MOUNT PILGRIM MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH
By Vera Rugeley King & Mary Belle Ingram
The story of the Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist
Church membership began prior to the earliest recorded history–on
the bank of Caney Creek, during a journey through slavery. During
the earliest period slaves who could, gathered to worship in their
quarters or under trees. In addition, homecomers have contended that
prior to 1885, a log cabin was used for church. The founding fathers
of Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church had a zest for living.
The Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church’s founding fathers or
their ancestors were residence of the plantations along Lower Caney.
Slaves came from far and near, to include from the Hudgins
Settlement through the Lynville Community, the Buckner’s Prairie
area and the Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church area.
December 3, 1885, Annie Warren Rugeley and her husband Edward
Rugeley sold the one-tract to Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist
Church. It is situated on County Road 151, about eleven miles from
Bay City, Texas and about one mile off County Road 457. The property
is part of the William Rabb League, which was part of the Warren
Plantation, on approximately 4,500 acres of land on Caney granted by
the Mexican government. Maria L. Warren, Annie Warren’s ancestor,
initially acquired 275 acres of the Caney Plantation and
subsequently acquired other acreage because of crop mortgages and
sales of real and human properties by other plantation owners.
The Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church was built in 1885, under
the leadership of Reverend Anthony Morton/Martin (1825 - ?) and
rebuilt, by Lark Boone, in 1909. Later improvements of the structure
included being elevated by blocks, then plates under the blocks.
During and subsequent to this time deacons included: Farris Morton
(Martin), Josh Morton (Martin), Mack Dillingham, Johnny Morton
(Martin), Jon Robins and James Harrison while Deacon Josh Martin and
Elizabeth Wren-Griggs were secretaries.
Some founding or earlier members were: Mack Dillingham (born in
1865), John Johnson, Spencer Robins, Deacon Bill Wiley, Deacon
Farris Morton (Martin), Jim Harkless, Josh Morton (Martin), Dec.
Johnny Morton (Martin), Dec. Isaac Rugeley, Ed Baldridge, Wonder
Farris, Maddie Hudgins, Green Farris (born in 1842) and Francis
Sidney. Also earlier members, included: Millie Crawford-Wiley, Lucy
Crawford, Emma Robins, Erma Martin, Jon Robins?, Willie Thompson,
Charlotte Gray, Mr. Benton Thomas Richardson and Mrs. Delia Anne
Boney-Richardson, Naomi Richardson-Bouldin, Linnie McHenry-Roberts (
____ - 1956) , Mr. and Mrs. (Bud) Edison (Claritha), Samuel Johnson,
Melinda Morton (Martin), Idella Boone, Rev. J. A;. (Butler) Wren,
Victoria Webb-Rugeley, Vonnie McCall, Al Sidney, Sam Peters,
Mitchell Hanks, Roberta and Spencer Power, Vance Harkless, Gertrude
Derrick, Olivia Boone, Samuel L. Rugeley, Andrew Rugeley, Beatrice
Rugeley-Woods, Roosevelt Rugeley, Rose Lee Rugeley-Boone, Daisy Bell
Scott-Rugeley, Arthur Taylor, Texana Dillingham-Taylor, Elizabeth
Wren-Griggs, Sophie Farris-Green, Wesley Griggs, Robert Green, …,
and Eddie Jones.
During the era 1885-1950: (1) the missionary founder, Sister Melinda
Morton (Martin) led the missionary sisters in obtaining resources to
dig a water well; (2) the Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church
also served as a school; (3) at the age of 12, in 1899, Samuel L.
Rugeley, confessed Christ, preached his first sermon, was ordained a
minister by Reverends John Henry, J. A. Wren and Ed Baldridge;
subsequently he received the title B.th, D.D. and was later named
pastor of the Live Oak Baptist Church in Galveston, Texas; (4) the
Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church became a member of the South
Texas District Association, in early 1920; (5) Roosevelt Rugeley and
Daisy Bell Scott united in holy matrimony, December 1932; and (6)
the church was the site used for the funeral service for Thomas
Hudgins, descendent of Ino and Tom Hudgins. Following the homegoing
of Reverend Anthony Morton (Martin), successive pastors included
Reverends: John Henry, born in 1852; J. A. (Butler) Wren (passed in
1955/1956); Ed Baldridge; and G. L. Stewart, who served as pastor
until about November 1949.
Memories passed through generations and recounted on numerous
homecoming celebrations, to include October 21, 1983, told of the
Christian fellowship at Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church
among slaves, former slaves and descendants, some of whom had
traveled long distances, by walking or riding in wagons. In spite of
the distance traveled, when within hearing distance of the voices of
their Christian brothers and sisters, they would hasten their pace.
