Photo Courtesy of Susan C. Allen
Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church of Natchez, Mississippi
traces its origins as far back as 1837 in a shared legacy with First Baptist Church and later Wall Street Baptist Church, two predominantly white congregations in Natchez in 1850. It is however recognized as the oldest organized black Baptist congregation in Mississippi and the oldest African American church in Natchez. A deed filed in the Adams County Courthouse in 1858 documented a separate Baptist chapel for enslaved blacks under the auspices of the Wall Street Baptist Church. The document claimed that this black church was formed in 1854. Early enslaved members continued to maintain dual membership with the predominantly white Wall Street Baptist Church until after the Civil War
. But the establishment of an all-black congregation with its own building in Antebellum Mississippi was particularly distinctive at the time.
The church probably derived its name from the 12-acre Rose Hill estate that was destroyed by the Union Army
during the Civil War. The former enslaved people in the area adopted the name Rose Hill for the community in its vicinity. By the end of the Civil War, Randle Pollard, a former slave
, became the first minister of Rose Hill Baptist Church and on August 8, 1870, the church was incorporated by the Mississippi State Legislature. This recognition signaled the church’s permanent separation from Wall Street Baptist Church. Pollard soon became a member of the board of trustees at Rose Hill. Twenty-three years later in 1893, members of the Rose Hill congregation constructed a newer and more elegant building, demolishing the original 1850s style structure. According to church records, the new building featured a bell tower that was an estimated 60 feet tall.
In 1908, trouble arose. A fire caused by a gas explosion from the nearby Natchez Drug Company completely destroyed the wood frame building and many other buildings with wood shingle roofs in the northern part of the city. With a strong commitment to rebuild their most prized spiritual, social, and political institution, parishioners built an even “grander” structure with stained-glass windows and modeled it in the late Victorian Gothic Revival style. The choice of the Gothic Revival style reflected the wide popularity of that architecture among early 20th century African American worshippers in Mississippi. In addition, the church installed a Moller organ in 1912 that became affiliated with the Organ Historical Society.
Today, Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church, situated in the northern suburbs of Natchez, is a state historical landmark. The church’s interior and exterior have been well-preserved throughout numerous generations. Members have also maintained the church’s original pulpit furniture, early twentieth century lighting fixtures, and varnished millwork. Rose Hill continues to be a beacon in the community.
Mimi Miller, "Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church" (Natchez: Historic
Natchez Foundation, 2014; Sherry Pace, Historic Churches of Mississippi
(Jackson: The University Press of Mississippi, 2007); Vershall Hogan,
“Walking Tours of Historic Churches Part of Conference,” The Natchez
Democrat, Feb. 19, 2014.
University of Washington, Seattle