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Sketches of North Carolina
Chapter IV - Commencement of Presbyterian Settlements in North Carolina


ABOUT the year 1735, a race of people diverse in habits, manners, forms of religious worship and doctrinal creed from those who had previously taken their abode in Virginia and the Carolinas, and destined to exert a grand and controlling influence on the enterprise, wealth, and prosperity of those States, began to erect their habitations along the western frontiers, and form a line of defence against the savages of the mountains and the great west, by their strong neighborhoods of hardy, enterprising men, in that region of country extending from the Potomac river to the Savannah, which now forms the heart of these States, and is most abundant in resources of men and things.

Previously to that date, the emigrants to Virginia, whose descendants had spread out over the lower counties, and were progressing towards the mountains, were chiefly from England, with a few Scotch and Irish families intermingled, with one colony of Germans in Madison county, and one of Huguenots a few; miles above Richmond, each having its own peculiar forms of religious worship, and ministers proclaiming the gospel in their native tongue.

Iii North Carolina the first permanent settlements had been formed by fugitives from Virginia, who sought refuge in the mild climate and extended forests of this unoccupied region,—some from the rigid, intolerant laws of that colony, which bore so heavily on all that could not conform to the ceremonies of the established church,—and some from a desire to escape from the jurisdiction of all law, delighted with the license enjoyed in the plains and swamps of a country which, previous to the 18th century, scarce knew the exercise of civil authority. When the Puritans were driven from Virginia, some eminently pious people settled along the seaboard, safe from foreign invasion, and free from the domestic oppression of intolerant laws and bigoted magistrates. Next to these were the emigrants from the West Indies and from England, who preferred the advantages offered by this uninhabited country to those of a more populous state. About the year 1707, a colony of Huguenots was located on the Trent river; and one of Palatines at Newborn, in 1709; each maintaining the peculiar habits, customs, and religious services of the fatherland. The Quakers, at an early date, cast in their lot with the colony of Virginia; and many were compelled to fly from the execution of the severe laws passed against their sect., and found refuge in Carolina. They were of English descent, and at that time, too few, in either State, to exert a preponderating influence on the community at large.

The Presbyterian race, from the north of Ireland, is not found in Virginia and North Carolina, till after the year 1730, except in scattered families, or some small neighborhoods on the Chesapeake. Soon after this period it is found at the base of the Blue Ridge in Albemarle, Nelson, and Amherst, in Virginia; and then in the great valley. About the year 1136 a colony of Presbyterians, from the province of Ulster, Ireland, commenced their residence on the head springs of the Opecquon in Frederick county, near the present town of Winchester; and their descendants are found in the congregation that bears the name of the creek in that county, and also in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana. About the same time, or perhaps a little earlier, John Caldwell, from the north of Ireland, commenced a settlement on Cub-creek, in Charlotte county, Virginia, then a province; and persuaded a colony of his countrymen to unite with him. Their descendants are found in the Cub-creek congregation, and those congregations that have grown out of it: and also in Kentucky and South Carolina—the eminent political character, John Caldwell Calhoun, being one of them. About the year 1736, Henry McCulloch persuaded a colony from Ulster, Ireland, to occupy his expected grant in Duplin county, North Carolina. Their descendants are widely scattered over the lower part of the State, and the southwestern States, with an influence that cannot be easily estimated.

About the same period, the Presbyterian settlements were commenced in Augusta and Rockbridge counties, Virginia; and speedily increasing, they formed numerous large congregations, which are still flourishing, having given rise to many other congregations in the counties further west, and also in the western States. From all these have arisen hosts of men that have acted conspicuous parts east and west of the Alleghanies, during the century that has passed since the emigrants built their cabins on the frontiers of Virginia and Carolina.