Individuals came to church early and spent the day. During revival
days and nights the building and grounds were filled with both those
had had confessed Christ as well as those who had not.
According to Mrs. Cody Crawford-Harkless, the church too was used as
a school. She attended the Mount Pilgrim Church School through the
fourth school day of the 1922-23 school year. Teachers of the church
school, from 1905-1922 were: Mrs. Benton Thomas Richardson and Mrs.
Delia Anne Boney-Richardson, Mrs. Lydia (Linnie) McHenry-Roberts,
and Mrs. Mary McHenry-Duncan. That the Mount Pilgrim Church’s
building was used as a school is also evident by information given
to me, Vera C. Rugeley, (October 21, 1983, the 98th Homecoming
Celebration), by Mrs. Naomi Bouldin, the daughter of one of its
earlier teachers. She contended that Mrs. B. T. Richardson was the
church school’s first teacher. Mrs. Naomi Richardson-Bouldin, a
teacher in Matagorda County, indicates that she attended “a small
school on Caney, Mount Pilgrim, that was taught by her mother until
the family moved to Bay City in July of 1909.” Mrs. Mod Boone,
mother of Erma Boone-Stevens, taught at Mount Pilgrim Church School.
The document, “Matagorda County School Census 1894 and 1895 State of
Texas” lists the names of 87 students who attended the Mount Pilgrim
Community Church School during this time period.
According to Rachel Jenkins, in 1904, a one-teacher Mount Pilgrim
school served forty-nine black students, and in 1917 Mount Pilgrim
was one of at least nine black schools, all teaching four grades, in
what was then school district number one, known as the Sexton
district. Though the districting changed, the Mount Pilgrim school
still existed in 1927, when it had seven grades. By 1937 records
were no longer available for the Mount Pilgrim School, which may
have been consolidated with that of Van Vleck. A 1952 map shows the
Mount Pilgrim Church, a Williams Cemetery located a third of a mile
to the southeast, and widely dispersed dwellings, most of them
abandoned. The Mount Pilgrim Church was labeled on the 1989 county
The continued decline in area residence and the growth of area
communities resulted in the decline in the church membership.
Reverend G. (Guy) L. Stewart announced, November 1949, to the
congregation that God had called him to pastor another church and
thus his last sermon at Mount Pilgrim Church. He then accepted the
pastoralship of a Baptist Church in Freeport.
The second era in the spiritual life of the Mount Pilgrim Missionary
Baptist Church followed the departure of Reverend G. L. Stewart. For
the next nearly twelve months, the deacons: Andrew Rugeley, Arthur
Taylor and Roosevelt Rugeley, with the assistance of the South Texas
District Association, sought a new pastor. An invitation was
extended to Reverend A. D. Davis of Houston, Texas, to conduct
services. There was a temporary split in the membership between
those who desired Reverend Davis as pastor and those who did not.
Three key events that happened during this period were: (1) the
church remained active in the South Texas District Association,
organized August 1893; (2) Sister A. D. Davis united as a member of
the church; and (3) Wesley Griggs was voted deacon of the church.
Elizabeth Wren-Griggs remained the church secretary.
During the third era, October 15, 1950 through June 29, 1978,
Reverend Willie S. Volbaum entered the history of the Mount Pilgrim
Missionary Baptist Church, in response to a letter he received from
Rev. J. B. Brown of Sweeny, Texas. This letter stated that the
church desired him to come the third Sunday, November 1950, to
conduct the church services. Rev. Volbaum answered the call and
carried out the teaching and preaching during November and December
1950. He later received a letter stating that he had been called as
pastor. He was described as a Christian gentleman, a preacher by
calling of God, a son by adoption, and a Christian by regeneration.
He stood boldly and told everyone that there is a reality in serving
a true and living God, that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to
shun; and that Christ Jesus lives today.
The Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church continued to do charity
work at home and in adjacent communities. The two ordinances were
observed. Twenty souls were called and baptized. The dead were
buried, couples married, and the sick consoled–both physically and
spiritually, as well as monetarily.
Brother Collis Rugeley, the first candidate for baptism, was
baptized, May 20, 1951, was called to the ministry, made his
acknowledgement, and preached his first sermon, July 3, 1966.
