Part 1 Baptists in the Greenbrier Valley
It boggles my mind that people doubt that this country was established by Christians. Most Christians, especially Baptists, never intended to impose their faith on others; however, their beliefs were extremely important to them, and they were willing to risk all for freedom of worship.
Having become a follower of Jesus Christ at an early age, I treasure every insight into the convictions of those who came before me. Not only did they establish the country, they established me in the faith before I was even born. I am awed by and grateful for what they were able to do.
One of the most significant ancestral accomplishments in my mind is the formation of the Old Greenbrier Baptist Church in Alderson, West Virginia. Strangely, Alderson is in both Monroe County and Greenbrier County. The photo (left, taken by my son when we were there in 2002) shows the building as it looks today, not the original building. However, as far as I can determine, the church is on the original site, and the cemetery is full of many early church members. (The photo at right was posted by Chris McVey at Findagrave.com.) The church was started by at least three of my direct ancestors: Bailey and Ann “Nancy” Wood and John Skaggs and first wife Katherine Skaggs. Since no one knows the parents of Bailey, Ann, or Katherine, it is possible they were not immigrants at the time but had been living here for several generations. However, they were new to this part of the country and had hope for a new future with the end of the Revolution in 1781. “Thirty-six days after the surrender at Yorktown, this church was organized by a company of twelve Baptists who had settled in this almost wilderness.” Their pastor was Rev. John Alderson, Jr., a true missionary and visionary in establishing Baptist principles where few had heard of them. “When this church was organized on November 24, 1781, it was the first church of any denomination in what is now all of southern West Virginia.” Despite starting with only those 12 Baptists, Baptist numbers have increased to millions who live in that region today. To get a more comprehensive understanding, please read the account of the 130th anniversary celebration, which was held in 1911. Here it is — an account preserved in West Virginia Archives and History. More about the Aldersons can be found here, thanks to the excellent scholarship of David Fridley.
One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen is a copy of the original church minutes, included below. Minutes 1.jpg
The first entry is from January 1782. Many of the names mentioned are part of the Skaggs and Wood extended families. Minutes 2.jpg
My direct ancestors, William and Susannah Withrow and William and Elizabeth Johnston and possibly John and Mary Ellis, became members shortly after the church was formed. Minutes3
It is difficult to decipher everything, but their sincerity is clear. They were committed to prayer, to receiving members upon profession of faith, to missionary work, to working with other churches, and to teaching the word of God. Minutes 4.jpg
John and his second wife Catherine (“Kitty”) are buried in the Greenbrier Baptist Church Cemetery, though Catherine’s death date is incorrect. John’s father, Thomas Skaggs, is also buried there, but the grave is not marked. Thomas became a member eventually, but he was not a charter member. Evidence in Prince George County, Maryland, vital records suggests that he was the son of Richard Skaggs, Jr., and Mary Brashier and was baptized in this church.
Copyright ©2017-2018 K Steele Barrera All rights reserved
Part 2 Bailey Wood
Around 1792, Bailey moved 55 miles away from Greenbrier Church. This was not far in today’s terms, but, at that time, it must have seemed quite far. Bailey’s property was within the Monroe County boundary when it was created in 1799. He moved one more time–to Nicholas County before 1820, but this property was in Fayette County when it was created in 1831.
A History of Greenbrier County, West Virginia, by Otis K. Rice, states that Bailey Wood was instrumental in organizing the first Baptist church in the area of Woodville, now known as Ansted (Fayette County, West Virginia). At that time it was still in Greenbrier County, Virginia. The church was called Hopewell Baptist Church. Shirley Donnelly, in an article he wrote for the Fayette Tribune, unknown date, stated, “The first Baptist church at Ansted was formed in 1796. It was composed of members of [several] families, a group of squatters . . . About the year 1800, they built a log building and occupied it as their house of worship.”
Shirley Donnelly, in Historical Notes on Fayette County, West Virginia, wrote: “Those ‘squatters’ built homes at Ansted about the year 1790, exact year being unknown. Among them were the families of James Lykens, Willliam Parrish, James Taylor, Bailey Wood, and others. These were religious people of Baptist persuasion and built at Ansted the first meeting house in the county. That log church stood across the road from the later day historic Tyree Tavern [left, built in 1810] and a hundred yards or so to the east of it. They called it the Hopewell Baptist Church. Early records, if kept, have been lost. Hopewell Baptist Church, some miles west of the town of Ansted is the outgrowth of that early organization.” Wikipedia also has a page about the first settlers of Ansted.
