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Sketches of North Carolina
Chapter XXIX - Centre Congregation


GENERAL DAVIDSON fell on the eastern bank of the Catawba, on the western borders of Centre Congregation, resisting the passage of the British forces under Lord Cornwallis. After the celebrated victory of the Cowpens, Morgan hastened with his numerous prisoners towards Virginia, taking his route through Lincoln county, North Carolina, in the direction of Beattie's Ford, that he might place the army of Greene between him and the British army. Cornwallis moved up the western side of the river to intercept him and recover the prisoners; Greene moved up the eastern side to meet and succor his friend.

Here commenced the trial of generalship and skill between the two commanders, which was decided at the battle of Guilford, in the following March. The three bodies having about the same distance to march, to reach the ford, everything depended on the speed of Morgan's forces, encumbered as they were with their numerous restless captives. Greene left his army, and with a small guard rode across the country, and by his presence cheered the soldiers of Morgan to still greater speed; they gained the ford first. The morning after the crossing, Cornwallis was on the southern bank, hot in pursuit, but disappointed of his prey. The river, during the succeeding night, became swollen from the abundant rains; and the two days of delay to the British army, gave Morgan that advance towards Virginia, that his Lordship turned his whole attention to Greene, from whom he could not, with honor, retreat,--or cease to pursue.

Leaving General Davidson with the North Carolina force, to delay the crossing of the enemy as long as possible, Greene hastened on, in the rear of Morgan, to throw the Yadkin between him and his advancing foe. Graham's rifle company was stationed at Cowan's Ferry, a few miles below Beattie's Ford, where, after some manoeuvres, the passage was at length attempted, and kept up a galling fire on the British line, as it waded the Catawba. Many officers and privates went down the stream or disappeared beneath the waters, pierced by their deadly balls. General Davidson, attracted by the firing, rode to the bank for observation, accompanied by Colonel Polk, of Charlotte, and the Rev. Thomas H. McCaule, the pastor of the congregation that now lay in the track of the hostile armies. In a few moments he fell from his horse, (lead, by a rifle shot. As the British infantry used muskets only, it was supposed that a tory, who had acted as guide to the enemy, and knew Davidson, gave the fatal shot from the opposite bank. No one ever claimed the honor of the death of the most popular man in the region; and his rank did not protect his body from being plundered to nakedness. The militia and volunteers now gave way, and hastened after Greene, who was in Salisbury refreshing himself, with Mrs. Steele, in preparation for crossing the Yadkin.

General William Davidson was born in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, 1746, the youngest son of George Davidson. The family removed to Carolina in 1750. Young Davidson was educated at Queen's Museum. lie was major of one of the first regiments raised in Carolina during the war. The monument voted by Congress has never been erected. His body, buried without a coffin, lies like that of his friends, Dr. Brevand and Hezekiah Alexander, without a stone to mark the place.

The boundaries of Centre congregation were originally large, and, With the limits of Thyatira, filled a broad space from the Catawba to the Yadkin: they began at John Cathey's, south of Beattie's Ford, on the Catawba; from thence to Matthew M'Corkle's and Thomas Harris's; from thence to David Kerr's, on the Old Salisbury Road; from thence to Galbraith Nails, northeast corner; from thence to John Oliphant's; from thence down the river to the first-named place.

The first Presbytery that met between the two rivers held its sessions in Centre; the first meeting of Concord Presbytery was in Centre; and there too the "Synod of the Carolinas" was organized. The tradition is, that the first white child born between the two rivers was in Centre, in a tent pitched upon a broad flat rock; the name of the child is not certain, supposed however to be Mary Barnet, granddaughter of Thomas Spratt, that settled finally near Charlotte, and held the first court of Mecklenburg county at his house.

