The Rock Hill Presbyterian Church

James Collier Marshall was born on the eastern shore of Maryland in 1804, among the estuaries of the Atlantic and along a creek named for his family.  His birth occurred in the third year of the incumbency of Chief Justice John Marshall, his third cousin (twice removed).  Their common ancestor settled in Westmoreland County, Virginia, a matter of miles from the birthplaces of George Washington, James Madison and Robert E. Lee.  James Marshall’s father took his family east, settling in Maryland, 100 miles from the ancestral home.  James, though, joined the great western migration in 1838 or ‘39.  He came to rest at the intersection of Manchester Road and Rock Hill Road in St. Louis County, where he lived until he passed away in 1864.

In 1840, James married Elizabeth McCausland of St. Louis.  Over the next quarter-century, James and Elizabeth prospered in St. Louis, acquiring large tracts of land in Rock Hill and where Webster Groves is now.  They gave their name to Marshall Road in Webster, and to the Marshall Road in Kirkwood and Valley Park, where they owned land also.  They were traders and shopkeepers, and they operated a stagecoach stop on old Manchester Road when it was a major artery to the west.  In 1841, they built a home there they called “Fairfax,” which still stands (though not at its original location) on Manchester a little east of Rock Hill Road.

Elizabeth McCausland Marshall was the sister of John McCausland, after whom McCausland Avenue in St. Louis is named.  The brother was a major landholder in St. Louis, including tracts he owned downtown.  Elizabeth and John were part of an extended clan, which included the Kyles of Virginia, who were merchants in Lynchburg before they headed west to St. Louis.  John McCausland died in 1843, and his wife Harriet Kyle McCausland followed him in death a month later.  Left orphaned were St. Louis-born sons John and Robert, both under ten years of age. The McCauslands hailed originally from Scotland, but for a least a century they lived in County Tyron, Northern Ireland.  Elizabeth, who was born there, came to America about 1800 with her parents.  She and her 10 siblings were raised solidly in the Presbyterian faith.

Presbyterians were wracked by factionalism in the years before the Civil War, much of it brought on by the issue of slavery.  In 1861, the Church split into northern and southern denominations, a rift that did not heal officially until a reunification in 1983.   A story from the folks at the Fairfax house – not verified by this author – is that the Presbyterian congregation in Rock Hill split along these lines, so much so that pro-slavery people sat on one side of the church, those opposing slavery on the other.   On which side sat the Marshalls is an intriguing, but unanswerable, question.

Artemus Bullard was born in Northbridge, Massachusetts in 1802.  He attended Amherst College, as did his brother who roomed with a young man by the name of Henry Ward Beecher.  Artemus’ sister Eunice married Henry Beecher in 1837.  The Bullards and the Beechers were Congregationalists, descended from English Calvinist cousins to the Scottish Presbyterians. Artemus Bullard was ordained a minister of the Congregational Church.  In 1838 he accepted a position with the First Presbyterian Church of St. Louis, where he engaged in missionary work.  His work led him to establish one of the earliest Presbyterian churches in the “country” that surrounded St. Louis, in Rock Hill.  A church was built there in 1845, at the northeast corner of Manchester and Rock Hill Road, on land James C. Marshall donated.  Marshall’s slaves constructed the church of limestone blocks quarried on his property.  Until 2010, the Rock Hill Presbyterian Church was the oldest west of the Mississippi to operate continuously in the same structure.

In 1850, Artemus Bullard built the Webster College for Boys on land donated by James C. Marshall.  Named for Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster, the institution predated the town that grew up near it – Webster Groves was named for the school that Bullard and Marshall built.  Bullard brought Congregationalist teachers from New England to staff the College, and they in turn were some of the earliest settlers of Webster Groves. The school closed in 1859, but after the Civil War it was reopened as a home for children orphaned in the war.  The original building stands where it was built, on the grounds of today’s Edgewood Children’s Center.

Henry Ward Beecher was a famous, fiery orator and abolitionist preacher in New York whose sister Harriet Beecher Stowe authored Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  There is in the historic record one brief, early mention of Artemus Bullard’s apathy towards the slavery question.  All in all though, particularly considering his lineage, one cannot escape the conclusion that Bullard was firmly in the anti-slavery camp of the Presbyterian Church by the 1850s.

James Marshall owned slaves.  According to the 1850 census, James held eight men and women in bondage.  The oldest slave he owned was 75 years of age at that time, and the youngest, 14.  Marshall had been in Missouri 12 years in 1850.  He continued to own slaves, seven by the count taken in 1860.

Why then this alliance between the slave-owner Marshall and the Massachusetts-bred minister? The book North Webster: A Photographic History of a Black Community (published by the Webster Groves Historical Society in 1993) points out that James Marshall freed some of his slaves in 1863.  Property he gave to them laid the foundation of the historic African American community in Webster Groves.  The book claims that Marshall’s slaves asked to help in the construction of the Rock Hill church, and attended services there along with whites after it was built.  The answer probably lies with Elizabeth.  The Presbyterian McCauslands, of the merchant class, transplanted from Ireland just a generation before, likely were neither slave-owners nor slavery supporters. It was Elizabeth, one suspects, who sought to bring religion to the wilds of Rock Hill and who enlisted a minister of her own faith to do so.

What is possible is that Rock Hill holds a story of two southern families growing in their appreciation of human freedom during the years before the Civil War.  Certainly, important African American history is rooted here.  Presbyterians should consider their old church a shrine.

If there is not enough history for you at the corner of Manchester and Rock Hill Roads, consider John McCausland, the orphaned nephew of Elizabeth Marshall.  Most certainly he visited Fairfax in Rock Hill many times as a boy.  The house was brand-new when John was five years old. He lived with his grandmother in St. Louis for several years after his parents died in 1843.  Then, John and his brother went to live with an uncle in Virginia.  He attended the Virginia

Tiger John McCausland

Military Institute, and upon graduation became an instructor of artillery reporting to Thomas J. Jackson.  He entered the service of the Confederate Army at the beginning the Civil War.  Known as “Tiger John” McCausland, he is vilified for the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and revered by the people of Lynchburg, Virginia, which he defended in 1864.  When he passed away in 1927, he was the second-oldest surviving General of the Confederate Army.  McCausland died in his home “Grape Hill,” standing today near Henderson, West Virginia, on an estate he started with the fortune his father made in St. Louis.