From Ohio History Central
The Eden Baptist Church was principally an African-American church in Pike County, Ohio.
Unwelcome in white churches, African Americans established the Eden Baptist Church in 1824. African Americans had previously conducted services in private homes. Located in Pebble Township in Pike County, the church became the center of the African-American community. Many members of the congregation were either former slaves or descendents of former slaves of President Thomas Jefferson. For several years, Jefferson's former coachman, Israel Gillette Jefferson, served as the church's treasurer and as a deacon. Another church member was Madison Hemings. Hemings was also a former slave of Jefferson. While much evidence suggests that Jefferson fathered several children with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves, it does not appear that Madison Hemings, although he was one of Hemings's sons, was a descendent of this liaison.
The Eden Baptist Church served as an important stop on the Underground Railroad in Ohio. The congregation played an active role in assisting fugitive slaves to freedom in both the North and Canada. It appears that pro-slavery whites, at times, retaliated against African Americans in Pebble Township, destroying several residents' homes.
Eden Baptist Church continues to hold services today. Nearby the church is the Barnett Cemetery, which contains the remains of many Jefferson slave descendents.
The Eden Baptist Church illustrates the prejudice that existed in Ohio during the years before the American Civil War. Ohio was a state that did not allow slavery. Nevertheless, that did not mean that whites were open to granting African Americans equal rights. Free blacks found that it was difficult to get fair treatment, and they often formed their own communities and institutions away from whites.
- Woodson, Byron W., Sr. A President in the Family: Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and Thomas Woodson. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001.