Preacher Man

Week 17: #52 Ancestors – At Worship

By Eilene Lyon

I have photographs of all my 2nd great-grandparents except one – Robert Ransom – a serious disappointment. He looms large in my family history. I did meet him once, in a dream. A figment of my imagination, of course.

He had the stern countenance I expected to see during our mute encounter: grey-eyed, penetrating gaze from his narrow face, longish hair swept back from his forehead. His outfit of riding breaches, tall boots, and long coat harked back to the Revolution, not his own mid-19th century period.

He dutifully stood and shook my hand as we were introduced by an unseen mutual acquaintance at an outdoor café table. But I could tell he did not approve of my heathen lifestyle. He was a pious, sober man. To my knowledge, he’s my only clergyman ancestor for many generations back.

I’ve never found any evidence that Robert’s parents and siblings were particularly religious, though they may have attended some congregation or other as a social obligation – small town life. People met in homes then. There were few church buildings in Blackford County, Indiana’s early days.

Robert seems to have been influenced by his wife and in-laws, the Jenkins family, whose faith ran deep. They belonged to the Methodist Episcopal congregation and Robert apparently joined them shortly before leaving for California in 1852.1

Getting to the gold fields took a harrowing eight months, much of it on starvation rations at sea. Many of his companions did not survive the trip. If he hadn’t been fervently praying to God before then, it seems like it would have been a good time to start! Perhaps that’s when he pledged his life to preaching God’s Word.

prayer clip art

Shortly after returning to Indiana in early 1855, Robert married his long-time sweetheart, Emma Jenkins.2 They planned to go to California, where Robert’s older brother and Emma’s sister were living. (William C. Ransom and Ann Jenkins married in 1850.)3

But, as the oldest son at home, his mother needed Robert’s help, because of James Ransom’s “inability to govern his appetite at all times.”4 As my great-grandmother Clara put it, Robert’s father was “ill from liquor.” So, Robert and Emma remained in Trenton, Indiana, and began growing their family.

Robert, with the help of his father-in-law, built a store/residence at the Trenton crossroads and had several manufacturing concerns besides: shingles, ax handles, barrel staves, and brickworks. He did well enough to pay $900 for a substitute to take his place in the Civil War.5

Though I don’t know exactly when Robert became a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church, his daughter, Clara, wrote that the family still had his license to preach. I’ve never seen this document in our family files, unfortunately.

Screenshot_2019-05-03 Preaching License Document DePauw University - Archives Documents and PhotographsThis M.E. License is likely almost identical to the one Robert Ransom had. (DePauw University Collections – used with permission)

About 1871, Robert sold his store and purchased a bank in Hartford City along with one of his brothers. The family then moved to the city.6 In 1874, Rev. Robert Ransom established an M. E. congregation in the little whistle-stop of Millgrove, along the tracks southeast of Hartford City.7

Until 1879, they probably met in someone’s home. The United Brethren congregation built a church that year and the two congregations met together. It wasn’t until 1885 that the Millgrove M. E. Church was built.8 By then, Robert was long gone.

600px-Map_of_Blackford_County,_Indiana.svgMap of Blackford County, Indiana. (Wikimedia Commons)

My grandmother wrote that while Robert was serving as a lay reader, “he made some unpopular statements and was nearly lynched as a result. His son, Jim, was nine years old at the time.” That would have been in 1865. I’ve never found any evidence that Robert was unpopular – quite the contrary – making me suspicious of this tale.

When Jim was ten, there was a post-Civil War riot in Trenton. Possibly this event became conflated in someone’s mind with Robert’s work for the church. The Indianapolis Herald ran a story about the riot on October 11, 1866 stating: “These are the particulars of the outrage as narrated by Robert Ransom, a prominent Republican of Trenton.”

