Antrim Parish, Halifax County 1752-1767

By Maud Carter Clement, Chatham, Virginia, 1952.

Great Britain's policy in the settlement and development of Virginia, her first American colony, was to have the Church and State go hand in hand. As settlement pushed westward and new counties were organized, church parishes were set up co-extensive with the counties, that the pioneer settler might have the care and ministration of the church.

The Virginia church labored under the disadvantage of never having a resident bishop, the entire colony being assigned to the care and jurisdiction of the Bishop of London. Note: When Pittsylvania became a county the first resident minister of the parish, James Stevenson, was compelled to make the long voyage to London for ordination.

When Halifax became a county in May, 1752, it extended westward to the Blue Ridge Mountains and embraced within its area the present counties of Pittsylvania, Henry, Patrick and the southern half of Franklin. The new parish of Halifax was named Antrim, no doubt for County Antrim, which forms the northeast corner of Ireland across the Irish channel from Scotland. It is one of the six counties which make up Portestant Ulster, the rest of Ireland being strongly Roman Catholic.

County Antrim, Ireland

County Antrim is famed for the beauty of its glens, steep wooded valleys through which dash mountain streams on their way to the sea. The home of the present Earl of Antrim is situated at the mouth of Glenarm. Irish Antrim has played an important part in the spread of Christianity, and her history holds a deep interest for us.

When St. Patrick, the son and grandson of clergymen of Wales, was kidnapped, he was carried to Antrim where he was held in slavery for six years, tending swine and cattle. It was during these lonely years in the open, at the foot of Mt. Slemish (near the present city of Ballymena), that Patrick's deep spiritual life developed. Upon his escape he made his way to France where he studied in the monastery of St. Lehrins for several years. He determined to carry the Gospel Message back to Pagan Ireland, and his efforts through the years there met with remarkable success, converting and baptizing kings and chieftans as well as thousands of the people. He established all through Ireland monasteries which were in fact religious communities of men, women and children, gathered together for religious study, education and training. These monastery centers were noted for a high degree of scholarship and a religious life of great vitality. "From them for centuries streams of influence issued to Scotland, England and European countries. From them Irish monks, missionaries and scholars went forth, and to them came students from many lands" (Latourette, Volume 2).

The famous Iona Monastery, on the Island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland, was founded in 565 by St. Columba and twelve other Irish Christians. In time the fierce Picts of Scotland and the pagan Anglo-Saxons of North England were converted to Christianity. Note: A stone from the choir of the Iona Cathedral is one of the treasured relics of the Washington Cathedral.

From English monasteries went forth missionary sons who carried the light of Christianity to German countries, the Low Countries, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. English scholars aided in the "rebirth" of learning in Europe, following the Dark Ages. The English scholar, Alcuin of York, upon the invitation of the Emperor Charlemagne, founded the University of Paris about 800 A. D. Note: Alcuin's memory is kept fresh in England today through the work of the Alcuin Club, a group of earnest churchmen who sponsor the publication of religious literature.

This great spread of Christianity and Christian culture grew out of six lonely years spent in County Antrim.

Antrim also holds interest for us in our secular history. The grandparents of Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, lived in Carrichfergus, Antrim, and a small inheritance from them enabled their grandson across the Atlantic to spend some time in the cultured city of Charleston, South Carolina. Also in a harbor of Antrim, John Paul Jones, founder of the American Navy, fought a battle with His Majesty's Ship Drake and forced it to surrender.

When the county of Halifax was established and a name sought for the new parish, Antrim must have been suggested by some Scotch-Irishman who thought longingly of his faraway homeland. Note: The family of Mr. Edward Martin, Emmanuel Chatham, has a present link with Antrim, Ireland, for Mr. Martin's grandfather, the Rev. John Henry Martin, D. D., was an Antrim clergyman. He served as curate of St. Geroge's, Belfast, and was for many years rector of Resharkin Parish (near the city of Ballymena), where he was buried in the ancient church graveyard.

Antrim Parish

However great were the bounds of a parish, the vestry arranged for worship throughout its extent. Besides the regularly appointed services conducted by the minister of the parish, on those Sundays when he was engaged elsewhere the service of the church of England was read in churches, chapels and in private homes in neighborhoods in which no church building had been erected. These churchmen, known as lay [r]eaders, were appointed by the vestries and received 100 pounds of tobacco a year for their services.

Vestrymen of Antrim

The vestry meetings of Antrim Parish were held at the Court House, then located at Peytonsburg in the eastern part of what later became Pittsylvania County.

In the list of early vestrymen of Antrim Parish there were eight members whose homes lay in the western part of the parish which later became Pittsylvania and Camden Parish. They were Thomas Callaway, Thomas Dillard, James Dillard, John Donelson, Peter Wilson, Samuel Harris, Hugh Innes, and Archibald Gordon. These were the first vestrymen of the church in our section of Virginia, giving of themselves and their time in a devoted service which should not be forgotten. They should be more than just names to us, so let us pause for a moment and consider them. They were all men of substance, ability and education, and took a leading part not only in the church's life, but also in the civil and military life of the section. All with the exception of one (James Dillard), served as justices of the peace, presiding over the monthly county courts.

