Documenting the American South Logo

Ante-Bellum North Carolina: A Social History: Electronic Edition.

Johnson, Guion Griffis, 1900- 1989


Table of Contents



Page 331


           IF EDUCATION be the foundation, Religion is the key-stone which locks, and cements, and beautifies the grand arch of Society," wrote Joseph Gales in his Raleigh Register of February 11, 1800. "Religion is the natural concomitant of a good education; we mean . . . Religion which is sober, rational, and well considered, producing its natural effects, honour, honesty, and that propriety of conduct which dignifies the Man and the Citizen." While the average man in North Carolina at the opening of the nineteenth century was not ready to admit with Joseph Gales that education was the foundation of society, there were few of the yeomanry, at least, who would question religion's being its keystone. On September 29, 1809, "Eusebius," writing in the Edenton Gazette, declared that the State abounded with people, poor but pious, whose religion was their dearest and almost their only patrimony.

           In some sections of the State, however, there were many who took pride in questioning "the divine authority of the Old and New Testaments and the truth of the Protestant religion." The French Revolution, following closely on the heels of the American Revolution, had made doubters in North Carolina as in other parts of the world. In 1800 religion was not fashionable. The writings of Volney and Voltaire, of Hobbes and Thomas Paine supplanted the Bible in popularity. "Men of education and especially the young men of the country thought it a mark of independence to scoff at the Bible and the professors of religion," said the Reverend Eli Caruthers, a Presbyterian minister of Orange County, writing of religious conditions at the opening of the century. 1

Joseph Caldwell, leaving New Jersey in 1797 to become a teacher in the University of North Carolina, was surprised to find religion so little in vogue. "In New Jersey," he wrote from Chapel Hill, "it has the public respect and support; but in North Carolina, particularly in that part that lies east of us, every one believes

Page 332

that the first step he ought to take to rise into respectability is to disavow, as often and as publicly as he can, all regard for the leading doctrines of the Scriptures." 2

           In 1809 a resident of Edenton wrote sorrowfully to the village paper that he had often heard men of respectable standing in the town declaiming against religion in the presence of their children as if infidelity were meritorious. "I have remarked," he said, "on inquiring for a bible, in opulent and respectable families, that they have, without any apparent confusion, confessed they never possessed one. Others, with no small degree of self approbation, have declared they never, in the course of their lives, read the bible." 3

But the plain, uneducated yeomen at the crossroads and in the country stood by the principles of their fathers. Unable to answer the arguments of the infidel, they, nevertheless, held the Bible in respect.


           The Church of England, although encouraged by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and fostered by government officials, was never the most popular communion in the Province of North Carolina. The mere fact that it was the Established Church, to be supported, therefore, by a public tax, was enough to condemn it. Settlers had been attracted to North Carolina not only by the quantity of good and cheap land there, but also by the prospect of religious toleration which the Lords Proprietors held out to them. 4

They were of all sorts and of all beliefs, more concerned with conquering a frontier than with supporting an established clergy.

           From the passage of the first vestry act in 1701 5

and the organization of the first parish in the Province, the attempt to establish the Church in North Carolina was one long controversy. By the close of the Proprietary period in 1729, the Society for the

Page 333

Propagation of the Gospel had sent a few missionaries to North Carolina, and a few settlers had erected chapels here and there. Yet in 1739 Governor Gabriel Johnston called the attention of the Assembly to the fact that there were only two places in the Province where divine services of the Established Church were regularly performed, a "really scandalous" situation. 6 It was not until Governor Tryon's administration, beginning in 1765, that this condition was somewhat improved. Before the end of his five years as governor he had ministers in eighteen of the thirty-two parishes, but he had not been able to keep all of them at their posts.

           During the Revolution, the organization of the Church of England in North Carolina gradually dissolved. Most of the clergymen, who like other colonial officials had taken an oath of allegiance to the king, felt morally bound to abide by the oath and quietly withdrew from the Colony. A few were outspoken Tories whose activities in part justified Bishop Ravenscroft's statement that the Revolution created prejudices against the Episcopal Church. He wrote in his journal of 1825 that "political feelings were associated with its very name, which operated as a complete bar to any useful or comfortable exercise of duty, by the very few clergymen, perhaps not more than three or four," who were left. "The public instruction of the people in religion, therefore, fell exclusively into other hands, and into hands disposed, both by principle and interest, to complete the ruin of the Church." 7

These facts, he thought, afforded ample explanation of the popular attitude toward the Episcopal Church.

           Between the close of the Revolution and the meeting of the Episcopal Convention in Tarboro in May, 1794, the following Episcopal clergymen seem to have preached at various times in North Carolina: John Alexander, Leonidas Cutting of New Bern, Macdougald 8

above Halifax, George Micklejohn somewhere within the neighborhood of Warrenton, Nathaniel Blount of Beaufort, James L. Wilson of Martin and Edgecombe, Joseph Gurly of Hertford, Solomon Halling of Craven County, Dent near the Yadkin River, Charles Pettigrew of Tyrrell County, Daniel

Page 334

Earl, Stephen Johnston, and Robert Johnston Miller of Lincolnton who was also a Lutheran minister. 9

           In 1789 a convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America met in Philadelphia and adopted a constitution. Immediately afterward the Right Reverend Dr. William White of Philadelphia wrote to Governor Johnston urging the clergymen of the Episcopal Church in North Carolina to meet "in order to consult on such measures as may tend to promote the declining interests of their church." 10

Just how far the interests of the church had declined is revealed in a letter from Henry Pattillo, a Presbyterian minister of Granville County, to the Reverend Charles Pettigrew in 1788, urging him to make a preaching tour into Granville and the adjoining territory: "How can you avoid an autumnal trip among your old connections in Granville &c? . . . Our Episcopalians are getting Mr. Micklejohn . . . once in the month. I heard him last night. . . . The first thorrough deistical sermon I ever heard. I have invited out Mr. Jarratt, 11 to sow some good seed with the tares, before Christianity is totally eradicated." 12 About a year later Cutting wrote of conditions in New Bern: "How it may be in other Parishes or Congregations in this State I know not; but here by the Expiration of an Old Law a few years ago, we have no Church Wardens, Vestry-men, nor any officer to take any charge or care of the Church. Whatever Meetings therefore we may hold of the Church will be spontaneous, unbacked by authority; but which cannot be remedied without an application to the Assembly." 13

           On June 5, 1790, the Reverend Charles Pettigrew, the Reverend James L. Wilson, and two laymen, Dr. John Leigh and William Clements, in response to a letter addressed to them by the Committee of Correspondence in Philadelphia, met in Tarboro to organize the Episcopal Church in North Carolina. 14

In 1794, this handful of Episcopalians elected the Reverend Mr. Pettigrew bishop of North Carolina. Failing to reach Philadelphia for consecration,

Page 335

Pettigrew served his parishioners until his death in 1807 as best he could while carrying on the affairs of his plantations in Washington and Tyrrell counties. 15

           It was not until 1817 that the Episcopalians succeeded in organizing the Diocese of North Carolina under the leadership of the Reverend Adam Empie and the Reverend Bethel Judd, who had come from the North in November, 1816. Before their arrival, there was not an Episcopal clergyman in the State, and only one congregation in which the worship of the church was performed. 16

The infant diocese, composed of three ministers and less than two hundred of the laity, placed itself under the watchcare of Bishop Richard Channing Moore of Virginia until 1823 when it was sufficiently strong to support a bishop of its own. 17 John Stark Ravenscroft, the first Protestant Episcopal bishop in North Carolina, set himself to build up a church on the remains of the colonial Establishment. Time and again he recorded during his tours over the State: "Read prayers and preached . . . to a very respectable audience; only a small number of them, however, Episcopalians"; or again, "Friday the 29th, preached to a collection of the neighbors under the trees . . . but could only have the service in part, both for want of books, and want of acquaintance with the forms." 18 In 1830, at the first convention of the church after Bishop Ravenscroft's death, there were eleven ministers and thirty-one congregations in the State, most of the congregations being concentrated in the east, with two in Orange County and two as far west as Rowan.

