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Presbyterians in North Carolina

Race, Politics, and Religious Identity in Historical Perspective

Walter H. Conser

Publication Year: 2012

This volume is the first comprehensive overview of North Carolina Presbyterians to appear in more than a hundred years. Drawing on congregational and administrative histories, personal memoirs, and recent scholarship—while paying close attention to the relevant social, political, and religious contexts of the state and region—Walter Conser and Robert Cain go beyond older approaches to denominational history by focusing on the identity and meaning of the Presbyterian experience in the Old North State from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries.
    Conser and Cain explore issues as diverse as institutional development and worship experience; the patterns and influence of race, ethnicity, and gender; and involvement in education and social justice campaigns. In part 1 of the book, “Beginnings,” they trace the entrance of Presbyterians—who were legally considered dissenters throughout the colonial period—into the eastern, central, and western sections of the state. The authors show how the Piedmont became the nexus of Presbyterian organizational development and examine the ways in which political movements, including campaigns for American independence, deeply engaged Presbyterians, as did the incandescence of revivalism and agitation for reform, which extended into the antebellum period.
    The book’s second section, “Conflict, Renewal, and Reunion,” investigates the denominational tensions provoked by the slavery debate and the havoc of the Civil War, the soul searching that accompanied Confederate defeat, and the rebuilding efforts that came during the New South era. Such important factors as the changing roles of women in the church and the decline of Jim Crow helped pave the way for the eventual reunion of the northern and southern branches of mainline Presbyterianism. By the arrival of the new millennium, Presbyterians in North Carolina were prepared to meet future challenges with renewed confidence.
    A model for modern denominational history, this book is an astute and sensitive portrayal of a prominent Protestant denomination in a southern context.

Walter H. Conser Jr. is professor of religion and professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. His books include A Coat of Many Colors: Religion and Society along the Cape Fear River of North Carolina and God and the Natural World: Religion and Science in the Natural World.

Before his retirement after thirty-two years of service, Robert J. Cain was head of the Colonial Records Branch at the North Carolina State Archives. He is the editor of The Colonial Records of North Carolina, second series.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. xi-xviii

On June 10, 1983, the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) and the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA) reunited. Dating back 122 years to disputes over slavery and the Civil War, the PCUS (the “Southern” church) and the UPCUSA (the “Northern church”) voted to heal their breach at a meeting in Atlanta of the two groups’ annual assemblies...

Part One: Beginnings

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1. Old World Origins and New World Horizons

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pp. 1-30

Europeans first settled on the coastal plain of North Carolina, and Presbyterians eventually established their first congregations in this tidewater region. Punctured by inlets and encompassing wide and shallow sounds that catch the waters of all the mainland rivers except the Cape Fear River, the terrain of the tidewater and coastal plain is generally sandy, covered with pine forests, and supported...

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2. Atlantic World Bonds and Backcountry Settlers

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pp. 31-46

The heartland of Presbyterianism in colonial North Carolina was the central portion of the present state, a broad swath of gently rolling upland running diagonally from northeast to southwest. From its eastern boundary beginning at the fall line some 125 to 150 miles from the coast, the Piedmont plateau extends westward to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, encompassing 35 percent...

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3. Revivalism, Reform, and Rancor in the Antebellum Piedmont

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pp. 47-78

In the decades between the achievement of America’s independence from Great Britain and North Carolina’s announcement of its separation from the United States of America to join the Confederacy, the Piedmont of North Carolina experienced significant new developments offset by remarkable ranges of continuity. Political power remained under the sway of sectional factionalism, though...

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4. Limited and Late

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pp. 79-110

Many commentators have celebrated the beauty of the western North Carolina landscape. From the rolling hills of the state’s middle region, the land rises, presenting the viewer with blue-misted mountain ranges that shimmer like a series of majestic terrestrial waves. Rhododendron and mountain laurel frame scenes of waterfalls cascading down gorges and through valleys to the broad expanse of the Piedmont plateau below. Yet this idyllic area has been plagued with challenges...

Part Two: Conflict, Renewal, and Reunion

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5. Both Read the Same Bible and Prayed to the Same God

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pp. 113-134

On December 4, 1861, delegates from forty-seven Southern presbyteries (including Orange, Concord, and Fayetteville presbyteries in North Carolina) gathered in Augusta, Georgia, to form the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America. It was a bittersweet moment. Clearly, sectional animosity had grown to the point that eleven states had already seceded from the...

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6. Out from the Gloomy Past

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pp. 135-160

The aftermath of emancipation promised a new era for Southern blacks, including black Presbyterians. With the Confederacy militarily defeated and Southern society prostrated, resentment by Southern whites against blacks was palpable, and reluctance by local whites to assist blacks was equally evident. Nevertheless, for ex-slaves in North Carolina it was a time enriched with biblical stories of...

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7. Rebuilding in the Era of the New South

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pp. 161-188

In the aftermath of the Civil War, the Presbyterian Church in North Carolina could be looked upon as a virtual casualty of the strife. In 1865 the church was in shambles, with vacant pulpits, smaller congregations, reduced funds, and an uncertain outlook. Nevertheless, over the next seventy-five years institutional replacement would take place; church extension, both within North Carolina and in foreign missions, would occur; and the role of women would resume its...

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8. A New Church in a New Era

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pp. 189-220

In the decades spanning the end of World War II and the beginning of the twenty-first century, North Carolina and the Presbyterian Church experienced tremendous challenges. As in any dynamic society, forces for change contended with those of stasis. The civil rights and feminist movements garnered the most headlines, but deeper structures of custom, institution, and heritage—indeed, of racial, gender, and religious identity—were at stake. The economic face of the state...

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Suggested Readings

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pp. 221-232

For discussion of North Carolina’s religious and social development in this era, including that of the Presbyterian Church, see Walter H. Conser Jr., A Coat of Many Colors: Religion and Society along the Cape Fear River of North Carolina (Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2006); David I. Craig, A History of the Development of the Presbyterian Church in North Carolina...


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pp. 233-251

E-ISBN-13: 9781572338845
E-ISBN-10: 1572338849
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572338494
Print-ISBN-10: 1572338490

Page Count: 260
Publication Year: 2012