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Chapter 9

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of North Carolina

The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago and New York, 1919
Volume II by
William K. Boyd

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 11

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. II
p185
Chapter 10
Religious Development after the Revolutiona

The Revival of 1800 — Religious Dissensions

The collapse of an old order and the rise of a new regime were phenomena not confined to things political and economic. Religion also felt the impulse of new life after 1800, resulting in a different outlook and organization from that of the eighteenth century. The course of this change must now be traced.

The Revolution shattered the religious forces of North Carolina. Readjustment to a new regime was as much a problem for the churches as for industry, trade, and political thought. For this statistics bear witness. In 1790 the population of the state was 393,751, of whom 50,000 were heads of families. The exact proportion of church members cannot be ascertained, but 30,000 is a liberal estimate, leaving an uncultivated spiritual field of 363,751 souls. Yet the condition within the churches was not very favorable for the task before them. The Presbyterians had probably the largest membership. They were strongly intrenched in the piedmont and along the upper Cape Fear; but most of the loyalists in North Carolina were of Presbyterian stock and after the Revolution many of the Scotch on the Cape Fear emigrated. In the piedmont section a number of the Presbyterian pastors had been active in the Revolutionary cause, notably Humphrey Hunter and Thomas McCaule, who served in the army; but for this very reason some of the congregations had declined. Moreover strict Calvinistic thought and discipline often leads to spiritual revolt; witness Rousseau in France, the English deists, and Benjamin Franklin in America. It is not strange, p186therefore, to find that in North Carolina the traditions of Calvinism were seriously questioned at the close of the war. "The pastors shed tears over departed worth," lost in battle, we are told, but they grieved most over the living "who had renounced the religion of their fathers, and embraced a cold skepticism that promised only a life of licentiousness and the vain hope of annihilation." The Baptists had the largest opportunity in North Carolina. They covered a greater territory than any other denomination, being grouped in two associations, the Kehukee in the east and the Sandy Creek in the piedmont, the latter being the third oldest association of Baptists in the United States. Their rapid growth in the South toward the middle of the eighteenth century was little less than a profound social movement. Their extremely democratic organization fitted in well with the ideals of the plain people while their style and preaching and type of thought made a popular appeal. The Baptist membership in 1790 was 7,742, surpassed only by the Presbyterians who, with the Independents, had been estimated at 9,000 in 1762. But there were certain inherent weaknesses in the denomination. Individualism was too strongly intrenched in its polity for an organized diffusion of the faith, and there was a strong tendency toward dissensions over certain ordinances of the church.

So much for the two largest denominations. There were also the Quakers, well organized in some of the eastern and at least one of the piedmont counties; but they were a distinct social class rather than an aggressive denomination. The Moravians had a worthy and heroic history, but not until recent years have they sought an increase of membership. The progress of the Lutherans and German Reformed had been seriously checked by the interruption of intercourse with Europe during the war. Most significant was the condition of the Anglicans. Throughout the South the Church of England was prostrate. Among its communicants in North Carolina were a number of Revolutionary leaders and its clergy were as a rule true to the patriot cause. But its tradition of close alliance with the British colonial system was a serious hindrance, there was no local episcopate, and early efforts to organize the diocese of North Carolina failed.

p187 Evidently there was an opportunity for a church that had an organization suitable for a distinct propaganda, that was free from doctrinal disputes, and that was thoroughly consecrated to some elemental Christian truth which would appeal to the people. Its pioneer preachers made their appearance in North Carolina in 1772. The prevalent opinion is that the growth of the Methodist societies was checked by the Revolution, that many of the British preachers returned to England, and that the native circuit riders were popularly rejected as loyal to the Crown to the injury of their cause. Such a conclusion is not in accord with the facts, so far as North Carolina is concerned. In 1776 the membership of the societies in the state was 683; by 1783, the year of the Treaty of Peace, it had risen to 2,229, and the number of circuits was then increased from four to ten. A step toward independence from the Church of England was taken in 1779, when the preachers of North Carolina and Virginia appointed a presbytery of three with power to ordain themselves, then others. Through the influence of Francis Asbury this action was disavowed until Mr. Wesley could be consulted. In 1784 consent was given and the Methodist societies took on the clothes of a church at Baltimore. The next year the first Annual Conference was held near Louisburg at the home of Green Hill.


