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The following are the Craighead Chronicles of which there will be 52, beginning with Homecoming of 2016 and going to Homecoming of 2017. These are in celebration of 250 years of God’s work in and through Providence Presbyterian Church.
My name is Reverend Alexander Craighead. I’ve been called maverick, meddler, zealot, radical, rebel, outspoken and cantankerous by historians. This is due in part to my refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the British government or to hold office under it, views held by the Covenanters of the time. But, I am getting ahead of myself. This church is about to embark on a year long celebration of its 250th anniversary. As I was a central figure in your founding and my son-in-law, The Reverend Richardson, was your first pastor, it is fitting that I should be chosen to tell your story. David Goldfield in UNCC Encyclopedia of Southern Culture wrote, “In the South, the past is more than learned, it is remembered. It is an integral part of present lives, and gives meaning and character to future prospects……For the structures themselves are more than brick and mortar replications of a past style or fashion; they are the stories of the communities and generations that have resided there.”
In March of 2016 your Special Events and Integrations committee, in an effort to share Providence Presbyterian’s rich history over 250 years, made the decision to publish these Chronicles over a 52 week period. Every twelve weeks will represent another fifty years starting with 1767-1816. The world experienced dramatic chaotic transformations of governments, technology and religion during the first fifty years of my Chronicles: the American Revolution, the Great Revival, the cotton gin, the elimination of the “5 civilized tribes,” the War of l812, and the addition of Georgia and Louisiana as states in our union.
Your early history is tied inexorably with the Scots-Irish, Scots who left Scotland between 1603-1700 and moved to Ireland’s Ulster region. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s form of worship, principals, government and discipline remain largely intact to this day. For political, religious, and economic reasons the Scot-Irish began migrating to America, 200,000 leaving between 1725 and 1768. This migration was aided by a British grant of 1,200,000 acres in North Carolina to Henry McCulloh an Ulster Scot. This grant over time became twelve tracks of 100,000 acres each of which a Lord Selwyn took two.
I was born in Donegal, Ireland where my father, Thomas, was also a pastor. My family joined the Scot-Irish migration to America arriving through Boston in 1714, eventually settling in Pennsylvania and joining the Synod of Philadelphia. I was ordained there in 1735 and almost immediately found myself at odds with the presbytery. These were, after all, the turbulent times leading up to the American Revolution and I was an active participant.
Several of my pamphlets and writings were printed by Benjamin Franklin and considered seditious by the Synod of Philadelphia. I look forward to telling you more about your forebears in the faith and their route to Mecklenburg in the next edition of the Chronicles.
I, like the rest of the Scot-Irish, was restless. The frontier beckoned. A frontier every bit as wild as the Wild West. The South of this period was rich beyond belief. It seemed everywhere, “that the land lavished its largesse upon them without their exertion….Crops that others elsewhere had to cultivate with unremitting diligence simply “thurst…forth” in the South “as easily as the weeds”. Wildlife was plentiful, the growing season long, pine forests were vast. By 1740 many Scot-Irish were migrating into North Carolina via a path called “the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road”. It followed trails forged by animals, traveled later by American Indians and traders and became a road that led tens of thousands from Pennsylvania into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and then into the Piedmont of North Carolina, a rough road of 735 miles. What became known as Mecklenburg had its first homesteaders in 1748. By 1753 there were 3000 homesteaders in Anson, Orange, Rowan and Mecklenburg. They were predominately Scot-Irish and German.
It is not fair, really, to use generalities to describe a people, though it is done all the time. The Scot-Irish of this period have their fair share of generalities: strong minded, practical, fearless, self-reliant, set in their ways, and thrifty. Or this: illiterate, irreligious, non law abiding, intolerant. William Byrd II of Virginia writing in the 1700’s thought of North Carolinians as “lazy, ignorant and filthy”. Grady McWhiney wrote in Encyclopedia of Southern Culture of the Scot-Irish immigrants, they prefer “herding to tilling, telling stories to accomplishing, talking and listening to reading and writing.
They are improvident, disdainful of worldly goods, violent, have either apathy or enthusiasm for politics or religion, are clannish and oriented to extended family rather than abstract community”.
Into this environment your forebears were desperate for ministers. Louise Matthews writes in Providence Presbyterian Church, “For more than twenty years the Presbyterians in this particular section had made supplications for ministers before their requests were answered”. In 1754 the settlers turned to the Synod of New York and asked for ministers. The result was the arrival of Ministers Beatty and Thane who were each to spend three months and were followed by Minister Hugh McAden. Known as the “Father of Presbyterianism in North Carolina” for his prodigious work in over fifty settlements, these three set the ground work for the establishment of the colonial churches. I and some of my congregation moved to North Carolina in 1757 from Augusta County, Virginia. I had a checkered past in Virginia having been arrested for doctrines some thought treasonous. That did not stop the Presbytery of Hanover from installing me as the pastor of the Rocky River and Sugaw Creek churches in 1758. I became the first settled minister in the area and thus begins your story.
I came to North Carolina in part due to Indians and was able to remain thanks in part to Indians. Let me provide some background and then explain. Prior to Europeans discovering North America, Indians lived and thrived here for well over 10,000 years, possibly longer. During what came to be known as the Woodland period, around 1,000 B.C., Indians ranged from the Great Lakes to Florida and engaged in farming and hunting. Between 700 B.C. and 1600 A.D Indians on the continent had a relatively high standard of living which included commerce and the arts. Land and resources were abundant beyond imagining. Over these thousands of years a culture developed that regarded the land as a communal resource rather than “personal property”. Land was shared. The Europeans, on the other hand, believed in “property” and “personal property” and land was something a person “owned”. As you can imagine, though efforts were made early on to “purchase” the land from the Indians the stage was set for conflict as the very meaning of ownership was misunderstood.
Far longer than your church’s 250 year history the Indians struggled with the effects of European immigration to North America. Between 1500-1600 nearly 50 to 60% died of smallpox and other Old World diseases, some researchers feel as many as 9 out of 10 Indians. In 1738 smallpox alone killed thousands of Cherokees and in 1759, after I arrived, smallpox killed nearly two-thirds of the Catawbas here in the Piedmont. Overtime, decimated by French-Indian Wars, the Tuscarora War, the Yamasee War and disease, the Indians were largely gone from eastern North Carolina.
Lest you think that life in your 21st century is chaotic…the world gone “amuck”, think again. Although the land in the counties surrounding your church were a near paradise, life was anything but just a few years before I arrived. Listen here to Bishop Spangenburg writing from Edenton after a tour of North Carolina in 1752. “Then the colony was still small and weak the older counties were allowed to send five men to the Assembly. This arrangement continued a long time. When the colony had grown much stronger, each county was allowed to send only 2 men apiece to the assembly. The Counties affected by this law, increased in number until they had a majority in the assembly and then they passed a law bringing the older counties under the same arrangement with themselves, viz, two men only to represent the county. The older counties hereupon much irritated, refused to send any representatives at all, but dispatched an agent to England with a view of having their rights restored to them. Meanwhile until this matter is decided they will not acknowledge any act of the assembly. There is therefore in the older counties a perfect anarchy. As a result, crimes are of frequent occurrence, such as murder robbery etc. But the criminals cannot be brought to justice, the citizens do not appear as jurors, and if court is held to decide such criminal matters no one is present. If any one is imprisoned the prison is broken open and no justice administered. In short most matters are decided by blows. Still the County Courts are held regularly and what belongs to their jurisdiction receives the customary attention.
“The Inhabitants of North Carolina may be divided into two classes. Some are natives of the State, these can endure the climate pretty well, but are naturally indolent and sluggish. Others have come here from England, Scotland, & from the Northern Colonies some have settled here on account of poverty as they wished to own land & were too poor to buy in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. Others there are again who are refugees from justice or have fled from debt: or have left a wife & children elsewhere,- or possibly to escape the penalty of some other crime; under the impression that they could remain here unmolested & with impunity. Bands of horse thieves have been infesting portions of the State & pursuing their nefarious calling a long time. This is the reason North Carolina has such an unenviable reputation among the neighboring provinces. Now there are many people coming here because they are informed that stock does not require to be fed in the Winter Season. Numbers of Irish have therefore moved in, but they will find themselves deceived because if they do not feed their stock in the winter they will find to their cost that they will perish.”
One year later, in 1753, the bishop had this to say about newcomers to the Piedmont….”After having traversed the length & breadth of N.C. we have ascertained that towards the Western mountains, there are plenty of people who have come from Virginia Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey & Even from New England. Even in this year more than 400 families with horses wagons, & cattle have migrated to this State & among them are good farmers & very worthy people who will no doubt be of great advantage to the State.”
Diary of August Gottlieb Spangenberg during his journey to North Carolina, Volume 04, Pages 1311-1314 (Translated from the original in the archives of the Moravian Church, Salem, N.C.
I think throughout all of human history hearts yearned for the spiritual, a connection to a life outside of itself…a filling of the inherent emptiness that exists when one is not connected to God. Time and again the Bible speaks of messengers identifying this need and calling for a return to God whether it is Old Testament Moses in Deuteronomy, Ezra in Nehemiah, or the Prophets, or Paul throughout the New Testament.
Life in North America, and in Europe, before and during the time of your church’s founding was chaotic. The lives of ordinary people were filled with upheaval and crisis and they were searching for “fellowship, solace, emotional release”, “islands of disciplined stability and Christian charity”. The Age of Reason (Enlightenment) was in full swing since 1685, proposing that humanity could be improved by rational change. It challenged religion, politics, brought about separation of church and state, was instrumental in the French and American Revolution and threatened the power brokers on both continents. Into this maelstrom entered a period you now call the Great Awakening from roughly 1720 to 1770 of which, proudly, I was a part.
The Great Awakening was not exclusive to North America, but included Germany, Scandinavia and England where John Wesley began the Methodist movement. In the colonies it began in Pennsylvania and New Jersey with the Scot Irish Reverend William Tennent and his four sons. The intent was to initiate a new “Age of Faith” to counter the down side of the “Age of Enlightenment”, to put heart over head, feeling over thinking and biblical revelation over human reason, according to Dr. Heyrman PhD Dept. of History, University of Delaware. The Reverend initiated religious revivals that used a strategy of emotionally charged sermons, frequently given extemporaneously. It was this very same William Tennent who started “The Log Cabin” seminary in New Jersey to train clergymen in heartfelt preaching and which later became Princeton University. The movement initially spread north to New England and Baptist churches. Conservative and moderate clergy were not happy with the emotionalism of the evangelicals. The country soon became divided along religious lines. The Anglicans and Quaker denominations grew with those opposed to the revival excess. The Baptists and Methodists gained evangelical converts, but the largest group of church goers in the region were by far the Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Even here they were divided by advocates (New Light) or opponents (Old Light) of the Awakening. I was a New Light advocate.
The Great Awakening inspired many to become missionaries and to move to the southern colonial frontier in the western piedmont and the Great Valley. In the 1740’s these were Presbyterian preachers from New York and New Jersey who went first to the Virginia Piedmont, as I did, and then south into Carolina. They were followed in the 1750’s by Separate Baptists from New England who migrated to central North Carolina.
You are the beneficiaries of these inspired missionaries. In particular Ministers Beatty and Thane appointed by the Synod of New York in 1754 who preached in this area and into South Carolina. The Reverend Hugh McAden in 1755 most likely preached to some of your forebears as he visited James Patton’s lodging in the Waxhaws and of course, me, Alexander Craighead. These were men of deep faith and courage who kept your “struggling infant church” alive in the wilderness. In Part 5 I will share more about these early missionaries and your beginnings.
I shared with you in an earlier Chronicle the fire of faith professed in the colonies during a time now called The Great Awakening. The Great Awakening was characterized by revivals and camp meetings throughout the colonies. Dr.Heyrman in her article Divining America for the National Humanities Center wrote, “Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists touted their churches as havens from all the evils afflicting ordinary people.” They also provided intellectual stimulation to a mostly illiterate population. It must seem astonishing to you to learn of the distances people would travel to hear these representatives of God’s word and promise. You might also find interesting the collaboration among ministers of different denominations as when Daniel Asbury, a Methodist circuit rider, started the Rock Spring Camp Meeting in Denver, North Carolina in 1794 with the help of two Methodist ministers and Dr. James Hall, a noted Presbyterian. Accounts from this event indicate that “some 300 people were converted” Learn NC. These revivals and camp meetings, in many cases, were huge gatherings of people not unlike those found at Billy Graham crusades in the twentieth century. The settlers were hungry for shepherds to guide and instruct their faith and give them hope. Louise Matthews in A History of Providence Presbyterian Church speaks of the Ulster Scots in this area hungering for ministers to preach to them and of how important was the role of the missionaries in your church’s story. “The story of the struggle to get a church formed and then supplied in the early days should inspire the people of Providence to a great appreciation of their debt to missions.” The combination of great distances, bad roads, widely scattered communities, Indians, and wilderness made missionary work here difficult for any but the most robust. Finally some presbyteries started requiring their pastors to take extended tours among the Scot-Irish settlements and not ordaining ministers until they had made a visit to the frontier. The indefatigable Reverend McAden very likely preached his sermons from the rock in your cemetery as he did in over fifty settlements in North Carolina in 1755. When I started preaching here on a Sunday morning settlers would start their day early, milk their cows, pack lunches, drive their wagons sometimes two hours to arrive at this rock, listen to a two hour service, eat their lunches, listen to another two hour service and then drive the two hours back home to milk their cows and fall into bed!!!!
Here is a description of a revival in Rowan County in June of 1801. “A sermon was delivered on Friday to a large, thoughtless, disorderly crowd, which became gradually composed and serious, until Monday, which was the most solemn day that my eyes ever beheld. Near three thousand persons attended, and of these near three hundred were exercised throughout the occasion, and perhaps not fewer than half of them on Monday.” Samuel McCorkle to John Langdon, August 9, 1802, in William Henry Foote, Sketches of North Carolina Historical and Biographical, Illustrative of the Principles of a Portion of Her Early Settlers (New York: Robert Carter, 1856)
In 1755 in what is now Mecklenburg County there were only 97 families, and of those families, 75 were Scot-Irish. Two parents and seven children were the norm. Unlike the east coast of the Carolinas, most of your early church members were not plantation owners. The vast majority of land owners had small farms of between 100-500 acres with 5% owning less than 100 acres. I should note here also how powerful, how influential in the life of the colonies was the Anglican Church. It was the only recognized church. In North Carolina the Marriage Act stipulated that only marriages performed in the Anglican Church were legal. The Vestry Act required all land owners to pay taxes to support the Anglican Church and declared no school master could “keep school…without the license of the Lord Bishop of London.” Richard P. Plummer, Charlotte and the American Revolution
When I was called by the New York Synod to come to the Rocky River Church, in present day Concord, they had been waiting for years for a full time minister. Sugaw Creek Church, in the NE section of present day Charlotte, established in 1755, was looking for a minister as well. Many of my parishioners from Windy Cove, VA came with me down the southern portion of the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road. In 1757 that road was rough and not wide enough for a wagon so many of us walked or rode horseback and used pack animals to carry our supplies and belongings. Today your Interstate 85 follows a portion of that very same route from Virginia into North Carolina. Arriving with me was my new wife, Jane, who I married after Agnes died, and my six daughters and two sons. I was a robust fifty with land holdings and slaves when I embarked on this portion of my career, my eldest daughter was twenty-three and my young son just five.
