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The Sandy Creek Association -- 1758-1790
By George W. Paschal, 1930

[p. 394]
Having followed the Separate Baptist ministers in their missionary labors as they planted churches, beginning at Sandy Creek and first going to the regions near, then to Virginia, to the Yadkin, to the east as far as the ocean, then to South Carolina and Georgia, and finally westward along the Yadkin and across the mountains into Tennessee, we next turn to consider the Association they formed. Our authorities are Morgan Edwards and Semple for the years 1758 to 1770 and Benedict for the years following. All their accounts are meagre. Semple says of the beginning of the Association:
Having now constituted several churches, and there being some other that exercised the rights of churches, tho' not formally organized, Mr. Stearns conceived that an association composed of delegates from all these would have a tendency to impart stability, regularity, and uniformity to the whole. For this prudent purpose he visited each church and congregation and explaining the contemplated plan induced them all to send delegates to his meeting house in the ensuing January, which was in the year 1760.1

We have already noticed (page 6th) that through the counsel of Mr. Stearns an association was formed and organized January 1760, and who met again in July of the same year. Including both these meetings, the list of the churches stood thus:
Sandy Creek. Elder Shubal Stearns.
Deep River. Nathaniel Powell (a brother).
Abbott's Creek. Elder Daniel Marshall.
Little River. Joseph Breed (a Brother).
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1 Virginia Baptists, p. 6. See also Devin, Grassy Creek, p. 52.
[p. 395]
Neus River. Ezekiel Hunter.
Black River. John Newton.
Dan River.
Pittsylvania C'ty, Va. Elder Samuel Harris.
Lunenburg C'ty, Va. William Murphy.2
Morgan Edwards' statement does not agree in all respects with Backus and Semple. He says of this Association that, "It began in 1758, in June 2nd Monday, at Sandy Creek, and therefore called the Sandy Creek Association. The constituents were the church of Sandy Creek, of Abbott's Creek, and of Deep River."3

In regard to these conflicting views it may be said that the statement of Edwards as to the date of organization is doubtless correct. The Association was organized in the year 1758. Such was the date given Edwards when he was in the Association in 1771 or 1772, and this is the traditional date still keptin the records of the Association. But there are other considerations which support this view. The Deep River church which had a delegate at the first meeting of the Association was already extinct in 1760, its members having gone partly with Elder Philip Mulky to Broad River, South Carolina, and partly with Rev. Joseph Murphy to Little River in Anson (Montgomery) County. Again,
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2 Ibid., p. 43. Neus River is a mistake for New River. Backus, History of New England Baptists, Chapter XIV, has the following account: "And in and after 1758 many were converted and baptized near the south border of Virginia, and they began an association in 1760, of five churches in Carolina and one in Virginia and they increased fast."
Above, in my account of the Separates in eastern North Carolina, I indicated that the church of Black River was somewhere on the stream of that name in the present county of Sampson. The following from the MS. Autobiography of Rev. David S. Williams tells of a church of that name in the region where McAden found Baptists in 1756. In speaking of his activities in 1827, Mr. Williams says: "There was an old church on the East of Cape Fear River near Averysboro called Black River. Nathan Gully had preached [here] for many years and left them, and the church had to a certain extent ceased to exist. Here Mr. Williams gathered a congregation, mostly of young people, for the older members were 'Anti-Missionary and, indeed, almost anti-everything.'" Possibly this is the church of which Rev. John Newton was pastor.
3 Edwards, A Tour, etc., under head of "Association of the Separates in North Carolina."
[p. 396]
Joseph Breed, who is represented as a delegate to this meeting, was connected with Little River for just the one year 1758, since in 1759 he went with Mulky to South Carolina and became a constituent member of the Broad River church, and two years later went on to the Fair Forest church and is heard of no more. Though Little River was not organized as a distinct church until 1759, a congregation was already gathered there in 1758 and had built a meeting house.4 Here, it seems, Breed was pastor, although he was not ordained but only a licensed minister. One other consideration as to the date of the forming of the Association is that at the second meeting of the Association Rev. John Gano was said to have been present as has been narrated above5 This fixes the date of that second meeting as not later than 1759, for late in 1759 or early in 1760 Gano had left the Province to escape the incursions of the Indians, as I have already told, and did not return until the year 1774, when he held a meeting on the Yadkin.6 In consideration of these things, the true date of the beginning of the Sandy Creek Association must be considered to be 1758.

