The United Methodist Church traces its ancestry back to John Wesley, his brother Charles, and a group of Oxford University
(located in Oxford, England) students began an organization called “The Holy Club” in the 1730’s. Their fellow students
made fun of them calling them Methodists due to their methodical standards. The name was never changed. These originators
did not mean to create a new religion. In fact, the founders went to separate churches and would only hold classes for “The Holy
Club” once a week.
The founders werecomposed of Roman Catholics as well as Protestants, although most were Anglican
from the Church of England. The real purpose of “The Holy Group” was to grow spiritually and to put that spiritual growth
to practical purpose in making a better world by serving others.
An ordained Anglican priest, Wesley kept searching for a deep, heart–felt faith that seemed to elude him within the confines
of the Church of England. During as ill fated attempt at mission work in the colonies John Wesley met a group of Moravians
who had a truly heart–felt, deep confidence in God. It was just what he was looking for. When he returned to London, he began
attending services and Bible studies with the Moravians, and on May 24th, 1738, he had what he described as a “heart-warming
experience.” It was then that he knew, with confidence, the God loved him, that he was a forgiven person, that he was a recipient
of God’s grace. John Wesley’s experience came just days after his brother had had a similar experience, and together they began
to bring the good news to whoever needed to hear it.
Though both Wesley brothers were ordained ministers of the Church of England, they were barred from speaking in most of its
pulpits because of their evangelistic methods. They preached in homes, farm houses, barns, open fields, and wherever they found
Charles Wesley shared the good news primarily through his hymns, and is one of the most prolific hymn writers of all times. He
wrote approximately 6,500 hymns in his lifetime. Some of his familiar titles are “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Christ the Lord
is Risen Today,” and “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” In many ways, Methodism was as much of a singing movement as it was a
John Wesley did not set out to create a new church, but instead began several small faith–restoration groups within the Anglican
church called the “United Societies.” Soon however, Methodism spread and eventually became its own separate religion when the first
conference was held in 1744.
Organized Methodism in America began as a lay movement. Among its earliest leaders were Robert Strawbridge, an immigrant farmer
who organized work about 1760 in Maryland and Virginia, Philip Embury and his cousin, Barbara Ruckle Heck, (she is honored for
prodding Philip Embury to start preaching which marked the commencement of Methodism in the New World and gained her the title
“the mother of Methodism” in the New World) who began work in New York in 1766, and Captain Thomas Webb, whose labors were
instrumental in Methodist beginnings in
Barbara Ruckle Heck
Philadelphia in 1767. In 1768 the first American Methodist chapel was built, John Street Chapel, in New York City.
To strengthen the Methodist work in the colonies, John Wesley sent two of his lay preachers, Richard Boardman and Joseph Pilmore,
to America in 1769. Two years later Richard Wright and Francis Asbury were also dispatched by Wesley to support the growing
American Methodist societies.
Francis Asbury became the most important figure in early American Methodism. His energetic devotion to the principles of Wesleyan
theology, ministry, and organization shaped Methodism in America in a way unmatched by any other individual. Francis Asbury served
as a circuit rider (a traveling preacher, in those days, bishops served on the circuits alongside the other preachers) until his
death in 1816, 32 years after being consecrated as the leader of the American church, and 45 years after being sent to America by
John Wesley in 1771. He traveled as far north as Massachusetts (which included Maine at that time) and as far south as Georgia over
20 times each, and journeyed through New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North and South Carolina, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware,
Virginia and Tennessee between 45 and 80 times, depending on the territory. He did it all on horseback, which makes it even more
remarkable. The results of a circuit rider’s ministry was the formation of a Methodist church in every county of the 48 contiguous
States of the United States, something which still stands today.
Due to frontier conditions, anti–English feeling, and opposition from some Anglican clergy, Methodism spread rapidly through the
thirteen colonies. At the first annual conference of the Methodist societies in America in 1773, there were 10 preachers representing
six circuits and 1,160 members. By the end of the American Revolution there were 83 preachers, 43 circuits, between 200 and 300
local preachers and 14,988 members.
Within twenty years of reaching America, Methodism was strong enough to sever its original connections with the Church of England
and became an independent body. At a meeting in Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, Maryland (built in 1774 at 2200 St. Paul St.)
the last week of December 1784, the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized. Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke were chosen Superintendents
(later called bishops) and twelve elders were ordained. This conference was later referred to as the famous Christmas conference of
1784. This was the birth of American Methodism.
The Lovely Lane Methodist Church is considered the Mother Church of American Methodism. It grew rapidly in the young country as it
employed circuit riders, many of whom were laymen, to travel the mostly rural nation by horseback to preach the Gospel and to establish
churches until there was scarcely any village in the United States without a Methodist presence. The Methodist Episcopal Church rapidly
became the largest Protestant denomination in the country, with 4000 circuit riders by 1844.
