John Gano was a natural leader. He was described by Dr. Richard Furman of Charleston, South Carolina, as "below the middle stature; and when young, of a slender form; but of firm vigorous constitution, well fitted for performing active services with ease, and for suffering labors and privations with constancy... His presence was manly, open and engaging. His voice strong and commanding, yet agreeable, and capable of all those inflections, which are suited to express either the strong or tender emotions of an intelligent, feeling mind... With clear conception and penetrating discernment, he formed readily a correct judgement of men and things. To the refinements of learning he did not aspire; his chief object was such a competent acquaintance with its principles as would enable him to apply them with advantage to purposes of general usefulness in religion, and to the most important interests of society; and this he attained.
"His mind was formed for social intercourse, and for friendship. Such was his unaffected humility, candor and good-will, that few, if any, have enjoyed more satisfaction in the company of his friends or have, in return, afforded them, by their conversation, a higher degree of pleasure and moral improvement...
"As a minister of the pulpit, he shone like a star of the first magnitude... and moved in a widely extended field of action... He believed and therefore spake. Having discerned the excellence of gospel truths, and the importance of eternal realities, he felt their power on his own soul, and accordingly he inculcated and urged them on the minds of his hearers with persuasive eloquence and force... He excelled in the pathetic, in pungent, forcible addresses to the heart and conscience... But he was not less a son of consolation to the mourning sinner, who lamented his offenses against God, who felt the plague of a corrupt heart, and longed for salvation; nor did he fail to speak a word of direction, support and comfort, in due season, to the tried, tempted believer. He knew how to publish the glad tidings of salvation in the Redeemer's name."
It was not by accident that such a remarkable young leader came to the Jersey Settlement on the north banks of the Yadkin River in the piedmont area of North Carolina. He came as a result of prayerful concern for the strengthening of the work of Baptist churches in the Carolinas.
Soon after the Charleston Association of Baptist churches was formed in 1751, with four churches, the leaders expressed concern about the destitute condition of places in the interior settlements. The churches which were active at the time were encouraged to contribute to "the support of a missionary, to itinerate in those parts."
About the same time there was a growing concern in the Philadelphia Association about sending out itinerant preachers to strengthen church work in Virginia and the Carolinas. In 1754 two ministers were sent South in response to a request from some messengers from Virginia that a preacher labor with them and administer the ordinances. John Gano and Benjamin Miller traveled together.
The journey to Virginia proved to be quite eventful for John Gano. His home church at Hopewell, New Jersey, where he was baptized in 1747, was encouraging him to be a preacher. In November, 1752, the church had called upon him to "exercise his gifts in a public way" before the church at the monthly meeting to be held in January. On January 20, 1753, he "exercised according to the satisfaction of the church." The following month the church granted him license to preach in public "wheresoever providence should give him a call." By "call" they meant a call to serve a particular church.
While in Virginia Mr. Gano stopped frequently and exercised his gifts freely.
His deep concern to be of assistance in such a manner was coupled with thorough preparation for such a task. His maternal grandmother had professed religion when about twenty years old and continued a Baptist until her death at "near an hundred." His great-grandfather Gano, noted for his piety, fled from Guernsey during a bloody persecution and later settled in New Rochelle, New York. His mother, a pious Baptist, and his father, a staunch Presbyterian, required John to study carefully the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechism. This impressed upon him the importance of preaching. After he was converted he met with other young people near Hopewell and prayed and talked about religion. He studied the Bible to try to get a satisfactory answer
to questions and made his own decision to be a Baptist on a basis of the conclusions he drew.
His decision to be a minister was wrought out of prayer and serious thought. Later he said, "One day I went early into the field to plough it free from stumps and stones. Soon after I started, this text weighed heavily on my mind, 'Warn the people, or their blood will I require at your hands'. The pangs afflicted me so heavily, that although it rained plentifully, I was insensible to it."
He talked to his pastor frequently and was encouraged to become a minister. Once he had decided to preach, his pastor, the Reverend Isaac Eaton, began to teach him Greek and to engage in strong arguments. President Burr of Princeton College, then at Newark, New Jersey, let him attend public examinations and encouraged him to enter the senior class. Such study proved too strenuous for him. He became ill and abandoned his school career.
Over a period of seven years he struggled with the call to be a minister before he was fully ordained in 1754. At one time he began a business, which failed. Again, he joined in the purchase of a plantation, and this venture also failed. By the time he was fully satisfied that he should preach, he was twenty-seven years of age. Although he was not a scholar, he had taken advantage of good discipline in schools. He had learned from his parents and grandparents to take his work seriously and to do a job well. The year he was baptized there had been a remarkable revival in his church; fifty-four others were baptized with him. He had deep feeling about church work and the salvation of the souls of men. During his early travels with Benjamin Miller and others he gained valuable insights into the condition of the churches and the need for spiritual leadership on the part of the people in Virginia and the Carolinas.
