THE CHURCHES OF WARRENTON
THE METHODIST CHURCH
It is remarkable in the history of Warrenton that three large and influential schools, patronized by a large section of the State, and well known all over the State, were all established and in successful operation, before there was any organized church, or any church building. The Warrenton Male Academy was organized in 1786, the Falkener School in 1802, and the Mordecai School in 1809. The first church to be organized and the first building to be erected for church worship was the work of the Methodist denomination.
I have taken much pains to find when there was an organization of a Methodist Church in the town and county. I find in "Methodism in North Carolina" mention made of Green Hill, living one mile south of the town of Louisburg, entertaining the first Conference held in Bute, Bishop Asbury presiding, twenty ministers attending, in 1785. Mr. Hill entertained at his home later on as many as four Conferences, in a large upper room in his residence. Mrs. Mary Cook Green in telling of her early recollections of Warrenton said "that there stood a log house in the midst of a chinquapin thicket on the lot where now stands Dr. Charles Peete's new home, in which the small band of Methodists met for worship; also, that some one gave a lot across the street where now stands the home of Walter Rogers, on which to build a church for Methodist worship, but when the deed was examined they found that the donor had left out the word Methodist, and fearing a suit over the uncertainty, they concluded not to build there, but instead, to buy and build their church on the corner of Bragg Street and the one now called Fifth Avenue.". I am told that this church was erected in 1835.. The most prominent members of the church at that time were Joseph Speed Jones, Joseph Somerville and Mrs. Sallie Cook.. Mr. and Mrs. Stamire, Mrs. Ann Allen and her sister, Mrs. Dunnivant were also members of this congregation.. A very unusual thing occurred in that little band of worshipers. Two of the members, Mr. and Mrs. Stamire, thought it was their duty to try to sing in the church services; their voices were so discordant with the other persons singing that they were requested to desist, but they persisted, and the only remedy the congregation had was to appeal to the courts for protection, upon the grounds that their singing was a nuisance. Before the trial justice they were convicted, but on appeal to the Superior Court the judge instructed the jury that, however discordant their voices might have been, they were guilty of no legal offence if their purpose was simply to unite in the church worship and without a purpose to interrupt, to hinder, or to bring into disrepute the religious worship of the congregation. Mrs. Cook was so strongly identified with the church, was such an active member, and so imbued with the spirit of simplicity of church worship, that I have seen her walk up the aisle with a rush-bottom chair in one hand, a turkey wing in the other-to be used as a fan-and a large bunch of keys hung from her belt, and take a seat just under the pulpit, as she was slightly deaf. In later years when the congregation wished to use a' melodeon in their worship she resented it so bitterly as to threaten to cease to attend services, which threat I do not think she carried out.
When the Methodist and Baptist congregations began to grow and extend their influence, there was great rivalry between the two churches, of course baptism, its significance and mode, being the great subject of disputation. In the early fifties, or about that time, a joint debate on the subject of Baptism was arranged for Rev. J. B. Solomon of the Baptist Church and Rev. Thomas S. Campbell of the Methodist Church. They met several times in the presence of large congregations and the discussion was full of interest, and at the close of the series each denomination was stronger than ever in the conviction that its view was the correct one.
For some months baptism amongst the zealous was the constant theme of discussion in conversations, in public and at the homes, and it must be confessed that the Christian spirit of many of the participants was riot preserved; but in a few years all hard feeling was forgotten and the two churches have since worked harmoniously together.
In those early days of the Methodist Church in Warrenton the itinerary system among the ministry was in force (as it is today) and therefore the minis ters sent to the church never became identified with the people as did those of the other churches. Many distinguished preachers at not infrequent seasons visited the church and conducted services for the public. Among them may be mentioned Thomas S. Lowe, Dr. Charles Deems, Dr. Closs, Dr. Moran and Rev. R. O. Burton.. Dr. Lowe was probably the most eloquent of all the Methodist clergy; Dr. Deems was eloquent and scholarly and was the founder of the Church of the Strangers in New York City; Dr. Closs was able, enthusiastic, and somewhat eccentric, though practical and effective in his ministry; Dr. Burton was at times very eloquent, always able, and his sermons were instructive and logical; Dr. Moran was a noted orator, strikingly handsome in face and figure and always elegantly and tastefully attired.
About thirty-five years ago, on account of the increase in numbers and wealth of the congregation, a demand arose for a larger and handsome church. The southern end of the residence yard of the old William Eaton place was bought of W. P. Baughm, and a new brick church was erected thereon. The congregation is the largest and most prosperous in the town.
