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Sketches of North Carolina
Chapter XVIII - New Providence and its Ministers


ABOUT twelve miles south of Charlotte, on one of the routes to Camden, you will find in a beautiful oak grove, through which the great road passes, the place of assemblage for the worship of God, of the church and congregation of New Providence, or Providence, as it is now more commonly called. Here, as in revolutionary times, are gathered from Sabbath to Sabbath, the inhabitants of a large section of country, which was the scene of many thrilling incidents, when Lord Cornwallis, with his royal army, tested the principles of the North Carolina Presbyterians. The name of the congregation was adopted from one in Pennsylvania, and as an acknowledgment of a kind providence in the circumstances of the settlement of the congregation, particularly in their being unmolested by the Indians.

Owing to the distance of this country from a printing press, before and for some time after the revolution, few books or pamphlets are to be found under the name of any of the Presbyterian ministers that labored so unremittingly among the churches of this interesting population. The law of custom had decided that the destruction of manuscripts was a part of preparation for death, as solemn and indispensable as the making the last will and testament. Very little of the records of the thoughts of these men have been preserved from this destruction. And the unfortunate burning of some houses, together with the carelessness of those who might have rescued some things from oblivion, leaves the present generation in wondering ignorance of the trials, and energy, and principles of those brave and excellent men.

The grave of but one minister is found in the burial-place at Providence. Step into the yard a few paces from the church, and among the chiselled names of Stitt, Potts, McKee, Rea, Patterson, McCullock, and Matthews, the oldest of which bears date of 1764, you will find the plain monument of Wallis, who served the congregation from 1792 till 1819. His mother's monument you will find in the old grave-yard of Sugar Creek, in the corner opposite to Craighead's sassafras trees. Of the previous ministers the account. are scanty, especially as the congregation was not so fortunate as some of its neighbors in retaining its ministers for a protracted period. Of Mr. Wallis, we shall say more in the close of this chapter.

Settlements in the bounds of this congregation were made about the same time as those in Sugar Creek, and Steel Creek, and Rocky River, and by the same kind of emigrants. The first ministerial labors the settlement enjoyed, beside what they could receive from Mr. Craighead, were from the Rev. William Richardson, who was licensed by Hanover Presbytery, at a meeting at Capt. Anderson's, in Cumberland, Virginia, Jan. 25th 1758. On the 18th of July following, at the first meeting of the Presbytery after the union of the Synods of New York and Philadelphia, held in Cumberland, Mr. Richardson and Mr. Pattillo were ordained. He was appointed to attend at Rocky River on the 27th of the September following, to perform the installation services for Mr. Craighead, being on his way to the Cherokees. how long he remained with the Cherokees is not known. In 1761, he is reported as having left Hanover Presbytery, and joined the Presbytery in South Carolina, not in connection with the Synod. In 1762, the Presbytery sustained his reasons for joining that Presbytery without dismission from his own, with which he was in regular connection.

Mr. Richardson was the maternal uncle of the famous Wm. Richardson Davie, so noted in the southern war, adopted him as his son, superintended his education, and made him heir of an estate, every shilling of which Davie expended in equipping the corps of which he was made Major in 1780.

How long he preached in Providence is not known. His residence was in South Carolina.

The first elders in the church were Andrew Ilea, Archibald Crocket, Joshua Ramsey, and Aaron Howie. For some time previous to the organization of the church in 1765, there had been but one place acknowledged as the place of worship by the people of this congregation, and that is the grove where the meeting-house now stands, in the shade of whose trees the first public worship was celebrated until a house was built.

In 1766, there is a notice on the records of the Synod of "a call for settlement among them, from Steel Creek and New Providence." About this time Mr. Robert Henry, who gathered the church on Cub Creek, Virginia, resolved, after ministering to that charge for a number of years, to leave them; and an engagement was made for his services in these two congregations. By the records of the Hanover Presbytery, it appears he was dismissed from Cub Creek in 1766; and his death is reported to the Presbytery as having taken place May 8th, 1767.

The following articles of agreement between Providence and Clear Creek (now called Philadelphia) have been preserved by Wm. Queary. "Whereas, the representation of both congregations doth unanimously agree among themselves, in the names of both the aforesaid congregations, to stand and abide by each other from time to time through all difficulties, in order to obtain the labors of a gospel minister, that is to say, the one-half of his labors to one congregation, and the other to the other. And for a true and sincere union for the truth of the aforesaid articles, the representation of both congregations bath hereunto subscribed their names, Jan. 27th, 17 70. New Providence—John Ramsey, James Linn, John Hagens, James Houston, Andrew Reah, James Draffen, James Johnston, James Teate, Thomas Black, Robert Stewart: Clear Creek—Adam Alexander, Matthew Stewart, John Queary, Michael Ligget, John Ford."