Upon his return from one trip to Virginia and the Carolinas Mr. Gano found himself in trouble with his church at Hopewell. A report had reached Hopewell that he ''got to preaching" while in Virginia and North Carolina. His brethren summoned him to church conference and tried him for preaching. They accused him of being guilty of disorder. He asked that they present their evidence. The accusers informed him that their only evidence was the word of
travelers from Virginia; so they would like for him to tell about his activities.
"This is the first time I have known the accused to be called on to give evidence against himself," the young minister declared. "Notwithstanding, I am willing to give evidence against myself in this case." He gave them an impartial account of his conduct.
"Do you not think you have been disorderly?" one of the accusers asked.
"Sir, that question is more extraordinary than the other," Mr. Gano replied. "I have told you the truth, which you are determined to use against me. Now you even ask me to adjudge myself guilty. This I refuse to do. I have not meant to act disorderly. I am not disposed to repent for sounding the gospel to perishing sinners."
After quite a discussion amongst themselves they asked him to preach to the church on the next Sunday. He preached to the satisfaction of everyone. Then a movement was begun to give the eloquent son of the church full ordination. On May 29, 1754, the church at Hopewell ordained John Gano. After he was ordained he preached until October at Morristown Baptist Church. He fell in love with the daughter of the Mayor of Elizabethtown , New Jersey, and late in the year 1754 he and Sarah Stites were united in marriage.
Following ordination and marriage that year, the young minister visited North and South Carolina, free to exercise his gifts wherever an opportunity presented itself. When he arrived at Tar River in North Carolina he preached there every day for a week. Then he went on to the Yadkin Valley where he preached "with some appearance of success." He spent several weeks visiting the Jersey Settlement, made up of people from New Jersey who moved to the Yadkin Valley in order to claim more adequate land holdings for themselves. New Jersey was becoming rather crowded. A colony of several younger,
ambitious, hard-working families formed a new settlement there after sending an agent to make arrangements. They named it "Jersey."
Only the young and brave could afford to accept even the fertile soil of the Yadkin Valley, so far were they from their New Jersey home. These honest, hard-working, frugal people drove their sheep and carried their families and belongings on carts or wagons drawn by oxen and horses along a road which led from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Trading Fork. They had to camp out at night, ford turbulent streams, and move slowly enough to keep the group together.
These young people were religious. They were also prosperous farmers who wanted to produce good crops and provide adequately for their families. In 1745 several of them purchased portions of a 100,000 acre grant awarded by King George II of England to Henry McCulloch, Esquire, of Turnham Green, County of Middlesex, England. Those who came from New Jersey settled, as near each other as they could, and their land holdings were, for the most part, within an area about ten miles square. These settlers were eager for the friendship and the spiritual insights which Elder John Gano afforded them.
The young preacher went as far South as Charleston. He met leaders in the Baptist movement, preached to small groups wherever he could get a few families together and received many reports about religious conditions in the Carolinas. He was told that there was a general laxness in the churches and that only a few people were concerned or enthusiastic. Most of the Baptist ministers were uneducated and gave evidence of more zeal than knowledge. Some of these insisted upon the practice of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper but were weak in their demands for faith and conversion as prerequisites. He discovered that some Baptist churches were practicing washing of feet, anointing of the sick, the kiss of charity and public consecration of children. Having been influenced by the stern call for repentance and right living by men like Jonathan Edwards and Whitefield, John Gano resolved to do what he could to bring evangelistic fervor and orderly Christian practices to the churches in the South. He and Benjamin Miller agreed that the churches needed to adopt some well defined principles or "confessions" of faith and practice.
By 1755 John Gano was a well-prepared young minister who was familiar with the needs in North Carolina. In October both the Philadelphia and Charleston Associations expressed a desire to help establish assistance for the churches and to start other churches. The Philadelphia Association voted to appoint "one ministering brother from the Jerseys and one from Pennsylvania, the several churches to contribute to bear their expenses... The ministry that are to travel are to set out on Sunday, the 28th of October." The Charleston Association also heard reports about the many destitute places in the interior settlements and recommended that the churches contribute to the support of a missionary who would travel in the interior. A messenger was sent to New Jersey to try to find a person for this work. He was successful in getting an agreement with leaders of the Philadelphia Association that John Gano would visit the Jersey Settlement and preach in some other places also.
Between the years 1755 and 1757 John Gano visited the Jersey Settlement several times. It appears that he preached at Morristown Baptist Church whenever he was in New Jersey. At frequent intervals he went South in the service of the Philadelphia and Charleston Associations. When he was in the Carolinas he spent considerable time preaching and visiting his friends at Jersey Settlement.