As I mentioned in my Introduction to these Chronicles, I was by every measure a rebel from a long line of rebels. My father and grandfather were outspoken Presbyterian ministers in Scotland and Ireland in constant conflict with England and the Anglican Church, and I carried on that tradition from the very onset of my career. It was not just the threat from Indians that inspired me to leave Virginia. Governor Dinwiddie had arrested me earlier on charges of espousing doctrines that were treasonous. Within our Presbyterian Church I was embroiled in difficult theological discussions. Put rather simply these issues had to do with conversion experiences, traditional services versus revivals, and on believers relying on their own inner spirits for guidance rather than church authorities to determine how they should think or decide. I was expelled from the Philadelphia Synod for holding revivals in neighboring churches, and became a part of the New York Synod which shared my views and was more responsive to the needs of the Presbyterians living in the frontier. I “believed that the king of England had forfeited his right to rule, that all people are equal in the eyes of God and that the democratic structure of the Presbyterian Church lent itself as a model for an American government.” Plummer. At my installation as pastor of Rocky River and Sugaw Creek in November of 1758, I grasped the yearnings for spiritual rebirth, education, tax relief, and independence and turned them into a roaring bonfire.
When I arrived Mecklenburg covered an area that now contains Anson, Carbarrus and Iredell counties. It was the fullness of time. Unencumbered by oversight from the Anglican Church or authorities in such remote territory, I was free to preach, teach and organize to a rapidly expanding and sympathetic population of mostly Presbyterians. Rocky River Church to the east in present day Concord and Sugaw Creek in northeast Charlotte was my start. Within eight years I had established Hopewell Church about ten miles north in present day Huntersville, Poplar Tent in present day south Concord, Centre to the northwest in present day Mooresville, Steele Creek to the west and finally fifteen miles to the south your very own Providence Presbyterian Church.
Within ten years 97 families had grown to 150 families in 1765 representing 1,350 persons. Just two years later that number had climbed to 1,600 of “mostly Presbyterians” in what is now
Mecklenburg county. My memory is a bit uncertain regarding how the land for your church was acquired. It had always been a convenient camping spot on the trading path due to the natural spring that still bubbles behind the cemetery. The Reverend McAden, among others such as myself, preached from the large rock in your cemetery before construction of any church. Generally congregations started out with brush arbors or tents for their meetings. At some point six to seven acres, a combination of gifts and purchase from the Rea and Matthews families, was given to the church and an early one room log house, 24′ by 50′ was constructed with a 6′ by 8′ semi circular pulpit and a narrow stair leading to its summit. Pews were backless benches and the floor bare earth. Your first, and possibly second, church buildings were located on the cemetery side of the property.
I very much like the name of your church as it means symbol of Jehovah’s protecting care. You have in your possession an iron plaque inscribed “Providence 1730”. It is believed to have been carried to North Carolina by members of a Presbyterian church of the same name in Pennsylvania, but I cannot offer proof. Many of your early members were from my congregation in Virginia who followed me to North Carolina. Days were full. Five to twenty miles daily on horseback was the norm as I traveled preaching, and administering, but also beginning to address the chronic lack of education that existed among you.
It might be best if I let Richard Plummer describe some weddings here lest you think I exaggerate for effect. I can tell you that wedding bans were posted at church to insure no bigamy was involved and most invitations were open to all. Most people married between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one and how they married depended on whether they were wealthy, common, slave or indentured. “Children from families with money and property usually had official, legal, marriage ceremonies. When their children married, families formed political and business alliances. Parents were very involved in helping children choose a marriage partner, although these were not arranged marriages….A father provided his daughter with a dowry, which involved the transfer of money or land to the groom. The dowry would help to support the new bride and the couple’s children.” L. Maren Wood, in LEARN, NC
Most of the Piedmont population of North Carolina was not wealthy and many could not afford the £50 for a marriage document nor did they want or have the means to be married by an Anglican minister. “…these people had much more freedom to choose a husband or wife than the elites. Because they were making their own way in the world and were not inheriting property from families, they could form marriages based on affection and friendship with little interference from their parents.” Wood, in LEARN, NC In the early years of this regions settlement many who desired to marry within the church could not because there were no ministers. For them the best option was to read the banns before the congregation and marry themselves. ” In these cases, the community would simply accept a couple and treat them as though they were married. This meant that the community expected a couple to be faithful to each other and that the man would be responsible for educating and providing for his children, even though there was no legal contract.” Wood, in LEARN, NC
Mr. Plummer provides a rollicking account of a Scot-Irish wedding at which I officiated. “On the wedding day, friends of the groom headed toward the church on horseback and stopped at cabins along the way, shooting off their rifles and passing around a bottle of whiskey. They were opposed by friends of the bride, who were also armed with rifles.” What followed was nothing short of a free for all….as the brides friends created blockades, held racing, wrestling, running, jumping and gander pulling contests for whiskey prizes until FINALLY they met at the church. ” The bride was ushered into the church by the best man, rather than her father, to stand in front of (me) at the altar. During the wedding, the bride and groom put their right hands behind their backs. Then the gloves on those hands were removed by the best man and the bridesmaid simultaneously, allowing the rings to be placed later on their fingers. After (I) conducted the ceremony, there were more rifles shot into the air and much yelling, kissing and drinking. Then a dance was held with jigs and reels to the sounds of a fiddle.” This was followed by mock abductions shoe stealing, toasts, here’s to the bride, thumping luck and big children.” Finally the bride and groom were taken to their new home and escorted to the bedroom with much advice along the way. “The next morning, a bottle of whiskey was brought to the bride and groom, and the fun continued, sometimes for days.” Richard P. Plummer, Charlotte and the American Revolution
Where to begin. I’ve never been at a loss for words, but there just is not enough space between now and the last three Chronicles of this period to say all I have to share with you. I, and your early church, lived in the most extraordinary of times. My fiery preachings calling for independence from Great Britain and resistance to the North Carolina authorities set the stage for the rebellion that followed. Three years before the Boston Tea Party the Regulator Movement, founded by many in my churches in 1766, was rebelling against corruption in government and unfair taxation. Two years before the Boston Tea Party or Lexington a major battle in Alamance pitted 2,000 Regulators against the better organized and equipped militia of Governor Tryon resulting in punitive actions that fueled the flames of the movement toward independence. Many in Tryon’s militia were confused on the field of battle as they faced their friends, family members and questioned loyalties, some choosing to leave the field. Within the Presbyterian Church concern and uncertainty caused ministers McAden, Creswell, Pattillo and Cadwell to write letters in 1768 to Presbyterians in Mecklenburg asking them to be true to the King and to the North Carolina government. My remaining Chronicles in this fifty year period will focus on the American Revolution and your church’s place in that history.
The majority of people living in Mecklenburg in the years leading up to the revolution were Scot-Irish. They brought with them an animosity toward England dating back to 122 A.D and the Romans. The history of their relationship was fraught with violence and revenge. Over a thousand years the Scots developed into a fiercely independent culture, noteworthy for its lack of respect for authority and its dependence on family relationships, or clans, as critical for its survival. The Covenanter movement, of which I was a part, continued to press for greater freedom from England’s restrictive laws especially regarding religion. The term “red neck” came from the practice of wearing red cloths around our necks to signify our position against Anglican bishops. It should come as no surprise to you then that when local sheriffs tasked with collecting taxes would require larger amounts than were due, require landowners to travel great distances to pay their taxes, would not record taxes as paid, and would routinely confiscate land for unpaid taxes in reality paid that a movement would arise to address the wrong.
Men less mercurial then myself tried negotiating and petitioning for redress of grievances. Hezahiah Alexander, one of the elders in my church, Petitioned NC Governor William Tryon in 1769, but to no avail. Add to the corruption I stated above the facts: that some taxes, as in the Vestry Act, required taxes for the Anglican Church when the Presbyterian Church was in essence outlawed, many taxes were punitive in their amount, and a thousand plus years of hatred and mistrust and you clearly see the ingredients for conflict. “All we want is to be governed by law, and not the will of officers.” Herman Husband, NC Assemblyman. It was Herman’s subsequent arrest in September of 1770 that in the end led to violent rioting by a large group of Regulators. The court was disrupted, the judge barely escaping with his life and the sheriff badly beaten. As so often is the case what followed was a law restricting more freedoms. The January 1771 Johnston Riot Act allowed local militia to maim or kill rioters without evidence and to make unlawful the assembly of 10 or more people. In an effort to address some grievances the Marriage Act not allowing marriages by any but Anglican clergy was rescinded, but by this time the fever of rebellion was burning with no antidote but revolution in sight. In April of that same year a group of Regulators composed of members from my Rocky River and Sugaw Creek Churches intercepted a wagon train of military supplies that Governor Tryon intended to use in a campaign to snuff the rebellion forming in Mecklenburg. They were successful and the fight was on.
Your pastors were courageous men who, at great risk to themselves, undertook to teach, nourish, guide, support, and grow your faith during some of the most difficult, challenging and turbulent times in our country’s history. Only two of these men were actually installed as pastors for Providence during this fifty year span, William Richardson and James Wallis. The others were supply pastors that filled in nearly two decades during the chaotic period of the American Revolution. Your church member, Louise Barber Matthews, does heroic service in her A History Of Providence Presbyterian Church, most especially in her chapters covering these early men of faith that served you so well. I encourage you to pick up a copy.
I knew your first pastor, William Richardson, who at the age of twenty-nine conducted the installation services for me at Rocky River while serving as a missionary to the Upper Towns of the Cherokee Indians, and then later married my, “beautiful, high-spirited, and talented Agnes (Nancy) in 1760”. Matthews. Richardson was born in England to a very wealthy and well connected family. He attended University of Glasgow, decided to become a minister, came to the New World, Virginia, around 1752 and studied under Samuel Davies, a highly respected cleric, inspired orator and proponent of missions to the Indians. I liked Richardson, but he was totally unsuited for the arduous task of traveling among the Indians. Hundreds of miles in the saddle, sleeping out in all manner of weather, the dangers of wilderness living coupled with the isolation, made his task unsuitable for only the most robust…which he was not. In 1759 he received a call from Waxhaws Church which was in St. Mark’s Parish above Orangeburg. After marrying my daughter, Nancy Craighead, he bought land, built a two story house he called Poplar Springs and organized a school. His work as a minister covered nearly seventy miles where he set about organizing churches, all but one being in South Carolina. Richardson served under the Presbytery of Charleston and most of his work took place in South Carolina. However, he visited us regularly, was familiar with the people of Providence who I was finding increasingly difficult to serve due to illness. He found it impossible to ignore their pleas to formally organize. He established the church and ordained the elders: Andrew Rea, Archibald Crockett, John Ramsey, and Aaron Howie in 1767. You were just twenty miles from Richardson’s home. He could preach and conduct services, and minister to your congregants with greater ease than his more remote churches.
Indian attacks, violence, malaria and milk sickness were primary killers during this time, but so were the effects of depression and accompanying alcoholism. Pastors were not immune. Later in his life Richardson “became morose and melancholy at home, especially in his last years.” Matthews. He died young at forty-two, the victim of a suspected suicide. I will not elaborate here nor am I surprised by the centuries of speculation that accompanied his death. My daughter was beautiful, she married again within a year, they were well off, she was outspoken, as am I and showed great courage during the war. Betty Jackson, mother of Andrew, was her closest personal friend. My son-in-law served Providence faithfully for five years. At his death he and Nancy were childless. He had amassed a large estate which included a library and many slaves. Many hoped his beloved nephew, William Richardson Davie, would fill his shoes as Providence’s pastor, but he chose to enter the army where he served with recognition during the American Revolution. He went on to practice law, become Governor of North Carolina in 1798, special envoy to France in 1799, and introduced the bill to charter the University of North Carolina.
1771 and Providence is again without a spiritual head. In our next Chronicle I will continue the history of your pastors during the war years and immediately after and follow that with a Chronicle of your church’s place in the history books and the war’s aftermath.
In Part 10 of the Chronicles, I began sharing with you the stories of your first pastors. Before we finish with those men we need to look back and bring into clearer view the extraordinary times and circumstances of your founding and just how influential you and my other six churches were in igniting the fire for our country’s independence and fighting to bring it about. As Richard P. Plumer writes in his book, Charlotte and the American Revolution, “But why had it been only in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, that twenty seven men of such varying backgrounds and lives first took the step from which there would be no turning back? The answer is that only in Mecklenburg County had so many men and women come under the influence of a passionate and extraordinary man, a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian minister who history should honor among those whose lives and words led inexorably to the founding of our American republic. That man was Reverend Alexander Craighead, whose preaching and political agitating in the crucial decades before 1775 made him one of Americas first revolutionaries…” During my nine years in North Carolina I established seven churches, a school and served as a missionary minister to outlying churches. By 1775, 70 percent of the residents of Mecklenburg County had been members of my churches. As I stated earlier, I believed fervently in freedom of the spirit, conversion experiences, a more democratic church, laypeople having a say in church decisions and in theological discussions. I preached this relentlessly to predominately Scot-Irish Presbyterians already filled with a thousand year history of hungering for freedoms and willing fighters to redress wrongs.
Of the twenty seven signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence eleven were elders in my churches, nineteen were members. You had three members that signed the Declaration: Henry Downs, John Flenniker, and Neill Morrison. Your member, Captain James Jacks was assigned to carry the Declaration to the North Carolina delegates attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The Declaration, prudently called Resolutions, was published in numerous North Carolina papers, spreading the argument for independence from England throughout the state. John McKnitt Alexander hosted the group that crafted the document at his huge estate near present day Huntersville. I used to visit with John at his home regularly. They were my friends, three of them elders in my churches, Rocky River and Sugaw Creek: James Balch, Dr. Brevard, Hezekiah Alexander, and Abraham Alexander that wrote the original Declaration. When war began Mecklenburg’s population represented only 3% of North Carolina residents, but it represented 25% of the soldiers from the colony. Plumer, It is interesting that King George III described the Revolution as “a Presbyterian war.” Plumer.
I do not write this to boast. I was one of many in the colonies whose desire for: freedom, an end to corruption, the right to live under fair laws administered justly inspired them to give unselfishly of their time and talent and with no regard for personal safety to work tirelessly to bring about those ends. I died in 1766 after two years of ill health. The seeds that were planted during my nine years of labor in Mecklenburg bore fruit beyond my wildest imagining. The years of fighting took a toll on the church at large in North Carolina. A pall of spiritual confusion and darkness fell heavily over the land at war’s end.
I have arrived at the end of our first fifty year period in the history of Providence Presbyterian, and feeling much like St. Paul, there just is not enough time to tell of all the witnesses to faith and to God’s work in your church and country. As we look forward to the next fifty years we leave the last fifty challenged by the effects of eight long years of The Revolutionary War, followed by nearly twenty-nine years of skirmishes with the British culminating in the War of 1812, and yet another campaign against the Cherokee nation. So much fighting, so much death, stress and violence. In 1777 “The North Carolina Continental brigade lost so many men in the fall and winter that nine regiments that should officially have totaled 4,500 – 5,000 men only had 1,072 men present for duty.” Josh Howard, Research Branch of Archives and History NC Office 2010. Louise Matthews states in her book, A History Of Providence Presbyterian Church, “During the long years of the Revolution, the ministers were completely occupied with strengthening the morale of the people in their life-and-death struggle. The emphasis of preaching was upon patriotism, Christian suffering and sacrifices, and the providence of God. After the war was over, the immediate reaction was demoralization, and the vitality of religion was the lowest known in perhaps several centuries.” Pg.90 This last sentence is hugely important for an understanding of the inestimable gift to you of “the Revd. James Wallis, a distinguished scholar and man of high order of talents….the first minister to give protracted service to Providence and he spent his ministerial life in the congregation.” William Henry Foote, Sketches of North Carolina, Historical and Biographical (1846), I will speak more of your James Wallis in just a minute.
Although the term PTSD is a product of your era, the effects of war upon humanity are timeless. It is not an exaggeration to imagine many of your church’s early members and those of their neighbors feeling the effects of a lifetime at war. The NIH lists some of those symptoms of PTSD as: being easily startled, feeling tense, difficulty sleeping, angry outbursts, negative thoughts about the world, feeling guilt, loss of interest in enjoyable activities. Add to these possible side effects from years of conflict the abuse of alcohol and a lack of religious instruction and worship. In addition to the immorality that followed the war, “was the attitude of certain influential leaders rejecting (without attacking) Christianity. Among men of education, particularly young men, it became a mark of distinction to scoff at the Bible.” Matthews, pg 90, Providence Presbyterian Church . Into this cauldron of darkness came The Second Great Awakening.