Two of the above names appear in the list of the Mecklenburg Declaration, viz :—Adam Alexander and John Queary, which shows that the men were public-spirited men, that formed this representation. But we have no memoranda now to inform us of the effects of this union upon the religious concerns of the congregation. Neither have we any detailed account of the ecclesiastical concerns of the congregation during the arduous struggle of the Revolution. It is known that Thomas Reese preached in Mecklenburg for some time when the other congregations were generally supplied with at least some part of the services of a minister; and that from his pen emanated some of the effective papers that moved the inhabitants of Mecklenburg; he is supposed to have given some part of his time to Providence. Mr. McRee came from Steel Creek to supply the pulpit, for some time, as he says he often rode from home to preach for them on the Sabbath. Mr. Archibald came over from Rocky River and Poplar Tent, and supplied them for a season. The Rev. David Barr labored in the bounds for some time, but did not make it his permanent residence.

The congregation lying on the route of the armies moving north or south, suffered its full share in the plunderings which, by the account of the British historians, were severe, at the time Cornwallis moved on to Charlotte. The night before he approached that village, he encamped in Providence, on the ground occupied by Colonel Davie, with the few American forces that behaved so nobly when united to the few militia and volunteers that joined them in Charlotte, "keeping in check the whole British army." The greatest trial in the war was upon those neighborhoods and sections of country subjected to the plunderings of the army of the king. It was not a sudden and great danger, or even bloodshed, in a good cause, by assault or regular battle, in which the excitement of the occasion carries the spirit triumphant through. But an annoyance in the smaller matters of property, and the private concerns; a taking away of the comfort of domestic life, a harassing of defenceless females and helpless age and children; and this continued from day to day, when all the enthusiasm of excitement had spent its force; and principle itself could scarce sustain the accumulated weight of numberless petty privations and aggravations, crowned as they sometimes were with conflagration and butchery, that entailed exile or poverty. It is a matter of admiration that under the pressure of all these evils so few of the inhabitants in Mecklenburg ever thought of deserting the cause of liberty, or of "taking protection," though many families saw their wealth swept with a merciless hand. And the few that yielded in the trial were subjects of commiseration rather than of severe censure and harsh denunciation.

JAMES WALLIS, who was the first minister that gave protracted service to Providence, spent his ministerial life in the congregation. He was born in 1762, in Sugar Creek, son of Ezekiel Wallis. His early education was at Liberty Hall in Charlotte; and his college course was completed at Winnsborough, South Carolina, under Dr. Barr. He was ordained pastor in 1792, by the Presbytery of Orange, and never changed his congregation till death.

Soon after entering upon his office in this congregation, commenced a new anti till then unknown conflict about the Bible. That the Presbyterian ministers south of Yadkin had been true patriots, no man in the country, or in the British army, pretended to deny. Their names were not unknown in the camp; and the pulpits of the seven churches poured forth the highest intellectual efforts in discussing the rights of man, and sustaining the sinking spirits of the distressed country, by the abounding consolations of the word of God. The minister and his congregation prayed,--the father in his family prayed,—the soldier in his tent, and in the woods, prayed,—and the commander at the head of the forces often commenced the march with prayer. And it was no idle form of Prayer, but a pouring out of the heart to God Almighty for his protection in the struggle for liberty and truth.

Dr. Robinson, of Poplar Tent, used to tell an anecdote of an old gentleman, by the name of Alexander, in one of the neighboring congregations, that did not think of neglecting his religious duties though called into camp as a soldier. Being sent out to intercept some tories, very early one morning, when his post was assigned him, with the general orders to wait their near approach and take sure aim, he took the opportunity for a few moments of devotion. Taking off his hat he knelt down in the attitude of a worshipper; upon the near approach of the enemy he resumed his post and waited the signal. The unhappy tory that encountered the shot of his rifle fell dead. The whole party of tories were soon dispersed or taken. As in the time of Cromwell the praying soldiers did not run or play the coward.

When the war was over, then came the other contest of fearful import, whose influence was felt everywhere, but nowhere in Carolina with more violence than in Mecklenburg county. The authority of the king had been discussed and set aside; the battle between the crown and the people had been fought, and won by the people. Then came the discussion about the dominion of conscience—what should govern conscience, philosophy or the Bible? Should philosophy dictate to the Bible, or the Bible to all the world? The authority of the Bible underwent a sifting discussion, such as Carolina had never seen, and may never see again. From the nature of the case that discussion was vehement in Mecklenburg, and from accidental circumstances embittered in Providence. A debating society,—and debating societies for political purposes were common in those days,—was formed in the region of country embracing a part of Sugar Creek, and Steel Creek and Providence, and furnished with a circulating library, replete with infidel philosophy and infidel sentiments on religion and morality. Everything of a religious nature was called in question and discussed; and the standard of opposition was raised with a boldness becoming a better cause. Caldwell of Sugar Creek, and Wallis of Providence, brothers in the ministry, and sons-in-law of John M'Knitt Alexander, were in the hottest of the battle, as infidelity is never so outrageous as when it takes its seat, or strives to take it, in a Christian community.