Soon after the settlers were established in their homes they became leaders in the area. Tradition says that the first Rowan County courts were held in the Jersey Settlement, near Trading Ford, on a place owned by Thales McDonald, possibly as early as June, 1753. There was a great deal of business activity at Trading Ford; in all probability the Jersey settlers were good traders as well as good agriculturalists. Prices were set by the court. A traveler paid one shilling for a dinner of roast or boiled flesh; six pence for supper or breakfast; two pence for lodging overnight with a good bed; and six pence for stabling twenty-four hours with good hay or fodder for the horses. The court also tried to maintain law and order. The high sheriff was allowed a reasonable amount of money for expenses in order to bring to justice some brothers who operated as a gang and committed several misdemeanors. The sheriff ordered four men to assist him. Being unwilling to do so, they were ordered to report to the judge and show reason for not going out as ordered .
Early settlers found it necessary to do practically everything within their community. Benjamin Merrill had a plantation about two miles east of Jersey Meeting House. A small creek at the foot of a hill on his property afforded power necessary to operate simple machinery which was used in boring out gun
barrels. In the evening he would arrange a barrel, start the machinery and leave it running all night. By morning the barrel was ready for the next step in the manufacture of a gun.
We cannot establish an exact time for the beginning of a regular, continuous Baptist ministry at Jersey Settlement. The best evidence points to the year 1755 and to Benjamin Miller and John Gano as the ministers who were instrumental in gathering a group of Baptists for worship and service with some degree of regularity and momentum. They created so much enthusiasm and loyalty that they were invited back every year, and they were so much concerned about the continuation of the Baptist work that they visited the Settlement and preached as often as they could.
These ministers did more than preach in the Jersey Settlement. In a forthright manner they visited many communities and tried to bring orderliness and enthusiasm into the Lord T s work. In A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America , David Benedict says they tried to "reform the creed" of the people, purify the churches, and revive "the power of godliness among the erroneous and lukewarm professors, and in the conviction and conversion
of many others."
They worked with ministers wherever they went. They helped organize believers into regular churches and in some cases found it necessary to re-organize churches whose members had grown careless and disbanded. John Gano visited one community and sent word to the ministers of the vicinity that he would like an interview with them. They declined and called a meeting to decide what to do about this forward outside preacher. John Gano heard about this, went to their meeting, and said, "I have desired a visit from you, which as a brother and a stranger, I had a right to expect; but as ye have refused, I give up my claim, and am come to pay you a visit." He ascended the pulpit and announced a text, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?" Then he preached a sermon for the astonished brethren. He spoke with such force that some were afraid of him while others were made ashamed of their shyness. Many were convinced of their errors concerning faith and conversion. In this manner he won the respect of all of them. As a result, several ministers came to him to be examined and to be instructed. One of these went back to his church and told his people, "The Lord have mercy upon you, for this northern minister has put a mene tekel upon me!"
John Gano established a reputation throughout the region for being an effective preacher. Benjamin Miller was also well liked. When the Reverend Hugh McAden, a Presbyterian minister, found out how popular these men were in the Jersey Settlement in 175b, he expressed fear that the Presbyterians, who had been more numerous before that time, would soon become too weak to support a minister.
The Baptists at Jersey Settlement began to plead with John Gano to move his family there and serve as pastor of their congregation. He wanted to do so, but felt an obligation to the church he was serving at Morristown. The people there gave him permission to serve as itinerant preacher, going South each year. They were good to his wife when he was away. His wife was accustomed to the advantages of her own well-to-do family and did not know the hardships of frontier life. He was uneasy about the Indian raids which were still frequent along the Yadkin River. The Cherokees, who had many fighting men, would send out raiding parties frequently. In 1755 a fort was erected near Salisbury where Colonel Waddell was placed in command. He was made responsible for giving protection to the settlers in the vicinity.
In 1756 John Gano went through a severe inner struggle as to what he should do. One day two of his friends from the settlement in North Carolina appeared at his home in New Jersey. They had come to request his church to release him. Already Elder Gano had promised to travel on a special preaching mission to Charleston. So he earnestly requested these men to delay their request until after his trip. They agreed to this and traveled with him on the journey back home. While he was gone, his first son was born.
When John Gano completed his eight-month preaching tour of South Carolina he went to Jersey Settlement, and the two messengers returned to Morristown to present their request to his church. On the next Lord's day after their arrival he called a meeting of his church at which time his friends from North Carolina presented every argument of which they could think to persuade the congregation to release their pastor in favor of a more needy field of
labor. No one would speak or make a motion. The meeting was closed, and John Gano said to his Carolina friends, "I cannot leave the church here without the consent of the people. Let me talk to them again, and if at any time I can get their consent, I will write you and will come and work with you." Discouraged, they left.
At the next church meeting in Morristown a spokesman for the church addressed the pastor, "Elder Gano, we gave the messengers from Jersey Settlement no manner of encouragement, supposing that would prevent your coolly deliberating upon their necessity and ours. But we deem you the best judge, and are willing to leave the matter with God and your own conscience. If you think it your duty to leave us, we cannot insist upon your stay."
Though surprised, the pastor was ready to give his answer and replied, "I have been troubled in my soul about the matter and have prayed that God would show me what is right. As you have left the matter to me, it appears my duty to go to that people. They are entirely destitute. They cannot get a minister there whom they will accept. This is not for lack of attachment to you. I go because they need me more."
