Scotch-Irish Pioneer Preachers

Henry Jones Ford

The first settled pastor in North Carolina appears to have been Hugh McAden who was born in Pennsylvania, of Scotch-Irish parentage. He was graduated at Nassau Hall in 1753, was licensed by New Castle Presbytery in 1755, and set out soon after on a missionary tour throughout North Carolina, his journal of which has been preserved. He was in the Valley of the Shenandoah when the news reached him of Braddock's defeat. He made the following entry in his journal:

"Here it was I received the most melancholly news of the entire defeat of our army by the French at Ohio, the General killed, numbers of the inferior officers, and the whole artillery taken. This, together with the frequent account of fresh murders being daily committed upon the frontiers struck terror to every heart. A cold shuddering, possessed every breast, and paleness covered almost every face. In short, the whole inhabitants were put into an universal confusion. Scarcely any man durst sleep in his own house, but all met in companies with their wives and children and set about building little fortifications, to defend themselves from such barbarian and inhuman enemies, whom they concluded would be let loose upon them at pleasure."

McAden crossed the Blue Ridge with an armed escort, and went southward, holding meetings as he went along. The first religious services by him in North Carolina were held August 3, 1755. Although there was no settled pastor in North Carolina at that time there were already some Presbyterian meeting-houses in which the people used to gather for worship. McAden went from place to place preaching and organizing, using any convenient place for the purpose. He records that at one place he preached in a Baptist meeting-house to a people "who seemed very inquisitive about the way to Zion." At another time he "came up with a large company of men, women and children who had fled for their lives from the Cow and Calf pasture in Virginia, from whom I received the melancholly account that the Indians were still doing a great deal of mischief in those parts, by murdering and destroying several of the inhabitants, and banishing the rest from their houses and livings, whereby they are forced to fly into desert places."

McAden himself was exposed to peril from the Indians in North Carolina, when he extended his missionary tour into the country occupied by the Catawba Indians, south of the river that perpetuates their name. He intended to visit some settlements on Broad River, two young men from which had come to guide him. At one place just as they stopped to get breakfast they were surrounded by Indians, shouting and hallooing, and prying into their baggage. The travelers moved off as fast as possible and the Indians did nothing more than to make noisy demonstrations. Later on they passed a camp of Indian hunters who shouted to them to stop but they pushed on as fast as possible. Not until they had ridden twenty-five miles did they feel it safe to stop and get breakfast. McAden's tour extended into the northwestern section of South Carolina, never previously visited by clergymen. He notes on November 2 that he preached to people "many of whom I was told had never heard a sermon, in all their lives before, and yet several of them had families." McAden relates an anecdote told him of an old man, who said to the Governor of South Carolina, when in those parts in treaty with the Cherokee Indians, that he "had never seen a shirt, been in a fair, heard a sermon or seen a minister." The Governor promised to send a minister, that he might hear one sermon before he died. A minister came and preached; and this was all the preaching that had been heard in the upper part of South Carolina before McAden's visit.

From this country McAden returned to North Carolina, and preaching as he went he reached Virginia and passed through Amelia County to the house of a friend on the James River, at which point his diary abruptly closes on May 9, 1756. McAden returned to South Carolina and became the settled minister of the congregations in Duplin and New Hanover. In 1759 he joined Hanover Presbytery which then included the greater part of Virginia and extended indefinitely southward. After a pastorate of ten years his health became so poor that he resigned his charge and moved to Caswell County, where he resided until his death, June 20, 1781. To the extent that his health permitted he continued preaching up to the close of his career. Two weeks before his death British forces encamped in the grounds about the Red House Church, close to McAden's dwelling. They ransacked his house, destroying many of his private papers. His remains lie in the burial ground of that Church, about five miles from the present town of Milton, N. C.