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Green Hill House

Meeting Place of Annual Conference, 1785

The mechanism of the new denomination was well suited to the task before it. The bishops were the generals, the presiding elders the captains, the circuit riders the soldiers of the line. All were engaged in a spiritual warfare; in contrast to the call of the congregation in the Presbyterian and Baptist polities, they were sent to the people. Not since the days of the Jesuit fathers in the French northwest had this country seen such an aggressive projection of the Christian faith; hardly since the days of St. Francis had Christianity known a religious type similar to the circuit rider. Like the friars, he knew no place of abode, parsonages not being authorized until 1800. The meagre salary of sixty-four dollars made poverty truly evangelical and, with the views of Bishop Asbury, made marriage practically impossible for the majority. The circuit riders preached at every opportunity, p188wherever a few could be gathered together, slave or free. Intensely evangelical, they were never satisfied without some manifestation of grace, the conviction of sinners or the rejoicing of the redeemed. They also wielded an intellectual influence. Some time between 1780 and 1790 Cokesbury School was established on the Yadkin, the first preparatory school in America under Methodist control. A few years after the Revolution Sunday schools were introduced for the purpose of instruction in the elementary branches, and the Conference of 1790 declared: "Let us labor, as the heart and soul of one man, to establish Sunday schools in or near the place of public worship. Let persons be appointed by the bishops, elders, deacons or preachers to teach (gratis) all that will attend and have a capacity to learn; from six o'clock in the morning till ten, and from two o'clock in the afternoon till six; where it does not interfere with public worship. The Council shall compile a proper school book, to teach them learning and piety." Just when the Methodist Sunday School p189appeared in North Carolina and how extensively the institution was used, is unknown. In Virginia the first Sunday school was organized in 1786, in South Carolina in 1787. The circuit riders had still another intellectual influence. When the Methodist publishing house was organized they scattered its books and tracts throughout North Carolina. It is a matter of record that the Discipline of 1786 and also the first number of the Arminian Magazine were prepared for the press in North Carolina, the former by John Dickins on the Bertie Circuit, the latter by Coke and Asbury in 1789. In 1783 there were in North Carolina eighteen circuit riders; by 1800 there were twenty-seven, and cooperating with them were a large number of local preachers.

Nor were the Presbyterians and Baptists inactive. In 1788 the Synod of the Carolinas was organized, and the Presbyterian divines busied themselves in combating skepticism, restoring Sabbath observance, and holding short seasons of fasting and prayer in their churches twice a year. Long before the camp meeting came into vogue, tents or stands for use of the minister in out-of‑door preaching were common among the Presbyterian congregations. By the Baptists five new associations were organized; three in the west, the Yadkin (1790), Mayo (1798), and Mountain (1799), and two in the east, the Neuse (1794) and Flat River (1794). Thus the period from 1783 to 1800 was one of preparation, characterized by a gradual extension of the churches into fields hitherto unoccupied, and by denominational reorganization. The result was a rich harvest, ushered in by a great revival which began in 1801 and lasted for a decade. Baptist traditions regard it as a reflex of the great revival contemporary in the west, while good Presbyterian authority claims that it began in Orange County as the result of prayer meetings conducted by the wife of Dr. David Caldwell. With the Methodists the genesis of the revival undoubtedly was the Conference of 1800, which met in Baltimore. It closed with a distinct manifestation of grace and the preachers carried the flame of evangelism to the most distant circuits. In North Carolina the revival started in the western counties, thence spread to the Cape Fear, then to the coast and the Albemarle section, and culminated p190in a meeting at Raleigh in 1811. Here was a movement of epochal importance in religious history. Let us notice some of its characteristics.