In regard to the churches, however, which composed the Association in the first year, Morgan Edwards seems to be in error. Semple knows from some independent source, not from Backus or Edwards, that there were two meetings in the first year, one in January and a second in July. The first meeting he supposes to have been small and preliminary.7 It is altogether probable that at this meeting only the churches of Deep River and Abbott's Creek were represented in addition to the church at Sandy Creek. It was an easy day's ride, even in the dead of winter, from both Abbott's Creek and Deep River to Sandy Creek. It is not at all improbable
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4 Morgan Edwards, Notebook, our copy of the Material &c. has 1768, manifestly a copyist's error.
5 See the passage from Benedict.
6 MS. Minutes of the Dutchman's Creek church, in what is now Davie County, for the years 1772 to 1787. Copy in W. F. C. Library.
7 Work cited, p. 44, footnote.
[p. 397]
that it was delegates from these churches alone who met with Stearns in this preliminary meeting to make plans for the fuller second meeting in the summer when the weather and traveling were likely to be better. But that the fuller second meeting was composed of representatives from the larger list of churches mentioned by Semple hardly admits of a doubt. It is incredible that after Stearns had visited so many churches and urged them to send delegates only two in almost his immediate neighborhood should have met his wishes. As was said above, if Joseph Breed ever came as a delegate from the Little River church it must have been at this meeting of the Association. Even Semple's list does not seem to be complete, for Rev. James Reed was there from the church at Grassy Creek, Devin says as a delegate in consequence of the visit of Shubal Stearns.8 It may be seen from my account above that the other North Carolina churches and congregations said by Semple to have had delegates at the meetings the first year were already established. It is altogether probable that they were included in Stearns's plan.

Not much more is known of the first and second meetings of this Association than is told by Semple and incorporated in the account of Benedict above. To these I refer the reader. All the Associations from the first for many years were "conducted in love, peace and harmony." And this in spite of the fact that they had no moderator for those first years and not for many years later, the reason being that it was thought unfit that. the permission of a man should be got by one who was speaking for God and His kingdom. But the Association had a clerk and certain rules of decorum, as will appear below. All the meetings were marked by enthusiasm.
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8 History of Grassy Creek Church, p. 52f. "I cannot ascertain with any degree of certainly that he (Stearns) was at Grassy Creek earlier than 1757, when he visited the church and explained to the brethren his plan of forming an Association. . . ." Elder James Reed. . . . was a delegate from Grassy Creek to the first meeting of the Sandy Creek Association in 1758.
[p. 398]
This was especially true of the third meeting, that of 1760. The young ministers coming from the newly established churches and congregations in eastern North Carolina, in Virginia and in South Carolina, and reporting how the word of the Lord was running and being glorified, and bringing requests for more preachers to be sent created an enthusiasm like that which marked the early church in Jerusalem. "They had a very happy association." (Semple.)

A matter connected with the Sandy Creek Association and the Separates was brought before the Charleston Association at its meeting in 1762, by Rev. Philip Mulky, who, as we have seen, went from Deep River in 1759 with his traveling church to South Carolina, first to Broad River and two years later to Fair Forest. In a letter to the Charleston Association this year he proposed several queries. Rev. Oliver Hart was appointed to answer. Manifesting then the disposition which it kept up in later years in the time of Richard Furman, the Charleston Association welcomed this advance and showed that it regarded union with the Separates as very desirable. It appointed Mr. Hart, the Charleston minister, and Evan Pugh, the zealous young preacher from the Pee Dee, to attend the next meeting of the Sandy Creek Association and try to effect the union. Here our record ends. No union was made but nothing more is known.9

