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History of Park Hill
Presbyterian Church

Despite the efforts of early missionaries, the Cherokees largely resisted giving up their traditional religion and converting to Christianity up until the 19th century. However, at the beginning of the 19th century, the Cherokeeís attitude toward the white-manís religion underwent a revolutionary change. In 1801, the Cherokee Council allowed the Moravians to establish a school at Springplace. In 1803, Rev. Gideon Blackburn, a young Presbyterian minister, was allowed to establish a mission school near Tellico. These first schools demonstrated that Cherokee children were bright and learned quickly. Education became an important part of the Cherokee culture, culminating in the invention of the Cherokee syllabary by Sequoyah which resulted in a high rate of literacy among all Cherokees. Most Cherokees readily accepted the Christian faith.

The earliest Christian missionaries to the Cherokees, in the 17th and 18th centuries were Scottish Protestants. Some Cherokees moved west in the late 1700s and early 1800ís and Presbyterian missions were established in Arkansas and, later, in what is now Oklahoma. By the time of the forced removal of the main body of the Cherokees to Indian Territory in 1839, most Cherokees had been converted to Christianity. Rev. Samuel Newton established a Presbyterian mission in the Cherokee Nation at the junction of the Illinois River and Barren Fork Creek.

In 1835, seeking a more healthful location, Rev. Newton moved the mission to Park Hill. Log buildings were put into use, and a school and church services were held. A year later, Dr. Samuel Worchester arrived to become Superintendent of the Mission. Dr. Worchester, with the help of Rev. Stephen Foreman and Mr. Elias Boudinot, a Cherokee, made a translation of the Bible and prepared a Cherokee Almanac and a Cherokee Hymn Book. These were all printed in the Sequoyah syllabary on a printing press at the mission.

Rev. Newton and Dr. Worchester were Congregational ministers and Rev. Foreman was Presbyterian. These two churches worked together in missionary enterprises for many years. The first church organized was Congregational, which was disbanded after Dr. Worchesterís death in 1859. Rev. Foreman was away during the Civil War. He returned in 1865 and continued his work, without an organized church, until his death in 1881. The Presbyterian Church had been divided during the war. The southern branch gave aid to Rev. Foremanís work until 1876.

In 1885, Rev. G.T. Thompson reorganized a church at Park Hill and a mission school was opened by the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions. The school operated until after Oklahoma statehood in 1907 and church services were conducted by various ministers. The first resident pastor was Rev. Arthur Grant Evans who later became president of Henry Kendall College, a Presbyterian college that later became the University of Tulsa.

In 1915, the church was razed and was rebuilt about a mile away, at its present location. The congregation of the present day Park Hill Presbyterian Church take pride in the fact that it is one of the oldest churches in Oklahoma. Many of them also take pride in their Cherokee heritage. Ms. Frankie Parris Herrin and her sister, Ms. Billie Parris, great-great-great granddaughters of Chief John Ross, have dedicated themselves to the survival of the church through difficult times during the past thirty years. Other present day Elders are Ms. Yvonne Davis and Ms. Dolly Richardson, also great-great-great granddaughters of Chief Ross, Mr. Wesley Smith, who is married to a great-great-great-great granddaughter of Chief Ross, and Ms. Shirley Pettengill, curator of the Murrell Home in Park Hill.

copyright © 2012 Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah
     Must have permission to use or reprint by Charles Jahtlohi Rogers MD.

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