When Morgan Edwards made his tour of North Carolina in 1772/3 to gather material for his Notes on North Carolina Baptists, he visited Edgecombe County and said of Toisnot Church and of John Thomas and his family:
They originated from the general Baptist. The names of them who first declared for the particular scheme are Rev. John Thomas and his wife, Moses Baker and wife, Jonathan Thomas and wife, Sarah Hickman, Obedience Thomas; the 14 were constituded on the particular plan Sep. 7, 1758. The first minister is the present John Thomas, a native of Virginia; bred a churchman. Embraced the sentiments pf the Baptist in 1748 & had the ordinance administered by Rev. Josiah Hart. Ordained by Rev. mess. George Graham and John Moore, at which time he took on the care of the church.
At this time in history, there was really only one church, the Church or England. Other non-conforming “societies” or churches were either barred or were at least required to be licensed. Found in the book John Thomas of Toisnot Baptist Church, the following entries appear in early Edgecombe County Court Minutes:
Sep 1759 – A petition of John Thomas & others of the profession of Anna Baptist for lycencing the Meeting House built by the Society on the said Thomas land near Jonathan Thomas’s. – Ordered that the same be lycenced.
Sep 1761 – Jonathan Thomas a non-conformist preacher produced an Ordination in writing signed by George Graham and John Moore the Pastures of the Baptists ordaining and appointing him to preach according to the Tenants of that church.
It’s really cool for me to be able to connect my family and story on William Airley Morris with this early line of Thomas. Though it’s very likely we are all distant cousins, this post has little to do with John Thomas of Toisnot Creek. It’s more about those who were with him in the late 1750’s founding of his church. The Rev. George Graham who ordained John Thomas moved around the state and eventually settled in the area of Hitchcock Creek near the old Piney Grove Quaker Meeting in present day Richmond County NC. And, back around 2001, as luck would have it, I had the opportunity to work with a fellow named Bob Walls from Illinois on this line of Graham whose descendants followed the Quaker’s move to Lick Creek in Orange County Indiana. Let’s look at some of the records for George Graham and others and how they connect to the ancestry of William Airley Morris.
In 1739, George Graham received several land grants in Craven County across from present day Newbern. The land was situated on the north side of the Neuse River and on the east side of the Broad Creek known as Elizabeth’s Choice. In a biography for Joseph Parker written by George Stevenson at NCpedia , we know that George Graham was ordained in 1739 by Paul Palmer who is considered to be the founding father of Baptists in the upper south. Graham moved a bit inland where he pastored congregations at Stoney Creek Original Free Will Baptist Church just north of Goldsboro. He also served at Bear Creek Baptist in nearby Lenoir County. It is on Contentnea Creek where our William Morris enters the scene. In the later 1760’s William Morris received three land grants in Dobbs County situated on Contentnea Creek in present day Wayne or Green Counties. The 1769 Dobbs County Tax List lists the following:
MORRIS William William Curlee & John Curlee 3
All I can say is wow, how about that! …twenty years later William Morris, John Curlee, and William Curlee are living next to each other on the waters of Bare and Cribbs Creeks in Anson County more than 100 miles away in Anson County.
(Note that Johnston County grew from Craven in 1746, and then Dobbs grew from Johnston in 1759, and Wayne grew from the western portion of the defunct Dobbs in 1779 and then Glasgow County was formed from eastern Dobbs which later became Greene County, and the southern portion of Dobbs became Lenoir County. Whew …much of the above occurred on the Bear, Stoney, and Contentnea Creeks near the junction of the present day Wayne/Green/Lenoir County lines.) It’s also important to know that State and Granville Grants along with a deed index are all that survives in terms of early land records for Dobbs County which for a time covered the above area. From the grants we know that William Morris lived near the families of Tindal, Johnston, Jones, Simpson, and Meares. William Morris is indexed as making conveyance to William Ormond and Lewis Williams. William Ormond founded Rainbow Methodist Church and Ormond’s Chapel in Greene County.
Starting in the late 1760’s, William Morris and others from old Dobbs County began moving south. By 1775 many were living on the east side of the Pee Dee River in what’s now Richmond County (then Anson). Capturing both the move and an undeniable connection to church, in 1772, Rev. Morgan Edwards M. A. journaled the following about a regular Baptist church situated on Hitchcock’s Creek:
In the county of Anson, 200 miles from Newburn and — miles from Phila. No meeting house. Const. March 28, 1772, at the house of William Morris. Families 8, Memb. 14, Minister
REV. HENRY EASTERLING
Born May 24, 1733, at the mouth of Nuse river. Bred a churchman. Embraced the principles of the Baptists in 1760 in Dobbs County by Rev. George Graham. Called to the ministry in 1762. Ordained March 29, 1772, when he took care of the church. He married Eliz. Bennett by whom he had children Sherdock, Henry, Bennett, John, James, Elizabeth, William, Mary, Martha, Joel. Came here in 1764, and preached in 1770. Baptized the following persons: Jonathan Lewelin, Wm. Moody, Thomas Summerlin, Wm. Leggate, Wm. Smith, Nathaniel Williams. Mary Smith, Fanny Williams. Constituted March 28, 1772 by Mess. Edwards and Brown.
