From slave to church founder

By Joan Baxter

February 25, 2014

February is traditionally Black History Month. Today I would like to share the story of a man who was born into slavery, bought his way into freedom, settled in Greene County, began his own church and became a well-known minister.

Perhaps you have heard about Godfrey Brown, founder of the Middle Run Baptist Church. Here is his story.

He was born into slavery in 1768 In Brunswick County, Virginia. On March 7, 1820, he had saved enough money to buy not only his own freedom, but also that if his family. He was able to accumulate the money by working extra hours for other plantation owners after he had completed his work for the master. No doubt other family members assisted in raising the necessary funds. It took several years to raise enough funds to pay for the freedom for the entire family. The going price for the Browns was $5,650; which is a considerable sum for 1820.

This document, recorded in the Greene County, Virginia court house reads as follows: “I do hereby certify that the bearer hereof Godfrey Brown, a free man of colour aged fifty-two years about five feet ten and one-half inches high, yellow complexion, has two scars on his left arm near the elbow, carries the mark of small pox on the face and was emancipated by John T. Bowdoin as will appear by reference to the deed of emancipation duly recorded in the county court aforesaid. Given under my hand this seventh day of March 1820”.

In addition to Godfrey, the document lists his wife Chaney, along with the children, Sally, Moses, Sam, Bibannah, Dick, Godfrey Jr., Myles, Elizabeth, Polly, Joseph, Julia and Agnes. The children’s ages ranged from 30 down to one year of age. The children who were under twenty-one were not freed at that time, but were guaranteed freedom upon reaching their 21st birthday.

Godfrey decided to bring his family to Ohio, where land was cheaper, and slavery was not allowed. According to family records, they brought their money in a tobacco box, along with some fine horses and their household goods.

The family had been able to save $1,000 in order to purchase land in Caesar’s Creek Township. The land, consisting of 254 acres comprised what was later to become known as “Brown’s Settlement”. He and his sons built log houses for their families, and being a religious man, he kept the center section of the ground for a church building, also constructed of logs.

The church building was constructed between two branches of a stream and so received the name “Middle Run Baptist Church”. This was the first Baptist church organized in the State of Ohio by people of African descent. The church was organized in 1822. As the congregation grew, the church was removed to Xenia in 1889

Mr. Brown was not very literate, but could read a few passages from his Bible. He served for a time as the minister of the Middle Run church. He was a passionate speaker, apparently, since he was invited to preach at the Court House for the white settlers as well. His son Samuel also became a minister. It has been said that the two traveled for miles to bring the message of the Gospel to others.

In addition to raising their own children, the Browns took in three homeless boys, each of whom also became ministers. Peter Everett, Samuel Thomas and Alexander Woodley each stated they owed their education and training to the Brown family.

In time, grandchildren began to arrive, and soon more folks settled near Brown Settlement.

A small cemetery was set aside near the church where after his death on January 3, 1843 Godfrey was laid to rest. Later, other family members were also buried there.

His will read in part “Being sick and feeble in body, but of sound and disposing mind and memory… I commit my Soul to God and my body to the Earth to be decently buried and all my funeral expenses paid. As to debts, thank God I own no man anything but love.” The will goes on to make various provisions of his estate. A slave, who bought the freedom of his family, purchased land in Greene County as well as other counties. He became an influential man, liked and respected by all who did business with him. His church continues as a testimony of his faith in God.

His grandson, Lincoln Brown was an author and inventor. One publication stated “Lincoln F. Brown 1892 inventor. The ability of a Black inventor became apparent on this day when Mr. L. F. Brown of Xenia, Ohio received Patent No 484,994 for his invention of the bridle bit, a device used when riding a horse.” He published a small booklet in 1908 which he titled: Jesus Christ and His Way – the True Way, or the Way of Truth.

No evidence of the Brown Settlement remains today with the exception of the cemetery. Mr. Brown’s tombstone can be seen, but the legacy lives on.

A few years ago, the descendants gathered along with the members of the Middle Run Baptist Church to dedicate a monument on the church property, erected in memory of a man who, though born into slavery, left a wonderful legacy.