The intriguing history of Riverside Farm and the Pioneer Baptist Cemetery

Jamie Heap
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Cumberland Roots

A lot has changed in Little River over the past 186 years, but two landmarks that have remained constant are the Riverside Farm and the Pioneer Baptist Cemetery.

In 1828, George Thompson was one of seven men who received land grants from King George IV of England. Later that year, George Thompson, the grandson of Oxford founder Richard Thompson, built Riverside Farm, a one-and-a-half storey Cape Cop style home. As the name Riverside Farm suggests, Thompson built his home near a river which flowed through his property. Following the founding of the Little River Baptist Church in 1847, this river was used to baptize people in.

“Baptisms took place, no matter if it was spring, summer, fall or winter,” stated Little River Baptist Church historical committee member Marney Gilroy. “They would cut a hole in the ice, people would be baptized, then they would come back to this house (Riverside Farm) to change clothes and continue on with the service.”

Some things never change. According to Gilroy, Riverside Farm, the home of current Little River Baptist Church clerk Ronald Webb and his wife Dorothy, is still used as a meeting place for church meetings, Bible study or prayer groups.

In 1829, Thomas Johnson donated a piece of land to be used a cemetery. Known today as the Pioneer Baptist Cemetery, it sits on a peaceful knoll just to the right of Riverside Farm. While only a dozen or so headstones remain visible to the eye today, it is believed that the historic Pioneer Baptist Cemetery is filled to capacity.

According to records, the earliest known burial took place in March 1808 (Ruth McElmon), 21 years before Thomas Johnson donated land for use as a cemetery. How can this be? Before there were graveyards, it was not uncommon for people to bury their kin on their own property. In fact, many of the known people buried six feet under in the Pioneer Baptist Cemetery were related to Thomas Johnson.

Others buried in the cemetery are Sarah Patton (d. Feb. 5, 1847); John C. Stewart (d. Jan. 2, 1871); Phebe Johnson (d. Feb. 19, 1874); Elizabeth Dobson (d. April 14, 1874); Lorena McElmon (d. July 16, 1876); Armenia Purdy (d. April 29, 1880);  Mary McElmon (d. October 11, 1883); George Johnson (d. Dec. 31, 1888); Levi Johnson (d. April 28, 1890); Avard Johnson (d. June 11, 1899); John McElmon (d. July 16, 1889); Lucy Johnson (d. Aug.1899) and Charles Smith (b.1829- d.1903).

Organizations: Little River Baptist Church

Geographic location: Little River, Oxford

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