Presbyterianism in Kentucky as in the Carolinas was introduced by Scotch-Irish influence. Originally Kentucky was regarded as a part of Fincastle County, Virginia. It was set off as a separate county, with a municipal court, in 1776. Among the first settlers such Scotch-Irish names occur as McAfee, McCoun and McGee. The settlers drew their ministerial supplies from the Virginia Synod, the period being so late that as a rule they were American born. Among them however was Robert Marshall, who was born in County Down, Ireland, November 27, 1760. His parents came to Western Pennsylvania in the stream of emigration that flowed strongly just before the outbreak of the War of Independence. He enlisted in the army, although only a youth of sixteen, and took part in six general engagements, one of which was the battle of Monmouth, where he made a narrow escape, a bullet grazing the hair of his head. He kept up his study of mathematics while in the army and after the war began studying for the ministry, being then twenty-three. He was licensed by Redstone Presbytery and entered the Virginia field. He removed to Kentucky in 1791, as a missionary appointed by the Synod. He was ordained June 13, 1793, as pastor of Bethel and Blue Spring Churches.

An early missionary whose activities extended not only into Virginia and North Carolina but also western Pennsylvania and eventually Ohio was Charles Beatty. He was born in County Antrim, Ireland, some time between 1712 and 1715. He accompanied a party of Scotch-Irish who emigrated to America in 1729, and after a stay in New England made a settlement in what is now Orange County, New York. Although he had received a classical education Beatty became a pedlar and his entrance in the ministry is attributed to an accidental encounter with William Tennent. Beatty happened to call at the Log College while on a trading tour, and as a jocose recognition of its pretensions as an institute of learning used Latin in offering his wares. Tennent replied in Latin, and the conversation developed such evidences of capacity in Beatty that Tennent counselled him to give up his pedlar's business and prepare for the ministry. He pursued his studies at the Log College and was licensed by New Brunswick Presbytery in 1742. He was called to the Forks of Neshaminy, May 26, 1743. In 1754 the Synod sent him to Virginia and North Carolina.

This was not long prior to Braddock's defeat and that event probably interrupted Beatty's Southern labors for he was back again in Pennsylvania in 1755, and acted as chaplain to the forces led by Benjamin Franklin. Franklin had been commissioned by the Governor of Pennsylvania to take charge of the frontier and provide for the defense of the settlers by building forts and establishing garrisons. He recruited a force of 560 and set out for Gnadenhutten, a village settled by the Moravians. Indians had attacked it slaying the inhabitants, and Franklin thought it was important that one of the proposed forts should be erected there. Franklin established his base at Bethlehem, which although in a county now in the tier immediately west of New Jersey was at that time close to Indian country. Detachments were sent out to various points, Franklin himself accompanying one that went to Gnadenhutten. During the march ten farmers who had received from Franklin supplies of ammunition, with which they thought they could defend their homes, were killed by the Indians. Franklin himself had some anxiety as it rained heavily, and he remarked: "It was well we were not attacked in our march, for our arms were the most ordinary sort, and our men could not keep the locks of their guns dry. The Indians are dexterous in contrivances for that purpose which we had not." The first night out from Bethlehem the party took shelter from the rain in a barn, where says Franklin "we were all huddled together as wet as water could make us." The next day they arrived at Gnadenhutten where their first task was to bury the bodies of the massacred inhabitants. Beatty accompanied the troops through these scenes, looking zealously after their welfare. Franklin describes Beatty's activity with sly humor:

"We had for our chaplain a zealous Presbyterian minister, Mr. Beatty, who complained to me that the men did not generally attend his prayers and exhortations. When they were enlisted they were promised, besides pay and provisions, a gill of rum a day, which was punctually served out to them, half in the morning and the other half in the evening; and I observed they were punctual in attending to receive it; upon which I said to Mr. Beatty, 'It is perhaps below the dignity of your profession to act as a steward of the rum; but if you were only to distribute it out after prayers, you would have them all about you.' He liked the thought, undertook the task, and with the help of a few hands to measure out the liquor, executed it to satisfaction; and never were prayers more generally and more punctually attended."

A fort was erected at Gnadenhutten and soon afterward Beatty left to go into Bucks County and aid in recruiting. His services in that respect were specially valuable as the Scotch-Irish were a leading source of supply for soldiers both in the Indian wars and later in the Revolutionary War. In 1756 the Synod made a dispensation of his services in favor of his service to the Government, but in 1759 when there was another call by the Pennsylvania authorities for his services, the Synod on account of the state of his congregation advised him not to go, but he was permitted to act as chaplain to Colonel Armstrong's regiment.

