BEECH SPRING CHURCH.
While it becomes necessary, in outlining the history of the early
settlement of Harrison county, to make frequent and extended references
to the organizations of the Presbyterian and United Presbyterian churches
in the county, it should be understood that such reference is made solely
for the purpose of enabling us to gain what light we may from such occasional
facts as are preserved upon their records; and, while these records are
sadly lacking in detail and continuity, and at best give us but occasional
glimpses of the real life and growth of the communities with which they
are concerned, they are practically all we now have left in the way of
contemporary data; and constitute the chief source of information in regard
to Harrison county during the time its territory was still a part of Jefferson.
The writer is fortunate in being able to present to the reader of these sketches a brief account of the beginnings of the early churches in Harrison county, written by the man who founded them, thus being in the nature of a contemporary document. This consists of an outline sketch of the history of the congregations of Rev. John Rea, the pioneer preacher of Harrison county; and it was written as a part of his farewell sermon delivered to the Beech Spring congregation in January, 1851.
Before presenting Mr. Reas’s sketch, let us survey his field of labor, and the conditions under which he entered it.
The first Presbytery organized west of the Allegheny mountains was that of Redstone, erected by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia in May, 1781. Its territory embraced the present counties of Westmoreland, Fayette, Armstrong, Indiana, Allegheny, Beaver, Washington, and Green, in Pennsylvania, and adjacent territory, including the Panhandle of western Virginia. Its membership at the time of organization consisted of but four ministers, viz., Revs. James Power, John McMillan, Thaddeus Dodd, and Joseph Smith. Within the next three years Revs. James Dunlap, John Clark, and James Finley were added to the Presbytery; and this organization continued to provide for the spiritual needs of the greater portion of the population west of the mountains until 1793. In that year, the Presbytery of Redstone was divided, and that of the Ohio formed, --those ministers whose charges were nearest the river being detached from the parent body, and erected into the new Presbytery. They were John McMillan, John Clark, Joseph Patterson, James Hughes and John Brice.
The bounds of the Ohio Presbytery first extended to the Scioto, or beyond; and nearly all of these original members of the Presbytery made missionary tours into Jefferson county before any churches were organized in what is now the county of Harrison. The first regularly installed minister to preach to congregations, composed, at least, in part, of Harrison county people, was Rev. Joseph Anderson, who was also the first minister installed by the Ohio Presbytery in what is now the State of Ohio. He was licensed by the Presbytery on October 17, 1798, and engaged at once in missionary work in the Western Territory, where he succeded in gathering congregations at several points. On August 20, 1800, he was installed as pastor of the three churches Richland (now St. Clairsville), Short Creek (now Mount Pleasant), and Cross Roads (now Crabapple). If this congregation of Crabapple was the same as that now known by the name, and it probably was, then the latter must claim priority in organization over that of Beech Spring; although the year of its erection is usually given as 1804. From the fact that Mr. Anderson gave up the charge of Crabapple in 1802, however, it is possible that the people there were not sufficiently strong numerically to sustain a minister, even for one-third of his time, and that its permanent organization was accordingly deferred until after Mr. Rea was settled at Beech Spring. Robert McCullough represented Crabapple Church, as an elder, at a meeting of the Presbytery in 1801.
Mr. Anderson was ordained by Rev. John McMillan, at Crabapple, but his principal congregation was that now known as Mount Pleasant; and there can be no reasonable doubt that many of the then residents of Short Creek township who were inclined to be church-going people were members of the congregation, and some of them communicants, of the church of Mount Pleasant. The first ruling elders of that church were Richard McKibben Thomes McCune, James Clark, and James Eagleson. It was not until the years 1802 and 1803 that the settlers began to come in large numbers to that part of the county now comprising the townships of Short Creek, Green, Cadiz, and Athens. A year later (1804), John Rea was licensed by the Presbytery of Ohio, and entered this field as a supply for the people of Beech Spring and Crabapple.