During the winter of 1756 and 1757 John Gano made preparation to move. He disposed of his property. He wrote the church in North Carolina that he would come in the spring. Time passed more swiftly than he expected. He finally left New Jersey with his family in October. Ebenezer Fairchild of Hunterdam
agreed to go with the Gano family and drive a wagon. He kept a diary. He tells how they loaded a two-horse wagon, placed Elder and Mrs. Gano and their young son, along with several packages of provisions, in a 'thair" a small four-wheel vehicle drawn by one horse, and took one extra saddle horse for any necessary short or fast trips while en route.
Travel was slow and difficult. It was rainy weather late in October. By this time John Gano knew the best route for travel, and he would stop and spend nights with friends he had made earlier. On October 23 it was raining and the family spent two days with a Mr. Winchester. While there Elder John Gano preached to the neighbors, who assembled at the home of his host each night. The day after they left the home of the Winchesters, Elder Gano overturned
the "chair," but his wife and son were not hurt. That night the itinerant preacher had another opportunity to exercise his gifts before a small group gathered at a farm home. The next day they crossed Menoe Cross Creek, then stopped in Frederick Town and traded some with Arthur Charleston. After fording the Potomac River they spent a night with a friend, Mr. Nolen. After crossing Goose Creek they "turned out of Bell Haven Road to a tree marked with a B, where we slept in the woods that night." It rained all of the following day, but they drove across Bulls Run and to Powell Town. It was Saturday night and forty-five people were gathered for festivities. Seven men danced while one made music with his fiddle. Elder Gano secured a house nearby, and invited the people to attend preaching on the Sabbath. They attended the next day, but only three would sing, the others talked amongst themselves, then listened, and talked some more while Elder G?no preached.
As they approached the Rappahannoch, they stopped at the home of James Allison. Mrs. Gano was sick and needed rest, medicine and a little food. Mr. Allison refused to provide accomodations. They drove about half a mile and camped beside the river. Mr. Fairchild built a fire, then prepared some food and sage tea for the sick woman. Early on the morning of November 1 they drove ten miles beside the river, fed the horses and prepared breakfast, then prepared to ford the river. That evening, the river behind them, they ate supper with John Brannon, a friend. His hospitality was generous, but his log house was small. Mrs. Gano slept in the house, while Elder Gano and Mr. Fairchild camped out. There they purchased half a bushel of apples for a shilling. At Porter's tavern they 'drank a dram" of brandy and purchased a turkey. That night they camped out, dressed and cooked the turkey. The next morning Mr. Fairchild killed a deer, and they ate deer steak for supper. Saturday night was spent with friends. They joined the family in singing psalms and hymns and reciting poetry until bedtime. Mr. Fairchild went out to guard the wagons. The others slept inside the house. Elder Gano preached for the neighbors and the host family on Sunday morning, using I Peter 4:18 for a text, "And if the righteous scarcely be saved where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"
Slowly they made their way forward. November 11 they crossed the Roanoke River on a ferry. They bought corn for the horses. On Sunday they gave salt to the horses. Near Haw River, they spent a night with Mr. John Shurman. Sometimes when it rained Mrs. Gano would take the child and ride in the wagon.
Upon arrival at Jersey Settlement soon after November 15, they went to the home of John Hunt to find out about arrangements for living quarters. The Hunts gave the Ganos and Mr. Fairchild a cordial welcome. Later in the day they drove two miles to the home of Colonel Smith, where they "took out the team, unloaded the wagon," and made it their home. A five weeks' journey was over.
Mr. Fairchild agreed to spend a few weeks with the Ganos before returning to Morristown. The Jersey settlers got together frequently to listen to Elder Gano, their preacher, exercise his gifts in public. Ebenezer Fairchild was converted during a sermon on November 25 and later exclaimed, "Blessed be God, it was a good day for my soul." On December 25 Elder Gano preached at Colonel Smith's house. Two days later he looked at a tract of land, with plans to build for his family as soon as possible. The following day Mr. Fairchild set out for home on horseback, leaving the wagon and "chair" and three horses with Elder Gano.
Early in the year 1758 John Gano purchased land beside Swearing Creek. Immediately he started building a dwelling house. His neighbors cut the logs and assisted the minister in the construction work. By late winter or early spring the Gano family moved into their new living quarters.
Large crowds gathered on Saturdays and Sundays to hear John Gano preach. No farm house was large enough to accomodate them. Then the people decided to build a meeting house where the Baptists and others could assemble at regular times for purposes of worship.
Where should the church meeting house be located? Elder John Gano and his followers decided upon a site atop a hill, overlooking the river valley. This would be an ideal place for a cemetery, as well as an appropriate place of worship. There was a good spring nearby where the people could get drinking water when at church. The land was owned by the William Frohock family. The church people were told to go ahead and build their meeting house and start
a cemetery, that it would not be necessary to make a deed for the property. Land was plentiful then. A deed could be arranged at a later date.