The loss of the early records of Orange presbytery has left us without the means of ascertaining the precise year the Presbyterian colonies in Granville, Orange, Rowan, Mecklenburg, and, in fact, in all that beautiful section extending from the Dan to the Catawba, began to occupy the wild and fertile prairies. But it is well known, that, previously to the year 1750, settlements of some strength were scattered along from the Virginia line to Georgia. On account of the inviting nature of the climate and soil, and the comparative quietness of the Catawba Indians, and the severity of the Virginia laws in comparison with those of Carolina, on the subject of religion, many colonies were induced to pass through the vacant lands in Virginia, in the neighborhood of their countrymen, and seek a borne in the Carolinas. As early as 1740, there were scattered families on the Hico, and Eno, and Haw—and cabins were built along the Catawba.

The time of setting off the frontier counties is known, but is no guide to the precise time of the first settlements. Granville county was set off from Edgecomb in 1743, and extended west to the charter limits; Bladen was taken from New Hanover in 1733, its western boundary being the charter limits; and in 1749 Anson was set off from Bladen with the same western boundary. The two counties, Anson and Granville, embraced all the western part of the State in 1749. Orange was set off from Bladen in 1751, and Rowan from Anson in 1753, and Mecklenburg from Anson in 1762. These dates show the progress of emigration and increase of population, but do not fix the time when the cabins-of the whites began to supplant the wigwams of the Indians. The dates of the land patents do not mark the time of emigration, as in some cases the lands were occupied a long period before grants were made, and the lands surveyed; and in others, patents were granted before emigration. Some of the early settlements of Presbyterians were made before the lands were surveyed, particularly in the upper country.

Emigration was encouraged and directed very much in its earliest periods, by the vast prairies, with pea-vine grass and canebrakes, which stretched across the States of Virginia and Carolina. There are large forests now in these two States, where, a hundred years ago, not a tree, and scarce a shrub could be seen. These prairies abounded with game, and supplied abundant pasturage, both winter and summer, for the various kinds of stock that accompanied the emigrants, and formed for years no small part of their wealth. In 1744, Lord Cranville's share of North Carolina was set off by metes and bounds, having Virginia on the north; a line drawn froiu the sea-shore westward on the parallel of 38° 34' north latitude, on the south; the Atlantic Ocean on the east; and the unexplored ocean on the west. The great inducements offered by his lordship and his agents, the beauty and healthiness of the country, the fertility of the soil, and the low rate at which tracts of land were set to sale, attracted attention, and brought purchasers for residence and for speculation. Every additional colony increased the value of the remaining possessions of his lordship.

The remaining part of the upper country was held by grants made from the crown, from time to time, and by the grantees sold out in smaller sections. There is nothing, however, in the peculiar circumstances of making the land purchases, or in the country itself, or the time in which the settlements were made, that can account for the spirit, principles, and habits of the people. These they brought with them, and left as a legacy to their children they had wrought wonders in the fatherland, turning the scale of revolution in 1688, putting the crown on the head of William, Prince of Orange, and working out purity of morals, inspiring a deep sense of religious liberty and personal independence, under all the withering influences of prelacy, aristocracy, and royalty.

While the tide of emigration was setting fast and strong into the fertile regions between the Yadkin and Catawba, from the north of Ireland, through Pennsylvania and Virginia, another tide was flowing from the Highlands of Scotland, and landing colonies of Presbyterian people along the Cape Fear River. Authentic records declare that the Scotch had found the sandy plains of Carolina, many years previous to the exile and emigration that succeeded the crushing of the hopes of the house of Stuart, in the fatal battle of Culloden, in 1746. But in the year following that event, large companies of Highlanders seated themselves in Cumberland county; and in a few years the Gaelic language was heard familiarly in Moore, Anson, Richmond, Robeson, Baden, and Sampson. Among these people and their children, the warm-hearted preacher and patriot, James Campbell, labored more than a quarter of a century; and with them, that romantic character, Flora McDonald, passed a portion of her days. As many congregations were formed among these Highlanders, who were all Presbyterians, as that devoted, but solitary man of God, Mr. Campbell, could visit in the performance of the duties of his sacred offices.