Rev. John Rea was born in Tully, Ireland, in 1772, the son of Joseph and Isabel Rea. About the year 1790 he emigrated to America, and first resided in Philadelphia for a short lime. He left there, on foot, and started for the west, traveling usually without company and, after crossing the mountains, located in Washington county, where in 1793, he married Elizabeth Christy. He made his home for a time in the house of James Dinsmore, then a ruling, elder of Upper Buffalo church, by whom he was encouraged and assisted in his attempts to gain an education. A few years later, he entered Jefferson College, and was graduated in 1803, being one of the members of the first class graduated at that institution. On August 22, 1805, having been duly called by the congre gations which he had served as supply, Mr. Rea was ordained and installed as pastor of Beech Spring and Crabapple. In April, 1810, he was released from Crabapple, and thenceforth gave all his time to Beech Spring, where he continued in active charge until 1848, although not finally severing his connection with that church until some three years later. He died February 12,1855. The work of Dr. Rea has been summed up in a few words by Rev. W. F. Hamilton, in his History of the Presbytery of Washington, who says:
Dr. Rea was in an eminent sense a pioneer minister. His early
labors were largely evangelistic. Several churches now exist on the territory
wholly occupied by him. It may safely be said that no man exerted a greater
influence than did he in forming the religious character of the early inhabitants
of a large section of Eastern Ohio.
He is quoted by Dr. Crawford as saying near the close of his life: " My early toils and dreary travels were on horseback, through the bounds of your present charge, as also through a large district of country, mostly traversing paths through an unbroken wilderness; and wherever an early settler was found, and, more especially, wherever and whenever I heard of one in our communion, him I visited, by day and by night, at all seasons of the year.”
An examination of the records of the Presbytery of the Ohio, now in possession of Dr. W. J. Holland, of the Carnegie Museum at Pittsburgh, shows an application for supplies for the people of Indian Short Greek to have been made on October 19th, 1802, the Presbytery then being in session at West Liberty. On Wednesday, October 20th, Mr. James Hughes was appointed to supply "at Daniel Welsh's on Short Creek, the third Sabbath of December, and Mr. [George M.] Scott on the first Sabbath of April." The Presbytery met at Washington, Pa., again in January, 1803, and on Wednesday, the 19th, Jacob Lindley was appointed to supply at "Welch's, on Indian Short Creek, on the second Sabbath of March." In June, 1803, Presbytery met at Ten Mile, and on Wednesday, the 29th, applications for supplies were received from the "heads of Indian Wheelin [Crabapple] and Short Creek." Rev. Joseph Anderson was appointed to preach at head of Indian Wheeling creek on the first Sabbath in August; and Rev. James Snodgrass, at Welch's, on the second Sabbath of July. At Montour's, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 1803, the Presbytery received an application for supplies from "Welsh's on Indian Short Creek," and Mr. Hughes was appointed for the first Sabbath in April, 1804. At Ten Mile, on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 1803, Mr. Nicholas Pittinger was appointed to supply at "Crabapple on the third Sabbath of January, and at Beech Spring on the fourth Sabbath of January." This is the first time these two congregations appear on the records of Presbytery under the names by which they have since been known. On Tuesday, April 17th, 1804, Presbytery having met at Cross Roads (in Washington county, PA.), applications for supplies were again received from Crabapple and Beech Spring; and on the 19th, Rev. "Samuel Ralston was directed to preach at Crabapple one Sabbath at discretion, and Rev. Joseph Anderson at Beech Spring on the third Sabbath of May, and at Crabapple one Sabbath at discretion.