First of all there was co-operation on the part of the Methodists, the Presbyterians and the Baptists. The method of reaching the people was the camp meeting. Its origin dates from 1789 or 1790, when it was used in the western counties by Joseph McGee and Daniel Asbury, and later was introduced by McGee into Tennessee and Kentucky. With the revival it became the most prominent means of carrying the gospel to the masses. The numbers attending were estimated by the thousands. From all accounts the results were greater in the piedmont than in the Cape Fear section. To a large degree this may be attributed to racial influences. In the western counties the population was largely Scotch-Irish. These people were exiles in a double sense. In the migration from Scotland to Ireland much of the discipline of the kirk was lost. The English Church was established in Ireland and the government opposed any other form of Protestantism. Hence under great difficulties did the Presbyterian church in Ireland maintain its existence. Moreover, the early years of the Scotch in Ireland were years of conflict with rugged nature. Cabins were built, fields were cleared in face of opposition by the native Irish and the beasts of the forest. Thus for a time physical wants stood first. These facts, the frontier life and the policy of the English government, were the background for a new kind of religious experience which came about 1625, a wave of revivals conducted by missionaries, not in churches, but in the cabins of the settlers, the first form of the prayer meeting. A century later the Scotch-Irish emigrated to America. Again the task of the first years was a conflict with nature, clearing the forest and establishing homes. The outlook for fruitful life was better than in Ireland; the hearts of the people were softened by the greater degree of liberty and old prejudices relaxed. The result was the revival of 1755 in the piedmont section, led by Shubal Stearns, the Baptist missionary from New England, and the still greater revival in 1801.

On the other hand, the experience of the Scotch Highlanders p191had been different. In Scotland the kirk was established and the chief religious interest was to defend it from criticism by the Anglicans. Hence the Scotch divines excelled in the philosophy of religion, the defense of traditional thought and forms of worship. Consequently neither in Scotland nor among the Scotch in America were revivals very important. Two Presbyterian clergymen in North Carolina may be taken in illustration. Dr. David Caldwell, Scotch-Irish minister, educator, and politician, welcomed the revival of 1801 as a special manifestation of God's power; likewise one of his congregations, the church at Alamance. Not so another of his congregations, the church at Buffalo. Alamance went so far as to adopt the evangelical hymns of Isaac Watts, but Buffalo continued the old custom of singing the psalms. In strong contrast to Dr. Caldwell was Samuel MacCorkle, a Scotch minister. At first he was extremely doubtful of the value of the great wave of evangelism. At Caldwell's special invitation he attended a camp meeting in Randolph county. He was shocked by the scenes. "Is it possible, said I, that this scene of seeming confusion can come from the spirit of God? Can He who called light from darkness, and order from confusion, educe light and order from such a dark mental and moral chaos?" Toward the close of the meeting, while still in doubt as to the efficacy of the revival, he was called to his own son, who was under conviction of sin. While praying over him the good dominie's interest widened to the whole world of sinners, his doubts of the value of revivals were dispelled, and he himself became active in camp meetings.

Here was one of the strategical points in the religious history of the state. The Calvinistic forces, both Presbyterian and Baptist, were divided as to the value and advisability of the revival; but the Methodists were not divided, their Arminian doctrine made them unanimous, and hence in the end they reaped a greater harvest. By 1810 they had outstripped other denominations in point of numbers.

The phase of the revival that attracted most attention was the physical expression of emotion. Such religious exercises as falling or the jerks, dancing, barking, laughing, and singing were common. These phenomena had characterized the previous p192revival in Ireland and the piedmont section. They were most common among the Scotch-Irish. Most of our accounts are from Presbyterian sources. Typical were the scenes at a camp meeting held in the western counties in 1802 by Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists;—

"There was a powerful work among the people, such as had never been witnessed before in this part of the country. Many were astonished beyond measure, and appeared to be frightened almost to death. They would fall sometimes, under preaching, their whole length on the ground, and with such suddenness and violence as seemed almost enough to kill them. Some of my neighbors fell at my feet like men shot in battle. This the people called being 'struck down,' and when they professed religion, they called that 'coming through.'