           The choice of Levi Silliman Ives as bishop to succeed Ravenscroft was unfortunate for the expansion of the church. Ives had been rector of St. Luke's parish in New York City before he came to North Carolina in 1831. Having great personal charm, he soon won the affection of his diocese, but before many years his leanings toward the Roman Catholic Church became a disturbing element which gradually destroyed the peace of the diocese. In 1853, after

Page 336

having become a Catholic, Bishop Ives resigned his office in a letter written from Rome. 19

           Thomas Atkinson, a Virginian, rector of Grace Church, Baltimore, assumed charge of the diocese in the autumn of 1853, and with wonderful tact began at once to placate both the friends and the enemies of Bishop Ives. Declaring that the Episcopal Church was not the exclusive property of the well-to-do, the new bishop sought to increase the size of congregations by enlisting the sympathies of all classes of society. 20

While in previous years the number of communicants had at times actually decreased, 21 they now gradually became more numerous. In 1853 there were thirty-six ministers and forty-two congregations in the diocese with about 1,788 communicants. 22 Seven years later the clergy had increased by eight, the congregations by eleven and the number of communicants had almost doubled. 23

           The Episcopal Church was far more influential in the State than its small number of adherents would indicate. Most of the church buildings were located in the towns, substantial buildings supported by substantial citizens, merchants, planters, professional men, government officials. In 1860 the average value of an Episcopal church building, for instance, was $3,867, while the average value of a building owned by Methodists, ten times more numerous than Episcopalians, was only $651. Although the Episcopal Church occupied a place of importance in the affairs of the State by virtue of the education and wealth of its members, the Church even in 1860 was not popular with the common people. Under the influence of Bishop Ives the Church had planted a mission in the mountains at Valle Crucis, and had established small congregations in the principal western towns, but its real influence had scarcely stirred beyond the coastal plain, 24

its chief field during colonial times.

Page 337


           Some Baptists were probably among the first settlers of the Province, although there was no organized congregation in North Carolina until 1727. The General Baptists were the first in the field, preaching the Arminian doctrine of a salvation free to all, asking no other evidence of repentance than a desire to be baptized. Their preachers, led by such men as Paul Palmer, Dr. Josiah Hart, William Sojourner, and Joseph Parker, traveled, preached, and baptized, taking the gospel to settlers south and west of the Roanoke long before a minister of the Church of England was settled there. By 1755 the General Baptists had sixteen churches and several thousand members, far outnumbering all other denominations combined in the Province. 25

           In the decade after 1750, the rigid Calvinism of Particular, later called Regular, Baptists, having been introduced into North Carolina by the Reverend Robert Williams, a native of the Province but at that time pastor of Welsh Neck in South Carolina, converted all but two or three congregations to the doctrine of particular election. Although Williams launched the revolution, it was left to missionaries from the Philadelphia Association to complete the transformation. Beginning in 1754, the Association sent such able men to North Carolina as John Gano, often referred to as the most able itinerant who ever traveled in America with the possible exception of George Whitefield; Peter Peterson Vanhorn, pastor of one of the oldest churches in the Philadelphia Association; and Benjamin Miller, who followed a colony from New Jersey to the Yadkin and organized the first Baptist church in Western North Carolina. 26

A minority of the General Baptists, in some cases only five to ten members, took possession of the church name and property in organizing the new Particular Baptist churches, and the seizure created deep-seated hostilities.

           The Particular Baptist churches soon became affiliated with the Charleston Association which had been organized in 1751. In November, 1769, the North Carolina churches formed an association

Page 338

of their own, calling it Kehukee after the name of the church where they met. 27 Modeled on the plan of the Philadelphia Association of Particular Baptists, the Kehukee Association claimed to be only an advisory council, without coercive right or infallibility.

           While the Particular Baptists were taking over the General Baptist churches in the region of the Roanoke, Shubal Stearns was preaching the doctrine of Separate Baptists along Sandy Creek in Guilford County. Stearns, a native of Boston, had been converted during the Great Awakening led by that famous evangelist, George Whitefield. The Separates, Presbyterian in origin and first called New Lights, were a set of Pedobaptist reformers stirred by the Great Awakening. Withdrawing from the established churches, they organized, placing all authority in the local churches. Their doctrine was simple: "believers' baptism" and "free justification." 28

           Ordained a Baptist preacher in 1751, Stearns at once became a leader among the Separates. He and a few followers, in response to a divine call, left New England; and, after a brief stay in Virginia, settled permanently in Guilford County in 1755. The Separate Baptists electrified the settlers of the piedmont, and Sandy Creek Church became the center of a revival which spread north and south. The Sandy Creek Church quickly expanded from 16 to 606 members, and in 1758 Stearns organized the Sandy Creek Association. 29

           The Kehukee and Sandy Creek associations had hardly been organized when the question arose as to the relation between them. In 1771 the Kehukee Association gave hearty sanction to their members communing with the Separates of the Sandy Creek Association, but the Separates were not willing to enter into communion with the Regular Baptists unless they made certain reforms which

Page 339

the Separates thought necessary for a converted membership. Since the greater part of the Kehukee Association was unwilling to make these reforms, in 1775 Lemuel Burkitt and others led a revolt which resulted in the formation of a rival association, also called Kehukee, made up of ten churches, six in North Carolina and four in the Portsmouth section of Virginia. This was much the more vigorous body, and in the decade after the close of the American Revolution it gradually absorbed the churches of the older association.

           At this time, too, a disposition appeared both in Virginia and North Carolina to compromise the differences between the Separates and Regulars, and they made formal union, with the name of United Baptists, in Virginia in 1787 and in North Carolina in 1788. 30

           The year after the union, the Kehukee Association, whose territory extended south of the James to the South Carolina line and as far west as a line north and south through the present city of Raleigh, consisted of 61 churches and 5,017 members. 31

A few years later, the Sandy Creek Association, whose territory lay in Piedmont North Carolina, contained 12 churches and more than 900 members. 32

           The union of the Regular Baptists and the Separates was the result of some broad concessions to Calvinism on the part of the Separates. No true Separate could subscribe to the article on Free Grace which the Kehukee Association still retained in its Confession of Faith. 33

The history of North Carolina Baptists for

Page 340

the next half century was the attempt at reconciliation between the Calvinism of the Regulars and the evangelism of the Separates, with the two forces growing further and further apart until the final split in 1830.

           The wave of evangelism introduced by the Great Revival, 34

which reached its climax in North Carolina in the first decade of the nineteenth century, greatly strengthened the position of the Separates. In 1803 Elder Martin Ross of Martin County introduced at the meeting of the Kehukee Association at Connoho Log Chapel in Martin County a query which had far-reaching effect on the future history of North Carolina Baptists: "Is not the Kehukee Association, . . . called on in Providence, in some way to step forward in support of that missionary spirit which the great God is so wonderfully reviving amongst the different denominations of good men in various parts of the world?" 35 Out of this query arose the movement resulting in the organization in 1805 of the Baptist Philanthropic Society which was authorized to solicit contributions for missions from the churches. By 1815 there were two Baptist missionary societies in the State, the Baptist Domestic Missionary Society, formerly the Philanthropic, and the North Carolina Baptist Society for Foreign Missions. 36 By 1820 the two societies had joined forces. 37

           It was also Elder Martin Ross who conceived the idea of a general Baptist association in the State. In 1809 he proposed that the Chowan Association start a movement to establish "a meeting of general correspondence, to be comprised of the neighboring associations." 38

In June, 1811, seven of the eleven regional 39 associations sent delegates to a meeting held at the Falls of the Tar River, attended by 3,000 people, to organize the North Carolina General Meeting of Correspondence. 40 The next year preachers and delegates from every part of the State met in Raleigh to perfect the organization, and they conducted their business throughout "with becoming decency and order." 41

Page 341

           After 1821, the General Meeting of Correspondence ceased to exist, but by 1826 Martin Ross was calling for the organization of a State Convention. In February, 1829, a group of Baptists, meeting in Greenville, organized the Benevolent Society "to raise funds . . . to the support of traveling ministers," 42

and the following year the Society resolved itself into the Baptist State Convention. Attached to the minutes of the first meeting of the State Convention of 1830 was an address which Thomas Meredith of Edenton, spiritual son of the late Martin Ross, made to the Baptists of the State. It was one of the ablest documents on religion written in North Carolina in the ante-bellum period. Meredith met the issue squarely. "A deadly policy is clogging all our movements," he said, "an odium but too well merited, is gradually accumulating upon our name; . . . we are rapidly falling behind in the march of Christian benevolence." 43

           In 1827 the Kehukee Association, led by Elder Joshua Lawrence, had "agreed that we discard all Missionary Societies, Bible Societies and Theological Seminaries, . . . believing these societies and institutions to be inventions of men, and not warranted from the word of God." 44

After the organization of the State Convention in 1830, other associations in North Carolina followed Kehukee. The issue divided families, churches, and associations. To this day the bitterness has not been entirely erased.

