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History of Abingdon Presbytery

Goodridge A. Wilson, Jr.

(An address delivered before Abingdon Presbytery in stated spring meeting in the Wytheville Church, in connection with the Diamond Jubilee Celebration, April 21, 1936. Published by order of Presbytery.)

Having been assigned the duty of preparing a historic; address on Abingdon Presbytery I am somewhat at a loss as to where to start and where to go after starting. The history of Abingdon Presbytery is a rich and varied and turbulent ecclesiastical story with many starting points, and with ramifications intimately connected with every phase of Southwest Virginia life story through a period of two hundred years; not only with Southwest Virginia’s life story but with American Presbyterianism and American Protestantism as a whole. More that ninety years ago an astute church historian, the Rev. Henry Foote, D. D., remarked that “a well written history of this Presbytery and those who formed it would comprise a history of the struggles and tempests of the Presbyterian Church in America, which were there felt in all their force before the surface of the ocean was agitated about Philadelphia.” That statement is as true of the years since Dr. Foote as of those before him and might be expanded to say that a well written history of Abingdon Presbytery brought up to date would make an excellent model for a study designed to explain not only Presbyterianism but most other denominations in America.

For this occasion it might he well to start with May 9, 1867, because on that date Abingdon Presbytery as now constituted was formally reorganized in what had been the New School Presbyterian Church in Wytheville. But to get any sort of true insight into the reasons why Presbyterianism within the present bounds of the Presbytery is what it is today, or any sort of understanding of the reasons for the existing denominational set up as whole within that territory, it is necessary to go back to, say, 1745 and trace successive developments since the first while settlers came to dwell on wilderness lands of the westward flowing waters. Presbyterianism Lutheranism, Methodism, and all other leading denominations now within this territory are out growths from roots planted in those early days of pioneer settlement, since cultivated, fertilized, and environmentally influenced in many and diverse ways.


The years 1745 to 1769 may be called, somewhat arbitrarily, the Period of Planting of Church Roots. These dates are select ed to mark the period of planting because in 1745 we have the earliest documentary evidence yet found of permanent settlement, arid in 1769 the first record of regular ecclesiastical organization.

The first settlements under the English flag on any west ward flowing waters were made along New River in the early seventeen forties. Exactly when these people first came is not definitely known, but by 1745 they were fairly established with their women and children in wilderness clearings and cabins along both sides of the swift and clear and beautiful river on the western slopes of the Virginia mountains, both above and below the present city of Radford. The best evidence now available indicates that the first settlers were German folk, hut the restless van guard of the Scotch Irish came either along with these German people or close upon their heels, for in 1745 cabins occupied by men of Scotch Irish name arid blood were mingled with the “Dutch,” as the English-speaking immigrants called their German-speaking neighbors.

It is instructive to glance for a moment at the racial and religious complexion of this little wilderness settlement. There were at least two racial strains and there were several religious faiths among them. The Scotch Irish were Presbyterian, Among the Germans were those of Lutheran, Reformed, and Moravian sentiments while on Dunkards Bottom there was established a distinctly religious colony of a peculiar, freakish sect known as the Euphratapha Brethren. [*The spelling of this name is uncertain. The heretical branch of the Dunkard Church from which they in turn withdrew is spelled “Ephrata.” Col. John Buchanan, who visited them in 1745, calls them “Ephraphata Brethren” and Dr. Thomas Walker, in 1750. says that they were the “Brotherhood of the Euphrates.”] Front that day to this Southwest Virginians have been of many mingled racial strains and many religious loyalties, and there has been a continuous tendency toward the outcropping of freakish religious sects. Moreover these characteristics so prominently manifested in that first infant settlement in the New River wilderness have characterized American Protestantism as a whole even to this day.

During the planting period there was no Presbyterian or any other organized church life. Pious families kept the faith alive by family worship, Bible reading, and catechizing in their homes, and by public gatherings in the open, in stockade forts, or in some home, to hear lay exhorters or one of the rare visiting preachers. The earliest of these visiting preachers on record were Moravian missionaries from the neighborhood of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, but it is probable that. the first preaching ever heard in Southwest Virginia was done by the preachers of the freakish Euphratapha sect. The first recorded Presbyterian preaching on Southwest Virginia soil was in connection with a military operation in 1756 while the French and Indian War was in progress. Following bloody massacres in the New River settlements Major Andrew Lewis led a little army of some three hundred arid fifty men against the Shawnees, on a colorful but futile expedition that went to pieces among the mountain gorges and Hooded rapids of the Big Sandy River. The two pioneer Presbyterian preachers of the Valley, Rev. John Craig and Rev. John Brown, accompanied this army and preached to the soldiers on Sabbat h days, and perhaps during the week. It is also recorded that on that expedition certain soldiers were whipped for using profane language, but the record does not state that there was any relation of cause and effect between the preaching and the whipping.

