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The Baptist Churches in Monroe County, West Virginia
By Oren F. Morton, 1916

John Alderson - Old Greenbrier Church - Indian Creek Church - Other Organizations

     THE Baptist Church appears to have a priority over others in establishing a definite local organization within the confines of Old Monroe. This fact and also the strong foothold of the denomination in this county are the direct result of the missionary labors of John Alderson.

     From his home on Linville Creek in Rockingham county, where he was pastor of a Baptist congregation, John Alderson began making trips to the Greenbrier River in 1775. In one of these he baptised John Griffith, Mrs. Keeney, and one other person. He soon concluded to make his home here, and did so in October, 1777. It was the dearth of pastoral work in this frontier region that moved him more than anything else. The times were wild and lawless, and there was a crying need of missionary effort. In going from point to point he was often attended by an armed escort. Some of the rough frontiersmen would declare they would keep him out of their stockades and blockhouses, but such threats were never carried into effect.

     In 1781 he organized the Old Greenbrier Church, the first Baptist organization west of the Alleghanies. The first members, including himself, numbered twelve. The others were Mary and Thomas Alderson, John, Joseph, Katharine, and Lucy Skaggs, Bailey, Ann, and James Wood, John Kippers, and John Sheppard. Two years later, a chrch building was decided upon, and it was built on an acre lot granted by William Morris. The church, 17 by 25 feet in size, was finished in 1784, but was decrepit in 1793, It is now represented by the present edifice in North Alderson. At first the new congregation considered itself a branch of the

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Linnville church, but in 1782 it connected itself with the Ketokton Association. Later it joined the Greenbrier Association, which was organized about 1801.

     Some of the members of this early church lived 30 miles away, and yet the records say they attended regularly. In 1785 the congregation decided by a unanimous vote that frolicking is not right. Next year it thus expressed itself on the slavery question: "Our church having but few (slaves), we hope our brethren will not think it hard if we lie neuter in this matter." Until 1856 there was rigid discipline. In 1848 it was voted an inconsistancy to save sap or make sugar on Sunday. Until 1820, the title "reverend" was not used. The minister was called the "laboring brother." So late as from 1854 to 1859 his salary was but $125, and it was paid in trade. When Sarah Alderson put a quarter of a dollar into the fund in 1805 it was considered a very large contribution. Yet in 1814 an ebb in religious interest was observed, and in 1830 the membership was only 29. The benevolences in 1848 were $22. During the twenty years previous to the close of the American war, it is recorded that there was great worldliness; that there was scarcely a meeting when some member was not under discipline. The vices most complained of were dancing, gambling, swearing, drunkenness, and immorality. In 1856 the church condemned checkers, violin playing, backgammon, shooting matches, and "rowdy and burlesque serenading." It had already - in 1850 - discountenanced the use of liquor as a beverage. In 1867 there is mention of "45 cents and some tallow collected" for lights. But with an easier financial condition the minister's salary was raised to $500 in 1885.

     John Alderson remained pastor until 1804. He was followed, consecutively, by James Ellison, James O. Alderson, Lewis Aiderson, James Remley, John P. Corron, William Margrave, Martin B. Bibb, Silas Livermore, Matthew Ellison, William Fisher. Theodore Given, Baylus Cade, Martin Bibb, B. H. Phillips, W. H. Adams, C. T. Kistner, P. G. Meath, Harvey McLaughlin, M. A Kelly, J. C. Killian, George E. Davis, J. W. Morgan.

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     We have not succeeded in securing full and complete data concerning the various church organizations of Monroe, whether of the Baptist or other denominations. In the absence of more than partial information we cannot give a comprehensive account of any. But so far as our knowledge goes the following congregations have sprung from the parent church at Alderson: Indian Creek, Red Sulphur, Sinks Grove, Peterstown, Broad Run, Rock Camp, Sweet Springs Valley, Oak Grove, and Pine Grove. In addition to these are the colored Baptist churches at Union and Ballard, and a few more church buildings are shared with other denominations.

     The Indian Creek Primitive Baptist church is the first offshoot in Monroe of the parent organization, and is the oldest within the present limits of the county. It dates from 1792. The original building was a plain log structure with no chimney and with an earth floor. In wintry weather the fires were made of bark in the middle of the floor. In time of Indian alarm sentries were stationed outside. And yet the worshippers often came long distances to the monthly meetings. One of the rules of the congregation was that "no member shall have liberty of laughing or whispering in the time of a public speech." There is sometimes mention of disorderly conduct of brethren in divine "sarvis." The brethren were occasionally "sighted" for "neglect to hear the church," or for joining some other communion. The second building was also of logs, but had a gallery and a puncheon floor. The third and present is a frame structure and stands in a bend of the creek a mile above Greenville. The first pastor was John Alderson, who was often assisted by Josiah Osborne of the Big Levels. He was succeeded after a short interval by James Ellison. In the early history of the church the male members were assessed 25 cents each for the benefit of the poor of the congregation. Any member failing to be in his seat three times in succession was made a subject of discipline. The washing of feet was discussed but never practiced. The communion service is held on the first Sunday in June. Thousands of people then gather under the broad roof or under the spreading trees. They begin to assemble early, and they come in almost every possible manner.

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Many of them bring dinner and horse feed, although services are held only in the morning and usually close before all have assembled.

     Red Sulphur Baptist church was organized in May, 1815, at the house of Benjamin Halstead and was at first called Union Baptist church. The first house of worship stood at the east end of the present iron bridge over Indian Creek. There was a stone chimney in the middle with a fireplace on each side. To avoid confusion the name was changed in 1845. The present church is a handsome white structure near Ballard.

     The second Baptist church on Indian was built about 1848 on the land of Samuel Phillips. Three years earlier a church was built in Union. It is now the property of a colored congregation. The church at Sinks Grove was also organized in 1845. Matthew Scott gave the land on which the church was built, and as it contained a beautiful grove he named the spot Sinks Grove. This name has since attached itself to the village near by. That at Peterstown followed in 1846.

     Broad Run church on Wolf Creek was the result of a petition for the establishing of a branch of Old Greenbrier church. The first building was log, and the first pastor, the Reverend M. F. Bibb, took charge in November, 1853. The present brick church was dedicated May 6, 1855. In 1908 the total membership had risen from 56 to 148, although in 1871 it was 283. Picnics and festivals are not permitted within the inclosure.

     Rock Camp, Sweet Springs Valley, and Pine Grove were organized in 1855, 1859, and 1870, respectively.

     The division between the Missionary and Primitive branches of the Baptist Church in Monroe took place about 1842.


[Oren Frederic Morton, A History of Monroe County, West Virginia, 1916, pp. 221-224. Document from Google Books. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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