Part 3 Meanwhile, Back in Alderson
Despite the fact that Bailey Wood and others moved away from the Alderson area, Greenbrier Baptist Church continued to grow, even after the death of Rev. John Alderson in 1821. The family of John Skaggs apparently played a major role in the church until at least 1833 when this list of members was compiled.Membership, 1833
Below are the members listed on that document. Next to some of the names, I have added information in parentheses to give the reader a better idea of who they were.
- David ——-
- Peter Jones
- Thos. Alderson (brother of Rev. John Alderson)
- Sally Alderson (wife of Thos. Alderson)
- Susan Jarrett (sister of Catherine Hicks Skaggs and widow of David Jarrett)
- Jno. Skaggs, Sen. (John Skaggs)
- Cath: Skaggs, sn. (Catherine Hicks Skaggs, wife of John Skaggs)
- Sally Ellis (Sarah, daughter of John and Catherine Skaggs, wife of James Ellis)
- Cath: Skaggs, jun. (Catherine Skaggs, daughter of John and Catherine Skaggs)
- Jas: Ellis. (husband of Sarah “Sally” Skaggs Ellis and son-in-law of John and Catherine Skaggs)
- Thos: Jones
- Polly Charlton
- Jane Jones
- Polly Foster (Mary, daughter of John and Catherine Skaggs and wife of John Foster)
- Susan Ellis (daughter of John and Catherine Skaggs and wife of Joshua Ellis)
- Polly Skaggs (Mary, sister of Joshua Ellis, wife of Oliver Skaggs and daughter-in-law of John and Catherine Skaggs)
- Nancy Hill
- Winney Dempsey (possibly Winifred Athol, wife of William S. Dempsey)
- Sally Taylor
- Jos: Alderson (Joseph Alderson, son of Rev. John Alderson and Mary Alderson)
- Polly Alderson (Mary Newman Alderson, wife of Joseph Alderson)
- Geo: Sidenstricker
- —- Sidenstricker (possibly Rachel)
Out of the 23 members, nine were relatives of John and Catherine Hicks Skaggs, and four were relatives of the Rev. John Alderson, who had died 12 years earlier. The list includes some dates of death and dates of dismissal (when members moved away or left the church). Thomas Alderson and his wife died in 1837 and 1835, respectively. John Skaggs died in 1839. John’s wife, Catherine (Kitty), did not die before 1851, according to 1850 census records. From the supplemental information shown, it appears that her daughters Catherine, Mary (Polly), Susan, and Sarah (Sally) all left the church within a couple of years of their mother’s death.
Copyright ©2017-2018 K Steele Barrera All rights reserved
Part 4 The Legacy of Bailey Wood Continues
As mentioned in Part 1, Bailey Wood and his wife Ann (also called Nancy) were founding members of Greenbrier Baptist Church in 1781, formed right after the surrender at Yorktown that ended the Revolutionary War. About ten years later, Bailey moved away to an area now in Fayette County, West Virginia, along with a few other families who became “squatters”. As discussed in Part 2, Bailey was one of the founding members of a new church called Hopewell Baptist Church.
Bailey and Ann had at least seven children, the second-oldest of whom was William, born in 1777. William was a teenager when the family moved away from the Alderson area, but he had probably already met Mary Anne McGraw, whom he married in 1800. Rev. John Alderson McGraw permission
performed the wedding in Monroe County. Her parents, Martin and Margaret McGraw gave permission, and the marriage bond was signed by John and William Wood. William Wood marriage bond
John Wood was probably related in some way.
It is not known to what extent William Wood was involved in church activities. He and Mary Anne raised at least six children in the Ansted area. Like many of his contemporaries, William was able to profit from the increased travel through the area. He ran a stage stop at Dogwood Gap along the James River and Kanawha Turnpike, according to History of Fayette County, West Virginia, by J. T. Peters and H.B. Carden. Wm. Wood is shown on the Fayette County Tax Lists dated June 5 , 1831, but he died in 1835. Two of his sons, Amos and Elijah, were administrators of his estate, and William’s widow, Mary Anne, was also actively involved. Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 11.46.44 AM
One of William’s sons, Allen, is not mentioned in the estate sale. Allen, born between 1809 and 1813, married Elizabeth Johns(t)on in 1832. Elizabeth was the daughter of William and Elizabeth Hicks Johnston, former members of Greenbrier Baptist Church. 7625874b-2c74-4047-9a7e-d3803d2bdf08
The relationship with Charles Johnson is not known, but it seems reasonable to surmise that he was a brother of Elizabeth.