The location of Centre Meeting-house was a matter of compromise in 1765. The various missionaries that had been sent to preach in the southern vacancies, had previously field meetings for public worship at Osborne's meeting-house, and various private houses in the different neighborhoods. By the persuasions of the delegates sent by the Synod of Philadelphia, the various preaching-places were given up, and a centre spot chosen for the permanent worship of the large congregation which lies partly in each of the two counties, Iredell and Mecklenburg. The names of many famiIies embraced in this congregation were notorious in the Revolution, particularly those of Brevard, Osborne, and Davidson.

The inhabitants were of the same race as those of Sugar Creek and Hopewell; of equal spirit in public matters, and as decided in religion; and were building their cabins at the same time with the congregation of Thyatira.

During the Revolutionary war, the Rev. Thomas Harris McCaule was pastor of this large congregation, having been ordained in 1776, when the congregation covered about ten miles square. Little is known of his early life. Scarce of the medium height, of a stout frame, and full body, of dark, piercing eyes, a pleasant countenance, and winning manners, with a fine voice, he was popular both as a preacher and as a man. Public-spirited, he encouraged the Revolution ; and in the time of the invasion, went with his flock to the camp, and was beside General William Davidson when he fell. Of so much repute was lie, as a public-spirited man, that he was once run for the Governor's chair, and failed in the election by a very small vote. His classical attainments were such, that after the peace, when Mount Zion College was established at Winnsborough in South Carolina, he was made its principal Professor. Many eminent ministers were trained under his instruction.

Who was Mr. McCaule's predecessor is not now known, and his successor is equally undetermined. Dr. McRee, in his manuscripts, tells us that there was a flourishing classical school in the bounds of Centre at a very early period, and after continuing about twenty years was broken up by the invasion. In this school he was himself educated; also, Professor Houston of Princeton College, Rev. Josiah Lewis, Colonel Adlai Osborne, Dr. Ephraim Brevard and others. But he does not tell us whether Mr. McCaule was connected with the school. A part of the time it was carried on by a Mr. McEwin.

Dr. James McRee, who ministered for about thirty years to this congregation, was born May 10th, 1152, about a mile from the present place of worship, on the place now owned by Rufus Reed, Esq. Isis parents were from the County Down, Ireland, and emigrated soon after their marriage. "They belonged," he says, "to the Presbyterian denomination, talked often about the reformation from Popery, the bloody Queen Mary, the battle of the Boyne, the death of Duke Schomberg, the gunpowder plot, and the accession of William, Prince of Orange, to the British throne."

From his description of his father's library, we can have some idea of the man, and probably of the times and neighborhood, as it is not spoken of as extraordinary, except in its size. It consisted of the Holy Bible, the Confession of Faith, Vincent's Catechism, Boston's Fourfold State of Man, Allen's Alarm to Sinners, Baxter's Call to the Unconverted, and his Saint's Rest. As a specimen of the religious reading of Centre congregation, it is commendable, considering the difficulty of procuring books, and the fact that few possessed more. The religious sentiments formed from these volumes were not likely to be erroneous or inefficient. He further adds that it was the custom every Sabbath (lay, to ask the questions of the Shorter Catechism to each member of the family in rotation; and the young people that could not repeat them, were not considered as holding a respectable rank in society.

At the age of twenty-one, he entered the junior class in Princeton College, in the year 1773, having received his common and his academic education while residing in Carolina. After receiving his degree of A.B., he spent a year as private tutor in the family of Colonel Burwell Bassett, in New Kent county, Virginia. The winter of 1776 and 1777 he passed reading theology, under the direction of "his highly esteemed former teacher and friend, the Rev. Joseph Alexander, of Bullock's Creek, in South Carolina." In April, 1778, he was licensed by Concord Presbytery to preach the gospel; and in the November following he was settled in his own house in Steele Creek congregation, as pastor of the church, having been united in marriage to Rachel Cruser of Mapleston, New Jersey. He continued with this congregation about twenty years.