The first semblance of a movement towards organized community worship seems to have been among the German settlers, for there is evidence that Colonel Tarries Patton, shortly before he was killed in 1755, had donated land for a house of worship to be used jointly by the Reformed and Lutherans among the Germans. Apparently no house was built on that land until quite a while after 1769, owing to the French and Indian War and consequent complications, but eventually a house was erected and the congregation worshiping therein yet survives as the Price’s Fork Lutheran Church. It seems, therefore, that the first steps towards church erection and organization in Southwest Virginia ere taken by the German Reformed and Lutherans, although no building or organization immediately materialized, and the first actual buildings and organizations seem to have been effected by Scotch Irish Presbyterians.

If any log buildings for public worship were erected by Presbyterians or others than the strange Euphratapha Brethren prior to 1769 there is no record of the fact. It is not definitely proved that the Euphratapha Brethren had a building exclusively used for worship, but they probably did have such a building. These people abandoned their attempt to establish a religious colony of queer notions when the Indians became dangerous during the French and Indian War, and scattered to various parts of the colonies from Pennsylvania to South Carolina. The more normally religious Germans and the Scotch Irish refused to be run out by the Indians, or even by the British Government, which, under treaty with the Indians at the close of the war, made all settlements west of the Alleghany divide illegal. In 1767 the western waters were legally opened to settlement by the Treaty of Fort Stanwix and from then on the lands were rapidly occupied. Among the flood of settlers the Scotch Irish predominated, but there was a large German element, a very considerable number of English blood, and a sprinkling of. French, Welch, Scotch, Swiss, and other nationalities, and among them the roots from which all Southwest Virginia denominations grew. So that from the very beginning of permanent settlement there has been a mingling of the varying faiths of Protestantism, with some slight injection of Catholicism, in the territory of Abingdon Presbytery.


The period from 1769 to 1785 may for convenience he called the Period of Congregational Organization, because within that period numerous Presbyterian congregations were formed, some independently and some under the auspices of Hanover Presbytery. In 1785 Abingdon Presbytery was formed.

By 1768 the number of settlers in the far western parts of Virginia had increased to such extent that Hanover Presbytery in April of that year instructed the Rev. John Craig to make a tour of the western settlements, authorizing him to organize congregations. In the minutes of Hanover Presbytery as of April 13, 1769, it is recorded that in the performance of this duty Mr. Craig organized eight congregations, as follows:

  1. Sinking Spring, on Catawba Creek and James River, now the church at Fincastle, Va. 75 families. Elders: John Mills, Joseph Cloyd, Edward Sharp, Benjamin Hawkins, Thomas McFerren, Robert Finley, Andrew Woods.
  2. Craig’s Creek, somewhere along that stream. 45 families. Elders: Malcolm Allen, John Crawford, James Wilson, James Robinson, Samuel Laurence.
  3. Denean, in Botetourt county. 70 families. Elders: James McEwen, David Cloyd, William Preston, William Fleming, Robert Breckenridge.
  4. New Antrim, in the vicinity of the present Roanoke City. 43 families. Elders: Andrew Boyd, Robert Poague, Neal McNeal, William Bryan, Thomas Tosh.
  5. New Derry, in the vicinity of Shawsville. 36 families. Elders: Joseph Barnett, Robert Ritchie, David Robinson, Samuel Woods, William Beard, Samuel Crockett, Hugh Crockett, James Robertson, James Montgomery.
  6. New Dublin. 45 families. Elders: Joseph Howe, Samuel Colville, John Taylor, Samuel Cloyd, James Montgomery.
  7. Boiling Spring. 42 families. Elders: Robert Montgomery, David Sayers, William Sayers, Nathaniel Welcher, William Herbert.
  8. Unity. 45 families. Elders: James Harris, James Davies, James Hollis, George Breckenridge, Samuel Montgomery.

