Scotch-Irish Settlers in South Carolina, and Their Descendants in Maury County, Tennessee
By Hon. W. S. Fleming, Columbia, Tenn.
From The Scotch-Irish in America: Proceedings of the Scotch-Irish Congress at Columbia, Tennessee, May, 1889.
It is not my purpose, in this paper, to dwell at any length upon, or to magnify and extol the racial characteristics of the Scotch-Irish—nor to investigate the causes which led them to leave their homes in Scotland, and to find new homes in the province of Ulster, Ireland; nor to inquire into the motives, be they civil or ecclesiastical, which induced or impelled them to seek an abode in the then wilds of America. All this has been done and will be done by abler pens than I can wield, and tongues in strains more eloquent than I could ever dare to attempt. My humble purpose is to trace in brief the history and progress of one colony or society, more or less connected with each other by ties of affinity and consanguinity. And instead of entering into an elaborate discussion of or treatise upon the manners, customs, habits, and genetic characteristics of the race in detail, I will attempt to illustrate their distinctive traits of character by a very brief historic sketch of this little colony; for its history is that of many others, if not nearly all, who emigrated from Ulster to America. In the language of the Roman poet:
"Ex uno disce omnes."
From 1730 to 1734, this colony, the parent of one in this county of Maury, to be mentioned presently, migrated to Williamsburg District, South Carolina, of which Kingstree is the county seat. Of those who came during the above period were the following heads of families: James McClelland, William and Robert Wilson, James Bradley, William Frierson, John James, Roger Gordon, James Armstrong, Erwin, Stuart, McDonald, Dobbins, Blakely, Dickey, and perhaps a few others. In the last named year, to wit, 1734, John Witherspoon, of the same family with the distinguished signer of the Declaration of Independence, born near Glasgow, Scotland, in 1670, and who had removed to County Down, Ireland, came to Williamsburg, bringing with him his four sons, David, James, Robert and Gavin, and his daughters, Jennet, Elizabeth and Mary, with their husbands, John Fleming, William James (father of Major John James, of revolutionary memory and distinction) and David Wilson. All these colonists were from County Down, Ireland. They were all members of the Presbyterian Church, or reared and indoctrinated in its faith. Consequently one of their first cares was the erection of a house for the worship of God; and the present, known as Bethel Church, is the representative and successor of the original body constituted and established by them. In 1849 three of the original elders, to wit, William James, David Witherspoon, and John Fleming, died of a singular epidemic, known as the "Great Mortality," which ravaged the country, carrying off no less than eighty persons of the little township. For many of the foregoing facts I am indebted to a historical discourse delivered on the 120th anniversary of this church, in 1856, by Rev. James A. Wallace, its then pastor.
It is proper to notice another family or connection of Scotch-Irish, who, coming down from Pennsylvania through Virginia and North Carolina, settled in or near the "Waxhaws," in Lancaster District, South Carolina. These were the Stephensous, the Dunlaps, the Crawfords, Blairs, Fosters, and General Andrew Jackson's parents, who were nearly related to the Crawfords. I mention these, because both before and after the immigration to Tennessee they became connected by intermarriage with the Williamsburg branch. They were all of the same religious persuasion, and all of the John Knox type. During the War of Independence every man of these settlements capable of bearing arms was in the field on the side of liberty. There was not a "tory" among them in a district abounding with "tories."
In the address alluded to above Mr. Wallace says: "Among the descendants of the Irish Presbyterian colonists of the township, the name of 'tory' was unknown. 'Liberty or death' was the motto of every man: and it was the immutable sentiment of every heart." They mainly formed "Marion's Brigade," whose patriotism and deeds of daring have passed into song and story and become household words, lisped long after by their children, and inspiring with sentiments of chivalry the youthful minds of their descendants. With them were many descendants of the French Huguenots, those sterling Christian patriots, exiled by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, united with them in one common faith, political and religious. Shoulder to shoulder stood these two distinct races, through all the terrible scenes of bloodshed and danger, battling for the same eternal principles of truth and liberty—"Man's heritage in the Church and man's heritage in the State." Simms says: "The people of Williamsburg were men generally of fearless courage, powerful frame, well-strung nerves, and an audacious gallantry that led them to delight in dangers. They felt that 'rapture of the strife' in which the Goth delighted."
They took part in every battle fought in the state of South Carolina, and some of them took part in the Battle of King's Mountain, the thunder of whose guns sounded the key-note of Cornwallis' dirge. Besides many minor engagements with British troops and tories, they participated in the Battles of Eutaw, Cowpens, Monk's Corner, Fort Motte, and Georgetown. But I must not dwell longer upon the patriotism and gallantry of this people in the old Revolution. Their record is without a stain—their escutcheon untarnished.
