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The Early Years.


In 1797, Presbyterians living on Straight Creek, Eagle Creek and Red Oak Creek

all came together forming one fellowship known as Gilboa. Soon, however, three separate churches formed, each taking their name from a nearby creek. Red Oak forming in 1798. These families (living on one of the three creeks) are believed to have helped over 1,000 fugitives escape before 1817.


Red Oak Presbyterian Church initially met “in a thicket north of Ripley” and

then in two log structures. The first “was reputedly built in 1798 south of the grave yard near

the creek. The second was “located in a beech wood,” but burned in 1816. 


In the earliest years,  the church experienced some instability. Rev. John Dunlavy, the church’s

earliest recorded pastor, served until 1803 when he was charged with heresy and barred from the church.

He and the members who left with him became Shakers. 


The church was left without a regular minister until the arrival of Rev. James Gilliland in 1805.

He served both the Straight Creek and Red Oak churches. In 1806, the two churches united and Rev. Gilliland was installed as the minister of Red Oak at the home of Samuel Salisbury, who at the time was a member of the Straight Creek Church, but would later become an elder in the Red Oak Church.


On January 30, 1808, the church was incorporated.

The members at this time were John Shepard, John Boville, Andrew Moore,

William Kinkead, William Cutler, Matthew McClung, Isaac Shepherd, John Gilliland, Jacob Shepherd, Alexander McCoy,  Ebenezer Sutherland, James Espy and William Dunlap. James Poague, Johan Laughlin,  Abraham Shepherd, Archibald Hopkins, and Alexander Martin were named as trustees

along with William Kinkead, as treasurer and John E. Finley, as clerk.


In 1817, the stone church, which to this day houses the congregation,

was built on the site of the burned church.  That same year, county boundaries were redrawn and

Red Oak Presbyterian church became part of Brown County, Ohio, which to this day

carries the reputation of being Ohio’s abolition stronghold.

While not often acknowledged, this is in large part due to Rev. James Gilliland,

who served as pastor of the church for close to forty years. Under Gilliland’s leadership, the Church became “one of the largest and most influential in the entire state of Ohio” In 1825, Red Oak was the largest church in the Chillicothe Presbytery, having 158 members.

Information on this page is based on the research and writing of Déanda Johnson, National Parks Service Historian, as part of the Church application for Network to Freedom Site status. For a copy of the research, including citations, contact us at

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