The first five of these churches were in the James and Roanoke River valleys, the last three in the present bounds of Abingdon Presbytery, in New River valley. Of the eight, only New Dublin is now in existence under its original name and in approximately its original location. New Dublin may therefore fairly claim to he the oldest church in Abingdon Presbytery and the oldest Protestant church anywhere in the United States west of the Alleghany divide. Descendants of some of the original elders are now in the session of that grand old church.

Boiling Spring was located near the great spring of that name in Wythe county, as is indicated not only by the name but by the known residence of some of the elders. William Herbert lived at Jackson’s Ferry and David and William Sayers lived about where the Lee Highway now crosses the Wythe Pulaski county line. Galena and Draper’s Valley Churches lie within the original bounds of the Boiling Spring congregation.

Unity was somewhere on Reed Creek, probably in the vicinity of Fort Chiswell.

Altogether Mr. Craig ordained 46 elders on this tour, When asked how he could find in those new far backwoods settlements so many men who were suitable for elders he replied in his broad Scotch brogue: “Whaur I cudna find hewn stanes I tuk dor nacks.” When, however, we read in the list such names as William Fleming, for a time acting governor of Virginia, William Preston, close personal friend and associate of George Washington, William Bryan, grandson of a noted Scotch theological professor and probably an ancestor of William Jennings Bryan, Hugh Crockett, distinguished colonel in the Revolutionary Army, and others of like sort, we believe that he had to use very few “dornacks.” The number of families given is very interesting, 45 families represented in each congregation of New Dublin and Unity and 42 in Boiling Spring.

The next notice of an organized congregation appears in the minutes of Hanover Presbytery as of April 10, 1771, when the Rev. Charles Cummings reported that he had carried out the instructions given him at the previous fall meeting of Presbytery to tour the western vacancies and to go as far as the Royal Oak on Holston. On this tour he organized the Big Spring congregation on the headwaters of Holston, with George Adams, Robert Buchanan, Richard Higgins, and Alexander Neilly as elders. Robert Buchanan’s house still stands beside a very large spring, one of the head springs of the Middle Fork of Holston, in Smyth county, near the Wythe line, a few miles west of Rural Retreat, and it is a reasonable supposition that the Big Spring congregation was formed in this house and named for this spring. The name Big Spring does not appear again in the minutes, but shortly afterwards the name of Salem Church on Reed Creek begins to appear and frequently occurs. The Doaks, who lived in Black Lick Valley, are named in connection with Salem on Reed Creek, and the Black Lick branch is a fork of Reed Creek. It is known that a very 01(1 log Presbyterian church stood along that branch for many years. From which I infer that the Big Spring congregation was organized by Rev. Charles Cummings in 1771 in the home of Robert Buchanan; that the congregation decided to build their meeting house some six or seven miles to the northeast on Black Lick, and changed the name to Salem. If so, this church was allowed to die, was later revived as the Black Lick Church, and is now functioning as the Rural Retreat Church.

At the next spring meeting of Presbytery, in 1772, a call for the pastoral services of Rev. James Campbell was presented from the Sinking Spring and Ebbing Spring congregations on Holston. These congregations appear to have been organized independently about 1771, as no record appears in the minutes of any official of the Presbytery being sent to aid in their organization. Their representatives went to Presbytery in the spring of 1772 to petition for supplies and to put in their call for Rev, James Campbell. Mr. Campbell, a promising and very popular young minister, had several calls proffered him at this time. He did not accept any of them, and shortly afterwards notice of his untimely death appears in the minutes.

At the next meeting of Hanover Presbytery, in June 1773, these congregations presented a call for the Rev. Charles Cummings, which he accepted, and Presbytery appointed Rev, John Brown to install him. Thus the Sinking Spring and Ebbing Spring churches were the first to call a pastor, and the Rev. Charles Cummings became the first settled pastor west of the Alleghany Mountains.

The next pastor to come was the Rev. Samuel Doak, who in. 1778 crossed the Alleghanies with a library on pack horses to become pastor of several churches in Tennessee and to found Washington College, the first seat of higher learning on Mississippi waters. Within a few years Samuel Houston, David Roe, Hezekiah Balch, and Adam Rankin were settled as pastors below the Tennessee line. So far as the records of Hanover Presbytery show, no effort was made by any church above Glade Spring to secure a pastor, with the single exception of a call made out by some churches on Reed Creek for Rev. John Montgomery, which was declined. Throughout tills period of congregational organization and for some time afterwards the upper churches seem to have depended upon temporary supplies for ministerial services, while the lower churches sought settled pastors, a fact which goes far to explain why the churches of tile lower Holston Valley attained a much more vigorous early growth than those of upper Holston and New River.

