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Early Methodism In New Castle, Indiana

History of a Pioneer Church, The Early Methodist Churches of New Castle, Indiana

From a paper read before the Henry County Historical Society August 1895 by Charles N. Mikels

      The Methodist Episcopal Church of New Castle, is the oldest church organization in the town and was organized in 1827 by Rev. James Havens, who traveled a circuit embracing six counties which necessitated a ride of over 200 miles to make one round of the preaching places. Mr. Havens was the first minister to preach in the town and came into the town on horseback, backed up by the traditional saddlebags, with his feet and legs wrapped up n flannel legging to protect his clothing from the mud which on all roads was so deep that one party is said to have road into town on a section of rail fence strapped to the underside of his horse to keep him from sinking at some unlooked for moment in some unlooked for hole in the road.
     Rev. Havens is said to have been a exceedingly robust and sturdy specimen of manhood, with a shock of red hair. In disposition he was an energetic, tireless, devoted and fervent preacher. He said what he had to say regardless of how hard the devil might squeal at his strokes, and had his own way. At one meeting, four young men arrived, threatening to break up the meeting unless he stopped his tomfoolery, as they termed it. After urging them to be orderly and after their persistent swearing and continued threats he left the stand and advanced to meet them, and, picking up a club, he said that he believed he could whip the four of them, but if he could not, he had plenty of help. Before his firm demeanor the rowdies backed down and slipped away.
     In December 1827, Mr. Havens met the Methodist of New Castle and vicinity at a private house and organized a class. Mr. Elwood Pleas, in his admirable volume, "Henry County, Past and Present," says that Mr. Havens first preached in a log cabin a little south of the residence of the late Benjamin Shirk on North Main Street. It is not unlikely that in the five years from the first settlement at New Castle to 1827 the pioneer Methodists had held occasional services in their homes. Most of the members had become Methodist before they came here or had been under Methodist influences. For instance, John R. Colburn, who was the first class leader, had moved from North Carolina with his family and upon the first opportunity united with the Church and with him came his family. Among the first members of this class were John R. Colburn, class leader, Revil Colburn, Margaret Colburn, Elizabeth Colburn, Mary F. Colburn, Frances Colburn, Hugh Carr Sr., Ketura Carrol, Hugh Carroll, Jr., Allen and Arcsey Macklin, Conrad and Sarah Slagle, James and Susan Rozzell and Jane Webster. Mary F. Colburn afterwards married and was known as Aunt Mary Lennard. Frances Colburn became Fanny Dowell. She died in 1894, being the last surviving member of this early class. No one living can say whether the foregoing is a complete list of the members of this early class or not, for most of the old settlers now living who know anything about the matter at all were children at the time of the above organization. But this list is thought to be complete.
     The first church building was erected on a vacant lot. That lot being the one on which the present building is located. It was built in 1831 by W. F. Harman a carpenter from Knightstown. The shingles, nails, glass and window sashes were furnished by Alan Shepherd, who was not a member.
     The building was a low frame building, having a door in the center of the north end with a window on either side of it and a two windows in both the east and west sides of it. Along one side of the building there had been a large oak tree cut down which with the butt of the stump served as a horse block by means of which those who came on horse back mounted and dismounted.
     The seats in the first church were imperfectly smoothed boards about six to eight inches in width without backs, supported by legs, that is, by wooden legs roughly hewed out. In those days, if they had ushers, their duty was not so much to see that people were comfortably seated, for that was impossible, but to see that all men went on one side of the aisle which ran through the center of the building, and the women on the other. The men sat on the east side, and the women on the west. There was a square box stove to heat the building.
     The fist trustees elected on July 16, 1831 were John R. Colburn, William Sparks, William Cooner, John Powell and Hugh Carroll. William Meek and his wife, Elizabeth Ann, deeded the lot on which the church now stands, on June 30, 1832.
     Terms of school were held in the church for several terms, among the teachers being Adeline Scott, Laura Laseur and Caleb Cole. School that was being held in the log courthouse was then moved to the small frame building erected by the pioneer members of the Methodist Church prior to the erection of the New Castle Seminary School. In the year of 1834, the church building was used as a jury room for the April term. It was in this building that Peter Winslow was arraigned and afterwards tried and acquitted on an indictment for assault and battery with intent to shoot a constable who was about to levy on his household goods, Mr. Winslow being a prominent colored gentleman, residing in the southern part of the county.
     There was preaching at a very early period at the McDaniel's, four miles southwest of New Castle, so called from Hugh McDonald, a pioneer Methodist in the neighborhood, whose name was mispronounced as McDaniel. Mrs. Anna Black, who was a member of this Church as early as 1834, thinks the first religious services were held here in the old log schoolhouse as early as 1832. The schoolhouse was built of rude logs "slipped" on the inside, and there was an immense fireplace. The seats were split out of logs and had no backs. For a long time meetings were held on Thursdays, for there was no Sunday preaching, as New Castle claimed the preacher on that day. Among the earliest members, and Mrs. Black says they were true Christians, were William Woolen, Millie Woolen, David Templeton, Nellie Templeton, James Smith, Anna Smith, Hugh McDonald, Prudence McDonald, Jonas Moss, Dorcas Moss, John Black, Anna Black, Samuel Lowe, Sarah Lowe, John G. Welch, Charity Welch, Wiley Ballard, Prudence Ballard, Jennie Dyson, Henry B. Welch, James Woodsides, John Walker, Polly Walker, William Shelley, Prudence Shelley, George Atkinson, Peter Riley, Nancy Riley, John Kendall, Lydia Kendall, Samuel Foreman, Walter Foreman and Nancy Foreman. The early class leaders here were William Woolen and Samuel Lowe. In 1837, as shown by the deed records of Henry County, ground for the erection of a church and "for a burying ground place for the members of the M. E. Church in the United States of America" was conveyed to the trustees of McDaniel Church. The old log schoolhouse had been repaired and did service for many years, but more than forty years ago a neat frame building was put up and the church still flourishes (1895)
     Several pioneer Methodist lived west of Blue River and came on Sundays to New Castle to hear preaching, but about the year 1833, although some say as early as 1830, they organized a Church at the house of William Connor. The best authority is that the Church was organized in the winter of 1833 under the ministry of the Rev. Nathan Fairchild. The earliest members were William Conner, Mary Conner, Emsley Brookshire, Elizabeth Brookshire, Hannah McDowell, Joseph Allen and Mary Langly. Meetings were held for a time at the houses of William Conner and Emsley Brookshire. New members came into the Church, including Ezekiel Rogers, Eleanor Rogers, George Rogers, Catharine Rogers, William McDowell, Anna McDowell, John Connor, Mother Kelso, Philander Ross, Nancy Ross, Michael Lewis, Betsy Lewis, Lucy Russell, Hannah Russell, Elizabeth McDowell, John Bennett and others. In March 1839, William McDowell conveyed, as shown by the deed records, a tract of land "to Wm. McDowell, Emsley Brookshire, Ezekial Rogers, George Rogers and John Conner, trustees of the M. E. Church of Brookshire Class, "for the erection of a Church." A log church was erected. The Meetinghouse was well nigh surrounded by a woods of maple trees, and the Church now took the name of "Sugar Grove."
     In 1843, Emsley Brookshire, and several others, withdrew from the Church at "Sugar Grove" on account of differences of opinion upon the slavery question. Three quarters of a mile north of Sugar Grove, Mr. Brookshire, with others, organized a Church of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection, in which Church Mr. Brookshire afterwards became a leading Minister. For forty years Ezekial Rogers was class leader at Sugar Grove, and during that time he never by act or word, lowered the banner of his Christian faith. William McDowell, for many years coroner for the county and court bailiff, was for nearly half a century a zealous member of the Church here. From the founding of this Church, a little grave yard was laid out near by, and as the years passed by, its inhabitants grew in numbers, its white gravestones became white pages on which were carved familiar passages from the Book that guided the steps of many of the earliest pioneers of the county, whose remains rest there, to a place of rest. The old Church gave way about the year 1854 or 1855 to a frame structure. This was destroyed by fire a few years later and the present building was then erected.
     Another Methodist Church, four miles northwest of New Castle, was organized in the year 1846, with William Sanders, Richard Modlin, Needham Sanders, Joseph White and William Lynas as trustees. This class erected a small frame building and the Church was known as "New Salem." This Church flourished for a few years, then languished, then closed its doors, and the church was long ago torn down.

2001 UEB

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