"One of the most mysterious exercises among the people was what was called the jerks. I saw numbers exercised in this way at a camp meeting held in Lincoln County. Sometimes their heads would be jerked backward and forward with such violence that it would cause them to utter involuntarily a sharp, quick sound similar to the yelp of a dog; and the hair of the women to crack like a whip. Sometimes their arms, with clenched fists, would be jerked in alternate directions with such force as seemed sufficient almost to separate them from the body. Sometimes all their limbs would be affected, and they would be thrown into almost every imaginable position, and it was as impossible to hold them still almost as to hold a wild horse. When a woman was exercised in this way, other women would join hands around her and keep her within the circle they formed; but the men were left without constraint to jerk at large through the congregation, over benches, over logs, and even over fences. I have seen persons exercised in such a way that they would go all over the floor with a quick, dancing motion, and with such rapidity that their feet would rattle upon the floor like drum-sticks.

"Some of the Presbyterians got into some extremes and brought a reproach upon the good work. They got into what they called the dancing exercise, the marrying exercise, etc. Sometimes a whole set of them would get together and begin dancing about at a most extravagant rate. Sometimes they p193would be exercised about getting married, and one would tell another he or she had a particular revelation that they must be married, and if the one thus addressed did not consent, he or she must expect to be damned. Thus many got married, and it was said some old maids, who had nearly gotten antiquated, managed in this way to get husbands. But this was condemned by the more sober part among Presbyterians and Methodists, and it has now nearly subsided."1

In the light of such scenes it is not strange to hear that Methodist ministers were sometimes arrested or assaulted and that one husband applied a mustard plaster to his wife to cure her of Methodism. Experience with human souls in the camp meeting often brought with it an unusual knowledge of the mind and its operations. Sometimes the circuit riders utilized this knowledge for the cure of mental ailments. An example occurred in Wilmington in 1815. Joseph Travis was pastor of the Methodist Church. Among the residents of the town was an ex-governor of the state. One day he asked Travis to call on his wife who for some time had been treated by physicians for some mental disturbance. Hear Travis' account of the interview and its results:

Calling on the lady he found that "her head had been shaved and blistered, and I know not what besides had been tried, to restore her mind to a proper balance. Yet withal, she apparently grew worse. I told her that at the request of her husband, I had called to see her. She immediately commenced relating to me her deplorable insanity, and the cause leading thereunto; namely, a confusion of mind which suddenly seized her one day; and withal that her greatest grief was that she was not prepared for death. I endeavored to convince her that she was not deranged, assuring her that a deranged person was not conscious of any abberationº of mind. I pretty well convinced her of the fact and then proceeded to point her desponding and sin-smitten soul to the great atonement made for sinners by the death and resurrection of Christ. I conversed with her for a half hour or so, prayed with her, and left her. In a day or with afterwards, a carriage drove p194up to the parsonage. I stepped out, and who should it be but Mrs. Smith. I helped her out of the carriage and with weeping eyes as she entered the parsonage, she exclaimed, 'O, Sir! you have done me more good than all the doctors put together. You directed me to Jesus. I went to him by faith, and humble confidence and prayer. He has healed me, soul and body; I feel quite happy.' "2

In the eastern counties the outlook for converts was different than in the western. There was a large negro population, and the whites were mainly of English rather than Scotch-Irish extraction. In those counties that had a large colored element in their population, Methodism seems to have made a stronger appeal to the negroes than the whites. The first white convert in Fayetteville was baptized in 1802, although for some time there had been a large negro congregation, organized by Henry Evans, a free negro preacher. In Wilmington in 1802 the white membership was 48, the negro 231; in 1812 the figures were 94 white and 704 colored. In the Albemarle section the Methodist movement received the co-operation of the Anglicans. For this Reverend Charles Pettigrew was largely responsible. In vain he had labored to organize the surviving elements of the Church of England into a diocese. In fact he was elected Bishop of North Carolina in 1794 but was never consecrated. Realizing the futility of his efforts, he turned to Methodism as the best hope for religion. At his home he entertained the circuit riders, at the chapel on the plantation near Edenton they preached, and until 1839 Pettigrew's Chapel was a regular appointment on the Columbia Circuit.

The culmination of the evangelistic wave was reached in a meeting at Raleigh. There the Virginia Conference met in 1811. Its sessions were held in the State House because the small Methodist congregation had no building. Asbury was present, so were McKendree, Jesse Lee and other pioneers of Methodism. Guided by their preaching about fifty professed Christ, among whom was William Hill, Secretary of State from 1811 to 1859. The immediate result was the construction p195of a church, the direct antecedent of Edenton Street. Among the witnesses of the revival was William Glendenning, one of the original Methodist preachers in America. In 1785 he left the new denomination, dissatisfied with its form of government, and joined O'Kelly's Republican Methodist Church. He welcomed his old associates and took a keen interest in the revival but frequently exclaimed, "I do not like the government, I do not like the government."