Within this period the Royal Oak congregation was formed, in 1776; the Green Spring, Rock Spring, and Beaver Creek congregations appear in 1782, probably started a year earlier, Various other congregations are mentioned as petitioning for supplies. Within this period also other denominations were going through the preliminary stages of organization, the Lutherans on New River and around Wytheville and Rural Retreat, and the Baptists and Methodists at various places throughout all the settlements.


The years from 1785 to 1837 may for convenience be designated the Period of the American Presbyterian Church, as this is the only period in which Abingdon Presbytery has been identified with the largest branch of the Presbyterian Church in America as a whole. Prior to 1785 churches in this region were under the jurisdiction of Hanover Presbytery, an affiliate of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia.

In 1785 Hezekiah Balch, Charles Cummings, and Samuel Doak petitioned the Synod of New York and Philadelphia to erect a new Presbytery to be known as Abingdon, to comprise all that part of Hanover Presbytery lying west of New River and west of the mountains of North Carolina. The petition was granted, and accordingly Abingdon Presbytery was organized on the first Tuesday in August 1785 in the Salem Church in Tennessee. It is noteworthy that a number of churches known to have been in existence prior to this time were not listed on the Presbytery’s roll at the time of organization, Salem and Unity on Reed Creek in Virginia, and probably Walnut Grove and Beaver Creek in Washington county among others. Perhaps this was accidental, due to the difficulty of securing representation at the meeting; perhaps it was because these churches preferred 10 maintain an independent status. Either explanation would accord well with the spirit and character of the times. The churches enrolled were: Ebbing Spring, Sinking Spring, Royal Oak, New Dublin, Green Spring, and Rock Spring, in Virginia, and Salem, New Providence, Mt. Bethel, New Bethel, and Providence in Tennessee. The ministers enrolled were: Samuel Houston, David Roe, Charles Cummings, Hezekiah Balch, Samuel Doak, and Adam Rankin. There were eleven churches and six ministers.

Three years later, in 1788, the General Assembly was constituted and also the Synods of Virginia and of North Carolina. Abingdon Presbytery, comprising all of Virginia west of New River, Kentucky, a portion & western North Carolina, and all of the present state of Tennessee, was assigned to the Synod of North Carolina.

In 1797 this Presbytery was divided and Union Presbytery was erected within its original bounds. The lines dividing the two presbyteries were theological rather than geographical, those ministers and churches that favored Hopkinsian views going into Union Presbytery and the others remaining in Abingdon Presbytery. It so happened, however, that the Hopkins brethren were mostly in the southern portion around Greeneville and Knoxville, so that, practically speaking, Abingdon Presbytery’s territory became at this time Southwest Virginia and the upper portion of East Tennessee. A few years later still a third Presbytery, called Greeneville, was erected in this same territory. I do not know the reason for or the exact nature of the Presbytery of Greeneville, which expired after a few years of fitful existence, but I strongly suspect that it was erected to accommodate the psalm singing element, just as Union Presbytery had been erected to take care of the Hopkinsian element, in the infant church of the wilderness, storm tossed with the clashings of individual convictions on mooted questions.

In 1803 the Presbytery of Abingdon was transferred from the Synod of North Carolina to the Synod of Virginia, and in 1825 from the Synod of Virginia to the Synod of Tennessee. In 1826 tile Tennessee territory remaining to Abingdon was cut off to form, together with the counties of Lee and Scott in Virginia, the Presbytery of Holston The Virginia territory assigned to Holston is not exactly defined by those two counties; it was all of Virginia south and west of a line running from Big Moccasin Gap in Scott county to Pound Gap, in what is now Wise. In all that territory, however, there seems to have been only one Presbyterian church, Mt. Carmel in Lee County.

During this period, from 1785 to 1837, notice appears in the minutes of churches established as follows: In 1820, at The Boatyard, now Kingsport; in 1822, Mt. Carmel, in Powell’s Valley, reported organized by Reverend Messers Glenn, Galleher, and Morrison; in 1825, Mt. Tahor, in Wytheville, organized by Rev. Sam C. McConnell; in 1826, petition for organizing a church in Rich Valley; in 1827, Sharon Church received into Presbytery; in 1830, Burke’s Garden Church taken under care of Presbytery; in 1831 the name of Springfield Church changed to Beaver Creek; in 1833 Cave, or Cove, Church in the western part of Tazewell organized by Rev. Dugald McIntyre.