The meeting of so many ministers and from such a widely extended territory and from growing churches and congregations all filled with unbounded enthusiasm gave the Separates a new sense of unity and power. At the fifth or sixth Association, says Semple, they received delegates from some churches as high as the mountains, just what churches and whether in Virginia or North Carolina we do not know, but they already extended from the mountains to the sea.
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9 History of the Charleston Association, by Richard Furman. MS. digest by W. H. Eller.
[p. 399]
In 1767 there was a request for a presbytery to constitute a church in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, north of the James River, and in a year or two more, if we may believe Morgan Edwards, the Association extended to the Potomac, and across South Carolina into Georgia. Until 1770, says Semple,
The sessions were all held in the vicinity of Stearns, and the elder preachers. The younger ones, from Virginia and both the Carolinas, attended constantly, and derived much knowledge and consolation from the conversation of the more experienced. From such accounts as can be had, it appears that these associations were conducted with peace and harmony, and were productive of extensive usefulness.
Two matters of importance came before the session of the Association in 1769. The first was the Regulator troubles, a matter which I have already discussed above and therefore omit here, except to say that it is by no means certain that the action of the Association forbidding under pain of excommunication the members of the churches to take up arms against the legal authorities represented the views of the Baptists in the Hillsboro district. They were far outnumbered by the delegates from the remote churches, among whom was at least one who afterwards got into trouble for preaching that it was wrong for a Christian to bear arms. This was James Childs of Louisa County, Virginia, of whom some account will be found below.

The second important matter to come before this session was the proposal for a union of the Separate Baptists and the Regulars, as the Particular Baptists now called themselves. In Spotsylvania such a reconciliation had been attempted and failed by a narrow margin. Now a proposition for union was brought before the Association and caused a lengthy debate.

Those Separates who opposed union in Spotsylvania had argued, and probably argued here, that the Regulars were
[p. 400]
not sufficiently particular in small matters such as dress, the dress of women, which was an objection that the Separates had against union with the Baptists of the Kehukee Association three years later. A more serious and real objection was that the Philadelphia Confession, some parts of which they considered objectionable, might come to bind them too much. The majority of the Regulars of the Ketockton Association favored union with the Separates and had sent three of their members, Messrs. Garrett, Major and Saunders, to the Sandy Creek Association of 1769 with a letter of which Semple gives the following extract: 10
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ:
The bearers of this letter can acquaint you with the design of writing it. Their errand is peace, and their business is a reconcilation between us, if there is any difference subsisting. If we are all Christians, all Baptists, all New-lights, why are we divided? Must the little appellative names, Regular and Separate, break the golden band of charity, and set the sons and daughters of Zion at variance? "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity," but how bad and how bitter it is for them to live asunder in discord. To indulge ourselves in prejudice, is surely a disorder; and to quarrelabout nothing is irregularity with a witness. O, our dear brethren, endeavor to prevent this calamity in the future.
After the discussion named the proposal of "this excellent letter" was rejected by a small majority. Thus union was delayed until 1787 in Virginia, and in North Carolina division still continued through the period of the Revolutionary War in the Yadkin region, where the Regulars were far less numerous than the Separates. In the Albermarle section of North Carolina, however, the union came much sooner, beginning in 1777, as will be told when we come to the account of the Associations of that region.

At this time the Separates generally were Arminians while the Regulars were pronounced Calvinists. But in a few years the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, standing
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10 Virginia Baptists, p. 46.
[p. 401]
as a constant declaration of Calvinism, began to prevail. In the General Association, which in 1770 succeeded the Sandy Creek among the Virginia Baptists, this credal difference all but caused a fatal division in 1775. Though the matter was, so far as known, never brought to issue in the Sandy Creek Association, gradually the greater number of them had become Calvinists before Benedict was writing in 1810. 11

Devin12 gives a church covenant, which he indicates was supposed to have been written by Shubal Stearns about the year 1757. Though the main body of it may be due to Stearns, the preamble and concluding paragraph contain Calvinistic elements which must have been added after the discussion of the matter in 1775 in the General Association, of which Grassy Creek was a member. It reads:
Holding believers' baptism; laying on of hands; particular election of grace by predestination of God in Christ; effectual calling by the Holy Ghost; free justification through the imputed righteousness of Christ; progressive sanctification through God's grace and truth; the final perseverance, or continuance of the saints in grace; the resurrection of these bodies after death, at that day which God has appointed to judge the quick and the dead by Jesus Christ, by the power of God, and by the resurrection of Christ; and life everlasting. Amen. (I give in italics the portion which in my view Stearns would never have written.)
1st. We do, in the presence of the great and everlasting God who knows the secrets of all hearts, and in the presence of angels and men, acknowledge ourselves to be under the most solemn covenant with the Lord to live for him and no other. We take the only living and true God to be our God, one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
2d. We receive the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the revealed mind and will of God, believing them to contain a perfect rule for our faith and practice, and promise through the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to make them the rule of our life and practice in all church discipline,acknowledging ourselves by nature children of wrath, and our hope of mercy with
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11 History of Baptists, II, 107. "They now have become generally, and some of them strenuously Calvinistic."
12 Grassy Creek Church, pp. 43ff.