Allen’s role in the spiritual development of the Ansted community was significant. He was a Baptist preacher who traveled about the countryside, and he also preached in the Ansted area. The Virginia Baptist Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia, verifies that Allen Wood was a missionary serving in the territory of the Western Virginia Baptist Association as early as 1846, with his address as Mountain Cove (later Ansted), Fayette County, Virginia. Fayette County, Virginia (now WV), court records show that Allen Wood, a minister of the Baptist church, presented his credentials of ordination, took the oath of allegiance, and was granted a testimonial before the Fayette County Court in January 1850. Subsequently, Allen Wood performed many marriages between 1850 and 1861 in Fayette County.
Mr. Shirley Donnelly, in an article in the Fayette Tribune, date unknown, stated: “Jeanette Missionary Baptist Church was formed in 1853 with 14 members. The first house of worship was built by Col. Geo. Alderson, who gave it the name of Jeanette in honor of his first wife. Its first pastor was Rev. Allen Wood.” The name is sometimes spelled “Jennette”.
According to the Minutes of the Western Virginia Baptist Association of 1860, “A. Wood – preached 220 sermons, travelled 1,185 miles, visited 350 families, baptized 16 persons, organized 2 Sunday Schools, and delivered several S.S. and Temperance lectures. Brother Wood writes: ‘I have lately held a two days’ meeting in a section of the country where not a single sermon from a Baptist minister up to that time had been preached. So strong was the prejudice against the denomination, that it was supposed not more than ten persons would attend the meetings, but contrary to our expectation, a large congregation was in attendance. And under the power of divine truth, many wept like children. At the close of the meetings, several persons came forward and urged me to come back again and preach for them. There are many such sections in this and the adjoining counties, where the people are, to a great extent, ignorant of Baptists and Baptist principles. Should I be permitted to continue in the employment of the Board, I want to devote much of my time to such places.'”
The diary of James B. Hamilton, begun on January 1, 1858, has been preserved in the History of Fayette County, West Virginia. In this diary, Hamilton reports on many of the events leading up to and involving the Civil War. He also reveals his own spiritual inclinations by reporting on church services and expressing his disappointment when there were no services on a given “sabbath.” If there was no sermon, he would stay home and read the Bible or the writings of Charles Spurgeon. He mentions going to Woodville to attend singing, debates, and prayer meetings.
On April 17, 1858, Hamilton mentions preaching for the first time. The diary entry reads, ” Very good sermon by Amos Wood” (Allen’s brother). Hamilton was apparently well-acquainted with the Wood family because he also mentions helping Eli Wood (Allen’s first cousin) in his store. On June 20, his diary entry says, “Went to Church. Allen preached a very good sermon.” On July 3, Hamilton reports going to Gauley Bridge to a celebration at which he hears several people speak.
A few months later, on September 19, Hamilton reports, “Attended church. Rev. Allen Wood preached a good sermon.” In October, he reported helping Eli Wood to make a school. On Oct. 16: “Went to church. Good sermon by Rev. Allen Wood.” On Oct. 20: “Went to church today. Rev. Allen Wood delivered the best sermon that I have ever heard him preach. Nancy Wood baptized today.” He also went to church for the next four days, when he reported on the preaching of several individuals and the baptism of four.
Nov. 7: “At church. Allen preached a good sermon. Six baptized.” Dec. 18: “Went to church. Heard an excellent sermon by Uncle Allen.”
By the end of the year, Hamilton had completed the building of a school in which 29 pupils were enrolled. He was the teacher.
On January 14, he reported: “James Wood, Sr. died last night.” It seems likely he was a related to Rev. Allen Wood.
Though Hamilton mentions hearing others preach, Allen Wood is the only one he mentions repeatedly. On Feb. 19, 1859: “Rev. Allen Wood preached on Matthew 18. Very good turn out at Temperance meeting.” On March 28, he reported on the marriage of Johnson Wood and Mary Ann Vandal. Johnson Wood (right) was the son of Allen and Elizabeth and would later become well known as an excellent teacher and mathematician.
April 16, 1859: “At church. Heard Allen Wood on Hebrews 12:10.” In June, he reported hearing the preaching of Martin Bibb, Eli Wood, and others. At least 12 joined the church. Not much is written over the next couple of years except Hamilton’s reflections on his spiritual growth and the activities building up to the Civil War.
Overall, Hamilton’s diary reveals the character of an entire community, its citizens striving for high standards of personal morality and a commitment to pleasing God. The Wood family, among many others, played a major role in spiritual affairs of the Ansted/Woodville/Mountain Cove area.
The Jennette Baptist Church, of which Rev. Allen Wood was pastor, was burned by Union troops during the war. It was not rebuilt until quite a few years later and eventually relocated to the Edmond area.
Copyright ©2017-2018 K Steele Barrera All rights reserved