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Spring 2006 Newsletter

Treasures in Bladen County
Elizabethtown, April 22, 2006

Brown Marsh Church, built ca. 1818
Most of the early Presbyterian congregations in rural North Carolina began in homes or brush arbors, moved into log structures, then built a frame church, and when they could afford to, they replaced it with a finer church of brick or stone. Some continued to use the frame building but covered the walls with brick veneer outside and plaster inside. Very few of the frame “second churches” have survived in their original form.

Brown Marsh Church

On Saturday, April 22nd, however, our Spring Meeting will highlight an excellent example — Brown Marsh Church. It is at least the second building on the site, and the cemetery dates to the 1780s. Building of the present church is believed to have begun in 1818, and it was dedicated in 1828. In 1871 the congregation moved to nearby Clarkton, and in 1886 the name was changed to Clarkton Presbyterian Church. The unpainted frame church was maintained, however. In 1911 Wilmington Presbytery organized a second Brown Marsh Congregation, which held services there until 1949. The church and cemetery now belong to Coastal Carolina Presbytery and are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bladen County began as Bladen Precinct in 1734. Bisected by the Cape Fear River, it was settled first by English planters and traders and then by many Scots after 1739. In 1756 Hugh McAden traveled through the area twice and preached to a number of congregations gathered in homes. Clarkton Presbyterian Church (formerly Brown Marsh) traces its organization to McAden’s visit and will celebrate its 250th anniversary this year.

In such an historic area, this spring meeting will be a mini-tour. We will begin at the Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church (1825) with registration at 9:30 and the program beginning at 10 a.m. From there we will car-pool to Brown Marsh Church and cemetery, only a few miles away. Lunch back in Elizabethtown will be followed by our annual business meeting, election of officers, and the presentation of our church history award.

  Beth Car Church
Beth Car Church

After lunch we will drive up Highway 87 to Tar Heel and the lovely old church of Beth Car. There is no official date of organization for this church, but it is known to have been there by 1819 at least. Governor John Owens’s slave Moreau, formerly Omar Ibn Said, an African prince who had been educated in Arabic, worshipped at Beth Car.

As a final treat, we will drive just across the river from Tar Heel to Harmony Hall, built ca. 1768 by Col. James A. Richardson. Francis Asbury, America’s first Methodist bishop, visited this home in 1787. The property is owned by the Bladen County Historical Society, and a number of buildings have been moved there for preservation. These include the Shaw-McMillan House (1784), a log home (1835), a district school (1880s), a general store (1890s), a former Freewill Holiness Church (ca. 1900), and others. Admission is free, but contributions are welcome.

Resistance Grows to Announced Closing of Historical Foundation at Montreat
The announced closing by December 2006 of the Historical Foundation at Montreat has prompted overtures from twenty-one presbyteries, including all presbyteries in North Carolina. All overtures are asking the General Assembly, meeting in Birmingham in late June, to halt further steps by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly toward closure, and to find ways to preserve the Historical Foundation at Montreat. COGA’s plan is to transfer the denominational records to Philadelphia and other materials to Columbia Seminary. However, the many church records and manuscripts that are only on deposit may be returned to their donors and dispersed. Presbyterians and scholars generally will lose a very important resource if the center in Montreat is closed.

The historical centers in Philadelphia and Montreat are funded through per capita assessments from the churches, and these funds are said to be inadequate for the administrative functions of our governing bodies. The Friends of the Historical Foundation at Montreat have formed a Campaign Committee to seek conditional pledges toward operating expenses and an endowment, in the event that the General Assembly allows the Historical Foundation to continue its operation. It is important that even small pledges are made, to demonstrate that the Foundation has wide support throughout the southeast. The Rev. Thomas K. Spence, former president of the NCPHS, is serving as chair of this committee, and our current president, Dr. Donald Saunders, is also serving on this committee. Those wishing to pledge or participate in this campaign should contact Tom Spence, 294 Fairway Lane, Sanford, NC 27332; tel. (919) 498-2159; e-mail:

Fall Tour 2005 in Rowan and Iredell Counties
The stream of Scotch-Irish and German settlers coming from Pennsylvania down the Great Wagon Road began to move into western North Carolina in the mid-1740s, in search of less expensive land. Many settlers found Rowan and Iredell Counties very appealing. The first known Presbyterian congregation in the area was Cathey’s Meeting House (ca. 1748), which became Thyatira Presbyterian Church in western Rowan County. In 1751, Rev. John Thomason established congregations that met at “preaching stands.” These were precursors of the following congregations: Rocky River, Centre, Hopewell, Third Creek, and Fourth Creek. Several years ago our group visited Rocky River and Hopewell, two churches that have embraced the celebration of heritage in their worship.