The influence of the great revival on the life of the people was of lasting importance. The reality of religion was brought home to all. Now the latter half of the eighteenth century had been preeminently an age of free thinking. Skepticism was then aggressive, scoffing, irreligious and irreverent, and such it remained until the scientific movement of the nineteenth century gave it new thought, sound facts, a method and a task. Now the skepticism of the older type existed among the intellectual class in North Carolina, and the uncultivated copied their betters and swaggered about unbelief. Churches had not been too numerous either in country or towns, and the cause of religion had not been very extensively or very thoroughly presented prior to the Revolution. The great revival, therefore, marks healthy reaction, an awakening of the people to the reality of the religious element in life. The conversion of the infidel was a common event. Typical is the following account by James Jenkins. Writing in 1802 of a meeting in the Waxhaws he says: "One among many remarkable cases I will relate of a professed atheist who fell to the earth and sent for brother Gassaway to pray for him. After laboring in the pangs of the new birth for some time, the Lord gave him deliverance. He then confessed before hundreds that for some years he had not believed there was a God but now found him gracious to his soul." The reaction from infidelity probably explains in some measure the religious exercises and visions, phenomena which sudden changes of conviction might easily produce.

Out of the religious movement came a demand for moral reform. Illustrative was a new attitude toward alcohol. Every gentleman had his private distillery, the leading politician of North Carolina is said to have kept a bucket of corn whiskey p196at his front door, and the manufacture and peddling of liquors was an industry as common as raising cotton or tobacco. Yet in the Methodist Conference minutes of 1783 we find the following question and answer:

Q. — "Should our friends be permitted to make spirituous liquors, sell, and drink them in drams?"

A. — "By no means; in that it is wrong in its nature and consequences, and desire all our preachers to teach the people by precept and example to put away the evil."

Here was the first step toward a prohibition movement in the South. Later, local preachers were prohibited under penalty to distill or retail spirituous liquors. However, the issue was injected into politics by the Baptists when, in 1817, the following resolutions were adopted by the Sandy Creek Association:

"Whereas, this association views with concern and regret the custom existing among candidates for public posts of honor and profit, of distributing spirituous liquors among the people, in order to enhance their own popularity, and influence the suffrages of their fellow citizens at elections; and whereas such a custom is both ruinous to the morals and happiness of the people, and dangerous to their civil rights and liberties.

"1. Resolved unanimously, That a person be appointed to prepare a memorial to be presented to the next meeting of the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, praying them to enact a law against this degrading evil.

"2. Resolved, That it be recommended to the churches of this association to refuse their support to any candidate who shall, either himself or by another person distribute spirituous liquors with a view to conciliate the affections of the people.

"3. Resolved, That this association concur with their brethren of the Flat River Association, in inviting all professing Christians, and lovers of good order and morality, to lend their decided cooperation to avert the evils which this custom entails upon us.

"4. Agreed that Brother George Dismukes wait upon the legislature with the memorial of this body."

The revival also had considerable educational influence. In 1813 the North Carolina Bible Society was organized for p197the purpose of distributing the scripture among the people. Sunday schools became more numerous and had for their purposes elementary instruction. The various denominations were also strengthened. Increase of membership made possible more compact church organization. In 1803 the Lutheran Synod of North Carolina was formed. In 1813 the Presbyterian churches withdrew from the Synod of the Carolinas and organized the Synod of North Carolina. In 1817 the Episcopalians organized the Diocese of North Carolina, with three clergymen and less than 200 laity. John Stark Ravenscroft was elected Bishop and at the end of his episcopate in 1830 there were eleven clergymen and 650 lay members.

However the Baptists were more profoundly affected by the revival than any other denomination. Two issues convulsed the associations.