In 1830, the Methodist Protestant Church split from the Methodist Episcopal Church over the issue of laity having a voice and vote
in the administration of the church, insisting that clergy should not be the only ones to have any determination in how the church
was to be operated. In 1844, the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church split into two conferences because of tensions
over slavery and the power of bishops in the denomination. Methodists in the Southern states formed the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
The two General Conferences, Methodist Episcopal Church (or northern section) and Methodist Episcopal Church, South remained separate
until the 1939 merger of these two denominations plus a third, the Methodist Protestant Church, the resulting church being known
as The Methodist Church. This uniting conference took place at First Methodist Church of Marion, Indiana. The church building is
currently the home of First United Methodist Church of Marion, Indiana.
Women were not given full rights and privileges within the church for many years. Laywomen were not permitted voting rights until
the early part of the twentieth century. Women were given full rights to serve as Elders (clergy given the right to preach and
administer the sacraments) in 1956.
On April 23, 1968, The United Methodist Church was created when The Evangelical United Brethren Church (represented by Bishop Reuben
H. Mueller) and The Methodist Church (represented by Bishop Lloyd Christ Wicke) joined hands at the constituting General Conference
in Dallas, Texas. With the words, “Lord of the Church, we are united in Thee, in Thy Church and now in The United Methodist Church.”
METHODISM IN NORTH CAROLINA
Reverend Joseph Pilmoor came as the first Methodist preacher in North Carolina. He preached on September 28, 1772 at Currituck
Courthouse. He used as his text: “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” This was the first Methodist sermon
on North Carolina soil.
After the service a man came up to Pilmoor and invited him to go to his home as his guest. This man was Colonel Hallowell Williams
from Currituck Courthouse. Brother Williams became the first Methodist layman to assist a Methodist preacher in North Carolina. Brother Williams was a prominent farmer, political
leader and colonel in the North Carolina militia. He accompanied Pilmoor to other preaching places near Currituck Courthouse.
Brother Pilmoor preached at Narrows Chapel on September 29, about twenty miles from Currituck Courthouse. After the service Pilmoor
wrote in his Journal as follows: “One poor old man came to me with tears in his eyes, thanking me for what he had heard, and begged
me to accept some money to help me along. I told him I was not in want, and begged him to excuse me, but nothing would satisfy him
without I would take it as a token of his Christian regard and love of Christ.” This was the first gift ever given to the Methodist
Church in North Carolina.
In less than three years the Methodists were having meetings where thousands gathered. On 30 July 1775, Thomas Rankin, the first
district superintendent, came to North Carolina. He wrote about a meeting that was held in Northampton County, as follows:
“On Tuesday, 30 July was our quarterly meeting. I scarce ever remember such a season, no chapel or preaching place in Virginia could
have contained one third of the congregation. Our friends, knowing this, have contrived to shade with boughs of trees a space that
could contain two or three thousand people.”
Through the work of such men as Robert Williams, Jesse Lee, John King, and Edward Dromgoole, Methodism made rapid gains in Virginia
and North Carolina. Williams had organized the first circuit in Virginia and the first society in North Carolina.
Higher education in American Methodism began on the soil of the North Carolina Conference. On 19 June 1780, two early Methodist
preachers, Francis Asbury and John Dickens were at Halifax, North Carolina. It was there that they drew up the plans for the first
Methodist college in America. Two North Carolina laymen, Brother Bustion and Gabriel Long, made the first gift for the Methodist
college that opened at Abingdon, Maryland, in 1784, to be known as Cokesbury College.
The first foreign missionary of Methodism was a preacher from North Carolina. This preacher was Brother Melville B. Cox, pastor
of what is now Edenton Street Methodist Church, Raleigh, who volunteered in 1832 to go as the first missionary abroad and he went to
Liberia. He did not live long over there but his statement, “Let a thousand die before Africa be given up”, became the motto of the
Methodist missionary program.
METHODISM IN PERQUIMONS COUNTY
It is not known when Methodism first reached Perquimans County. Undoubtedly some of the Virginia ministers labored there. However,
it is known that Francis Asbury preached in Perquimans on several occasions. Extracts from his journal record his visits and supply
information of great interest.
