Although Rich was his surname, riches as the world knows them were never in abundance for the Rev. Charles Edward Rich, better known as Brother Charlie Rich. He was an humble country preacher, plying his work mainly in Union County, Georgia.
This mountain preacher, Charlie Rich, was born on October 25, 1868 the only son of Solomon Hill Rich, Sr. (1806-1889) and his second wife, Nancy M. Conner (1827-1868). Charlie had seven half-brothers and two half-sisters, children of his father’s first wife. Solomon Rich and Nancy Connor were married October 22, 1865. Nancy was helping to rear the children by his first wife, and hoped to rear her own child, Charlie. But the baby’s mother died in childbirth the day he was born.
Educated in the county schools of Union County, Charlie Rich desired education at a higher level and attended Hiawassee Baptist Institute, graduating from its program of studies. This school was founded by the Rev. George W. Truett and his cousin, the Rev. Fernando Coello McConnell. It was possible for young men to board in the homes of the people or rent a small cabin with two or three neighbor boys sharing expenses and doing their own cooking while they “batched” and went to school. The school was noted for its strong academic program and its emphasis on Bible study, theology, speech and classical studies. It was no doubt while a student there that Charlie Rich felt a strong calling to become a minister of the gospel.
Charlie Rich was ordained to the gospel ministry about 1898 (exact date not known by this writer). His first pastorate was the Choestoe Baptist Church, the first-organized church in Union County (about 1832 with minutes extant from 1834). Rev. Charlie Rich met this congregation for two years during 1898 and 1899. Other churches in the county that experienced his spiritual leadership were Harmony Grove Baptist, Union Baptist and Mt. Zion Baptist (in Dooly District).
He returned for the second time to pastor Choestoe for a longer period, from 1903 through February of 1915. When a new church building was erected there, Rev. Rich preached the dedicatory sermon in June 1918.
The Rev. Rich’s first wife was Nannie Epps (May 27, 1869-July 13, 1906) whom he married February 27, 1890. To them were born six children. These children and their spouses were: Minnie Beulah (1891) married Tom Jarrard and had one child, Bonnell; Francis Marion (1893-1962) married Ella May Welchel and had one son, Francis Marion Jr; Clarence Edward (1895-1947) married Nancy Louise Dyer (1893-1985) and had three children, Ellene Epps, Clarence Edward Jr. and Bill Bluford; Nellie Alma (1897-1918) married Tom Boling. They had no children. Estelle Bessie (1901-1992) married Ralph Conley. Their six children were Charles, Sarah Nell, John, Buddy, Francis and Jim. Irene Stephens (1904) married Benjamin Jefferson Hulsey and had six children: Amanda, Sarah, Mariben, Joyce, Benjamin Jefferson Jr. and Julius.
After the Rev. Rich’s first wife Nannie died July 13, 1906, he married, second, to Rebecca J. Cavender on January 31, 1907. His children were ages 3, 6, 10, 12, 14 and 16 when their mother died. Rebecca helped to rear her husband’s children by his first wife, Nannie.
Rev. Rich had a deep love for the people in the mountains. He encouraged young people to seek education beyond the one-teacher rural schools, where he sometimes taught in addition to his preaching duties. He helped students to get enrolled and settled into studies at the Blairsville Collegiate Institute and the Hiawassee Collegiate Institute where he himself had graduated.
It is said that he preached with vigor and evangelistic zeal. He was often sought out as the summer revival preacher in weeks of protracted meetings after crops were “laid by.” A tribute, written several years after his death and published in the Notla River Baptist Association Minutes of August, 1950, cited his work as a pastor, an evangelist and a promoter of Christian education and missions.
A stained glass window in the present Choestoe Baptist Church building recognizes him as a former pastor of the church. As the sun streams through the window it is a reflection of the influence and outreach of this minister whose life was dedicated to the service of God and to leading people in a Christian walk.
The Rev. Charles Edward Rich died April 25, 1919 at the young age of 50. He and his first wife, Nannie Epps Rich, who died in 1906 when she was only 37, were both interred in the Old Choestoe Church Cemetery.
c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 7, 2005 in The Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.