[p. 402]
God to be only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, apprehended by faith.
3rdly. We do promise to bear with one anotherís infirmities and weaknesses, with much tenderness, not discovering them to any in the church, but by gospel rule and order, which is laid down in Matthew 18:15, 16, 17.
4th. We do believe that God has ordained that they who preach the gospel shall live of the gospel; and we call heaven and earth to witness that we without the least reserve, give up ourselves through the help and aiding grace of God's Spirit, our souls and bodies and all that we have to this one God, to be entirely at his disposal, both ourselves, our names and estates, as God shall see best in his own glory; and that we will faithfully do by the help of God's Spirit, whatsoever our consciences, influenced by the word and spirit of God shall direct to be our duty both to God and man; and we do by the assistance of Divine grace, unitedly give ourselves to one another in covenant, promising by the grace of God to act towards one another as brethren in Christ, watching over one another in the love of God, especially to watch against all jesting, light and foolish talking which are not convenient, (Ephesians 5:4) -- everything that does not become the followers of the holy Lamb of God; and that we will seek the good of each other and the church universal for God's glory; and hold communion together in the worship of God, in the ordinance and discipline of this church of God, according to Christ's visible kingdom, so far as the providence of God admits of the same: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is," but submitting ourselves unto the discipline of the church, as a part of Christ's mystical body, according as we shall be guided by the word and Spirit of God, and by the help of Divine grace, still looking for more light from God, as contained in the Holy Scriptures, believing there are greater mysteries to be unfolded and shine in the church beyond what she has ever enjoyed: looking and waiting for the glorious day when the Lord Jesus shall take to himself his great power, and "have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth."

This covenant we make with full and free consent of our minds, believing that through his free and boundless grace it is owned of God and ratified in heaven, before the throne of God and the Lamb. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen, and amen.
It is probable, however, that in most Separate churches the covenants were much simpler, as almost certainly during Stearns's lifetime they were free from Calvinism. The following
[p. 403]
copied by the clerk as the first record of Abbott's Creek church at its reorganization in 1783 is much more likely to represent such theology as Stearns wrote or approved. It reads:
Believing the Old and New Testament to be the perfect rule for life and practice and 2ly Repentance from dead works and 3ly Faith towards God and 4ly The doctrine of baptism and 5ly laying on of hands and 6ly the perseverance of the saints and 7ly The resurrection of the dead and 8ly Eternal judgment.
This seems to be only a preamble but it doubtless contained about all the theology of the complete covenant. It has bad literary style, while the Grassy Creek Covenant is a highly finished document. But we are prone to believe that the latter, omitting the Calvinism, really reflects the views of Stearns as to what a church should be, -- a body of Christians who have unreservedly surrendered themselves to the service of God, living in sweet charity towards their brethren, seeking each the good of the other and of the church as a whole, supporting the ministry of the word, holding what they have and themselves always at the disposal of the Lord, not forsaking the assembling of themselves together, submitting themselves to the discipline of the church, as a part of Christ's mystical body, guided by the word and Spirit of God, looking for more light from God and believing that greater mysteries are still to be revealed. If Stearns wrote or inspired this covenant he had a sublimity of soul which few men have attained. In the light of it we get a better understanding of the wonderful personality and power with which Edwards credits him, and see how worthy he is to be regarded as a peer of those other able and inspirational founders of great religious movements, most of whom like Stearns had a mystical element in their souls, and who dwelt in a larger light than is given to ordinary mortals, and saw visions of future glories for the church not revealed to common eyes.
[p. 404]
To return to the meetings of the Association, in 1770 it met at Grassy Creek, in Granville County. According to the rules of procedure, no action could be taken except by unanimous approval of the delegates present. At this meeting for three days unanimity could be reached on nothing, not even on the election of a Moderator. At the end of the third day, after a day of fasting and prayer, it was unanimously agreed to divide the Association into three, one for each of the States of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. That for North Carolina kept the name of Sandy Creek and has kept it unto this day. With regard to this division Morgan Edwards had this to say:
The cause was partly convenience, but chiefly a mistake which this association fell into relative to their power and jurisdiction; they had carried matters so high as to leave hardly any power in particular churches, unfellowshipping ordinations, ministers and churches that acted independent of them; and pleading "That though complete power be in every church yet every church can transfer it to an Association"; which is as much as to say that a man may take out his eyes, ears, etc., and give them to another to see, hear etc. for him; for if power be fixed by Christ in a particular church they can not transfer it; nay, should they formally give it away yet it is not gone away.
According to Benedict, it was the good old Mr. Stearns himself who was the principal promoter of this improper assumption of power by the Association. He had been schooled in his New England home into accepting just such arbitrary dealing by the church councils. We do not know just in what particulars the concerns of the churches were interfered with, but it is evident from the language of Edwards that one of the matters in which Stearns felt it his duty to assume authority was in the ordination of ministers. We have seen above that in the early years he exercised much care in this regard. Until the Association was formed he alone seems to have determined who should be ordained and who not. Afterwards it would have been natural for him
[p. 405]
to transfer such matters to the Association, though his influence doubtless continued to be decisive. There can be no doubt too that he exercised it in such a way as to keep some unworthy men out of the sacred calling. This would naturally give offense, especially when some one powerful with his own church was thus excluded. It is still a question with Baptists just what are the rights of churches to ordain men for the ministry, and how is the best method to determine the question of their fitness. Yet in this day the question is far simpler than it was in the first years of the Sandy Creek Association. Now it is pretty well known what are Baptist principles and with published confessions of faith it is easy to check lack of conformity thereto. But in the days of Stearns the principles of the Separates were such as he preached. That first Stearns himself and afterwards the Association of the churches he had founded should have insisted on a strict conformity both by churches and those they ordained was not only wise but necessary. Otherwise, there would have soon arisen as many standards of faith as there were churches and ministers.