At the meeting of Presbytery held at Cross Creek, Washington county, Pa., on Wednesday, June 27th, 1804, John Rea, as the name appears on the records, was licensed to preach. On the following day, Mr. Rea was appointed to preach at Beech Spring on the first Sabbath in August, at Crabapple on the second Sabbath in August, at "Stillwater" (this may have been Nottingham or Cadiz), on the fourth Sabbath of September, and at Crabapple again on the fifth Sabbath of September. On the same day, Rev. William McMillan (afterwards president of Franklin College), was appointed to supply at Beech Spring on the third Sabbath of September. At the meeting of Presbytery at Raccoon, on October 16, 1804, applications for further supplies were received from Beech Spring and Crabapple. On Thursday, the 18th, Rev. Joseph Patterson and Rev. Elisha Macurdy were appointed to preach at Beech Spring on the second Sabbath of November, and to administer the Lord's Supper. Mr. Anderson was also appointed to preach there on the fourth Sabbath of November, and at Crabapple, on the first Sabbath of the following April. Mr. John Brice was appointed to preach at Crabapple on the third Sabbath of November. "Mr. Rea, being appointed by Synod to itinerate as a missionary, no appointments are to be made him prior to next meeting of Presbytery." The next meeting was held at Cross Creek on Christmas Day, 1804, and Mr. Rea was appointed to supply at Beech Spring on the first and third Sabbaths of February, and at Crabapple on the second and fourth Sabbaths of the same month.
Presbytery met at West Liberty again in April, 1805, and on the
16th instant, "a call was presented for Mr. Rea from the united congregations
of Crabapple and Beech Spring, which being read, was put into his hands
For consideration." Mr. Rea having signified his acceptance of the call,
the Presbytery, on Thursday, April 18th, "agreed to proceed to the ordination
of Mr. Rea in August next provided the way be clear, and appointed him
to prepare and deliver a sermon on Isaiah, iv., 7, as part of trial. Mr.
Brice was appointed to preach the ordination sermon, and Mr. Macurdy to
preside and give the charge." The Presbytery met at Crabapple on Tuesday,
August 20th, 1805, and on the 22d of the same month, '`the Presbytery proceeded
to the ordination of Mr.. Rea, and did with fasting and prayer, and the
laying on of the hands of the Presbytery, solemnly ordain him to the holy
office of the Gospel ministry, and installed him as pastor of the united
congregations of Crabapple and Beech Spring. Mr. Brice preached on the
occasion, and Mr. Macurdy presided and gave the charge."
The following is a part of the farewell sermon delivered by Rev.
John Rea, at Beech Spring Church, in January, 1851:
That justice, in some measure, may be done thereto, reference
must be had to her early history, and to some of the changes that have
shaped her destiny thus far.
This church was organized some time in the fall of the year 1803, by two Rev. Fathers, Patterson and Macurdy, who are now no more. Three persons were chosen, and set apart at the time as ruling elders, and a communion followed. This appears to have been the beginning, the morning of the existence of what has since been called Beech Spring, a name said to have been given to it by Mr. [Daniel] Welch, and took its rise from a group of beech trees that enclosed a large spring of water on a lot of five acres he had generously donated for the use of the church, on the west corner of his section.
The year following, another young man and myself, of the first class of students that graduated at Jefferson College, having finished a course of Theological studies under the direction of Rev. Dr. McMillan, were licensed to preach the Gospel by the Presbytery of Ohio, June, 1804. After a tour of three months through the interior of this State, and another up the Allegheny towards the Lakes, the winter following I supplied here, and at Crabapple, by order of Presbytery. In April, a joint call was prepared by these two congregagtions, then in union, and forwarded to Presbytery signed by the following persons, viz: John Miller, S. Dunlap W. Watt, Henry Ferguson, Jesse Edgington, D. Welch, Esq., and William Harvey. You will readily, excuse me in the mentioning of these names, when it is remembered that these were the men who founded the Church of Beech Spring; these were the men who called me, who first gave me the hand of fellowship, and welcomed me to these woods; most of whom I remember with affection, and would gladly visit were they living; but they are no more; the last died the other day. This call being accepted, I was accordingly ordained and installed pastor of the united congregation of Crabapple and Beech Spring by the Presbytery of Ohio, August, 1805. [The first elders of Crabapple were Robert McCullough, William McCullough, and David Merritt.]