           At the time of the split, there were in North Carolina 14 Baptist associations, 272 churches, and about 15,360 members. 45

About half of the associations joined the Primitive group and the other half went with the Missionary Baptists. The larger number of churches and members, however, became converted to the missionary cause. In 1851 Primitive Baptists had 11 associations, 186 churches, 90 ministers, and 6,150 members; Missionary Baptists had 21 associations, 539 churches, 342 ministers, and 39,022 members. 46

           The Baptists associated with the State Convention set about

Page 342

improving the ministry and evangelizing "the waste places." In 1833 they established Wake Forest College; they organized the North Carolina Education Society and the North Carolina Bible and Baptist Publication Society; they sponsored tract societies, Sunday schools, women's organizations within the church, temperance societies, and contributed both to foreign and to home missions.

           By the close of the ante-bellum period, there were 780 Baptist churches in the State, with church property to the amount of nearly a half million dollars. 47

Thirty-seven of these churches were Free-Will Baptist churches, the expansion from the few congregations of General Baptists who remained loyal to their faith in 1750 when the Particular Baptists and Separates came proselyting into North Carolina. There were also two congregations of Dunkers in Yancey County.

           The Baptist churches in the State were largely rural churches. Not more than thirty were located in towns and villages, many of these not until late in the ante-bellum period. In 1832 the State Convention considered the establishment of churches in the towns, and again in 1845 a committee urged such a plan upon the Convention: "One fact has surprised the mind of every observing man who has noticed our operations for years past. It is the culpable neglect we have been guilty of in not providing our towns and county-seats with means of the gospel." 48

In 1854, the Committee on Church Extension, discouraged by "the hopelessness of effecting permanent good in our towns and villages without a church edifice," urged the organization of a church extension society to assist in building village churches, and another committee recommended that the Convention maintain stations in Greensboro, Salisbury, Wadesboro, Goldsboro, Charlotte, Carthage, Lumberton, and Washington. 49

           The fact that Primitive Baptists opposed benevolent societies and sectarian schools, together with the fact that the Baptist membership in the State was almost entirely rural, led until recent times to the attachment of a slight odium to the denomination. 50

This odium was galling to the progressive Missionary Baptists who

Page 343

were strong supporters of the common schools and of education in general. Except for the Moravians, the Missionary Baptists were among the first to provide for the higher education of women, establishing Chowan Baptist Female Institute in 1848 and Oxford College a few years later. Between 1850 and 1860, they established some eight or ten associational academies. Nevertheless, W. H. Owen, a teacher in Wake Forest College, himself not a Baptist, wrote of the denomination in 1852, " . . . the Baptists and their sympathizers compose about one third of the State, and many of them are imponderable, . . ." 51 True, there were men of education, wealth, and position in the denomination, but by far the majority of the adherents were small farmers, who suffered most from the lack of educational advantages.


           Baptists were closely rivaled in North Carolina by the rapid spread of Methodism. The expansion of this faith is one of the conspicuous social trends of the ante-bellum period. In 1776 there were less than seven hundred persons in North Carolina inclined toward Methodism, at that time only a peculiar sect within the Established Church; at the close of the ante-bellum period in 1860 there were more than fifty-seven thousand Methodists in the State.

           The Methodists were first a small religious club of Anglicans which John and Charles Wesley organized in 1729 at Oxford University, so-called because of their methodical habits of study and religious observance. It was not until 1784 that the Methodists in the United States at Wesley's suggestion organized themselves into a separate denomination, the Methodist Episcopal Church. The new church was chiefly episcopal in organization; its distinctive features of polity were: the system of probationers, the class meeting, the exhorters, the local preachers, the itinerancy, the presiding elders, and the bishops. The first annual conference of the newly organized church met in North Carolina in 1785 at the home of Green Hill, one mile south of Louisburg.

           The first seeds of Methodism were sown in North Carolina on the eve of the Revolution, by Joseph Pilmore, an Anglican sent to preach the doctrine of the Methodist Society to "the dear Americans," who was at Currituck Courthouse on September 28, 1772, and in Edenton, New Bern, and Wilmington in December of the

Page 344

same year; 52 by Robert Williams, another Anglican who soon followed Pilmore and organized a Methodist Society in North Carolina; and by the Reverend Devereux Jarratt, an Anglican minister of Dinwiddie County, Virginia. 53

           Preaching the Arminian doctrine that religion is a personal experience, Methodists constantly stressed the idea that "grace, pardon, holiness, Christ, heaven" are free to all. One had only to "believe and be baptized" and to "continue to evidence a desire for salvation" by "avoiding evil in every kind" in order to "inherit the kingdom of God." This was a doctrine which made a powerful appeal to the public mind.

           In Piedmont and Western North Carolina, Methodism at first made its greatest appeal to the yeomanry; in the East, especially in Fayetteville and Wilmington, 54

the Negroes were the first to accept the faith. In fact, Henry Evans, a free Negro, shoemaker by trade, was responsible for having introduced Methodism into Fayetteville. Distressed because the Negroes of Fayetteville "were wholly given to profanity and lewdness, never hearing preaching of any denomination," Evans stopped to preach to them on a trip through the town late in the eighteenth century. Ordered to stop preaching, Evans held his meetings outside the corporate limits. The Reverend Joseph Travis, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Fayetteville in 1817, tells the rest of Evans's story:

           The new religion, however, met opposition on all sides. It was called "Nigger religion" because Methodist leaders made a special effort to preach to the Negroes and because they opposed slavery. The Methodist preachers often had a peculiar manner of speaking. They made direct appeal to the emotions so that shouting and "trembling" frequently accompanied their meetings. Such extravagances naturally led to persecution. In various parts of the State, particularly at Wilmington, Methodist ministers were arrested or assaulted, churches were burned, and at least one man applied a "blister-plaster" to his wife to cure her of Methodism. 56

           More and more the Methodist doctrine began to attract "respectable" men. After a meeting of the Virginia and North Carolina Conference in Raleigh in 1811, the editor of the Star remarked with surprise in the issue of February 21, that the ministers who attended "were in general a highly respectable body of men, and possessed a degree of talent, and liberality of sentiment that many were not prepared to expect. Their preaching produced a powerful effect on the people of this place and vicinity." Twenty-eight Raleigh citizens joined the Methodists as a result of the Conference, most of them young men, "but some of them, men of advanced age and of the most respectable standing in society."

           Constant evangelism was one of the cardinal tenets of the Methodist faith, and it was by constant evangelism that the faith spread rapidly. Efficiently organized, with the itinerant responsible for the circuit, the presiding elder responsible for the various circuits of the district, and the bishop responsible for the districts, Methodism quickly added believers to its ranks. Into every section of North Carolina the circuit rider pushed his way, seeking the sinner in his own home. "They are really pioneers in religion," wrote Mrs. Ebenezer Pettigrew in 1829 from her plantation in Washington County. "In these parts we should live without the Gospel sound were it not for the Methodists but notwithstanding

Page 346

I should dislike to belong to the Sect. Such scrutinizing into the feelings & moralities & forms must be disagreeable." 57

           Not only did Methodists seek out the sinner privately but they made the most of every public occasion to pray and exhort. They utilized the camp meeting perhaps more than any other denomination, and they made their quarterly conferences times of "spiritual awakenings." Bishop Thomas Coke thought that the quarterly conference was a powerful agent in the spread of the faith. "The brethren for twenty miles around, and sometimes for thirty or forty, meet together," he said. "The meeting always lasts two days. All the travelling preachers in the circuit are present, and they, with perhaps a local preacher or two, give the people a sermon one after another, besides the love feast, and now the sacrament." 58

           From the organization of the denomination in 1784, the Methodist Episcopal Church stood for those principles which came later to be known in the ante-bellum period as "benevolence," many of them principles upon which the Baptists split in 1830. Although the Methodist system of home missions was largely responsible for the rapid spread of the faith, it was not until 1824 that the church authorized provision for the support of missions and missionaries. 59

Methodists espoused the cause of education, Sunday schools, Bible and tract societies, and early came out against drunkenness and the sale of intoxicating liquors.

