The 1896 sanctuary of Watson Memorial Methodist Church shown here was still in use in 1994.
The horseman galloped into the clearing where campfires surrounding the brush arbor flickered in the cloudless dusk. He was Peter Doub, Presiding Elder of the Franklin Circuit of the Yadkin District of the Methodist Episcopal Church, who arrived on a typically hot July day to conduct a four-day camp meeting in 1826. In those days it was not unusual for a hundred converts to “respond to God's word” by joining the Methodist movement during such a four-day camp meeting revival.
It was largely due to the efforts of Circuit Riders such as the great Peter Doub that Methodism took root and literally exploded in Pittsylvania County between 1820 and 1840.
However, the movement had its beginnings in the 18th century and the Colonials most responsible for bringing Methodism to Pittsylvania were the Carters. Thomas Carter of Cumberland County (for whom a local chapter of the DAR is named) was a member of the Continental Army who moved his family to Pittsylvania after independence was achieved.
He and his wife Winnefred founded the plantation home “Green Rock” on Green Rock Branch of Cherrystone Creek. Back in her Cumberland County home, she had been a follower of Francis Asbury, the first Methodist Bishop sent to American by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism in England.
Winnefred wore a letter to the great Asbury inviting him to include “Green Rock” in his itinerary. Sure enough, the indefatigable Asbury arrived at the Carter home in September of 1799 and entered the following in his journal on the 26th:
“On Friday, we rode twelve miles to Carters (Thomas Carter of Green Rock) where a large company attended.”
Being a man of low stature, Asbury needed something upon which to stand. The most convenient object available was one of Thomas Carter's leather covered liquor cases. Carter found the incident amusing. His wife did not, and saw to it that a portable pulpit was constructed for the use of all future visiting Methodist Circuit Riders.
Early 19th [century] Methodist Circuit Riders spent much time in Pittsylvania while traversing its pioneer roads and fording its streams in scorching summer heat and in bitter winter cold in search of lost souls.
One of the “Horsemen of the Long Road” was the aforementioned Peter Doub who was born in nearby Stokes County, N.C. He was Presiding Elder of the Franklin Circuit in the old Yadkin District. As such, his circuit reached from the Blue Ridge through Pittsylvania County to the Halifax line. There were more than thirty churches on the circuit being served by three preachers. Six weeks were required for Doub to complete one round.
One of these churches, Hebron Meeting House, was founded by Doub in 1827. It was a log structure built on the pioneer road leading from Pittsylvania Court House to Franklin County. The exact location of old Hebron cannot be determined but it is known to have been near the site of present day Hargrave Military Academy. Hebron was built on a three quarter acre tract of land donated by Robert and Catherine Wilson, who were early Methodists. One of the Hebron Board of Trustees who acknowledged receipt of the deed and agreed to its provisions was Jeduthen Carter, a grandson of Thomas and Winnefred Carter.
Peter Doub went on to become a professor at Duke University, the founder of the first Methodist church built in Greensboro and the founder of Greensboro College — a Methodist institution.
The log structure served this congregation for seventeen years before being moved to its present site in what was at that time the village of Competition.
A sanctuary was completed in 1844 and another was built in 1876. Members of the Watson family assumed an important role in the leadership of the church during those years. Thomas Jefferson Watson and Fletcher Bangs Watson and their progeny were responsible for much of the church's success.
Eventually, the church was named Christian Memorial in honor of John E. Christian who married Lizzie Watson of that prominent family. He became a professor at Virginia Tech and its interim President in 1886.
When the cornerstone of the present sanctuary was laid in 1896, it was named Watson Memorial in recognition of the support given it by this devoted family.
1994 represents the Sesquicentennial year of the location of the church in the Town of Chatham. It should not be forgotten that it was founded by a remnant of old Hebron whose roots lay in some camp meetings more than 167 years ago. Its heritage is a proud one because of the life of its founder, Peter Doub, and because of the records of scores of outstanding Circuit Riders, latter day competent pastors and dedicated laymen.
Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills
Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills
Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On
Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse
Clement: History of Pittsylvania County
Fitzgerald: Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past
Hurt: Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County
Hurt: An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County
Dodson: Footprints from the Old Survey Books
Byrd: Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina
Jones: Tales About People in a Small Town
Herman Melton's online articles are hosted by Mitchells Publications.
Copyright © 1994–2005 Herman E. Melton.