By the first of July the meeting house was completed and there was a place for the people of the Jersey Settlement to gather for prayers and worship. In his memoirs John Gano recalls, "As there was no other place of worship near, and there was a great collection of inhabitants of different denominations, they all attended, and it became generally united. In order that all might be concerned, upon necessary occasions, we appointed a board of trustees, some of each denomination (Church of England, Church of Scotland and Baptist) . They continued to be united while I remained there, which was about two and a half years. Before I left the place a Baptist church was constituted, and many additions made to it."
Even with a spirit of unity on the part of the three Christian groups represented in the community and the high enthusiasm of his supporters, John Gano found many problems to command his attention during these two and a half years.
A great influx of settlers had arrived in the Yadkin Valley after 1750. Most of them had come from New England. They were intelligent and ambitious, but life was rugged in an area of the country which was being settled for the first time by white people. The land was yet to be cleared of trees and placed in cultivation. Each new family of settlers built a small log house to use until larger quarters could be afforded. There were blacksmiths, gun smiths, millers and persons who could do other specialized work. It was necessary for the inhabitants to trade produce for services, and services for produce or other services. Professional people, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers were scarce in the region. There had not been time to establish schools in the new settlements. Some of the immigra nts were highly educated and were quick to engage in politics, civil services and civic enterprises. Even so, theirs was not yet a well ordered society.
The settlers had a problem with the Indians. When the French and Indian war began in 1754 the Cherokees, who had defeated the Catawbas in the Rowan County area sent warriors to the side of the English colonists in various places in the North. Most of the Catawba Indians had been driven into Anson County and south of there. Small groups of both the Catawbas and the Cherokees showed their resentment against the whites who were intruding on their hunting grounds by making raids. When they were in a fighting mood they would find an unprotected family, murder the people, and carry off whatever possessions they wanted. Naturally, after several families had been murdered in this manner, all of the people in the Jersey Settlement were ill at ease about their own welfare.
Farm families were scatterd and had practically no means of protecting themselves. Mrs. John Gano was a daughter of a prominent political leader in a well-organized town in New Jersey and the new frontier life gave her a sense of insecurity. Living alone in a new log house in the forest gave her a sense of frustration. When her husband went away to preach, some neighbor would send his wife or the older children to spend the nights at the Gano home. At all times she felt uneasy. A second child, David, was born on November 11, 1758. She became even more afraid of the Indians after that. Though she was in sympathy with the work of her husband, there were times when she urged him to take her and the children back to New England where they would be safer.
Another problem was of a religious nature. There were only a few churches in the piedmont area of North Carolina, which was still a British colony. Eastern North Carolina had been settled largely by Englishmen and Scotch Highlanders from the old country. The two prominent churches were the Church of England and the Church of Scotland.
However, the twenty to thirty thousand colonists who settled Central and Western North Carolina from 1740 to 1760, coming mostly from New England, represented many religious groups. Most of them were of such dissenting groups as Quaker, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Moravian, German Reformed and Methodist. The Church of England had only a few ministers available, and these men, educated in England, did not appeal to the common people in the colony. Such ministers were not kindly disposed towards the dissenting groups. Parson Reed wrote from New Bern, "The Anabaptists are obstinate, illiterate and grossly ignorant, the Methodists ignorant, censorious and uncharitable, the Quakers rigid, but the Presbyterians are pretty moderate except here and there a bigot or rigid Calvinist."
As a result of the religious differences between the established church and dissenting groups, the people at Jersey Settlement were caught in the heat of political controversy. They thought of themselves as pioneer settlers in a land of freedom and opportunity. As soon as Rowan County was formed in 1753 a courthouse was built and Governor Dobbs sent in officers, attorneys and tax collectors to be supported by taxes collected from the new settlers. It was necessary for each landowner to register his land title. Then he had to pay county taxes, taxes to support the Governor and the Provincial Government, a poll tax for each male member of the family sixteen years old or above, and a Vestry Tax for all males sixteen years of age and older. The Vestry Act provided tax money in order "that the clergy may have a decent and comfortable maintenance and Support, without being obliged to follow any other Employment than that of their Holy Function" to the extent of an annual salary of eighty pounds, "Proclamation Money." The Act also provided that every minister should "have a Certificate from the Bishop of London, ... been duly Ordained, conformable to Ye Doctrine and Discipline of Ye Church of England and of a good Life and Conversation."
The freedom loving Baptists did not believe in paying taxes to support ministers of the Church of England. They expected to select their own ministers and to provide their material needs. Moreover, these people in Rowan County were being served only by their own ministers, such as John Gano, Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall. No minister of the Church of England was available to serve in the new settlements.
