In August of 1860, Francis Marion James Sr. and his brother Daniel Ephriam James entered open court at Boyle County Courthouse in Kentucky, to either declare their father Joseph McAlsiter James as their guardian or to declare themselves as independent of their family. They chose to remain with their father.
The boys’ mother, Elizabeth Vardeman James had died sometime about 1846, a year after D. E. was born. She probably died giving birth to a stillborn child. Their father promptly remarried in October of that year to Margaret Wood. By the time Marion and D. E. appeared in court, the boys had five additional siblings, Thomas William, Mary Ellen, Martha Jane, George Thomas, and John Robert James who would become a respected Baptist minister.
Francis M. James, a minor over 14 years of age…into open Court and made choice of Joseph McJames, Guardian, which is certified by the appointment of…Guardian aforesaid by the Court. And said Joseph McJames…pon took the required oath and together with Thomas Barbee…surety entered in and acknowledged a bond to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, conditioned according to law which…proved by the Court.
Daniel E. (Ephriam) James, a minor over the age of 14 years this day…into open Court, and made choice of Joseph McJames, Guardian, which is ratified by the appointment of…James as Guardian aforesaid by the Court. And said Joseph McJames thereupon took the required oath and together with Thomas Barbee his surety, entered into and acknowledged a bond to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, conditions according to law, which is approved by the Court.
John M. James (1751-1823) was one of the founders of Flat Lick Baptist Church, located outside Shopville in Pulaski County, Kentucky. Most of the his fellow founders were rebel preachers like himself, who had been persecuted for preaching without a license. They made their exodus from Virginia in 1781 in a Traveling Church, bound for the Shawnee temple of New Canaan, called the Cain-tu-kee. John provided the land upon which the original log church was built in 1799.
The first pastor at Flat Lick was James Fears, followed by Stephen Collier. Then came John’s “talented, but erratic” son, Joseph Martin James (1791-1848), who was expelled from the church and defrocked for his alcoholism and bigamous marriage with a parishioner. Joe’s brother-in-law, Robert McAlister (1782-1851) assumed Joe’s role as pastor. Robert was followed by Joe’s son, John James (1816-1902). John graduated Georgetown College with his cousin Reverend Robert Sallee James, the father of Frank & Jesse James.
This image of the Flat Lick congregation was taken in 1899, on the 100th anniversary of Flat Lick Church. Kneeling center, in his white shirt and suspenders, is another son of Joseph Martin James, Edward Perry James (1847-1931).
The original register of Flat Lick Church remains preserved today in the church’s archives. Among those listed here appears Martha James and Rachel McAlister, Pastor Robert McAlister’s wife. Other James family members populate the register, including one of the James family’s enslaved persons, Nutty James. The enslaved were an integral part of Flat Lick’s congregation. While the men and women sat on the ground floor level opposite one another, the enslaved stood in the loft.
This is another photo taken on the 100th anniversary. The original log structure was replaced in the late 1840s, when Joseph Martin James was pastor. Ransom Carson supervised the enslaved who built the new church of stone. At the same time, Reverend Joe had Ransom and the enslaved build Joe a stone residence, which Joe then occupied on the knoll above his store house at Dahl Road and Flat Lick Creek. Some time later, a portion of the church’s stone wall collapsed during a fire. The congregation immediately fully restored the church.
This picture of Flat Lick’s congregation was taken in 1999, following ceremonies celebrating Flat Lick’s 200th Anniversary. On that day, the congregation heard from a descendant of John M. James. John’s 4th great grandson Eric James recounted the James family’s historical association with the Church, as Eric stood at the very lectern from which his ancestors preached 200 years ago.
From the large number of churches that were spawned throughout central Kentucky, and as far as Tennessee, Missouri, and Texas, from this church, Flat Lick gained a reputation for being a Mother Church.
Flat Lick Baptist Church proceeds into the 21st century, fully functioning and operational.
To commemorate the 200th Anniversary of Flat Lick Baptist Church, this book was published, documenting the church’s history. Copies may be purchased by writing directly to the church.
RHODA MAY (1806-1889) is the stalwart spouse of the “talented, but erratic” Rev. Joseph Martin James (1791-1848).
Rhoda withstood all transgressions, indignities, & social ostracism that her husband created with admirable Teutonic stoicism.
When acute alcoholism took Joe’s life at age fifty-seven, Rhoda became a forty-two year old widow, left alone to raise nine children.
For the next forty-one years of her life, Rhoda May James resolutely carried the social burden of her husband’s disgrace. She watched as the Civil War divided her children and tore apart her family. She never remarried.