It was Presbyterian minister, James McCready, preaching against the immorality and greed in the Haw River and Stoney Creek congregations of Guilford County who is credited with sparking the badly needed religious revival called the Second Great Awakening. During this period, which peaked around 1804, but lasted well up to the Civil War, religious revivals were held here by Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians that attracted thousands seeking a message of salvation. I’ve spoken of revivals in earlier Chronicals, but it bears repeating that these revivals changed the course of our religious history and that of the country’s. It was at your church, on March 27, 1802, that a historic revival with a crowd estimated at five thousand and with seventeen ministers present, took place. Ministers writing after the revival were baffled by the scenes of conversion they witnessed. Such was the hunger for God’s word and salvation that the thousands who attended camped for days in the area where our church now stands, cutting most of the oaks for tents and firewood, attending services, praying and resting. I believe, as Louise Matthews writes in her history, “There is no doubt that in Providence this powerful religious awakening produced some lasting conversions and increased church memberships. Within two years the primitive log church was replaced by a new and larger edifice.” More importantly, it ended the era of the Deists and the fear of Benjamin Franklin that the church could not survive much longer. Building on this foundation was our own James Wallis. I will write of him in our next Chronical.
I may have set the stage, built the foundation for your church, but without the service of James Wallis it is hard to know where you and your congregation would be today. He gave his life and full career of nearly thirty years to you. In my Part 12 Chronicle I wrote of the malaise in religion following the Revolutionary War and the threat of the Deists. Church attendance was dismal. In 1792, at the age of 30, Pastor Wallis became your minister. It was said of him, “great crowds came on foot or rode six, eight, ten or fifteen miles on mules or horseback or in the then fashionable gig, and he (Wallis) had a chance to instruct and impress them and they had a good chance to know and feel for him. And no man ever did that people more real good and left his mark more plainly or impressed his character more deeply than James Wallis.” R.Z. Johnston, North Carolina Presbyterian, 1870. James was born in Mecklenburg from parents born in Maryland. He was educated in Charlotte, and completed college at Mt. Zion in Winnsborough, South Carolina. I, of course, never met Pastor Wallis, but later historians described him as being of “small stature, quick in his motions, warm in his attachments, ardent in his delivery of sermons, and above all, fearless in his actions.” Matthews, Providence Presbyterian Church. He certainly needed to be fearless as he faced one challenge after another during his tenure. James married Jean (Mary) Alexander in 1793 and subsequently had seven children.
An intense effort was underway among our clergy to address the spiritual desert of the time. Revivals were heralding the Second Great Awakening. Your church membership grew as a result and Pastor Wallace oversaw the construction of a new frame sanctuary on the cemetery side of the road across from your current sanctuary. It contained galleries and outside stairways to accommodate your black membership. Another tool to combat the threats to our faith was education. Pastor Richardson had started a school at Providence, but it was Pastor Wallace, soon after his arrival, who created and taught at what he called, the Providence Academy. He was considered a leader in education and served on the board of trustees of UNC during the last decade of his life. At the time of the Academy’s founding there were just four schools of any excellence in the state: the “log college” with Dr. John Hall that became Davidson College, the Science Hall in Hillsborough, the Zion Parnassus School in Salisbury which became Salisbury High School, and the Fayetteville Classical School. Interestingly, the last principal of the Academy became the first president of Davidson College.
Reoccurring themes in these future Chronicles include change, the stress of change, conflict of ideas, and God’s faithfulness to his people throughout. I, after all, have a most interesting perspective on your church and its history having been there only at the onset, but having the advantage of the “longer view” Ha. Change is not easy. It involves letting go of the familiar and venturing into the unknown which is a fearful prospect. Often the uncomfortable familiar is chosen over the frightening unknown with its promise of better conditions. Your Director of Music can speak with greater detail of the controversy surrounding the Psalmody. It was yet another crisis faced by Pastor Wallis that he saw through with grace, but resulted in several families leaving the church and eventually starting the Sardis Church where they used the Rous’ Psalms of David in English Metre, while your church began to use Isaac Watts’ Hymns. Several changes took place in the Orange Presbytery after Pastor Wallis was ordained and installed here in September of 1792. Your church was called New Providence at the time and it was then considered one of the largest and most important congregations in the Presbytery. In 1795, the Synod of the Carolinas was held at your church and the decision was made to divide the Presbytery of Orange and make a new Presbytery for the growing western part of North Carolina and call it Concord. Around 1800 the “New” was dropped from your name. Pastor Wallis died in 1819 at the age of fifty-seven. His wife Mary died in May of 1816. Both husband and wife are buried in the Providence cemetery across from your sanctuary.
My next section of Chronicles takes your church through the years 1817 to 1867. Early in this period Thomas Jefferson and James Madison served as Presidents of the United States. The War of 1812 solidified our independence and proved to Britain the strength of our naval power. In just twenty years the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney transformed the economy of the South, and the Federalists and the Republicans disintegrated as political parties. As the first woman in American history has accepted the nomination for the office of President of the United States, I thought briefly touching on the roles of women during the Ante-Bellum period in North Carolina an interesting idea.
According to Victoria E. Bynum, former professor of history at Texas State University, there were four classes of women represented in North Carolina prior to the Civil War: Women in the yeoman farmer class, women in the poor white class, women in the planter class and enslaved and free black women. High death rates due to child birth, disease, accidents and wars caused an equally high remarriage rate. Widowed women were at greater economic risk than men. Young widowed women were often made to live with relatives. Women in the yeoman class were essential to the success of the family. Bynum describes one such women living in Chapel Hill on 325 acres as “a crucial part in the family’s struggle by producing clothing that she sold to the public. In addition, she occasionally operated a sort of “bed-and-breakfast inn for travelers. While her husband sold horse feed, tobacco plugs, and liquor to guests and passers by, Nancy provided lodgers with clean bedding, supper, and breakfast- all for a profit that contributed to the family’s income.” Bynum uses words like thrift, efficiency, and hard work to describe the characteristics of these women.
Women in the poor white class lived in families that did not own land and were often forced to work outside their homes to pay rent. Early in this period cotton mills were rare so these women worked in the homes and fields of neighbors. Much is already written of the women in the planter class. These women frequently filled two roles. “First, they were household managers….(they) also filled the role of plantation mistress, overseeing the labor of the enslaved persons who enabled them to fulfill their responsibilities and duties.” Bynum. Black women, enslaved and free, led vastly different lives then their white counterparts. Slave marriages were not recognized by law. There were no protections to keep these families intact whether on their owners property or off. Powerless and vulnerable, black women struggled through slavery to hold their families and marriages together.
The largest disparity between the classes was in the area of education. With the exception of the planter class, educating women was not considered necessary at the time. Early on women in the planter class had tutors brought to them to teach reading and math. Terrell A. Crow, Encyclopedia of North Carolina, writes that between 1820-1860 almost 300 academies, mostly denominational, were created to teach these women math, history, reading, literature and the ornamental arts. As you will see, during this fifty year period the role of women in southern culture and the life of the church will change as war and economic pressures prevail.
Part 15 Antebellum Period
Women and the Church
Before proceeding I wish to thank one of your members, Lynne Snider, for her research on this period in your church. She suggested that the introduction to this segment might be the quote from Louise Matthews book, Providence Presbyterian Church. “The purpose of the history has not been to glorify the deeds of our ancestors but to inspire us to serve more effectively in the present. Any backward look should illumine the present and serve as a guide for the future with the end result of renewed commitment.”
The above quote seems especially appropriate as we look at the contributions to our church and society made by women who at the time had no voice. “The seasonal routines of agrarian life defined North Carolina culture throughout most of the antebellum era…Marriage was a civil contract in North Carolina, but women remained unequal partners…the legal system offered little help.” Terrell Crow, Encyclopedia of North Carolina. Women in all classes were integral to the success of the economy, but with no say in how it was run, while doing work that was exhausting and enduring repeated pregnancies. The invention of the cotton gin made cotton production on a large scale feasible, and brought with it the need for more slaves. While the north was transformed by the industrial revolution, North Carolina became resolutely agrarian. Throughout most of this fifty year period powerful men on the east coast of the state controlled the state economy and government, determined “to maintain white male authority over wives and slaves.” Crow. In 1816, Nathanial Macon, a state congressman, spoke against reform that would have made elections more representative because, “of fears it could lead to the abolition of slavery. Jeff Broadwater, North Carolina in the Age of Jefferson. The Presbyterian church reflected this culture by not allowing women to speak or pray at church meetings.
During the religious revivals that swept North Carolina during the nineteenth century, Yeoman women in particular were drawn to them as they could pray publicly for the first time. “They fed and housed traveling ministers..More women than men became church members during the nineteenth century. Baptist women as early as 1810 raised money for church missionary work, and women of other denominations followed. Groups of women started charitable organizations…Antebellum society accepted this work outside the home as an extension of women’s roles as wives and mothers.” Crow. It was during the late 1700’s and 1800’s that Presbyterian women started Missionary, Tract, Bible and Ladies Aid Societies. The Ladies Aid was sometimes called the Female Cent Society as women paid one cent to belong. There is no recognition on record of women in Providence Presbyterian Church prior to 1876, and then it is in regard to a “Evangelistic Fund”. But…again, I am getting ahead of myself. In 1801 Presbyterian Joanna Graham Bethune introduced the concept of Sunday Schools to the United States after seeing them in Scotland.
During this fifty year period we had eight pastors at Providence. I will talk about their contributions, lack of education in NC, communion services that ran for two days, sermons that ran for three hours, and much more in the next Chronicles.
At risk of being over simplistic, but you already know I am a risk taker, it was primarily the advent of new technologies that dictated the economic direction of the south and the nation during this second fifty year period. For the South it was the invention of the cotton gin, the power loom and the sewing machine. These developments coupled with the increasing demand for cotton world wide turned the South back to an agrarian state with dependence on large land holdings, and a cheap labor source. In North Carolina it eventually consolidated power on the east coast and among the wealthy plantation owners. Two important Federal legislations had a profound influence on the South’s economic growth: The Indian Removal Act of 1830, and the U.S. Ban on importing slaves from Africa.
Land…by 1830 the need for cheap land for cotton cultivation was apparent. North Carolina planters were aided in this quest when in 1830 Senator Hugh White serving on the Commission on Indian Affairs reported a bill to Congress to exchange land with Indians in all states and territories and have the Indians moved west of the Mississippi. Andrew Jackson reasoned Indians, “could not live under the laws of the States” and therefore needed to move elsewhere. He signed the bill, which passed Congress by only five votes, into law May of 1830 and said in his Annual Address to Congress of that year, “It gives me pleasure to announce to congress that the benevolent policy of the Government steadily pursued for nearly thirty years in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy conclusion.” The North Carolina Cherokees, who struggled with encroachment of their lands from the early 1700’s, and of their culture, were not in favor of the move. My son-in-law, your first pastor, William Richardson, was one of many Presbyterian missionaries to the Cherokee nation. Eighty years later, now part of the fabric of life in your area of North Carolina, these people were told to leave.
“…setting the stage for the forced removal of the Cherokee and the infamous Trail of Tears. In 1835, a small, unauthorized group of about 100 Cherokee leaders (known as the Treaty Party) signed the Treaty of New Echota (Georgia), giving away all remaining Cherokee territory in the Southeast in exchange for land in northeastern Oklahoma. Principal Cherokee Chief John Ross (pictured) collected more than 15,000 signatures, representing almost the entire Cherokee Nation, on a petition requesting the U.S. Senate to withhold ratification of this illicit treaty. The Senate, however, approved the treaty by a margin of one vote in 1836. The treaty gave the Cherokee people two years to vacate their mountain homeland and go west to Oklahoma.” by William L. Anderson and Ruth Y. Wetmore, 2006. Encyclopedia of North Carolina
Now land was available and cheap. The political power of the larger plantations grew with the acquisition of more land. During the Antebellum period most of farmers in your area had small to medium sized farms with fewer slaves and little voice in State affairs. Slaves needed to cultivate and harvest cotton not only provided free labor, but insured an expanding labor force. The U.S ban on importing slaves from Africa drove up prices for slaves. Over time, with over cultivation of the land, land values dropping, an individual’s wealth became their slaves.
It is easy for me now, writing from the advantage of time, to have a clearer idea of the evolution of conflict, along with a better understanding of the views of all those involved. What seems so obvious today, with the passage of years and intense scrutiny, was not clear at the time. I owned slaves as did most of your ministers up to and through the Civil War. As the war approached many, like your Pastor Robert Hall Morrison, were torn. “Like most other prominent men of the area, he owned a number of slaves, but there is evidence that he bought only one, “”a young girl from one of the neighbors,”” the other slaves being inherited. His heart was torn by conflicting loyalties, and a friend wrote later, “”though a Union man at heart, he cast his lot with his people.”” One can only imagine the bitter anguished hours this minister spent in indecision and prayer.” Matthew, Providence Presbyterian Church In the beginning of the war many ministers anticipated a, “a short war and glorious victory….they made speeches for the purpose of soliciting recruits for the conflict.” Matthew. As the war progressed ministers were called to serve as army chaplains as well as aid your congregation in its “desperate struggle for survival.” Matthew.
Following are excerpts from a sermon given in my home church of Sugar Creek by the Reverend Lafferty, R. H. on February 28, 1862. This sermon is typical of the issues being addressed by your ministers at the time. Food and material shortages, inflation, drunkenness and lawlessness were rampant and many men were seeking to avoid conscription. “We, my hearers, citizens of these Confederate States, are engaged in a terrible war, in self defence. It is a war, not of our seeking, but forced upon us. In the commencement of these difficulties we used every means that honor and religion demand, to avoid hostilities. We sent our Commissioners again and again to the Capital of the United States for the purpose of adjusting our affairs in a friendly manner. They were spurned from the throne, treated with contempt, insult, and with dark, dark duplicity. We sought not the blood, the soil, nor the treasures of our enemies: we only asked them to let us alone, and permit us to work out our own destiny, as a people. We plead for this inalienable privilege and right. This was peremptorily denied us. We then arose in the defence of our own soil, and in the protection of our homes, and committed our cause into the hands of God who judgeth righteously. God favored our cause in a remarkable manner, and gave us as signal deliverances as he gave to the children of Israel. We have declared that we put our trust in God, and therefore virtually have declared that we would obey God, turn from sin, and hate covetuousness, as a people, and as individual citizens. This has been our position from the beginning. It is a solemn position; for it secures to us the chastising rod of God if we disobey him, or violate his commandments.”
“Recently our cause has not prospered, our army has again and again been defeated, the enemy has triumphed. We may well ask, why is this? Has God forsaken us, and given us over to the power of our enemies? I answer, no. But God may in these adverse providences be saying to us as he said to Joshua, ‘Israel hath sinned, there is an accursed thing in the midst of thee: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you.'”
“In view of these disasters, and under a sense of dependence upon God, our most worthy and beloved President, Jefferson Davis, has recommended that the people throughout these Confederate States observe this day, as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, and that we confess our sins, and implore the guidance and protection of God. This then is our professed business in the Sanctuary to-day. It is a matter of vast importance that we look at our sins, and mourn over them with a godly sorrow. I will at this time notice some of those sins over which we should mourn to-day, and for which God may be chastising us as a people.”
“In conclusion, I will add that there are two things on which I have no doubt. First. That God will chastise us for our sins. God chastises nations as well as individuals. And we may be well assured that our ingratitude, our folly in converting the blessings of God’s hand into a curse, our intemperance, our profanity, and our covetousness, will bring down upon our heads the corrections of our Heavenly Father…..Secondly. That our cause will eventually triumph. All over the land there is the consciousness that ours is a righteous cause. Our warfare is the sacred work of defending our homes from the polluting touch of the invader. God has given us the assurances of his in favor in those signal victories which he has granted unto us. And although our arms have recently been defeated, and disasters have overtaken us, yet we are not to sink down in despondency and gloom, but we are to betake ourselves to the throne of grace, as we do this day, and there confess our guilt, seek the Divine guidance and protection, and renewedly place our trust in God.”