           Like other denominations, the Methodist Episcopal Church had its internal quarrels and its separating groups. Many of the early advocates of Methodism in North Carolina, such as Joseph Pilmore, the first Methodist preacher in the province, Devereux Jarratt, William Meredith, William Glendinning, and Robert J. Miller, never joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. Others who did join were not wholly contented with the organization of the new church. The chief cause of discontent was the power of the bishop over appointments. In 1792 when the General Conference rejected the motion to permit the itinerants to appeal from

Page 347

the bishop to the Annual Conference regarding their appointments, James O'Kelly, 60 the leader of discontent in North Carolina, withdrew from the church and organized the Republican Methodist Church, which later became known as the Christian Church.

           The Methodist Episcopal Church, moreover, did not provide representation of local preachers in the General Conference. In 1820, however, the General Conference permitted local preachers to organize district conferences, and the following year the Roanoke District Conference of Local Preachers sent out a protest against a church organization which permitted government without representation. When the General Conference continued to ignore the plea of local preachers for representation, the local preachers began to organize union societies to protect their "religious and civil rights," 61

and, in 1828 when the General Conference again rejected the motion for reform, the leaders of the movement withdrew to organize the Methodist Protestant Church. The first annual conference in North Carolina of the new denomination met in December, 1828. By 1843 there were six circuits, Roanoke, Granville, Orange, Guilford, Randolph, and Yadkin, and 3,008 members in the North Carolina District of the Church. 61a

           Opposition to the position of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, on the subject of slavery led to the organization of Wesleyan Methodist churches in Guilford, Alamance, and Montgomery counties in the winter of 1847 and 1848. A group of about forty Methodists in Guilford County petitioned the Allegheny Conference of the Wesleyan connection in Ohio to send a preacher to them: "[We] feel so conscientiously scrupulous on the subject of slavery that we cannot hold fellowship with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South." In response to this request, Adam Crooks arrived in Guilford County October, 23, 1847, and remained in piedmont North Carolina preaching the anti-slavery doctrine of the Wesleyan Methodists until mob violence forced him to leave in September, 1851. When the Reverend Daniel Worth arrived in North Carolina in 1857 to take up the work again, he found Wesleyan Methodists in five piedmont counties

Page 348

and twenty preaching places. 61b The North Carolina Conference was not organized until 1879.

           By the opening of the nineteenth century Methodism had spread from Asheville to Cape Hatteras, from Wilmington to the Virginia line. The Methodist Episcopal Church had eight circuits, Roanoke, Pamlico, Banks and Mattamuskeet, New Bern, Goshen, Contentney, Camden, and Bertie; 18 charges; 6,363 white members; and 2,109 colored members. 62

In 1827 when the North Carolina and Virginia Conference divided to form two separate state conferences, Methodists in North Carolina numbered 19,208. 63 Thirty years later they had increased to 44,693. 64 By the close of the ante-bellum period there were Methodist churches in every county of the State, 966 in all, and the value of Methodist church property amounted to $628,859. 65

           Beginning in North Carolina only a few years before the Declaration of Independence as a new interpretation of the Anglican faith, Methodism was at first received with respect because of its respectable parentage. As the full significance of the new movement came to light, many Anglicans turned from Methodism to oppose it because of its irregularities and its disrespect for ritual. It became, then, a religion of the common people. But when the new denomination came out boldly in behalf of reform in a period when thought was turning toward humanitarianism, many liberals among "respectable" men began to accept the faith and thereby gave the church in North Carolina a prestige which Baptists might have claimed because of their priority in the field and their superiority of numbers but which they forfeited because of the quarrel among themselves over the very questions of liberalism about which Methodists were agreed.


           The Presbyterian Church in North Carolina, like the Episcopal Church, enjoyed a prestige far out of proportion to the number of its followers. From its introduction in the Province, its ministers had a reputation for education and leadership and its laymen for

Page 349

sobriety and industry which made Presbyterianism a term of approbation. There were probably some Presbyterians among the first settlers in the Province, but there were no organized congregations and no ministers until after the coming of the Scotch-Irish in great numbers from Pennsylvania into the piedmont of North Carolina between 1735 and 1775. As early as 1736 there were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians on the Henry McCulloh grants in Duplin and New Hanover counties, and as early as 1742 Presbyterian missionaries began making occasional visits to the Province.

           Beginning in 1746 the number of Presbyterians in North Carolina was increased by the landing of shipload after shipload of Scotch Highlanders at Wilmington. They settled in Bladen County and scattered themselves over the area which is now Bladen, Cumberland, Sampson, Moore, Robeson, Richmond, and Anson counties, a section which to this day is a stronghold of Presbyterianism. Until 1770 the Highlanders had no other pastor than the Reverend James Campbell who came to Cross Creek from Pennsylvania in 1757 and bought a plantation opposite Bluff Church. He organized three churches, Roger's Meeting-House, Barbecue, and McKay's, all in Cumberland County, and preached to them regularly in both Gaelic and English.

           The fact that most of the Highlanders spoke only Gaelic 66

protected them from the near-by Baptist missionaries at Sandy Creek and kept them faithful to Presbyterian Calvinism during the many years when they were without the ministrations of a regular pastor. Their custom of family worship also kept their faith alive. Children learned the catechism from their elders and the church officers examined them frequently on it. Before each hearth where there was reverence for the forms of the Scotch church the whole family read the Bible aloud every day and repeated the Shorter Catechism. So well informed on the doctrines and customs of the church was the congregation of Barbecue that the Reverend John McLeod who came to North Carolina with a colony of Highlanders in 1770 said that "he would rather preach to the most polished and fashionable congregation in Edinburgh than to the little critical carls of Barbecue." 67

           The Scotch-Irish, who were settling in the piedmont during

Page 350

the years that the Highlanders were landing at Wilmington, were no less destitute of ministers than their fellow Presbyterians along the upper Cape Fear. Nevertheless, they organized congregations and erected meetinghouses wherever enough were gathered together. After 1740, the Synod of Philadelphia frequently received petitions "from many people of North Carolina, . . . showing their desolate condition"; in response to which the Synod sent William Robinson in 1742 and 1743, and John Thompson in 1744. 68 When the Synod sent Hugh McAden in the autumn of 1755, he found groups of worshipers, congregations, and at least seven meetinghouses from the Hyco to the Yadkin. He preached to Scotch-Irish Presbyterians at Solomon Debow's on South Hyco; "to a set of pretty regular Presbyterians" on Eno; "at old Sherman's, on Tar River"; at a Baptist meetinghouse at Grassy Creek; at Fishing Creek "to a considerable congregation, chiefly Presbyterians"; at the Hawfields; to congregations in the Buffalo Settlement in Guilford County; at the meetinghouse at Yadkin Ford where the Baptists were making inroads on the congregation; to congregations on the west side of the Yadkin; on Sugar Creek; Rocky River; in the Welsh settlement on Coddle Creek at Cathey's Meeting House; and on Second Creek. 69 Following his visit McAden became the settled minister of the congregations in Duplin and New Hanover counties. In 1758 the Reverend Alexander Craighead came to North Carolina as the pastor of Rocky River Church in Mecklenburg County, and his death in 1767 left the region between the Catawba and the Yadkin without a resident Presbyterian minister. Visiting ministers baptized children of the Presbyterians and kept them to their faith.

