Presbyterian Expansion South and West

Henry Jones Ford

The introduction of Presbyterianism in South Carolina was almost coeval with the Chesapeake Bay settlements. The first Presbyterian settlers were Scotch, being part of the migration to America from Scotland that set in after the battle of Bothwell in 1684. A body of twenty-two sailed from Glasgow to Carolina and settled at Port Royal on the Broad River. William Dunlap served as minister to this flock, which eventually dispersed as the place proved unhealthy and the colony broke up. Dunlap returned to Scotland and eventually became Principal of the University of Glasgow.

A number of Puritan ministers from New England went to Carolina and founded churches of the Congregational pattern, but distinctive Presbyterianism again entered the region in 1699, as an accidental consequence of the attempt made to establish a Scotch colony on the Isthmus of Darien. With the breakup of that colony the majority of the emigrants sought refuge in New England, but one of the ministers, Alexander Stobo, was with a party that set sail for Scotland.

The vessel was so damaged by a storm that it made for America and Stobo was landed at Charleston, S. C. The Puritan congregation there had just lost its pastor, John Cotton, who died September 8, 1699. Stobo received a call and he settled with them, remaining there the rest of his life. It was not, however, until the Church had been recruited by Scotch-Irish immigration that Presbyterianism became strong enough to display its characteristic organization in the Carolinas. When the General Assembly was formed three Carolina Presbyteries were represented, Orange, South Carolina and Abingdon. But all three Presbyteries were derived from the activities of the Synod of Philadelphia. New Castle Presbytery, created in 1716 by subdivision of the original Presbytery of Philadelphia, was the parent in 1755 of Hanover Presbytery, Virginia, out of which were formed Orange Presbytery in 1770 and Abingdon in 1785. South Carolina Presbytery was formed out of Orange Presbytery in 1784.

Organized Presbyterianism was communicated to the South by the ministers who accompanied Scotch-Irish emigration from Pennsylvania southward, moving down the valleys that stretch from Pennsylvania and Maryland into Virginia. Beginning in 1732 a stream of Scotch-Irish emigration poured into the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and the first Presbyterian minister in that region was probably Samuel Gelston. He was born in the North of Ireland in 1692, and emigrated to America in 1715. After having held a number of charges in Pennsylvania and New York, he seems to have visited Virginia in 1735. Little is known of his labors there except that they were so acceptable that a call for his services was sent to Donegal Presbytery of which he was then a member. In 1736 the Presbytery directed him to supply Pequea church, but in the following spring he notified the Presbytery that he was about to remove from its bounds and was dismissed. No record of his subsequent career seems to have been preserved, although he is said to have lived to the age of ninety.

The records of the Synod of Philadelphia note an application for ministerial supply made in 1719 by "the People of Potomoke," believed to be identical with the congregations of Falling Water and Tuscorara, near the present town of Martinsburg. The Rev. Daniel Magill, who came from Scotland in 1713, was appointed to visit them. He made a stay of several months and reported the following year that he had "put the people into church order." The people desired him to settle as their pastor but he declined the call.

The first minister to settle in Virginia under the jurisdiction of the Synod of Philadelphia was John Craig. He was born in Ireland, September 21, 1710, but was educated in America. He presented himself to Donegal Presbytery in the fall of 1736, was taken on trial the following spring and was licensed August 30, 1738. He was at first employed as a supply in Maryland, but toward the close of 1739 he was sent to Irish Tract and other places in Virginia. He formed two congregations in the south part of what is now Augusta County, Va. In April, 1740, he received a call from what was described as the congregation of the Triple Forks of Shenandoah, but the places where the meeting-houses were situated were known as Augusta and Tinkling Springs. This region, being southwest of the Blue Ridge, was exposed to Indian raids and Braddock's defeat imperiled the safety of the settlement. Craig encouraged his people to stand their ground. The church was fortified, and men brought their rifles and posted sentries when attending service. Through the measures taken the community held together and sustained little loss although Indians prowled in the vicinity.