How was it this once “promise land” became known as the “Rip Van Winkle State” after the man in Washington Irving’s story who slept away a lifetime? How, from being one of the motivators of the movement for independence and freedom, did we become blind to the industrial revolution and social change? As I mentioned in earlier Chronicles, some of the state’s decline came about due to powerful plantation owners, primarily in the eastern part of the state, keen to keep “cotton king” and the state agrarian. Much of the North Carolina’s population resided on small farms. According to Jeff Broadwater, Professor of History, Barton College, while the rest of the United States in the early 1800’s experienced rapid growth and social change, North Carolina declined. The North Carolina assembly did not support public education, one-third of the white population was illiterate. Prior to the Civil War North Carolina was also declining in population. During the ante-bellum period “almost one-third of the people born in the state moved away.” including, members of my own family. As growth slowed and land values dropped state revenues declined causing any improvements to infrastructure or education to come to a standstill. By the end of the ante-bellum period North Carolina was largely dependent on imports to sustain her economy paid for by her cotton industry. North Carolina entered the war optimistic her ports would remain open for business because Europe needed her cotton.
The outcome of this misguided optimism, years of relying on a cotton economy, and a state government controlled by a powerful few was war and severe deprivation for its citizens. David Dodge painted a painful picture of the life our congregation and the south endured during the war years in his “Domestic Economy In The Confederacy”, The Atlantic Monthly, August 1886. Plagued by inadequate transportation, North Carolina also had few to no factories, machinery, or skilled workmen. Once the North’s blockade took effect, early in the war, citizens resorted to old spinning wheels, old looms, blacksmiths and cobblers. Early in the war effort women donated clothes, carpets, blankets, and curtains to make shirts, flags and bandages for the war effort. Due to the blockade these could not be replaced and had to be made at home. This required every home to have its own cotton patch to grow cotton for clothes, but the effort required cards to prepare the cotton lint for spinning and the cards wore out with no way to replace them. Families and soldiers ran out of leather and resorted to wood for the soles of shoes. Ash and willow wood was used with leather uppers made from carriage curtains or buggy tops held on by tacks. Sometimes metal was found to put on the wooden soles to help their longevity making the shoes noisy and clumsy. Coffee disappeared. All types of seeds were tried as a substitute with many using cotton seeds and sometimes rye and okra seeds. Sugar was replaced by sorghum. The south ran out of paper, it ran out of iron. It ran out of food. Citizens were exhorted to plant corn for themselves and for the army. Corn grew plentifully, but much of the crop was turned over to stills for the making of liquor. Speculators drove up the prices of the few commodities that made it through the blockades. Six men held control of only two nail factories in the entire south. What stores there were closed quickly after any merchandise arrived on its shelves. North Carolina did have salt, but it was in high demand and short supply. By the closing war years the state refused to allow salt to leave the state and gave salt first to wives and widows of soldiers. Eventually most of your families were living on sorghum and sweet potatoes. Taxes were crippling. There was a 5% property tax, 20% income tax, 10% farm produce tax, impressment of all horses and guns, and eventually the drafting of slaves.
In the coming Chronicles we will explore the lives of your pastors during the ante-bellum years as well as your black members. We will look at the construction of your sanctuary and your school. Robert Zenas Johnston your pastor during and after the Civil War, wrote these words after the war, they are a fitting ending to this Chronicle. “When the war was over, our losses were like those of our people. We were poor and without a home to live in, and our people were so impoverished they could not then provide us with one; and there was not a manse in the Presbytery. We worked till we built us one and were growing to it and improving it when a call brought us to Lincolnton in 1872.”
I plan to open the next several Chronicles with some observations of the health conditions that prevailed in the South during this period, and the threats they posed to your congregation and pastors. As Theodore Rosengarten wrote in his outstanding history, Tombee Portrait Of A Cotton Planter, “Next to the weather, itself an important influence on hygiene, the awesome problems of maintaining bodily health and strength were more frequently noted in the journal than any other subjects…..Sickness and death tormented all classes of people.” Rosengarten goes on to note that women’s childbearing years were dangerous as many died or were permanently disabled giving birth. Large families were the norm during this period, not surprising in an agricultural society. What is surprising is that women, already weakened or disabled by childbirth, continued to have children as “Birth control was primitive and cumbersome, but not unknown.” Rosengarten. The three pastor’s families I cover in this Chronicle had a total of thirty children!
Samuel Craighead Caldwell, my grandson, was your supply pastor from 1819 to 1821. He was the pastor of my Sugar Creek Church for thirty-five years. A close and dear friend to your pastor Wallis, he provided excellent schools to his congregation and, like Wallis, believed in the value of revivals. It is interesting that he and Wallis married sisters, daughters of the influential John McKnitt Alexander. Samuel’s mother was my daughter Rachel who was married to David Caldwell of “Log College” fame. Samuel’s first wife, Abigail Bane Alexander, died young. She had two children. Her daughter Jane was the mother of your future pastor, Samuel Caldwell Pharr. After Abigail died Samuel married Elizabeth Lindsay who gave birth to nine children, five of whom became ministers. Samuel helped your congregation for two years following the death of his friend Wallis. He died at the age of fifty-nine in 1826, leaving an estate of 904 acres and eight slaves.
Robert Hall Morrison served your congregation for the next year. A graduate of University of North Carolina, one of his classmates was James K. Polk. Providence and Unity Church in Rock Hill were Morrison’s first call. He was paid between $200 and $400 yearly. Considered a gifted intellect, Morrison was highly sought after and left Providence following a year of service to take a higher paying call in Fayetteville. Morrison went on to become one of the most important leaders in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A and the first president of Davidson College. He and his wife had twelve children. His daughter, Mary Ann, would marry General Stonewall Jackson. Pastor Morrison left an interesting observation of your congregation in his journal, “Since the death of Mr. Wallis, they have had the fourth of Mr. Caldwell’s time. The people manifest an uncommon desire to have preaching. But there is much to do among them. There are a number of very fine Christians. If the congregation was properly united, it would be one of the largest in the Presbytery. The people are wealthy and very able to support a minister.” Matthews, Previdence Presbyterian Church
I will end this Chronicle with your wonderful pastor, Samuel Williamson. Samuel served Providence for seventeen years, 1823 to 1849. Samuel received his schooling from your pastor Wallis then taught school in order to continue his education in the ministry. This was not uncommon at the time. Providence was his first call following his license from the Concord Presbytery. I will speak more of Pastor Williamson in the next Chronicle as I am fortunate to have many records from his long service to your church. He was an exceptional spiritual leader for your congregation as well as an evangelist of the highest order. He organized many new churches including Sharon Presbyterian with whom you shared pastors for nearly fifty years. He and his wife, Jane Adams, and had seven children.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat.” Act IV, Scene III, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. This quote by Shakespeare is one of my favorites and seems especially suited for the Antebellum Period of which this fifty year period of The Chronicles covers. During this period the world experienced the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, and what promised for many, a vastly improved quality of life. For reasons I alluded to in earlier Chronicles, North Carolina chose to push back against change and progress, unless it enhanced the cotton industry which was as important then as oil is in your lives. Cotton’s power effected politics, international relations, education, transportation, and the daily lives of most of North Carolina’s citizens. Until the advent of the cotton gin cotton was labor intensive in the extreme. It took twenty-five laborers working on twenty-five bales of cotton one hundred days to seed, a full third of the year. The cotton gin could do the work of ten men. Early gins were hand operated processing about forty pounds of cotton per day. Mules and horses were then tried and the output grew to 400 pounds per day. By 1839 steam power was used raising output to a staggering 4,000 pounds daily. By 1840 cotton was the leading cash crop in North Carolina.
As the nineteenth century raced forward powerful cotton growers on the east coast of the state made fateful decisions to protect their interests. These decisions prolonged slavery, discouraged universal education, universal suffrage, and women’s rights, delayed much needed investment in transportation, and allowed the North to gain a huge manufacturing and economic advantage over the South. North Carolina’s citizens, discouraged by the stagnant atmosphere in the state took advantage of the nation’s westward expansion and cheap land and moved west. During Williamson’s time as your pastor the state’s population did not grow. Most families were involved in agriculture and in 1840 “one third of the adult whites in the state were illiterate.” Matthews, Providence Presbyterian Church . Cotton grown in the Piedmont was not the quality of the Sea Island Cotton on the east coast, and had to be hauled overland to either Fayetteville, Columbia, Charleston, or Cheraw and then North to spinning mills.
Marshall writes in her history of Providence Presbyterian that, “In view of the high type of leadership given by Mr. Williamson we would be inclined to think that the community was somewhat above the average of that day.” Gold mining was the second leading occupation behind agriculture before 1860, but most of your congregation probably had small farms under 100 acres that produced cotton or the corn, wheat, beans, peas, cattle, hogs or tobacco that were the state’s main export at the time. They might have been involved in one of the 45 textile mills in the Piedmont by 1860 mostly powered by water. Other congregation members might have been involved in the wagon making, grist mills, cotton gins, saw mills, or cabinet making industries of the time. Marshall reports that, “lectures, circuses, horse races, and exhibitions” were common. Sadly, so was the buying and selling of slaves that “occupied much advertising space” in the Charlotte paper, with “great demand for slaves “”between the ages of 12 and 15″”. Marshall.
Pastor Williamson left Providence in 1840 “universally recognized as a man of brilliant attainments, one of the finest Latin scholars in the state, and an impressive speaker and preacher of great power.” Marshall. In addition to establishing Sharon Presbyterian, he did mission work in Anson county creating what later became Morven Presbyterian Church, and taught at the Providence Academy. After serving as President of Davidson College, Williamson left North Carolina in 1855 and moved west to Arkansas where he continued to preach until his death in 1882.
Some of the earliest preserved Session Minutes for your church have entries regarding communion and were recorded by Pastor Williamson in 1839. Communion in the early church was a far far different type of celebration than practiced by you today. Communion took place three times annually and extended over a four to five day period! Matthews wrote in her church history, “Surely if we would look to the past we could learn how seriously our forefathers observed communion, and the beautiful and meaningful sacramental occasions conducted by our present pastor would be more fully shared by all members of the congregation.” I share those sentiments, so let’s take a look at how your forefathers celebrated the Lord’s Supper.
Matthews says of the service, “It usually began on Thursday, which was called “Fast Day’, and was observed as strictly as the Sabbath, as far as labor was concerned. The people began to gather on Friday for a service of worship. Saturday was known as “Preparation Day”, and after each of the two services of preaching, the Session met for the purpose of receiving members into the church and examine those who desired to partake of the Sacraments the next day. It was at this time that the tokens were distributed to approved members.” I will tell you more about these tokens later in this Chronicle. Above is a picture of several types of tokens used during this period. They were used as evidence that a member was examined and worthy to partake of communion. ” On Sunday the people assembled at an early hour. If the weather was favorable, the sermon was given in the grove. Usually the sacrament was held inside the church building but in cases of large crowds, tables were placed outside when weather permitted.” Matthews continues in her church history to state that the sermon preceded the communion and was expected to develop three points. The prayer following the sermon lasted generally thirty minutes and with the congregation standing!! She writes, “It has also been suggested that the Scot believed his God preferred a man with self-respect enough to stand in His presence.” After a hymn and reading of the Scripture communion was served. The communion included “fencing of the tables” which in fact was an explanation by the Pastor of what tests were required in order to participate in communion. “It was then that the unprepared, the impenitent, and the faithless were warned against participating in the sacrament with the result that the self-searching examination effectively upheld high standards of life and conduct.” Matthews. After noon recess, people ate lunch and then returned for afternoon worship. On Monday another sermon was preached and Session took care of church business.
Much has changed over the years in our celebration of communion. You no longer use the tokens. Tokens “had a historical significance, being a carry-over from apostolic days when, because of persecutions, it was necessary for faithful Christians to be identified for admission to their small, secret gatherings.” Much later in the history of the church tokens continued in use to “safeguard against “”promiscuous communion””. The belief was that all who partook of communion should be examined and found spiritually prepared and worthy to partake. In our present church much of this preparation takes place during Catechism and First Communion. During the late 1800’s and into the 1900’s the length of time devoted to the Communion service decreased from the four to five days to two days, and then eventually to our present service as a result of low attendance.
As a reminder of how slowly change takes place, how difficult change is to bring about, and how human response to change has not changed over eons, I pass along the story of one couple in your church who left Providence for the Methodist Church due to Session deciding to serve communion in the pews in the mid 1800s. Apparently they were not the only congregants dissatisfied with the change as Session reversed itself in the 1860s and returned to serving communion using tokens and serving at tables. Matthews writes, “Providence did not change easily.” Ha
It is fitting that this Chronicle addresses catechism as your Pastor begins, for the second time, a two year program of Bible study called Bethel. As I write to you, the general level of Bible understanding in this country is less than that of a thirteen year old, or sixth grader. Adults cannot maneuver the stresses and complications of the world with the simplistic faith of a child. They cannot do it now and they could not do it during the Antebellum Era. To be steadfast and certain in the conviction that God loves you, supports you, strengthens you and never abandons you EVER regardless of where you are on your life’s journey requires you to know God, know what you believe, and THAT requires study of scripture.
Cyrus Johnston was your pastor from 1840 to 1845. Matthews writes in her history that his name “was synonymous for catechisms”. She goes on to state, “Perhaps there has never been a period in Providence history when a minster put more time on the instruction of the people and considered it his chief work.” In Southern Presbyterian Leaders, author White writes that the general population was so hungry for education in their faith that mothers, children and men, all at their daily chores, would work while learning their catechisms, keeping the book of questions handy as they toiled. Pastor Johnston visited your congregants in their homes to instruct them on the catechisms. He would question them as part of the public worship service. Matthews writes that Pastor Johnston organized neighborhood meetings for the work on catechism with nine meetings held at Providence and four at Sharon, and between 240 to 250 persons attended!! He was very popular with the young. Dr. Thornell “considered Johnston to be “the ablest man in the Synod of North Carolina at the time.”Matthews. He earned his Doctor of Divinity from the University of North Carolina in 1853. His appreciation of the value of education brought about your first library at Providence in 1843 and Charlotte Female Academy in 1845 where females could study science, Latin, and Greek and provide moral and spiritual training.
Scripture is meant to be read and studied as a continuum, a story of God’s revealing himself and his plan for his creation throughout time. Taken out of context, scripture is not only wrongly interpreted, but wrongly applied to human lives. Throughout history there are glaring examples of this misapplication of scripture for personal agendas. A perfect example of this takes place in Pastor Henry Pattilo’s book, Geographical Catechism, 1787. Pattillo, a contemporary of your David Caldwell, Hugh McAden and Joseph Alexander, was a pastor of great renown. After moving to the Piedmont of North Carolina he became a member of the Presbytery of Orange in 1770 and was an influential part of the pastors involved in the Revolutionary War. A product of his era and living in the south, he took the view of the Southern Presbyterian church that did not go along with the abolition of slavery in America and used methods teaching the status quo. His “The Negro Catechism” included in his book is just such an example. It was a series of questions and answers used by whites to control behavior of slaves. This is one example: “When Negros become religious, how must they behave to their master?” To which the Negro was supposed to respond: The scriptures in many places commend them to be honest, diligent, and faithful in all things and not to give saucy answers, and even when they were whipt for doing well to take it patiently and look to God for their reward.” Lady Bird: A Biography of Mrs. Johnson, Jan Russell, 2004. Interestingly, Lady Bird Johnson was a descendant of Pastor Pattilo.
