Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

View All Posts

Dec 23

African American Church History in Iredell County

Posted on December 23, 2019 at 1:56 PM by Iredell County Public Library

Church records can be a wonderful source of information. I have found Moravian records mentioning my ancestors as early as 1771 and again the Baptist records of the Three Forks Baptist church in 1790 Watauga County. These records can paint a picture of these people and the times they lived in. Brother George Soelle was an ordained Moravian minister of the Unity of Brethren. In his diaries he describes going on horseback to minister to the non-Moravian settlers living on the frontier west of Salem. He often stopped at the home of “old father Ries” who had taken refuge in Bethania during the French and Indian War. Of Jacob Ries and his son Valentine, Soelle says, “The people about here are wild, and Valentine has a good deal to endure from their jeers, because of his religious tendencies.” These same wild people though would travel for miles by foot to fill up Jacob’s house to hear Soelle preach and to have their children baptized.

The Iredell County Public Library Local History Dept. maintains a collection of Church History Files containing newspaper articles, newsletters, programs and church histories on more than 219 churches in Iredell County. In addition, we have 32 reels of microfilm of early Iredell County church records. Family bibles is where many of our ancestors recorded their genealogy by writing down names with birth, marriage, and death dates. Irene and Russell Black published a book abstracting the information gathered from bible records in Iredell County. The book titled, “Family Bibles and Family Records from the files of the Genealogical Society of Iredell County and other sources,” contains 400 bible and family records. The State Archives of N.C. and the State Library of N.C. are digitizing family records and have put 1,500 N.C. bible records online at http://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/digital/ncfamilyrecords.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 6:30 p.m. the library will host a free concert performed by The Healing Force who will present music, storytelling, and drumming using traditional African instruments. Local historian and educator Phyllis Bailey will be presenting a program at the library on “The Black Churches in Iredell County” on Saturday, Feb. 6, at 2 p.m. Her photo presentation will focus on the history of black churches in Iredell County prior to 1950. One of the first acts of freedom taken by the newly freed slaves in 1865 was to start their own churches and schools. In 1865 Rev. Sidney Murkland and the black members of Bethany Presbyterian Church withdrew to form Freedom Presbyterian the first black church to serve the southeast. They also opened up Bethany the first black school in Iredell County on land owned by Murkland. On Oct. 4, 1866 Rev. Sidney S. Murkland, Rev. Samuel C. Alexander, and Rev. Willis L. Miller met on the spot where Freedom now stands and organized the Catawba, the first Synod for African-Americans in the country. Freedom is also the site for the first black Presbytery called the Yadkin.

By 1869 the Presbyterian Churches of Freedom, Pittsburg, Logan, Cameron, New Centre, Mt. Tabor, and Statesville had also formed in Iredell County. In 1869 the Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church was built on Center Street near the depot. In 1880 Shiloh AME Zion Church was organized in the Belmont area. Researchers have found deeds for AME churches near Rocky Creek and Siloam. First Baptist Church on Garfield St. was organized in April 1874. It later moved to the corner of Garfield and Green Streets. Then in 1967 it was moved again to the corner of Garfield and the Old Salisbury Rd. New Friendship Baptist Church was organized in 1896. Mt. Nebo Baptist was established in 1870 near Harmony. Keaton’s Grove Baptist near Liberty Hill and St. James Baptist Church in Troutman were also early black Baptist churches.

Records of slaves attending churches are found in Iredell County in Presbyterian, Methodist Episcopal, and other denominations. The Bethany Presbyterian Church rolls list 44 slaves both male and female starting in April 1828. The Methodist Episcopal Church South, Salisbury District, Iredell Circuit, shows 297 black members from 1834 to 1841. Snow Creek Methodist listed 76 black members in 1850.


Joel Reese, Local History Librarian

Iredell County Public Library

This article was published in the Statesville Record and Landmark in February 2016