A protest arose against the Vestries Tax. About seven hundred people of Rowan County met and formulated a set of Articles, one of which demanded that the Vestries be abolished and that each denomination pay its. own ministers. The meeting was held near Salisbury, perhaps at Jersey Settlement. John Gano, who held strong convictions about the necessity of religious freedom and separation of church and state, was a natural leader in such a movement. The officials in government referred to the protesting group as a "mob."
This incident in 1758 began a long and bitter struggle between the free religious settlers in Rowan County and the forces of colonial government who made headquarters in eastern North Carolina and who protected a strict enforcement of tax regulations upon the settlers.
In the area there were Baptists with many points of view, and until the Sandy Creek Baptist Association was organized in 1758 there was no unifying agency to give Baptist work a general sense of direction. Shubal Stearns organized a band of Separate Baptist immigrants from New England into the Sandy Creek Baptist Church in 1755. In 1758 he sent out word that an association of Baptist churches would be formed. John Gano, who was a Particular Baptist
and who was more rigid in his demands for orderliness and Calvinistic practices, did not encourage his Jersey Baptists to participate. They were not in the group of churches that started the Sandy Creek Association. Elder Gano was trying to get his people to establish some def inite - principles and practices, such as confessions of faith and a covenant agreement to determine the conduct of church members. He was able to inspire people as very few ministers could, but he knew that there must also be a steadiness and loyalty to go with inspiration. David Benedict describes the activities of the Separate Baptists in their early associational meetings, and in so doing probably explains why John Gano did not take his leaders to the meeting in 1758: "These people were so much engaged in their evangelical pursuits, that they had no time to spend in theological debates, nor were they very scrupulous about their mode of conducting their meetings. When assembled, their chief employment was preaching, exhortation, singing and conversation about their various exertions in the Redeemer's service, the success which had attended them, and the new and prosperous scenes which were opening before them. These things so inflamed the hearts of the ministers, that they would leave the Association with a zeal and courage which no common obstacle could impede."
Shubal Stearns and John Gano formed a personal friendship. Though they did not agree on some beliefs and practices, Elder Stearns encouraged his Particular Baptist friend to attend the 1759 session of the Sandy Creek Association. An account in Leland's Virginia Chronicle tells us that Elder Gano attended the meeting and was received by Elder Stearns with great affection. The other people treated Gano with suspicion and coldness. They refused to invite him to a seat in the Association, but he was permitted to sit for a while as a spectator of their proceedings.
Elder Gano was mature enough not to be offended by this treatment, but Stearns was embarrassed. Mr. Gano retired from the meeting with a view to returning home. As soon as he left the room, Stearns interrupted the proceedings, rebuked the brethren for their rudeness and proposed that they invite Mr. Gano to preach so that ail of them might better understand his position. Stearns went outside, persuaded Gano to preach and then introduced him to the messengers from the nine Baptist Churches which constituted the young Association. At first, the listeners were disappointed because the preacher was calm and did not rage with the kind of noise and gestures to which they were accustomed.
In a quiet, firm, convincing manner Gano preached, quoting passages of scripture freely. They began to look at each other, nod and whisper, "He's all right." As he continued they were astonished at his understanding, and their hearts were stirred with real conviction. They persuaded Elder John Gano to stay with them through all the sessions and called upon him to preach several times. Before they adjourned, they were very much attached to him. His preaching talents appeared so superior to their own that the young illiterate preachers said they felt as if they could never attempt to preach again.
When Elder Gano won the confidence and admiration of the other ministers in central North Carolina, he opened the way for Jersey
Church to become active and help to strengthen Baptist work in the vicinity. However, it is believed that the Jersey Baptists refused to affiliate their church with the Sandy Creek Association until many years later. Jersey Church joined the Charleston Association in 1759, and gave 1755 as the date of the constitution of the church.
Baptists of the Jersey Settlement were taught how to make an orderly approach to worship. They learned from their minister the great doctrines of the faith. They practiced two ordinances only- -baptism by immersion and the Lord's Supper. They were also taught to be considerate of people of other denominations, and since the Presbyterians and Episcopalians who lived in the Settlement usually came to hear Elder Gano preach, there was a good under-
standing amongst all the people. They learned to be generous in helping the needy, and when a house burned, the neighbors would get together
and build another. When the Cherokee or Catawba Indians would make a destructive raid, the neighbors did everything possible to help the family
get back on its feet.
A major asset in the success of his ministry was the assistance given him by competent laymen. There was James Smith, an emigrant from Holland who had first settled in New Jersey and who had brought his family to the Jersey Settlement. James Smith was tall and handsome, and he commanded the confidence of all who came to know him. He was a successful planter and began to purchase a few slaves to assist with labor on the farm. He was concerned about the
spiritual welfare of the community and wanted his children brought up under the influence of a church. He did everything he could to help his pastor establish a good church.
Benjamin Merrill was one of the early settlers who was both farmer and blacksmith. His sons received their education at home from their father and mother. A few of the neighbor's children gathered at the Merrill home to study reading and arithmetic. The court bound one fifteen year old orphan boy to Benjamin Merrill, with instructions that his master "learn the said orphan the common rules of arithmetic and the blacksmith's trade." Benjamin had written his brother, William, in New Jersey, about how well he was getting along and promised to help secure land for him. In 1758 William Merrill moved his family to the Jersey Settlement.
