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The Coming of the Methodists

The Coming of the Methodists:

1780-1860

© 2006 Clarence E. Horton Jr.
All Rights Reserved

[This essay is a portion of Chapter 10 of a forthcoming history of antebellum Cabarrus County entitled “This Special Place: A History of Cabarrus County, 1732-1860.” Although all rights are reserved, permission is granted for its fair use for educational or research purposes.

Those searching for their congregational roots will find something here about the oldest Methodist churches in Cabarrus County: Bethel UMC and Mt. Olivet UMC (formerly Rogers Meeting House), Bethpage UMC; Central UMC (formerly Concord Station); Rocky Ridge UMC; Mt. Pleasant UMC; St. Paul’s UMC; Mt. Carmel UMC (formed by a merger of Union Methodist and St. Matthews Methodist); Center Grove UMC (formed by a merger of Mt. Moriah Methodist and Asbury Methodist); and Hearne’s Meeting House and Tucker’s Meeting House, which did not survive. Suggestions and corrections are welcomed.]

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The close of the eighteenth century was a time of vast change and movement, as Scots-Irish and German settlers flocked from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and down the Great Wagon Road into the Carolina backcountry.  As a result, the Presbyterian and Lutheran Churches (as well as the kindred German Reformed Church) were well established in that portion of Mecklenburg County that became Cabarrus. After the Revolution, however, Methodist itinerant preachers joyfully accepted the challenge of bringing the Gospel message to the wilderness settlements.

In 1778, the Roanoke, Tar River, and New Hope Circuits were formed from the original North Carolina Circuit of 1776.  When Andrew Yeargan was sent into the valley of the Yadkin in 1780 to establish the work there, Cabarrus County had not yet been set off from Mecklenburg, and Stanly County was a part of Montgomery; Davie and Davidson were still a part of Rowan County.  The new Yadkin Circuit included that part of the State west of Guilford County. 

By 1783, the Yadkin Circuit of 1780 had increased from 21 to 348 members and another circuit was needed. The Salisbury Circuit was formed with Beverly Allen, James Foster, and James Hinton as pastors. (W. L. Grissom, History of Methodism in North Carolina from 1772 to the Present Time, vol. I, p. 242).  The new Circuit apparently included Rowan County (including those portions that became Iredell, Davie, and Davidson Counties); that part of Surry County which later became Stokes and Forsyth; and portions of Cabarrus, Randolph, and Montgomery lying west of the Uwharrie-Pee Dee River System.  In 1789, Daniel Asbury and John McGee began the work of forming the Lincoln Circuit, which included portions of Burke, Rutherford, Lincoln, and Mecklenburg [including future Cabarrus] Counties in North Carolina; and portions of York, Spartanburg, and Union Districts in South Carolina. (Grissom, History, pp. 273-74) 

The growth of Methodism in Cabarrus County and its neighboring counties south of the Granville Line was to be shaped by a circumstance of geography, however. The rivers that crossed North Carolina made east-west travel difficult, and settlers in Piedmont North Carolina found it easier to trade with neighbors in South Carolina and Virginia, than with those in eastern North Carolina.  Thus, from 1785 to 1800, Methodism rapidly spread from Charleston, South Carolina, into North Carolina's southern tier of counties. Territory east of the Pee-Dee River was released to the North Carolina Conference in 1850; not until 1870 was the area west of the Pee-Dee released by the South Carolina Conference.  That territory included Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Stanly, and Anson Counties. (Elmer T. Clark, Methodism in Western North Carolina, p. 34).  When Cabarrus County was formed from Mecklenburg County in 1792, the greater part of its territory was in Lincoln Circuit [called Union Circuit from 1793 to 1805]. The eastern portion of Cabarrus County, however, had close geographical and social ties to the western portion of Montgomery County. Western Montgomery was associated with the Salisbury District until about 1806 when the Rocky River Circuit appeared in the Minutes.  That portion of old Montgomery County west of the Pee Dee River was formed into Stanly County in 1841.

It is difficult today to imagine the obstacles faced by the early itinerant ministers forming circuits on the frontier.  Most lived on fried bacon and corn bread, often eaten cold and in the saddle; they slept on dirt floors or on pine slabs if they were fortunate enough to find a friendly hearth.  Many met them with dislike, some with outright abuse.  Their numbers included frail, scholarly men who must have shuddered at the thought of the trackless wilderness before them.  Yet it could be said of most of them, as Bishop Coke did of Hope Hull: "Mr. Hull is young, but is indeed a flame of fire.  He appears always on the stretch for the salvation of souls." (Grissom, History, p. 252).

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