Methodism in Southwest Virginia

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Southwest Virginia Project
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From Source:Coale, 1878


From the best information the writer can get, the Presbyterians had regularly organized churches in Holson, as this part of the State was then called, several years before the Methodists found their way through the Alleghanies, as the Rev. Mr. - Cummings, as shown in the preceeding chapter, received a call from two regularly organized congregations in 1772, whereas the first Methodist, of whom any reliable aceount is given, came about the year 1781.

Mr. McFerrin, in his graphic and interesting work on "Methodism in Tennessee," says: "As early as 1785, the first traveling preachers visited the Holston country. Their names were Richard Swift and Gilbert. The country, at this time, was new and thinly settled. They met with many privations and sufferings and made but little progress. The most of the country through which they traveled was very mountainous and rough, and the people ignorant and uncultivate, and the greater part a frontier exposed to Indian depredations. They were followed by Mark Whitaker and Mark Moore, who were zealous, plain, old-fashioned Methodist preachers, and calculated to make an impression. Their labors were successful, and they were instrumental in raising up many societies. Mark Whitaker, in particular, was a strong man and maintained Methodist doctrine in opposition to Calvinism, which was the prevailing doctrine of that time. He laid a good foundation for his successors, and was fol- by Jeremiah Mataen and Thomas Ware, and after them in succession Joseph Doddridge, Jeremiah Able, John Tunnell, John Baldwin, Charles Havely, John McGehee and John West. Under God these men planted the standard of the cross in the frontier settlements, and numerous societies were raised 'up, so that in 1791 the societies numbered upward 'of one thousand. * * * *

The pioneers of Methodism in that part of Western Virginia and the Western Territory suffered many privations and underwent much toil and labor, preaching in forts and cabins, sleeping on straw, bear and buffalo skins, living on bear meat, venison and wild turkeys, traveling over mountains and through solitary valleys, and some-times lying on the cold ground; receiving but scanty support, barely enough to keep soul and body together, with coarse home-made apparel; but the best of all was, their labors were owned and blessed of God, and they were like a band of brothers, having one purpose and end in view--the glory of God and the salvation of immortal souls - the preachers met from their different and distant fields of labor, they, had a feast of love and friendship; and when they parted, they wept and embraced each other. Such was the spirit of primitive Methodist preachers.

The first Conference in Southwestern Virginia was held at Huffaker's, on the 15th of April, 1792. Bishop Asbury presided. "Huffaker's" was on the fine farm now owned and occupied by Mr. Benjamin K. Buchanan, some three or four miles from the Saltworks, and was pronounced "Half- acre" in the neighborhood at that day. General Russell and his wife are said to have been converted during the meeting, and entertained the preachers at their house, which was at or near the Saltworks.

Barnabas Mellenry was one of the first converts in, the Holston country, and he lived in Rich Valley, not far from the the Saltworks.

As this matter is of interest to the members of the Methodist Church, many of w~m have not and never may see Dr. McFerrin's entertaining book, the writer will make one more quotation and dismiss the subject.

- "At the Conference held in 1783 (the second ever held), commencing at Ellis' Preaching-house, in Sussex County, Virginia, on the 17th of April, and adjourning to Baltimore on the -21st of May, there was a return made of the Holston Circuit, with sixty members; and with this year the statistical history of Methodism in this part of the country begins. This was only seventeen years after the commonly received date of the organization of the first Methodist society in America, and only ten years after the the -first Conference, when the whole number of preachers, as previously stated, was only ten. So it will be seen that Methodism in, the bounds of the Holston Conference dates back almost as far as in any other portion of the country. But to the mind of the writer, with the evidence before him, there are good reasons to date it back earlier than this, and date its commencement in 1776. * * * *

If the reader be curious on the subject, and will take the pains to examine, he will find that, after its introduction to the Holston country, Methodism worked its way north ward and eastward in Virginia, and also that the Holston work was connected with that in Carolina immediately east of th&mountains, clearly indicating that from thence it found its way to this country almost as soon as to any part of North Carolina.

"At the Conference of 1783, when the Holston Circuit was formed, there were, in the entire connection in America, 13,740 members, and eighty-two preachers were this year statio~ed. But if the history be commenced in 1776, which the writer believes to be the proper date, there were at that time twenty-four preachers and 4,921 members. So the opetations of Methodist preachers, in what is now the bounds of Holston Conference, had an early, if not a fair start.

"Jeremiah Lambert was the first appointee to the Holston Circuit as such. The war of the Revolution being shout ended, and the tide of emigration setting strongly in this direction, the number of members in the Church having increased, as well as the population, and this country being separated by'high mountains from that on the east, it was deemed best, in laying off the work, to seperate it from that with which it had been connected, and assign it to one man. Mr. Lambert's circuit embraced all the settlements on the Watauga, Nolichucky and Holston rivers, including those in what is now Greene, Washington, Carter, Johnson, Sullivan and Hawkins counties, Tennessee, and Washington, Smyth, Russell, and perhaps Lee and Scott counties, Virginia. This circuit he traveled during the year, but as the country was very sparsely settled, provisions scarce, and the Indians very troublesome, his hardships must have been very great and his sufferings no accommodations, in the modern acceptation of that term, for traveling, lodging, study, or anythi without pay, without hope of earthly reward, without earthly friends or protection, and often without shelter-he made his way, as best he could, in the name and for the sake of Him who had said, 'Lo, I you alway, even to the end of the world, and at the next Conference, or in April, 1784, he returned seventy-six members, or sixteen more than -he had received. This good man ended his career on earth a few years after this and was taken to his reward on high. He was succeeded by Henry Willis, and he by Richard Swift and MichaelGilbert."