The Rodney Presbyterian Church got its start when the Bayou Pierre Presbyterian Church congregation was organized in 1807. Bayou Pierre then split in 1824 to form the Bethel Presbyterian Church a few miles down the road. Then in 1828 some of the members of the Bethel congregation lived near or in the small town of Petit Gulf. This area was far enough away that these members petitioned legislature to issue them a charter as “The Presbyterian Congregation of Petit Gulf”. Around the time of the charter request, the town changed its name to Rodney.
Almost immediately they began building and was funded by some of the members that included David Hunt and Dr. Rush Nutt (Father of Dr. Haller Nutt.) Construction was completed on January 1st, 1832 and the red brick sanctuary that you see today is that one. Dr. Jeremiah Chamberlain, President of Oakland College was the first to preach the sermon and continued until 1837.
Strangely, until 1852 the members of the Rodney Presbyterian Church were still on the rolls of Bethel Church, controlled by the Presbytery of Mississippi. But later that year, the Presbytery organized the Rodney church with 16 members and one elder.
In 1863 a few months after Vicksburg, MS fell to the Union soldiers, Rev. Daniel Sumner Baker invited Captain W.W.H. Fentress, Ensign Strunk, and twenty seamen of the Union gunboat “Rattler” to attend worship. During the service, fifteen confederate scouts surprised the Union seamen by surrounding the church. Lieutenant Allen appeared at the door and demanded the Union men to surrender. Gunfire was exchanged and one sailor ended up with minor injuries. He was shot by his own Ensign! All but one of the sailors were captured. The one that escaped did so by hiding under the hoop skirt of an elderly lady who sat in the back row of the pews.
Afterwards, Captain Fentress requested a message be sent to his gunboat for clothing for his men. Lieutenant Allen agreed. But as soon as the men were marched out of town, the Rattler started shelling the town. One of the shots hit the church and you can see the damage today. Although the original cannon ball was removed, sometime in the recent past, a Civil War fan, installed a cannon ball in the damaged area.
Word was sent to the ship that if the shelling did not stop they would execute the Union men. The shelling stopped and saved the church and town from being destroyed by cannon fire.
After the Civil War the town saw a rise in population and the church gained more members. But the Mississippi River shifted away from the town about a mile or so away around 1875 ruining river trade for the small town. To add to the frustrations of the citizens of Rodney, in 1876 the Natchez, Jackson and Columbus Railroad installed rails through Fayette instead of through Rodney.
Then in June of 1955 the Synod of Mississippi and the Presbytery of Mississippi decided to restore the church. But due to small number of members at the church the last remaining members of the congregation voted to sell the building in 1966 to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Condition of the Rodney Presbyterian Church
Over the last few years, I have visited this town at least three times and the Rodney Presbyterian Church. Its one of my favorite places to visit. If it wasn’t so hard to get to Rodney, I would visit more often. Its a quiet peaceful place and the locals that live in the area mostly ignore you but will smile and wave if you pass them by on the road or in the remains of the old town.
The first time I arrived at the church, I thought the church was abandoned and in poor repair. But after touring the church, I found that the overall condition of the church is in good repair. The outside needs some work and the balcony needs some help but overall it looks good for a church that hasn’t had a congregation since 1966.
On the inside, its a bit dusty but still being used I think. The church pew has old yellowing hymnals and Bibles laying in piles or in different spots on the pews. I wonder how longs these old books have been sitting there? You can see the clean spot where a few of the books were moved. Are they past out during special services or are they moved around as different photograph place them for different shots?
The entrance to the balcony and the balcony seem to be in the worse shape. Balcony looks like it might have been added after the building was completed. You can get access to the balcony from the outside. The door and stairs need need a little work. The balcony floor is sloped like you might see in a theater instead of set on steps.
Source: To learn more about the Rodney Presbyterian Church, check out First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson history write up on the old church.
About the Images
Images were shot over several years and several cameras were used. Some pictures were shot with Sony NEX-3n and others were shot by Canon EOS Rebel T1i. Images were recently processed with Adobe Lightroom CC, Topaz Clarity, and Google Nik Collection