And now let us trace for a brief space some of their descendants, and follow them to this state and to this county. If this course will in any way illustrate the Scotch-Irish character, then the attempt will not be without profit. This account deals with the people of a settlement, known as "Zion's Church," all of them Scotch-Irish—an offshoot of the Williamsburg colony—a swarm from that as the parent hive—always regarded as a peculiar people, more so formerly than at present; peculiar in its intermarriages within itself, so to speak; peculiar in its systematic and thorough instruction of the young in the Westminster Confession and the Shorter Catechism; peculiar in its rigid observance of the Sabbath, such as no shaving, no chopping of wood, no cooking except the drawing of coffee, no dinings, no visiting except of the sick, upon that holy day; peculiar in the religious instruction given on Sundays to their slaves, of whom they possessed a very large number; peculiar in their very exalted standard of honesty and morality; peculiar in their entire exemption from all legal prosecutions involving crime or moral turpitude. Many, if not most, of these peculiarities are, or were, common to the Scotch-Irish race, but not to those outside of it.
About the 25th of March, 1805, James Armstrong (my maternal grandfather), Moses G. Frierson, James Blakeley, and Paul Fulton, with their respective families, emigrated from Williamsburg, South Carolina, being members of Bethel congregation, under the charge of Rev. James White Stephenson, D.D. After six weeks of laborious travel they reached the vicinity of Nashville on the 8th of May, 1805. In the fall of the same year they removed to the neighborhood of Franklin, Williamson County, Tennessee, where they rented temporary habitations for themselves, and also secured places for some of their friends and relatives, who proposed to follow them the ensuing year.
Accordingly, on the 6th of March, 1806, the following, with their several families, left their native homes in South Carolina to seek their abode in the wilds of Tennessee and join the four families who had preceded them, and with whom they were closely connected, to wit: John Dickey, Mrs. Margaret Frierson, Mrs. Jane H. Blakely, Samuel Frierson, Thos. Stephenson, Wm. Frierson, Wm. I. Frierson, Samuel Witherspoon, Elias Frierson, John W. Stephenson, and Mrs. Mary Fleming (my paternal grandmother), with her four boys. They were singularly blessed and providentially favored in their long and tedious journey by reason of the clemency of the weather, the low stage of the many water courses they had to cross, the facility for obtaining food and provisions in abundance along the way, and their entire exemption from disease and death, although attended by a large number of slaves. This company reached their friends in Williamson county about the middle of April, 1806. True to their religious training and habits, they soon resolved to meet every Sabbath for the purpose of reading the Scriptures, and of prayer and praise. They accordingly erected a stand, where they spent most of each Sabbath in religious exercises. In the fall of 1806 they received a visit from their old pastor, Dr. Stephenson, who remained long enough to preach on several occasions. Soon they resolved to purchase land suitable and sufficient for a permanent settlement. A part of General Green's 25,000 acre grant was selected as the most eligible and desirable they could find. This lies in Maury county. The next question was whether it could be bought and titles could be secured from Green's heirs. Accordingly a messenger was at once dispatched to their home on Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia, near the mouth of the River St. Mary, to ascertain whether a purchase could be made, and if so, to pay the purchase-money and have the title papers executed. Captain George Dickey, one of the colony, undertook the apparently perilous journey, through the tribes of Indians then settled along the Tennessee and Chickamauga Rivers and the mountainous regions of North Georgia. The response was favorable for a sale, which was soon effected. Eight square miles, lying in oblong shape, were purchased at $3 per acre, the total amount being $15,360. This purchase lies in Maury county, its nearest boundary line to Columbia, the county seat, being about five miles west of that city.
This purchase lay in an unsettled, wilderness state at that time, a few scattering habitations in remote parts of the county—probably not one upon the entire Green survey. The county had not as yet received its name; no settlement to be found, dating back as far as a year; the whole face of the country densely covered with cane, so that in but few spots here and there could a man see fifty steps in any direction around him. Wild game abounded, such as wolves, bear, deer, and turkeys.
On a given day every able-bodied man, with as many men slaves as he could spare, was present on the land so purchased, at a designated spot, for the double purpose of dividing the land and of erecting a large log-house, to serve as a house of public worship. This church or meeting-house was built as near the center of the purchase as possible, regard being had to the procurement of water. This was not a matter of much difficulty, as the tract abounded in springs of water of excellent quality, as does the entire country.
Upon assembling, some proceeded to survey the land and lay it off into lots or smaller tracts, to suit families, while others were engaged in getting out timbers for and in constructing the church building.
In less than one week it was finished, and the land divided into suitable shares or sections. Then each returned to his home and family in Williamson county, about thirty miles distant, to make preparation for his removal.