It is evident, however, that the Association had come to interfere in the more domestic concerns of the churches. One instance of this is the resolution in regard to taking up arms against the legal authorities. It would not be thought proper today, nor was it proper in 1769, for any Association to order the excommunication of members for any cause. That is the concern solely of the individual churches. It was doubtless the meddling of the Association in such matters that created the annoyance which led to the division of 1770. When the General Association of Virginia assembled the next year in its first meeting it was organized on the unanimous agreement that "the Association has no power or authority to impose anything upon the churches, but that we act as an advisory council." But even this Association took some precautionary measures as to the ordination of
[p. 406]
ministers. In the Sandy Creek Association, after the division, the former arbitrary measures were soon abandoned.13 There is little record of this Association from this period until 1805 when the minutes were first printed the minute book of the preceding years having been burned.14 The first meeting of the Association after the division was appointed for the church at Haw River.15 In 1772, according to Benedict,16 the Association contained nine churches: Sandy Creek, Little River, Shallow Fords, Haw River,17 New River, Southwest, Grassy Creek, Trent, Lockwood's Folly.18 These churches had ten branches, most of which afterwards became independent churches. Our next check on this Association is furnished by Asplund in his various editions of his Register for the years 1790, 1791, 1792, 1793 and 1795.19 At this time the Sandy Creek
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13 Benedict. History of Baptists, II, 53.
14 Purefoy. Sandy Creek Association, p. 74: "From its origin, in A.D. 1758, to A.D. 1805, we have not been able to find any document of the association. From its organization to 1805 its proceedings were never printed; they were recorded in a book annually, which was consumed by fire in the house of Brother William Lightfoot, which was burned in 1816."
15 Semple, Virginia Baptists, p. 47.
16 History of the Baptists, II, 106.
17 Benedict has "Slow River," clearly a mistake for Haw River, in which he has been followed by Purefoy and other Baptist historians. Morgan Edwards has Haw River.
18 Benedict was wrong in supposing that Grassy Creek was a member of the Sandy Creek Association after the division. Devin says: "Grassy Creek church, after the division of the Sandy Creek Association, associated with the Virginia brethren, first in the General or Middle District Association till 1788, then in the Roanoke till 1794, when the Flat River Association was organized. Since that time it has been a member of that body." Grassy Creek Church, p. 74. Grassy Creek is not, however, in Semple's list of the churches of the General Association for 1771.
19 John Asplund, the author was a Swede, who had become a member and assistant pastor of the church at Ballard's Bridge, Chowan County. About 1790 he made a tour of the Baptist churches of North America, traveling in eighteen months 7,000 miles, visiting 215 churches and 15 Associations, and becoming personally acquainted with 250 Baptist ministers. He called the first edition of his work The Annual Register of the Baptist Denomination in North America to the First of November, 1790. It gave for each State by counties a list of the Baptist churches, indicating their order as General, Six Principle, etc., and the Association to which each belonged, the year in which it was constituted, its ministers both ordained and licentiates, and the number of its members. Each successive edition was fuller than the preceding, that for 1793 giving the number of members of churches not only for that year but for the three preceding years, and filling in the dates of constitution for many churches which are not found in the first editions. A copy of the 1793 edition is in the library of the American Baptist Historical Association at Chester, Pa.
[p. 407]
