Fairforest Presbyterian Church

In the year 1776 a plain but spacious log building stood on the eminence where the western square of the wall passes.  A traveler whose eye was practiced in such matters would have said that it had been erected twelve years before.  That house was then called Fairforest Church.  Around it for miles dwelt those who were accustomed to worship at the place.  Families of the following names constituted the congregation at that period: Mayer, McIllwaine, Patton, Kelso, Davidson, Strong, Means, Saye, Hodge, Park, Harris, Shaw, Kennedy, Barron, Harbison, Cunningham, Thomas, Culberson, Hayney, Faris, Crawford, Clowney, Denny, Thompson, Simpson, Foster, Armstrong and Nesbit.

At the date above written this people had never had a settled pastor nor a stated supply, but were dependent upon ministers from a distance for what is termed occasional supplies.  Among those who had visited them for this purpose were the Rev. Mr. Edmonds, John Simpson and Joseph Alexander.  The latter was pastor of the Bullock's Creek Church, twenty‑five miles distant, and made frequent visits to the Fairforest people.  The spirit of piety was promoted by society meetings.  These meetings were held at the church or private houses, as convenience or inclination dictated.  The Scriptures were read and other acts of religious worship attended to.  Catechetical instruction in families was diligently maintained, and the morals of the rising generation carefully guarded.  They who had once enjoyed the benefits of pastoral labor longed for these privileges again.  An easy day's ride to the westward would have carried one beyond the limits of civilization, where the red man of the forest roamed over the wilderness in quest of game or for purposes of amusement or traffic.

The population of the whole country was sparse and mostly confined to the more fertile land bordering on the streams.  About twenty‑four years before the United States became a Nation the first party of white men found a home in this vicinity.  Among them were George Storo and James McIllwaine.  They encamped upon an eminence commanding a beautiful prospect.  A valley stretched far in the distance.  A grove of lofty trees concealed the meanderings of the stream that fertilized the extended plain.  The rays of the declining sun lit up the vast amphitheater of tree tops waving gently in the breeze, overlooked now for the first time by the eyes of white men.  One of the party, believed to have been James McIllwaine, looked abroad for a time over the rich scenery of the place and exclaimed: "That is a fair forest!"  The party immediately gave the name to the place and it soon fastened upon the principal stream in the vicinity, hence the northeastern branch of the Tyger River has been called since those days Fairforest Creek, a bold and beautiful stream which, rising in the vicinity of the mountains, sweeps through the central part of the present districts of Spartanburg and Union.  Fairforest was for a time the Ultima Thule of civilization.  The poetry of its name and position attracted many a visitor and was a matter of intense discussion among the migratory tribes from the Delaware to the Catawba.

The party above mentioned was from Pennsylvania.  They located lands upon the Fairforest Creek and settled where the line between Spartanburg and Union now crosses that stream.  Other friends from the North were soon with them ‑‑ among them persons named Means, Dugan and Kelso.  When the Indian War commenced in 1760 the settlers retreated to the interior and some of them never returned.  But most of them came back; a church was organized and gradually acquired strength until 1766.  No written document shows the time of this organization, and tradition fails in the matter, but it probably took place in 1762.  The first meeting of session which is on record was held Aug. 16, 1791.  The Rev. David Barr, Moderator; elders present, John Davidson, William Patton, Joseph Kelso, James Mayes, Hugh Means, James McIllwaine and Robert Harris.  A number of these, however, are known to have been ruling elders before the commencement of the Revolutionary War. Within a few years subsequent to this first meeting the following names appear on the list: James Means, Samuel Kelso, Henry Story, Richard Thompson, Samuel Morrow, Edward Mayes and William Davitt.

In October, 1794, the name of the first pastor appears on the sessional record, probably immediately after his ordination and induction into the pastoral office.  He continued ten years with this church.  In the time an interesting revival of religion took place in the congregation; indeed, it was a time of great interest to God's people through the whole Union.  Perhaps in no country at any time has there been a  more general or intense interest on the subject of religion than was experienced in this country during a few of the first years of the present century.  Fairforest shared largely in this time of refreshing, but the pastor, William Williams, believing that his usefulness would be promoted by going to a different field, removed to the State of Ohio in 1804.  He was succeeded by the Rev. Daniel Gray, who died pastor of this church in 1816.  He was followed by the Rev. Joseph Hillhouse, who left in the course of a few years.  The next pas tor was the Rev. D. L. Gray, who also left after a stay of about four years.

The following persons are mentioned as having been stated or occasional supplies in times past‑‑‑some before the first pastor and others in the intervals between the time of one pastor and another:  The Rev. Messrs. McCollough, James Templeton, Robert Hall, Humphrey Hunter, William C. Davis, Francis Cummins, S. B. Wilson, Francis Porter, Jeptha Harrison and John Boggs.  Under the labors of several of these men, seasons of revivals have passed in this congregation, when Zion has been enlarged and beautified.  But the spirit of emigration has carried off successive colonies of her children to seek homes in the Far West until the congregation is now greatly reduced in numbers. It is, however, consolatory to know that these colonies have constituted a nucleus around which new congregations have sprung up and new churches have arisen in the wilderness from the vigorous scions nurtured in old Fairforest.

About the year 1787 a new place of worship was erected a mile or two west of the place above described and thus separating the place of worship from the place of interment for the congregation. At the time the United States became a Nation the congregation of Fairforest had none connected with it who were not prepared to sign the pledge annexed to the Declaration of Independence.  How this work of preparation had been accomplished may be inferred from the preliminary observations connected with this sketch.  It may not, however, be improper to remark that the men who composed the congregation were not an ignorant rabble, although their homes had been recently a wilderness.  They were a body of citizens collected from various parts and had generally come from communities enjoying high privileges of a social and religious nature.

The pastoral letter of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia in 1775 may be regarded as a moderate and measured expression of the sentiments of intelligent Presbyterians in regard to the quarrel with the mother country at that time.  It is presumed by the writer that this letter was read in every church under the care of that synod by the presiding minister, with such comments as might be thought proper on the occasion.  The ministers who officiated at Fairforest in those days were Joseph Alexander and John Simpson.  The latter was the leading champion of liberty on the Catawba and a member of the Council of Safety in Sumter's camp in the War of Independence.  A living witness of those times recently remarked to the writer that the Tories would have roasted Alexander if they could have caught him.  But the people did not wait to be roused by the ministry.  Many of them demanded of their  ministers that they should become missionaries of liberty and seize upon all suitable occasions to spread before the public the merits of the controversy.  This was done.  From some cause, or combination of causes, there was no division in this congregation in regard to Independence.  Every man was true to his country and ready to stake fortune and life and sacred honor to secure its welfare.  No important engagement occurred in the state or out of it where this state had soldiers without a respectable representation from Fairforest.  Not a few fell in battle or wore scars of honor after the war.  But this was not all this congregation was called to suffer and lose in the cause of freedom.

horizontal rule