Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Charles Woodmason & the Backcountry Presbyterians

Charles Woodmason, an Anglican itinerant minister, was sent into the Carolina backcountry as a missionary in the 1760s. He stated that the congregation in the Waxhaws was "most surprisingly thick settled beyond any Spot in England . . . Seldom less than 9, 10, 1200 People assemble of a Sunday." With populations centered around the meetinghouses, the churches quickly became religious and social centers in the back country Scots-Irish stronghold.
The Anglican Church, official church of the Carolina colonies, began taking notice of the ever increasing population of Presbyterians in the back country. In an effort to convert them to the "correct religion," a number of Anglican ministers were sent into the area. Charles Woodmason was one of these, and he recorded his observations and judgments of the backcountry residents. The majority of Woodmason's criticism was, as you might expect, reserved primarily for the Presbyterians, whom he referred to as those ". . . Ignorant, mean, worthless, beggarly Irish Presbyterians, the Scum of the Earth, and Refuse of Mankind." Woodmason also made mention of arriving at a Presbyterian meetinghouse which "had a large Congragation [sic] - but according to Custom, one half of them got drunk before they went home" that evening from the service.
The Presbyterians apparently did not think much of Woodmason either. On one occasion, Woodmason was attempting to deliver a sermon to an assembled group, "But the Service was greatly interrupted by a Gang of Presbyterians who kept halooing and whooping without [the] Door like Indians." On another occasion "they hir'd a Band of rude fellows to come to Service who brought with them 57 Dogs (for I counted them) which in Time of Service they set fighting, and I was obliged to stop." When everything had quieted down, Woodmason tried to continue, and again the service was interrupted. He further explained his situation in not seeking charges against this band of ruffians "as all the Magistrates are Presbyterians, [and] I could not get a Warrant—if I got Warrants as the Constables are Presbyterians likewise, I could not get them serv'd—If serv'd, the Guard would let them escape."

(Source: Charles Woodmason, (Richard Hooker, ed.), The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution: The Journal and Other Writings of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant, Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1953)