Dr. Dan Morrill Professor of History University of North Carolina at Charlotte April 6, 1987
Local tradition holds that Hopewell Presbyterian Church, located on Beatties Ford Road in the Hopewell section or Long Creek Community of Mecklenburg County, was established in 1762. Its origins, however, go back to the late 1740’s or early 1750’s. John Thomson (1690-1753) , who came to what is now Iredell County in 1744 and was the first Presbyterian missionary in North Carolina south of the Yadkin River, was invited by some of the more refined residents of Hopewell to preach at the home of Richard Barry, whose house stood on Beatties Ford Road near McDowell Creek.
Thomson was a circuit rider, an itinerant minister who traveled by horseback through the Carolina frontier. He sought out and established contact with the Scotch-Irish settlers who, along with other groups were moving south from the Shenandoah Valley and the Great Valley of Virginia into the Carolina Piedmont.
Before 1729, the land in North Carolina was owned by wealthy English Proprietors, who demonstrated little interest in working to attract settlers into the colony. Thereafter, except for the territorial holdings of Lord Granville, the land in North Carolina was ceded to the Crown; and several Colonial Governors, especially Gabriel Johnson (1734-1751), a Scot, and Arthur Dobbs (1754-1765), an Ulsterman, instituted an aggressive and eventually successful policy to entice large numbers of people to settle in the hitherto sparsely populated Piedmont section of North Carolina.
Between 1730 and 1770, when Royal agents began encouraging settlement in the interior of the colony, the population of North Carolina increased from approximately 36,000 to approximately 180,000. According to one historian, the influx of settlers into the Carolina backcountry in the mid-1700’s was one of the mightiest migrations in colonial times.
The man who was immediately responsible for the creation of Hopewell Presbyterian Church was Alexander Craighead (1707-1766), a native of Donegal, Ireland. Ordained in Pennsylvania in 1735, Craighead moved from Virginia to North Carolina in 1758 to become the minister of Rocky River Presbyterian Church. Craighead belonged to the so-called New Side movement in Presbyterianism.
Alexander Craighead has become known as the “Father of the Seven Colonial Churches”.
They are: Hopewell Presbyterian Church, Rocky River Presbyterian Church, Sugar Creek Presbyterian Church, Center Presbyterian Church, Providence Presbyterian Church, Poplar Tent Presbyterian Church, and Steel Creek Presbyterian Church.
Accordingly, he stressed the evangelical components of Christianity and felt a compelling need to reach out to the Scotch Irish settlers in the region, who were struggling to maintain some sense of decorum and moral responsibility on the Carolina frontier, where “hard drinking and coarse manners found little check”.
The initial meeting house or church at Hopewell Presbyterian was a log building, erected c. 1765.
The crowds were sometimes so large, however, that services had to be held outdoors. The first full time resident pastor of Hopewell was Samuel Craighead Caldwell. Alexander Craighead’s grandson, who was installed in 1792. In 1806, Caldwell resigned, because the emotionalism of his sermons had offended many in the congregation. Caldwell is buried in one of the graveyards at Sugaw Creek Presbyterian.
In the 1790’s and early 1800’s, after the invention of the cotton gin, Hopewell began to prosper, as the resourceful Scotch Irish farmers, like the Davidsons, the Alexanders, and the Torrances, began to benefit from cotton as a major cash crop. Indicative of the new wealth or the region was the decision to build a new and more substantial church.
The November 22nd, 1830 issue of the Miners and Farmers Journal contained the following advertisement: Proposals will be received on Thursday, the 6th day of January next at Hopewell Church for building and finishing of a church at said place. The wall to be of brick, on a stone foundation 43 by 65 feet 20 feet high; the roof to be covered with tin; arched ceiling. It is contemplated at present to have four doors, 12 windows 14 by 16 glass and eighteen lights each. This building, completed in 1831, forms the essential core of the meeting house or church which is still in use at Hopewell Presbyterian.
Two major alterations or additions to the 1831 edifice have occurred. In 1860, the church was enlarged by erecting a vestibule on the south end of the church, and a gallery or balcony, part of which was used by slaves, was built. In the 1920’s, an educational building was added to the Northern end of the church. Two additional edifices, a Fellowship Building (1953) and a Recreation Building (1964) have been constructed.
On balance, Hopewell Presbyterian Church retains the overall atmosphere or ambience of its initial rural setting. Contributing substantially to this reality is the church’s magnificent graveyard, the oldest portion of which is situated to the south and southwest of the church building. Located therein are the graves of some of Mecklenburg;s most illustrious pioneers, such as James Latta, owner of nearby Latta Place Plantation, Hugh Torrance of Cedar Grove Plantation, and, perhaps most significantly, American Revolutionary War hero and martyr, General William Lee Davidson, who was killed at the Battle of Cowan’s Ford, February 1, 1781, and brought to Hopewell the following night for burial.
A particularly interesting landscape feature of the Hopewell Presbyterian Church site was erected by E.L. Baxter Davidson. Upon learning that the stones from an existing wall were about to be used in paving Beatties Ford Road, Davidson employed these and other rocks to construct a more permanent arrangement of walls, steps, and entryways.
In addition to its historical significance, Hopewell Presbyterian Church continues to be an active, vibrant Christian congregation. Indeed, its prospects for growth are substantial, because the area surrounding the church, still open land for the most part, is coming under intense developmental pressure.