The First Baptist Church in Navarro County
Society Hill Church
Navarro County, Texas


Religion Index || Articles by Carl Matthews


Baptist Church in
Navarro Co. Texas

It was in 1850 that delegates gathered at the Trinity River Association for the Annual Meeting.   They were meeting at the Union Hill Church in Dallas County and three members from the Society Hill Church in Western Navarro County had come as delegates.  

Those delegates were

Noah T Byers…..James Sanford…….William French…

All from South Carolina...

A pre 1860

Navarro County

 map locates


Just south of Melton’s Store at Dresden

Annie C Love wrote, “ Spring Hill is also mentioned in the early records as being the first point at which a rawhide building was constructed.  The building was erected in 1850 and used as both school and church, the first teacher being Mr. Finch and the first preacher, Tom Williams.”    Edwin Finch is shown on the 1850 Navarro Co census and an early map indicated that he owned approximately 700 acres of land South of Battle Creek and adjacent to Henry Fullerton.

Some writers position the “raw hide” building at Spring Hill based on the fact that Robert Harve Matthews gave the land and building.    No document has been found to confirm that position.    However, a deed executed by Robert Harve Matthews in 1884 gave three acres for a school located in the western part of Spring Hill.   This school was located near the intersection of  Waco Road and Brushie Prairie roads.   The Shaw family lived adjacent to the school.  The structure was, also, used for worship by several denominations for many years.

The position of this writer is that the Society Hill Church was a Baptist Church and perhaps, a forerunner of the Navarro Mills Baptist Church.

The name, Society Hill Church, had come to Texas from South Carolina and a small town near Darlington that had been established by Welsh Baptist in 1738.   The Welsh Baptist had settled along the Pee Dee River in 1736 under a grant for the Welsh Baptist of Delaware.     The Welch Neck Baptist Church was the Second Oldest Baptist Church in South Carolina.

The original Welch Neck baptistery in  SC remains to this day, carefully preserved.     It was remembered that, during a revival meeting, the congregation responded to an altar call in such numbers that the building collapsed.    The salvaged materials were used to create the historic baptistery that may be seen today.



was born 1808  near Spartanburg, South Carolina and spent ten years in Navarro County.    He had limited opportunities for formal education, but he was trained at home.    He united with the church at age sixteen, considered becoming a minister, but felt that he was unqualified.   He became a Georgia gunsmith and made his way to Independence, Texas in 1835 to pursue that profession, and to engage in real estate.    It was in one of his building that the Texas Declaration of Independence was drafted and signed.   Noah Byers was named “Armorer” by Sam Houston.    After the War for Texas Independence, Noah Byers became Sergeant at Arms for the Senate of the Republic of Texas and a Justice of the Peace for Travis County.

After two years, he felt the call to preach and in October 1841 Noah Byers was ordained to Preach the Gospel and was immediately called to the Providence Church in Burleson County where B H and J M Carroll were members.   The Carroll brothers would, later, rise to prominence as leaders of the Baptist movement in Texas.   A large and imposing church edifice was erected almost immediately.

He was urged to become a missionary to the West…to the area of Navarro County.  President Houston named him “Notary of the Public,” an office that could supplement the meager missionary salary.   He was given more than 3,000 acres of land in Navarro County in payment for his service to the Texas Revolution.    Byers soon built a fine log home on land not far from where Ethan Melton had settled at Dresden.    Byers, married, and had three sons.  His wife died, he married again, and had another son.



was listed in the 1850 Navarro Co. Texas census….


1809    Noah T            SC       Baptist Minister

1814    Sophia             England

1838    Frances Julia  TX

1842    Saml. H           TX       for Sam Houston

1845    Baylor T         TX       for Judge Baylor

1846    Adoniram J     TX       for Adoniiram Judson, early missionary


By 1851 he had been responsible to for organizing what became the First Baptist Church of Corsicana, Society Hill, Providence, Springfield, and Leona Churches….and it was time for Noah Byers to move on.   He settled at Waco, Texas in 1851…and soon…a church was organized there.    It was reported that Byers was responsible for starting sixty-five churches and had traveled more than 100,000 miles in the effort.

The 3,000 acre Byers patent is shown on an early Navarro Co Land Map as “N T Byars…1-174.”   Nearby tracts show the names of J Treadwell, John Houston, E Melton, Jacob Hartzell….all on the north side of Richland Creek.