           In 1755 the Synod of New York had set off the southern territory as Hanover Presbytery. The Presbytery held four meetings in North Carolina, the last in March, 1770, at Buffalo Meeting House. From this meeting a petition went up to Synod for a presbytery of the Carolinas, and in May, 1770, Orange Presbytery, composed of eight ministers in North Carolina and four in South Carolina, held its first meeting at Hawfields. Presbyterian congregations and neighborhoods in North Carolina alone could have

Page 351

employed five times that number of ministers had it been possible to obtain them.

           When in 1788 the Synod of New York and Philadelphia formed the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, the Synod of the Carolinas, composed of three presbyteries, Orange, South Carolina, and Abingdon, was set up as a part of it. By the opening of the new century another presbytery, Concord, 70

had been organized in North Carolina, and there were 29 ministers and 55 churches associated with the two presbyteries. 71 The new century ushered in remarkable revivals among the Presbyterian churches, begun under the influence of the Reverend James McGready 72 of Orange Presbytery. Such an impetus to growth did the revival give the church that in 1812 the Synod of the Carolinas set off Fayetteville Presbytery from Orange and petitioned the General Assembly to organize a separate Synod of North Carolina. When the new Synod met for the first time at Alamance Church in Guilford County in 1813, it had 31 ministers, 85 churches, and about 4,000 communicants within its jurisdiction. 73 Several other presbyteries were created at various times during the ante-bellum period only to exist a few years and then to be dissolved. 74 Twenty years after the organization of the Synod of North Carolina, the number of Presbyterian communicants in the State had doubled, the number of ministers had increased to 64 and the number of churches to 127. During the next twenty years, however, the number of ministers increased by only 26 and the number of churches by only 23.

           For many years "a coldness and want of energy" had pervaded the Presbyterian Church in North Carolina, as in other parts of the United States. There had been a tendency to quibble over church ordinances; often the Synod spent the entire session attending to cases of discipline and discussing questions of law and order. The four splits which occurred among the Presbyterians in the United States between 1800 and 1860 did not seriously disrupt North Carolina Presbyterians, but they did contribute to the

Page 352

general unrest among them. North Carolina felt most the split in 1837 between the Old School and the New School, although in North Carolina very few of the congregations sided with the New School. 75 Nevertheless, while Methodists and Baptists were making great gains in membership, Presbyterians were increasing, at least between 1838 and 1849, at a rate of less than one hundred members a year. 76 The rigid Calvinism preached by Old School Presbyterians did not have the popular appeal that the Baptist and Methodist evangelism made. Confident of predestination and election, Presbyterian ministers were "at ease in Zion," little concerned with seeking out the sinner or with planting the church in unfrequented places.

           But a new spirit began to arise in the church in North Carolina about 1850. Ministers began more "fully to realize their responsibilities," and the Synod to be alarmed at "the great destitutions" within its bounds. In 1852, when the Synod voted to appoint an agent on each of the following boards, foreign missions, domestic missions, and education, whose duty it should be to advance the claims of the boards before the churches, the work of evangelism went forward rapidly. 77

In 1849, for instance, the three presbyteries contributed only $2,604 for the work of the church, while in 1859 they contributed $15,670. During the same decade the number of communicants increased 56 per cent. 78 In 1857 the Reverend George McNeill and the Reverend Willis Miller began the publication in Fayetteville of the North Carolina Presbyterian, which greatly aided the work of church expansion. In 1858 a group of men organized a laymen's convention in Greensboro and began a "new era in the history of the church in North Carolina. . . ." 79

           The interest of Presbyterians in evangelism, however, came too late in the ante-bellum period for the church to compete with the Baptists or Methodists in the field. From 1813 to 1860 the number of churches had increased only by 99, and the area occupied by the church had scarcely changed. There were Presbyterian

Page 353

churches in all the principal towns and villages of the piedmont and the Cape Fear sections. In the West there were churches at Wilkesboro, Lenoir, Asheville, Morganton, Marion, Statesville, but the church had scarcely penetrated the Northeast. 80

           If the church had not expanded in territory or greatly increased in the number of churches or communicants, it had made other gains. Family discipline in regard to the daily recitation of the catechism and the daily reading of the Bible relaxed somewhat as the ante-bellum period wore on, but the church continued in its efforts to educate its youth in religious principles.

           The fact that Presbyterians considered it a mark of vulgarity not to be able to read or to repeat the Shorter Catechism in a time when half the people of the State were illiterate was sufficient to set them apart from adherents of other denominations. The Presbyterian Church, like the Episcopal Church, was not of the common people. It was the church of the gentry and the middle class. The Reverend William Henry Foote, the first historian of North Carolina Presbyterianism, writing in 1846, refers with pride to "the beautiful farms and plantations" which Presbyterians of his day possessed, and asks, as if defending their prosperity against Baptists and Methodists who argued that religion abides in its purest form among the poor, "And why should not honest, energetic poor people desire a place to enjoy their labor, not as tenants at will, but as fee-simple owners of the soil by the best of rights!" 81

Because its communicants were prosperous and its ministers learned, the Presbyterian Church, therefore, enjoyed a status among the people of the State which it could not obtain through numbers alone.


           The Society of Friends was the first religious body to obtain a foothold in North Carolina and it was the only communion of importance in the Province until 1700. 82

A Quaker, William Edmundson, was the first missionary to arrive in North Carolina, and

Page 354

in 1671 he preached the first sermon in the Province, near the site of Hertford, to a people with "little or no religion, for they came and sat down in the meeting smoking their pipes." 83 A justice of the peace, Francis Toms, "received the truth with gladness," and at a meeting which Edmundson held at his house several more "were tendered with a sense of the power of God, received the truth and abode in it." The following year George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, came into North Carolina and spent eighteen days sowing "the Seed" in the Albemarle section so that when he left he had "made a little entrance for truth upon the people." 84 Again in 1676, William Edmundson visited the believers in Carolina and from this time on until the middle of the eighteenth century a succession of itinerant preachers came into the Province.

           Quakerism had its greatest influence in North Carolina in the period before the opening of the eighteenth century. At a time when the "long hunter" was just penetrating the forest and the first settlers were breaking the soil, the Quakers were the chief moral element in the frontier society. With the coming of John Archdale to Carolina in 1683, himself a Quaker and a Proprietor of the Province, Quakerism grew in prestige. During his intermittent administration as governor, Quakers became the most powerful group within the Province. They became councillors and grew influential. ". . . The council granting commissions, in a short time they had Quaker members in most of their courts; nay in some the majority was such," wrote William Gordon in 1709 in a report to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. They "were very diligent at the election of members of the Assembly," and could control the legislation of that body. 85

           With the opening of the eighteenth century when the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel became interested in establishing the Church of England in North Carolina, the political power of the Quakers began gradually to decline. In 1701 Governor Henderson Walker by "a great deal of care and management" deprived the Quakers of their power in the Assembly and obtained the passage of the first Vestry Act. The Cary Rebellion marked the end of the political power of the Quaker party. The controversy, which finally culminated in civil war, began in 1703 when Deputy

Page 355

Governor Robert Daniel insisted that Quakers, instead of giving their affirmation as heretofore, must take the oath along with those who had no religious scruples against oaths. The Quakers were not active in the rebellion in 1711 which followed the long controversy over this issue, but the defeat of Cary's faction put an end to Quaker officeholding.

           In 1742 when William Peckover, a Quaker, visited North Carolina, he found five meetinghouses in an area of thirty miles and "many solid, weighty, good Friends." "Six or seven hundred persons attended these meetings, and there are nine or ten persons gifted in ministry, with more developing." 86

           The first monthly meeting held in North Carolina gathered at Francis Toms' house in 1680, but meetings "for the affairs of Truth" assembled much earlier than this. 87

In 1681 Friends established Eastern Quarterly Meeting for their members in Pasquotank, Perquimans, and Northampton counties, and in 1698 they organized the North Carolina Yearly Meeting. As Albemarle Sound grew in population, Friends pushed southward, and in 1733 they organized Core Monthly Meeting in Carteret County. In 1748 Friends were sufficiently plentiful in Lenoir County to organize Falling Creek Monthly Meeting.

           With the same time of immigration which brought the Scotch-Irish into piedmont North Carolina, Quakers also came, especially from Nantucket in New England, and built Quaker meeting houses in Alamance, Chatham, Guilford, Randolph, and Surry counties. New Garden, begun about 1750 in Guilford County, soon became the most important Quaker settlement in North Carolina and has so remained to this day.

