Huh??? …while working this afternoon on background for a new post, I came across an expression I’ve never heard before. Can you find it?
“In 1810 it was decided to found a church and call it Meadow Branch. The place selected was on the Concord-Camden road one mile north of Wingate. There on that sloping hillside covered with giant oaks that knew not the woodsman’s axe, and near a purling stream, Elders John Bennett and Joseph Williams and others who brought letters from Gourdvine established the ancient temple of God. Here your ancestors and mine one hundred years ago made the welkin ring. They, hardy frontiermen that they were, felled the trees and hewed the logs to make … the first structure.”
In the above passage, Professor E. C Sikes identifies the first location for what’s now Meadow Creek Baptist church on the campus of Wingate University. What’s so important about that? Well, read closely and you’ll see that the church was founded on letters brought from nearby Gourdvine. It’s there where my ggggrandfather Ananias Thomas lived and is buried. Now called the Edmond Davis Cemetery, I can’t help but to think the ancient resting place once served the original Gourdvine Baptist Church. It must have stood nearby.
Found in the History of Wingate Baptist Church: 1810-2009, the writer continues with further details on the original Meadow Branch Church:
“This building standing on the Headley place was occupied by Meadow Branch Church from the time that it was constituted until the split in 1835. But much was to happen before that event. The church minutes faithfully recorded baptisms, excommunication of members, and restoration of membership to some of those same members after their repentance.”
What’s important here and especially to me, is the mentioning that in 1810, letters were brought from Gourdvine Creek Baptist Church in order to found a new church called Meadow Branch. And, on land outside of present day Wingate, the church was built on “the Headley Place.”
You see, my ancestor Ananias Thomas, a good name for a Baptist, had a son named Headley Thomas who was born ca. 1815 …about the same time as Meadow Branch was founded. I’ve always wondered about the name and why it became his. We no longer speak his name so the relevance is now lost.
I know a neighbor named Francis Coburn moved from Martin County ca. 1795. Earlier it is believed Francis married Lydia Headley/Hadley and that they had a son Headley Coburn born ca. 1772. And also nearby in Anson/Mecklenburg was Headley Polk, born ca. 1812 to Shelby and Winifred Coburn Polk. I’ll not go deeper as that’s saved for some other day. But, for now, know that I’ve always thought that that Headley Thomas was somehow named in honor and was even possibly related to Francis Coburn. That’s still possible, but who owned the “Headley Place” and how does he fit into the story? Note that I’ve found no mention of the Headley surname in early Anson County.
Now, with all that off the table and out of the way, the real reason for this post lies in the season. Know that E. C. Sikes served as pastor of Meadow Branch for ten years starting in the mid 1840’s. And in his description of the original location of Meadow Branch Baptist Church, Sikes writes:
“Here your ancestors and mine one hundred years ago made the welkin ring.”
An expression I’ve never heard, I googled “Make the Welkin Ring” and found the following on a Colonial Williamsburg site on Christmas Hymns You Thought You Knew. About the Welkin Ring, Colonial Williamsburg musician John Turner explains:
Well, it’s the original title of what became “Hark! The Herald Angel Sings.” But when Charles Wesley first wrote the hymn, the title was, “Hark! How All the Welkin Rings.” And that was in the chorus. His brother John was in the habit of editing his hymns. Charles would often sit up late at night and write maybe 20 verses in a night to a hymn. And then John would come along – his older brother – and cut it down to six verses, or change one 20-verse hymn into three hymns, or four hymns. The two of them never quite really got along because of that.
But, “Hark! How All the Welkin Rings” was something that both John Wesley, and one of their good friends, George Whitfield, thought it was already an antiquated word. This was published in 1739, and they are using a word that some of them think is old-fashioned. “Welkin” is a word that means “the firmament of heaven.” But, Charles Wesley’s friends mostly seemed to think nobody knew that anymore, even in 1739. So George Whitfield actually changed the verse to, “Hark! The Herald Angel Sings,” and that becomes the one we know.
Words, like people, have meaning as long as their existence is relevant. Who was Headley and what is a Welkin? Is there no longer an urge to speak of these things? I have no idea who “Headley” was but wonder if he could have possibly played a role in my family history? Finding missing words and renewing the burning desire to speak them can open doors that would otherwise forever remain closed.