Buffalo Presbyterian Church History

The following excerpts are quoted from History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and Her People, Greensboro, N. C., by Rev. S. M. Rankin; published by Jos. J. Stone & Co., Greensboro, NC, (publication date not specified, but apparently during the 1920’s), pages 9 – 21.

Name and Location

The church was named from the creek near by, and was at first called “North Buffaloe Creek Presbyterian Church.” The creek was named Buffaloe because of the large herds of wild buffaloes that formerly ranged along its borders. We do not know when the name was first given to the creek. It is thus called in the earliest deeds. It must have been called Buffalo by the Indians before the white man came.

The church is located two miles north from the center of Greensboro. It had been organized fifty-two years before the village of Greensboro was started. In 1808 the county commissioners bought the land and moved the court house from Martinsville to the exact center of the county. Greensboro has grown and the city limits have been extended from time to time. Since 1923 the church has been within the bounds of the city.

Greensboro was named in honor of General Nathanael Greene, who was the American General in command at the battle of Guilford Court House, March 15, 1781.

Nottingham Colony

This community was first settled by members of the Nottingham Colony, a company organized and formed in the bounds of the old Nottingham Presbyterian Church at Rising Sun, Md. That church was in Lancaster County, Pa., when our ancestors left there, and until the line between Maryland and Pennsylvania was changed in 1767.

The Nottingham Company sent out agents and had surveyed and secured rights from Earl Granville to thirty-three plots or sections of six hundred and forty acres to the section, “lying and being on the waters of North Buffalo and Reedy Fork Creeks.” That this company could secure so large a tract of land, 21,120 acres, in a body shows there were no settlers in this community before this colony came. The fact that there were thirty-three plots laid out for the company would suggest that there were thirty-three families in the company, and there may have been. However, all did not take their plots, and others secured more than one plot. Others, who were perhaps members of the company and not prepared to come with the colony, came a little later and located on their sections in the bounds of the colony. There must have been about nineteen families in the company that actually located here.

Earl Granville did not sell the land outright to them, but retained an interest in it. The contract was more like a perpetual lease. They paid only a nominal sum to bind the trade, and after that they were to pay an annual rent of three shillings per hundred acres; and they were required to make certain improvements on the land. The rent was to be paid in two equal semi-annual installments, one “on the day of the feast of the annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” and the other “on the day of the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel.” These days must have been in the spring and fall, for other deeds called for the payment on the 25th of March and the 29th of September. All the deeds did not have the rent and other conditions specified, but they must have been in the first contract, which is not on record, and well understood, for in no case was the cash payment more than a few shillings. Some of the grants specified that “if the rent is unpaid and behind six months, then the contract is void and of none effect.” Other grants specified that the owners were to have “the privilege of hunting, hawking, fishing and fowling.”

The exact date of the coming of this colony cannot now be established. Dr. Caruthers relates that about the time Dr. Caldwell began to study for the ministry, or soon thereafter, this company was being organized and making arrangements to come to North Carolina, and that they made a tentative agreement with him that when he obtained license to preach he would come and be their pastor. This does not fix the exact date of their coming. Dr. Caldwell decided to study for the ministry in the latter part of 1750. It may have been 1751 when this agreement was made. They may have come here in 1752 and failed to get their grants of land until 1753. However, all things considered, it appears to the writer that they did not come until the summer of 1753. The deeds are all dated December, 1753. After they had decided to come and the company organized it would have required some time for them to collect all the necessary equipment and provisions to set up housekeeping and to begin farming in a wilderness.

Some came bringing large families with them, others were newly married couples seeking to establish new homes in a new place, and some were young men trying to find a suitable location before getting married. Some were the children of the first settlers of Pennsylvania, and some were new immigrants from Ireland who were not permitted to buy land in Pennsylvania.