First of these was the question of missions. In 1803 Martin Ross, a leading member of the Kehukee Association, submitted to that body the following query: "Is not the Kehukee Association, with all her numerous and respectable friends, 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?" There was no immediate response, but the next year a committee was appointed to meet delegates from the Portsmouth and Neuse Associations to consider the cause of foreign missions. As a result, in 1805 the Philanthropic Baptist Missionary Society was founded. This was seven years before Judson became a missionary and eleven years before the Baptist General Convention was organized; in fact the Philanthropic Society was the first missionary organization among American Baptists. Its purpose was to stimulate the formation of local missionary societies and to keep the cause of missions before the various associations. In 1814 a number of individual Baptists launched the North Carolina Baptist Society for Foreign Missions, its scope being widened in 1817 to include domestic missions. The strength of the organization lay in the piedmont section, that of the Philanthropic Society in the east. In 1817 the contribution of the North Carolina Baptists to missions was p198greater than that of the Baptists of any other state except Massachusetts.

The second movement among the Baptists was for co-operation on the part of the various associations. The only relation between them was purely formal, consisting in the exchange of letters or of visits of traveling delegates. From 1800 to 1816 the increase of membership was great; eight new associations were formed. In the interest of uniformity as well as the further extension of the Gospel some closer relationship among the associations seemed desirable. Again the leadership was taken by Martin Ross, now a member of the newly formed Chowan Association. In 1809 he secured the appointment of a committee to plan a general meeting, to consist of the Kehukee and the associations which sprang from it. In 1810 the scope of the proposed organization was widened to include all the Baptist associations in the state. Response was received from six associations and in 1811 at the Falls of Tar River preliminary steps were taken for the organization at Raleigh in 1812 of the Baptist General Meeting of Correspondence. Its purpose was to extend religious acquaintance, to encourage the preaching of the Gospel, and to diffuse useful knowledge. However, even the semblance of a central authority was so contrary to Baptist traditions that only six associations sent delegates.

Of the two movements outlined, that for missions was the stronger. In 1821 the Philanthropic Society and the General Meeting of Correspondence were merged into the North Carolina Baptist Missionary Society. Heretofore support of missions had been entirely individualistic and voluntary. There had been no business-like organization of the work. The distinctive feature of the new organization was the appointment of an agent, R. T. Daniel, at a salary of forty dollars per month and an assistant at thirty dollars. Their duties were to organize local missionary societies and to apply system and business-like methods to the cause.

The movement for closer inter-associational relations and missions met opposition, the centre of which was the Kehukee Association. The faith of this organization was strongly Calvinistic, the doctrine of predestination having been incorporated p199into its declaration of principles in 1777. After 1815 the Association sent no delegates to the General Meeting of Correspondence and its contributions to missions declined. The climax of the opposing views was reached after the organization of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1821. Much criticism was expressed of salaried officers, the departure from the individualistic method of missionary work being denounced as "man made." The leader of the opposition was Joshua Lawrence. In 1826 he laid before the Kehukee Association a Declaration of Reformed Baptists, a protest against the new tendencies. It was referred to the churches of the Association for action. The minutes of 1827 declare that "it was agreed that we discard all Missionary Societies, Bible Societies, and Theological Seminaries, and the practices heretofore resorted to for their support, in begging money from the public, and if any persons should be among us, as agents of such societies, we hereafter discountenance them in those practices, and if under a character of minister of the gospel we will not invite them into our pulpits; believing that these societies and institutions to be inventions of men, and not warranted from the word of God." When these minutes were published some members claimed that this pronouncement had never been submitted to a vote; others that it was unanimously adopted. Among the former were Philemon Bennett, the Moderator in 1827. However, the proposition was sustained at the two succeeding sessions of the Association. Nine churches thereupon withdrew and in 1831 organized the Tar River Association which committed itself to the new order of things.