Association contained no church east of Chatham County. Doubtless the churches in eastern North Carolina had been prevented by the disturbances of the Revolutionary War from keeping up their intercourse with the churches further west. By 1790 New River, Trent, and Lockwood's Folly were members of the Kehukee Association, while Southwest had become extinct or had been merged with some other church of other name. Grassy Creek was a member of the Roanoke Association, most of whose churches were in Virginia. To this and the Strawberry Association belonged one church in Wake, Newlight, and the other Baptist churches of the counties adjoining Virginia from Granville as far west as Surry. West of the upper Yadkin sixteen churches were in the new Yadkin Association. The churches in Rutherford County belonged to the Bethel Association most of whose churches were in South Carolina. Three churches of the Sandy Creek Association were in Chatham County, being the church of Haw River with 320 members, much the strongest church in the Association, still under the care of Elder Elnathan Davis, who had as his assistants the licentiates Thomas Brown, Jesse Buckner, Thomas Cate, Solomon Smith, Isaac Hailes, -- Ray, and William Weatherspoon; the church at Rocky River, formerly a branch of the Haw River church but constituted a distinct church in 1776, and having now 45 members under the care of Francis Dorset, a licentiate; and the church at Bear Creek, constituted in 1786 and having fifty-five members under the care of Elder Sherwood White. In Randolph the only church belonging to the Association was Sandy Creek with 25 members under the care of John Welborn, a licentiate. The church of Abbott's Creek in Rowan County had been reconstituted in 1777 and
[p. 408]
was again a member of the Association with 80 members under the care of Elder Thomas Pope, who was to continue many years in his most successful pastorate. Elder Joseph Murphy was now pastor of Deep Creek in Surry County, which had only 25 members, but unlike other churches in this section continued with the Sandy Creek Association. In the year 1793 the church at the Forks of the Yadkin in Rowan County was reconstituted with 45 members under the care of Jesse Buckner, a licentiate from the Haw River church, and joined the Sandy Creek Association. Further south the Baptist churches in the counties of Montgomery, Anson and Mecklenburg (Cabarrus) constituted an important part of the Association. In Montgomery these churches were Little River, with only 15 members, without pastor; Rocky River, to which Asplund assigns 1758 as the date of its constitution probably confusing this church with its parent church Little River.20 In 1790 Rocky River had 189 members under the care of Rev. Edmund Lilly, a distinguished patriot of the Revolutionary period, who had as his assistant William Kindell. A third church in Montgomery was that at the mouth of the Uwharry River with 44 members under the care of Rev. William McGregor, who was still pastor of the church in 1806.21 In Anson County the church at Pee Dee River belonged to the Sandy Creek Association. It had 110 members under the care of Elders Daniel Gould and William Dargan, assisted by a Mr. Bennet, a licentiate, who was soon after ordained and moved to Georgia. Two strong churches in Anson about this time
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20 Little River, according to Semple, dates from 1758. Asplund gives 1787 as the date of its constitution, which was probably the date on which Rocky River became a distinct church. Since the latter was now much the stronger church it was easy for Asplund to consider it the older.
There is some confusion about the church called the Forks of the Yadkin. The account given in the text is based on Asplund for 1793. Edwards mentions Forks of the Yadkin as a branch of Shallow Fords in 1772. Possibly this was east of the river and is the church listed by Asplund. But there was another Forks of the Yadkin organized in 1793, a member of the Yadkin Association, whose pastor was Elder Benjamin Buckner.
21 Purefoy, Sandy Creek Association, 77.
[p. 409]
became members of the Charleston Association. To complete the list of the churches of the Sandy Creek at this time Asplund gives two in Mecklenburg (Cabarrus), Coldwater constituted in 1790 with 40 members under the care of John McCabe, a licentiate, but three years later under the care of John Culpepper, also a licentiate, and Society Meeting thirty-five members but without pastor.

