A Brief History of The First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson

On March 29, 1798, the Spanish flag was lowered for the last time at the old fort in Natchez. For nineteen years, this region had been closed to Protestant activity. An act of Congress, approved April 7, 1798, created the Mississippi Territory. In the year 1800 the Synod of Carolina sent three ministers to visit the American settlements in the Southwest: James Hall, James Bowman, and William Montgomery. Although no Presbyterians were found in the tiny settlement of Port Gibson, a sufficient number of families were found a few miles to the southwest to establish a preaching station. The history of our church dates to the month of December of this very year. The three missionaries left the Territory in April, 1801 after establishing nine preaching stations. These men were allowed to return to their pastorates but others were sent to serve the preaching stations on a rotating basis in a circuit.

The first Presbyterian minister to settle permanently in the Mississippi Territory was Joseph Bullen. Mr. Bullen, a New Englander, was sent out in 1789 by the Board of Missions of New York as a missionary to the Chickasaw Indians in northeast Mississippi. He removed from this field in 1803 and located in Jefferson County near the town of Greenville. The first Presbyterian Church in the Mississippi Territory, Bethel, was organized in 1804 by Rev. Bullen, near Uniontown, in Jefferson County.

In 1807, Rev. Joseph Bullen and Rev. James Smylie organized the Bayou Pierre Church. A meeting house of logs was built on land belonging to Joseph Bullen which was later deeded to the church as a gift. This location on the Bayou Pierre road about four miles to the southwest of Port Gibson served the congregation for some twenty years. During this time, Rev. Jacob Rickhow and Samuel Hunter served the church. In 1824, Mr. Hunter and part of the congregation moved to the southwest to form the Bethel Presbyterian Church.

When Rev. Zebulon Butler began to supply the pulpit at Bayou Pierre, he persuaded the congregation to move to Port Gibson. On December 20, 1828, at a meeting of the Mississippi Presbytery, the name of the “Bayou Pierre Church” was officially changed to “The First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson.” The congregation immediately began a building program for the first house of worship on the present site, which was constructed between the years 1829 and 1831. It was made of brick, but was much smaller than the current structure.

By 1859, the congregation numbered 160, and they decided to tear down their old sanctuary and build anew. But because of threats of war, the northern contractor only completed the walls up to the parapet. Elder H.N. Spencer took over the project, and lent the congregation $8,000 to complete it, a debt which he forgave in his will. He is also said to have given $500 in silver coins to be cast into the bell in the steeple, weighing 2,032 pounds. It was first rung on October 10, 1860. Mr. Spencer completed the building in December of 1860, the same month in which Dr. Butler died. His funeral is said to have been the first service held in the new sanctuary.

The Hand pointing to Heaven” is the unique feature of this Romanesque Revival style edifice. The first hand was carved from wood by Daniel Foley, a young local craftsman. The ravages of time, however, destroyed it; and around 1901, the present hand was commissioned and installed. It was taken down in 1989 to be repaired and replated. It was raised again in 1990 and placed atop a newly re-enforced steeple.

Our congregation has been blessed with outstanding pastoral leadership over the years. Dr. Robert Price preached for us from 1863 until 1870. He later went on to hold the Chair of History at Southwestern University, now Rhodes. Dr. David Planck served the church from 1873 until 1888. He was instrumental in the location of Chamberlain-Hunt Academy in Port Gibson, and he taught English Literature, History, and Bible at the Academy for several years. After leaving Port Gibson, he served the Central Presbyterian Church in Mobile, Alabama for 30 years.

Rev. H.H. Brownlee served our congregation on two different occasions, between which times he was the President of Silliman Institute in Clinton, Louisiana. Rev. Marion E. Melvin served our congregation, and then went to Chamberlain-Hunt as its President. Afterward, he became President of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.

And of course, most recently, our beloved pastor emeritus David N. Daniels blessed us with his ministry. A stone tablet, recently commissioned in his honor, reads as follows: “For 34 years, from 1963 until 1996, he was a caring pastor, a faithful presbyter, a devoted teacher, and a shining example of Christ’s love in our midst. In stormy times he was a tireless advocate for the peace and unity of the Church.”

On May 17, 2012, the Presbytery of Mississippi dismissed the congregation to the Central South Presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Since the removal of the church to Port Gibson, seventeen regularly installed ministers have served this congregation.
  1. Zebulon Butler 1828-1860
  2. Robert Price 1863-1870
  3. David A. Planck 1873-1889
  4. Hervey H. Brownlee 1890-1904
  5. Marion E. Melvin 1904-1908
  6. R. Lee Benn 1909-1910
  7. Walter F. Creson 1911-1920
  8. Hervey H. Brownlee 1920-1926
  9. T. B. Hay 1926-1931
  10. Wade H. Harrell 1932-1938
  11. S. Evans Brown 1938-1941
  12. Alfred N. Moffett 1942-1948
  13. William B. Lowrance 1950-1956
  14. Willam P. Shows 1956-1958
  15. Leonard Van Horn 1959-1962
  16. David N. Daniels 1963-1996 Emeritus Pastor 1997 - 2009
  17. Michael G. Herrin 1997 - present

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