An Article by Robert Ervin-Local Historian Emeritus

Big Rock was a Place of Celebration!

“Big Rock Meeting Day” was held for many years in the shadow of Big Rock in Northwestern Jackson County on the second week in august.  Big Rock is a huge, high rock in the Northwestern corner of Liberty Township.  It is 200 to 300 feet from the valley floor to the top.  In the shadow of the Rock was once the Sharon Baptist Church of the Missionary Baptist Denomination.  The celebration was the last in a series of meetings that began in July at the Freemont Baptist Church near the Junction of U.S. Route 35 and Sour Run Road.  The remains of the Church can still be seen on the East side of the highway.

Both black and white people came from all over Ohio and adjoining states.  There was a worship service in the morning, a basket dinner on the grounds at noon, followed by another service in the afternoon.  It was a time of reunion and homecoming.  Before the days of motor vehicles, those persons wishing to attend from a distance were known to leave just past midnight in order to arrive on time.

The celebration was originated by former slaves or freedmen. The original members of the Ragland family came from Louisa County , Virginia . They were the emancipated slaves of William Ragland, an affluent planter, who had inherited slaves, but did not inherit the the love of the institution of slavery. Sixty-eight of a total of ? emancipated slaves were brought to the Big Rock region in January 1855, by a man named A.J. Perkins.

Sharon Baptist Church was located near the site of Sharon School in Section 12 on the East side of Dry Run Road (T-226), .2 of a mile North of Big Rock Road (C56). The site in the shadow of the great rock was originally sold April 7, 1880 , for $40, to Nathaniel Hill, and he, in turn, deeded it to John Ragland, Daniel Ragland, and Samuel White, trustees of The Sharon congregation.

The land around Big Rock was originally purchased by ?ally Wicker who received a ?atient from President John Tyler on June 25,1841 . Wicker then sold the property to LeGrand Byington of Pike County . When Jackson County was organized in 1816, Big Rock Stood in Pike County; but for reasons that are unclear, on Feb 7, 1843, in what was called the “Great Swap,” certain sections of Eastern Pike County in which Big Rock was located were transferred to the state legislature to Northwestern Jackson County in exchange for certain sections from western Jackson County.

One of the earliest newspaper accounts of “Big Rock Meeting Day” was in the Thursday, Aug. 17, 1882 , issue of The Jackson Standard as follows:

“”The members of the Sharon Baptist Church (colored), held a Basket Meeting at Big Run, about eight miles from town, last Sunday (Aug. 15). Sam Poindexter says there were nearly one thousand persons present.”

The 1892 celebration was held on Sunday, Aug. 14. The pastor of Sharon Baptist Church was the Rev. K.L. Carter. Other officers were George Ragland and James Cousins, deacons; W.G. Ragland, clerk; and John W. Ragland, treasurer. The church membership was 47, and the Sunday School membership was 28. The speakers were the Rev. L.C, Walker of Pike County and Rev. K.L. Carter.
The year 1901 appears to have been the year of the “Big Fight.” According to the press report, a dozen or more white men were attacked by 40 to 50 young African-American men. The whites were kicked repeatedly and beaten with neckyokes and single trees. The conflict was said to have been the worst that had ever occurred in the county.

Since there were large crowds, there appears to have been a problem with alcoholic beverages at some of the meetings. There were those persons, more than likely whites from one of the surrounding towns, who would appear with beer or hard liquor, but township constables along with the country sheriff and his deputies were almost always present to maintain order. During the 1921 celebration, Sheriff W.G. “Petrea” Davis and deputies L.L. Cherrington, B.T. Hughes and Chris Sexton were present. The sheriff saw two persons under the influence of liquor. They were from Pike County. One was a justice of the peace. Both were ordered to go home. When they were convinced that the officers meant business, they hurried toward the county line.

The 1923 meeting ended abruptly when a large storm struck early in the afternoon . The downpour of rain made the roads almost impassable, and the large crowd had difficulty exiting to the main road.  One of the largest gatherings in the history of the event was in 1926. Some 2000 African Americans filled the roadways leading into Liberty Township from Columbus, Portsmouth, Kentucky, and West Virginia. The speaker was one of the leading orators of the day, Dr. L.B. Bryant, pastor of the African American Baptist Church in Huntington, W.Va. He preached both in the morning and in the afternoon from a pulpit built beneath the trees below the Rock. The Wellston Telegram described the assembly as follows:
The great congregation had a generous sprinkling of white folks. It was a picturesque assemblage. Among them were many of the highly emotional, old fashioned shouting worshipers of the Negro race. Around the fringe of the crowd were numerous candidates for office, all white men, button –holing voters in an eleventh hour effort to gain additional support that followed on Tuesday. (Aug. 10th)

Many persons came to the meetings to explore the Rock. This was especially true of the young people. While their elders were attending the worship services, they were exploring the Rock. A tragedy occurred on Sunday afternoon, Aug 9, 1942, when a young African-American woman, Martha Hensley, age 26, of Columbus, apparently wandered too close to the edge of the Rock and plunged to her death. The annual “Big Rock Meeting Day” celebration appears to have continued until 1962 or 1963. IN 1973, the African American Baptist churches Bethel Carr, Sharon, and Freemont were merged into the United Community Church that is located on Lee Hollow Road (T-218), the former sight of Bethel Carr.

John W. Ragland, the treasurer of Sharon Baptist Church in 1892 , was born in 1865 the year the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished. A son Oscar was born in 1888, 23 years later.

Today, in February 2001 John Frank Ragland, a son of Oscar Ragland, resides within sight of the Rock at the junction of Big Rock and Dry Run roads.