Craig resigned the pastoral care of Tinkling Springs church in November, 1764, but he remained in charge till his death, April 21, 1774, aged sixty-three. He appears to have had in a marked degree the adaptability and resourcefulness of a pioneer. It is related of him that when asked how he found suitable persons for elders in new settlements, where he organized churches, he replied, "When there were no hewn stone I just took dornicks." When he resigned the Tinkling Springs charge in 1764 he was able to say to the congregation: "Few and poor and without order, were you when I accepted your call; but now I leave you a numerous, wealthy congregation, able to support the Gospel and of credit and reputation in the Church."

Thus far the work of Presbyterian ministers in Virginia had been mainly in the nature of supply to congregations formed by the Scotch-Irish settlers. But a period of active missionary and evangelistic work followed in which the leader was William Robinson. He was of English Quaker ancestry and on coming to America he settled in Hopewell, N. J., as a school teacher. While teaching he also studied at the Log College, so he was a recruit to Presbyterianism made by the Tennents. In the winter of 1742 Robinson went into the Valley of Virginia, traveling southward until he penetrated North Carolina, where he spent the winter enduring hardships that affected his health. He returned along the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge, achieving great success as an evangelist. His missionary tour had a marked effect in spreading Presbyterian-ism. His aptitude was for evangelistic work rather than for the work of a settled pastor. From Virginia he went to New York State and thence to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where in 1745 there was a marked revival under his ministrations.

The Synod of New York at its first meeting, September, 1745, considered the situation in Virginia and was unanimously of the opinion that Mr. Robinson was the most suitable person to be sent, and earnestly recommended him to visit that field as soon as his circumstances would permit. Robinson was present at that meeting and probably intended to go, but meanwhile he became interested in a congregation at St. George's, Del., where there had been a revival under his visit, and the last six months of his life was spent in their services. He died August 1, 1746. He bequeathed most of his books to Samuel Davies and left it as a last request that Davies should take up the work in Virginia. The ministry of Davies was the great organizing influence of pioneer Presbyterianism in Virginia, but there were others prior to him in point of time among Robinson's successors.

John Blair, born in Ireland in 1720, educated at the Log College and licensed by the New Side Presbytery of New Castle, was ordained December 27, 1742, as pastor of congregations in Cumberland County, Pa. He visited Virginia soon after Robinson and organized congregations east and west of the Blue Ridge. In 1746 he made another visit to Virginia and again organized a number of congregations. He resigned his pastoral charge in Pennsylvania in December, 1748, owing to Indian invasions. He became associated with his brother, Samuel Blair, in carrying on the school at Fagg's Manor. In 1767 he became Professor of Divinity and Moral Philosophy in the College of New Jersey, Princeton, and for a period acted as President, until Dr. Witherspoon was elected to that office in 1769. Blair resigned and accepted a call to Wallkill, in the Highlands of New York. He died, December 8, 1771.

John Roan, born in Ireland, educated at the Log College, was licensed by the New Side Presbytery of New Castle and sent to Virginia in the winter of 1744. He made trouble by his attacks on the Established Church, and was indicted for libelous utterances. Gilbert Tennent and Samuel Finley interested themselves in his defense and the case broke down, as there was no evidence that he had used the expressions imputed to him. The man who made the information on which the indictment was found practically confessed perjury by fleeing. His Virginia mission finished, Roan settled in Pennsylvania as pastor of the congregations of Derry, Paxton and Mount Joy. Toward the close of his life he again went on extensive missionary tours and at one time spent eight weeks on the South Branch of the Potomac. He died October 3, 1775, and was buried at Derry meeting-house on the Swatara.

