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Old Churches, Ministers, and Families
Antrim Parish, Halifax County.
WHEN Halifax county was divided from Lunenburg, in 1752, it comprehended all that is now Pittsylvania, Henry, Franklin, and Patrick. Antrim parish was coextensive with the county. At the time of its establishment it is probable, from certain entries in the vestry-book, that there were no churches or chapels in its wide extent, for the readers who had been appointed before the separation-four in number-were reappointed, and several gentlemen were allowed to have services in their own houses, doubtless for the benefit of their neighbours as well as their own families. Besides this, when the first minister was settled among them he was required to officiate at six different places, at no one of which was there a church or chapel, though at some of them buildings were about to be erected. Four were ordered at some of the earliest meetings of the vestry, and others afterward. One of the places of reading is recognised as being on Pigg River, in Franklin county that now. is. The buildings were small, either log or frame, and not very durable, generally. The first movement toward getting a minister was in the year 1752, when a title to the parish was given to a Mr. William Chisholm, a candidate for Orders, who wished to be prepared with that indispensable qualification when he should present himself to the Bishop of London; but, as usual, there was this condition: Provided, on his return, the vestry approved of him for their minister, or should not have accepted any other in his
absence." Nothing more is heard of Mr. Chisholm; nor can I find his name on any of the lists of clergy ordained by the Bishop of London for any part of America.
What follows in regard to the parish of Antrim I take from a letter of the Rev. Mr. Dresser, in the year 1830, addressed to the Rev. Drs. Hawks and Ratledge, who were then engaged in writing a history of the different dioceses of the Church in this country.
THE REV. MR. DRESSER'S LETTER.
"The earliest mention of a clergyman in the minutes of the vestry is in 1753, when it was ordered that two thousand pounds of tobacco be paid to the Rev. Mr. Proctor, for services by him done and performed for this parish. And at the same meeting, on motion of James Foulis, cled for reasons appearing to this vestry, he is received and taken ainister of this parish.' The name of Mr. Foulis continues to appen on the minutes of the vestry until 1759, when tradition relates that he went away, nobody knew whither, and that he was not for a long time, if ever afterward, heard from. In 1762 the Rev. Thomas Thompson offi ciated a few months, and then resigned his charge, in consequence of hi age and the extent of the parish. The next spring the Rev. Alexander Gordon, from Scotland, became rector of the parish, and continued to officiate until the commencement of our Revolution, when, being disaffecte toward the new order of things, he retired, and spent his remaining days near Petersburg. Some of his descendants are still remaining in the parish, among who are some of the brightest ornaments and chief supporters of the Church. Of his own morals, however, and those of his predecessor, (Foulis,) tradition does not speak in unmeasured terms.
"From the time of his departure until 1787, I find no parish records, and know but little of the Church during that interval. The Rev. James Craig, of Cumberland parish, Lunenburg, however, officiated a part of the time in this county during three or four of the last years, a gentleman highly esteemed both as a man and a preacher.
"In May, 1787, a Convention of the deputies from the several parishes of the State was held at Eichmond, and an ordinance passed, regulating the appointment of vesties, &c. The same year a new vestry was elected in this county, and, in 1790, Rev. Alexander Hay, likewise from Scotland, was inducted into the parish. He is represented as having been a man of superior talents and attainments, and, from some specimens of his sermons which I have met with, he seems to have been strictly orthodox and evangelical; but, if report speak truly, he was not endowed by nature with a very mild temper, and he soon found himself in a situation not the most favourable for the cultivation of the passive virtues of our religion He was hardly inducted into the parish before petitions began to be presented to the Legislature for the sale of the glebe, but without success. As serving to throw some light on the condition of the parish and Church at that time, I shall send you herewith two manuscripts from the pen of Mr. Hay, one an address to the vestry or parish generally, and the other. a remonstrance to t Legislature. The ill temper manifested by him iu these and othe transactions, or some other cause, made several of the most influential gentlemen in the county his personal enemies, and they neglected no means to harass and thwart him. Some of them he prose
cuted for slander, but obtained no damages. Under the operation of such causes, as you may well suppose, the Church continued to decline. To give you some idea of the rapidity of this decline, I will make a few ex· tracts from the parish register during the first twenty years of Mr. Hay's ministry :
"1792. Baptisms, 89 whites, 35 blacks. "1802. Baptisms, 31 whites, 6 blacks. 1810. Baptisms, 6 whites, 7 blacks.
