‘A rich repository of religious dissent’ indeed

“By 1750 Baptists had built more churches [in North Carolina] than Anglicans, and they joined with Quakers and Presbyterians, with Moravians and German Reformed, to make that colony a rich repository of religious dissent….

“One especially acerbic Anglican cleric, Charles Woodmason (c. 1720-1776)…  found himself in something of a guerrilla war with backcountry dissenters. They mocked him, stole his horse and noisily disrupted his preaching, ‘halloing and whooping’ outside the church doors. They tore down the handbills announcing the places and times of his worship services and sometimes even put up fake ones to misdirect the Anglican faithful. At one point some hooligans broke into one of his churches and placed a pile of ‘their Excrements on the Communion Table.’…

“Woodmason’s sense of true religious order was doomed. Baptists, spurred by the ongoing simmering of evangelical revival and the gathering strength of revolutionary politics, raced all across North Carolina and eventually through all of the South.”

— From “The Religious History of America” by Edwin Scott Gaustad and Leigh Eric Schmidt (2002)

Gaustad, who died March 24 at age 87, is remembered by Bill Leonard, professor of church history at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity.

‘The most barbarous place in the Continent’

“The London-based Society [for the Propagation of the Gospel] sent the first missionary to North Carolina in 1704, John Blair, a graduate of Glasgow College. On his arrival in the province he observed that the population was ‘exceedingly scattered’ and the people ‘backward in religious matters and little disposed to assist in the support of a minister of the Church of England.’

“After a brief period he returned to England ‘enfeebled with poverty and sickness,’ having found North Carolina ‘the most barbarous place in the Continent.’ ”

– From “A War of Religion: Dissenters, Anglicans and the American Revolution” by James B. Bell (2008)