Brother Roosevelt Rugeley, as ordained deacon, September 16, 1956;
and played a leadership role in the acquisition of the half-acre
cemetery tract, February 1967. In addition, the church organized its
first choir under the leadership of M. L. Rockeymore, from Houston,
Texas. Following his death, Ethel Dawson was the pianist for a short
period. Subsequently, Luvina Rugeley-Bone served as pianist and led
the group, the Rugeley Singers.
With the services of a contractor, L. B. Litzler, in 1970, the
church’s structure was enhanced to include a choir room, pastor’s
study and restrooms for women and men. The church made other
improvements to include: furnishing for the pastor’s study, a chair
stand, a piano, a new pulpit, pulpit chairs, and carpet runner on
the floor. Through the leadership of brothers Roosevelt and Collis
Rugeley, gas heaters replaced the wood heater, electric lights
replaced gas kerosene lanterns, and additions were made, to include:
windows and window screens, cement steps, an electric pump, a
speaker’s stand and a non-attached room for serving prepared food.
The membership was creative when dramatizing biblical stories and
celebrating religious holidays, Christmas and Easter. The oldest
relics include: seven glasses used to take Communion, three ribbons,
a wick that was used in one of three lanterns and a handmade cross.
Also a First Quarter 1955 Sunday School Class Roll of Attendance,
lists the following names: Adult Class – Elizabeth Wren-Griggs,
Wesley Griggs, Collis Rugeley, Daisy Bell Scott-Rugeley
(Superintendent), Roosevelt Rugeley, Wallace Rugeley, Arthur Tayor
(teacher) and Texana Taylor; Intermediate Class – Lauretta C.
Volbaum (teacher), Vera Clarissa Rugeley, Clifford Lee Rugeley;
Junior Class – Wilma Jean Clay and Eddie Marie Fields; Primary Class
– Lurtha Ann Holmes, Veree Tone and Clyde Lee Mayberry; Beginners
Class – Davis Gene Clay, Tone Thomas and Juanita ________.
Sister Lauretta Coleman-Volbaum was founder of the Baptist Young
People Union (BYPU), in 1951/1952, and was named President of the
Women Mission from the early 1950 until being named President of
Women Mission One of the South Texas District Association in ______.
Sis. Texana Taylor was then named president of the Mount Pilgrim
Women Mission. Sister Daisy Bell Scott-Rugeley was named
Superintendent of the Sunday School in the late 1940s. Following the
tenure of Deacon Arthur Taylor, Dec. Andrew Rugeley, Sis. Texana
Taylor and Sis. L. C. Volbaum served in succession as Adult Sunday
School teachers during this era. The Benevolent Funds Treasurers
were: Deacon Andrew Rugeley, Sis. Texana Taylor and Sis. Vera C.
Rugeley. The church treasurer was Deacon Roosevelt Rugeley.
During the fourth era of the Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church
the pastor was Collis Rugeley (11/19/78 – 11/26/99) and Roosevelt
Rugeley served as Assistant Pastor (11/26/99 – 7/27/00). Sunday
School teachers were Sis. L. C. Volbaum, Deacon Samuel Thomas and
Deacon Clifford L. Rugeley, also church treasurer. Sunday School
Superintendent was Sis. Daisy B. Scott-Rugeley. Sisters L. C.
Volbaum, Vera C. King and Johnnie Mae Thomas were treasuerers of the
Benevolent Funds, while church treasurers were Deacon Roosevelt
Rugeley and Vera C. King. The Deacons were: Samuel Thomas, Clifford
L. Rugeley and Andrew Rugeley.
Special events included: (1) the laying of the Corner Stone,
September 19, 1976, by Lodge #206, Felton Hayes, with special
services by the late Reverend L. E. Brown, Pastor of First Mount
Carmel Baptist Church, Houston, Texas; (2) annual week long
revivals; and (3) designation of special days (Church Homecoming,
Women Day–Fifth Sundays, Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s
Day and Children Day). Sisters Lauretta Coleman-Volbaum and Johnnie
Mae Thomas spearheaded these initiatives. The 100th year Anniversary
and Homecoming celebration, November 10, 1985, lists the names of
descendants of former members. Also, the Constitution and Religious
Tax Exempt Status was filed May 2, 1989; and Edward and Vera King
named God parents, June 6, 1991, for Lauren Chantelle Johnson. In
addition, the church featured artifacts in the August 25 through
September 20, 1992 Matagorda County Museum – “Africa in the
Americas: Black Slaves in Spanish and Portuguese Realms of the New
World” & “Black Church History in Matagorda County”, Anne W. Goda,
The Matagorda County African American Historical Society (MCAAHS)
cleaned and held its August 3, 2002, meeting at The Mount Pilgrim
Missionary Baptist Church; and on August 31, 2002, the group indexed
the cemetery. It was one of seven churches visited on Heritage Day
Pilgrimage, Tour Along Caney Creek, Saturday, April 26, 2003, by the
Matagorda County Historical Commission, Deean Griffith, Chairman.