EMMANUEL (EPISCOPAL) CHURCH
It is through the annual reports of the Diocesan Convention from 1821 to 1842 that I learn of the organization of Emmanuel Church in Warrenton. The first notice of this parish appears in the journal of the Convention of 1821, where it is recorded that a congregation had been regularly organized in Warrenton, and that Mr. Anderson appeared in that Convention as a delegate from the same. In another part of the same journal it is stated, in the missionary report, that this parish had been visited by Rev. William Hooper and Rev. Thomas Wright, each of whom testified to the zeal and attendance of this church. The Right Reverend Richard Channing Moore of Virginia, who presided at this Convention, mentioned in his address that he had confirmed ten persons in Warrenton. The congregation then met in the courthouse for worship, so I have been told.
This parish was regularly represented in the Diocesan Convention from its organization in 1821. One of the delegates to the Convention in 1822 was the Rev. George W. Freeman, who has been already mentioned as principal of the Male Academy, and who afterwards became Bishop of Arkansas.
The Rev. Mr. Phillips, the first rector, was succeeded by Rev. William Mercer Green, afterwards Bishop of Mississippi. On the first Sunday in August, 1824, during Mr. Green's incumbency, the church building was consecrated by the Right Reverend John Stark Ravenscroft. The vestry at that time was composed of Kemp Plummer, George E. Badger, John Anderson, and James A. Otey, afterwards the Bishop of Tennessee.
The lot of land on which Emmanuel Church was built was given by Miss Hannah Lee, a daughter of a naval officer. The father and daughter owned and occupied the house in which the family of Jim Ransom now live. The bodies of the Lees are buried under the church.. This first structure was a frame building with no tower or steeple. There was one aisle running through the center; the galleries were on the north, east, and south, the chancel being on the west. The organ and choir were in the eastern gallery, the south one being used by the colored people who attended the services.. The north gallery was usually occupied by persons who had no regular pews in the body of the church.. It was built by subscription, and all the seats were free.
During Mr. Green's rectorship of this parish he resided, the greater part of the time, at Williamsboro, in Granville County, and came to officiate in Warrenton at regular periods or when his services were needed. He was born in Wilmington and was a graduate of the University of North Carolina.
After Mr. Green's charge ended and until Mr. MacRae took charge of the parish in 1842, the following ministers in succession assumed the rectorship: The Rev. Charles Brainerd, Rev. Joseph H. Saunders, Rev. John Singletary, Rev. William Norwood, Rev. George W. Freeman and Rev. John Backhouse. Mr. Brainerd died in Warrenton; Mr. Saunders was called to Christ Church, Pensacola, Florida, and Mr. Norwood to St. Paul's, Richmond, Virginia.
In 1854 or '55, under the Rev. Cameron F. MacRae's ministry, the church building was much enlarged in length, width, and height, and a steeple was added. From the north and south walls short pews, six feet long, were placed, with narrow aisles at their end. In the center there were long pews divided by substantial boarding. The east gallery was retained. The extension to the west embraced the chancel. On the north of the chancel was a small room used for a library of Sunday school books; on the south, was the vestry or robing room.. The organ and choir were still in the eastern gallery, the colored people occupying one end of it.
The communion table, as it was then called, was under a triple stained window on the western wall. The table was uncovered, except on the first Sunday in each month, when it was covered by a fresh white linen cloth, the elements placed on it and covered with a white napkin. The bread for this service was always made at the home of Mrs. Ann Falkener and sent to the church on the Sunday morning.. The officiating minister cut it in small blocks ready for use in the communion service, which took place after the full service and sermon at eleven o'clock.
I recall, about 1867 or later, the feeling of excitement that quietly prevailed in the congregation when the crimson broadcloth cover was first used, and the table called the altar. It was a very handsome cloth and embroidered by Miss Mary Holton and Mrs. Wilcox.
There were two desks, the reading desk, on which rested the Bible and Prayer Book, and the one from which the sermon was always delivered, about four feet tall, five feet long and two feet wide. In the center of the communion rail was a marble font, resting on the middle post of the railing.
The clergyman who officiated in this church always came into the chancel in the white surplice, long and full, in which to read the service. When the psalm was being sung he retired, and replaced the white for a long black silk gown, in which he delivered the sermon.. We had but the few hymns in the back of the Prayer Book then, as most of David's Psalms were in rhyme.. One was given out to be sung before the sermon, and a hymn after.. The choir was composed of the young men and women of the congregation. and the organ was played by one of the ladies.