Pastor Johnston went on to become the Pastor of Charlotte Church, later known as First Presbyterian. He left behind a vibrant congregation, strengthened by the knowledge of scripture taught by this most ardent educator. Question number 33 from the 107 in our short version of the catechism asks, “What is justification?” The answer, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” To which I say…Amen.
It is difficult to impossible for you living in the twenty-first century with your emergency care centers, minute clinics, trauma centers, cancer clinics, antibiotics, vaccines, and medical research centers to imagine life as the day-to-day struggle it was for your congregation in the 1800’s. Aside from the complications of child birth, cuts from agricultural tools, strains of heavy labor, and mishaps with horses and farm animals, there was disease. Theodore Rosengarten, writing in his Tombee Portrait of a Cotton Planter, stated, “Disease ate away at the social fabric depleting the small white community through death, enervation and forced absenteeism…..Disease threatened the very persistence of what could be called a community…The land yielded everything but health. A low country planter told the Yankee traveler Frederick Law Olmsted that he would ‘as soon stand fifty feet from the best Kentucky rifleman as to spend a night on his plantation’ during the hot months.”
The list of diseases your congregants were exposed to regularly is impressive. Tuberculosis, called consumption, was the leading cause of death in the United States during the Antebellum years. Later on Asheville became famous as a center for sanatoriums and physicians specializing in Tuberculosis cures. The disease was introduced to this country by the earliest English settlers. Ague, an acute fever that damaged nerves and often caused death, was often mistaken for Malaria and not brought under control until 1930’s with the advent of better sanitation and medical treatment. It was prevalent on the coast and on the Piedmont. Diphtheria was a dreaded bacterial infection, sometimes called croup, it damaged the throat area, obstructed breathing and caused suffocation. In 1887 it was the 3rd leading cause of death in the South and not brought under control until 1920 with the advent of a vaccine. Influenza and Scarlet Fever ran rampant through the general population, along with Malaria. Malaria, known as remittent fever, intermittent fever, country fever, marsh fever, summer fever, autumnal fever and just plain fever, was treated with Quinine around 1820, but its misuse brought about as many problems as the disease itself. Typhoid Fever, a bacterial infection, was endemic as was Typhus, an infection caused by bites from lice. Rodent control in the 1900’s helped to eliminate Typhus. Yellow fever, an acute viral illness, spread person to person via mosquitoes, brought with it high fevers, jaundice and brain disease. Finally, Smallpox, brought to this country by the earliest settlers, continued to kill in epidemic waves. One such epidemic hit Charlotte in 1851. Matthews writes in her church history, “The loathsome, contagious disease” made its appearance in September, 1850; by November it had spread to the extent of three fatalities of white and ten or twenty colored persons in the county; and by December had assumed panic proportions for both the town and county. Residents of the town fled to secluded spots in the country, and services were suspended, and January 2, 1851, was appointed a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer. Stringent rules were adopted by the communities outside Charlotte to cut off all communications with the affected village under threat of severe penalties.” Add to this list of plagues, Pneumonia, which was particularly problematic among the blacks, dysentery in the summer, worms, skin ulcers and lesions of all kinds, boils, toothaches and obstructed bowels and it makes one wonder how anyone survived.
Pastor Richard Ellis Sherrill began serving as your pastor in 1846. He was born in North Carolina. He was one of the first students to attend Davidson College. An interesting story, he built a room for himself on the back of his wagon and lived out of that room for the entire time he was in college. He became your pastor shortly after he was ordained, but served for only a year, leaving due to poor health. He went on to supply churches in Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas. In Texas he help to locate Austin College and died there at the age of 82. My great-grandson, Samuel Caldwell Pharr then served your congregation for nearly 9 years. A smart man, Samuel graduated from Davidson College at the age of 15. He studied at Princeton and graduated from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. Pastor Pharr was quite popular according to your church historian. It was under his direction that the second largest revival since the early 1800’s was held at Providence in 1853, attracting more than 3,000 people. It was led by revivalist Dr. Dan Baker from Texas. Matthews writes in her history that many churches in the area enjoyed the results from this revival. Your church gained over 117 new communicants. It occurs to me, as I finish writing this, that another disease needs mentioning as it continued to wreck havoc in North Carolina, alcoholism. My great-grandson, after a distinguished career as a teacher in Knoxville, a pastor at Hopewell Presbyterian, and then pastor at Thyatira, and Franklin, was eventually suspended by the Concord Presbytery due to problems with this disease.
Part 24 Black History
The history of our Providence Church is entwined from its earliest beginnings with black history and slavery. In 1663 the 8 Lords Proprietors who received from England the Carolina charter planned from the beginning to use slaves for their labor force. A “head right” system was used that parceled out the amount of acreage per each slave brought to the colony. Though difficulty in transportation kept black populations low for the first fifty years, with just 800 in the Carolinas in 1712, by 1762 the black population was 41,000, and by 1790 the number was 100,572 and represented 1/4 of the total population of the state. Most of your pastors owned slaves. At this point in your Chronicles, 1860, the black population in North Carolina was 331,059, about 33% of the total population. Slavery was an entrenched institution, a practice that defined the North Carolina economy and society. There were slave codes established by the legislature that defined the slave life. Modified several times between 1715 and 1850, these codes shackled the blacks behaviors and activities and included forbidding whites from teaching slaves or free blacks to read and write. As late as 1817 it was not considered murder, it was not a crime, to kill a slave.
Slaves, however, were not the only component of the black population in the Antebellum period. By 1830 there were hundreds of free blacks in North Carolina who owned businesses and property. They had either purchased their freedom or were determined to be “free” because their birth mother was free. The Great Awakening that I wrote of in Part 4 made many converts among the blacks and by the late 1700’s many white churches had accepted their participation in church affairs and as members. Your church historian wrote in her history that by 1840 you had nearly a hundred communing black members. Matthews goes on to write that after the 1840 census the church used two rolls, one white and the other colored members. The term slave was never used in the church records. In 1859 fifty six blacks were members of Providence out of an enrollment of 166 members.
“John Chavis was North Carolina’s most prominent antebellum black minister. Born free in Oxford, Chavis received training at Princeton University and Washington Academy (now Washington and Lee University) before he was recognized in 1801 by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. After serving as a missionary outside the state for several years, he was appointed minister to Presbyterian churches in Granville, Wake, and Orange Counties. As he traveled his circuit for more than 20 years, Chavis drew general praise for his ‘‘prudence and piety.’’ Perhaps his more lasting contribution was the organization of a school in Raleigh, where Chavis taught white children by day, including future political leaders, and free blacks in the evening. His school was considered one of the best in the state.” ncpedia.org
The contrast between the slave and the freeman was stark. “Most slaves lacked adequate clothing, shelter, and nutrition and worked long hours. Slaveholders issued clothes twice a year, in the spring and autumn. Rations consisted of meat, meal, molasses, and potatoes. To supplement their diet, slaves planted their own gardens, hunted, and fished. In the ricegrowing districts, a task system had become fairly standard by the 1840s, and most work could be completed by midafternoon. During the harvest season, however, men, women, and children labored from dawn to dusk seven days a week. Working in gangs, often under black drivers, slaves cleared new ground, rolled logs into heaps, planted crops, hoed, harvested, threshed, and transported crops to market.” ncpedia.org It was not uncommon for free blacks to own slaves.
In Matthew’s church history she says blacks were an important part of the life of your church during the Antebellum period. They received baptism along with their white members, they were examined for communion like their white members, your ministers conducted their funeral services in the church and they were buried in your church cemetery. According to tradition your current church building was constructed in response to requests from your black members, represented by Mr. Sam Parks, servant of Moses A. Parks, for a church with galleries that would accommodate “a tall man to stand upright.” Matthews. It is sad that following the Civil War many of your black members chose to move to Murkland Presbyterian Church, and Hickory Grove, which later become Jonesville A.M.E Zion Church. A rich and vibrant spiritual relationship was ended.
Jethro Rumple started life much like Abraham Lincoln, born into modest means in Cabarrus County, he worked in his family’s fields during the day and studied by the light of a fire in the evenings. Jethro put himself through Davidson College, taught school then earned his B.D. Degree from Columbia Theological Seminary. After graduation in 1856 he was called to minister to your church and Sharon Presbyterian. Jethro and his wife, Jane, were the parents of three children, two boys and a girl, which he supported on his $303 yearly salary. Challenging days lay ahead for Pastor Rumple and Johnston during their ministries. The nation’s yearning to settle the lands to the west depleted the church rolls and was followed by the devastation from the Civil War. Session recorded in 1857 that the church rolls were down by half. Though few in number the congregation supported the effort to build the church you use today in 1858 for the grand sum of $2,800. After attending the last General Assembly in Rochester, New York prior to the break out of war in May of 1860, Pastor Rumple asked to leave Providence and take a position as pastor of Presbyterian Church at Salisbury. Your congregation was unhappy with Jethro’s request and would not grant release. He departed regardless, serving the congregation in Salisbury for forty-six years.
Louise Matthews writes of your next pastor, “As evidence of God’s blessing, there came to this congregation a newly licensed young insider, and to them he gave his early manhood, preaching, exhorting, teaching, comforting, and sharing the sorrows of difficult years.” Providence Presbyterian Church . Robert Zenas Johnston was born in Rowan County. He also graduated from Davidson College and Columbia Theological Seminary, graduating on the day Fort Sumter fell. Shortly after being installed as your pastor he married Catherine Caldwell. War shadowed the nearly ten years of Pastor Johnston’s work in your church. Providence sent many men to war. Funeral services, counseling the grieving, and dealing with years of grinding poverty fell to this young pastor. In addition to serving as an army chaplain, he built a home for his family, grew crops, planted orchards and raised pigs and cows to support his family of nine children. Pastor Johnston was a blessing to you during these years of hardship, committed to keeping the doors of your church open, hope alive, minds educated, and stewardship encouraged. Matthews writes, “It must have required unusual courage and grace to challenge the people to continued support of the Gospel by rebuilding waste places, support of evangelists and missionaries and envision the need beyond the immediate horizon of their own desolation.” Pastor Johnston left your church in 1870 to take the call of Lincolnton Presbyterian Church, where he served for over thirty years. Among his descendants are fourteen ministers and seven missionaries.
After the war cotton lands remained in white southern control as northern businessmen were opposed to confiscation. The federal government knew that cotton production was critical to the nation’s recovery. By 1870 the south was producing more cotton for export that it had in 1860 making it the world’s leading cotton exporter until 1937. According to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Landmarks Commission the city was fortunate in surviving relatively intact during the war. Nearly 5,000 federal troops occupied the city for two and a half years, preserving peace and property during the early years of reconstruction. However, the small planters in the surrounding areas did not fare as well. With their labor freed, they found it difficult to find workers for their fields and many went bankrupt. In the next Chronicle I will share some of the rules regarding Reconstruction as we move into our next fifty year period which will usher in the twentieth century.
Imagine, if you can, five years of war, subsistence living, and the means of your past livelihood removed. For your congregation, white or black, that was life as they approached Reconstruction. The entire southern economic history was based on slave labor. After the war labor was no longer free, and few knew how to operate with a pay for labor society. Add to this dilemma the fact that the majority of blacks had not been allowed to take care of themselves, but were dependents of their owners in a paternalistic state and you begin to grasp the challenges inherent in the sudden conversion to civil rights. Once freed, blacks were expected to find their own housing, jobs, food, medical care, and to take care of their families. Up until emancipation blacks did not even own their own children and were not entitled to an education. To help you grasp the enormity of the challenge facing the federal government after the war I have reprinted the rules sent out to North Carolina immediately following surrender.
Rules For The Government of Freed Men in North Carolina”
Headquarters Department of N. Carolina, Army of the Ohio
Raleigh, N.C., May 15, 1865.
General Orders, No. 46
(Published in the Western Democrat, May 23, 1865)
The following rules are published for the government of Freedmen in North Carolina, until the restoration of civil government in the State:
I. The common laws governing the domestic relations, such as those giving parents authority and control over their children, and guardians control over their wards are in force. The parent’s or guardian’s authority and obligations take the place of the former master.
II.The former masters are constituted the guardians of minors and of the aged and infirm, in the absence of parents or other near relatives capable of supporting them.
III. Young men and women, under twenty-one years of age, remain under the control of their parents or guardians until they become of age, thus aiding to support their parents, and younger brothers and sisters.
IV. The former masters of freedmen may not turn away the young or the infirm, nor refuse to give them food and shelter; nor may the able bodied men or women go away from their homes, or live in idleness, and leave their parents, children, or young brothers and sisters, to be supported by others.
V. Persons of age, who are free from any of the obligations referred to above, are at liberty to make new homes wherever they can obtain proper employment; but they will not be supported by the government, nor by their former masters.
VI. It will be left to the employer and servant to agree upon the wages to be paid; but freedmen are advised that for the present season they are to expect only moderate wages, and where their employers cannot pay them money, they ought to be contented with a fair share in the crops to be gathered. They have gained their personal freedom. With industry and good conduct they may rise to independence and even wealth.
VII. All officers, soldiers, and citizens are requested to give publicity to these rules, and to inform the freed people as to their new rights and obligations.
VIII. All officers of the Army, and of the city police companies, are authorized and required to correct any violation of the above rules within their jurisdiction.
IX. Each District commander will appoint a superintendent of freedmen, (a commissioned officer with such number of assistants (officers and commissioned officers) as may be necessary, whose duty it will be to take charge of all the freedmen in his District, who are without homes or employment. The superintendents will send their homes all who have left them in violation of the above rules, and will endeavor to find suitable employment for all others. The superintendents will provide suitable camps or quarters such as these not to be otherwise provided for, and attend to discipline, police, subsistence, &tc.
X. The superintendents will hear all complaints of guardians or wards, and report the facts to the District commanders, who are authorized to dissolve the existing relations of guardian and ward in cases which may require it, and to direct the superintendent to otherwise provide for the in accordance with the above rules.
By command of Major General Schofield
Assistant Adjutant General
Part 27 Reconstruction – Challenging Times
Having just finished an extraordinarily contentious presidential election one could easily lose sight of how much worse the politics, the economy, and the quality of life were for your country during this next fifty year period of your Chronicles which take us from 1867 to 1917. These years were even worse for your congregation. Let me list some of the national events on this time-line: Lincoln was assassinated and Vice President Johnson became president, southern states were finally re-admitted to the United States, the 15th Amendment was passed which gave blacks the vote, but not women, the Civil Rights Act was passed, the 44th Congress had 8 blacks among its members, but by the 50th Congress there were none and by 1875 the Civil Rights Act was declared unconstitutional, the Wounded Knee Massacre killed nearly 300 men, women and children of the Lakota Indian Tribe, the Spanish American War was fought, Teddy Roosevelt became president following the assassination of McKinley, the Wright Brothers took their first flight, and Spanish Influenza killed millions. Racial and gender inequality was the norm. The editor of the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer wrote in 1891, “The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creature from the face of the earth.” wikipedia.org Bigotry and fear seem to have a long history.
In North Carolina 30,000 troops died during the Civil War either on the field of battle or of disease. Women, left to take care of the home and farm during the war, suffered health issues while the death rate for the weak and elderly rose dramatically. The abolition of slavery cost the south $200 million of capital investment, the southern currency became worthless, businesses went bankrupt, colleges closed, factories shut down, banks collapsed, farms once owned were now share cropped, blacks were given rights, but not equality, refugee camps were set up, and the political system was a shambles. After Lincoln was assassinated, Vice President Johnson tried to fulfill Lincoln’s desires to unify the country. William Holden, the provisional governor of North Carolina, was ordered to hold a state convention to repeal secession, ratify the 13th Amendment, cancel confederate war debt, and elect a governor, state legislators, and US congressmen. The newly elected governor would not forgive the war debt. Consequently, it was two an half years before North Carolina was admitted back into the union.