Think what a people this was; not a cabin was built, nor a move made in the direction of home and individual comforts, until a house for the worship of Almighty God was first built. In the fall of 1807, most of the little colony returned to their new purchase to rear temporary huts or cabins for their families; and early in January, 1808, a general move was made to their new homes and cheaply constructed habitations. Their labors were now arduous. Provisions must be hauled thirty miles in midwinter, along narrow, newly-made, muddy roads; the dense cane must be chopped out and the ground cleared for cropping. All these things required the closest attention, as well as untiring industry.
Soon after their removal, they began to hold services in their log church or meeting-house. Remarkable punctuality characterized their attendance on divine worship. The utmost unanimity, unaffected friendship, and cordial hospitality prevailed among them. They were yet without a pastor, or "stated supply," yet they never failed to keep up sermon reading, singing, and prayer on the Sabbath. This state of affairs, however, did not long continue, for, in April, 1808. there was an addition to their number in the arrival of Dr. Stephen-son, their former pastor, Dr. Samuel Mayes, Robert Frierson, and Joshua Frierson, all from the same church in South Carolina. Dr. Stephenson, who was from the Waxhaw settlement, had been pastor of this people for some fifteen or twenty years. A sketch of his life may be seen in Dr. Howe's "History of Presbyterianisin in the Carolinas."
These last immigrants, at first, rented farms for a year or two in Williamson county. One of them, old Mr. Robert Frierson, being a very old man, died, and on his death-bed requested that his remains should be taken to the new settlement, and be buried in the churchyard there, which was done, and so he became the first solitary tenant of that sacred spot.
In the spring of 1809, Dr. Stephenson, having married Mrs. Mary Fleming, who, with her four boys, had already come to the country, as before stated, removed from Williamson county, where he had rented for about a year, to the Zion neighborhood, and became at once what is termed "stated supply." An incident is related of him, that occurred during the war of the Revolution. In one of the battles, I do not remember which, but fought desperately, either at Eutaw, the "Cowpens," or Fishing Ford, as he had his gun to his face, and was in the act of firing, a ball from the side of the enemy struck his gun near the lock and severed the barrel from the breech. At the instant a comrade fell dead by his side, and he instantly seized his gun and continued the fight.
This settlement possessed a large number of slaves, and in proportion to the whites had a much larger number than any other settlement in the county, and probably in the state. For many years they had been brought over from Africa to Charleston, and their ancestors had been large purchasers. These slaves were, without exception, kindly treated and cared for, both as regards their temporal and spiritual interests, and the slaves loved their masters. They became, when converted, members of the same church, worshiped with them, by having their own particular seats assigned to them, and partook of the sacraments with them, but not occupying the communion-table at the same time. I do not remember any more impressive and touching sight to my youthful mind than to witness them (the communicants) come down from the galleries, where they always sat during service, and march up the two aisles in the body of the church, with a white elder at the head of each column, singing as they went to occupy the seats around the long-extended table, just before occupied by the white communicants.
Soon after Dr. Stephenson took charge of the church the session concluded that a certain number of their body should employ a portion of each Sabbath in catechising and instructing the young people of the congregation. The plan succeeded admirably in familiarizing them with the larger and shorter catechisms.
In the beginning of 1811, the permanent white members of the congregation, young and old, male and female, numbered about one hundred and forty. Of course, the number of communicants was much less, not exceeding probably thirty or forty, and this was a very rapid increase. It may not be out of place to state that in this year (1811) a presbytery was for the first time constituted or organized. Its style was "The Presbytery of West Tennessee," and was held at Bethsaida, on Fountain Creek, in Maury County. Dr. Stephenson was made moderator, and Dr. Duncan Brown clerk. The other ministers present were Rev. Messrs. Blackburn, Donald, and Gillespie.
In the spring of this year the congregation resolved to provide ways and means for the erection of a brick building as a church. The work and materials were distributed among the members in the proportion of their taxable slave property; and on the 5th of August, 1812, the corner-stone of this grand old church was laid. In the summer and fall the walls were carried up, and in the spring of 1813 the house was ready for preaching, and was accordingly so used.
Of these men it might be truly said, what their hearts designed to do, their hands, with all their might, pursued.
Here we might close the early history of this church and congregation, but I must be permitted to add that, within a few feet of this old church building, a new church edifice was erected and received as finished on the 20th of March, 1849, being the same now standing, and in which the congregation now worship. It is built of brick, large, commodious, and well appointed.