Thanks to Gwen Smith-Gershwin, who is a fourth great granddaughter of Rev. Joseph Martin James & Martha McAlister, Joe’s first wife, this tintype image of Rhoda May now can be appreciated.
The original tintype was handed down in the family through Rhoda Alice Owens-Cole-Dowell, Rhoda May’s granddaughter & namesake.
Prior to the contribution of this tintype image to The James Preservation Trust, the only known image of Rhoda May was a framed oval colored photograph. This colored image still hangs in the home of Nelva Anne Herrin, a great granddaughter of Joe Martin & Rhoda May James. Nelva Anne’s contemporary home, built by her father Lem Garland Herrin, sits opposite the decayed ruin of the home built & occupied by her great grandparents Joseph Allen Herrin & Susan Harriet James on the original settlement lands of John M. James at Shopville in Pulaski County, Kentucky. Susan Harriet James is a daughter of Joe Martin James & Rhoda May.
SOME CHILDREN OF RHODA MAY-JAMES
EDWARD PERRY JAMES (1847-1931) was only a year old when his father died. He grew up in his father’s stone house in Shopville, married Elizabeth Langford, & raised a family of nine children in the same house. His youngest child, he named Rhoda May James, after his beloved mother. Progressively selling off his land holdings in Shopville, he removed his family to a new home he built in Berea, Kentucky, where he died.
SUSAN HARRIET JAMES (1843-1920) was five years old when Joseph Martin James died. She was thirty years old when she married Joseph Allen Herrin, a Union veteran of the Civil War.
In a diary Herrin kept during the war, he noted the wounding of Susan Harriet’s brother, Andrew James.
Herrin was returned from the war for almost a decade, when he and Susan Harriet married in the home of Rhoda May.
On the land of Susan Harriet’s grandfather, John M. James, in Shopville, the couple built themselves a new home. The home remained occupied by her descendants until about 1947, when the couple’s grandson, Lem Garland Herrin, built his bride, Thelma Hayes, a new home directly opposite the lane of the old home.
MARY HARRIET JAMES (1842-1935), nicknamed Mary Jane, was age ten when her father died. Left alone with Rhoda May to defend the family home during the Battle of Mill Springs, she successfully retained hold of the single horse they owned against marauding soldiers, by claiming half her family fought on one side while the other half fought on the other. Shortly after the war, she married Union veteran Daniel J. Owens, who had been imprisoned during the conflict. She was mother to ten children. At age ninety, she flew in an airplane for the first time. Flying over five states, she sang “Glory, Glory Halleluiah” and exited the airplane singing “Nearer My God to Thee.”
Rev. MARTIN NALL JAMES (1833-1911) was fifteen when Joe Martin James died. He became a Baptist preacher, but not one like his father. At twenty-five he married Susannah Elizabeth Matthews. The couple elected themselves Baptist missionaries & migrated into Missouri. During the war, he fought on the Confederate side. The couple bore eight children.
CYRENIUS WAITE JAMES (1831-1911) was age seventeen at the time of his father’s death He was Rhoda’s second eldest child. Cy bore witness to much of the abuse suffered by his mother. He and his other siblings also suffered the social stigma brought upon their family by their father’s bigamous third marriage to the youthful Permelia Estepp. Though his half-siblings with Permelia lived in plain view across Flat Lick Creek, the two families remained completely estranged from each other. Cy fought for the Union in the war and was taken prisoner. In prison in Georgia, he awoke to a nightmare of his daughter dying, at the same time she choked to death on some corn In Illinois. Prior to the war he removed his family there. Afterward, he walked them to Texas, where his descendants live today. No picture of Cy is known to exist. His daughter, Rhoda Ann James, named for his mother and shown here, operated his bank in Rhone, Texas.
A NEPHEW OF RHODA MAY-JAMES
JOHN SMITH MAY (1835-Aft. 1891) was a farmer and a teacher before the Civil War started. Shortly after joining the Confederate Army he was captured & imprisoned in Ohio. After the Battle of Chancellorsville, he was exchanged. He joined John Hunt Morgan in Sparta, Tennessee, but was captured later again with Morgan, David Hunt James, & Richard Skinner James. He was secondly incarcerated at Camp Douglas in Chicago, but later sent to Virginia. He surrendered with Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. Afterwards he returned to Kentucky to resume teaching. By Elizabeth McQueary he had ten children and by Sallie Thurmond two more. In Pulaski County, he became Superintendent of Schools, the Court Clerk for the county, and was elected to the lower house of the Kentucky State Legislature. He and Rhoda May-James died within a few years of one another.
Official website for the family of Frank & Jesse James – Living lives, telling the story. Knowing self.
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