Lebanon "in the Fork"
Presbyterian Church

Founded 1791 by Rev. Samuel Carrick

~~ Knox County's first organized church ~~

Monument to Lebanon-in-the-Fork Presbyterian Church
on the spot where the church buildings stood.

Rev. J. C. Cowan, D. D., Pastor

Elders: S. L. Franklin, M. D., Clerk of Session, W. Alex McNutt, Chas. M. Pickle, M. W. Armstrong, J. D. Luttrell

Deacons: John Manney, Geo. E. McNutt and Jasper Armstrong

     The Session recognizing the importance of preserving the following History of the first church founded in what is now Knox County, (then Hawkins) decided to print a sufficient number of copies for distribution, so that should the original be lost, the valuable data might be available to the host of the descendants of the founders and members of the Mother Church.

Mecklenburg Place
May, 1918

History of Lebanon Presbyterian Church, "In the Fork"
Five Miles East of Knoxville, Tenn.  
by Dr. J. G. M. Ramsey
Mecklenburg Place, Knoxville, Tenn., Sept. 26th, 1875.  

To the Session and Members of Lebanon Church:

Dear Friends and Beloved Brethren:

     I have been requested to prepare for you and your successors' use, some account of your congregation from its first organization in this then wilderness, and of its subsequent growth and attainment.

     To this request, I am more than willing to respond affirmatively, as I am the only surviving member of your church who can do so from his perfect recollection of its first pastor and their successors in the ministry, and it is mainly owing to this circumstance that your request has been made.  I was born on the 25th day of March, 1797, and knew most of your ancestors who were in this then frontier country, and laid the foundation of civilization, of government and reform upon the very border of Cherokee pagan despotism and barbarity, and erected the first house devoted to Christian worship, near to, and in full view of what may have been a Heathen Temple.  I was also baptized by the first pastor of Lebanon Church, and remember still to have heard him preach.

     I also acted for many years the Clerk of your Session, and a quarter of a century since had been asked to prepare and read to Presbytery then holding its fall session in our old church a full history of its organization and growth up to that time.  This grateful duty I attempted to perform to the best of my ability.  My memoir was read before Presbytery and an exceeding large and attentive audience made up in part of members from adjoining congregations, and of other denominations, who appeared highly pleased in the narrative.  I do not know that the Presbytery retained a copy of this record, but it was unanimously resolved by those who heard it, that a copy of it be spread upon the minutes of Lebanon Church Session and recorded in their church book.  As their clerk, I performed this duty.  The memoir was full and accurate and in great detail and the Session book containing it was securely preserved, locked up in my desk until in August, 1863, I fell back from Knoxville with the Confederate Army in the direction of Maryville, my Cashier, Dr. R. B. Strong, and myself, carrying with us the assets of the Branch Bank of Tennessee at Knoxville, and the Knoxville assets of the Knoxville Confederate Depository, of which I was in charge; these assets were removed to place of safety South, but after a few days the Federal Army under General Burnside entered Knoxville, and holding possession of the country around it, some of the troops he commanded soon spread into the adjoining neighborhood appropriating to their own use, the property of the citizens, corn, wheat, bacon, provisions, cattle, hogs, the owners of which were rebels and union men indiscriminately.

     Not satisfied with the personal property of the private citizens, now non-combatants, and without the protection of Confederate troops and authorities, they pillaged private residences and vacant homes of law abiding inhabitants and carelessly distributed the spoils to the more worthless and abandoned villains of the army train.  Among other acts of rapacity and vandalism, they in my absence in Georgia, forcibly entered my private residence, Mecklenburg, and office and library and seized and appropriated and distributed to the meanest of the people, the very trash of the community, the plundered contents of my cribs, barn, smokehouse, stables, dwelling house and office containing all my papers, correspondence, curiosities and museum of antiques.  The second volume of Annals of Tennessee, in manuscript, almost ready for the press, embracing the history of Tennessee from 1800 to 1850, After this pillage and vandalism, the incendiary, a federal soldier, applied a match to the deserted home and burnt the building, and the whole was reduced to ashes.

     Among the other things thus burned, stolen or destroyed, was the Session Book of Lebanon Church, on the pages of which had been spread the Session proceedings, aburbo condita (from the founding of a city) in the last century, and my memoir of its history up to August, 1863.  Of these acts of vandalism the lawlessness perpetrated by the soldiery of our civilized enemy, this is not the time or place to speak; they are mentioned now only for the purpose of explaining why your request has been made to me to write again your church history, and why I have undertaken that duty.