In the year 1837 the Presbyterian Church in America split into two distinct denominations, the Old School and the New School Presbyterian Churches, and Abingdon Presbytery passed out of existence. The line of cleavage ran straight through the Presbytery. Churches adhering to the Old School were: Beaver Creek, Green Spring, Rock Spring, Pleasant Grove (Rich Valley), Mt. Carmel, Kimberlin, and Mt. Tabor (Wytheville).

Those adhering to the New School were: New Dublin, Harmony (Draper’s Valley), Royal Oak, Anchor of Hope, Sharon, Glade Spring, Sinking Spring, Cold Spring, and Paperville.

Two congregations, Beaver Creek and New Dublin, split on the issue. Beaver Creek having gone with the Old School, a faction withdrew and formed Spring Creek Church of the New School; New Dublin went New School, but a faction withdrew and formed Belspring Church, Old School.

The New School churches and ministers organized themselves into a Presbytery called New River, and affiliated with the New School Synod of Tennessee; the Old School churches retained the name of Abingdon, but soon dropped the distinct presbytery and went into Montgomery Presbytery of the Synod of Virginia.

These two Presbyterian denominations, their separate existence having originated in strife and contention, with rival presbyteries operating in the same territory, made for neither peace nor progress in the kingdom of God. Of the two, the New School Presbytery of New River seems to have been the more vigorous and aggressive and its churches apparently prospered more than did those of the Old School Presbytery of Montgomery in Southwest Virginia. Lead by such men as George Painter, James King, David F. Palmer, and James McChain, and with I. N. Naff, Lee C. Brown, and J. S. Lyons as home missionaries, it maintained a steady and substantial growth under adverse conditions. The Old School churches, as a rule, were the weaker churches of the old Presbytery of Abingdon at the time of separation, and being more isolated and farther removed from the stronger bodies in their Presbytery, Montgomery. they seem to have lost rather than to have gained ground, although I do not have statistics upon which to base this conclusion.

The following churches were founded by New River Presbytery: Bristol First, Spring Creek in Washington county, South Fork in Smyth county, Hillsville and Bethesda in Carroll, Jeffersonville and Thompson Valley in Tazewell, Lebanon in Russell, and Black Lick and Wytheville in Wythe.

In 1857 the New School split on the slavery issue, the Assembly meeting in Cleveland adopting resolutions calling for disciplinary measures against slave-holding ministers and other drastic action. In consequence thereof the southern presbyteries of the New School Assembly withdrew and in 1858 organized themselves into a small denomination known as the United Synod of the South. Thus for about six years the Southwest Virginia New School churches belonged to that small denomination.

In 1864 the United Synod of the South merged with the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States, which since 1861 had embraced Montgomery Presbytery with the Old School churches in Southwest Virginia. The last meeting of New River Presbytery at which the formal dissolution was to take place was scheduled to meet in May 1864 in the New Dublin Church, but the Battle of Cloyd’s Farm and other army movements interfered and the meeting was held in August of that year in the Royal Oak Church. New River Presbytery disbanded and its ministers and churches were placed on the roll of Montgomery Presbytery, and carried there until the reorganization of Abingdon Presbytery in 1867.


On May 9, 1867, the reunited Presbyterians of Southwest Virginia assembled by their representatives in the Wytheville church and then and there reorganized Abingdon Presbytery as a constituent body of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, popularly called the Southern Presbyterian Church.

Ministers present on this occasion were: B. Gildersleeve, Moderator, Robert C. Graham, Daniel B. Ewing, James Chain, Lee C. Brown, Isaac N. Naff, Jonathan S. Lyons, James M. Wharey. and Henry M. White. Ministers absent were: James King, John H. Wallace, Thomas Brown, David F. Palmer, James M. Humphries, Daniel H. Rogan, B. T. Lacy, Charles M. Price, and William V. Wilson.

Elders represented churches as follows: D. C. Dunn, Sinking Spring; John B. Edmondson, Rock Spring; W. H. Crouch, Wytheville; Asa D. Chumbley, Belspring; J. C. Porterfield, Glade Spring; John Allison, Draper’s Valley;’ John C. Darst, New Dublin; Robert Raper, Crockett’s Cove.