It appears the Rev. Henry Easterling’s journey followed a similar path as that of George Graham and William Morris. Easterling owned several tracts on Nahunta Creek in old Dobbs County. He was ordained in 1772 at Hitchcock Creek. However, Henry Easterling is not ever recorded as actually owning land in Anson County. From a family history, we learn that Henry Easterling may have returned to and remained in the area of old Dobbs County on Nahunta Creek until at some point in the 1780’s he again moved south where he apparently founded a church. From a history of Marlboro County South Carolina, Beaverdam (now McColl) was formed into a church in the year 1771 by Henry Easterling at or near what is known as Beauty Spot Bridge, and was called Beauty Spot. It’s interesting that Robert Thomas, the son of Stephen from this area in North Carolina/South Carolina was also a Baptist firebrand …growing churches in the area at the same time as Easterling. As a matter of fact, Robert Thomas’ bay lake known then as “The Ocean” was sold to Easterling.
Beauty Spot must have been much more than a location important to Baptists. Today, a historical marker at that locale reads:
Here stood the first Methodist church of Marlboro County, a single log cabin built in 1783. Here Bishop Francis Asbury presided over and preached at an early Quarterly Conference, held on February 23, 1788. Camp meetings were held here 1810-1842. In 1883, the church was moved to another site, also called Beauty Spot, two miles eastward.
Just north of present day McColl South Carolina was a small preparatory Quaker Meeting known as Piney Grove. Located on the state line, the church faltered mainly due to the pressures of slavery and the religious peace ethics followed by the believers. Around 1815, the congregation splintered with some pulling away from the church while others moved to Orange County Indiana to escape the intolerable realities of slavery. Interestingly, Robert Thomas’ brothers John, Lewis, and James were not Baptists but instead were Quakers and made the trip to Indiana. And, of interest, John’s son Stephen lived for a while in Wayne County NC where as a Quaker he met and married while a member at Contentnea Creek Meeting. John’s son Stephen is recognized as the father of the Indiana Annual Meeting.
And back to this story, what happened to Piney Grove? information about Beaverdam and Piney Grove from the bio on Henry Easterling provides some answers:
By 1785, Rev Henry pastors Beaverdam (Creek) Baptist Church at, or near what is known as Beauty Spot Bridge, in an area of Marlboro County called Beauty Spot. After a number of years, this church moved to Pine Grove (near modern McColl, SC), where they worshipped in common with other denominations in a house built by the Quakers or Society of Friends. The Pine (or Piney) Grove site ultimately fell into the hands of the Methodists, and the site is the home of Pine Grove United Methodist Church in McColl, SC today.
It appears that the Baptist congregation on Hitchcock Creek in present day Richmond County did not meet long at the home of William Morris as by 1774 he, or a person of same name moved to the area of Lanes Creek and Bare Branch in upper Anson County. It must be the same person, or someone of same name in his family as others in the congregation on Hitchcock Creek also made the move. But, tracing the family from here will not be as easy as you may hope. There are members in the Morris family whose names confuse the story. There are also records of a William Morris in Montgomery County that also confuse the story. Please see the next post for detailed information on a mistaken interpretation of related records.
It appears that the Baptist church meeting in William Morris’ home did not survive long as such. In 1774 William Morris sold his land to Neighbor Nathaniel Williams. Nathaniel Williams later sold land on Hitchcock Creek to Lewis Thomas. A Quaker and son of Stephen Thomas of Maryland, Lewis later moved to Orange County Indiana where neighbors there had interacted with Joseph Thomas of Chatham County. All likely unrelated.
The records for William Morris in Anson (now Richmond County) names sons and others including a possible son named William Morris Junior.” The records from 1774-1779 indicate that William (or another person of same name) may have spent a short time in Montgomery County NC before settling in the area of Lanes and Cribb’s Creek in upper Anson County (more later).
Next week I hope to zero in and offer a close look at Richmond County and the move to Anson. I’ll need a little time to wrestle with some of the issues I’ve never been able to resolve. Was William Airley Morris the son of William who was buying land in 1740 Craven County NC? Will the bonds among family and neighbors remain tight and will this spreading of the Baptist migration continue?