While chaos reigned God continued to bless your congregation with most remarkable leadership in the form of Elias Kuykendal and Pastor William Banks. I will speak more about these men in the next Chronicle, however; I want to include two quotes from your church historian, Matthews, which speak to your ongoing history of extraordinary faith and God’s protective care. Kuykendal was a member of your church, and a teacher in the Providence School. Pastor Johnston wrote, “Although the war rages and our people are exercised by the severest calamities that befall a nation it is our privilege sometimes to mingle in scenes which remind us of better days. The examination of the pupils of Providence Academy took place on July 17, 1863. It was indeed a rare privilege to be a spectator on that occasion, and there were many who enjoyed it. We have not all forgotten that knowledge is power, and that the boy is the embryo man, that our country needs teachers and scholars as well as soldiers.” Though the war surrounded the church sixty-three students were enrolled in the school! Marshall writes of the early Reconstruction years this way, “Providence at this time, poverty stricken and with a vacant pulpit, was no worse off than many other churches of the period. Certainly the people of the entire country were united under the common bond of misery and sorrow, and though all were thankful that the war had ended, the following years of the Reconstruction were grim in many respects. There was no money in the country and no credit. Fine local lands sold for a dollar per acre, but there were few buyers…Yet the church continued to exist and to maintain services of worship with commendable regularity with whatever supplies they were able to obtain. The congregation must have indeed felt very fortunate in securing the services of the Reverend William Banks for what turned out to be the last three years of his life.”
Part 28 Thanksgiving and Pastor William Banks
There is a concept in the Bethel Bible Series that teaches, “God can use evil for good.” From that perspective the Civil War, with all its death, destruction, and suffering, also paved the way for the American Red Cross, Emancipation, and, of all things, our National Holiday…Thanksgiving. Yes, up till that time, New England had seasonal celebrations of thankfulness for good harvests. They also had a Founders Day, a celebration of the arrival of the Pilgrims and Puritans. Two presidents, George Washington and James Madison, had also during their presidencies, issued “thanksgiving” proclamations that called for days of prayer. However, it was Abraham Lincoln, while the Civil War raged on, “who announced a national day of thanksgiving, to be marked on the last Thursday in November. His Oct. 3, 1863, proclamation read: “In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity….peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict.” Kenneth C. Davis, How the Civil War Created Thanksgiving, Nov 24, 2014, New York Times. A second proclamation was issued in the following year after which the heads of Union League clubs collected and distributed turkeys, 400,000 hams, canned peaches, apples and cakes to Ulysses Grant’s headquarters in Virginia for distribution to the Union soldiers and sailors. Sara Josepha Hale had been advocating for a national day of Thanksgiving since 1837. It took Franklin Roosevelt, in 1941, to pass through Congress a National Day of Thanksgiving, a legal holiday on the fourth Thursday in November. The date being changed to appease retailers who wanted an earlier start to the holiday season!!
Obviously with near starvation conditions existing throughout most of the south your congregation was not celebrating Thanksgiving, let alone “good harvest” celebrations. Even when the nation was not at war, turkey was not the meat of choice as it was not considered special. Nor was a chicken or a goose. Meat pie was the celebratory meal. It was made with ham, chicken, onions, potatoes, and apples. I know this is hard to believe, but possum was quite popular and was for much of American history. “Lawson, the 1701 traveler, wrote: “At Night we kill’d a Possum, being cloy’d [or “full up” from eating] with Turkeys, made a Dish of that, which tasted much between young Pork and Veal; their Fat being as white as any I ever saw.” Even in the 1900s, people commonly caught opossums, caged them, and fed them things like corn and sweet potatoes to try and improve their flavor before cooking them. Some people preferred opossum meat instead of turkey for Thanksgiving dinner!” NcPedia 1/1/2009. In case you think of ketsup as a rather modern condiment….it is not! A North Carolinian family, the Camerons, made a tomato version between 1816-1834 of an older recipe that dated to the Revolutionary War made of mushrooms and walnuts.
Enough of Thanksgiving. Let me end this Chronicle with Pastor Banks. Pastor Banks was a third generation South Carolinian, the ninth of ten children. He put himself through Mount Zion College, University of South Carolina, Franklin College and Columbia Theological Seminary. After he became licensed in 1840 he served Catholic Presbyterian Church in Chester, South Carolina. He remained there for thirty years. Matthews writes in her church history, “he received more than seven hundred members into the church…eleven young men into the ministry, baptized over eleven hundred, performed three hundred marriage ceremonies”, but the Civil War intervened taking Pastor Banks into the Fourth Regiment of South Carolina Calvary as a chaplain. According to your church historian he never fully recovered; “his property and possessions were scattered and lost; his treasure library ruined; but he began to build again.” Matthews. In 1872 he agreed to serve your church half time while also serving Waxhaws, Six Mile, and Unity churches. While teaching at Wolfsville Academy on Providence-Waxhaw road he organized Banks Chapel, later to become Banks Presbyterian Church. Pastor Banks left Providence Presbyterian greatly strengthened. His desire was to die while working. “…after preaching at Providence and riding twenty miles on horseback in the rain, he died at this home in Fort Mill on March 17, 1875.” Matthews.
Part 29 Supply Pastors and Reconstruction Failures Part 1
Yes! Great leadership is a blessing in human affairs and in democracies, but great leadership is not consistent throughout history. What IS essential for democracies are the consistent acts of good citizenship, good stewardship, the “stepping up” to insure the “common good”. This is true for the church at large as well. Providence Presbyterian was blessed throughout it’s history with pastors, and congregants, that did just that!! In the twenty years following the Civil War, Providence was held together by the sweat and sacrifice of over eight supply pastors. Overworked, often in poor health, operating in the economic depletion, and spiritual malaise following the long and debilitating war, these men put feet to their faith, evangelizing, preaching, and teaching.
Following Pastor Banks, David Pressley Robinson supplied Providence for a year until 1876. Born in Abbeville of Irish emigrants, he graduated from Erskine College, and Erskine Theological Seminary. Active in politics, he participated as a Lancaster County delegate to the South Carolina convention in 1860 and signed The Ordinance of Secession withdrawing from the Union. At the age of 55, he left the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and joined the Presbyterian Church in the United States. He became the pastor of Sharon Church and our supply pastor in 1875. He was stern, popular and articulate, and would have found many of my rough and rambunctious Scot Irish generation scandalous. In a book of his sermons he writes, “The commandment requires the entire day to be employed in the public and private worship of God except so much as to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy…We are forbidden to make it a day of pleasure…The Sabbath is not to be made a day of sloth. It is a day of rest but not for sleep..” Matthews. So much for Sunday Night NFL Football. Pastor Robinson’s son, Garland, became our full-time pastor in 1876, our first full-time pastor since Pastor Johnston. He too graduated from Erskine and Erskine Theological Seminary. During his six years as your pastor he acquired a reputation as a leader with “patience and kind, instructive manner with children.” Matthews. He organized the Pineville Presbyterian Church and afterward left us to become their pastor. During his six years as your pastor his salary was $375 annually. Your membership was down due to members moving to the new churches, Pineville and Matthews Presbyterian. The Ladies Foreign Missionary Society was formed during this same time.
In looking back over this period of Reconstruction our founding principles must seem a dichotomy to many. Most of our earliest settlers were escaping tyranny, the infringement of personal freedom, and deprivation of every kind. They sought and sacrificed to reach the new world with it’s natural richness, limitless space and opportunity. So how is it, that years later few saw the hypocrisy of their economy based on enslavement in light of their own escape from tyranny?? I admit, I owned slaves. They were a considerable portion of my estate’s value when I died. For me, and others, in the south the subjugation of the Blacks, and Indians, was rationalized by a philosophy of dehumanization…this was not the slavery of equals. Slaves were valued solely for their capacity for labor. So inculcated was this philosophy in the south that the owning of slaves became a “right”, the “natural order of things”, and any attempt to remove that “right” was attacking one’s “freedom”. For this reason, and some unfortunate twists of fate, the abolition of slavery, and the rebuilding of the south after the Civil War was set back a hundred years. In the next Chronicle I will introduce to you the rest of your supply pastors during this period and the collapse of Reconstruction.
Part 30 Reconstruction Part 2
The Chronicles are poised to begin the next fifty year period of your church starting in 1917, and, much like today, the U.S. economy, technology, and political change were traveling at “warp speed”. While the East coast and Midwest embraced Industrialization, the South dragged its feet, doggedly remaining agricultural and poor for two generations following the Civil War, its total industrial production just half of that of New York State. While immigrants flocked to the nation’s shores providing labor to the bursting economy they avoided North Carolina where the “share crop” system offered few incentives and the infrastructure was crumbling. By 1876 the Democratic Party in North Carolina had established white supremacy in state government and by 1898 it had overthrown the local government in Wilmington, that was largely black, ushering in a period of “Jim Crow” rule that lasted until the 1960’s and new Civil Rights Laws. Statewide the population gave strong support to the Klu Klux Klan and held contempt for radicals espousing civil rights. Elsewhere in the country between 1897-1920 prosperity and expansion ran at a frantic pace fueled by inventions like the internal combustion engine and mechanized farm equipment. World War I, 1914-1918, boosted the national economy following the 1893 panic and depression, but left the economy unstable. Corporations merged forming monster corporations, the U.S went on the Gold Standard, the Federal government helped fund three transcontinental railroads tying the Northeast with the Midwest and beyond, tariffs were raised, and the Homestead Act gave 160 free acres to anyone wanting to settle in the western territories. Presidents Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson helped to usher in: Sherman Antitrust Act, Interstate Commerce Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Conservation, Clayton Antitrust Act, and Federal Trade Commission. The 1890’s saw the rise of a new party, the Populist Party, after the Farmer’s Alliance met in Omaha. Over one hundred twenty-six years ago their platform called for breakingtrusts, direct election of senators, graduated income tax, loans for farmers and a shorter workday.
In North Carolina cotton remained “King”. Eugene R. Dattel, an economic historian, “The economic importance of cotton had not diminished after the war. In fact, the federal government and northern capitalists were well aware that restoration of cotton production was critical to the financial recovery of the nation. Cotton exports were needed to help reduce the huge federal debt and to stabilize monetary affairs in order to fund economic development, particularly railroads…..For 134 years, from 1803 to 1937, America was the world’s leading cotton exporter.” Across your state and the areas surrounding your church all attest to the importance of the cotton industry to your congregation. Travel to Southend, Kannapolis, Fort Mill, Rock Hill. Look at the names, Springs Mills, Pharr Mills, Cannon Mills, view mill villages and homes in Dilworth, down 521 to Chester and Camden, and so many many more sites. All bear witness to the prevailing economic, political and cultural power that cotton held in North Carolina leading into the next fifty years of your history.
Up to the year 1885 your congregation was served largely by supply pastors which I will introduce to you in the next Chronicle. We will finish this fifty year period with the ministries of McLees, Martin and Siler taking us to the Twentieth century. It is interesting to note that from the Civil War forward your church fathers faced tremendous challenges to guarantee the survival of your church. It was not until the 1940’s that Providence was able to call a pastor independent from any other congregation.
Part 31 Twelve Pastors In Thirty Years
Starting in 1882 your congregation had five pastors in three years! Keeping the church alive during this period were the supply pastors; McIllwaine, Parks, Atkinson, Nicholson and Miller. According to your church historian, William Erskine McIlwaine “was one of the truly great Presbyterians of his time. He was a man of unusual business acumen, and he accumulated large land holdings. He was also a man of great generosity, and when he died on November 25, 1938, at the age of ninety, many schools, colleges, and orphan’s homes received substantial bequests.” McIllwaine was partly responsible for the founding of the Synod’s home at Barium Springs, Hopewell Academy, and the organization of Williams Memorial Church. Dr. Parks was the son of George Parks, an elder in your church, and the first member of your church to enter the ministry. William Roger Atkinson was your supply pastor in 1884. Atkinson established the Presbyterian College for Women in Columbia, South Carolina, which was later called Chicora College and was a strong advocate for providing opportunities for women in the professional fields. During the one year Pastor Nicholson supplied Providence Presbyterian with his services the church was repainted and repaired and “carpeting was added to the church aisles..” Matthews. The congregation at the time was also exploring the possibility of building a home for a pastor. Finally, we have Pastor Robert Alexander Miller. Pastor Miller was your supply pastor while serving Hopewell Church. It was under his guidance that Providence accepted its first organ in the sanctuary. I wrote earlier of the contentious battle between the Watts’ Hymns and the Rous’ Psalms of David that resulted in several members leaving the church. According to Matthews the combination of Pastor Miller’s support and the fact that the organ salesman was a member of your church resulted in a relatively calm transition from a tuning fork to the use of the organ during services.
In 1885 John Logan McLees became your full-time pastor fresh out of Columbia Theological Seminary, which he paid for himself by farming and teaching school. You were his first call. History is kind to Pastor McLees. Your congregation loved him and his “deep concern for the poor and unfortunate.” Matthews. He ended his career with a thirty-six year ministry in Orangeburg, South Carolina at First Presbyterian Church. McLees was followed by Pastor Roger Martin. Roger was one of four brothers who all became Presbyterian ministers. Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Pastor Martin was known for his keen interest in Sunday Schools. “Roger Martin firmly believed and taught that the life of the church was sustained by the teaching in the Sunday School.” Mathews. Martin’s other passions were his advocacy of temperance and his love for missions. A number of Martin’s family members went into missionary work in places like Brazil and Japan. In another first for Providence Presbyterian, “The Martins were the first occupants of the large, two-storied white frame house.” Matthews, that was the first manse at Providence.
The longest serving of the twelve pastors during this period was your next pastor, Jesse Weimar Siler. Pastor Siler was the valedictorian of his class at Davidson College. He worked diligently to increase the enrollment of your congregation, spending time in evangelical outreach to all in your community including the former black members. According to Matthews it was during this time that your church became known as the “singing church” due to the return of the black members during the church’s special meetings with its congregational singing. The pastor led the singing himself, frequently having verses alternate between the men and women. This apparently led to the men sitting on one side of the church and the women on the other, which continued for years. Pastor Siler’s wife, Margaret, was an important partner in his ministry. She taught in the Providence school, housed some of the girls in their home so they could attend school, and oversaw the addition of a two-room wing to the home as additional space was needed. I have spoken frequently of the economic “hard times” in your community and the entire South following the war. This period was no exception. During Siler’s eight year tenure there were numerous Session meetings to address the overdue pastor’s salary. In 1897 Siler had the congregation adopt the use of the envelope system for the first time in it’s history. Siler died at the young age of forty nine in New Mexico from tuberculosis. Mrs. Siler returned to North Carolina, continued teaching, and visited your congregation often. She died in Weaverville, North Carolina in 1954 at the age of ninety-six.
Part 32 Providence Presbyterian Enters The Twentieth Century
Chronicle 32 was planned originally to bring an end to the fifty year period 1866-1916; however, your remaining four pastors and the years they encompass are too interesting to compress in one Chronicle. Hence, Chronicle 33 will close the era. William Henry Davis became your pastor after Pastor Silas. William was born in Salisbury, North Carolina. His father Dolphin was a banker. William spent most of the Civil War as a captured prisoner at Point Lookout prison in Maryland. After the war he attended Davidson College and then Union Theological Seminary. Ordained in 1872 at the age of twenty-seven, Pastor Davis was sent into the mountains of North Carolina to preach and organize churches. For twenty-eight years he served various churches in North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky before coming to Providence in 1900. During his three years at Providence your sanctuary galleries and stairs were renovated, and, according to your church historian large community picnics held annually had become a tradition with as many as 2,000 people attending. The church enrollment was holding steady at about 141 when Pastor Davis left in 1903. William’s first two wives died very early in his marriages. Two years before coming to Providence he married Harriet Feaster Martin. Harriet was an able partner for Pastor Davis. In addition to being known as a “talented Bible teacher.” She also “greatly assisted the famous Mrs. Hallie Winnsborough in organizing women’s work throughout the Presbyterian church.” Matthews.