The following churches were enrolled but not represented by elders: South Fork, Hillsville, Bethesda, Sharon, Cripple Creek, Royal Oak, Thompson’s Valley, Jeffersonville, Anchor of Hope, Kimberlin, Walnut Grove, Green Spring, and Beaver Creek.

This has been the period of reconstruction and development. Many of the minsters named above are still household names in the Presbytery, revered because of their faithful and consecrated service in maintaining and rebuilding the impoverished and demoralized congregations in a war- ravished land and in leading them through the trying years of Reconstruction. Besides ministering in their own churches they rode far and wide, preaching in churches of other denominations, in school houses and in homes laying sound and true foundations for a more rapid and spectacular growth in more prosperous, expanding years to come. To those listed on the original roll of the reorganized Abingdon Presbytery should be added others who came in a little later and heroically carried their full burden of leadership and faithful ministry for Christ during the trying decades that followed the War Between the States.

In the eighteen eighties the dawn of a new day appeared in Southwest Virginia. The great industrial development of the region began to take shape in the building of railroads, the opening of coal fields, the exploitation of vast virgin forests. That development is still in progress. New towns and cities have come into being, old towns and villages have been greatly enlarged, hitherto isolated and inaccessible sections have been opened to the outside world. With this development Presbyterianism in the territory has developed, and the number of ministers, churches and communicants has greatly increased.

From the time of its reorganization in 1867 until 1915 the Presbytery of Abingdon belonged to the Synod of Virginia. In that year the Synod of Appalachia was set up, and Abingdon Presbytery by close vote cast its lot with the new Synod.

Having thus traced the outline history of Abingdon Presbytery from the days of the earliest pioneers to the present time, I wish to conclude this address with a brief reference to two phases of its history which seem to me to deserve especial emphasis on this occasion because of their very definite bearing on present day vital problems. One of those is the controversies that raged within the church through the first century of its existence, and the other is the Presbytery’s home mission work.


From the earliest days of its history Presbyterianism in America has been characterized by convulsive internal struggles over questions of doctrine and polity, and those struggles from the beginning were enacted in Abingdon Presbytery. The infant Presbytery in the wilderness was hardly out of its swaddling clothes before figurative fists began to fly over the issues involved in Dr. Hopkins’s theological teachings. Even before the Presbytery was born some of its churches were rent asunder over the matter of psalmody. Revivalism had its advocates and its outspoken opponents. The complicated issues that brought on the great split of the eighteen thirties divided the Presbytery, and the bitter feelings involved in the issues of slavery and sectionalism profoundly affected its churches. All of these ancient controversies, and others of a more local character, made their impress upon the character of Presbyterianism within the Presbytery’s area, arid many of their effects are still with us, although the causes may he long forgotten. The spirit in which these controversies were fought out is well illustrated in the dispute other whether Watts’s hymns should be used in worship or Rouse’s version of the Psalms be given exclusive recognition. In 1780 this issue came to a head in the congregations of Sinking Spring and Ebbing Spring, and probably in others. In these two it was brought before Hanover Presbytery and on complaint of Rev. Charles Cummings almost half of his members were dismissed from the membership of these two churches because they refused to use Watts’s hymns, insisting that only the inspired psalms should he sung in the worship of God. The dismissed members proceeded to organize themselves into separate congregations, which accounts for the origin of Rock Spring Church and probably of Green Spring Church, the former certainly and the latter probably having been psalm singing congregations in their beginnings. As another sequel to this affair Rev. Charles Cummings asked to be released from the pastoral charge of his churches, and his request was granted by the Presbytery. Attention is thus particularly called to these intense and continuous internal conflicts because, while the bitterness and strife they engendered is to be deplored and the waste of energy that might better have been used for the saving of souls and ministering to human needs in the name of Christ is to be mourned, there are lessons of value in them that may well be pondered now. These forefathers of present day Presbyterianism in Southwest Virginia were men of intelligence, men of courage, men of conviction. They believed what they believed, and counted their religious convictions worth fighting for, be the consequences what they would. They have thereby left us in sacred trust a hard bought heritage of truth to be maintained and passed on as new wine in new bottles. Viewing their record from the distance of many years they may seem to have been lacking in tolerance, and to have displayed more of zeal for non-essentials than of Christian charity, more of eagerness to vindicate their own opinions than of earnestness in reaching and saving men. But with our vision dimmed by the lapse of years we need to be very careful lest in our judgment of them we sin against Christian charity, and, even if these grave charges be sustained against them, their imperfection stands as a warning to us against falling into similar pitfalls, while their stubborn standing for the truth as they saw it demands that this generation be faithful to its trust, their essential faith, won by travail and held by struggle and passed from their hands to ours. This generation must not fail in that trust. If we were to put the wine of our day into bottles of theirs the result would he disastrous, hut it will he even more disastrous if we put milk and water, or even vinegar, in our bottles instead of wine. We must evangelize this territory, but we must evangelize it with the salvation of God and not with compromising counterfeits. The issues of this day demand the sweetness of Christian charity; they demand tolerance; they demand practical adaptation to actual conditions. They also demand souls capable of holding and fighting for conviction; they demand hard, honest thinking; they demand courageous standing for truth. Our forefathers stood for the truth as they saw it. Call it stubbornness if you will, but it was a splendid sort of stubbornness that this generation sorely needs.


