Ross County’s Concord Presbyterian Church was home to a number of influential abolitionist activists and conductors on the Underground Railroad. Concord’s congregation has its roots in nearby South Salem’s Buckskin Presbyterian Church. In 1804, the new congregation established its meeting place on a hillside near the small village of Lattaville. In 1822, the original log structure was replaced with one built of red brick, now painted in classic white.
Here, in the loft of this church, fugitive slaves sought refuge on their way north to freedom in Canada. The Concord Church’s second pastor, the Rev. James H. Dickey arrived in 1810 and his two decades of service in this pulpit firmly established Concord as an abolitionist stronghold and made it a station on the emerging Underground Railroad of Ohio’s Scioto Valley.
Dickey first came to the area in August of 1810 as a missionary of Kentucky’s West Lexington Presbytery, which had just granted the young man a ministerial license. Dickey had been a student of Barton Stone, an antislavery Presbyterian who is most remembered for hosting Kentucky’s Cane Ridge Revival in the summer of 1801. Here in Ohio, the Presbyterians who had settled the headwaters Herrod’s Run and Buckskin and Indian creeks, approved of Dickey and invited him to settle with them. At first, they would share his ministerial duties among three churches – Pisgah, Buckskin, and Concord, but it was to Concord that he served the longest.
Before leaving Kentucky in 1811, Dickey married into the emerging abolitionist network of Presbyterian families in south-central Ohio. He took Mary Depew of Paris, Kentucky, as his wife. The Depews were slaveowners and her dowry included five souls, which the newly weds decided to free and carry with them to Ohio. The Rev. Samuel Crothers of nearby Greenfield, Highland County, was a brother-in-law to the Dickeys. Crothers had also married a Depew, a sister of Mary.
As the Underground Railroad developed in the Scioto Valley it would run along the familial and social networks of antislavery evangelical southerners, men and women who (like the runaways they assisted) had fled across the Ohio River to escape what the oppression and moral corruption of the southern, slave states.
In April 1822, Rev. Dickey and the Concord church hosted the inaugural meeting of the Chillicothe Presbytery, which served the Ohio counties of Ross, Fayette, Highland, Pike, Adams, Brown and the eastern parts of Clermont and Clinton. The new presbytery helped organize south-central Ohio’s more radical anti-slavery Presbyterians. The Chillicothe Presbytery, now led by men like John Rankin, James Gilliland, William Williamson, Dyer Burgess, Samuel Crothers, and James H. Dickey, would emerge as one of the nation’s most vocal and radical antislavery church organizations.
Dickey would serve as the first Corresponding Secretary of the Abolition Society of Paint Valley, which he helped organize in 1833. Dickey would give up his position at Concord and resettle further west in Illinois in 1837. By then the Rev. William Gage had already been installed as their next minister.
Gage, a native of Massachusetts and a graduate of Andover Theological Seminary, shared Dickey’s antislavery faith. He too was a dedicated abolitionist, who attended the business of the Paint Valley society and helped fugitive slaves along the route of the Underground Railroad.