           The Revolution seriously interrupted the growth of the Society. It practically stopped the migration from Pennsylvania and Nantucket; it brought the Society into disrepute because its members would not actively support the war; and it lost to the Society many of its youths who joined the army despite the fact that they were promptly disowned. The nineteenth century opened, therefore, with the public mind prejudiced against the Quakers. In addition to the fact that they were a "peculiar sect," which practiced "plainness in gesture, speech, apparel and furniture of

Page 356

houses," 88 they had not helped to win the Revolution. They did not attend militia musters. In 1804 a bill came up in the House of Commons proposing that Quakers be required to pay a double poll tax because of their exemption from militia service. 89 The bill was defeated on its first reading, but each year the question of "giving a hereditary privilege to a particular set of men" 90 became more acute until in 1830 the Legislature actually passed a law requiring Quakers either to bear arms or to pay a tax of $2.50. 91

           The stand of the Society against slavery prejudiced the public against the Quakers even more than their refusal to bear arms. 92

Unlike the abolitionists, the North Carolina Quakers restricted their activities in behalf of the slave to moral suasion rather than to politics. Many of them found it distasteful to live in a community based upon slavery. It was against their principles to employ slave labor, and free labor in some parts of the State was difficult to obtain. These facts, added to the hostile militia law aimed at them in 1830, caused many Quakers to leave North Carolina and migrate to the free states in the Middle West. On December 7, 1832, the Raleigh Register wrote, "We are informed that sixty-nine individuals of the Society of Friends have removed from Randolph county alone, this Fall, to the State of Indiana. There have been also extensive removals from Guilford, Wayne and other counties." Each year found more North Carolina Quakers following their friends to the West. 93

           The loss of numbers in the Society was not due alone to migration. It was due also to the Society's ultra-conservatism. At a time when thought was becoming more liberal, the Quaker elders still insisted that the Society keep its rigid discipline. Quaker youths came more and more to dislike the idea of speaking, dressing, and living differently from those around them. They disliked to attend entire meetings held in utter silence. They disliked the idea of being disowned because of "marrying out of Society." 94

In 1845 the Yearly Meeting sent out an "Epistle of

Page 357

Advice to subordinate meetings" which reveals the difficulty that the Society was having in maintaining control over its members:

           The Society in North Carolina remained orthodox throughout the ante-bellum period. The divisions in behalf of liberalism, the Hicksite movement of 1828 and the Wilbur-Gurney controversy in 1845, which occurred in other yearly meetings, left North Carolina practically undisturbed. 96

           Although failing to keep abreast of the times in regard to church discipline, the Society had always been far ahead of its time in regard to "benevolence." It had from the first assumed responsibility for its poor, its orphans, and the education of its youth. As early as 1715 the Yearly Meeting sent out a query to subordinate meetings, "Are the necessities of the poor among you relieved, are they advised and assisted in such employment as they are capable of, and is care taken for the education of their children, are there any children among you growing up without any education?" 97

Year after year the Yearly Meeting continued to urge the subject of education upon its members. Wherever there was a meeting house there was also likely to be some kind of a school. But it was not until 1829, that the Yearly Meeting brought forward

Page 358

its plan of school control which it maintained during the rest of the ante-bellum period. In that year it recommended that the subordinate meetings should appoint committees "to have the care of schools" and "to employ the best qualified teachers." 98 Beginning in 1834 the quarterly meetings began to make reports to the Yearly Meeting on the schools. From these reports, the Yearly Meeting was able in 1851, for example, to state that the number of Quaker children between the ages of five and sixteen receiving schooling was 804; between sixteen and twenty-one, 336; the number receiving some education, 1,104; the number of schools taught by female members, 16; the number taught by male members, 28; the total number of schools to which Friends' children had gone, 130. 99 In 1837 Quakers established New Garden Boarding-School, which later became Guilford College.

           Despite their anti-slavery activities and their refusal to bear arms, Quakers were held in esteem by all respectable men in the State. In 1733 Governor Burrington had praised "the regularity of their lives, hospitality to strangers, and kind offices to new settlers." 100

Almost a hundred years later the Raleigh Register called attention to the large number of Quakers leaving the State, only to regret their going. Their departure, said the Register, "is constantly depriving us of valuable citizens, who, of course, carry away with them the wealth they have acquired--thus impoverishing the State in a variety of ways." 101


           With the same tide of immigration which brought the Presbyterians and the Quakers into piedmont North Carolina, there also came three German-speaking religious groups, the Lutherans, the German Reformed, and the Moravians. Of these, the Lutherans were the most numerous. In 1775 Governor Dobbs visited Rowan and Cabarrus counties and found twenty-two families of Germans and Swiss who had been settled there seven or eight years. Others, sturdy German farmers, thrifty and hard-working, came from Pennsylvania, following the wagon train of relatives and friends down the Shenandoah Valley into the fertile and cheap forest

Page 359

lands of piedmont North Carolina. In Pennsylvania there had not been enough Lutheran ministers to serve the people; in North Carolina there were none at all except for the few missionaries who served the scattered Lutheran communicants from Maine to Georgia.

           In 1772 Christopher Rintleman of Orange Church in Rowan County and Christopher Layerly of St. John's Church in Cabarrus County at their own expense made the long voyage to Hanover, Germany, in search of a permanent minister and a school teacher for the little bands of faithful Lutherans in the Yadkin Valley. They obtained promises of help from the Consistory of Hanover and the Helmstedt Missionary Society and returned in 1773 bringing with them the Reverend Adolphus Nussman as their minister and John Gottfried Arends as their teacher. 102

           The Revolution seriously interrupted the work of the North Carolina churches. During the war, the Consistory of Hanover, under whose supervision the North Carolina churches had been, withdrew its support because of its unfriendliness to the patriot cause. Later the Consistory transferred the churches to the supervision of the Helmstedt Society. Thus disassociated from the mother organization, the North Carolina churches were thrown upon their own resources. In 1803 the four Lutheran ministers in the State, Gottfried Arends, Charles Augustus Gottlieb Storch, Robert Johnson Miller, and Paul Henkel, together with fourteen lay delegates, organized the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of North Carolina in a meeting held in Salisbury.

           Although the new organization contained no reference in its constitution to the confessional writings of the church, the North Carolina congregations had been too close to the Hanover Consistory for the Synod to abandon as many of the traditions and practices of the church as did, for instance, the Pennsylvania and New York synods. In 1804, at its second annual convention, the Synod of North Carolina ordered that "the Twenty-one Articles of the Augsburg Confession be published for the benefit of the Church," 103

and in 1806 unanimously resolved that "Luther's Smaller Catechism must ever be the basis of catechetical instruction." 104

Page 360

In 1817 the Synod authorized the publication of a book for the use of the churches, which it had requested its secretary, G. Shober, to prepare, containing "a history of the Reformation, the growth and extension of the Church, its cults, rules and regulations, with short abstracts thereof, also the Augsburg Confession, and citations and stories from Luther's writings regarding his doctrine and character." 105

           This book, published in 1818 and popularly known as Luther, became a source of the rupture in the Synod which took place in 1820 and caused the withdrawal of two pastors, Philip and David Henkel, and their followers. The Henkels had also objected to the North Carolina Synod's taking part in the organization of a General Synod which the Pennsylvania organization proposed in 1818. Although the Reverend G. Shober, North Carolina's delegate to the convention, failed in his attempt to obtain recognition of the Augsburg Confession in the constitution of the General Synod, it was the work of the North Carolina Synod, together with the Maryland-Virginia Synod, to bring the general organization closer and closer to its "elaborate and unequivocal Lutheran Confessional Basis." 106

           When the Synod was organized in 1803 there were four ministers and fourteen churches in North Carolina. Thirteen years later, there were eight ministers and sixteen who were preparing to become ministers; there were churches in Rowan, Davidson, Guilford, Orange, Randolph, Stokes, Lincoln, and Iredell counties in North Carolina, and churches in South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, and Indiana. 107