Mrs. Winnsborough is an interesting women in Presbyterian Church history. In 1875 The Women’s GeneralMissionary Society, a national organization, was established after years of requests from the National Presbyterian Church in North America to church women to raise funds for women missionaries in the field. In 1912 Hallie helped organize the Women’s Auxiliary for the Presbyterian Church in the US. On it’s 10th anniversary, Hallie, now superintendent of women’s work, helped to create the Birthday Offering. At the time her suggestion was that all women should give one cent for each of their birthdays. In 1922, the first year of the Birthday offering, half the money went to a girl’s school in Japan and the rest went to create the Montreat Gate at Montreat where your church women will retreat in February 2017.
Pastor Davis’s best work was probably as an evangelist. During his ministry eight men in the church became ministers including one black man, named Cassie, who lived in Davis’s home and whom Pastor Davis personally taught in preparation for his examination. Cassie later became a Bishop in the Methodist church.
Part 33 The End Of An Era And The Beginning Of The New South
The Chronicles are set to move into your church’s next fifty year period. Looking back over the last fifty years I am struck by the blinding speed of change your congregation witnessed. Their lives once lived in a rural agrarian society, dominated by cotton, plantation owners, slavery, state power concentrated on the east coast, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the American Depression of 1870, is now moving into the New South Era, and the change is monumental.
It is hard to underestimate the role that Charlotte, first the village, then town, then city, played during this period in your history. Always a trading hub, Charlotte grew in stature with the discovery of gold in 1799 which was mined up and through 1910. Gold mining brought with it miners, engineers, metallurgists and banks. According to many historians the railroad connecting Charlotte and Columbia in 1852 was the single most important contributing factor to Charlotte’s growth and influence. By 1860 four railroad lines connected Charlotte with Raleigh, Columbia, Charleston, Statesville, and Lincolnton. By 1872 a fifth railroad was added connecting Charlotte to the port of Wilmington and another line that connected Richmond to Atlanta was reconnected and extended. Manufacturing, a hot topic in your current politics, was firmly established in Charlotte with the Mecklenburg Iron Works. During the Civil War the Naval Yard in Norfolk, Virginia was moved to Charlotte for protection, bringing with it skilled workers. It was called the Naval Ordinance Works and was placed near the railroad tracks next to the site of the present Civic Center. Employing over 1500, its manufacturing also turned out parts for the South’s railroads, mining, textile and farming machinery. It is a miracle that Sherman’s forces left Charlotte completely unscathed, unless that was a deliberate decision by the US government in order to revive immediately Charlotte’s textile industry once the war ended. Whatever the reason, Charlotte boomed after the war. In 1867 it added twelve new stores and seventy five new buildings fueled by money from the reopened gold mines and northern industrialists.
The New South movement grew from the ashes of the Civil War. No longer could the South think of itself as indestructible. In THE GROWTH OF CHARLOTTE: A HISTORY by Dr. Thomas W. Hanchett, he wrote, “The South had to recreate itself in an urban, industrial mold if it was to prosper.” After the 1870 depression, “a new postwar generation of New South leaders was in control. These men, often sons of the old planter elite, often trained in the North, unquestioningly worshipped all that was new, modern, and technological.” The slogan of the era was “Bring the Mills to the Cotton.” Charlotte and the surrounding region was poised and ready.
In the period of change your congregation is currently experiencing, both politically, technologically and culturally, you are not so dissimilar from your congregation of the late 1800’s. Imagine Pastor Joseph Bingham Mack, your next pastor, driving from his home in Fort Mill to Providence in his “Phaeton” carriage pulled by his grey mule Jack while that same year a Stanley Steamer ran a race in Ormond Beach, Florida averaging a speed of 127.66 miles per hour. Pastor Mack, who was your supply pastor from 1903-1906 would remain overnight returning home the next day after services. Born in New York City, raised in Tennessee, served in the Confederate Army, preached and performed mission work in Charleston among the blacks, financial agent for Columbia Theological Seminary, Board of Trustees of Davidson College, father of eleven children, writer, student of Jewish history, he was instrumental in organizing fifty-five churches during his fifty-nine years of ministry and converted over 8,000 people. He died in 1912 at the age of seventy-four leaving behind an amazing legacy during a period of profound change in the South and this country.
Part 34 Change And More Change – The Automobile Arrives
In Chronicle 33, introducing the next fifty year period of your church, I spoke of the monumental changes taking place in all society entering the twentieth century. Following the Civil War, Providence Presbyterian was hampered by the devastation to the Southern economy, and infrastructure, but aided greatly in its recovery by proximity to Charlotte. Charlotte had survived the war relatively unscathed and by 1910 was, “the largest city in the Carolinas”, Land of The South, by Clay, Escott, Orr and Stuart, 1989, with a population of 34,000 residents. By 1903 there were 300 mills operating within a 100 mile radius of Charlotte. This monumental development was aided by the first hydroelectric generating station in the area built in 1904 on the Catawba River. The authors I quoted above wrote, “dispersion of small textile mills into rural and small town sites allowed the rural population to stay on the land or live in company towns rather than migrate to jobs in cities…..Charlotte emerged from its gold-mining days as a marketing, distribution, and financial center for the textile industry.”
Where once your church was disadvantaged by: poor roads, political power concentrated on the east coast, and a one crop agricultural economy, it now found itself poised to rebuild and prosper by its near proximity to the center of the “New South”. A fellow Presbyterian, Dr. Al Stuart, was fond of teaching his first year geography students at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, that the birth of the New South was largely brought about by the advent of the air conditioner!! However important that invention, it was the arrival of the railroads in Charlotte followed by the automobile that began the movement that forever changed the Old South.
According to cmstory.org it was Osmond L. Barringer who brought the first carload of cars to a southern state, in November 30, 1900. The cars were two steam-driven, “one of which he kept for his own use and the other he sold to Dr. C. G. McManaway, prominent Charlotte physician.” The White Steamer and the Stanley Steamer were the two most successful at the time. ” In 1902 Mr. Barringer received a shipment of two single-cylinder Oldsmobile roadsters, one of which he retained and the other he sold to a resident of Spartanburg. In attempting the sale of this car he had to meet competition from electric driven cars which were then gaining in popularity about as fast as the steam-driven cars were losing out. However, the electric cars, while convenient for city travel, failed to compete successfully with the gasoline engine though there were quite a number on Charlotte streets for some years.”
Part 35 Change And More Change – The Automobile Arrives, Part 2
Readers of these Chronicles know how difficult travel was prior to the twentieth century. From your founding to the early 1900’s your pastors and congregation were severely hampered by abysmal roads and the health of their horses or mule. The advent of the automobile changed your lives. “Before the 1920’s North Carolina’s roads were built and maintained by individual counties. The result was a haphazard system of dirt and gravel roads that were easily eroded and turned to mud by rain and snow. The state’s roads were bad enough for travel by horse and wagon, but as automobiles became more popular, the lack of good roads became a serious problem.” learn nc.org
This picture was taken in Johnston County, 1909 (Courtesy North Carolina State Archives). By 1902 The North Carolina Good Roads Association was founded with a membership that grew quickly. They were able to raise enough money and membership to influence the state government to create a state highway system funded by a tax on gasoline and auto licensing and to qualify for funding from the federal government. In 1912 the state had less than 2,100 miles of county sand-clay roads, by 1925 North Carolina had built 7,680 miles of hard-topped roads!!!
How providential that your beloved church sits directly on the old Philadelphia Wagon Road ,which I traveled in the 1700’s, giving you a straight north-south corridor to Charlotte, and that it was considered a major route by your state and county.
Charles Wilson, University of Mississippi, wrote in The Encyclopedia Of The Southern Culture, “Ministers blamed the automobile for leading to a decline in sexual morality by loosening courtship habits, and they said it nurtured crime, desecrated the Sabbath, hurt family bonds, and reinforced materialistic instincts. One of the most frequent complaints was of traffic congestion.” There is no denying the advent of the automobile changed life in the south. On the positive side it helped change the relationship to the federal government, bolstered the economy, and according to Robert Penn Warren in All The King’s Men, “The automobile meant escape from the farm or the mill village. It was a way out of poverty. It represented an escape from the negative side of the strong southern sense of place, the static rootedness. Thanks to the car, says the hitchhiker in Warren’s novel, “a man could just get up and git, if’n a notion came on him.” I suppose similar arguments take place among you today regarding: social media, the web, and smart phones, and like the folks in your past, you experience the challenges that new technologies bring with them.
During periods of profound change in the lives of your congregation God seemed always to provide leaders of extraordinary capability. Pastor Mack, whose life of ministry served congregations from Florida to Tennessee, brought to Providence an energetic mind, honed by scholarship and travel, and a keen desire to share those interests in conversation and writings. I like this Pastor as, like me, he was interested in the civil, social and political, and “putting feet to his faith” was instrumental in starting an astounding number of Presbyterian churches. By some accounts he formed nearly one sixth of the Presbyterian churches in Georgia alone.
How amazing then to have Pastor Mack followed by the impressive intellect and capability of Pastor Parker. Henry Middleton Parker was born in 1854 in Charleston, South Carolina to a family whose members included signers of the Declaration of Independence and governors of South Carolina. His father, an Episcopalian minister of independent wealth, took his young family to China in 1860 as a missionary to the Chinese people. Henry Senior was murdered not long after their settlement. Escaping for their lives, Henry and his mother settled in Paris as the ravages of Civil War rampaged through the South preventing their return. Henry received his early education in Europe. By the time he and his mother were able to return to America much of their wealth was lost. Henry worked his way through Episcopal Seminary in Virginia. He was ordained in 1877 and immediately traveled to Africa as a missionary. Missionary work has always been fraught with peril. Henry’s experience in Africa did not last long as he fell victim to African fever.
Over the next several years he became a successful businessman, first in Minnesota and then in North Carolina with his floral and nurseryman business. At the age of thirty-nine Henry, now married, returned to the ministry, but this time as a Presbyterian. He served churches on John’s Island and James’ Islands for eight years before accepting the call to the Providence and Banks churches in 1906. During the period of Mack and Parker’s ministry the number of communing members kept steady at between 120 and 129, with no black membership. Mrs. Parker, a native of Asheville, is credited with laying the foundation for the youth work in the church. Regularly inviting the youth to the Parker’s home for Bible stories, and studying catechism, all served with lemonade and ginger cookies. Your church historian described Pastor Parker as “an eminent scholar and thinker, profoundly absorbed in the revelation of God both through Scripture and in nature…he continually marveled over the depth and wonder of God and devoted his life to transmitting this message to the world of men.” Matthews, Providence Presbyterian Church
Before leaving this almost ten year period of Mack and Parker the blinding pace of change and innovation in America needs one more mention. If these Chronicles serve no other function than to remind your congregation that God’s love and grace has sustained and nourished you through the most challenging and dangerous times in human history they will have served their purpose. Just during this ten year period alone: the New York Subway is begun, the 2nd Modern Olympic Games are held in Paris, Marconi sends the first wireless transmission, President McKinley is shot and Theodore Roosevelt becomes the 26th President of the U.S., the first Nobel Prizes are awarded, The Commonwealth of Australia is created, the safely razor is invented, the vacuum cleaner is invented, Triple AAA is begun, the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is opened, the first Baseball World Series is held, Orville and Wilbur Wright make their successful man-powered airplane flight, Ford Motor Company is started, the first Crayola Crayons are created, Times Square is named and a ball is dropped to signify a New Year, Morse Code is adopted, San Francisco is destroyed by an earthquake, immigrant workers in Canada face poverty and starvation due to lack of jobs, the Boy Scouts are started, the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor is built, the NAACP is formed, man reaches the North Pole for the first time, the Boxer Rebellion rages against foreigners in China, Queen Victoria dies, the Socialist Revolutionary Party forms in Russia, Afghanistan is claimed by England and Russia, and the U.S. Illiteracy rate is 106.6 per 1,000 persons.
According to an article in the Texas Reader we can thank the First Amendment for the tradition of Pounding the Preacher. As I shared in earlier Chronicles, one of the many issues we had with Great Britain was the public funding of the Congregationalist and Anglican churches to the exclusion of all others. The ratification of the US Constitution in 1787 put an end to this practice which meant that any congregation wanting a church and pastor had to build the church structure itself, and provide the support for the pastor. Hence, to welcome a new pastor, and then generally once a year, a day was set during which, “each member of the congregation would arrive at the preacher’s door with a pound of something; coffee, sugar, flour, butter, honey, what have you….welcoming a new preacher and making sure his larder was full.” “Some ministers had contracts stating that in addition to their salaries, they would be pounded once a year. For small congregations, where the preacher was likely to have another livelihood, a yearly pounding might be given as a token of thanks.” Matthews writes in your church history that this practice was carried on in Providence Presbyterian until shortly after the end of World War II. Apparently even with the rationing and difficulty in obtaining simple staples, your congregation continued the practice as they, “loved the giving as much as the minister and his family loved the receiving.”
Charles Carson was your pastor from 1910 to 1912. He was one of several of your pastors born in the South and who served in the Confederate Army. His initial training was as a public school teacher. At the age of 32 he graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary. After serving as a pastor in Georgia he moved west to serve as a pastor in the Indian Territory. While serving as your pastor, Charles was given permission to supply Siler Church as well as Banks Church. There is a lovely account in Matthews’s church history of the Carson family being met at the train station in Matthews by a member of your congregation driving a horse-drawn surry and being delivered to the two-story home provided by the church with its ten or twelve acres of land. The Carson family’s new home would have been “pounded”, a warm welcome indeed.
It is during this time period that the church witnessed the installation of its first furnace requiring a basement under the sanctuary. The records from this period indicate the excavation work cost $50 and caused headaches for the contractor, Clive Alexander, as he discovered huge boulders in the way of the project. Stump pullers and mules supplied by Banks Kuykendal finally succeeded in removing the rocks. As you look around your sanctuary imagine bare floors. The first carpet to cover all the sanctuary was green and installed during Pastor Carson’s two years paid for by the women of the church.
Outside of Providence and taking place in the church at large were the births of the Social Gospel and Evangelical movements. The Social Gospel movement was stressing social as well as individual salvation. One of its early leaders was Henry Sloane Coffin, president of New York’s Union Seminary. A Workingmen’s Department was formed in the PCUSA to minister to the working class immigrants. This department headed by Charles Stelzle, “advocated for child-labor laws, workers’ compensation, adequate housing, and more effective ways to address vice and crime in order to advance the kingdom of God.” Bradley Longfield, church historian. This was also the period of evangelist/revivalist Billy Sunday who is credited with preaching to over 100 million people throughout his career and converting over a million.
As temperatures hover around freezing this week in Charlotte, and many in your congregation struggle with the remnants of the flu, it seems fitting that this Chronicle covers a period in your history with some of the same conditions. In the United States between 1914 and 1945 its citizens experienced two World Wars, the worst pandemic in world history, and the Great Depression! Just eleven years separated the end of World War I from the Great Depression, and just twenty-one years separated the war from the start of World War II. In Providence Presbyterian Church, Matthews writes of the sacrifices made by members during these years to pay the pastor’s salary, and pay off debts from a new furnace, new piano, and painting of the church building. She writes, “These records are interesting testimony showing how God has preserved this particular church and kept it active and self-supporting. No record has been found to indicate that these independent, spirited people of Providence congregation ever turned to Presbytery for financial assistance. For two centuries the church has faced crises in various forms, but through the perseverance and loyalty of a few dedicated men and women, it has been able not only to survive but also to justify the purpose of its existence-to bear witness of the Gospel.”
Between 1918 and 1919 the Flu Pandemic raged around the world effecting over 500 million people and killing 20 million. In the United States 675,000 died from the flu. In North Carolina 13,000 died from what was called here, “Blue Death”. In North Carolina the disease started in Wilmington and traveled west along rail lines. It was a fast, deadly disease that effected the robust young’s lungs, filling them with fluid and killing by suffocation, often within 48 hours. Matthews writes, “There is nothing in the church records to indicate the trials of the years of World War I, the winter of the rampaging influenza epidemic when all assemblies were cancelled, and the months of record-breaking cold.” What we do know is that Charlotte was severely affected due in part to the establishment of Camp Greene.