Marriages, 11. Funerals, 1.'
"I neglected to say, in the proper place, that measures were early taken for the erection of churches in different parts of the parish. Of these, one was rebuilt by subscription in 1793-94, but, no title to the land having been secured, it was afterward converted into a dwelling-house. Another, having fallen into disuse and being out of repair, was taken down and the materials used in the erection of a Baptist meeting-house. A third, having been sometimes used for the double purpose of a tobacco-barn and stable, was demolished and some of the timbers used in building a store on the same site. The last, having been repaired in 1795-96, was burned to the ground a few years since, having been set on fire by some one, it is said, who wished to obtain the nails. It is proper to remark that it had been some time unused, and was probably in a dilapidated state.
"In 1816 or 1817, after the Church had begun to revive in other parts of the State, and the late Bishop Ravenscroft was beginning to make her claims known in the adjoining county of Mecklenburg, a small edifice was erected about three miles from this place, in which Mr. Hay preached a few times before his death, which occurred in 1819. Here also Mr. Ravenscroft occasionally preached before his elevation to the Episcopacy, and admitted three or four persons to the communion. The situation of this church not proving favourable for an Episcopal congregation, it has recently been sold to the Methodists and the proceeds appropriated toward the erection of another in this village.
"In 1814, Evan Ragland, Esq., dying, left a large estate, consisting of land, negroes, &c., to the Church, with various provisions, but designed primarily and chiefly for the support of a minister or ministers in this parish. This will was contested by the heirs-at-law of said Ragland, and its execution opposed on several grounds. Accordingly a suit was commenced by Mr. Hay on the part of the Church, he being particularly interested, and the case was decided in his favour in the Court of Chancery. From thence it was carried up to the Court of Appeals, where the decision was likely to be reversed. After the death of Mr. Hay, however, agents or commissioners were appointed by the Convention on the part of the Church, who were authorized to make a compromise with the heirs of Mr Ragland. This they effected, and the case was of course dismissed from court. By the terms of the compromise, the land, which in the mean time had considerably depreciated in value, was sold, and bonds to one-fourth of the amount were executed to the agents for the purposes specified in
the will. The last of the bonds is now due, and the Convention is ex pected to determine at its next meeting what shall be done with the money, amounting to one thousand seven hundred or one thousand eight hundred dollars.
“In 1820 or 1821, the Rev. Mr. Wingfield-now of Portsmouth parish, near Norfolk, but then residing with Mr. Ravenscroft-officiated several months, perhaps a year, in the county, with the view of permanently establishing himself; but he did not meet with sufficient encouragement to persevere. Four or five years since, Mr. Steel, the successor of Bishop Ravenscroft in Mecklenburg, was called to the county to perform some official duty. This led to an arrangement for him to preach once a month at Mount Laurel Church, which had been built a few years previous, chiefly by Episcopalians, but with the condition that it should be free to others when not used by them. Subsequently he made an arrangement to preach one Sunday in a month also in the court-house, which he continued to do until the close of 1828. In the spring of the same year I received ordination, and was directed by the Bishop to make this the field of my labours. These I commenced the first Sunday in June, and was well received by a few, though I found great ignorance of the Church prevailing, and, among many, the most bitter prejudices against her. These prejudices, I am happy to say, appear to be dying away, and the Prayer-Book is becoming more and more popular. During the last year I have admitted to the Communion eight persons, and baptized three adults and six children. A commodious brick church is now nearly ready for consecration in this village, and a smaller place of worship has been erected for me during the past year in another part of the county. My Sunday labours are divided between these congregations, but I am often invited to preach in Baptist and Methodist meeting-houses; and, did my stated duties permit, I might preach much oftener than I do, where twenty years ago a minister of our Church would have had little but the bare walls for an auditory. This I mention merely to show the decline of prejudice.
