Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Bethesda Presbyterian Church History (York, SC) 1769 – 1864

Bethesda0001The following article appeared in a series of articles written by A.M. Grist publisher and editor of the Yorkville Enquirer at York, S.C. This paper was established in 1855 by Mr. Grist’s father.  After the death of his father, his brother took the helm and was a purported great writer.  When the paper was ultimatley passed down to him, A. M. felt inadequate to fill his brother’s shoes. He worked energetically and worried so much that he suffered a nervous breakdown. The doctor told him to stay away from the newspaper office, get out in the country. Mr. Grist began taking long walks along the winding roads of York county, talking with the country folks–and writing a column of “Rolling Along” for his twice-a-week paper. This column became very popular, and was continued for years, building up a great circulation, as well as rebuilding the writer’s health and endearing him to everybody, old and young, in the whole county.  The following is one of those articles written in 1935.

Just A-Rolling Along the Way
Log of the Green Chevrolet As It Voyages Over More of York County
(Sketch of Bethesda Church)

In my story in the issue of December 19th I closed the Bethesda Church story with the removal in 1879 of the arbor used for the camp meetings that has been held here for many years previous to that time.  Now, using Mrs. Bratton’s historical sketch, I will go back and briefly review the story of Bethesda from its founding down through the years, but of course not giving the history, long and honorable, in full detail.

The church records available place the founding of Bethesda Church in 1769, five years later than the founding of Bethel along in the same year as Ebenezer and Bullocks Creek churches,  if I remember correctly. However, there had been more or less frequent preaching services held in the Bethesda community  long before 1769, and of course these preliminary services and preaching occasions gradually led up to the founding of the organized church. From the best records available the organization of Bethesda Church was effected by Rev. William Richardson, while he was stationed at the famous old Waxhaw church in Lancaster county.

Rev. Richardson Englishman. Coming to America he prepared for the ministry under Rev. Samuel Davis of Virginia, who was later president of Princeton College. Mr. Richardson, ordained in 1759, was sent as a missionary to the Cherokee Indian tribes of North Carolina. In 1761 he became a member of the South Carolina presbytery and began his ministry at Waxhaw, where he labored until 1771, extending his
services to the surrounding territory, including Bethesda.

Among the earliest ministerial supplies at Bethesda of which there is record, included Rev. Hezekiah J. Balch and Dr. James Alexander.  Rev. Balch was from Hartford county, Md.  He was ordained in 1770 and shortly afterwards came on a mission to the southern states. He was present and had an important part in the famous Mecklenburg convention of May 20, 1775.  His early death cut short a promising career.

The seal of North Carolina bears the date of the Mecklenburg Declaration.

The seal of North Carolina bears the date of the Mecklenburg Declaration.

The history of Bethesda for the next 25 years is rather remarkable. During this period it had the ministerial services of many men, some of them men of brilliant minds and much ability and sturdy patriots but not any of them became pastors of Bethesda church. 
Rev. Dr. James Alexander of Bullocks Creek, ardent Revolutionary patriot, and educator, frequently filled the pulpit at Bethesda. Rev. John Simpson, pastor of Fishing Creek,  also preached at Bethesda more or less often and in 1774 divided his time with Bethesda regularly, this arrangement continuing
for a number of years. He too was an active patriot and his privations and losses suffered at the hands of the British are of historical record.

It is interesting to note that the membership of Bethesda Church, and in fact the whole community was a unit in the matter of resistance to British tyranny.  Although there were a few of the type classified as half-Loyalists, and then were not connected with Bethesda church, and because of this fact the peace of the Bethesda community was never imperiled by what was a prolific source of trouble in other churches of that period.
The first pastor of Bethesda was the Rev. Robert B. Walker, who was ordained as pastor in 1794. He continued as pastor for 40 years. He came to the church in a dark period of the history of the community and the nation as well. The demoralizing effects of the bloody war for independence were yet visible.  The energies of the people were yet paralyzed. Under the leadership of Rev. Walker the church was lifted to prosperity and it made rapid growth.

Mr. Walker was a native of this state and he began and ended his ministerial labors at Bethesda and left a great monument to himself in the work he accomplished. He was succeeded by Rev. Cyrus Johnson, whose labors for five years were most fruitful. Among other things he instituted a systematic study of catechism. He divided the congregation into wards and these were regularly visited by the pastor and elders, and on these occasions all were catechized by the pastor.

Rev. Harper Caldwell was the next pastor of Bethesda, his pastorate continuing for seven years and became known as the period of “Bethesda’s afflictions.” There were four years of continuous sickness within the bounds of the church causing many deaths; the severe drought of 1845 fell in this period, and there were many of Bethesda’s communicants who migrated to western states. The youthful pastor became discouraged and having caught the spirit which transferred so many of his flock to other states, he followed the trend and removed to Mississippi.

Ebenezer Church (Rock Hill)

Ebenezer Church (Rock Hill)

It is interesting to note just here that in the period of 1795 to 1846, 52 years, Bethesda had but three pastors, Revs. Walker, Johnson and Caldwell, with one of them continuing for 40 years. Rev. Pierpont Edward Bishop in 1847 removed from Ebenezer to Yorkville, and then began serving Bethesda as stated supply, alternating with the Yorkville church until 1851, when he was installed pastor of Bethesda. He continued as Bethesda’s pastor for nine years not only preaching, but teaching as well with a pronounced degree of acceptability, love and success until pastoral relations were dissolved and he moved to

A few months later John Stitt Harris, student at Columbia Theological seminary, began serving Bethesda as stated supply. Six month later he was installed as pastor. He served with efficiency until November, 1864 when the relationship was ended by death. He was a brilliant young man of outstanding strength of character and so beloved that his untimely passing was a tragedy of the day.  He married a daughter of Dr. John S. Bratton and thus was the more closely identified with the Bethesda community.  His remains lie buried in Bethesda cemetery.

August 11, 2009 - Posted by | Bethesda Presbyterian Church History | , , , ,

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