With different natural temperament, they met the strife like courageous men: CaldweIl, cool, clear and amiable, and loved where he could not convince; Wallis, clear, strong, ardent, and more dreaded though less loved; both unfaltering, and unwearied and honored. Caldwell left politics to other hands, and preached the gospel; Wallis proclaimed the great principles of democracy as part of his creed; and asserted, with them, the unlimited control of the word of God in all matters pertaining to conscience, whether public or private. He prepared a pamphlet in which were condensed the arguments of Watson, Paley and Leslie, and circulated it among his people and through the country. A pamphlet as well calculated to produce the effect designed—the exhibition of the evidences of revelation in contradiction to all infidel notions—has se-(loin been issued from the press. A reprint would be advantageous where discussion on the subject of revelation is called for.

The debating society embraced wealth and talent, and for a time maintained the contest with spirit. Emigration to Tennessee, in which the library was carried across the mountains, and the great revival of 1802 broke it up.

While this discussion was going on, and men were arguing for and against the Bible with excited and sometimes angry feelings, another cause of unhappiness arose. Mr. Wallis had occasion to be absent a few Sabbaths, and obtained the favor of IIev. Win. C. Davis, to supply his pulpit one Sabbath. Mr. Davis, on the day of his supply, made use of the version of' Psalms by 'Watts. As the congregation had never agreed to introduce this version, and as many families were opposed to their use in public worship, offence was taken; arid the blame was thrown on 11Ir. Wallis as having been privy to the matter. The discontented withdrew, and for a time worshipped in a building about three hundred yards from the old stand; this, however, was soon abandoned, and the seceding families now worship at Sardis, about seven miles distant; the subject of Psalmody being the principal matter of division.

The great revival of 1802 and onward, a particular account of which is given in the chapter on James M'Gready and the great revival, had a happy influence on this congregation. A camp-meeting was held within their bounds, commencing Friday, March 23d, 1802, at which it was supposed from five to six thousand persons were present. To accommodate this great assemblage, after a sermon at the public stand in the centre, about 9 o'clock, worship was continued at five different places. For the first three days little impression was made, and the opinion that "all was the work of man, and the effects of the power of oratory," which had been circulated by those inclined to believe in the infidel notions, was gaining ground. But on Sabbath night a great impression was visible, and before the close of the meeting a large number were hopeful converts; and among these were some that had been prominent in their unbelief'. There are some living to this day who were converts at that meeting, whose lives have been those of consistent Christians.

Mr. Wallis taught a classical school many years. The deep conviction, that purity of religion and morals could not long survive the introduction of an ignorant ministry into the pulpit, urged on the ministers of the Presbyterian church to unremitting efforts to establish and keep alive high schools. In these efforts they received the aid of intelligent laymen, who were impelled by the full belief, that the welfare of the body politic is for ever indissolubly united with mental cultivation and the correct training of the moral principles. Long has the academy stood near Providence church, and there may it long stand. The church and the school-house were inseparable in the early Presbyterian settlements. Mr. Wallis taught school successfully, and his successors have kept the doors of the academy open for the youth of Mecklenburg; and when the actors of the present generation have passed from the stage, their record will say of many of them, that their education was commenced, and of others, that it was finished there. It does not appear that Mr. Wallis was driven to school-keeping by poverty of his means; but from the necessity of the country at large, and his congregation in particular.

Mr. Wallis was for some time before his death a member of the board of trustees of the University. This shows the estimation in which he was held by his political friends, when there were so many Presbyterian ministers of eminence as teachers, from whom to choose.

Mr. Wallis was of stature rather below the middling Height, small in person, quick in his motions, and elastic in his movements; excitable in his temper, warm in his attachments, ardent in his delivery of sermons, and not subject to fear. His congregation flourished under his ministry. He finished his course in the year 1819, in the 57th year of his age, and the 27th of his ministry.

In the year 1823, the Rev. Samuel Williamson was called and settled as pastor; in this office he continued till his removal to the presidency of Davidson college in the year 1840. During his ministry, about the year 1831, those members of Providence living on the north side of McAlpin's Creek, from four to ten miles from Providence church, with a few other families, were organized as a separate church and congregation by the name of SHARON, to which a part of the labors of the pastor, Mr. Williamson, was given.

Providence abounds in localities of revolutionary interest. A complete history of the southern war will bring to notice many places now fast passing even from traditionary remembrance.


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