Throughout the Miami Valley there are numerous stories of people and events that I find interesting and worthwhile to know, or research. Ohio’s frontier, the settling of the Miami Valley following the Battle of Fallen Timbers and the signing of the Greenville Treaty, and those are just some of the events from the early history.
There are also fascinating stories of individuals, some well-known and others, not so much. David Leroy Nickens is one of the not so well-known individuals who had an important role in Ohio’s history.
David Nickens was born into slavery in Virginia in 1794. When he was about 12 years old, he and his parents obtained their freedom and moved to free-soil in Ohio.
The family settled in south central Ohio in Chillicothe in 1806. Ohio entered the Union in 1803 and Chillicothe was the capital of the young state. During those early years, the capital city was a bustling and economically strong community and, therefore, was a great place to settle.
Nickens later received an education, answered God’s call into full time service as a Baptist minister and served in that calling until his death. He was licensed to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in 1824 and was probably the first African-American minister licensed in Ohio.
It was also in that year that David Nickens helped to organize the First Regular African Baptist Church of Christ in Chillicothe. He was one of the first pastors to lead the congregation.
This was one of the first African-American churches in the state and was unique in that many Blacks around the country still worshiped in White churches at the time.
Elder Nickens and the congregation were devoted to assisting escaped slaves and educating African-American children. As part of this he also worked with abolitionists Theodore Weld and Augustus Wattles to develop educational plans for these children and youth. Of course, Ohio was a central and important state on the Underground Railroad.
In 1836, Nickens and his family moved to Cincinnati and he assisted in the formation of the African Union Baptist Church. This was the first Black church in the Queen City. Elder Nickens also served the church as pastor until his death in 1838.
Ohio was carved out of the original Northwest Territory and was governed by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which stated no slavery would be allowed in any of the states formed in the territory. This did not preclude the evil in the hearts of men and women, so even in free territory like Ohio, Nickens, many in his congregation and those they sought to help still faced hatred and oppression. Boldly, David Nickens became one of the early voices trying to convince all people of the equality of men of all color and ethnic backgrounds. His arguments were both Biblical and ethical in foundation.
Unfortunately, Nickins died at the young age of 43 in 1838 and was interred in the Union Baptist Cemetery in Cincinnati.
It is not known if Elder David Nickins ever made his way through Miami County, but he certainly influenced people in Chillicothe, Cincinnati and the Miami Valley.
Patrick D. Kennedy is archivist at the Troy-Miami County Public Library’s Local History Library, 100 W. Main St., Troy. He may be contacted by calling (937) 335-4082 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org