David Smith acquired one of the larger tracts of land, more than 12,000 acres, one eighth of one hundred thousand acres granted by King George III to Henry McCulloch. He had seven sons and two daughters. He secured three Negro slaves.
Andrew Hunt and Charles Hunt were two highly respected planters, as was James Blair. Jonathan, a third brother, was one of Elder Gano's staunch supporters. People like these made it possible for Mr. Gano to establish sound practices for worship, preaching the Word of God, baptizing converts, and observing the Lord's Supper. They were eager for their minister to assist weaker churches or to preach to people who had no church at all.
By 1759 there was an all-out effort to conquer the Cherokees and stop their raids on the homes of settlers in Rowan and Anson Counties. As the Colonial forces intensified their campaign, so did the Indians. The Creeks joined the Cherokee tribes in open war against the whites. It was necessary for the settlers to establish forts and move their families into them. Many settlers moved their families out of the area into territory where they would be safer. If a family decided to remain on its settlement it became necessary to fortify the dwellings and outhouses, and to have a good spring within the enclosure so that an adequate supply of water would be available for family and stock. Many of the houses had port holes in the corners so that all approaches could be properly guarded. Almost every family kept dogs, ready to give an alarm, and some of them had fierce bear dogs.
As the struggle became more intense Elder John Gano had to decide whether to remain in North Carolina or take his family elsewhere. In April, 1760, Colonel Hunt reported that at least half the inhabitants had left Rowan County and settled in counties to the east.
The Governor of North Carolina gave John Gano a Captain's commission. The minister decided that he had an obligation to protect his own wife and children as well as to help other people. So he did not accept active service under his commission. He began to make plans to go back to New Jersey or Pennsylvania. His church and people in other places where he had preached realized they would be losing a strong leader, but his friends understood and they advised the preacher to use his own best judgment. The work of his church was being disrupted because everyone lived in constant fear of an Indian raid.
In 1760 Elder John Gano took his wife and two sons back to New Jersey. In his own words, "I resigned my commission and left this place, and under the protection of a kind providence arrived safely at my father-in-law's at Elizabethtown."
Though he had left Jersey Settlement, John Gano continued his ministry there by going back when he could. In 1760 and 1761 he preached in Philadelphia. In 1761 a Baptist congregation there asked him to be pastor. He said about this call, "I answered, I would go for one year, but that I would take three months off to visit North Carolina, to which they agreed."
The struggle between the whites and the Indians and between the free church people and the colonial government continued. In 1761 the Indians were defeated. In 1763 the Cherokees declared war again, but the superior forces of the whites soon defeated them. Then settlers began to move into the Yadkin Valley again.
As soon as the Cherokee threat was over, attention was again turned to the controversy about taxes. The Baptists and some other dissenters were frustrating Governor Tryon's plan for the Established Church. After he became Governor in 1765, Tryon visited Salisbury often, and no doubt he learned a great deal about how the Baptists had continually opposed certain taxes and policies of the colonial government after the meeting of the "mob" of seven hundred in 1758.
He decided to try to destroy the opposition of these people known as" Regulators." By 1767 he had a military force of "100 young men of the best families," who were well trained and disciplined. He led them from the seashore to the mountains and back again, professing to make a treaty with the Cherokees. On the march to and from the mountains they passed through Rowan County and encamped in settlements where there were a great many Baptists. It is thought that John Frohock, tax collector in Salisbury, who found stiff opposition to certain taxes, kept the Governor informed about the Baptists at Jersey Settlement and in other nearby settlements.
The Baptists at Jersey Settlement continued to agitate for freedom from taxation to support ministers of the Established Church. In 1768 Governor Tryon moved against the Regulators in the Hillsboro area. In the same year some settlers in the Yadkin Valley met at the home of Isaac Free and signed an agreement against public taxes. They also listed other grievances. Later that year a minister by the name of Utley went to James Hampton's house expecting to preach to some Baptists, but found that all the men had gone to a gathering about political affairs, against government orders.
Tradition has it that an Episcopal minister, Theodore Drane Draig, came to Salisbury in 1768 or 1769. He had a chapel erected somewhere in the Jersey Settlement, perhaps near the Dr. William B. Mears old homeplace. The Presbyterians objected to the Episcopal Church. On Easter Monday, 1770, according to the law of the Province, there was an election for the purpose of selecting vestrymen. The Presbyterians set up candidates of their own and elected them. In so doing they prevented the Episcopalians from selecting vestrymen who would carry on their work.
It appears that John Gano was back in Jersey Settlement in 1770. On October 2 of that year he purchased one hundred acres of land from Benjamin Merrill and his wife for "eight pounds of sterling money of Great Britain." He also purchased twenty-four acres from the same couple for "five pounds current money of North Carolina." At the same time he secured fifty acres from John Davis and wife for "eight pounds sterling money of Great Britain."