     I cannot hope to reproduce after the lapse of so many years, with perfect accuracy and in equal detail and minuteness which were attained in the original narrative when that memoir was written.  I then had co-temporaries amongst both the people and the clergy to whom I could refer for refreshing my own memory of dates and past events as therein retained.  But, now alas! co-temporaries have all departed this life, and I alone am left to record the events or chronicle the dates of the mighty past, with no one left to whom I can refer to correct the recollection of past transaction.  I hope, however, to attain sufficient accuracy if not the fullness of detail otherwise so desirable in this effort to comply with your request.

(As a note of unwritten history in this connection it is only right to state as a witness that the two lawless, drunken Federal soldiers who burned the home above alluded to, were drummed out of the service, while the whole army corps was in line on the streets of Knoxville, as a disgrace, punishment and warning to other soldiers of this corps. - T. R. C. Campbell.)

     With these prefatory remarks, I will proceed to say that it is tradition that in the autumn of 1789 or 1790, a company of land mongers, explorers, adventurers, hunters and farmers came to the junction of the French Broad and Holston rivers, on the trail to this place of their present meeting, there appeared a lonely traveler on horseback; he was daintily attired and tastefully dressed in black, he wore a grave and clerical aspect somewhat in direct contrast with the homespun dress and backwood appearance of the frontiersman presented to the strangers eyes as he drew near them.  

     Dismounting from his horse, the stranger bowed gracefully to the party he had approached, and saluted them cordially.  He exhibited in his demeanor much of that culture and gentility which indicates the well-bred gentleman and which none but frontiersmen are quick to discern, or appreciate more highly.  He informed the party that he was trying to reach the Houston Station beyond Little River and the settlements then forming around and near it; that these new settlers were once known to him in Augusta, and Rockbridge Counties, Va., and that his present mission to the new country, known as the Territory of North Carolina, was to organize the Presbyterian emigrants into regular Presbyterian congregations, with hopes of supplying themselves hereafter with a living ministry and the ordinance of God's house.

     The party with great eagerness clustered around the strange minister.  In the old states of the fatherland most of them had been acquainted with the word and felt its power, had bowed in prayer and experienced its heavenly influence, had reverenced the Sabbath, and in their Father's house had kept it holy.  The moral law they had in their youth endeavored to obey, but here on the extreme frontier beyond the reach of the preached gospel and the restraint of parental example and instruction, they were living in constant neglect of Christian worship.  In these backwoods they were as sheep without a shepherd and wandering far in the paths of sin and folly.  Wicked associations had seduced some of them from the ways of wisdom and virtue, war and the savage, lawlessness and crime abounded all around and among them.  But, now on the night of an ambassador for Christ, the lessons of their youth came back with vivid freshness and energy upon heart and conscience.  They recollected that their father's house had been a house of prayer and parental rebuke and admonition, they recalled the meeting house on the corner in Virginia, and the powerful sermons they had heard their old minister deliver from the old pulpit near their early homes.  

     Some of the party were now heads of a family and thus far were living without God, and without hope in the world.  Their children were strangers to the Covenant of Promise, were unbaptized, although half grown, sons and daughters stood around their firesides, lovely olive plants growing up in almost a heathen land with little culture and less even of the influence of religion and piety.  The contrast, thus clearly drawn, sensibly affected the backwoodsmen.  The compass was for some time left unnoticed and the rifle was leaned against the tree.  The furs and game and chase were then, for the moment, forgotten, and the frontiersmen coming close to the stranger, importuned him, then and there, to come by on his return, and preach for them at Gilliam's Station as the most convenient and central point in that then promising settlement.   The appointment was accordingly made for an early Sabbath succeeding this interview.   Before the preacher crossed the French Broad river he required the entire party to send word to other stations of his appointment to preach and to administer the sacrament of Baptism to as many as desired the privilege of this ordinance.

