Rev. Robert HughesMonticello’s enslaved community engaged in a vital spiritual life; men and women attended prayer meetings and were baptized.  After the Civil War, founding their own churches became a priority for newly freed people and many freedmen from Monticello and their descendants became ministers and lay readers. The church was and remains a cornerstone in their lives, meeting spiritual and social needs in troubled times and circumstances.  Descendants confirm the continued importance of the church and its role in defining their communities.


Three churches in Virginia and Ohio represent the many religious institutions in which members of Monticello’s African-American community and their descendants played conspicuous parts.  Eden Baptist Church in Pike County, Ohio, was founded in 1824 by African Americans from Virginia.  Its congregation, which included Hemings and Gillette family members from Monticello, was active in the Underground Railroad and other antislavery endeavors.  Israel Gillette Jefferson was deacon and treasurer of Eden Baptist Church.


Detail of land deed for Union Run Baptist ChurchUnion Run Baptist Church, east of Charlottesville, Virginia, was founded after the Civil War by Lewis Hern and George Hughes, among other deacons.  In 1867, they acquired land for a church from Thomas Jefferson’s grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph.  Rev. Robert Hughes, great-grandson of Elizabeth Hemings, was the first minister.  His sons Wormley Hughes and Philip Hughes also became Baptist ministers.


First Baptist Church in Cumminsville, OhioTwenty years after achieving his freedom, Peter Fossett became a Baptist minister, so well known in his state that one authority called him the “father of the black Baptist church of Ohio.”  In 1870 he founded First Baptist Church in Cumminsville, on the outskirts of Cincinnati, and he and his wife paid for the church building.  Over 1,500 people attended Fossett’s funeral in 1901.  His church was demolished for highway construction in the 1970s, but the congregation still prospers nearby.


“That’s so outstanding that he would care”

Martha Fletcher speaks about what is most important about Rev. Peter Fossett and the church he founded.

Theme: Religion

"They respected his authority"

Martha Fletcher remembers her mother talking about Rev. Peter Fossett’s reputation in Cincinnati.

"They told me I needed to talk to Aunt Bessie"

Calvin Jefferson describes finally learning of his Hughes ancestors and their connection to Monticello from his cousin, Bessie Baskerville Dorsey.

Ronald A. Smith

Ronald A. Smith

Robert Smith

Robert Smith

“He was very methodical”

Robert and Ronald Smith describe the habits of their father, Bishop Karl Franklin Smith. 

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