Thus in 1790-93 the Association contained twelve churches and more than nine hundred members. It was strongest in Chatham County, but hardly less strong in Anson and Montgomery. Its ablest pastors were Elder Joseph Murphy of the Deep Creek church, Elder Elnathan Davis of the Haw River church, Elder George Pope of Abbott's Creek, Elder Daniel Gould of Pee Dee and Elder Edmund Lilly of Rocky River of Anson County.

Asplund says, further, that in these years the Sandy Creek Association corresponded only with the Georgia Association. It was holding two meetings a year. In 1793 the occasional meeting was at Uwharry in Montgomery County, on August 7. Elder Joseph Murphy preached the sermon, and Brother John Lawler was chosen Scribe (Clerk). It had its regular annual meeting the same year on October 24 at Abbott's Creek. Who delivered the sermon is not indicated. John Lawler was again chosen Scribe.22

The churches of the Sandy Creek Association had some beliefs and practices peculiar to themselves in the early years, some of which they retained for more than a quarter of a century. In the first years they held to the so-called nine Christian rites; namely, baptism, the Lord's supper, lovefeasts, laying-on of hands, washing feet, anointing the sick, right hand of fellowship, kiss of charity, devoting of children; and had ruling elders, elderesses, deaconesses, and weekly communion. With reference to such of these matters as were peculiar to the Separates Benedict says:
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22 Asplund, Register, Vol. V, 67.
[p. 410]
It must not be understood that all the churches in this body were strenuous or even uniform in the observance of this long list of rites, all of which however,appear to be suggested by the Scriptures; nor did those who maintained the whole of them refuse communion with their brethren who neglected a part; and this indifference in some has been succeeded by a general neglect in all, so that the greatest part of the nine Christian rites, and especially those of them which were of a peculiar nature, together with the offices of elderesses, and deaconesses have fallen into disuse. But the ordinance, as they esteem it, of the office of ruling elders they still maintain.
We are not, however, to infer that ruling elders and laying on of hands were peculiar to the Separate Baptists. An article on the laying on of hands is one of the American additions in the Philadelphia Confession, being due to the strong Welsh influence. In this Confession, Chapter XXXI, it is declared that "laying on of hands (with prayer) upon baptized believers, as such, is an ordinance of Christ, and ought unto be submitted to by all such persons that are admitted to partake of the Lord's Supper." Most of the oldest churches in this country, whether General or Particular, according to Benedict,23 practiced the laying on of hands on all newly baptized members. Many of the Particular Baptist churches of North Carolina held to the custom, though some of them in this respect failed to conform to the Century Confession.24

Ruling elders at that time were general and not exceptional in the Particular Baptist churches if we may believe Morgan Edward.25
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23 Benedict, History of Baptists, ed. 1848, p. 365, note.
24 Morgan Edwards, Introductory remarks on the General Baptists of North Carolina. See also Burkitt and Read, Kehukee Association, p. 173.
25 Morgan Edwards, Ibid. Burkitt and Read, Ibid., p. 17f., say: "The churches of the Kehukee Association, at first, had Ruling Elders. But it has a great while been the opinion of most of the churches belonging to that Association that there are no Ruling Elders mentioned in the Scriptures distinct from Teachers, who are Elders. Therefore the practice of having Ruling Elders, distinct from the ministers is laid aside. This subject has often been debated in the Association, and the only reasons they have assigned for not having Ruling Elders, when those queries have been discussed, are, 1. The word of God nowhere points out the qualifications of such officers, as is the case with Ministers and Deacons. 2. No example of any being called, nor time when, and manner how they were ordained to office. No work prescribed in the word of God for them to do. The Minister's work is pointed out, 'To teach, to rebuke exhort,' &c. The Deacon's work prescribed, viz., 'To serve tables.' But no work pointed out for a Ruling Elder."
[p. 411]
According to Devin, in the Grassy Creek church, and presumably in other Separate Baptist churches the "ruling elders" did not exercise the same functions as those of the same name in the Presbyterian churches of today. They were laymen elected by each church for itself to assist the minister in the management of the church, with spiritual rather than temporal functions, and did not exercise more authority than any other member, differing from deacons little except in name.26

