October 7: A North Carolina Bicentennial

God of Wonders, Will You Not Work Yet Again?

It is gone now, and, by most folks today, perhaps forgotten. But this October 7th, 2013, marks the two hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Synod of North Carolina. From its founding in 1813 until 1861, the Synod was part of the old Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Then in 1861, this Synod became part of what was commonly known as the Southern Presbyterian Church. When the Presbyterian Church in America was formed in 1973, at least twenty-one churches in North Carolina left to join the new denomination. Among these, Goshen (1764), Mount Carmel (1776) and Prosperity (1788) were the oldest—churches that had already been in existence for many years when the Synod of North Carolina was formed.

And so, the history of the Synod of North Carolina remains relevant today, even though it no longer exists as a separate court of any denomination. That history is part of the history of some of our own churches. Moreover, that history serves as an reminder of how the Lord has worked among His people in years past, and how powerfully He might work yet again. And so that history is also an encouragement to us today.

On the Alamance Church Road, southeast of Greensboro, North Carolina, the text of a historical marker provides the broad strokes of the Synod’s history. It reads:—

“There were Presbyterians in North Carolina from the earliest days of the Colony. The most numerous groups, the Scotch-Irish and the Highland Scots, arrived in large numbers during the 18th century. The former settled largely in the Piedmont and the latter in the Cape Fear area.

“The early Presbyterian settlers had no ministers. In response to many petitions the Synod of New York sent William Robinson to preach in the winter of 1742-43. The Synod of Philadelphia sent John Thompson in 1744. Hugh McAden arrived in 1755 and visited both the Piedmont and Cape Fear areas. James Campbell began ministering to the Highland Scots in 1757. In 1758 Alexander Craighead arrived in Mecklenburg County. Among other Presbyterian ministers of the period were David Caldwell, who came as a missionary in 1764 and became a great teacher and statesman, and Henry Patillo, author of the first school textbook in the Colony, who arrived in 1765.

“The first three Presbyteries were Orange (1770), Concord (1796), and Fayetteville (1813). The Synod of North Carolina was organized on October 6, 1813, at Alamance Church. [Here the official history (see below) differs, and states that the first meeting of the Synod took place on October 7, 1813.]

“Presbyterians have always been strong supporters of education. In 1767 David Caldwell opened his ‘Log College’ in Guilford County, forerunner of other academies conducted by such Presbyterian educators as Henry Patillo, Samuel E. McCorkle, James Hall, and William Bingham. At the request of Presbyterians, the Colonial Assembly chartered Queens College in 1771, but the act was disallowed by the King. Davidson College opened in 1837 with Robert H. Morrison as first president. Other Presbyterian colleges have included Flora Macdonald, Queens, and St. Andrews.

“William R. Davie, a founder of the University of North Carolina, Archibald D. Murphey, early 19th century advocate of internal improvements, constitutional reform, and public education, and Calvin H. Wiley, first State Superintendent of Common Schools, were prominent Presbyterian laymen.

“Early growth was slow but was accelerated by the Great Revival of the 18th century, which began with the preaching of James McGready, and by State-wide camp meetings. According to Synod records there were, in 1813, 3 presbyteries, 25 ministers, 102 churches, and 4,000 communicants. In 1963 there were 9 presbyteries, 623 ministers, 645 churches, and 147,262 communicants.”

Words to Live By:

I have a cartoon that I saved, with the caption:

Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.”

A good joke, but seriously, let me encourage you, that as a Christian, you should study history. At the very least you should include a good selection of both Christian biography and Christian history in your regular reading. Those works will prove a great encouragement to you.

For Further Reading:

Centennial Addresses, Synod of North Carolina, delivered at Alamance Church, Greensboro, N.C., October 7, 1913.
Contents of this work:
[over a thousand people showed up for this event, and so the crowd was divided into two groups, with messages on each subject brought by two speakers]:

1. Address of Welcome and Outline of History of Alamance, by Alexander W. Crawford.

2. Beginnings and Development of the Presbyterian Church in North Carolina to 1863, by Walter W. Moore [1857-1926].

3. Beginnings and Development of Presbyterianism in North Carolina to 1863, by Walter L. Lingle [1868-1956]

4. Personnel of the Presbyterian Church in North Carolina from 1813 to 1838, by David Irwin Craig [1849-1925]

5. Personnel of the Synod during the last 25 years of the first half century, from 1838 to 1863, by Halbert G. Hill [1831-1924]

6. Last Fifty Years — The Presbyterian Church an Evangelistic Agency, by Robert F. Campbell [1831-1924]

7. Last Fifty Years — The Presbyterian Church an Evangelistic Agency, by John McAden Rose [1849-1917]

8. Presbyterians in Educational Work in North Carolina since 1813, by C. Alphonso Smith [1864-1924]

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