There are many reason why Presbyterians are now a small minority among all the people in this territory where they occupied in the beginning a predominant, although by no means exclusive, position. But absence of the home missionary spirit is not one of those reasons. Presbyterian home missions in one form or another are as old as the settlement of the country. In every generation the presence of the home mission spirit has been manifested, although with varying degrees of vigor and effective ness. Perhaps that spirit has never been as strung as it should have been nor as wisely and efficiently directed. But in no generation has either the spirit or the efforts born of it been absent. The first churches were established by home missionaries sent out by Hanover Presbytery, and for generations thereafter a system of touring missionaries was maintained, supplemented by the personal efforts of local pastors and lay workers.

At the spring meeting of 1824 Abingdon Presbytery constituted itself a missionary society and adopted means for supplying its vacant churches. In 1831 the Presbytery through its Stated Clerk made formal application to the Assembly’s Board of Missions to send a pious and devoted missionary to labor in Tazewell county, setting forth in the application the very favor able and inviting opportunity for building up Presbyterianism in that county and its great need of the ministry this church could offer. In 1847 New River Presbytery constituted itself a Home Missionary Association, auxiliary to the American Home Missionary Society, and as such functioned very effectively throughout the remainder of that Presbytery’s career, or until war diverted its energies from this fruitful field of labor. Under this arrangement pastors were stimulated to organize churches in fields adjacent to their own and evangelists were employed to labor in fields that had not been opened. Rev. James King, pastor of the Paperville Church, established a church in the growing village of Bristol; Rev. David F. Palmer, pastor Royal Oak Church, effected new church organizations on South Fork of Holston in Smyth county, and in Black Valley in Wythe; Rev. George Painter, besides supplying vacancies, founded a church in Carroll, probably Bethesda. Rev. J. S. Lyons, Rev. I. N. Naff, and Rev. Lee C. Brown were full time home missionaries, or evangelists, and to their labors are due the founding of the Tazewell and Thompson Valley Churches, Hillsville, and other churches in various parts of the Presbytery. In 1862 New River Presbytery formally authorized the employment of lay missionaries.

The above items, taken more or less at random from notes on the minutes of Presbyteries, are cited as showing that the spirit and work of home missions has been active and effective from the beginning of Presbyterianism in Southwest Virginia.

For some years after the War Between the States the energies of the Presbytery were largely absorbed in rebuilding the established congregations, but even in those years new organizations were established, largely through the zeal and sacrifice of devoted pastors. In 1876 Abingdon Presbytery called the Rev. James Campbell Carson as evangelist, and for eight years he labored abundantly, principally in the counties of Scott, Wise, Russell, and Tazewell. His son, Rev. Robert Dabney Carson, wrote me concerning him as follows:

“My father was born in the Rock Spring congregation, in which his father, Joseph Carson, was an elder. He was licensed and ordained by Abingdon Presbytery in 1872 and 1873. He preached (as stated supply) at Rock Spring and Bethel Churches for three years, and was called as the Evangelist of Abingdon Presbytery, and began his work in 1876. He served in this office until the first of July 1884, when the death of his wife made the taking of a pastorate imperative. During the years of his evangelistic work he held regular services at Saltville, Burke’s Garden, Thompson’s Valley, Liberty Hill, Wise Court house, Lebanon, Gate City, and Nickellsville. He organized the Burke’s Garden Church, one at Lebanon, one at Gate City, and one at Nickellsville. He preached in school houses, private homes, under the shade of trees, anywhere he could get a few or many to a service. He rode horseback, often preaching every day in the week and frequently two or three times a day. He was often away from home for five or six weeks on these evangelistic trips.”

