The Religion and Settlement of Surry County
Source: Book - 'A History of Surry County Churches'
Compiled by the Surry County Genealogical Assn.
From the introduction to 'A History of Surry County Churches'
There were a few permanent settlers here by the 1750s and others that were not so permanent. There were no churches, schools, or communities in the beginning. The settlers, for the most part, came down the Great Wagon Road through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Many were second and third generation Americans who had settled first in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and even New Jersey.
In many instances, several families made their journey together into the area of the foothills of northwestern North Carolina that became Surry County in 1771. These families had lived together before coming; they knew each other and were often connected through kinship or marriage. They brought with them a shared heritage and faith background.
While some of the settlers may have been of a rougher sort, many undoubtedly were strong in their faith traditions. Though they did not build churches or meeting houses for a generation or more, their faith was sustained by family Bible readings, prayer, and occasional itinerant preachers who came through holding preaching services at a home or in a grove of trees.
Two distinct faith communities that came to Surry County were the Society of Friends (Quaker), who settled in the Westfield area of the county, and the Moravians, who established the villages of Bethabara, Bethania, and Salem (now in Forsyth County) before the county was formed in 1771.
Life on the frontier of Surry County in the 1700s was hard. Indians still posed a threat; the task facing the settlers of building a cabin, clearing fields, and sustaining life for the family was a challenge in itself. Surely faith in God and the assurances of faith sustained those early settlers.
Many of the people who settled here early on were of English, Scots-Irish, and German descent. One should understand that even in the 1700s there was still religious discord and unrest in Europe. There was an ongoing struggle for the freedom of religion.
A number of those early settlers in Surry County had parents and grandparents who fled religious persecution in one form or another from England, Ireland, and the German States. The desire for religious freedom was much on the minds of those early settlers.
It is wrong to assume that the people who came here were not religious; these early settlers were of Quaker, Baptist, Moravian, Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, or Brethren Background. All were of Protestant heritage. All were supporters of religious freedom. From the beginning, there was a great variety in religious beliefs and practices in the life of Surry County, and this diversity continues today.
The legislative act of the colonial assembly that created Surry County in 1771 also created the Parish of Saint Jude of the Episcopal Church of England. There apparently was never a minister assigned or a church built for the parish.
The Moravian records indicate that from as early as 1769, some of the Brethren of the curch would, on occasion, go to the hollows and hold services at a home or in the open. Although the settlers eagerly and graciously received the Moravians, there wasn't a church established by that denomination in the county until the twentieth century.
By 1772, the Society of Friends at Westfield had organized Tom's Creek Meeting, later to become known as Westfield Meeting. During the period of the Revolutionary War, Surry County actually was in a state of civil war with opposing bands of Whigs and Tories harassing the citizens.
In the years following the Revolutionary War, there was a sizeable migration out of Surry County, but an even greater migration into Surry County of people who were of a nore permanent nature.
From the Revolutionary War to the end of the century, increasing numbers of settlers arrived. Homesteads and farms, flour mills, schools, churches, and centers of community life were being established. The Indians had been brought under control, and few remained in the area.
The first churches would be held at a scheduled time and neighboring families would join. Later, a log or frame structure would be built and meetings would be held there. Often, schoolhouses here used for church services and churches were used during the week for schools.
In many instances, there were at first only verbal agreements that land would be given for the church, and years might pass before a deed was ever drawn. The people would get together to cut the logs and build the church with their own labor. The Baptist, Methodist Episcopal, and Society of Friends churches that had organized by 1800 are listed by denomination below.
Churches Before 1800
Baptist: Baptist Church of the Hollow (aka Old Hollow, Forkner's, and Stewarts or Stuarts Creek), Bryan's, Fisher River, Mitchell River, Pauls Creek
Methodist Episcopal: Bold Springs Meeting (preceded Old Siloam and Siloam), Hebron (mother Church of Beulah and New Hebron), Underwood's Meeting House
Society of Friends (Quaker): Tom's Creek Meeting, Westfield Meeting
This page was last updated October 24, 2010.
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