During the month of January, my wife and I traveled through the Southeast U.S. to visit some of the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches to share our World Outreach ministry needs and objectives. In three weeks we drove 3200 miles through 7 states and had meetings in over a dozen cities. Generally when we travel we especially love to take time to visit historical sites, historical districts in old cities and history museums along our route. Sometimes we will even go out-of-our-way to seek historical and informative sites to visit. This trip was no exception.
I LOVE TO VISIT HISTORY
Over the years our travels have taken us to a variety of places marking Native American dwellings, early settlers to America, Revolutionary War sites, Civil War sites and a number of museums and sites commemorating past events. We’ve been known to stop at every historical marker in route turning a two hour drive into three or four hours! One of our favorite drives is along the Natchez Trace, a 444-mile drive from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS through exceptional scenery and 10,000 years of North American history. Travels west have taken us to ancient Indian dwellings in Arizona and New Mexico, legendary places like Tombstone (yes, there really is a boot hill cemetery) and abandoned ghost towns in California, Arizona and New Mexico. In Eastern ventures we have loved walking the streets of older cities like Williamsburg, Savannah or Charleston and reading the markers on the notable homes and buildings. We have toured Revolutionary War locations like Kings Mountain, Cowpens and Yorktown. We have visited Civil War sites such as Shiloh, Vicksburg, Kennesaw Mountain, and Appomattox. Even in many small towns across America, we have often parked in the town square and simply walked around the square to read the various signs and markers and discover the unique history of the community. One such small town was Covington, TN where they do indeed still have a statue of the Ten Commandments in front of the courthouse!
During our January trip, we managed to visit a couple of new places for us:
A visit with Myrtle Grove Presbyterian Church (EPC) took us to Wilmington, NC.
“As pleasant and delectable to behold, as is possible to imagine…” is how Giovanni da Verrazano described the Cape Fear region to the French King Francis I after he reportedly became the first European to explore the region back in 1524.
The port city of Wilmington, NC, located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River, was settled in the 1720s. Wilmington’s commercial importance as a major port afforded it a critical role in opposition to the British in the years leading up to the Revolution. Additionally, the city was home to outspoken political leaders who influenced and led the resistance movement in North Carolina. The foremost of these was Wilmington resident Cornelius Harnett, who served in the General Assembly at the time, where he rallied opposition to the Sugar Act in 1764. When the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act the following year, designed to raise revenue for the King with another tax, Wilmington was the center of a series of demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience against it, ultimately resulting in the repeal of the Stamp Act by Parliament in 1766.
During the Civil War, Wilmington was one of the most important points of entry for supplies for the entire Confederate States. Its port traded cotton and tobacco in exchange for foreign goods, such as munitions, clothing and foodstuffs. These cargoes were transferred to railroad cars and sent from the city throughout the Confederacy. This nourished both the southern states in general and specifically General Robert E. Lee’s forces in Virginia. The trade was dependent on the British smugglers and their blockade runner ships, called so because they had to avoid the Union’s imposed maritime barricade. After three small engagements (see Fort Anderson below) along the Cape Fear River, Wilmington was captured by Union forces in the Battle of Wilmington in February 1865, cutting off a valuable resource for Confederate supplies.
Wilmington is also the permanent home of the WWII battleship USS North Carolina. We could see her birthed across the river from our motel room. Just outside the motel back door, we could access the one-mile long Riverwalk that runs along the river with lots of historical markers, eateries and the Coast Guard port for the USCGC cutter Diligence. One block off the river was the historic downtown area where we saw a number of old homes, enjoyed a couple of adult beverages and ate dinner.
Before leaving the Wilmington area we stopped for a short visit at the old Brunswick Town Historical District.
The Brunswick Town Historic District contains the ruins of 18th-century commercial and residential colonial homes, the St. Philip’s Church Ruins, Fort Anderson, and Russellborough, the former governor’s mansion. Brunswick Town, settled in 1726, was a major pre-Revolutionary port razed by British troops in 1776 and never rebuilt.
During the Civil War, Fort Anderson was constructed atop the old town site, and served as part of the Cape Fear River defenses below Wilmington. An anonymous artilleryman of Company E, 36th North Carolina Regiment gave the following report for The Wilmington Journal on May28, 1863:
“We have at length, by the sweat of our brows, and the power of our bone and muscle, completed one of the most formidable batteries in the Southern Confederacy. Guided and sustained by the energy and perseverance of Major [John J.] Hedrick, commanding (who is a good commander and a gentleman to boot), we have put up a work which will compare favorably with any work of its kind in the county, and now only want certain additions to our armament to feel confident of being able to defy all Yankeedom to reach Wilmington by this route. We have, up to this time, done our full duty in building fortifications for the defense of Wilmington, as well as for the protection of our homes and firesides, our wives and children, and of most of all near and dear to us. If the enemy should ever approach us here, we intend to give him a warm reception. With the help of God, we intend to stand by our guns until the last man falls, or gain the victory.”
Well, after all that confidence, in February 1865, Union forces positioned to attack Fort Anderson. Federals attacked from the land and river. After three days of fighting, the Confederates evacuated the fort in the cover of night. The union forces attacked the next day to find the fort abandoned. So much for all the “until the last man falls” bragging!
During our January trip we also had the chance to revisit Savannah, GA, Charleston, SC, Corinth, MS and Vicksburg, MS. It’s always a treat to visit these historic cities where we seem to always discover something interesting every time we are there.
A HISTORICAL CHURCH TOUR WAS UNEXPECTED
What we did not anticipate on this trip was the number of churches that we visited that turned out to be historical testimonials as well as the home of our EPC congregations. While many of the churches we visited have colorful histories, I particularly want to share the stories of five of the churches.
Now I am NOT a historian in any fashion but I do like to share stories. Over the next weeks or so, I will add to Reflections several individual stories of EPC churches in or near Charleston, SC; Charlotte, NC; Huntsville, AL; Corinth, MS; and Vicksburg, MS. I found the accounts of these churches fascinating for not only the historical content but also for the resolve and devotion of the churches. Most of the church history is from the church websites sprinkled with some area history that I have researched and blended into the telling. I will also include photos that I have taken as well as some historical images. I hope you will come back to Reflections and read along and learn not just about the church’s history but also a little about the area where they reside. some of the stories will be on the longer side. In fact, one of them will be in two parts. They will be laced with links to interesting sites and stories that I hope you will want to follow to get deeper into the stories. If you are part of the EPC I think you will enjoy learning about other churches in our denomination. If you are not a part of the EPC, I hope you will enjoy simply learning about history and the life and times of people of the past.