James M Sanford was born in 1812 in Tennessee, son of John & Lucy Newsom Sanford who had migrated there from Rutherford Co. NC.   The family had lived earlier at Henry Co VA.    He married Nancy Sevier and they were living at Nacogdoches. Texas by 1837.   James and Nancy had arrived there in 1836 after the Texas Revolution in company with the Sevier and Weaver families.  Nancy Sevier Sanford died and James Sanford was remarried in 1847 to Mary Jane Weaver in Navarro Co TX.   James Sanford served in the Mexican War in 1845. was an early Texas Ranger, and served in some capacity during the Civil War.     He settled near Fort Smith, a Ranger station located in Hill County, and was one of the first preachers in the area.    He died in 1863.



Lafford French had migrated from New Jersey to Rutherford Co NC and from there to an area near Cowpens SC just east of Spartonburg.   The mother of his children was buried there in 1803.    He was fifty-three in 1806 when he married twenty-two year old Elizabeth Gregory.   Some of his sons, apparently, did not accept the May-December marriage and moved to Kentucky to live with an uncle. 

The Kentucky area may have been a part of Kentucky that later became Tennessee.  Warren Co., Tennessee was a part of Kentucky at one time.  A Warren Co., KY was created at a later date.

Some did settle in Tennessee and later, were found in Alabama.   Several grandsons and, at least, two granddaughters who married members of the Berry Family, settled early in Navarro Co.   



is shown as Head of Household in the 1850 Navarro Co Census


1824    William C        KY       Farmer

1794    Rhoda             SC

1826    Joseph                        KY       Farmer

1825    Mary               AL

1847    William J        TX

1849    Emily               TX

 Rhoda, above, may have been the wife of Joseph French, son of Lafford French. 

Joseph French was living in WARREN CO KY in 1826 when he wrote a letter to William Berry & Wife, Blount Co AL...and...Jame French & Wife, Macon Co TN.  He mentions his wife, but does not note name her.    He listed four chldren: Sarah Ann, Delana, William, and Joseph, all born between 1816-1826.  He mention that "Uncle Hugh Moore and his wife" were alive and well.  He had "herd" from "Uncle Simon French & family."

Notice that Rhoda was born in SC, but that William and Joseph French were born in KY, both born between 1816-1826.

Early Navarro County history states that William  French, born 1824 in Kentucky, had come to Navarro County from Nacogdoches.     It is highly likely that he is the William French listed in 1850 as a delegate to the Trinity River Association from the Society Hill Church.    The Sandfords, Weavers, and French families from Spartonburg SC appear to have moved west together to SE Navarro Co.

Margaret Houston, born 1813 NC, was said to have lived with William  French, but she is shown on the 1850 census a Head of Household in a different dwelling.   It is highly likely that Margaret Houston was a younger sister of Rhoda.    An early Navarro Co Land Map indicates that John Houston had a land patent just east of that owned by Noah J Byers.    John Houston Sr. had died by the time of the 1850 census, and John Houston Jr had not married.

Maud L Houston…..a grand daughter of Margaret Houston…..married Mose Lafford Berry in “The Old White Church at Spring Hill” about 1872.   Could “The Old White Church” have stood somewhere in the triangle of Dresden, Brushie Prairie, and the “New” Spring Hill?   The “Society Hill Church” could, over more than twenty years, evolved into “The Old White Church.”

The census records would lead one to surmise that Rhoda had married one of the sons of Lafford French, that he had died, possibly the William who died at Nacogdoches.   William C and Joseph French were her sons.   She was born in SC , her sons born in KY, but son Joseph had married a spouse who was born in AL.    They were in Texas by 1847 when Joseph’s oldest child was born.


Above information was updated with information from the following email.

I'm not sure who is responsible for the following entries relating to the Lafford French line, but would like to provide the following information to correct some of the errors it contains.

Lafford's sons, William, Moses and Lafford Jr., did NOT go to Kentucky to live with their uncle. They moved, some time after 1810, to far northeast Tennessee, to the area once called the state of Franklin. Note that this area is East of the Cumberland Mts and borders Virginia not Kentucky.

The Uncles (Lafford's brothers) had crossed the Cumberland Mts before 1800 and lived in Kentucky just north of the area known as middle Tennessee. By 1820 many of their children had moved westward into Missouri when we find Lafford's son James in Rutherford, Tennessee (1820 Census). The James French line, after crossing the Cumberland Mts, moved southward into Alabama and later into Texas.

