Ulster Scots History

The History of Guilford County, North Carolina, U.S.A., to 1980, A.D.
by Blackwell P. Robinson of U.N.C.-G (to 1890)
and Alexander R. Stoesen of Guilford College (from 1890)
edited by Sydney M. Cone, Jr.
project of The Guilford County Bicentennial Commission, 1971,
John Harden, Chairman The Guilford County American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, 1976, J. H. Froelich, Jr., Chairman
published with funds provided by The Guilford County Commissioners, Blue Bell, Inc., Cone Mills Corporation, Gilbarco, Inc., and other friends of history.
publication date, no copyright information.

The following information is quoted directly from the book, which may be purchased through used-book dealers.

Volume One Guilford County’s First 150 Years
by Blackwell P. Robinson

Chapter V ~ The Ulster Scot Presbyterians Arrive

Another stalwart group to plod down from Pennsylvania along the same wagon road as the Germans and Quakers were the Ulster Scots, usually erroneously called the Scotch Irish. Again it is difficult to pin-point the exact date of their arrival, but there is no difficulty in pin-pointing the locale of their settlements, which was in central Guilford between those of the earlier arrivals.

A group of families, organized as the Nottingham Company, was sent to present Guilford County by the old Nottingham Presbyterian Church. This church was then located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but due to the change of the Maryland-Pennsylvania line in 1767, it is now in Rising Sun, Maryland. This Nottingham Company first sent out agents who surveyed and secured rights from the Earl of Granville to thirty-three plots, or sections of 640 acres to the section, “lying and being on the waters of North Buffalo and Reedy Fork Creeks.” The deeds for these 21,120 acres were all dated 1753, and so it is assumed that these pioneers came down as large families or as newly wedded couples at approximately that time. Some historians claim there were only nineteen families; others claim there were thirty-three – one for each plot (1)

Though there is no extant roll of this company, the Reverend S. M. Rankin was able, through a close examination of the old records in Rowan, Anson, Guilford, and Orange counties, to ascertain that the following “appear” to have been members of the Nottingham Company and thus have the distinction of being the first Presbyterians to settle in the county: James Barr, Thomas Beals, George Black, John Blair, John Cummings, John Cunningham, Robert Donnell, Thomas Donnell, Hugh Foster, John McClintock, James McQuiston (McCuiston), Robert McQuiston, Adam Mitchell, Robert Mitchell, John Nicks, Robert Rankin, Samuel Scott, and Andrew Wilson. (2)

Their first homes, like those of the earlier pioneers in the county, were presumably in the typical small, one-room log cabin, with only a wooden door, and a wooden shutter over the one window. Glass was too scarce, expensive, and fragile. The roofs were covered with thatch or clapboard; the chimneys were built of sticks and mud; the floors were dirt; and their furniture – such as it was – was handmade from rough materials.

The first reference to their actual settlement appears in the journal of the Reverend Hugh McAden, a Presbyterian missionary sent by the Synod of Philadelphia and considered the father of Presbyterianism in the colony. He reported that in August 1755, he rode up “to the Buffalo Settlement” and lodged at the home of William Mebane for four days, after which he rode to Adam Michel’s (Mitchell) where he preached on Sunday. Incidentally, this first sermon, preached at Adam Mitchell’s near the present Buffalo Church, is the first recorded Presbyterian sermon in the county. McAden described the people as “solemn and very attentive, but no appearance of the life or religion.” After spending two nights with Robert Rankin (presumably a second room had been added to his cabin!), by whom he was “kindly received and well entertained till Tuesday,” he returned to Adam Mitchell’s where he again preached, though, alas, “no stir appeared, but some tears.” (3)

Perhaps the reason there was “no stir” was that in 1741 the Presbyterian Church in America had a bitter split between the “Old Side”, non-evangelical faction and the “New Side” or “New Light” evangelical group. The first Guilford Presbyterians adhered strongly to the more conservative “blue-stocking” faction and rejected the emotional religion of the Reverend George Whitefield and his Great Awakening. Inasmuch as McAden belonged to the latter persuasion, the Buffalo Presbyterians, though attentive, eschewed any show of emotion.

A stir did appear, however, shortly afterwards when these “Old Style” Presbyterians founded, in present northeast Greensboro, Buffalo Church, first called “North Buffaloe Creek Presbyterian Church.” Again, there is doubt as to the exact date, but historians accept the organization date as “about 1756.” (4)

It appears, from an undated, unsigned petition to the Rowan County court (in whose jurisdiction the Buffalo settlement lay) that their first congregational meetings were held in an abandoned house. * In the petition they certified that their congregation, “known by the name of North Buffalow and living on the waters of Reedy Fork North and South Buffalow,” intended “to make use of a house on a piece of land purchased from Adam Mitchell, Sr., as a place of public Worship according to the practice of Protestant dissenters of the Presbyterian denomination.” (5)

According to one source, the first church building was built about the time the church was organized, but the first church lot was not bought until 1768. At the time of purchase, though, it included a log “meeting house and study house,” which stood in the northwest corner of the present cemetery. Later, a second frame building was built which seated several hundred people and which had a high pulpit and a platform for the clerk who led the singing. The third building, erected of bricks in 1827 and originally containing a slave gallery, is still in use as the main auditorium. (6)

Ulster Scot Presbyterians had also settled on Alamance Creek, about six miles southeast of present Greensboro. Being too far away to worship at Buffalo and – more important – adhering to the “New Light” or “New Side” followers of George Whitefield, they organized Alamance Church “about 1764.” They were assisted by the Reverend Henry Pattillo who later served as pastor of Hawfields Church over the county line in Alamance County. (7)

Calvin H. Wiley, a native of this settlement and a descendant of the early settlers, contended that the


* Protestant dissenters, including all denominations except the Established Church of England, could organize only with the permission of the courts.

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Alamance community was “all Scotch-Irish,” who first settled in 1753, an assumption which he based on an examination of the records in the office of the Secretary of State. The deed of his own maternal great-grandfather, William Cusach, for 635 acres was from Lord Granville, dated 1759. Later Cusach gave the land for the church which was probably built before 1762. Wiley, in typical mid-nineteenth century style waxed poetic in his description:

…. It was erected on the plateau just north of the graveyard, and on the site occupied by its immediate successor. This locality was then clothed with its grand and solemn primeval growth, a forest of huge and stately trees, and under the thick canopy of their leafy boughs a company of the settlers conducted the first public worship of the Triune Jehovah on this consecrated ground. The land for a church was given by Wm. Cusach, and his spring was first used by the congregation; and on a day appointed, the people, each with an axe, came together and it was proposed by Andrew Finley, a devout man and a leader in public religious exercises, thatbefore they began their work they should kneel in prayer for the divine blessing on their pious enterprise. (8)

Wiley also revealed that William Cusach and Thomas Wiley married sisters and that with them came their mother-in-law, Mary Mebane. “Thus three of the old names were planted here together, and this Mary Mebane was one of the first, if not the first, who was buried in our graveyard.” He contended, moreover, that there were “few, if any, illiterate colonists, no desperate characters, and no paupers,” most of them being “men of means and of character,” and many of them having “respectable libraries of standard works, chiefly religious.” (9)

In regard to the Presbyterian settlements at Alamance and Buffalo, three earlier historians maintain that these pioneers reached Guilford County by two different avenues of approach, the one coming down from Pennsylvania, the other from Charleston, South Carolina, by way of Charlotte and Salisbury. Early records, however, in regard to the Alamance settlement do not reveal the route of the Alamance settlers. More important is the fact that, as Calvin H. Wiley, a native of this settlement, later wrote, they came “not as adventurers or hunters, not as outlaws and wanderers, but as intelligent men, with good worldly substance, with needed implements of industry, with civilization and the church.” (10)

Prominent among these earliest Ulster Scot settlers were the Archers, the Brannocks, the Caldwells, the Dennys, the Donnells, the Foulkes, the Gillespies, the Gorrells, the Hunters, the Lindsays, the McAdoos, the McMikels, the Osbornes, the Stokes, the Sanders, and the Weatherlys. Many of their descendants have made notable contributions to the development of the county. (11)

The future of these two churches – the two oldest Presbyterian ones in the county – seemed assured when they received the services of a young licentiate named David Caldwell, who would guide their destinies and hold a theocratic sway over them for the next six decades. Indeed, his life would become almost inextricably woven into the very warp and woof of the county – its religion, education, politics, and physical well-being. His appearance on the scene – fortuitous though it was – was not a mere happenstance. A decade before, when the Nottingham Company was preparing to settle in Guilford County, they made a conditional agreement with the young scholar that “if Providence permitted, when he obtained license to preach, he would come and be their preacher.” (12)

Born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, he was graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1761. After teaching school for a year to augment his meager resources, he returned to the college for a year as a tutor and also took studies in preparation for the ministry. In 1763 he was licensed to preach and supplied some small churches in New Jersey. The following year he was sent by the Synod of Philadelphia as a missionary to North Carolina where he supplied Buffalo and Alamance churches for a few months. In the spring of 1765 he returned to New Jersey to meet with his Presbytery, carrying with him a call as pastor from the two Guilford churches. Ordained in July, 1765, by the New Brunswick Presbytery, he apparently set out at once to take over his two new charges. (13)

Aside from the distance between the two churches, it was not an easy task to preside over an “Old Side” and a “New Side” church at the same time. He very astutely, though, managed to avoid any rupture or serious difficulty. His technique was described by his successor and biographer, the Reverend Eli Caruthers, who wrote:

… He did not profess to belong to either party, but to both; for as both had manifestly some things that were right and others that were wrong, he made it his business, as it was his duty, to approve the one and to condemn the other; and by this course, with his characteristic mildness and prudence, he was able to maintain a good degree of peace and harmony, and to avoid the acrimony and censure to which he would have been otherwise exposed. (14)

Because of the difficulty of securing visiting ministers to perform the ceremony at these frontier churches, Caldwell was not installed as pastor until 1768, when this office was performed by the Reverend Hugh McAden. Meanwhile, in 1766, he had married Rachel, the third daughter of the Reverend Alexander Craighead of Mecklenburg County, the leading Presbyterian divine west of the Yadkin River. They settled on a small farm on what is now Hobbs Road in northwestern Greensboro, where they lived the rest of their long lives. To them were born eight sons and one daughter who survived him and three or four children who died in infancy. (15)

In order to augment his meager salary, which amounted to one hundred dollars from each church each year, Caldwell began cultivating his small farm on which he greatly depended for the comforts of his household. He

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also derived income and acquired a widening influence through the establishment of a classical school, his famous Log College. This school soon became the training ground for many young men in North Carolina and in the South. In fact, it has been claimed that this school was “the means, during the long period of its continuance, of bringing more men into the learned professions than any other taught by a single individual or by a succession of teachers during the same period.” Five of his scholars became governors of states; a number were promoted to the bench; about fifty became ministers; and many became outstanding lawyers and physicians.

One of his pupils, the Reverend E. B. Currie, later wrote:

Dr. Caldwell, as a teacher, was probably more useful to the church than any one man in the United States. I could name about forty ministers who received their education in whole or in part from him, and how many more I cannot tell; but his log cabin served for many years in North Carolina as an academy, a college, and a theological seminary. (17)

As though these time-consuming professions were not enough, Caldwell also saw the crying need of these frontier people for medical attention. He acquired a number of medical books and taught himself the skills of this profession. His medical knowledge was increased by correspondence with his old college friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, of Philadelphia, the leading physician and medical authority in America at the time. Soon the Reverend Mr. Caldwell became better known as Dr. Caldwell to his neighbors and friends. He continued, almost up to the death in 1824 at the age of ninety-nine, his spiritual and medical visits throughout the community. His valuable services continued after he became inform with age. Frequently he had to be carried back and forth for his ministrations. (18)

During Caldwell’s early ministry – and before – Presbyterianism had made remarkable advances. As early as 1755 the Synod of New York, which represented the “Old Side” belief, had organized the Hanover Presbytery, consisting of churches in Virginia and North Carolina. This Presbytery held at least four meetings in North Carolina, the last of which met at Buffalo Church in March 1770. Here Caldwell, Hugh McAden, Henry Pattillo, and two other Presbyterian divines petitioned the New York Synod “to be set off as a Presbytery by the name of Orange.” The request was granted and in May 1770 the Orange Presbytery was organized, consisting of eight congregations in North Carolina and four in South Carolina. (19)

Two years later the Moravian home missionary evangelist, George Soelle, journeyed by way of Belews Creek, in the northwest corner of Guilford, to the Buffalo settlement. Upon arrival, August 16, 1772, he found “All the residents here were Presbyterians, rich and well-satisfied with themselves.” (20)

Such an observation is rather surprising in the light of their recent troubles in the War of the Regulation, 1768-1771, during which they endured many hardships and in which they played a far more important role than that of the pacifistic Quakers or the less involved Germans.

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(1) Rev. S. M. Rankin, History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and Her People (Greensboro: Jos. J. Stone & Company, n.d.), p. 16.
(2) Ibid., p. 22.
(3) Rev. William Henry Foote, Sketches of North Carolina, Historical and Biographical (New York: Robert Carter, 1846), p. 167.
(4) Ibid., p. 9; North Carolina Historical Highway Marker.
(5) N.C.C.R., VIII, 507.
(6) Anon., “A Brief History of Buffalo Church,” Pamphlet; Rankin, Buffalo Church, p. 97.
(7) Foote, Sketches, p. 231; N.C.H.R., V, 1218; Caruthers, Caldwell, p. 23; N.C. Historical Highway Marker.
(8) Calvin H. Wiley, A Historical Address Delivered at the Dedication of Its Fourth House of Worship on October 18th, 1879 (Raleigh: Edwards, Broughton & Co., 1880), pp. 10, 19.
(9) Ibid., pp. 10-11.
(10) Sallie W. Stockard, The History of Guilford County, North Carolina (Knoxville: Gaut-Ogden Co., 1902), pp. 14-15.
(11) Ibid., pp. 13-14.
(12) Caruthers, Caldwell, p. 24.
(13) Ibid., pp. 10, 19, 20, 21, 26; Rankin, Buffalo Church, p. 113.
(14) Caruthers, Caldwell, p. 26.
(15) Ibid., pp. 26-27.
(16) N.C.C.R., V, 1219-1220.
(17) John C. Wharton, “The Schools of Guilford County,” Publications of the Guilford County Literary and Historical Association (Greensboro: Joseph J. Stone & Co., 1908), pp. 30-31.
(18) Caruthers, Caldwell, passim; Tucker, “Religion in Guilford County,” pp. 28-29.
(19) N.C.C.R., V, 1213; Lefler and Newsome, North Carolina, p. 127; Wiley, A Historical Address, p. 18.
(20) Adelaide Fries (ed.), Records of the Moravians of North Carolina (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company, 1925), II, 799.

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