Of the ministers who have had charge, from the beginning to the present time, are the following, in the order in which they officiated, to wit: James White Stephenson, D.D., who served them about forty years—some sixteen in South Carolina, and about twenty-four in this church. He died January 6, 1832. James M. Aornell, a native of New York, was elected to succeed him, January 9, 1832, and died March 4, 1850. Rev. Duncan Brown, quite an old man, filled the pulpit from time to time till the call of Daniel G. Doak, who was elected as "stated supply," June 20, 1850, and on account of ill-health resigned his position in 1855. Rev. A. A. Doak, father of Editor H. M. Doak, was then called, but remained only a short time, less than a year, as now remembered. Rev. I. Tilghman Hendrick, son of Dr. I. T. Hendrick, formerly of Paducah, Ky., was elected pastor October 1, 1857. In a few years he died, and upon his death the pulpit was supplied by various ministers—as Rev. C. Foster Williams, Rev. William Mack, D.D., and perhaps some others, until Rev. S. W. Mitchell was called, who filled the pulpit for several years, and until his recent resignation in the fall of 1888. A call has been made and accepted by Rev. Mr. Kennedy, who will enter shortly upon his duties as such minister.
Very few of that congregation, who reached the age of responsibility, have ever neglected to unite with the church; and I may be allowed to say I can now recall but three or four instances in which any male descendants of these fathers have left the church; but, I am happy to further say, that in these few instances they have shown themselves consistent, efficient, useful Christians.
From this congregation as a mother hive, her children have, from time to time, swarmed, so to speak, and formed colonies or settlements in all the Gulf States; and wherever they have migrated, they have carried with them the faith of their fathers. From this stock, I venture to say, there have sprung a greater number of ministers of the Gospel of the Presbyterian faith than from any other in the United States. It may be interesting to some to know who they were and who they are.
I will first give the names of the ministers who are the direct descendants of the original colonists and founders of Zion Church, without regard to chronological order: W. Vincent Frierson, deceased, of Pontotoc, Miss.; W. Vincent Frierson, Jr., of the same place; John Stephenson Frierson; John Simpson Frierson, late deceased, and W. J. Frierson of Columbia, Tenn.; Jerry Witherspoon, Nashville, Tenn.; T, Dwight Witherspoon, Louisville, Ky.; S. Reese Frierson, deceased, Starkville, Miss.; Jno. C. McMullen, Chester, S. C.; Rev. Fulton, S. C.; Thomas R. English, Yorkville, S. C.; W. D. Heddelston of Kentucky; then Robert Gayle of Mississippi and A. I. B. Foster of Tennessee. These two became and now are Methodist preachers. In all there are fifteen ministers, thirteen Presbyterian and two Methodist, descendants of the original colonists.
This estimate does not embrace the three brothers, David E., Edwin O. and M. L. Frierson, whose father did not immigrate to Tennessee, nor David E., Jr., son of David E., located in Lewisburg, W. Va. If these are added then we would have nineteen from this family connection. All these were descendants of Scotch Irish Presbyterians, who emigrated from County Down, near Belfast, Ireland, to Williamsburg District, South Carolina, from 1730 to 1734.
Of the ministers, who intermarried with some of the colonists, their daughters, grand or great-granddaughters, may be numbered James White Stephenson, D. D. Duncan Brown, D.D., James M. Arnell, J. Tilghman Hendrick, C. Foster Williams, S. W. Mitchell, and Thomas A. Hoyte of Philadelphia. All these preached in Zion at different times, and the last mentioned three still survive.
Then there were Thomas E. English, Sr., deceased, of South Carolina; James P. McMullen, deceased, of Alabama, who fell in battle at the head of the regiment of which he was chaplain; M. C. Hutton, of Alabama, and L. R. Amis, of Tennessee. All these intermarried with descendants of these colonists, the last named being a Methodist preacher, quite young and promising, in all eleven of these, added to the nineteen, give us thirty.
Four of these early colonists were soldiers in the war of independence, to wit, Dr. Stephenson, James Armstrong, Dr. Mayes, and David Matthews. This entire connection of people, or rather their ancestors, were all Whigs in that war, and fought under Greene and Marion and at King's Mountain. They or their descendants fought under Jackson in the War of 1812-14. They were fully represented in the Seminole War of 1837. In the war with Mexico, in 1848, her sons stood before the walls of Monterey, and their blood stained the plains of Buena Vista. In the late war, their bones lay scattered on nearly every battle field of the south. At the tap of the drum, at the call of the bugle, they have always been ready, without compulsion, to gallantly respond.
So it seems that rigid instruction in the Calvinistic or John Knox faith of their Scotch ancestry was not inconsistent with their ideas of a lofty patriotism.
From this little colony of Presbyterians, or rather their descendants, Tennessee has had some dozen of representatives in her legislative halls, one speaker in the state senate, one United States senator, one judge on the supreme bench of the state, two chancellors in Middle Tennessee, several editors, besides many very eminent lawyers and skillful physicians.
Last of all, but not least, I have never known or heard of one of their descendants being convicted of or charged with any capital or penitentiary offense, or any less offense or misdemeanor, involving moral turpitude or degradation of character.
The record thus given of this, the oldest Presbyterian church in Maury county, is worthy of preservation, and may be viewed with pride and veneration by every descendant, however remote they may be removed from the home of their fathers, or wherever in this broad land Providence may have cast his or her lot.