony, which he saw as a sign that God was displeased with their community. He declared June 24, 1671 as a day of fasting and humiliation "before the Lord for all those sins whereby we have provoked our good God sadly to interrupt our peace and comfort." At Richwood individual church members had committed sins (including Margaret's murder of her child) and the congregation had failed in the conversion of new members (including Margaret) who had sinned. The church leaders were also the
community leaders. This was a time for deep reflection about slavery and for positive change in interracial relations which has continued onward from that time. African Americans have lived in the Richwood community first as slaves, then as tenant farmers, later as farm owners, ne
ighbors and family friends and have worshipped at Richwood Church throughout the history of our church.
There were three events which contributed to the anti-slavery sentiment and to the Civil War. In 1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was published. In 1856 the Margaret Garner trial took place. In 1859 John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry occurred. Two of these events occurred in Cincinnati. All three, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Margaret Garner, and John Brown, were Presbyterian.
Major celebrations with dinners and festivities have occurred every 50 years as Richwood Church had its 100th, 150thbirthdays. This year on the first Sabbath in May 2014 Richwood Church celebrated its 180thbirthday. On January 17, 1971 the historical marker was dedicated during a ceremony which included speeches, music and a reception.
Richwood Church has been blessed with a beautiful house of worship, a peaceful setting, spiritual and intellectual leadership, inspiring music, caring congregations, and the grace of God. Its history is interwoven with the history of our country and it has been the source of strength and comfort through troubled times - slavery, wars, depressions. During the rural era it was the center of the social life as well as the religious life of the community. The presence of God and the memories of our ancestors
continue to abide in this historic church
Richwood Church Session Books
Richwood Cemetery Records
The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky, 2009
Calvin Gordon Ferguson, "History of Richwood Presbyterian Church, May 1834 to May ____"