William Dean went with Eliab Byram of the Synod of New York to the Valley of Virginia and preached there in 1745-1747. Dean was one of the graduates of Log College, was taken on trial by New Brunswick Presbytery August 3, 1741, was licensed October 12, 1742, and was sent to Neshaminy and the Forks of the Delaware, by which term was designated the country in the angle between the Lehigh River and the Delaware. It was then Indian country but Scotch-Irish settlements had been made in the region. Later he was appointed to supply at the Forks of Brandywine and Pequea. He went to Virginia and as a result of his labors there he received a call from the church at Timber Ridge and Forks of James River, May 18, 1748. Before action was taken on the call he died, July 29, 1748, aged only twenty-nine. Byram, his associate in the Virginia field, was of New England stock and was graduated at Harvard University in 1740. He became minister of Roxiticus, now Mendham, N. J., in October, 1743, under the care of New York Presbytery. His work in Virginia was limited to the tour made with Dean, and although he received a call he declined to settle in Virginia. He joined New Brunswick Presbytery May 22, 1751, and settled at Amwell, June 25. He died before May, 1754.

Samuel Davies, whom Dr. Briggs declares to be "one of the greatest divines the American Presbyterian Church has produced," was born November 3, 1723, in the county of New Castle, now in the State of Delaware, but then in the Province of Pennsylvania. He is supposed to have been of Welsh descent. He lived on a farm and did not attend school until he was ten, learning meanwhile what his mother could teach him. He went to school first to the Rev. Abel Morgan, afterward the Baptist minister at Middletown, N. J. He pursued his studies under the Rev. Samuel Blair, at Fagg's Manor, Chester County, Pa. The influence of Blair and Gilbert Tennent attracted him to the Presbyterian ministry. He was licensed by New Castle Presbytery, July 30, 1746, at the age of twenty-three and ordained an evangelist February 19, 1747. The same year he went to Virginia and in 1748 settled at Hanover as pastor.

At that time there were three Presbyterian ministers in Virginia, Samuel Black, in Albemarle County near Rockfish Gap, of the Blue Ridge; the Rev. John Craig and Alexander Miller in what was then Augusta County, west of the Blue Ridge. These were all Irish born and were connected with the Presbytery of Donegal, belonging to what was then called Old Side. Davies as a member of New Side Presbytery would not count on any assistance from them. Of the situation with which he had to cope Davies himself gave the following account:

"There are meeting-houses licensed in five different counties in this part of the State, but the extremes of my charge lie 80 or 90 miles apart; and the dissenters under my care are scattered through six or seven different counties. . . . The counties are large, generally 40 or 50 miles in length, and about 20 or 30 in breadth; so that though members may live in one county, it would be impossible for them all to convene at one place, and much more so when they are dispersed through so many counties. Though there are now seven places of worship licensed, yet the nearest to each other are 12 or 15 miles apart; and many have to travel from 10, 15 or 20 miles to the nearest, and from 40 to 60 miles to the other places licensed; nay some of them have from 30 to 40 miles to the nearest place of worship."

Of the effect of his labors the amplest acknowledgment has come from opponents. In Dr. Hawks' history of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia, he mentions Davies as the chief instrument in the upbuilding of Presbyterianism. When he settled in Hanover County "there were not ten avowed dissenters within one hundred miles of him." Inside of three years he had established seven meeting-houses, three in Hanover County, one in Henrico, one in Caroline, one in Louisa and one in Goochland.

Among these houses, some of them forty miles apart, he divided his labors. In addition to being a zealous missionary and an eloquent preacher he was an able man of affairs. He was harassed in his work by a contention that his proceedings were illegal, on the ground that the English Act of Toleration did not extend to Virginia. That position was taken by Peyton Randolph, Attorney-General of Virginia. On one occasion Davies argued the point with him in court. Dr. Hawks remarks: "He was frankly acknowledged to have sustained his cause with great learning and eloquence." It eventually turned out that Davies was in the right on the law of the case. When Davies visited England, in 1753, with Tennent to collect funds for Princeton College, he took the matter up with the Attorney-General, Sir Dudley Rider, and obtained from him an opinion that the English Act of Toleration was the law of Virginia.