The field covered by these two societies, at the time of our settlement was very extensive, and the labor proportionately great. Crabapple claimed as being within her bounds, the whole extent of country between the south fork of Short creek and the farthermost part of Nottingham. Beech Spring was equally, if not still more extensive, including the entire region of country from the Piney Fork and the Flats, on west to Stillwater. All passed under the general name of Beech Spring. There was no Smithfield, nor Bloomfield, nor any other field, whereby to fix our limits. All was Jefferson county, and Steubenville, the seat of Justice.
Over all this extensive field, claimed by both churches, we had to travel. Wherever one was found, or whenever we heard of one in our connection, him we must visit; day and night, summer and winter, all seasons of the year, without a road in most places, save the mark of an axe or the bark of a tree, or the trail of an early Indian. No man that now comes in among us at this distant day, and highly improved state of the country, can so much as conjecture the labor and fatigue of the primitive pioneers of the Ohio forests, out of which the savage had just begun to recede, but continued still in large encampments in some places, near the skirtings of little societies, where the few came together to worship under the shade of a green tree.
The two churches under our care lay nearly twelve miles apart. Many Sabbath mornings, in the dead of winter, I had to travel ten miles to the place of meeting in Crabapple, having no road but a cow-path, and the underwood bent with snow over me all the way. Worn down by fatigue, and frequently in ill-health, I was more than once brought near the confines of the grave.
In all the region around, there were but two clerical brethren who could afford me any assistance, where now there are two Presbyteries and well-nigh thirty preachers. Notwithstanding all this, I must say of those early times, as Jehovah once said of Israel, eight hundred years after, "I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thy espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown." Those were the best times, and that generation, that Israel, as a nation, ever saw. During the first years of these two congregations, a great and good Providence was evidently seen over them. They prospered exceedingly. Their increase was unprecedented; within our knowledge, we have seen nothing like it; without anything very special that could be called a revival (though something of the effects of the great western revival still remained, and appeared at times in our meetings), yet so rapid was their growth that in less than five years each became able to support a minister all his time.
Accordingly, in April, 1810, the union existing between these churches was by mutual consent dissolved, and the way opened for each to employ a pastor. Shortly after, a call was prepared by this congregation for the whole of our time, and received through the same Presbytery as before. About this time there were several small societies forming at some distance from us; and appeared to be promising. From one of these societies an earnest request was forwarded to the session at Beech Spring, that some part of their pastor's time might be granted them. With this request the congregation complied, and for some years the fourth of our time was spent in laying the foundation of what has since become a numerous and respectable congregation, known by the name of the Ridge.
After the division of Jefferson county had taken place, and a new county formed out of it, Cadiz, then a small village, became the Seat of Justice of Harrison county. This village lay within our limits, and was considered a part of our congregation. Here we organized a church, at the request of the villagers, and labored a part of our time for three years; since which our ministry has been chiefly confined to this place alone.
For several years after, this church continued still more to increase, until she became, as was generally supposed, the largest in the State of Ohio. Out of this congregation, at different periods, there have been formed not less than six contiguous organized churches. Still, she continued to maintain her standing entire, until April, 1848 when age and infirmity made it necessary that I should resign, and the pastoral relation of forty-three years was at length dissolved.
Having thus briefly outlined the history of this church,—for "Why should the wonders He has wrought, Be lost in silence and forgot." some notice is due to its officers.
In the Presbyterian Church the membership of elder is recognized in all her courts. The interest this class of men take, or the course of conduct pursued by them, will go far in shaping the destiny, the well being, or ill-being of any church. In the organizing of this church at first I had no concern; it took place before my settlement. But in the course of years, as the congregation increased, frequent additions had to be made, until at one time we had not less than ten members in session. All were chosen by the people, and ordained by myself, with the exception of three, viz: James Kerr, Sr., John McCullough, Esq., and Dr. Thomas Vincent. These were valuable men, and useful members of the session. They obtained their ordination elsewhere, and were received as such here.
From Historical collections of Harrison County, in the state of Ohio, by Charles A. Hanna, printed 1900