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The Coming of the Methodists


In 1784, Jesse Lee, a powerful and charismatic minister who later served as Chaplain to the House of Representatives in Washington from 1809 to 1815, and who introduced Methodism into New England in 1790, was sent to the Salisbury Circuit. His Journal records his preaching at Salisbury on 12 June 1784; the following day, Sunday, he preached at "Hern's, to a large company . . ..” On Monday, 14 June, he preached at "brother Carter's . . . to a weeping congregation," then later in the week at John Randall's, C. Leadbetter's, and Cole's.” (Grissom, History, pp. 248-49).

The journey Lee described was the route of the wagon road which ran from Salisbury in a southeasterly direction through the edge of Mecklenburg [now Cabarrus] County, then through that portion of Montgomery County lying west of the Pee Dee River, crossing the Rocky River at a ferry, and so on into Anson County.  That is the earliest mention of a meeting house, or preaching point, in the Cabarrus area.  A prominent Stanly County historian, Rev. Ivey Sharpe, records that a number of Carter families lived in the vicinity of Carter’s Meeting House, the predecessor of Bethel United Methodist Church near New London in northern Stanly. (Ivey Lawrence Sharpe, Stanly County, U.S.A., The Story of an Era and an Area (1841-1972), p. 134).

Randall United Methodist Church, the oldest Methodist Church in Stanly County, traces its history to 1783 when Jesse Lee preached there. Bishop Asbury also held services at the Randall home in 1785, 1789, 1793, 1798, 1800, and l805. John Snuggs donated land for the Church in 1813, which was called "Snugg's Meeting House" until 1824 when John Randall died and the church was renamed in his honor.  (Sharpe, Stanly County, pp. 134-35).    

The Ledbetter family of Stanly County was well-known in Methodist circles. Henry Ledbetter was an itinerant Methodist preacher from 1785 to 1797; Bishop Asbury also preached at his home. The "C. Leadbetter" referred to by Jesse Lee was probably Charles Ledbetter, who preached on the Yadkin Circuit in 1795. No present-day church has been traced to either Ledbetter's or Cole's Meeting House.

The route followed by Jesse Lee must have become the established route for the Methodist circuit riders.  In 1802, William Ormond was appointed to the Salisbury Circuit.  He preached at the "Dutch Church" in Salisbury on Sunday, 28 March  1802; at "Brother Hearne's Meeting House" on the 29th; and at Carter's on the 31st of March, 1802.  His Journal reveals that he often stayed the night at Hearne's, referring to him as the "Class Leader." (William Ormond, Journals, vol. 4, Manuscript Dept., Duke University Library, Durham, NC).  In 1803, James Patterson succeeded Ormond on the Salisbury Circuit.  His Diary shows that he preached at "Hearne's Meetinghouse in Cabarrus County" on September 13th, 1803, and then at Jacob Carter's in Montgomery County on the next day. (Grissom, History, p. 267).

Unfortunately, we find no further written record of Hearne's Meeting House. The Rocky River Circuit appears in the Minutes in 1806 as a part of the Camden District of the South Carolina Conference. Thomas Nelson was assigned to the Circuit in 1806 and George Fletcher succeeded him in 1807.  The Rocky River Circuit included eastern Cabarrus County, as well as present-day Stanly County and Anson County.  The surviving Rocky River Minutes are fragmentary and do not include Hearne's as a preaching point.

Records in the Office of the Register of Deeds for Cabarrus County reveal that the Hearne family owned land in the extreme eastern part of Cabarrus County near the County line, between Big and Little Bear Creeks; Elisha, William, and Jesse Hearne were listed as landowners at that time.  Unfortunately, there are few other clues in the Cabarrus County records. We do know that the Hearne family was prominent in Stanly County for many years, furnishing that County its first Sheriff, Eben Hearne, and sixth Sheriff, William Harrison Hearne.

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