"Thus I have given the annals of my parish as far as I have been able to collect them; and, lest I should prove tediously prolix, I will touch upon bat one point more. It is stated, in an article which I saw some time ago, from the Protestant Episcopalian,' and, I presume, from one of you, that Fatrick Henry was once an infidel, &c. His widow and some of his descendants are residing in this county, and I am authorized by one of them to say that the anecdote related is not true. He ever had, I am informed, a very great abhorrence of infidelity, and actually wrote an answer to 'Paine's Age of Reason,' but destroyed it before his death. His widow has informed me that he received the Communion as often as an opportunity was offered, and on such occasions always fasted until after he had communicated, and spent the day in the greatest retirement. This he did both while Governor and afterward. Had he lived a few years longer, he would have probably done much to check the immoral influence of one of his compatriots, whose works are now diffusing the poison of infidelity throughout our land."
Mr. Dresser became the minister of this parish in 1828, and continued in it until 1838, when he was succeeded by its present rector, the Rev. John Grammar. Under his ministry the congregation has become one of the largest in the diocese. A church at
Meadville was built many years since, but has failed to effect what was hoped from it. A large and costly church has been built at the court-house, in place of the one mentioned by Mr. Dresser, in which one of our largest country-congregations assemble every Sabbath.
List of the old Vestrymen of Antrim Parish, from 1752 to
James Terry, Richard Echols, Thos. Dillard, Thos. Calloway, Richard Brown, William Irby, Merry Webb, Peter Wilson, William Wynne, John Guillingtine, John Owen, Nathaniel Terry, Geo. Currie, Samuel Harris, Andrew Wade, Jas. Dillard, Robert Wooding, Archibald Gordon, John Bates, Edward Booker, Hugh Junis, Geo. Watkins, Alexander Gordon, Thomas Tunstall, John Donaldson, Evan Ragland, Benjamin Dickson, William Thompson, George Boyd, Moses Terry, William Sims, Walter Coles, Edward Wade, Isaac Coles, John Coleman, William Terry, Michael Roberts, John Ragland, Armistead Washington, Joseph Hobson, George Carrington, Thomas Davenport, John Faulkner, Edmund King, Joseph Sandford, Thomas Thweat, John Ervine, Daniel Wilson, Thomas Clark, Evan Ragland, Jr., Joseph Haynes, Thomas Lipscomb, John B. Scott, Francis Petty, Daniel Parker, George Camp, William Thomas, Jno. Wat tington, Achilles Colquett, Hansom Clark, John A. Fowlkes, Chas. Meriwether, Adam Toot, Edward Boyd, Thomas Clark, Beverly Syndor, Jos. Hewell, Samuel Williams, Littlebury Royster, Benjamin Rogers, Chilton Palmer, John Haynes, Sceevor Torian, Robt. Crute, Granville Craddock, Edward Carlton, William Fitzgerald, Isham Chasteen, Icare Torian, Isaac Medley, John R. Cocke, William Scott.
To them we may add other names, though not vestrymen, yet from the time of efforts for reviving the Church, taking an interest in it and contributing to it,-such as the Bruces, Ligons, Greens, Wimbishses, Leighs, Banks, Logans, Borums, Edmundsons, Fontaines, Carringtons, Baileys, &c.
In another part of the county of Halifax the Rev. Mr. Clark has been for many years doing a good work, chiefly among the poor and servants, to whom he has devoted time and labour without compensation, being enabled by Providence so to do. Under his auspices, and not without considerable pecuniary aid on his part, three new churches have been erected in that part of the county.