Reverend Richmond Nolley
1790 - 1814
The origin of our community and Nolley Church dates back to Spanish land grants on lower Hemphill Creek prior to 1803. the Methodist Circuit Riders visited this community and these early resident families and were apparently well-received. A congregation was established early in these times and was meeting in various homes. No church building existed in those days. It as first known as the Hemphill Creek Congregation.
In the year 1878, the first church building was erected on the east bank of Hemphill Creek just north of the main road. The parsonage was just across the road. The Jena Seminary was located just behind the present Bellevue Baptist Church. All of this was located in Old Jena just south of higher ground.
In 1895, flooding in the creek bottom finally got the best of the original church; they began construction of a new building on just a little higher ground. It was located on a lot in the middle of Old Jena where three cedar trees are now standing. It was completed in 1897 and the name was changed to Richmond Nolley Methodist Church in 1903.
In 1911, the turn of the century had been good to the Nolley congregation. The building built just 14 years before was no longer fitted to their needs. A new church was built on much higher ground just below where the present church is standing.
That building was replaced in 1949 when the new building was placed upon the highest location now known as the hill.
Richmond Nolley has been described as a young man, six feet tall, pale, and lean. He was enthusiastic, zealous, brilliant, uncompromising in his purpose and conduct. He had great stamina, and appeared saintly. His demeanor was unusual in that people wanted to be near him and were drawn to him
Nolley was born in Virginia (Brunswick County) in 1790. He moved to Georgia with his parents, but they died soon afterward. He found a home with Captain Lucas, a merchant in Sparta, Georgia where he grew up. He was converted to Christianity at a South Carolina Conference on trial. For four years he worked faithfully and was then sent to Alabama where the Creek Indians were on rampage. His work there gained recognition from the conference and he was then transferred to the Mississippi Conference in 1813 where he wa appointed to the Attakapas circuit. His magnetic communication with people was very simple and uncomplicated. His message attracted many converts to the Church.
After serving the Attakapas circuit for one year, he was asked by the people to return. In November, 1814 he was re-appointed. Traveling from confernce to his destination, he traveled to Sicily Island with Thomas Griffin, who had been assigned to the Ouachita circuit. There they parted and Nolley rode on toward Hemphill Creek where he was to spend the night with Elias Carter. He did not make his destination. It was very cold and raining. He tried to cross the swollen Hemphill Creek on his horse. Unable to climb the bank to get out of the creek, he grabbed a branch and pulled himself up, letting his horse go back to the other side. He walked until he was sick and exhausted, a half of a mile from his destination. He took off his topcoat and laid it on the trail. He knelt down to pray and then laid himself under a pine tree. He was found by his Indian guide the next morning and was buried in what is now known as the Pentecost Cemetery.
In 1952, 138 years later, his remains were removed and interred on the front lawn of our church. Richmond Nolley was the first Methodist martyr in Louisiana, who died while braving the cruel elements trying to reach and care for this sheep. He was 24 years old. We are proud to carry his name and to keep the special site on our front lawn in his memory.