[pages 14 & 15]

Buffalo Pioneers

Our ancestors were real pioneers. All this section between North Buffalo and Reedy Fork Creeks was heavily covered with oak, chestnut, hickory, and poplar timber and thick underbrush. Even as late as 1781, after the Guilford Court House battle, General Greene, in reporting that battle to Congress, says: “The greater part of this country is a wilderness, with a few cleared fields interspersed here and there.” Their first job was to clear the land and build their homes. Only a few acres could be cleared per year, and their first homes were the rudest log cabins. Their food must have been very plain and without any variety. They were having a hard time those first few years. We have no local history describing their living conditions, but we have John Hill Martin’s history which gives a minute description of the early living conditions of the first settlers in Pennsylvania. He relates that their homes were small one-room log cabins with one door and one small window and the window had no glass, just a wooden shutter. The cabins were covered with thatch or clapboards. The chimneys were usually built of sticks and mud. The floors were dirt. Their food, to a large extent, was the flesh of wild animals, and that without salt most of the time. Both men and women usually wore clothes and hats made from the skins of wild beasts. Their shoes were made from raw hides. Their furniture was hand made from rough materials. The coverings for their beds were usually the pelts of deer, beavers, bears, and wolves.

No doubt this is a pretty good description of the living conditions of our ancestors for the first few years after they settled here in a wilderness. We do know their cabins were very crude and that the floors were dirt. Wild animals were numerous, and they could secure their meat by killing buffaloes, bears, deer and squirrels. Wild fowls were plentiful, such as turkeys and quail; and also wild geese and wild pigeons in their season. Even as late as one hundred years ago the wild pigeons were still so numerous in their migration season that in passing over they would at times hide the sun like a big cloud. The creeks were well stocked with fish. This would have been a veritable paradise for sportsmen, but our ancestors hunted and fished more for their food supply than for sport.

Their patches of wheat were cut with a small hand sickle, flailed from the straw, then separated from the chaff by pouring it from a platform on a windy day; and both wheat and corn were pounded into meal, or ground with a small hand mill, like our old coffee mills. With such crude methods of harvesting and handling wheat they could raise only small patches. Wheat bread was a rarity to be enjoyed only for breakfast on Sunday morning. Corn was the main crop and supplied bread for the family and feed for the stock.

These trying conditions lasted for only a few years. It was not long until their homes were enlarged and improved. Small grist mills were soon built on the branches, and later larger ones on the creeks. There was one of these grist mills on Nick’s Branch, just where the White Oak Cotton Mill now stands. The law of supply and demand soon did its work. Men with special aptitude turned their attention to the different trades. There were soon carpenters, cabinet makers, saddlers, coopers, harness makers, blacksmiths, weavers, tailors, hatters, tanners, cobblers, millwrights, millers and men of other trades in every community. Shops and small stores were soon opened. Living conditions were constantly being changed for the better. However, for more than fifty years practically all the clothes for men, women and children were made at their homes from cotton, wool and flax. The seed had to be picked from the cotton by hand. This was a slow and tedious job. The task for each member of the family in the evening after supper was to pick his shoe full of seed cotton. Then the lint was carded, spun and woven into cloth. When the writer was a small boy the old spinning wheels and loom were still in use at his father’s.

These pioneers were men of true character, with some education, and all had some money; but money could not buy the comforts and conveniences. They were not on the market, and had to be made at home. They did not handle much money after their first supply was exhausted; and in fact they did not need much, for practically everything they ate and wore was raised and made at home. They did not have much of any thing to sell and prices were low. The farmers did have a constantly increasing number of horses, cattle, sheep and hogs. Everybody had geese from which the down was picked to make feather beds. It was a custom for the parents to give their daughters a feather bed when they married. It has been handed down by tradition that sometimes a young man would carry a turn of pelts of wild animals to Philadelphia on his pack horse in order to get money with which to buy his marriage license.

But do not think for a moment that our ancestors were unhappy in those hard pioneer days. They had never known anything but hardship and privation. They and their fathers had come to America primarily that they might have civil and religious liberty. This was the dearest thing to them and they were happy in this freedom. They were a religious people and rejoiced in the worship of God. No doubt there were many family altars in this community before there was a church. Their libraries consisted of a Bible, the Confession of Faith, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Baxter’s Works, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Buck’s Theological Dictionary. There may have been a few other books in some homes, but they were all of a religious or historical nature.