During the time of his being pastor of this congregation the subject of psalmody was extensively discussed, particularly in relation to the introduction of Watt 's Psalms and Hymns. Mr. M'Ree delivered a course of sermons on the whole subject of Psalmody as part of Christian worship, and condensed the substance of his discourses into an essay of great clearness and force, which has not been surpassed for strength of argument or clearness of expression. Should an essay on that subject be demanded by the times, Mr. M'Ree might, though dead, still speak to posterity.

The scenes of his early ministry were too deeply impressed upon his mind to be erased by aim absence of forty years. In a letter to W. L. Davidson, dated Swannanoe, January 26th, 1835. he says, "If my desires were fully gratified, I should yet see, with my treble vision, the meeting-houses of Steele Creek and Centre, the grave-yards in which my relations, friends, acquaintance, contemporaries, lie. And not only these, but all the surrounding congregations, which were generally -vacant when I settled in Steele Creek, and which I often visited as supply. Often have I ridden in the morning to Bethel, Providence, Sugar Creek and Hopewell, and returned home in the evening of that clay. These scenes, these doings, now while I am writing, are as fresh on my mind as the events of yesterday."

After giving up Steele Creek, various vacancies were presented to him for consideration; Pine-street Church, Philadelphia, Princeton, New Jersey, and Augusta, Georgia, and his native congregation Centre. "The shortness of life, the uncertainty of all things here, extensive acquaintance, relations, numerous friends, a pleasant, healthful country, native soil, all combined and said, stay where you are." He was settled in Centre in 1798, and continued pastor of the church about thirty years.

On account of infirmities of age he crave up his pastoral charge, and removed into the mountains and resided with his children. In the year 1839, he said his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, amounted to eighty. He said he preached more than one thousand times in Steele Creek church ; and at that time not one was living that used to meet him there as members of his church; that he laid in Steele Creek grave-yard his father and mother, five brothers and two sisters; that he preached in Centre about two thousand times; and that on leaving his congregations he was unable to preach a farewell on account of his own feelings.

In writing to W. L. Davidson, of Centre, from Swannanoe, he says, "We often think of you. The faithful friend, who has lived with me almost sixth--one years, often says 'Betsey Lee Davidson.' Mr. Addison put it into the mouth of Cardinal Wolsey to say, 'the king shall have my service, but my prayers for ever and for ever shall be yours.' Here, among the mountains, I may terminate the few last days that may remain of a long life; but my warmest affections and best wishes will never be withdrawn from the place of my nativity. The present inhabitants, as to me, are nearly all new comers; I wish them well ; and sincerely wish that they may do better in their day than their fathers have done, who have gone before them, and purchased for them, at the high price of their blood, a rich inheritance.

"May the decline of your lives, which has already made its appearance, be attended with many and rich mercies! May your last days be your best days; and may your final departure, like the setting sun, be serene and full of glory!"

Of middling stature, handsomely proportioned, agreeable in manners, winning in conversation, neat in his dress, dignified in the pulpit, fluent in his delivery, he was a popular preacher, and retained his influence long after he ceased to be active in the vineyard. Always a friend of education; in the latter part of his life he became increasingly anxious for the prosperity of academies, colleges, and theological seminaries, to meet the wants of the rising generation; deeply convinced that the welfare of his beloved country depends upon intelligence, morality and religion. He closed his career March 28th, 1840.

Bethel and Prospect are both within the old bounds of Centre. Davidson College, that took its name from General William Davidson, has its location also in Centre, which still continues a large congregation, and for many years has been but a short time unsupplied by a regular minister. Davidson College will be noticed in another place. Mr. Espy, that ministered here for a time, lies buried in Salisbury, and is noticed under the head of Thyatira. The graveyard of Centre has monuments for the following names of families settled in its bounds before the Revolution:—Davidson, Rees, Hughes, Ramsey, Brevard, Osborne, Winslow, Kerr, Rankin, Templeton, Dickey, Braley, Moore and Emerson.


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