Thomas Callaway was from Spottsylvania County and a brother of Colonel William and Richard Callaway of Bedford County, all early settlers. During the French and Indian War Thomas was captain of Hickey's Fort, one of the three built in the county for the protection of the inhabitants against Indian attacks. He moved south in later years.

Thomas and James Dillard were from King and Queen County, and had recently settled here, making their home on Straightstone Creek. James was captain of a company of militia during the French and Indian War.

John Donelson was from eastern Maryland, and his maternal grandfather was the well known Presbyterian divine, the Rev. Samuel Davis of Snow Hill, Maryland. In 1744 he was patenting land here and made his home on Banister River. He served as county surveyor of both Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties. His youngest daughter Rachel became the wife of President Andrew Jackson.

Peter Wilson was a Scotch-Irishman who in 1746 was patenting land in Dan River Valley where he made his home, a few miles above the present city of Danville. He also was captain of a company of militia in the French and Indian War. His descendants are active churchmen today.

Samuel Harris, of Hanover County, was also active in the war, serving as commissary of the three forts in western Halifax. He represented Halifax county in the House of Burgesses. In later years he became the most distinguished Baptist minister in Virginia.

Hugh Innes, a lawyer by profession, was the son of James Innes of Richmond County, a native Scotchman; and a nephew of the Rev. Robert Innes of Caroline. He settled on Pigg River in what is now southern Franklin County. Hugh Innes and John Donelson were members of the House of Burgesses during those crucial years leading up to the Revolutionary War.

Colonel Archibald Gordon was a native of Scotland and lived in the southern part of Frankilin near the Henry County line. He never married and took a keen interest in county affairs, his name often being signed to the minutes of the county courts. A friend said of him, "he was very honest and correct in all his dealings."

Archibald Gorden and Hugh Innes lived some thirty or forty miles from Peytonsburg, the court-house, where the vestry meetings were held, yet they accepted appointments to the vestry, and served. Attending a vestry meeting meant a weary day's horseback ride through winter's rain, snow and mud, and summer's dust and heat. A Scotchman's zeal for his church is worthy of our emulation.

Early Churches of Western Antrim

Due to the loss by fire of the early parish records we do not have a detailed account of those first years of Antrim. And it is the history of the first fifteen years in which we are more deeply interested, for with 1767 we became Camden Parish, with its own vestry records. Thus our chief source of information becomes Bishop Meade's Old Churches and Families of Virginia, published 1857. In Volume 2, page 1, we read of Antrim: "When the first minister was settled among them (1753), he was required to officiate at six different places at no one of which was there a church or a chapel, though at some of them buildings were about to be erected. Four were ordered at some of the earliest meetings of the vestry, and others afterwards. One of the places of readings is recognized as being on Pigg River, in Franklin County that now is."

Fourteen years later when Pittsylvania and Camden had been established, we find that there were chapels on Snow Creek and Potter's Creek of Pigg River, which were in regular use for Sunday worship. These chapels had been built while a part of Antrim Parish; and were no doubt located on that very early thoroughfare, the Pigg River Road, leading by Green Bay, Crafts, and on into southern Frankilin. We surmise that it was due to the interest and influence of those neighboring vestrymen, Hugh Innes and Archibald Gordon, that these two chapels were located in the far western section of the parish.

An early chapel had also been erected on Leatherwood Creek (now Henry County) which was no doubt served by Hickey's Road which led to the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Patrick county. When Camde Parish was formed the Snow Creek chapel and the Leatherwood chapel were ordered to be replaced with regular church buildings, which was done under the direction of Hugh Innes and William Witcher, vestrymen.

The location of another early church of Antrim Parish is shown on the dividing line between Halifax and Pittsylvania which was run in 1767 by John Donelson, when Pittsylvania was cut from Halifax. This was St. Andrews church, situated on Hickey's Road where it crossed the county line. (See Clement's History of Pittsylvania, p. 98.) It seems strange that no early church was located in Dan Valley, which was settled at an early period and through which ran the first established road of the county. But Peter Wilson died in 1764, and Samuel Harris embraced the Baptist faith then being introduced into the county, and there was no vestryman left to represent the Valley's interests.

The first resident minister of Antrim Parish was the Rev. James Foulis who served until 1759. He was succeeded in 1764 by the Rev. Alexander Gordon, a Scotchman.

Today we gratefully commemorate the founding of Antrim Parish two hundred years ago, May 1752, when the Christian Church, which had been ministering to mankind for more than seventeen centuries, again expanded her borders and became a definite and organized part of the life of this new Virginia county.

— Vestry of Emmanuel Church, Chatham, Virginia, May 1952


Related Book

(Available from the sponsor.)

History of Pittsylvania County, Virginia

Maud Carter Clement: History of Pittsylvania County, Virginia (1929)

This website is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, Virginia. (See also guides to Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville.)