In March 1771, John Frohock and Alexander Martin came upon four or five hundred men encamped in the woods between the Yadkin River and Salisbury. Upon inquiry, they learned that the men had gathered to petition the Court "for a redress of Grievances against officers taking exorbitant fees, and that their arms (which some of them had) were not for offense, but to defend themselves if assaulted." An agreement was made, which Governor Tryon did not see fit to honor. The Governor decided to deal firmly with all insurgents. He cited about sixty of the Regulators to appear before him, and stated that any who failed to answer would be declared traitors. In May of that year Governor Tryon, in the Battle of Alamance, defeated an army of Regulators .
There were few Baptists in the battle at Hillsboro, however, and Tryon knew that some of his chief opposition still remained at Sandy Creek, Jersey Settlement, Abbotts Creek and other places in the Yadkin Valley. He enlarged his army and moved against the Baptist neighborhoods. He laid waste plantations. He took captives to Hillsboro for trial as outlaws and traitors.
The armed forces moved first against the Baptists at Sandy Creek. After inflicting heavy damages and driving many of the people away, Tryon led his army westward and encamped on the plantation of Captain Benjamin Merrill, about four miles south of Lexington and two miles east of Jersey Church. Three divisions of the army, consisting of about three thousand or more troops, were assembled for this campaign against the Regulators and Baptists near Jersey Baptist Church. When the soldiers arrived at Benjamin Merrill's plantation they arrested him and sent him away. Later at Hillsboro he was sentenced to death by Chief Justice Howard in these words:
"...that you, Benjamin Merrill, be carried to the place from whence you came; that you be drawn from thence to the place of execution, where you are to be hanged by the neck; that you be cut down while yet alive; that your bowels be taken out while you are yet alive and burnt before your face; that your head be cut off, and your body divided into four quarters, and this to be at his Majesty's disposal; and the Lord have mercy on your soul."
The Governor granted permission for Mrs. Merrill and her children to view the terrible execution. Then he permitted the Merrill family to retain possession of his plantation.
Those who refused to comply with terms prescribed by Governor Tryon had their houses burned and their fields of grain ruined. The officers brought in at least forty prisoners one day, bound two and two in chains. Such prisoners were kept under guard, and later were sent to Hillsboro for trial and sentence. Wives and children begged for mercy for the heads of families.
The resistance of the Regulators was broken in the cruel way described above. Later in 1771 Governor Tryon left North Carolina, but only after many Baptists were driven to the wilderness to seek new homes and security for their families. Morgan Edwards says that in 1772 about fifteen hundred families moved out of these Baptist settlements in the piedmont area of North Carolina. The membership of Sandy Creek Church dropped from a peak of six hundred and six earlier to fourteen in the year 1772.
Throughout this period of rebellion and conflict with Indians and government, the Baptists who remained in the Jersey Settlement continued to gather for worship at times.
On February 8, 1775, William Frohock deeded three acres and twenty poles of his land, where John Gano and the other Baptists had erected a meeting house earlier, for the sum of five shillings of sterling money. The deed reads, "Between Mr. William Frohock of Rowan County in the Province of North Carolina, gentleman of the one part, and James McCoy, Esquire, Benjamin Rounsvllie, and Herman Butner, of the county of Province aforesaid, trustees of the United Congregation, consisting of the professors of the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, and the Baptists in the Jersey Settlement in said County."
Obviously, the reason for this deed was to make legal the use of the property which had already been given by William Frohock for religious services. It is clear in the deed that there was a meeting house and a burial ground on the land, and that it was near Swearing Creek.
Governor Tryon had so completely defeated and dispersed the Baptists at Jersey Settlement in 1771 that there is little evidence of any large role played by them in the American Revolution. The kind of defeat which they suffered most certainly made some of the survivors more determined than ever to stand firm upon the principles of freedom and of separation of church and state. Others were so grieved by what had taken place that they had no fighting spirit left. Henry Sheets has told us about how Mrs. Jemima Merrill remained faithful and active religiously after the death of her husband. She was blind. He says, "Whether the blindness was caused by some natural defect or from excessive grief at the sad and untimely death of her husband was not known. She was never herself after the death of her husband--she never recovered from the shock. She was almost crazed at the cold, cruel fate which befell her in thus being bereft. She suffered great mental distress and spent much of her time walking to pass off the melancholia which clung to her only to darken her days of grief and bitterness. Her mind was scarcely ever free from her affliction while awake."
In 1773 John Gano was back in the vicinity, and received and baptized fifteen new members at Boone's Ford Baptist Church. A month later Mrs. Jemima Merrill was received at Boone's Ford Church by letter. Other family names, once prominent at Jersey Settlement, appear in the records of Boone's Ford Church. Such activity on the part of John Gano indicates that he kept in contact with his friends in North Carolina.