BROWN HILL AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL: A CHURCH TRANSFORMED (Pt. 1)

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My mother grew up in Stanfield where her family attended Love’s Chapel United Methodist Church. She tells of times in the early 1930’s when her parents carried the family to hear services at Brown Hill AME in the nearby town of Locust. Mom has always spoken well of the visit and remembers her parents being moved by the lively choir. They were drawn to the church by both the message and a powerful messenger.
My family’s experience was nothing new. Written in an endearing dialect of the old south, a regularly occurring social column praises an earlier service held at the church:

The Concord Times, 17 Oct 1895

…Well, I like to forgot the colored folks had a glorious jubilee at their church at Brown Hill over a little way in Stanly last Saturday and Sunday – Children’s days on Saturday. The cornet band from Pioneer Mills country (Cabarrus) was there, and it being a new thing in that country, why the white people of that vicinity gave them a rousing, cheerful presence. Some have told me they outnumbered the colored folks, and the good colored folks gave them the middle tier of seats in the church, and the band played and the children sang, and then lastly the 10 cent lunchins were served, and lots of money was realized, the band paid off, and some left, and old Aunt Rose says the white folks had the most money and shelled it out too. So everything passed off quietly, friendly, affectionately with tender love and felicity …

It’s now 2019 and the town of Locust is planning its 150th anniversary. Little do they know of the real beginning of Brown Hill. It is commonly believed that Brown Hill AME Church first held services in 1870 about the time Locust was founded. From the church’s online history:

The Brown Hill A.M.E. Zion Church was organized in 1870, where the records indicate that Henry and Sarah Love obtained a special parcel of land. The parcel was mostly farmland, which was worked by surrounding farmers usually six days out of the week. Apparently, the subject about a place to worship was mentioned on numerous occasions. The founders probably chose this place to start gathering in 1870, which was the birth of Brown Hill.

…the first Brown Hill Church was constructed in 1874 when a group of African American Christians held a meeting and decided on a permanent place of worship.

Dated 27 Oct 1874, Wilson M. Carter of Mecklenburg conveyed 8 acres (Deed 11-459, Stanly) for a price of $50. The land was purchased collectively by Michael Barnhardt, Wesley Morgan, Adam Morgan, Henry Love, and Solomon Reed. L. A. Carter and John M. Carter served as witnesses. The purchase known as the “Brown Hill Church property” adjoined “the road” and a tract of land owned by Michael Garmon. Not spelled out in the transaction and differing from the official deed, the church’s history indicates the purchase was for “nine and one-fourth acres of land, and an old church building, which is believed to have been a Bush Arbor for $40.00.”

It’s at this point where my findings begin to diverge from those held by the church. I believe the richly African American Brown Hill AME church had its beginnings first as a Methodist Protestant Church. Serving a predominantly white congregation at that time, the Methodist Protestant church predates Brown Hill AME. Before delving into that story a little local church background is in order.

Circa 1830, the Methodist Protestant church was formed in the United States as an offshoot of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Unlike the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Protestants adopted greater self-control in terms of congregational governance. No longer under the control of bishops, the new order continued to hold Wesleyan doctrine and worship though it withdrew from the long held tradition of episcopacy. The division within the Methodist Church eventually healed from whence today’s United Methodist Church was formed.

Locally, in the early 1840’s, Love’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal was the first of its denomination to locate in southwest Stanly County. It wasn’t until the early 1860’s that Love’s Grove Methodist Protestant Church was founded nearby.

articleSeeking further information I came across two important newspaper accounts that I believe radically changes the local church histories. Firstly, and dated 22 Mar 1922, the First Protestant Methodist Church in Charlotte announced its ninth anniversary celebration. Beautiful music was to be played, there were guest speakers, and new art glass windows were “to be unveiled and dedicated to the memory of men who have rendered valuable service to the Methodist Protestant church in this community.” Among those to be honored were “Rev. Henry Garmon and his brother, Michael Garmon, who were among the first in this community to become Methodist Protestants.”