     The day thus appointed arrived, notice had been given as requested, to all the bordering settlements.  Considering how sparse then was the population of the country in 1790 the assemblage at Gilliam's Station on this occasion was immense, Baker's Creek, Pistol Creek, Little River, Nails Creek, Elijah and Stock Creek, and all south of French Broad.  The country between the rivers and all settlements north of Holston from the House Mountain down to the Grassy Valley, are said to have been represented in it.  Knoxville was not yet even in embryo; Maryville, Dandridge, and Sevierville, were still in the woods.  Knox, Blount and Sevier Counties were not yet laid off or organized, I do not know what Presbytery even embraced within its boundary, the section of country and the people and church I am writing about -- most probably Abingdon Presbytery and the Synod of Pennsylvania.  

     The County was first Washington, then Greene, next Hawkins and then Knox.  Part of this decade was in North Carolina.  In a little time the country was ceded to Congress and thus became the Territory of the United States south of the Ohio River, and in 1796 the State of Tenn.  The first immigrants were a little cosmopolitan, but were principally from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  They were principally of the Revolutionary Army whose pay had been North Carolina land warrants, which had been laid upon her vacant and unappropriated territory in what is now Tennessee.  Thus immigrants brought little or no wealth to this country of their adoption, but they did bring with them what was far better, self-reliance, industry, frugal habits, hardihood, virtue and enterprise, intelligence and private virtue, and christian principle.  These are the very qualities with which to found a great state, the seminal principle of growth, enlargement and progress, distinction and glory.  

     Such were the people who assembled at Gilliam's Station to listen to the first gospel sermon that had ever been preached on this distant frontier.  The large Indian Mound that stood as late as 1866 at the rear of my old residence, was denuded of the canebrake which covered its sides and its summit, with rank verdure and its thick foliage; seats were improvised for the assembly, and the preacher took the stand, announcing as he did so, that after the morning sermon the sacrament of baptism would be administered.  The late Robert Armstrong, Esq., long one of our elders, told me that the text was: "Wherefore we are Ambassadors for Christ"; the text was eminently appropriate to the occasion, and those who heard the sermon always said that the speaker treated his subject with uncommon ability and tact.  

     When he had finished his discourse he made the announcement that any parents present who wished to offer their children in holy baptism to the Lord now be allowed that privilege, whether members of any Christian denomination.  On this subject he was latitudinarian, and some of his Presbyterian brethren did not concede the liberty which he practiced on this occasion, but the number of children, both of professors and non-professors, in and around the mound was so great that the preacher had to go outside amongst the great assembly for the convenient administration of this sacrament, some of them nearly adult age of both sexes were admitted to it.  The whole service and the scene itself was represented as being peculiarly solemn and impressive.  It was novel to a large part of the backwoodsmen present who had resided their whole life on the wide frontier, strangers to the covenant of promise.

     During the morning service another missionary came up on the grounds and was courteously invited to preach a second sermon.  He had been ruminating among the stations and forts of the settlements of the country and hearing of the appointment at Gilliam's, he came to it.

He commended the efforts of his friend who had just finished the morning services, but added that the subject was not yet exhausted and said he would preach from the same text and proceeded to explain the same without following his predecessors track so ably done.  He was heard with great attention.   He was the Rev. Hezekiah Balch, afterwards the president of Greeneville College.

     Before the assemblage departed to their several homes, it was arranged between the preachers and the people that on another Sabbath in the near future there would be further services at Gilliam's Station and notice of this appointment should be extensively circulated.  This second meeting of the frontiersmen was accordingly held, at the appointed time and place at which a still larger congregation of people attended.  The services were prolonged and resulted in the organization of a Presbyterian Church near Gilliam's Station.  The ecclesiastical title or corporate name of the organization thus established was Lebanon in the Fork, and by that it was afterwards designated in the ecclesiastical records of the church courts.  Lebanon was probably suggested by the forest of cedar trees near the first place of meeting and though not of the same species as the cedars of Lebanon, the name seemed to accord with the time-honored practice of giving scriptural names to Christian churches or places of worship.

     But it is time to inquire who was the strange ambassador for Christ to the pioneers of Tennessee, and the frontiersmen of the West, whose was "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his path straight." To these apposite questions I answer very briefly.  The strange preacher alluded to was the Rev. Samuel Carrick.  He was of Scotch-Irish parentage, born in York (now Adams) County, Va., July 17th, 1760, received his college education and studied Divinity with Rev. William Graham, and was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Hanover, Oct. 25th, 1782.  