Under the date of 24 December 1783, Asbury wrote, “Set out in the rain to Hertford town. I spoke in a tavern; the people seemed wild
and wicked altogether.” The tavern mentioned was perhaps the Eagle Tavern.
Some years later, Asbury again visited Perquimans. After preaching at Isaac Hunter’s in Gates County, he wrote in his journal for
12 March 1799, “The coolness of the weather increases. We rode thirty miles to George Sutton’s, in Perquimons County.” The next day,
13 March, he noted: “It both snowed and rained. We had a meeting at a house near Nagshead Chapel: where I preached a short sermon from
I Peter IV, 18. We lodged at J. W– – –’s, a comfortable house, after a very uncomfortable snowy day.“ Nags Head Chapel was located on
the property where New Hope Church now stands, so Asbury did preach near New Hope on this occasion.
In 1804, Asbury made another trip to Perquimans, writing in his journal for 12 March: “At Yawpin chapel I preached on Luke xi, 9–13.
I had a very, serious attentive people to hear. I believe God is amongst them. I called upon Mr. Ross, a Baptist minister of the Gospel,
much thought of. I found him in a feeble state of body: we prayed and parted in great affection. We had rain, and night came on before
we reached brother Sutton’s…we crossed Perquimans River upon a floating bridge. My mind is in great peace. Today Humphrey Wood became
my companion in travel.“
The next day, 13 March 1804, he wrote: “At Mr. Muller’s, at Nags Head, I preached upon 1 Peter v, 10. We had a full house, and the
truth was felt. I dined with mother Wood, and lodged with Mr. Samuel Whidbees. Were this last family as good as they were kind,
they might be perfect.“
Thus, we see that Asbury preached near Nags Head Chapel again in 1804. The Yawpin Chapel he mentioned was the old Yeopim Chapel
where Bethel Church now stands. Its pastor was Martin Ross. Asbury also refers to Mr. Muller and Samuel Whidbees. Mr. Muller is
probably one of the Mullers and Samuel Whidbees is undoubtedly Lemusl Wedbee. Perhaps the “mother Wood” he names was one of the several
families of Woods that lived between Suttons Creek and Little River. He traveled with Humphrey Wood, who was probably the preacher
of that name appointed to the Camden Circuit in 1810. A Humphrey Wood was in Perquimans 21 February when he witnessed a sale of land
from William Wedbee to James Wedbee. The first Methodist congregation to be organized in Perquimans County was at New Hope.
The conversion of Nags Head Chapel and Yeopim Chapel into churches of other denominations epitomized the sad state of the Church of
England. Never popular and never having a settled minister in colonial Perquimans, Anglicanism virtually disappeared from the country.
Charles Pettigrew, elected but never consecrated as Bishop of North Carolina, lived in Perquimans in the late 1780s, but he had little
influence on religious life.
Preachers from Virginia originally evangelized northeastern North Carolina. North Carolina was in the Virginia Conference from
Methodism’s earliest days until 1894. Asbury himself had been stationed in Norfolk in 1775, preaching his first sermon there in an
old theater. In 1784 the Camden Circuit appears in the records and it probably included Perquimans County. Some of the ministers of
the Camden Circuit and the Norfolk district who may have labored in Perquimans were Richard Ivey, William Dameron, Archer Davis,
Jonathan Jackson, Jesse Lee, Daniel Hall, Humphrey Wood, James G. Martin, Christopher S. Mooring, and Henry Holmes. At the end of 1810,
the only circuits in the Albemarle section were Bertie, Camden, and Edenton, with five preachers, 1,209 white members and 650 colored
There are many old Methodist churches within Perquimans County: New Hope, 1809; Oak Grove, 1814; Concord, 1815 (no longer in existence);
Cedar Grove, 1818; Hertford, 1838; Hickory Cross, 1857 (no longer in existence); Bethany, 1886; Anderson, 1888; Epworth, 1899; and
Woodland, 1917. These churches stood at the dates indicated, but formation and organization were at unknown earlier times.
When the New Hope Church was established in 1809, it must have had some years of activity behind it since there were three more
Methodist churches established within the next nine years.
New Hope produced the first Methodist minister, Hezekiah Gilbert Leigh, within the county although there is no record of when he was
ordained. Hezekiah’s father, Richard Leigh, owned land near the church. William Reed and Lemauel Reed also became ministers, although
William was actually stationed here to serve. William Reed preached at New Hope when he was appointed to the Hertford Circuit in
1850–1852. Walter Reed, who discovered the cure for yellow fever, was the son of Methodist minister Lemuel Reed.