According to Western NC Methodist Conference archivist Jim Pyatt, “First Methodist Protestant Church was organized in 1913 (the NE corner of Central Avenue and Hawthorne Lane), changed its name in 1939 to Central Avenue Methodist Church, then in 1969 left that building, relocated to Albemarle Road, and changed the name to Central.” Central UMC was tragically burned in 2008 at the hands of an arsonist. The church was built anew in a testament of an unwavering faith. And in tracing the windows placed in honor of Michael and his brother Rev. Henry Garmon, such memories may have been destroyed by the fire. I’d love to be able to find an image of the windows placed in honor of Rev. Henry Garmon and his brother Michael. To those reading these words, PLEASE pass on such images or information about them if you are in the know of where they may be found. Below is an image of First Charlotte Protestant Methodist found online.

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Getting back to Michael and Henry Garmon, they were sons of another Michael Garmon and his wife Maria Magdalena Shore. Maria is the daughter of Elizabeth Love who married Heinrich Shore in Stokes County NC. Elizabeth is the sister of Jonah Love who founded Love’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal church. So, there is a Methodist connection running through both the Love and Garmon families. And, remember that per the official 1874 deed, Michael Garmon owned a tract of land adjoining the property on which sits Brown Hill AME now stands. A very important detail, is it possible Michael Garmon’s Methodist influence led him in the founding of Brown Hill AME church? What’s the connection?

Going back to the height of the civil war, on 12 Jan 1864, The Charlotte Democrat reported on the leadership of an organization known as the Mecklenburg County Bible Society. The article lists leaders from various denominations including Protestant Methodists. Representing the Protestant Methodist church was:

“Brown’s Hill – Michael Garmon, James Allen”

The name James Allen runs deep in Stanly and Anson Counties. What was his connection to Michael Garmon and to the Methodist church? And then there is Michael Garmon …named as representative of Brown Hill Church well before the believed 1874 start date!

Apparently ten years prior to the 1874 acquisition of land for use by the Methodist AME church, there was already a church in place. From the article we know Michael Garmon represented Brown Hill in 1864. And as told in Brown Hill AME’s history, we know there was an old building on the property when at that time it was purchased. We now know where now stands Brown’s Hill AME, there once stood a Methodist Protestant church having the same name.

So, why was there a change? Remember that Love’s Grove Protestant Methodist was formed just down the road in the 1860’s. I believe in honor of her husband Michael Garmon Love, Phoebe Love, the daughter of Thomas Love (brother of Jonah) donated land for the new church ca. 1865. And note that Thomas Love, also a Methodist, was once on the board of trustees for Bethel Methodist not far away in Cabarrus County.
Serving in the civil war Michael Garmon Love wrote home to his wife Phoebe in Nov 1863. The letter reads:

…Deare wife I wish that this civil ware wod stope soe that we all cold come home to live with our famles a gain as we Did Be for this ware tuck plase and I am in hopes that we all will be at home til Spring – hit is thought that N. C. will go back in the Union and I hope that she will and that Be fore Spring for I cant help but think that we are on the rong side.

Michael Garmon Love held to sympathies. Yet, the spring came and turned to summer. The war raged on until in1864 he was forced to return home from Virginia due to illness. Michael Garmon Love died in November 1864 which event I believe inspired his wife Phoebe to build a new church.

As one church came to be, the other fell. There was not room for two. And though Brown Hill Methodist Protestant Church may have begun long before the 1860’s, its doors closed as those at Love’s Grove first opened. And in doing so, the old church building known as Brown’s Hill was purchased and eventually made anew by African American’s who were once Free People of Color as well as the slaves of those whose ties continued in faith and the occasional sharing of worship. For generations to come, I feel it important that the congregations be able to envision this thread of history binding Brown Hill AME to its namesake Brown Hill Methodist Protestant. The thread also winds through the congregations of Love’s Chapel and Love’s Grove Methodist churches in securing a beginning for First Charlotte Methodist Protestant as well as today’s Central UMC.

The land upon which Brown Hill AME stands today has a long and rich history. Please stay tuned for an upcoming post to be based on information gleaned from a study of local land records. Illuminating the lives of those who came before the founding of Brown Hill AME, there are more stories to be told.

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