February 22, 2003 the church was presented a Certificate in
Recognition as a Life Member of MCAAHS, Blanche Johnson, Secretary
and Thelma D. Smith, President. The Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist
Church was part of a featured article “The Bells”, by Mary Belle
Ingram in the Tribune, January 25, 2004. Historically, the ringing
of the bell was symbolic of the beginning of service or the death of
a church member or resident. The church’s cemetery, 1-276A, has been
rated “High” on the “Cemeteries Listed on Survey” in Precinct #1.
Much of the church’s history is the result of information passed
through generations. The church records by known secretaries: Josh
Martin, Elizabeth Wren-Griggs and Texana Dillingham-Taylor are not
available. The documentation of information in this document
includes transcriptions from handwritten notes of records kept, to
include information gathered from statements made by homecomers
during Homecoming Celebrations. In addition, information was given
to me, Vera C. King, by: Sister Irene Green, Sister Noami Bolden and
Sister Daisy Rugeley, and have been used in updating the church
history over time.
The recorded church history, subsequent to 1950, includes the
translations from the records of Sister Lauretta C. Volbaum and
secretary, Deacon Clifford Lee Rugeley, as well as programs for such
occasions as anniversaries, funerals and special programs. In
addition, I interviewed: Mrs. Cody Davis/Crawford-Harkless,
Roosevelt Green, Roosevelt Hudgins, Josie Scott-Green and obtained
relational information from Noami Johnson-William about her sister,
Helen, and grandfather, Joe Johnson.
That I, Vera C. Rugeley-King, used interviews to validate
information maintained over time and to find missing information.
The persons interviewed were (1) Sister Cody-Crawford (Davis)-Harkless,
August 23, 2002, and verified for accuracy August 17, 2003. Mrs.
Harkless, born January 10, 1910, is a descendent of both a late
member and an area plantation resident. She too recalls a near by
Slave Cemetery and that slave houses stood until about 1920. (2)
Roosevelt Hudgins, interviewed November 30, 2003, provided possible
contacts and interments. (3) Josie Scott-Green, interviewed,
November 30, 2003, provided relational information about former
members. (4) Roosevelt (Buddy) Green, interviewed, December 5, 2003,
provided an oral independent list of earlier members that are
consistent with information obtained during the interview with Mrs.
Harkless and with existing church records. Brother Robert (Buddy)
Green, born in 1916, recalled persons that left Buckner Prairie to
attend the Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church. He contended
that the Mount Pilgrim was the older of the area churches.
The church structure, a water well, a storage building, and
beautiful trees are on the one-acre tract that is adjacent, on the
northwest, to the half-acre cemetery plot. Both tracts are bounded
on the northeast by Caney Creek. The church currently 
maintains its original architecture, its bell and its distinctive
Burial Plots/Cemetery’s Blueprint
1) 2) 3)
13) 14) 15)
R1 R2 R3
4) 5) 9)
1) Phyllis Royster-Dillingham 31
Mar 1872 - 20 Dec 1962
4) Sophie H. Farris-Green 03
Oct 1909 - 07 Jul 2001
5) Wesley Griggs 1900 – 1966
6) Darcus Dillingham 05
Aug 1905 - 08 Nov 1995
7) Texana Dillingham-Taylor
28 Nov 1894 - 21 Jun 1983
Taylor 1889 – 1979
9) Andrew Rugeley 03 Dec
1897 - 21 Nov 1990
10) Daisy Bell Scott-Rugeley 12 Aug
1912 - 11 Mar 1998
11) Roosevelt Rugeley 12 Sep 1902 - 26
12) Collis Rugeley 12 Aug 1934 - 26
13) – 18) Unknown
Rugeley 01 Sep 1936 - 07 Jan 2011
Photos courtesy of Luvina Rugeley
According to Velma Tatum, 8/31/02: Velma
Taylor-Tatum’s great maternal aunt, Priscilla Royster-Robinson, died
in the 30s or 40s (age 12 in the 1870 census).
The dedication of the Official Texas
Historical Marker for Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church was
held February 19, 2005. The church and cemetery is located between
Bay City and Cedar Lane, Texas, on County Road 152, about one mile
off FM 457.