Early religious development in Rutherford County
By CHIVOUS BRADLEY
Special to The Daily Courier
Ed note: This is another in a series of historical stories regarding Rutherford County.
As the French and Indian War came to an end in 1763, settlers began to move into the area now included in Rutherford County. Most of the earliest to arrive were Scots Irish who had strong ties to the Presbyterian Denomination.
One of these groups settled along Cane Creek and Second Broad River. For a few years their worship was mainly around the home fireside or family altar but sometimes from house to house. Rev. Daniel Thatcher joined this group in 1768 and helped establish the Brittain Presbyterian Church.
Baptists connected with the Congaree Association, which later became the Bethel Association, began to preach in the area of Bill’s Creek by 1782; and the Bill’s Creek Baptist Church was well established by 1785. The first two pastors of this congregation were William Haynes and Perminter Morgan.
The next known church in the county was Mountain Creek Baptist in 1789. Circuit riding Methodists began to preach in the county by 1788 and the Oak Grove Methodist Church was organized in 1792 near present day Ellenboro.
Church historian, John R. Logan states, “From 1799 until 1803, there was ... a remarkable outpouring of the Divine Spirit among the different denominations. Great multitudes became the subjects of religious concern. The heralds of the Cross of Christ seem to have taken in the situation, and went everywhere in the highways and hedges preaching the word, and the Lord added daily to the churches such as should be saved.” Especially among the Methodists, a great camp meeting movement began. There were also, but to a lesser extent, camp meetings conducted by the Baptist and Presbyterian ministers. On many occasions those in attendance numbered over 1,000.
The spiritual enthusiasm generated unusual activity among the converts and others in the crowds. Rolling, shouting, jerking, dancing, barking, falling down or being struck down by the spirit, and other such demonstrations were evident in the Methodist meetings. There was some opposition to such activity among the Presbyterians, but a camp meeting was held near Brittain Church in 1802. As for the Baptists, shouting, testifying, gathering in the altar for corporate prayer, and running the aisle were accepted practices.
One of the early Methodist Camp Meetings was held at Jarrett’s Creek near Poor’s Ford. Among the better known Baptist Camp Meetings was the Rock Springs Camp Meeting in the Ferry Community.
All three denominations saw phenomenal growth in membership and in the number of local congregations during that spiritual awakening and for a number of years thereafter. Sixteen Baptist Churches within the Broad River watershed, who had been a part of the Bethel Association, organized the Broad River Baptist Association in 1801. Bill’s Creek and Mountain Creek were in the group. By the 1840’s the Presbyterian Churches were in decline and some, like Knob Creek, had joined the Methodists.
The Methodists were holding their own while the number of Baptist congregations continued to increase. Methodist Churches in the county by 1840 included Oak Grove, Pisgah, Wesley's Chapel, Gilboa, Gray’s Chapel, Pleasant Grove, and perhaps a few others. The known Baptist Churches included Bill’s Creek, Mountain Creek, Concord, First Broad, Shiloh, High Shoal, Camp Creek, Big Springs, Round Hill, Montford’s Cove, and Mount Vernon.
Local Baptist congregations voluntarily join together, usually within a convenient geographical area, for cooperative ministry, service, evangelism, missions, and for sharing of resources. In 1840, representatives from several local Baptist churches met and drew up ten articles of faith which they called the “Association Covenant” as a model for establishing a new association.
On June 4, 1841, a convention was held at Bill’s Creek to determine the expediency of forming an association from parts of the Catawba, Broad River, and Salem Associations. On Nov. 19, 1841, the Green River Association held their first official meeting and was organized at Montford’s Cove. Rev. James Milton Webb served as first moderator and has been called the “father of the Green River Baptist Association”.
When High Shoals, Concord, and Shiloh requested to be dismissed from the Broad River Association at their 1841 session to help form the new association, it was stated that Rev. Webb “ had been a bright and shining light to that body, and it was with much regret the brethren were called on to give him the parting hand.”
He went on to serve six times as moderator of the Green River Association and twice a clerk. He helped organize Rutherfordton First Baptist in 1851 and served as their first pastor. In 1852, he resigned in order to help constitute the church at Pleasant Hill where he served until his death. The home he built for his family is located on Highway 64 east of Rutherfordton.
Before being ordained to the ministry, James M. Webb served three terms in the North Carolina House of Commons. Between 1833 and 1854, he served as pastor of at least eleven different churches and also served as Clerk of Court for Rutherford County sixteen of those years. Rev. Webb was owner and editor of the Rutherfordton Intelligencer from 1841 until 1843. Gardner-Webb University was named for his grandchildren- Judges James L. and E. Yates Webb and Faye Webb Gardner, wife of Governor O. Max Gardner.