Ten years later, there were thirty-seven congregations in the jurisdiction of the Synod, the South Carolina churches having withdrawn in 1824 to form a separate Synod. 108 In 1841, a year before the withdrawal of the Virginia congregations to form the Southwest Virginia Synod, there were fourteen ministers, thirty-five congregations, and 2,343 communicants within the bounds of the North Carolina Synod. 109 At the end of the ante-bellum period the Synod had seventeen ministers,

Page 361

thirty-eight congregations, and 3,942 communicants. 110 The territory occupied by the church in North Carolina was practically the same as at the opening of the century. 111 Outside the lower piedmont there was only one Lutheran Church in North Carolina, St. Paul's in Wilmington, organized in 1858. 112

           Their use of the German language had prevented Lutherans in colonial times from proselyting or being proselyted. In 1816 the Synod authorized "an extract of all our protocol accounts and all our regulations . . . printed in the English language, in view of the fact that our Church is still not known among the English-Speaking people." 113

The next year, the Synod recommended that its congregations used the English Liturgy of the New York Synod and an English hymn book together with the Gemeinschaftliche Gesangbuch. From this time, the congregations turned more and more to English until in 1855 one Synod committee reported regretfully that "the German language is so rapidly declining within our bounds, and very few, if any, of the youth are taught to read said language." 114

           Like the Episcopal Church, which in 1821 tried to effect a union with the North Carolina Lutheran Synod, 115

the Lutheran Church did not take part in revivals or camp meetings. As early as 1810, however, the Synod began yearly to appoint traveling missionaries to serve the congregations without pastors. It also stood firmly by the Lutheran practice of catechetical classes. The Reverend Adolphus Nussman, the first Lutheran minister in North Carolina, persuaded the Helmstedt Missionary Society, to publish a special catechism, the North Carolina Catechism, for the use of the North Carolina Lutherans. The Synod also came out early in favor of Sunday schools, Martin Ripple and G. Shober, two Lutherans, having organized in 1807 one of the first Sunday schools in the State to be recorded. 116 The Synod confined

Page 362

most of its educational work to the support of the Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, until 1852 when it established a male academy at Mount Pleasant, Western Carolina Male Academy, later known as North Carolina College.


           The German Reformed Church, known variously in North Carolina as the German Presbyterian Church, the Calvin Church, and the Reformed Evangelical Church, was from the first closely associated in North Carolina with the Lutheran Church. Holding to the presbyterial form of government and the Catechism of Heidelberg, the church, nevertheless, overlooked doctrinal differences and often united with the Lutheran Church to build houses of worship. The first German Reformed minister to preach in North Carolina was the Reverend Christian Theus, pastor of St. John's Church, near Columbia, South Carolina, who made missionary tours into North Carolina from about 1745 to 1760 in an attempt to organize into congregations the German Reformed who were coming into the piedmont with other German settlers. The Reverend Samuel Suthers, who began to preach in North Carolina in 1768, was the first Reformed minister to become "pastor of all the churches." 117

He organized most of the congregations in Alamance, Guilford, Davidson, Rowan, Cabarrus, and Stanly counties and preached for them at regular intervals besides holding services for the Lutherans until the Reverend Adolph Nussman arrived in 1773. In 1804 there were three ministers attempting to serve all the congregations widely scattered throughout the piedmont from Orange County to Lincoln, and in 1812 the congregations were left with only one minister. Year after year congregations sent up petitions to the Synod for ministers and missionaries; elders led services and held prayer meetings; school teachers read printed sermons and prayers. In 1829 the Synod sent two young ministers, one to Lincoln County, the other to Guilford, who later obtained permission to organize the North Carolina Classis in 1831 and thus put new life into the congregations. But the number of communicants in the State was never large. In 1860 there were only fifteen congregations with a total membership of a little more than sixteen hundred. 118

Page 363

           The German Reformed Church took some part in most of the benevolent activities which engaged the attention of the churches during the ante-bellum period. In 1834 Classis organized an education society to assist in the education of "indigent and pious young men" for the ministry; in 1835 it organized a missionary society and employed a traveling missionary; it supported the two theological seminaries sponsored by the Synod; pastors were required to give particular attention to the slaves of their congregations; and the church in 1858 placed a ban upon the distillation and use of intoxicating liquors. Like all the other denominations in the State, the German Reformed suffered from a split in its ranks, but in this instance the split was with the general church body and not within the State organization. In 1853 the North Carolina Classis withdrew from the Synod because of the "heresies of Mercersburg Theology" and did not reunite until 1859.


           In August, 1753, Lord Granville conveyed the deeds to 98,985 acres of land in the three forks of Muddy Creek in North Carolina to James Hutton of London, agent of the Moravian Church, and later in the same year a little band of single men, all skilled artisans, headed by two ministers, made the difficult journey from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a town previously settled by Moravians, to begin the settlement of Wachovia, the name which the Moravians gave their tract in North Carolina. Calling their first settlement Bethabara, these men set to work, planting fields and erecting buildings so that men with families might join them.

           Other Moravians came, the scholarly and the uneducated, American and European born, all intent upon the idea of making a success of the little colony. To accomplish this purpose they practiced a form of communism. They did not merge their private funds, but they did divide the work so that each member performed the task for which he was best suited, the income from his labor going into the general treasury, each member being furnished alike with clothing, food, and lodging. 119

During the early years of the settlement, the central Boards of the Church, at their meetings in London, in Herrnhut, Germany, or in Zeist, Holland, decided all important questions concerning Wachovia. For instance,

Page 364

in 1765 the Conference of a Committee from the Directorium and Unity Vorsteher Collegium, sitting in Herrnhut, decided that Bethabara should continue its common housekeeping "until the central town is built and the businesses and professions and trades are moved hither," and that when Salem, the central town, should be erected, each resident should build for himself, according to his circumstances. 120 The congregation itself settled local matters either by conference or by lot. 121

           In 1759 the brethren laid out another village, Bethania, three miles from Bethabara, for those who wished to begin independent housekeeping and for the strangers who had gathered about. In 1766 the brethren began to erect Salem, and by the close of the Revolution had organized three other Moravian communities, Friedberg, Friedland, and Hope. The number of people in Wachovia at this time was more than a thousand. 122

           All the settlements in Wachovia except Salem were little more than farming communities. After the removal of the store and the various businesses from Bethabara to Salem in 1772, "the central town" became a prosperous village, much frequented by strangers who came to buy of the thrifty Moravians and seek aid of the Moravian doctor. 123

Bethabara now gave up communism, and each family became responsible for its own support. In Salem, congregation boards had complete supervision of both civil and religious affairs. The brethren operated the store, the tavern, the tannery, and the pottery for the benefit of the congregation fund. The congregation also had two-thirds interest in the mill. Under the "lease system," the brethren were able to keep out of Salem all undesirable residents. Instead of selling the lots, they leased them for a year with the understanding that the lease would be indefinite so long as the lessee was a desirable member of the community. Until the last decade of the ante-bellum period, Salem was entirely a church town. The church boards not only controlled all municipal affairs, but they supervised the trades and industries as well. In 1849 the congregation gave up its supervision of business and in 1856 abolished the lease system. 124

           When the nineteenth century opened, Wachovia had recovered

Page 365

from the effects of the Revolution. Bethabara had built a new church in 1788, which today is still standing. The brethren in Salem had erected several large buildings, a new tavern to replace the one which had burned, a Sisters House for unmarried women and older girls, a school for boys which served this purpose until recent years and is now occupied by the Wachovia Historical Society, and the Salem church which is still in use today.

           As soon as there were children in Wachovia to attend school, the brethren began a day-school for their education. With the founding of each additional settlement, the congregation began a day-school as soon as it was supplied with a pastor. In 1802 Salem decided to open a boarding school for girls, and in 1804 the first building was completed.

           Despite their missionary efforts, 125

the number of communicants in the Moravian Church grew very slowly. At no time did the church make an effort to seek new members; their missionary work was purely in the interest of spreading the gospel and not of increasing the size of their congregations. In fact, the Moravian custom of considering a group of converted people as "diaspora," not a regular congregation but merely a society served by a Moravian minister, discouraged the converts whom they made. Their use of the German language also limited the number of their converts. It was not until 1855 that they abandoned the custom of writing the church minutes in German. At the close of the antebellum period there were only ten Moravian congregations in the State with about two thousand members. 126 From their first settlement in North Carolina, however, the Moravians were held in esteem. Though perhaps like the Quakers, considered a little queer because of their peculiar church customs, their thrift, sincerity, and education brought them respect.