In the upper part of the State, between the Virginia and Carolina line, along the track traversed by the army of Cornwallis in the war of the Revolution, there were above twenty organized churches, with large congregations, and a great many preaching-ultimately to prevail throughout the world, triumphing over human depravity itself, we must go back to the ancestry of these people, which, like the origin of the proudest house and longest line of crowned heads in Continental Europe—is from the dust—the poorest of a shrewd and enterprising people. The farthest limit, however, to which the research will be carried, is about the commencement of the seventeenth century; and as we trace the progress of events, and the developments of truth through the seventeenth century, and more than half of the eighteenth, we shall look with less surprise than did Governor Tryon, on the resistance to oppression he experienced in Orange; or than Governor Josiah Martin, on the declaration of independence, made at Charlotte these events will seem to flow as streams from the enduring fountains of Truth and Liberty.

All advancement in society has been the fruit of the religious principle; and of all religious principles that have influenced society, those have been most effective that have most exalted God, and put the lowest estimate on the moral purity of human nature, and the means of human devising for the purification of our race. Those have done most for mankind that have first taught the creature to despair of himself, and next to trust in God; think less of property than life, and less of life than principles; and to value the hopes and expectations of eternity immeasurably more than the things of time. With such principles men may be poor and unpolished, but can never be mean or undone; they may be crushed, but never degraded. When Tryon returned to his palace in Newborn, after the bloodshed on the Alamance, he feasted. The people of Orange mourned under the oath of allegiance exacted with terrible sanctions, and at the sight of the gallows-tree where their neighbors had died ignominiously. he was the minion of arbitrary power; they were temporarily crushed. He was finally driven from the provinces of America, and they bequeathed to their children the inheritance of a beautiful land, with all that civil and religious freedom they ever desired.

Looking back from the time of the bloodshed on the Alamance, or the Declaration of Independence in Charlotte, over a period of half a century, and then forward on the things that next succeeded in the space of another half century—the events of both which periods have passed away to the province of history,—and we have an exhibition of principles and men worthy of being written and read by all mankind, and through all time. The wonderful prosperity of the last quarter of a century but adds to the interest of the previous thrilling events. Could the leaders of the people that formed the population of which we speak, for one generation in Ireland, and for two in America that immediately succeeded the first large emigration—and in both lands, for that time, the real leaders were godly men—could these now rise from the graves to which they went down, some in peace, some in the sorrow of hope, and could they speak the language of earth, they would sing a Psalm of David louder than Merrill at the gallows—louder than they ever sang at a communion season, or revival, in Ireland or in Carolina—the beautiful sixty-sixth: "O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard; which holdeth our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved. For thou, O God, hast proved us; and thou hast tried us as silver is tried. Thou broughtest us into the net, thou layedst affliction upon our loins. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire, and through water; but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place. I will go into thy house with burnt offerings; I will pay thee my vows; which my lips have uttered and my mouth hath spoken when I was in trouble." And would not their posterity in and around the grand Alleghanies shout with 'a voice of thunder and a heart of love,—" The Lord God omnipotent reigneth! Alleluia! Amen!"

For about two centuries and a half this race of people have had one set of moral, religious, and political principles, working out the noblest frame-work of society; obedience to the just exercise of law; independence of spirit; a sense of moral obligations; strict attendance on the worship of Almighty God; the choice of their own religious teachers; with the inextinguishable desire to exercise the same privilege with regard to their civil rulers, believing that magistrates govern by the consent of the people, and by their choice. These principles, brought from Ireland, bore the same legitimate fruit in Carolina as in Ulster Province, whose boundaries travellers say can be recognized by the peace and plenty that reign within. Men will not be able fully to understand Carolina till they have opened the treasures of history, and drawn forth some few particulars respecting the origin and religious habits of the Scotch-Irish, and become familiar with their doings previous to the Revolution—during that painful struggle—and the succeeding years of prosperity; and Carolina will be respected as she is known.


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