Third Creek Church in Cleveland, NC, worships in a sanctuary that dates to 1835. Their minister, Rev. Mr. David Carriker, was our guide and commentator during the bus tour on Saturday. He also catalogued the Third Creek cemetery, for which he received an award from our society several years ago.

Ms. Ashley Shoaf, Ms. Suzanne Casey, Rev. Mr. Malcolm Bullock, and other members First Presbyterian, Salisbury, greeted us warmly at the opening dinner and presentations that followed. Organized in 1821, its first minister had come to Salisbury as teacher of the classics at Salisbury Academy. An excellent history of the church was published in 1996 by Mrs. Jo White Linn, who also received an award from this society. She is a life member. After dinner Rev. Mr. David Carriker spoke to us about the history of both the antebellum churches and the segregated churches that were formed after the Civil War.

Thyatira Church

On Saturday our bus tour took us to the earliest organized Presbyterian church in the western part of North Carolina — Thyatira (1748). David Carriker’s running commentary enhanced our enjoyment of the trip. Back Creek (PCA) was formed in 1805 by a group of “shouting Presbyterians” from Thyatira. Centre Church (1751) was founded at the same time as Third Creek by John Thomason and has many interesting parallels. From there we traveled to Cameron Church, a lovely and historic African-American church where we enjoyed a sandwich lunch as we talked with church members. Members of Unity Church in Woodleaf, organized in 1788, greeted us warmly as the tour ended. Many of us strolled through the cemetery before returning to the bus. We passed several interesting houses and learned about their histories through the story-telling gifts of Rev. Carriker.

President Don Saunders’ Letter Regarding Department of History – Montreat Branch.
Last October our president, Dr. Donald Saunders, sent the following letter to the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, to the denomination’s Department of History in Philadelphia, and to the executives of each presbytery in North Carolina.

To Whom it May Concern:

On October 8, 2005 the executive committee of the North Carolina Presbyterian Historical Society (NCPHS), at its regular fall meeting, voted to protest the recent decision to close the Historical Foundation at Montreat, and authorized its president to communicate this protest to appropriate agencies.

The NCPHS has more than 170 members and a mailing list of some 1000 persons and groups. Since its inception more than forty years ago, the Society has sought diligently to further the understanding and appreciation of the history of North Carolina Presbyterianism. Its members are scholars, pastors, archivists, writers, genealogists, and others who have for decades found the resources of the Historical Foundation to be crucial to their work.

We are deeply disappointed that the Presbyterian Church USA is failing to find ways to keep open this valuable repository of its regional history. It is our sincere hope that it is not too late to reverse this decision. Over many years generous donors and diligent collectors have assembled at Montreat a set of resources which simply cannot be duplicated anywhere else, nor be used as effectively in any other locale. The dispersal of this collection marks a breach of faith with generations of loyal Presbyterians who have sought to preserve there a record of their work at home and abroad.

The NCPHS encourages the Friends of the Historical Foundation at Montreat, Inc., and any other agencies to work to overturn the recent decision and prevent the dispersal of the Historical Foundation at Montreat’s valuable resources.

Donald B. Saunders, PhD
President, North Carolina Presbyterian Historical Society

On October 25, 2005, the board of Friends of the Historical Foundation at Montreat, Inc., voted unanimously to respectfully appeal the COGA decision and its subsequent implementation.

In a letter dated November 14, James Cogswell, chairperson of the Friends Board, said: “The action was taken in light of the fact that COGA has not had opportunity to consider other possible options that would both save the Historical Foundation and relieve the Office of the General Assembly of responsibility for its support. We firmly believe that the closing of the Historical Foundation and the dispersal of its unique holdings is such a serious matter that it deserves a decision, not only by COGA, but by the General Assembly itself. Therefore we have requested that the COGA action be reconsidered, and that any implementation of that action be halted until the General Assembly may give this matter its serious consideration.”

The Friends are drawing up a plan for the Foundation to continue its unique role as an educational and research center for the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its partner churches around the world. In addition to serving as a regional historical center, the Foundation would work with the Montreat Conference Center and Montreat College toward becoming a Center for the Study of World Mission and Evangelism. For more information, please contact the Friends of the Historical Foundation at Montreat, P.O. Box 207, Montreat, NC 28757,

Award for History of the First Presbyterian Church, Rocky Mount
This year our society’s church history award is going to David A. Jones for his book, A History of the First Presbyterian Church of Rocky Mount, 1878-2003. The award will be presented at our spring meeting, April 22nd.

