This article was transcribed by Al
Zopp 6/19/1998 from an original newpaper
copy that was partially damaged. Our thanks to Richard Zopp of Cape Coral,
FL for providing the missing text from the article.
BECKLEY POST-HERALD, BECKLEY, W.V.,
MONDAY MORNING, APRIL
Famed Methodist Circuit Rider,
Left a Landmark
He Had Trouble With The Yankee Soldiers
And A Few Drunks At 'Hells Half Acre'
by EUGENE L. SCOTT
SAM BLACK CHURCH,
April 7.-It seems odd to dateline a story from a
church, but if you look on all the modern maps of West Virginia you will see
Sam Black Church listed as a highway landmark, about midway between
Rainelle and Lewisburg, on the coast-to-coast Midland Trail.
Things have changed a lot around this
part of Greenbrier County
since the Rev. Samuel Black "rode the circuit", but the spiritual torch he
lighted years ago in Greenbrier, Webster, Braxton, Nicholas, Fayette, and
other West Virginia counties continues to burn brightly-and the church he
founded on Otter Creek nearly a century ago is as strong today as any rural
church you'll find in the country.
Probably no West Virginia minister
has exerted a greater influence in
the spiritual lives of the Mountaineers than this Methodist circuit rider who
was known from one end of the state to the other. The name Sam Black still
rings familiar to the ear of many an oldster who, as a boy, listened to the
calm, plain-spoken sermons of the black-bearded minister who rode up and
down the hills, along the hollows and into the byways where strangers were
Native of Greenbrier
Sam Black was a native of Greenbrier
County, the son of a hardy
pioneer, who followed William McClung, the first white settler on Meadow
River, across the Alleghanies to the mouth of Big Clear Creek. Joseph Black,
the preacher's father, came to Rupert about 1780. He purchased 320 acres
from the "Tommyhawk entry" of 100,000 acres which William McClung
"notched out" along Meadow River and its tributaries.
Later, in 1804, the pioneer Black
took one of McClung's daughters,
Abagail Dickson McClung, to the altar. She was the ninth of a family of 15
And there on the Black farm, which
is still owned by the Rev. Samuel
Black's daughter, Mrs. Ella J. Rupert, Joseph Black raised the following
children: Rev. Samuel Black, Henderson Black, Isa Black Moses, and Rebecca
Black, who lived out their lives at Rupert. William and John Black, who
moved west as young men, Abagail Black Martin and Margaret Black Gwinn,
who lived most of their lives in Fayette County.
Sam Black early turned to the ministry.
Yet, despite the amount of
time he spent "circuit riding" over vast areas, he operated one of the finest
farms of his day along Meadow River, at Rupert. His farm was known far
and wide for its "high stake and rider fences.
He also fathered a remarkably successful
family. A son, Dr. Charles
Alban Black, graduated from the medical department of Vanderbilt
University, practicing at Nashville, Tenn., all his life. Another son, Dr.
William Gibson Black, graduated in medicine from the Medical College,
Baltimore, Md, also practiced at Nashville and for a time was physician at the
Tennessee state prison. Jemima Ellen Black married Dr. Lurizo Rupert, and
Miss Addie Belle Black, who never married, lived on at the old home place
until she died in 1943. Another daughter Emma Susan Black, died at the age
Had Trouble with Yankees
During the Civil War the Yankees had
little liking for Rev. Sam Black.
The Methodist minister was a strong Southern sympathizer-and during most
of the war years he constantly kept his faithful horse saddled and hitched at
the gate in order to make a quick get-away when the Union soldiers came.
On one occasion, his daughter recalls,
the Yankees caught up with
him, but he made his escape on horseback, up the hollow above his home.
The Yankees gave chase but lost their prey when the minister circled back
quickly on top of a knoll overlooking the home. There he sat and watched
the Yankee soldiers ransack the house.
He often related afterwards that "my
horse showed good sense on that
occasion." Had the animal neighed he would have been trapped.
But things did not fare so well down
at the Black farm house. Mrs.
Black saw the Union soldiers coming and quickly hid the maple sugar in the
fire place. She pretended to be making a fire when the soldiers entered her
home. While they were there the embers in the grate ignited the sugar and
the whole supply was burned.
The family had hidden all their canned
fruit in a board-and-sod
covered trench in the yard. one of the soldiers accidentally stepped on the
trench, a board tilted and the family larder was uncovered and confiscated.
The old log house which Rev. Black
built when a young man burned in
Left Many Legends
The fine old minister left many legends
and landmarks behind the
religious trail he blazed through the rural areas.
Once, when he was holding a protracted
meeting at the Givens
Chapel near Lookout, some inebriates came in and broke up the services.
Rev. Black promptly named the place "Hell's Half Acre." In a later meeting at
the same church, a lone drunk came in and disturbed the service. This time
Rev. Black referred to the community simply as "hell's whole acre." And that
community, while bearing no semblance of those raucous times, is still
referred to as "The Acre."
Given Buckskin Gloves
Born on March 3, 1813, Rev. Black's
life covered most of the
nineteenth century. He died on July 16, 1899.