Rev. Isaac S. Anderson, a young graduate of Union Theological Seminary, licensed by Holston Presbytery in determined to devote his life to labors among the Scott county, but finding that Mr. Carson was at work in that county he pushed on into Lee and remained there the years of his long, devoted, beautiful and blessed life. He found in Lee a few Presbyterian families and one old log Presbyterian church, the remnant of the Mt. Carmel Church founded in Powell’s Valley in 1822 by the old Abingdon Presbytery. At his death he left the churches of Lee and Mt. Carmel as they are today, and the influence of a life that had been a benediction to the people of that section and to the church at large.

The pioneer home missionary in the developing coal fields was Rev. John E. Wool, Evangelist of Abingdon Presbytery from 1890 to 1896 and Evangelist of the Synod of Virginia from 1896 to 1901. He laid foundations for the work in Wise county, building little churches at Big Stone Gap, Norton, Virginia City, and two other places.

The present home mission program of the Presbytery began to take shape in 1902 with the election of Dr. George Gilmer as Chairman of the Home Mission Committee, a position which lie held until 1911, when he became Superintendent of Home Missions, and Dr. Robert Dabney Carson, who had been Superintendent, became chairman of the committee. The Committee, led by Dr. Gilmer and aided and abetted by the Home Mission Committee of the Synod of Virginia, secured Dr. Carson in 1905. Dr. Carson, in the letter quoted above, says: “I came to Abingdon Presbytery in 1905 in answer to a call from the Home Mission Committee of the Synod of Virginia to work under the Home Mission Committee of Abingdon Presbytery. My first order from the Presbytery’s Committee was to go to Norton, Va., get the church there in condition to call a pastor, secure his salary on the field and locate a preacher. I found a little company of 21 Presbyterians worshiping in a poor little frame building….. I remained there for a year or more, secured a lot and several thousand dollars and began the new building.

“At the next spring meeting of Presbytery (1906) called me as Superintendent-Treasurer of Home Missions, the Synod of Virginia, whose Evangelist I was, to continue to pay my salary. This was the first Superintendent 01 Missions in any Presbytery in the Synod.

“At this meeting of Presbytery it appeared that. $1,160 had been secured for home mission work in the Presbytery that year, but that only a little more than $500 had been expended, because all the home mission churches were vacant. There was no Presbyterian pastor between Tazewell and Rose Hill and a number of little churches were dying for the lack of a minister. I undertook to supply all of the churches, visiting each one and making a personal canvass for funds to support a pastor. I held evangelistic meetings in almost every church in the Presbytery, often preaching 400 sermons a year, supplied every field with a resident pastor and tried to keep them supplied with a minimum salary of $800 per year, not half bad in those days of cheap living. I organized churches at Grundy and Hurley in Buchanan county, placing Frank Clark and W. W. Arrowood over there; a church at North Fork, W.Va., one at St. Paul, Va., one at Damascus, Va., one at North Holston, Va. In close touch with Dr. George Gilmer, Chairman of the Home Mission Committee, I served in this office until June 19111, when I became president of Stonewall Jackson College, and Dr. Gilmer was elected Superintendent-Treasurer of Home Missions. I became chairman of the committee. We served together in this relation until I resigned my pastorate in Rich Valley. In those days when preachers do no always agree on home mission policies, may I say that in all these years of service together, Dr. Gilmer succeeding me and I him, we never had a word of disagreement and never a thought of jealousy between us.”

Dr. Gilmer, with help from the Home Mission Committee of the Synod of Virginia until the formation of the Synod of Appalachia and after that from the Assembly’s Home Mission Committee, built up the work until it became the largest or one of the largest in any Presbytery in the Southern Church.

Rev. J. M. Smith succeeded Dr. Gilmer as Superintendent and carried on effectively until the depression forced the abandonment of the office of Superintendent, and placed the burden of leadership on the shoulders of the consecrated and efficient Chairman of the Home Mission Committee, Captain E. A. Hyatt, an elder in the Norton Church.

The home mission call having sounded for more than a hundred and fifty years is still sending forth ringing challenges to Abingdon Presbytery from every country within its bounds. For the faith of the fathers, carry on!