NCPHS presents awards each spring for outstanding books or other projects on church history.  Has your congregation compiled or published a history, made a history quilt, or established a history collection? Don’t keep it a secret!  Document it, and let Joy Heitmann know. 

Kelly G. and Mae M. Watts of Taylorsville, NC died in 2005. No details were provided, except that Ms. Watts was 92 years of age.

Happy 250th Anniversary
Red House Church, Semora, is noted as burial place of its ever-energetic Scottish pastor, Rev. Dr. Hugh McAden, who visited or founded an almost endless list of churches in the mid-Atlantic states during the mid to late 1700s. Ms. Cathy Long, Ms Lib McPherson, and others are documenting the church’s history as the October 2006 celebration approaches.

Buffalo Presbyterian Church, Greensboro, also traces its beginnings to the colonial era. Noted minister and educator, the Rev. Mr. David Caldwell, was an early pastor. Herb and Jenny Tucker of our society have been instrumental in achieving Historical Register recognition in 2002 and other accolades.

* * * * *

The Presbytery of Coastal Carolina is compiling its history, especially consolidation of four earlier presbyteries into the present body. Martha McLeod, a life member of NCPHS is one of the leaders of the project. Martha’s brother, the late Rev. Dr. John D MacLeod, Jr., was interim executive beginning in 1991 and shepherded the merger to fruition. The presbytery office is in Elizabethtown, near the site of our spring meeting.

Editor’s Note by Sally MacLeod Owens
I regret that I will miss the spring meeting, but I will be sporting a different hat that day as “Coach Terry’s Mom” at a Special Olympics swim meet.

Please send news of churches, church histories and other suggestions. Ideas are always welcome.

Reprints of "Report from 2004 Presbyterian General Assembly" regarding the future of the Presbyterian Historical Society are available at $1.00 each to cover copying and postage. A copy of a sample overture to General Assembly can also be purchased. As with other reprints, contact Sally MacLeod Owens. You may send your request and additional money with your tour registration.

Foote’s Sketches of North Carolina, 2nd ed., by Dr. Harold James Dudley is available again.

With permission of the late Dr. Harold J. Dudley, the society is reprinting a speech he first gave in 1964 entitled “Toryism in North Carolina.” If  you are interested in those who remained loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolution (as did many Scots from the areas of our 2003 meetings) and if you would like a copy, please send $2.00 to Sally.

Copies of Great Wagon Road maps are available for $1.00. Many churches in central North Carolina have their roots in the Shenandoah Valley. A reader aptly noted that the Great Wagon Road was the interstate highway of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Interstate 81 does indeed follow the center of the path the Scotch-Irish settlers followed.

Interior of Brown Marsh Church

The Battle of Elizabethtown
August 29, 1781
Elizabethtown was established as the county seat in 1773. Because of the number of Scots in the area, it was a Tory stronghold during the American Revolution. In August 1781 about 60 patriots from Duplin County forded the Cape Fear at night, holding their clothing and ammunition above their heads. In the early morning they launched a surprise attack on Elizabethtown. The approximately 300 defenders, mostly Highland Scots, fought but were routed after their commanders were killed. Many leaped into the steep ravine leading down to the river, known since as Tory Hole. The patriots then retreated to safe territory across the river, taking with them a number of freed patriot prisoners and a stockpile of guns, ammunition, and provisions.

Directions to Brown Marsh Church (in case you arrive late or get separated….):

• From Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church, go left (east) on Broad Street to Hwy 701 (Poplar St.).

• Turn right (south). Continue almost 4.8 miles to Harrelson Road on your left.

• Turn left and proceed 1.9 miles to T-junction with Mercer Mill - Brown Marsh Road.

• Turn right and go almost 2 miles. Brown Marsh Church will be on your left. Pull inside the gate and park on the grass.

• Directions to The Barn Restaurant

• From Brown Marsh, turn right on Mercer Mill – Brown Marsh Road. Proceed about 2 miles to Harrelson Road on the left.

• Proceed on Harrelson to Hwy 701. Turn right on 701 to Elizabethtown.

• Turn left on Broad St. (Hwys 41 & Bus. 87). Go 0.8 mi., passing the Presbyterian Church on the way. The Barn is on the right.

Need a Ride to Elizabethtown?
We may not be able to help, but if you need a ride, please call our secretary, Brenda Spence, at 919-498-2159. It is possible that someone who is planning to go would be able to take you. She could give you the names of some people to ask.

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