Perhaps some people in Trenton were a bit upset by things Robert said at the time, because on October 29, the Indianapolis Daily Journal published the following retraction:

Screenshot_2018-10-04 Indianapolis Daily Journal, October 29, 1866, p 4

As the paper stated originally, Robert was prominent in local politics, as well as business. He served as county councilman from Jackson Township in 1860, and he continued to be involved in Republican politics through the 1870s.9

After the Ransoms’ bank failed in 1879, Robert and Emma lost their home in Hartford City and returned to Trenton. Robert then moved his family to Independence, Kansas, to start over. He and his brothers arrived in town in late 1880.10

The local Kansas papers mention that Rev. or Elder Ransom served as a substitute Elder in Independence, or preached at various small surrounding communities, including Breckenridge School and Harmon School.11

“We met with Bro. Ransom, of Independence, in worship at Rutland on Sabbath, and had a real spiritual communion with him, and an outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the people,” read one report.12 Sounds like he had a gift for religious inspiration.

Though he lived in Montgomery County a only short time before his death of pneumonia on February 1, 1883, 52-year-old Robert Ransom seems to have been as well-regarded there as he had been in Indiana:

“His funeral took place from the M. E. church, Rev. T. S. Hunt and V. M. Dewey officiating, on Friday, and although the day was severely cold, a very large concourse of friends from town and country were present.”13


Feature Image: The historic Millgrove Methodist Episcopal Church (Wikimedia Commons). Rev. Robert Ransom founded the congregation but had moved to Kansas and died before this building was constructed in 1885.

  1. Based on information in an obituary for Rev. Robert Ransom. South Kansas Tribune, February 7, 1883. 
  2. Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. 
  3. Jay County, Indiana; Index to Marriage Records 1850 – 1920 Inclusive Vo, W. P. A Original Record Located County Clerk’s Off; Book: C-B; Page: 85 – via 
  4. Comment by Henry Z. Jenkins in a letter to his son, William Z. Jenkins, dated Oct. 19, 1855. 
  5. Notes written by Clara P. (Ransom) Davis. 
  6. Ibid. 
  7. Shroyer, Mark. 1972. History of the Millgrove United Methodist Church, p. 1 – via Family Search. 
  8. Ibid. 
  9. Robert filed a bond upon taking the office. A variety of news reports confirm his political activities. 
  10. New item. South Kansas Tribune, December 8, 1880, p. 3. 
  11. News items. South Kansas Tribune, September 28, 1881, p. 2 and October 19, 1881, p. 2. 
  12. News item. South Kansas Tribune, August 23, 1882, p. 2. 
  13. Obituary. See Note 1. 

18 thoughts on “Preacher Man

Add yours

  1. Robert did a lot of living in his 50-some years. I’m intrigued by the ways in which life was explained back then. I love the idea that he exuded “an outpouring of the Holy Ghost.” I have a great-grandfather who was a ME preacher, a circuit rider. But from your account of Robert I doubt that they ever crossed paths… on this earth.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I enjoyed reading about the dream you had. I love how our subconscious works! I didn’t know they could pay to have some one take their place in the army. How would your neighbours feel about that, I wonder?! Who got the money the government of the person who went?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The photo at the top of your post looks a lot like the church where my ancestor was a M.E. Church preacher (the M.E.churches all seem to have the same style). Have you found any great resources for M.E. church records? I hear Drew University has a good collection. I need to concentrate more on that line in the future. Great post!


    1. The Methodist Church was the largest denomination in 19th century America and there are records in many, many places. I expect that Family Search has a good research guide on the subject. DePauw University is certainly one archive.


  4. I learned something new. I had never heard of a lay reader, leader yes, reader no, so instead of assuming a typo, I looked it up.

    Maybe someday, Robert’s face will appear on DeadFred or some other lost photo site.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You know you’re a genealogist when you start dreaming about your ancestors! I love this story–some of my ancestors on my dad’s side were preachers in the M.E. Church (before joining the Free Methodist Church), and it seemed familiar. A great insight into what your ancestor’s life was like, but a bit transferable to my own story, too. I think those are the best posts!

    Liked by 1 person

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