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The Coming of the Methodists

Sugar Creek Circuit

Fired with the spirit of revival, new churches were begun and old ones  strengthened.  When the Sugar Creek Circuit was formed in 1815 from territory in the South Carolina Conference, it included portions of Anson, Mecklenburg, and Cabarrus Counties, McKendree Church in Iredell County, and Thyatira Church in South Rowan County.   At the time of the organizational Quarterly Conference on 5 May 1815, Bethel, Mt. Moriah, and Rogers were among the oldest preaching points in Cabarrus County.  They were joined by thirteen other "preaching places": Roses', McCorkles, Mayhews, Christenbury's, Martin's, Charlotte, Chalk Level, Cathcart's, Thyatira, Walases [Wallace's], Harisons, Newhope, and Howels. (Clark, Methodism, p. 33). Minutes of the first meeting reflect an offering of $16.63 3/4 paid to the Preacher in Charge, William B. Barnett.  At that time, the Sugar Creek Circuit was a part of the Catawba District of the South Carolina Conference.

Asbury Church in eastern Cabarrus, founded by Martin Widenhouse, is traditionally regarded as older than its sister congregation of Mt. Moriah, although documentary evidence is lacking, and Asbury is not listed in the initial Sugar Creek Minutes.  Tucker's was then a meetinghouse in eastern Cabarrus County south of Rocky River and was included in the surviving Rocky River Circuit Minutes for the years 1810 through 1819. (Rocky River Conference Minutes, 1807-1819, Manuscript Dept., Duke University Library, Durham, NC).    Tucker's is listed as a preaching point in the Sugar Creek Circuit Minutes from 1823 through 1833, but we know little of its history thereafter.  The Tucker Family Cemetery, located on the South side of Rocky River across the river from the Eugene T. Bost home and near the traditional location of Tucker's Meeting House, is the only concrete reminder of its existence.  John Sharpe Hartsell, Cabarrus County attorney and historian, could identify no surviving building erected as a meeting place for Tucker's congregation. However, since there were only 10 members in 1813, meetings may have been held in the Tucker home.

Mt. Moriah, which apparently began when Rev. James Love deeded land for its construction in 1813, survived along with its slightly older sister congregation, Asbury Methodist Church, until 1867 when they merged into Center Grove Methodist Church.  The Asbury Church and land were deeded back to Martin Widenhouse on 8 October 1869, supporting the tradition in the Widenhouse family that Asbury Church began in the Widenhouse home and that services were held there until a log church with a rock chimney was built near the house. (Earnest C. Widenhouse, Letter to Rev. Homer Keever, 21 November 1966, Lore Room, Cannon Memorial Library, Concord, NC).

Old Bethel's history predates the few records now available.  The first deed for the church property is dated 17 October 1808, from Thomas McEachern to Thomas Love, Claboun Freeman, Alexander McLarty, James McLarty, and John Garmon, as Trustees.  The McLarty family were originally members of Rocky River Presbyterian Church, and were probably among those brought into the Methodist Church during the Great Revival of 1802.  Old records at Bethel indicate that Margaret McLellan joined the church in 1783, and Bethel historians date their church from that year or earlier. Early members included Margaret Gray, Beverly Gray, David Taylor, Mary Taylor, David White, John Garmon, Thomas McEachren, Jane Caldwell McEachren, Alexander McLarty, James McLarty, Claboun Freeman, Thomas Love, Ester Newell, John Newell and Mariah Howell. (J. L. Trollinger, History of Bethel Methodist Church).

A newspaper article written in 1933 discussed the difficulty of determining the exact age of Bethel Church. Clara A. Bryant wrote that

there is still in existence a fragment of a church record which shows that in 1783 and 1784 certain members were received into Bethel Church.  It states that one Margaret McClellan was received in 1783, and there is a notation, evidently added years later, that Margaret McClellan died at the age of 104.

Ms. Bryant also discusses the camp meetings long held at Bethel:

It has been impossible to determine when Bethel's annual camp meetings originated.  Certainly long before the Civil War days.  And, until perhaps 18 years ago, the people came each year from far and near, with their families, their friends, their servants, their stoves and foodstuffs, their cows and coops of chickens, to tent on Bethel's camp ground for a series of meetings- sometimes lasting through a second week.  Four times a day, they were called to worship by the blowing of a trumpet; at 8 and 11 in the morning, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and at 8 o'clock in the evening."

(Clara Bryant, “Bethel M.E. Church Links Old With New”, Charlotte Observer, 23 July 1933).

Trollinger’s History of Bethel United Methodist Church gives more detail about the meetings:

Many of the early families built cabins around the church and arbor.  The           families lived in these cabins during the annual camp meeting which was held each year in August.  According to Mrs. Dora Grey, these cabins were small, log buildings with the rear used as a sleeping area with a small space in front reserved for cooking.  Enough room was left between the cabins for a team and wagon to pass through. . . . This camp meeting week was not only a period of worship, some times rather loud when a member felt himself filled with religious fervor, but a social week as well.  Indeed it added much to the social lives of the people.  One of the favorite gathering places for the camping was the spring located across the road at the rear of the present church.

An article in the Carolina Watchman, a newspaper published in Salisbury, on September 5, 1878, gives the editor’s account of a camp meeting he attended there the previous Sunday, at which time there were about 2,000 persons present.  He describes the grounds as having been used as a camp ground for "half a century," and as having 32 occupied cabins with others being constructed.

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