     After licensure, he floated on that broad wave of Scotch-Irish emigrants who, after the American Revolution, turned their faces southwestward, through the valley of Virginia and ultimately reached Tennessee, and blessed the country of their adoption with a population that has no where been surpassed in virtue and intelligence, patriotism and public spirit.  Hearing of the spiritual destitution on the frontier, Mr. Carrick penetrated to the very extreme of civilization, founded and organized the first Presbyterian congregation in this part of Tennessee.  

     Although a young man, he was very grave and dignified, very solemn in the pulpit and out of it.  In his intercourse with the people he was never light and frivolous in a promiscuous assembly, was generally taciturn, if not reticent.  I can recollect him very well yet, he was about five feet, eight inches high, ruddy and inclined to corpulency, or rather, plethoric.  His whole person was cast in the most symmetrical mould, and would everywhere be called handsome, he was not less attentive to the sacred desk.  There he was calmness and dignity personified, his articulation was clear and distinct, he was never vehement or violent, never gesticulated; even in the most earnest part of his discourse, he was impressive and motionless.  Twelve inches square on the floor of the pulpit was sufficient for him to stand, no point of him but the vertebrae of his neck pressed forward while he addressed the audience he held his voice, his action, his features under perfect control.  He had a very warm, affectionate heart, full of pity and sympathy for the helpless.  The sublime conception of the Christian system not only overwhelmed him, but seemed to restrain the man, his embassy was peace and reconciliation and the terrors of the law hung like a pall upon his kind heart that subdued to a quiet remonstrance and calm modulation.

     Such was Mr. Carrick when he assumed the pastorate of "Lebanon in the Fork."

     And here comes the second question in this history, who were the people over whom Mr. Carrick was placed to exercise the pastoral office, their names, character and places of residence? I will answer these questions according to the seniority of each individual member of the congregation.

     James White and Polly White, his wife.  This family emigrated soon after the close of the Revolutionary war, in which the former took an active part.  They were of Scotch-Irish Presbyterian descent, they came from Iredell County, N. C., and were members of Centre Church, one of the earliest Presbyterian organizations, formed about the middle of the last century in the then colony of North Carolina.  Iredell was one of the first counties embraced within that portion of the state, sometimes called Mesopotamia County, the name imports between two large rivers, the Yadkin and the Catawba and is often spoken of as the community of Presbyterians, even now the entire population in the country continues Presbyterian.  Centre congregation extends into Mecklenburg County and embraces branches of the families of Lawsons, the Brevards, the Alexanders, the Whites, the McRees, etc.; emigrating from there Mr. White brought with him the traits of character for which that country has been distinguished.  These traits are a passionate attachment to Presbytery, a devotion to liberty, to the representative principle to self-government, to religious training and education of the young, to a learned ministry and unselfish love of country; with such feelings and principles, Mr. White soon became identified with the interests and purpose of his trans-mountain countrymen, became a representative in the Franklin Legislature and continued steadfast in his political status until the causes of the revolt from his native Carolina ceased to exist, and then he resumed his allegiance to the authority of the present state.  After this pacification had become general, Mr. White came lower down in the country and settled for the present near the late residence of John Campbell, Esq., now owned by James Kennedy, on the north side of the French Broad river, about five miles above the Lebanon Church; from this place he afterwards moved to what became White's Station, founded by himself and James Cowan of Beatties Ford, N. C., and some others.

     The Fort stood on what is now the property of Mrs. Jas. Kennedy, in Knoxville, in full view of a fine spring.  Here he and his old neighbor Cowan cleared its first openings in the ancient forest.  It was a turnip patch and embraced the present graveyard of the first Presbyterian Church of Knoxville.  White's Station soon became the nucleus of a considerable settlement of immigrants, and in 1792, he laid off the present Knoxville, which soon after became the seat of the territorial Government South of the Ohio, and the seat of justice for Knox County, which was laid off by Governor Blount.  

     With pious regard for the religion of his father, Col. White gave an entire square of the infant village he had founded to the use of the Presbyterian Church and also to the County of Knox he donated the site for its county buildings.  Another entire square in close proximity to church lot he gave for the site of what became soon after Blount College.  But it was not until about 1812 that any attempt was made to build upon the church property.  Occasional preaching was held first in White's Station, and in the Barracks, and for a time in the courthouse.  But Lebanon had become the center of a large congregation, embracing all the Presbyterians within its reach and including Adair's Station, four or five miles above First Creek, and all the settlements and neighborhoods upon both banks of the rivers, French Broad and Holston.

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