Most of the parishoners whom the famed
circuit rider served were
hardy pioneers, rich in honesty and moral integrity but poor in worldly
The story is told that women of Webster
County often made buckskin
gloves which they gave the circuit rider for their preaching dues. He in turn
sold them wherever he found a buyer.
The famed preacher is known to have
traveled as far west as Jackson
County, where he organized a Methodist Church at Ripley.
Dozens of Methodist churches were
organized by him throughout
Nicholas, Webster, Braxton, and other Southern West Virginia counties.
The original church at the Sam Black
site was known as Otter Creek
Church, established more than a century ago.
New Church Erected
Shortly after Rev. Black's death,
the prosperous farmers in the
community immediately began plans for the erection of a new church
dedicated to the memory of the circuit rider. In 1901 they dedicated the
"Sam Black Methodist Memorial Church," which stands at the junction of the
Smoot Road and the Midland Trail. It is at this point where the famous old
James River and Kanawha Turnpike runs straight ahead over Little Sewell
Mountain, while the new highway takes off to the right, down the easy grade
of the old Wilderness Road which Rev. Black often traveled into Nicholas
Although he "carried the Gospel"
far and wide, Rev. Black preached
his last sermon in the Amwell Baptist Church at Rupert -the same church in
which he preached for the first time more than 100 years ago. He was
largely responsible for building of the Bascom Methodist Church in Rupert.
In addition to the Sam Black Church,
Black's Chapel on Muddlety
Creek in Nicholas County is also named for him. A Methodist church in
Webster County likewise bears his name, and there are perhaps others.
Rev. Black preached for sometime in
the Kentucky Conference, but
most of his long tenure in the ministry was in his native state. He is buried
in the family cemetery, on the Black farm.
Church of Ministers
Probably no other small church in
West Virginia has been so
productive for the Methodist ministry as the Sam Black Church. Through the
years it has sent out through its portals no less than 11 ministers. They
include Rev. Sam McClung, Rev. George McClung, Rev. Ned McClung, Rev. A.
M. Martin, Rev. O. H. Dorsey, Rev. E. Hampton Barnette, Rev. Charles Burns,
Rev. Cecil Burns, Rev. David Ruckman, and Rev. J. Elbert Perkins, now
minister of Bascom Church at Rupert.
Also, several local preachers have
been licensed at the altars of this
famous old church, which since the old camp meeting days has stood as a
spiritual fortress for the community which stretches far and wide across the
The surrounding community, nurtured
by this church, goes by the
name of Sam Black Community.
Gave Land For Church
The father of John Burns, resident
of the Sam Black Community, gave
the property where the Sam Black Church now stands to the church board,
free of any incumbrances.
For generations this institution has
been the spiritual guide of such
well known families as the Burns, McClungs, Shawvers, Barnettes, Perkins,
Smiths, McCutcheons, Harrahs, Austins, Hedricks, Shepherds, Bivens,
Blacks, Thompsons, Richmonds, Osbornes, Bryants and many others in this
rich farming section of Greenbrier.
Keeping pace with the growing membership,
plans are now underway
to remodel the Sam Black Church. A basement is being planned for the
building, and Sunday school rooms are to be provided. The project will cost
between $2,500 and $3,000. There has long been felt in the community a
need for a sort of community center, suitable for community gatherings as
well as church activities. The improvements now planned will meet this
This new addition is to be dedicated
to the community's veterans of
World War II, a large number of whom are listed on the church roll. Present
and former members of the Sam Black Church are being asked to assist with
the new project.
The finance committee named to supervise
the work include B. C.
Barnett, chairman, Ray Perkins, Ralph Perkins, Ernest Sheppard, D. G.
Jeffries, and Mrs. Lillie Dietz.
Last of the Lines
Mrs. Ella J. Rupert, wife of the late
Dr. Lualzo Rupert, and the
daughter of Rev. Sam Black, is the last direct descendant of the famed
circuit rider. She is going on 87, and resides in Rupert in the large brick
house where she started housekeeping more than a half a century ago.
A nephew of Rev. Black, Sam Tommy
Black, also raised a
distinguished family just a few miles east of Rupert, One son, H. A. Black,
owns and operates Black's Tourist Court, one of the finest of its kind on the
Midland Trail. Another son, Dr. William P. Black, is a prominent Charleston
physician, is surgeon for Greyhound Lines, Libby Owens, and other plants. A
third son, the late R. D. Black, was also a well know Charleston physician, a
former surgeon for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Co.
This article contains 3 photos; 1.
a photo captioned "Rev. Samuel Black". 2.
a photo captioned "They Named The Church For Him" "This beautiful little
church, known as the Sam Black Methodist Memorial Church, has become a
landmark on all West Virginia road maps. Located on the Midland Trail, a few
miles east of Rupert, it was named for the Rev. Samuel Black, noted
Methodist circuit rider who died in 1899." 3. a photo captioned "Last Of
Distinguished Line" "Mrs. Ella J. Rupert, going on 87, is the daughter of the
Rev. Samuel Black, and the last direct descendant of the famed Methodist
circuit rider still living, She resides at Rupert and still owns the Black farm."
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