The spirit of schism spread to the other associations. From the Neuse a number of churches withdrew and organized the Contentnea Association, which clung to the old ideas and methods. When the Country Line and the Pee Dee associations decided for the old order, certain churches withdrew and founded the Beulah and Liberty associations. Yet the movement for the adoption of the new ideas and methods were approved by a majority of the churches throughout the state. The cause of reform was led by a group of new leaders: Thomas Meredith, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who came to North Carolina and settled at Edenton in p2001817, John Armstrong, a graduate of Columbian College of Washington, D. C. and pastor at Newbern, Samuel Wait and P. W. Dowd, also graduates of Columbian College. Cooperating with them was Martin Ross, who had introduced the question of missions and cooperative organization in the Kehukee Association. Acting on his motion the Chowan Association in 1826 appointed a committee to arrange for the organization of the Baptist State Convention. In 1830, when the Benevolent Society met in Greenville, the fourteen members present adopted a resolution transforming the society into the "Baptist State Convention." A constitution, prepared for the occasion by Thomas Meredith, was adopted, which made the objects of the convention ministerial education, state missions, and cooperation with the National General Convention in domestic and foreign missions. The organization proved permanent and successful. The next step in the movement of progress was the foundation of a college for the denomination, which was achieved with the charter of Wake Forest in 1833.

The problem of organization was not confined to the Baptists. Considerable dissatisfaction pervaded the Methodists. In the early days of the church there was discontent with the episcopacy. Joseph Pilmoor, the first Methodist preacher in North Carolina, never left the Church of England. William Meredith, who introduced Methodism into Wilmington, lived and died a Primitive Methodist. Glendenning, as we have seen, forsook the church. Parson Miller, of Rowan County, remained in the Church of England; indeed, he helped to establish the Diocese of North Carolina.

The leader of the earlier discontent was James O'Kelley, a native of Ireland, who spent his later years in Chatham County, North Carolina. When his motion to allow the itinerant to appeal from the Bishop to the Conference in the matter of his appointment was rejected in 1792, O'Kelley withdrew and soon organized the Republican Methodist Church, now the Christian Church. Another period of discontent opened after the great revival. On account of the small salary of the itinerant, there was a host of local preachers who retired from the ranks in order to support their families. They participated in the camp p201meetings and the revivals, and demanded recognition in the councils of the church. In 1820 the General Conference allowed them to organize district conferences, the chairmen of which were the presiding elders. This concession was not enough; in 1821 the Roanoke District Conference of Local Preachers sent to similar bodies and also to the Virginia Conference a protest against rules for their government made by a General Conference in which they were not represented, and a petition for representation was sent up to the General Conference of 1824. From other states were also sent petitions for lay representation. When these were rejected, "union societies" were organized to agitate for reform, the second society in the movement being the Roanoke Union Society, organized in Halifax County, November 3, 1824. A little later the Granville Union was formed on the Tar River Circuit. The policy of the itinerants and presiding elders toward the movement for reform was drastic. Accusing members of the unions of inveighing against the discipline and sowing dissensions, they frequently expelled them from the churches. When a second appeal for reform to the General Conference of 1828 was rejected, a new denomination was launched, the Associated Methodist Churches, later the Methodist Protestant Church; the first annual conference of the new movement was organized in North Carolina in December, 1828.

Thus between 1800 and 1830 religion underwent an extensive propaganda and took on the clothes of earthly organization. Thereafter its development was more conventional. The age of expansion was followed by a period of doctrinal controversies and denominational rivalry. Hence the years from 1830 to 1860 are of interest mainly to those who have a technical interest in denominational history.


The Author's Notes:

1 David Gray, quoted from Shipp, Methodism in South Carolina, p273.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Autobiography of Joseph Travis, p80.


Thayer's Note:

a The attentive reader will notice gaping holes in this chapter: Catholicism and Judaism are not so much as mentioned. To be fair, there were very few Jews and Catholics in the early days of North Carolina, but the Carolinas did get their first Catholic bishop in 1830 and there is enough early Catholic history in the area to have formed the subject of J. J. O'Connell's Catholicity in the Carolinas and Georgia: Leaves of its History (D. & J. Sadlier & Co., New York, 1879: 631 rather diffuse pages). Part of that history is the tenure as bishop, or more properly as vicar apostolic, of one of the best-known of American Catholic prelates; covered in about half a chapter of Ellis & Broderick's The Life of James Cardinal Gibbons, pp18 ff.

Very little, also, is said here of the religious evolution of black Americans: it is covered in the next chapter, although very incompletely, anecdotally and almost parenthetically (pp220‑223).


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