           Out of the philosophies of the American and French revolutions which focused attention upon religious practices and dogma, there grew dissatisfaction and contentions within the various denominations in North Carolina as elsewhere in the United States. From these dissatisfied elements the Disciples of Christ drew their

Page 366

membership. In 1809 Thomas Campbell of Brush Run, Pennsylvania, published his Declaration and Address, calling for all Christians "to strive for a brotherly union under the Lordship of Christ, and the sheer efficiency of the Scriptures as an adequate guide." 127 Before Thomas Campbell's declaration of "Christian principles," there had been men in North Carolina advocating that the various religious denominations should discard all formal discipline and return to the Bible as an all-sufficient rule of faith so that all Christians might be united in brotherly love. Barton W. Stone, 128 born in Maryland but educated in North Carolina and licensed to preach by Orange Presbytery, did not openly advocate reform until his call to the pastorate of the Cane Ridge and Concord churches in Kentucky. David Purviance, member of an old Presbyterian family in Iredell County, became associated with Stone at Cane Ridge and was one of four ministers who joined with him June 28, 1804, in renouncing the Calvinistic principles of the Presbyterian creed. 129 The new sect which they proposed to organize should be known as Christians and should have no creed other than the Bible. Purviance was the first to preach the faith of the Stone movement in North Carolina. 130 Other pioneers of the "Restoration Movement," Jacob Creath, Jacob Creath, Jr., and Joseph Thomas, the "White Pilgrim," all North Carolinians, sowed the seed of reform in their native state but rendered their greatest service to the movement in the West.

           James O'Kelly who withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1782 also made converts who called themselves Christians. He organized the Republican Methodist Church which he later called the Christian Church, but his group never united with the Disciples of Christ. Within recent years this communion has united with the Congregational Church and the members are usually known as Congregationalist Christians. Democratic in its polity, O'Kelly's sect, "had no rules but the Scripture" and had only "the Lord Jesus for their Head and Ruler." 131

           On January 12, 1809, the following notice of a general meeting of adherents of the "Christian Connection" appeared in the Raleigh Register:

Page 367

           THE GENERAL MEETING of the Elders and Brethren of the Christian Church, will commence (God willing) on Friday the 26th May, 1809, at Shiso Meeting House, in Pittsylvania, Virginia, on the North Side of Dan River, a few miles below Danville--for the purpose of preaching and expounding the Word of God, for receiving Preachers and private Members who approve of the Christian Order, and come properly recommended, &c and finally for administering the Gospel Ordinances--free for all the Lord's people.

During the first half of the ante-bellum period the movement was much stronger in Virginia, especially in the western section, than it was in North Carolina.

           Although associated with the discontented elements in both the Presbyterian and Methodist churches, the Christian Church came to have more in common with the Baptists. Beginning with Thomas Campbell's visit to Eastern North Carolina in November, 1833, when he spent six months in the State, entire Baptist congregations went over to the "Campbellite order," as the Christian Church was now being called. Campbell won a considerable part of the congregation of Separate Baptists at Edenton and created a disturbance in the Chowan Association which continued through the remainder of the ante-bellum period. In 1838 and again in 1845 Alexander Campbell visited the State.

           The organization out of which ultimately grew the Annual Conference of Disciples of Christ in North Carolina was the Bethel Free-Will Baptist Conference. In 1841 the Conference dropped the designation of Free-Will Baptist and simply became known as the Bethel Conference, issuing a circular letter to the churches associated with it, denouncing creeds and pleading for Christian union and Christian liberty. 132

Twice after this, the Conference changed its name, until in 1858, after a committee had drawn up a constitution and by-laws "for the organization of a General Coöperation," it became known as the Annual Conference of Disciples of Christ in North Carolina.

           Not all of the adherents or even all of the congregations which approved of the cardinal principles of the Disciples of Christ were associated with the Annual Conference. The exceedingly democratic and individualistic polity of the denomination prevented a union during the ante-bellum period. For this reason it is difficult

Page 368

to estimate the number of congregations and communicants. The Union Baptists, a group of Open-communion Baptists organized under James W. Hunnicutt of Lunenburg Court House, Virginia, most of whom joined with the Disciples after the Civil War, alone numbered more than three thousand and extended through ten eastern counties. 133 In 1852, Dr. John T. Walsh, evangelist for the Coöperation of Churches in Lenoir County, wrote Alexander Campbell, "We number in Eastern North Carolina near three thousand members, many of whom are highly intelligent and zealous. A goodly number of our brethren here are among the most respectable in the community, and are men of considerable wealth." 134 While the chief strength of the Disciples was in Eastern North Carolina there were also a few in the West at Mt. Airy, Dobson, Boonville, Yadkinville, and Huntsville, won to the "Restoration Movement" by evangelists from Virginia. 135


           There had been a few Roman Catholics in colonial North Carolina. The first church in the State was probably built at New Bern where the first clergyman permanently stationed in North Carolina took up his work in 1824. 136

In 1838 the church established a missionary in the State, the Very Reverend Thomas Murphy, with headquarters at Fayetteville. All of Eastern and Piedmont North Carolina formed his parish. He made a few converts and kept the thinly scattered believers to their faith. In 1846 he was stationed in Wilmington where he at once began the erection of a church. A church had been built in Raleigh in 1834, two churches in Gaston County in 1843, and one church in Charlotte in 1852. 137 Judge William Gaston, one of the most distinguished men of the ante-bellum period, was a Catholic. It was largely through his efforts and out of respect for him that the Constitutional Convention in 1835 altered the Constitution so that there should be no doubt as to the eligibility of Catholics for officeholding. 138 But the masses had little respect for the Catholic Church. At their midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in 1842, worshipers in New Bern were disturbed by a group of drunken sailors who continuously

Page 369

bawled out to the priest, "That's no religion." "Don't talk so much to yourself." 139 In 1854 the Catholics were the victims of Know-Nothingism. 140 There were also a few Jews, Universalists, and Deists in the State, but their number was more negligible than the prejudice which existed in the popular mind against them.

           The following table gives approximately the number of congregations and the number of members of the ten organized denominations in the State in 1860:




Church Congregations Members
Methodist 966 61,000
Baptist 780 65,000
Presbyterian 182 15,053
Lutheran 38 3,942
Episcopal 53 3,036
Christian 44 3,000
Friends 22 2,000
Moravian 10 2,000
German Reformed 15 1,633
Roman Catholic 7 350
Total 2,117 157,014

           The number of organized congregations in the ten leading denominations was 2,117 and the total number of white and Negro members was about 157,014. At the same time, the number of white adults in the State was 295,038. Presumably, about half of the adult white population belonged to the churches. Of these members about 80 per cent belonged to the Methodist and the Baptist churches.

Page 370

           At the opening of the nineteenth century when Charles William Janson, a Briton and member of the Church of England, wrote his views of American manners and customs after a "prolonged residence" in the United States, he thought the people of North Carolina almost "lost to the sense of religion." "Until a traveller from the north reaches the Carolinas, he will find the United States the very hot-bed of religion," he wrote. 142

In "many parts of the southern states" he found a "total neglect, not only of religion, but often of moral duties."

           It is true, as Janson states, that the Episcopal Church had no organization in North Carolina at the opening of the century and that many were still questioning the concepts of the Christian religion as the result of the new philosophies of the American and French revolutions, but religion was by no means dead. The State was soon to experience the greatest revival of religion which it had ever known. Baptists were beginning a profound liberalizing movement within the denomination. James O'Kelly, Barton W. Stone, and David Purviance were laying the foundations for a new denomination. Methodists were everywhere evangelizing and seeking out sinners. As the ante-bellum period wore on religion became more fashionable. The churches themselves began a conscious effort to meet the needs of their members. About half of the white adults in the State still remained away from church, but the "respectable people" had turned again to religion.

Table of Contents