Beatty's ability and energy made him much in request for missionary work of any kind. In 1760 the Corporation for the Widows' Fund sent him to Great Britain to raise funds and he went with letters of introduction from Davies and others. He was quite successful in this mission, making collections in England and inducing the General Assembly of the Scottish Kirk to order a national collection. After his return to America Beatty engaged in missionary work that carried him through Western Pennsylvania into Ohio. In 1766 the Synod sent Beatty on a missionary tour to the frontiers of the Province. Starting from Carlisle, Pa., in August of that year, he penetrated as far west as the Indian country on the Muskingum River, Ohio, 130 miles beyond Fort Pitt, now Pittsburgh, and he made an encouraging report as to the prospects of missionary work among the Indians. In 1768 Beatty made another visit to Great Britain, this time to put his wife under surgical treatment, but she died soon after landing. Beatty returned to his ministerial labors in America, but a few years later he was again called to solicit funds for the College of New Jersey. In that interest he sailed for the West Indies, but died August 13, 1772, soon after reaching Bridgetown in Barbados.

Another pioneer of Presbyterianism in the West was John Steele, who came to America in 1742, as a probationer from Londonderry Presbytery. He was ordained by New Castle Presbytery, some time before May, 1744. He was sent to the frontier and ministered to a congregation in the Upper West Settlement, now Mercersburg, Franklin County, Pa. This region in the southern part of the central section of the State was then Indian country. Steele, who was a man of courage and determination, put himself at the head of his flock as its leader in war as well as peace. He fortified his church, and if it became necessary to send out a force against the Indians he led it. A captain's commission was issued to him and he held it several years. He spent his life in the western country. In 1768 Penn solicited his aid to make a peaceable settlement with people who had squatted on land in the Youghiogheny region, and Steele visited the country for that purpose, assembling the people and reasoning with them. He died in August, 1779.

Another noted pioneer in the western advance of Presbyterianism was James Finley, who was born in County Armagh, Ireland, in February, 1725, but was educated in America under Samuel Blair at the Fagg's Manor school. He was licensed by New Castle Presbytery and in 1752 was ordained pastor of East Nottingham Church, Cecil County, Md. In addition to pastoral work he engaged in teaching. As lands in the West became open for occupation emigration among Finley's people began on so large a scale that he joined the movement. He crossed the mountains in 1765 and again in 1767. Thirty-four heads of families belonging to Finley's congregation settled in Western Pennsylvania, and the emigrants included three of Finley's sons. He asked for a demission from his charge, that he might follow them, but the congregation was loath to give him up, and the Presbytery refused his application. He appealed to the Synod which dissolved the pastoral relation, May 17, 1782. He was called to Rehoboth and Round Hill, both in the Forks of the Youghiogheny, in the fall of 1784. He was commissioned by the State Government both as Justice of the Peace and as Judge of the Common Pleas. He retained his Youghiogheny charge until his death, January 6, 1795.

Church organization in western Pennsylvania was later than in Virginia for the reason that early emigration from the seaboard tended southward rather than westward. The valleys stretching from middle Pennsylvania and Maryland into Virginia supplied the lines of least resistance upon which the settlement of the interior progressed. Hanover Presbytery in Virginia was organized in 1755; Carlisle Presbytery in central Pennsylvania was not organized until 1765. The first Presbytery organized in western Pennsylvania was Redstone in 1781, which became the parent of Presbyteries in the western country north of the Ohio just as Hanover Presbytery became the parent of Presbyteries in the South and Southwest.

Although Presbyterianism was historically the ecclesiastical form with which the Scotch-Irish stock was originally identified, transplantation to the United States was soon followed by variation. New England Congregationalism was recruited by Ulster emigration. After the Revolutionary War the Protestant Episcopal Church attracted adherents. The son of James Wilson resigned a judgeship to enter the Episcopal ministry, and Bishop McIlvaine came of a stock that originally belonged to a Scotch-Irish settlement in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Bishop McKendree, whose labors did much to extend the membership of the Methodist Church, came of Scotch-Irish stock. Alexander Campbell, who in 1827 founded a denomination that now ranks sixth among American ecclesiastical bodies in number of adherents, was born at Shaws Castle, County Antrim, 1786.