I have recently been told by Bishop Cheshire the history of the organ that was used in Emmanuel Church from the fifties to 1891, when it was replaced by the pipe organ now used.. The original organ was in the Episcopal Church in Edenton, North Carolina. The congregation was anxious for a larger instrument. A gentleman of means in the congregation, knowing of their desire, told them that if they would pray that he might have a son and their prayers were answered, he would give them an organ.. After some months a son was born to him and his wife, and he fulfilled his promise, and presented the church with an organ.. Then the smaller and old instrument was sent to the church in Oxford, North Carolina, and from there it was brought to Warrenton. From Emmanuel Church it was sent to the church at Gaston, and it is now in the church in Halifax. This same organ had another strange vicissitude.. During a fire in 1885 which caused considerable damage to the church building, it was hurriedly taken down by the excited crowd and its parts widely scattered over the church yard. It seemed hopeless ever to readjust them.. With difficulty, the minister in charge, the Reverend Gilbert Higgs, who was gifted with mechanical skill, gathered all the pieces and restored the instrument to its original sweet tone.
But to go back to the customs and manner of worship. The use of flowers for decoration was not observed in Episcopal churches then, only the evergreens were woven in long wreaths and festooned in the church at the Christmas season. I recall the Easter of 1868 as the first time we ever used flowers to decorate the altar and desks in the chancel.. Large baskets of double hyacinths were brought from the homes of the parishioners for that purpose, and the effect was very beautiful. Only on marriage occasions was there any effort at decoration. Then the silver and brass candlesticks and candelabras were gathered together from the various homes, filled with sperm candles and lighted. With a darkened church the effect was very attractive.. Funerals were generally conducted from the home, as the interments were in the square in the garden of each home, set apart for that purpose.
Rev. Cameron F. McRae became the rector of Emmanuel Church in 1842 and came to Warrenton to live that year. When the congregation bought the present rectory from William Kearney, Mr. McRae occupied it.. Mr. Kearney was a large planter living near Shocco Springs in Warren County, and built this house for the residence of his younger daughters, that they might more conveniently attend the schools of the town. Mr. McRae was of the high church school, scholarly, controversial, and an able preacher without being eloquent.. He was not magnetic in his manner, and consequently not popular with his church people, or the community. He had, however, very staunch friends and steady supporters in his congregation. It was during Mr. McRae's stay in Warrenton that Bishop Ives abjured the bishopric of the Episcopal Church and joined the Roman Catholic communion.. Mr. McRae published a pamphlet on the subject, in which he expressed himself in bit, ter and even denunciatory manner concerning the Bishop's course and final action.. I think it was not well received generally by Episcopalians. During Mr. McRae's ministry he married my parents, and baptized me and two brothers.. He also married my husband's parents and baptized him and his two younger brothers. He also officiated at the funeral of my husband's mother.. In 1852 he went to Philadelphia and assumed the rectorship of one of the churches in that city; it was there that Mrs. McRae died and was buried in Laurel Hill. Soon afterwards the two children, who had died from black tongue in Warrenton, were disinterred and buried by their mother.. Mr. McRae's next charge was in Savannah, Georgia. While there he married Miss Sue Plummer of Warrenton. After the War Between the States he was called to a church in Maryland and there died in 1872.
Mr. McRae was succeeded by Rev. Leonidas Smith from Norfolk, Virginia, who V remained in charge only three years.
Dr. William Hodges, of Halifax County, Virginia, became the rector of Emmanuel Church in 1858. His family consisted only of Mrs. Hodges and Miss Carrie, their daughter. The doctor was beyond middle age when I first knew him, tall and quite stout.. He had an oval face and a fine complexion, and was always clean shaven.. He was most careful of his dress, and his personal appearance was faultless. He was remarkably distinguished in appearance. His manner of expressing himself was very deliberate, with little sense of humor; his quiet dignity very impressive, especially to the young people of the congregation.. He was held in the highest esteem by the citizens of the town, and his congregation loved and trusted him fully.. His sermons were scholarly, finished, and instructive. He always read them from manuscript. It was during the doctor's rectorship that the trying four years of war came to his people, those times that tried men's souls.. In him they always found that warm interest and tender sympathy that brought comfort and help in the sad afflictions many were called to pass through.. He was with us in the trying, unrestful period preceding the four years of war and suffering, and with us in the reconstruction period after.. It was from his church that the prayer service was held, at sunrise, on the morning of April 22, 1861, when the two companies The Warren Guards, Captain B. O. Wade, and The Warren Rifles, Captain T. L. Jones-left to enter the Confederate Army.. Those who were present can never forget that scene.
In the summer of 1866 Dr. Hodges's only child, Miss Carrie, married Mr. Edwards of Washington City. In the next year came a call from a parish in Maryland, Mrs. Hodges's native State, and near their daughter, and it was most natural that the Doctor should accept it. They left Warrenton in October 1867. There was genuine grief when our much beloved rector left the church and the town.