Lafford's son William FRENCH and many of his children moved to Illinois 1842-1843. Some of the children had moved to Illinois earlier. This William married twice, but neither wife was named "Rhoda."

Lafford's sons Moses and Lafford Jr. remained in far northeast Tennessee as did William's son, Augusta.

I have no knowledge of the William FRENCH or the William C. FRENCH that is discussed above.

J. S. French
FRENCH family genealogist


J M Perry , Pastor
B W Boydston
T. Slater
John Treadwell


BENJAMIN W BOYDSTON was born 18ll and married Celina Roberts.   Both are buried at Navarro Mills TX.    Their daughter, Kathryn Harmon Boydston married Robert James Wright,  a son of Capt. Samuel and Prudance Shaw Matthews Wright.   Robert and Kathryn lived at Navarro Mills.    Kathryn died 1888 and Robert married Eva Sims, sister of J Fred Sims and widow of John W R Herring.,


THOMAS SEARCY SLATER was born  1828 at Overton Co TN and died 1884 at Navarro Mills TX.   He had three families…..


First wife….Ann Hasseltine Nelson

born Morgan Co AL.  Ann was, no doubt, named after the wife of Adoniram Judson, a famous missionary and preacher.    Their children were

Harvey Love                                      m. Mary Elizabeth Hagle


James Benjamin                                 m. Lula Bills

Sarah Ann Hasseltine “Hassie”

Lila Molly Slater                                m. William  Houston


Second wife…Josephine Boydston

Daughter of Benjamin & Celina Roberts Boydston.  Their children were

Alexander M

Thomas Smith Slater


Third wife….Emma French

Their children were:

Jule Scales                                                     m. Martha Ann Putnam



Charles Ray

Rena E Slater.




was born 1803 Coweta Co GA, migrated to MS and was in Navarro Co TX prior to 1846.    He was married to Sarah Cobb born GA.    Treadwell Branch that begins at Spring Hill and empties into Richland Creek was named for this family.    John Treadwell died in 1860 and is said to have been buried in Navarro Co.   He was living next to the Samuel Wright Family at the time of the 1850 census.    Members of the Treadwell Family continued to live in the Blooming Grove area well into the 1900s.    Some members of the family moved to Hill Co for a time, then to West Texas where they began ranching in areas south of San Angelo.    




Could it be that “The Old White Church” which no living person contacted could remember….be the same as The Society Hill Church.   The Berrys and French and Toten and all the related families lived north of Richland Creek as did the Treadwells, the Byers, the Houstons, and others.     The Mose Berry and Maud Houston wedding was solemnized there.    Many of the names here mentioned are found at the Raleigh Cemetery which is located nearby.


A “White Church Cemetery” is located a mile or so south of Blooming Grove.   The first burial shown on the only cemetery census was in 1871.    It could have been that the “Ole White Church” ceased to be at some point, and for whatever reason a “New White Church” was constructed nearer Blooming Grove.    None of the names of those buried are those of the families shown here.


The repositioning of the “Old White Church” demands the repositioning of The Spring Hill Training Camp which was in existence during the Civil War.   


One:    Alva Taylor, a Navarro Co. Historian, wrote


In 1965            “The First Training Camp was established at Spring Hill, Texas,  fifteen miles west of Corsicana.   Here, Capt. Winkler and his men trained.”    The distance from Corsicana to the “New Spring Hill” would have exceeded fifteen miles.


Two:    Jacob Elliott, the New York attorney who arrived at Corsicana in 1850 and purchased 3,000 acres of land on Richland Creek for $12.81 at a tax sale, wrote in his diary..


In 1861            “Col. Locke”s Eastern Texas Regiment was to march to Richland Creek for several days training.”

In 1863            “Capt. Davenport had marched through Corsicana on his way to the place at Spring Hill.   The force was about one hundred….mostly Negroes.”


The choice of a Training Site closer to the present day town of Dawson would have made absolutely no sense.    Even one hundred men would require many more gallons of water than could be found on the prairie.   Water was only available in the creeks and other streams.    A site on Richland Creek  upstream from the Buffalo Crossing…is almost a given.    It would be an area now covered by Lake Navarro Mills.


Navarro County TXGenWeb
© Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox