Where Did My Ancestors Worship?

Week 17 of #52 Ancestors: AT WORSHIP

I thought about this topic for quite a while.   I started reading the ” Smyth County, History and Traditions” by Goodridge Wilson about Smyth County, Virginia and I found a section about the early churches and religions.  Many of my ancestors settled in the Smyth County area – which was first Montgomery and then Wythe County area.  Smyth was made a county in 1832 from parts of Montgomery and Wythe.  In fact, my 5th great-grandmother, Freelove Cole Thomas, named the county seat of Marion in Smyth County!  I have been curious as to the religious beliefs of my ancestors.

I discovered that the first people who came to settle in Smyth were mainly Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran and Reformed families with a few Methodist and Episcopalian among them.  Those of Scotch-Irish extraction were numerous – which would includes my ancestors- and they were mainly Presbyterian.  My Cole ancestors who came to the Smyth area were from Connecticut and Massachusetts and were either Baptists or Congregationalists before they came and became Baptist soon after arriving. (p. 120).

The Thomas Family are also my ancestors and were mentioned in the book as the first Thomas coming from Wales via Southampton and were probably Episcopalian or Presbyterian.   The Presbyterians were the first to organize in the county and were called the Upper Holston Congregation meeting at a place called Royal Oak in 1776.  The Holston River ran through Smyth County.  Most likely, Thomas Thomas and his wife Freelove Cole Thomas worshipped at Royal Oak Presbyterian Church and became members because their children were listed as members.  Their son, Abijah Thomas (Abijah Thomas and His Octagon House) was an elder in the church. (p. 125)  You can read more about the Thomas Family here: Searching for “FREELOVE”

However I recently found information about the father of Thomas Thomas who was John Thomas married to Mary Robinette.  It seems that John Thomas and his wife are credited with helping to found the New Valley Baptist church in Loudoun County, Virginia along with a Rev. Joseph Thomas.  This would have been before they came to settle in Smyth County.  So I have some Thomas families as Baptist and some as Presbyterian!  I need to search more sources to verify any of this!

The James families of Smyth County were also my ancestors and may have been Baptist or Methodist when they arrived.  I found that later many members of the James families were buried in Methodist cemeteries so this appears to be accurate.  The Methodist movement started in the area with the arrival of a Bishop Asbury in 1788 (p. 122) and there was an age of revivalism that swept the country around the beginning of the 1800s.  The Methodists ran camp meetings and classes and grew to be the largest denomination.  “Bishop Asbury would sometimes come into this county through Grayson and sometimes up Cripple Creek.  He was entertained at least once in the James home at Sugar Grove (this was my ancestor) and he formed strong classes in the Blue Springs and Cedar Springs neighborhoods on both sides of the county line “(p. 140).

Then there were the Baptists who probably came from Pennsylvania and Delaware.  They had moved across and over the mountains partly to escape persecution but also to look for better land and living conditions.  As the book stated: “Their preachers were not so much noted for learning as for fervent zeal, and were men who preached with power, sparing neither effort nor sacrifice to carry the gospel to the remotest settler.  Many a rude arbor, shaded grove, and private dwelling, unlicensed by the general court as places of worship as the law required, were bravely used as such by these Baptist preachers.” (p. 129)  Some of my ancestor names I found in the Baptist section included Burgess and Baker.

I found the picture below of an early church or “meeting house” as they were called  in Smyth County, Virginia.  Denomination is unknown.  My research continues!



early church 001

Source: Ancestry.com. Smyth County, history and traditions [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2005.

Original Data: Wilson, Goodridge,. Smyth County, history and traditons. Kingsport, Tenn.: Kingsport Press, 1932.




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