Matthias Murray Marshall, from Pittsboro, North Carolina, a young minister, was teaching in Mrs. Wilcox's school at the time Dr. Hodges resigned and left Warrenton. The vestry of Emmanuel Church immediately called him to take charge of the parish, which call he accepted in December, 1867. Mr. Marshall was not a stranger to the citizens of Warrenton as he had visited the town several years before when he was ordained deacon, and a year later when he became a priest.. He had also taught there the fall term of 1867.. This was his second parish, as he had had charge of the church at Elizabeth City for a short while.. After he graduated at the University of North Carolina, he was chaplain in the Confederate Army for a few months before the close of the war.
Mr. Marshall was a very strikingly handsome man, tall, slender, graceful, with dark hair and pallid complexion; he was always clean shaven and bore a close resemblance to Edwin Booth, a resemblance of which strangers often spoke. His manner was very cordial, genial and sympathetic. He easily made friends and held them to the end of his life. He commanded the respect and affection of the people among whom he labored. He possessed a beautiful voice and read the service, and especially the prayers, more impressively than any other minister I ever heard, throwing so much soul and feeling in them, that one not familiar with the liturgy of his church might think they were improvised. He was a good preacher, his sermons well and thoroughly prepared and always delivered from manuscript. He was a most companionable man, much sought after and appreciated in social life.. He was very fond of hunting, but I have been told by former fellow sportsmen that he was a rather dangerous companion in the field. During his rectorship in Warrenton he received a call to- St. Lazarus Church, Memphis, Tennessee, through the warm encomiums of a gentleman from North Carolina who had gone to Memphis to live.. After consideration he declined, as he feared the climate for his family. During the years he spent in our small town he had opportunity for study and reading that were to serve him well when he should be called to a broader field and a larger congregation. This call came in the summer of 1874 from Christ Church, Raleigh. His church in War:enton parted from him with much sorrow.. He was the much loved rector of Christ Church for thirtythree years, when he resigned on account of feeble health.. He lived only a few years longer, and now sleeps in beautiful Oakwood, near Raleigh.. He was the guest of my parents when he came to Warrenton for both of his ordinations, he officiated at the marriage of my sister, also at that of my oldest brother, and baptized his only child, Mary Badger, and read the burial service over our mother.
In 1875, the year after Dr. Marshall's resignation, the Rev. J. P. Curran from Canada, a nephew of the Irish orator of the same name, came to Ridgeway for the genial climate of the South, hoping to restore his daughter to health. The churches at Ridgeway and Warrenton called him to become their rector. He resided at Ridgeway and came in his buggy for his weekly service to Emmanuel Church. He was a remarkably good preacher, a man of fine intelligence and culture, and his sermons were most interesting. He remained only eighteen months in North Carolina, as his daughter had died, and his friends in Canada urged him to return and serve the last two years of a twenty-year period to the Canadian Church, a service which would entitle him to a fund on retiring, and which would continue to his family after his death. He liked the South and her people, and in his closing service in the Warrenton Church expressed so much gratitude and appreciation of all they had done for him and his family that the congregation were moved to tears. A friend walking away from that service with us said it recalled the occasion when St. Paul bade farewell to one of his churches "and they sorrowed most of all because they would not look on his face again."
The next rector, Rev. Luther Eben, from eastern Carolina remained only six months.
In 1878, Rev. Gilbert Higgs, originally from the Island of Bermuda, but having lived in New York City prior to his entering the ministry, came to North Carolina to take the Jackson Church. At this time Emmanuel Church had no minister; Captain W. J. White, senior warden, held a lay service each Sunday. The vestry then called Mr. Higgs, who came for only one Sunday in the month.. The next year he came with his sisters to reside at the rectory, giving two Sundays in the month to Jackson and Gaston. He continued to reside in Warrenton until August, 1890, when he accepted a call to the church in Key West, Florida. After remaining there for some years he returned to North Carolina, and was rector of Wadesboro for a short while, and then went to serve a small church in the suburbs of Atlanta.. His health failed and he died there.. While not possessed of the highest order of talents, yet Mr. Higgs was a most sensible, practical, and useful man, deeply interested in every work connected with his church, and very much liked by the townspeople.. His sermons were practical and helpful; he had a good and well trained voice which greatly added to the choir.. He was of a kindly and sympathetic nature, and made a lasting impression on his congregation.. It was with deep regret that his church saw him leave, and even now after a generation, his memory awakens an affectionate interest whenever his name is called.
Horton (1907-1911), Rev. J. J. Lanier (1911-1912), Rev. A. W. Cheatham (1913-1914), Rev. T. A. Cheatham (summer of 1913), Rev. B. S. Bronson, returned 1915, Rev. E. W. Baxter, the present incumbent (1916-1923); Rev. Mr. Wagner, 1923_____________
Montgomery, Lizzie Wilson; Sketches of old Warrenton, North Carolina; traditions and reminiscences of the town and people who made it, Raleigh, Edwards & Broughton printing company, 1924.