[pages 16 – 18]

Buffalo Organized

The first preaching service in this community, of which we have any record, was by Rev. Hugh McAden, a missionary sent out from Pennsylvania, and it was on August 31, 1755, at the home of Adam Mitchell, near where the church now stands. This was two years after the colony had settled here. There may have been other missionaries who visited here both before and after Mr. McAden, but he is the only one who kept a record. On the previous Sabbath he had preached at Hawfields in what is now Alamance County. We quote from his diary: “Wednesday came to Buffalo settlement, about thirty-five miles; lodged at William Mebane’s till Sabbath day; then rode to Adam Mitchell’s where I preached. The people seemed solemn and very attentive, but no appearance of the life of religion. Returned in the evening, about a mile to Robert Rankin’s, where I was kindly received and well entertained till Tuesday; then returned to the former place and preached; no stir appeared, but some tears.”

There was a bitter division in the Presbyterian Church in 1741, largely on the subject of revivals. The people of Buffalo belonged to the Old Side, the conservatives, and Mr. McAden belonged to the New Side. That may have been the reason why he did not have a more emotional response to his preaching. The people heard him gladly, but it was contrary to their religious principles to show any emotion.

We have no record of the exact date of the organization of the church. Rev. J. C. Alexander, who was pastor from 1861 to 1886, and had the opportunity of consulting the old people, wrote a sketch of the church and states that it was organized in 1756. Rev. D. I. Craig, D.D., who made a thorough study of the Presbyterian history of North Carolina and especially of Orange Presbytery, states in his book that Buffalo was organized in 1756 and that it was supplied by missionaries until Dr. Caldwell came. We know that Dr. Caldwell was here during the latter half of 1764, and that he had definitely made up his mind to locate here. This is proven by the fact that the deed to his farm where he lived is dated January 2, 1765.

Protestant dissenters, which included all denominations except the Established Church of England, were not permitted to organize churches except by permission of the courts. In the Colonial Records, Volume 8, page 507, we find on record a petition from the members of the Buffalo congregation. In this record the petition is not dated and the names of the signers are not given. The original paper has not been found, and may not be in existence.

“To the Worshipful Court of Rowan: The Petition of your petitioners showeth, That we the inhabitants of a congregation known by the name of North Buffalow and living on the waters of Reedy Fork, of North and South Buffalow, do certify to the Worshipful Court that we intend to make use of a house on a piece of land purchased from Adam Mitchell, Senior, as a place of public worship according to the practice of Protestant dissenters of the Presbyterian denomination, and desire it may be entered in the records of the Court, according to the Act of Parliament in that behalf made, and your petitioners as in duty bound shall ever pray. Signed by a number of persons. The above petition was read in open court, and ordered to be recorded, which petition was granted.”

[pages 19 & 20]

Bounds of the Congregation

The bounds of the congregation extended from six to fifteen miles from the church. It was more than twenty-five miles from one extreme corner to the other. Practically everybody living in the central part of Guilford before 1800 were of the Presbyterian faith. Buffalo and Alamance Churches were bounded on the east by the German settlement and on the west by the Quakers. There was a Quaker settlement, old Center Church, far to the south of Alamance Church.

The bounds of the Buffalo congregation extended west to the Quaker settlement; northwest to and beyond Summerfield; north beyond Reedy Fork, and some of the families living on the Haw River came to Buffalo; northeast to and beyond Monticello; east nearly to the junction of Buffalo and Reedy Fork Creeks; southeast in the direction of McLeansville, beyond South Buffalo Creek; south to the bounds of the Alamance congregation, which was along South Buffalo Creek; southwest beyond some of the branches that form the headwaters of South Buffalo Creek. The people living within these bounds belonged to the Scotch-Irish race and were all originally Presbyterians. So far as we can find there was no other church in these bounds until about the year 1800. For a congregation that covered such a wide territory we can well understand why Dr. Caldwell had erected a house of worship that would seat a thousand people.

What marvellous changes! Within the territory originally covered by the congregation of Buffalo there are now, counting those in Greensboro, over one hundred organized churches.

[page 21]

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