One of these rites, that of devoting children, was very popular with the early Separate churches. Benedict has this to say of it:
This rite was founded on the circumstance of parents bringing their children to Christ, etc. It was thus performed: As soon as circumstances would permit, after the birth of the child, the mother carried it to meeting, where the minister either took it in his arms, or laid his hands on it, thanked God for his mercy, and invoked a blessing on the child, at which time it received its name. This rite, which by many was satirically called a dry christening, prevailed not only in the Sandy Creek Association but in many parts of Virginia.
Our writers on early Baptist history omit much that we should like to know. Especially we should like to learn just what influence these churches had ontheir membership
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26 Morgan Edwards mentioned the following Particular Baptist churches in North Carolina as admitting both laying on of hands and ruling elders. Hitchcock -- on the Pee Dee. Kehukee, Pasquotank (Shiloh), Toisnot, Bear Creek (Dobbs), while Tar River (Granville), Lower Fishing Creek, and Upper Fishing Creek (Reedy Creek) admitted ruling elders but not laying on of hands. Of the Separate Baptist churches Edwards found only two that admitted all the nine Christian rites and the full tale of officers, ruling elders, elderesses, deaconesses. These were Sandy Creek and Haw River; Shallow Fords admitted six of the nine, while all admitted ruling elders and laying on of hands. A Particular Baptist church at Dutchmanís Creek In 1777-87 had ruling elders.

[p. 412]
and communities. In general we are told that such men as Steams, Murphy, Marshall, Elnathan Davis, the ministers, lived pious and godly lives. For the rest we have only tradition or inference. And the tradition is uniform that the members of these Separate churches were held to a strict morality. The churches were the guardians of the morals of their members, and saw that the impure and the unclean were without the pale. The almost savage sternness of some of this discipline has come down even to this day, or at least to days within the memory of men and women now living, and shows how exacting were the terms of church membership in those days. Thus the church set the standards for morality in their communities. In the wide stretch of Chatham and in fact, in all the section between the Haw and Pee Dee rivers, the Baptist churches alone with the exception of the Quakers, ministered to the moral and religious needs of the people. For this they had to rely almost altogether on the preaching of the gospel and the weekly communion service. They had no literature, no periodicals, no Sunday schools. It was the services of these churches alone which stood between the unlettered people and religious and moral degeneration. Very few parents could instruct their children in the Scriptures; probably Bibles were few in those days. There were no catechisms; only a few teachers kept schools here and there. But out of it all developed that sturdy and clean-lived people that was found occupying this section early in the next century, a people among whom prostitution was all but unknown, though children were sometimes born out of wedlock. In cases of such dereliction among its members the church was inexorable; the mother, as well as the guilty father, was excluded. But if afterwards she lived a correct life she was restored to the membership and the affection of the church. It must not be supposed that the Separate Baptist churches of North Carolina were as a whole made up of
[p. 413]
people of an inferior social rank, as they were said to be in Virginia.27 Even in the eastern section of the State they did not seem to merit Tryon's contemptuous reference to them. In Onslow, for instance, practically the whole population were Baptists, and the minister of the New River church, Elder Ezekiel Hunter, was an influential member of the Assembly. Further west, in Chatham and Surry, except for Quakers the Separate Baptists had proselyted the whole population. Though much depleted by emigration, the population of these counties has remained constant in character from the earliest days. For the most part the people are industrious, law-abiding, contented farmers who own their own land, and have all the virtues of the sturdy, self-respecting settlers from whom they descended. Their young men have fought in all our country's wars. They were at Vera Cruz and Buena Vista, at Malvern Hill and Gettysburg.
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27 Gewehr, The Great Awakening in Virginia, 115, says, "The Separate Baptists occupied in the popular mind a very definite social status. They had the reputation of being the meanest of the mean -- a poor, illiterate, ignorant and awkward set of enthusiasts." Although this judgment was not altogether justified yet it prevailed at the time.
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[From George W. Paschal, History of North Carolina Baptists, Volume I, pp. 394-413. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]