At the start of World War I, Charlotte’s leaders induced Washington to establish a training camp in Charlotte with its milder southern climate and railroad lines. Named after Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene, on former cotton fields, the site was built in ninety days and included: stables, bakery, laundry, hospital, chapel, YMCA, water tower, post office, roads, men and material. Most of the men trained at Camp Greene came from Massachusetts expecting warm southern weather. What they found instead was record shattering cold, rain and mud. In June of 1917, Charlotte Mayor, Frank McNinch and the registry board, instituted the draft requiring men between 21 and 30 to register or face one year in prison. A total of 4,449 were enlisted with most being sent to camps further south for basic training. During the war years the membership of Providence ranged from 126 to 132 members and had 33 members serving in the military. Two members died during the war. Eugene Siler Ross died at Camp Humphreys, Virginia from the flu epidemic. Richard Williamson died in a train accident while enroute to embark for France. A memory shared by many who lived during that time was of the coffins stacked at the Charlotte Southern Railroad depot and at the camp, coffins stacked to the ceilings. The flu hastened the closing of Camp Greene at the end of World War I.
Pastor Kingsley, a native of East Tennessee, was much loved by your congregation. The Providence “manse” at that time included twelve to fourteen acres of arable land which Pastor Kingsley, who loved farming, kept cultivated with vegetable gardens and orchards. The fact that Kingsley was known for his farming, easy manner, and “instrumental in setting aside any feelings of class distinctions within the church.” Matthews, probably contributed greatly to his popularity. It is a credit to this man that during a period of profound national calamity, his pastorate was considered, “pleasant and harmonious.” Matthews. When Pastor Kingsley requested leaving the congregation in 1920, they found the money to offer him a full-time call.
In Genesis 50:20 Joseph says to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. ” Or put another way, many of the horrible events experienced in life can bring about positive change. The aftermath of the pandemic is one such example. Charlotte was so poorly prepared to meet the health disaster that massive improvements were needed. This resulted in a much improved public health system, and increase in hospital construction around the region. Opportunities for women increased a hundredfold as manpower became scare during the war, and the creation of Camp Greene brought road improvement, increase in manufacturing, and renovation of the area restaurants!!!! The military would not allow servicemen to frequent the local restaurants until sanitation was improved.
The pictures below show the hospital at Camp Greene and a vehicle stuck in the mud at the camp.
World War II brought earth shaking changes to the South and your congregation. An enormous influx of cash income to the South transformed a traditional society to a modern one. Economic advancement moved aside the reliance on agriculture and added industry, especially the chemical industry. The economy became more diversified. In 1945 the government investment in new plants and equipment helped to increase the productivity capacity of the national economy by 50%!! Charleston, SC became one of the fourth fastest growing areas in the nation. The availability of good paying jobs promoted the exodus of sharecroppers and tenant farmers. It propelled area farmers toward mechanization, and the hiring of Mexicans, and in some cases prisoners of war, to work the farms. It is estimated that 12% of the U.S. population moved to different counties following Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt’s New Deal brought farm programs to the South, while the military promoted, in some areas, racial desegregation. The war effort moved millions of people across the country and overseas ending the lingering isolation felt in the South, and building the foundation for what became known as the Sunbelt.
As in the rest of the South, the military played a huge role in the economy of the Charlotte area. The small Douglas Municipal Airport became the site of the Charlotte Army Airbase, later changed to the Morris Field, after William Colb Morris from Harrisburg, NC. A $6 million investment turned the former airport into a pilot training base covering several hundred acres and comprising nearly one hundred buildings. It was turned over to local officials in 1946 and later became the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Camp Sutton, on the outskirts of Monroe, handled the 18,000 servicemen overflow from Fort Bragg. In 1944 the training base shut down and was turned into a POW camp. After the war the camp was annexed into Monroe and became the site for industrial development. In Charlotte 2,500 civilians were employed by the Charlotte Quartermaster Depot which covered 72 acres with warehousing to supply materials for the war effort. The Depot was turned into the American Graves Registration Unit after the war. From this unit 5,170 soldier’s remains were delivered to their families in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia.
Over the course of writing these Chronicles I’ve relied repeatedly on the research of your historian Louise Barber Matthews. Her book “A History of Providence Presbyterian Church” is not only meticulously referenced, but a thoroughly delightful read. Published in 1967, it is a book I strongly recommend to your congregation as you approach your homecoming. My Chronicles are not meant to simply repeat her work (knowing my love of speaking that should not surprise you), but to fill in the spaces of her work, and bring some perspective from my ‘unique’ vantage point of being able to look at the local, national and global events that impacted your lives during the past 250 years. In preparing for the last fifty year period I will rely heavily on research provided by one of your members, Emily McCormick. She reminded me of two books found in the Providence Presbyterian Church conference room that are essential reads for those interested in the history of the Rea and the Snider families. The Rea family I know well as they came to Mecklenburg just five years after my arrival. Your church sits on land carved from 306 acres of the Rea original homestead. The two books are: “One Snider at a Time” by Neil Snider, and The Rea Families of Mecklenburg County North Carolina, by Lee Rea.
Pastor Wiley was called in 1934 to serve the combined pastorates of the Waxhaw and Providence churches in Mecklenburg Presbytery!!! He traveled nearly as much as I did doing God’s work. As Matthews writes, “This was not an easy pastorate and might well be compared in hardships to the strenuous lives of early ministers as they covered large areas of both the Carolinas on horseback. The combined congregations of Providence and Waxhaw extended from Charlotte to beyond the far borders of Union County.” During his time with you the old school house beside the church was removed and a new Educational Building was completed in time for the 1936 Homecoming. Electricity came to the campus in 1939 along with a new carpet in 1942, and the old coal furnace was replaced with an oil burning heating system in 1947. It was common during Pastor Wiley’s service to hold once a year a series of week long meetings hosted by guest ministers. As a result of one such series hosted by Dr. Egbert Smith the church decided to adopt partial support of a missionary family, the Joseph H. Spooner family, missionaries to the Belgian Congo. During the war years Pastor Wiley wrote monthly mimeographed letters containing news from your servicemen serving around the world. Matthews writes, “This work entailed writing hundreds of letters, making visits, and keeping in constant contact with anxious families. In the course of his fourteen years with Providence the membership increased by more than a hundred members and grew from an annual giving of $1276 to $11,000.
I am in debt to Louise Matthews as her exhaustive research on the founding and life of Providence Presbyterian formed the framework around which I wrote my Chronicles. She wrote in the preface to her book, “At the insistence of former pastor John E. Lake, the writer began this project without realizing the immense proportions of the undertaking…..My greatest regret is that full justice may not have been done; this history is far from being complete as I should like it to be.” I do not think Louise should feel any regret as her history is wonderfully crafted, an indispensable guide to anyone attempting further study, of not just your church history, but that of the Presbyterians in North Carolina. As I finish the last five Chronicles covering the remaining fifty years in your church history I hope Louise is smiling as the work she started is continued. I share her philosophy that, “The purpose of the history (and these Chronicles) has not been to glorify the deeds of our ancestors but to inspire us to serve more effectively in the present. Any backward look should illumine the present and serve as a guide for the future with the end result of renewed commitment.” Below is the Charlotte Observer article written about Louise and her book and efforts as Historian, Louise Matthews efforts to have Providence Presbyterian Church placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
I am in debt to Louise Matthews as her exhaustive research on the founding and life of Providence Presbyterian formed the framework around which I wrote my Chronicles. She wrote in the preface to her book, “At the insistence of former pastor John E. Lake, the writer began this project without realizing the immense proportions of the undertaking…..My greatest regret is that full justice may not have been done; this history is far from being complete as I should like it to be.” I do not think Louise should feel any regret as her history is wonderfully crafted, an indispensable guide to anyone attempting further study, of not just your church history, but that of the Presbyterians in North Carolina. As I finish the last five Chronicles covering the remaining fifty years in your church history I hope Louise is smiling as the work she started is continued. I share her philosophy that, “The purpose of the history (and these Chronicles) has not been to glorify the deeds of our ancestors but to inspire us to serve more effectively in the present. Any backward look should illumine the present and serve as a guide for the future with the end result of renewed commitment.” Below is the Charlotte Observer article written about Louise and her book and efforts Historian, Louise Matthews efforts to have Providence Presbyterian Church placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Not long after the end of World War II your congregation embarked on an extraordinary journey of faith when, for only the fourth time in its history, it called a full-time pastor. Then, with building supplies limited, it went on to built a new “manse”, and a new educational building with classroom space for two hundred persons. Providence Presbyterian Church was no stranger to men of faith drawn to missionary work, but Pastor Dr. Harold D. Hayward’s resume was extraordinary. A native of New York, Harold attended college in Seattle, WA, and graduated from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago in 1925. Following graduation he and his wife, Helen, volunteered in China as missionaries for fourteen years. They served in an area 2500 miles from Shanghai, much of that time living in a mud home. After a brief return to the U.S., and a degree in Islamics from Princeton Theological Seminary, they returned as missionaries to Lanchow, China near the Mongolian desert. Following this work, Harold became pastor of a church in Mt Vernon, New York and earned his Doctor of Theology degree from New York Theological Seminary. He served as a chaplain during World War II, taking part in three beach landings and returned to Mt Vernon in 1946, where he was working when your congregation called him in August of 1949.
While serving as your pastor, Harold was a visiting professor at Davidson, taught classes at Queens College, worked in areas of alcoholic rehabilitation and mental health concerns, and collected historical data for your church archives. During his service a new organ, chimes and “manse” were dedicated as part of the 1950 Homecoming. A Deacon’s Fund was started for use in the local congregation and community, designated parking spaces were created, and the New Revised Standard Version Bible was placed in the pews. Harold was also a musician and directed the youth and children’s choir of the church.
In 1957 your next pastor, John Lake, was called by your congregation. A graduate of Davidson College, John held degrees from Union Theological Seminary, and Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. Widowed in 1954, John later married Bernice Stroup who was employed as the Director of Christian Education at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. During John’s ministry in your church he organized Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs, and the committee system in church governance. He oversaw the move of the choir and organ to the rear gallery, the pastor’s office to the Education Building, and the completion of the new Fellowship Building in 1958.
Both these pastors, and those to follow, would find themselves ministering in the midst of what became known as The Civil Rights Movement. For seventy years (1890-1960) Jim Crow “legislation required blacks and whites to use separate facilities, attend different schools, sit in different places in theaters and buses, and even to be buried in different areas in cemeteries.” North Carolina History Project. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered schools to desegregate in its Brown decision and North Carolina resisted. About this time North Carolina blacks began “sit-ins”. Your next pastor, Thomas Alfred Cutting, straight out of seminary, served your congregation during these difficult years. I will introduce Tom to you in the next Chronicle, but will close here with his quote in The Charlotte News, May 6, 1967. “On even difficult matters such as race relations there have been Christian traditions to follow, Mr. Cutting explained. ‘”We have had a creative, open relationship with Negroes in the area going back into the 19th century. Leaders in the church here in the 1950’s let it be known that there would be no discrimination here. And that’s made my own ministry easier in attempting to interpret recent events in the city and county.'”
Writing these Chronicles I was continually reminded of God’s faithfulness to his people while watching your journey unfold. During your 200th Anniversary the Reverend Tom Cutting told The Charlotte News that the church traditions had, from its founding, promoted positive change, acting as a “force for progress…People here value their heritage but don’t worship it”, he said. “This has never been a particularly prestigious congregation. It’s always been a congregation that struggled.” Though these Chronicles at times reflected the mistakes and biases of the culture and times, they stand, I think, irrefutably as a testament to the love, trust and hope your people had in God as they tried to live their faith and do his will.
1963-1968 Thomas Alfred Cutting served as your pastor. During his tenure the Civil Rights Movement reached its zenith. Tom was largely responsible for encouraging Louise Matthews to write her “History of Providence Presbyterian Church 1767-1967” as part of the 200th Anniversary celebration. She wrote later, “The congregation has become increasingly aware of its mission beyond the doors of the old church building as Christ’s witness in the world” certainly a statement reflective of the times. Starting in the early 60’s President Kennedy “placed the executive branch of the federal government squarely behind desegregation efforts…endorsed a broad civil rights proposal to outlaw segregation in public accommodations.” While at the same time “blacks grew impatient with the slow progress in achieving desegregation…..and increasingly resorted to direct forms of protest. There were sit-ins at segregated lunch counters and Freedom Rides that challenged segregation in transportation facilities” James Ely, Jr., Vanderbilt University. Your Providence brothers and sisters witnessed: The 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech, Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Voting Rights Act of 1965, and The Twenty-fourth Amendment ratified barring poll tax requirements. The assassinations of Kennedy, his brother, and Martin Luther King took with their deaths our nation’s innocence. Amazingly, while Tom ministered to your congregation through the quagmire of the Civil Rights years he help grow the Church membership roll to its largest number ever, 326.
1968-1974 Friedrich Shilling Jr. (Fritz), the former pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, TN was your minister. Facing Fritz was a congregation in the South living with effects of the Vietnam War. Owen Gilman, Jr of St. Joseph’s University wrote in the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture that southerners have an ingrained sense of duty tempered with a fundamental conservatism, a reverence for American ideals and a readiness to defend democracy aggressively. He went on to write that during the Vietnam War four out of five army generals were from southern towns and this “disproportionate over representation of southerners in the army and marines reached all the way down to the lowest ranks.” The war resistance movement raged in the northern states, but was more moderate in the South. This was the ascendancy of Jesse Helms, then a radio commentator in Raleigh who is famously remembered for suggesting that the North Carolina Legislature, which was considering the creation of a state zoo, should instead consider putting a fence around the university in Chapel Hill which was the site of a series of student-administration stand offs during Vietnam War protests.
1975-1989 George (Wallace) Johnson served your congregation then moved to First Presbyterian Church in Hickory, NC. After retirement he and his wife Sallie moved to Montreat, NC. It was during the Wallace tenure that your first women were elected as Elders and Deacons. You will recognize these leader’s names: Elders- Catherine Rea, Dorothy Hrabanek, Jane Hudson, Evelyn Moore, Mildred Reid, and Deacons- Dianne Wagstaff, Evelyn Moore, Beverly Howard, Jan Chandler, and Sue Patton. World events continued to press against the lives of your congregation. President Nixon resigned in the aftermath of Watergate, Apollo 17 became the last manned mission to the moon, 18 year olds were allowed to vote, oil and gas prices rose as a result of the Arab Oil Embargo, Bill Gates founded Microsoft, Camp David Accords were signed, Harvey Milk was assassinated in San Francisco, Three Mile Island scared the nation and the Iran hostage situation began a second energy crisis, the Refugee Act admitted refugees on systematic basis for humanitarian reasons, and Ronald Reagan was inaugurated and the war on drugs began.
From my vantage point it was the AIDS epidemic, which started in 1981 in Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco with its attendant homophobia that posed the most significant challenges for the Church at large. In a 2010 letter beginning a report from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) the historical position of the Church on this crisis was beautifully stated, “From the first identification of cases in 1981, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has responded primarily with compassion and this remains an essential keynote. …This report does something that is not done enough: combine Christian hope and care with a clear-eyed social analysis that avoids overly-simple moralism….”‘Truth is in Order to goodness’ begins one of the ‘historic principles’ near the start of the Book of Order. It goes on, ‘we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice..'” Brady’s Parsons, Stated Clerk. It was this faith and practice principal that guided me in organizing the seven churches in the Carolina’s, and my fighting for religious freedom in the colony. It was this principal that inspired the “Religious Awakenings”, the missions to the Indians, the education for the undeserved, the communal responses to the epidemics, the economic depressions, the war scarcities, and so much more, and it continues today.