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2008 - 2009 Exhibit — Presbyterians in Appalachia

Columbia Theological Seminary presented a series of lectures in Montreat during July 2008. As part of that experience, the Presbyterian Heritage Center will offer an exhibit on Presbyterians in Appalachia.

The Presbyterian missions were about religion, education and health. For more than two centuries, Presbyterians were pioneers to reaching indigious people, and later serving the often Scot-Irish mountain settlers throughout the Appalachian region. Churches and schools were formed. Health care facilities opened.

Our Summer 2008 multi-media, interactive exhibit will cover the fascinating story of "Presbyterians in Appalachia." Be sure to come see it in Montreat, or online in our virtual exhibit. Below are just a few facts to whet your interest in the subject. Be sure to click on the 1947 movie excerpt above right.

This exhibit ends on May 1, 2009.

Missions to Cherokee Indians
Beginning with the first mission to the Cherokees in 1757 - 1759 by Presbyterian clergy, Presbyterians often were pioneers.

Presbyterian Rev. Samuel Davies formed a society in Hanover County, Virginia, to further a new Indian mission. Presbyterian Rev. John Martin was sent out in 1757 to reside among the Overhill Cherokees on the Little Tennessee River, the first Protestant to preach the gospel in the Tennessee Country or in the Southern Trans-Alleghany region. A successor, Rev. William Richardson, was sent out to take his place in 1758.

In 1804, the Reverend Gideon Blackburn opened a Presbyterian school for the Cherokee near the village of Sale Creek. In March 1817, a school that became known as the Brainerd Mission was established. More missions were founded Hightower, Willstown and Haweis.

The Brainerd Mission was a multi-acre mission school situated on Chickamauga Creek near present-day Chattanooga. The largest institution of its type among the Eastern Cherokees, the mission was created in October 1816 by the Boston-based American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) when it received the Cherokees' approval to establish the school. During its two decades of operation (March 1817 - August 1838), the Brainerd Mission enrolled many hundreds of male and female Cherokee students, while employing forty Presbyterian and Congregational ministers and teachers. The mission ceased when the United States Government expelled the Cherokees. One of the mission schools established in the Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama area where the Cherokees lived was the Taloney Mission (see photo at right) which operated from 1820 - 1839. It was also known as the Carmel Mission.

On October 10, 1822, nine converted Cherokees organized a Presbyterian church at Willstown, Alabama, making a total of four Presbyterian churches organized that year among the Cherokees by the Presbyterians.


Remains of the Taloney Mission in Georgia founded by Presbyterians in Pickens County along Talking Rock Creek.


To see a movie excerpt
(2 minutes, 4 seconds; wmv format) from 1947 on the role
of religion in Appalachia,
click here to run


The Rev. Joel Taylor Wade, Presbyterian minister (shown right) to the mountains in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, shown circa early 1890s. He started the Nacoochee Institute in 1903 in nearby Sautee, Georgia, which later merged to form the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee preparatory school. He served churches in a number of locales, including Highlands, North Carolina.

The Shack, a coal field community center set up by Presbyterian home missionary Mary Behner during 1928 - 1937 in Scott's Run, West Virginia. Working for the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church, U. S. A., Behner went far beyond her initial task of setting up a Sunday School on behalf of Morgantown's First Presbyterian Church. She set up at "The Shack," a community center, libraries, vacation Bible schools, charm schools, nursery schools, scout troops, and Christian Endeavor societies. She helped feed children during the Depression.

Another example of Presbyterian missions to the Appalachia region was in Vardy, Tennessee. In 1897, Christopher Humble visited Vardy. A worker for the Presbyterian Church USA, Humble was looking to begin a mission in the valley. By 1899, a Presbyterian church was built. In 1902, there was a new Presbyterian school building. Two early and long-time Presbyterian missionaries in Vardy were Mary Rankin (1910-1943) and Chester Leonard (1920-1952). Shown below is Rev. Leonard in the early 1940s at the Vardy school.

The Rev. Edgar Tufts started coming to the Banner Elk area in North Carolina in 1895. He founded Banner Elk Presbyterian Church. In 1899 he developed an all-female normal school and high school, which was named the Elizabeth McRae Institute for Girls in 1900. The objective of the institute was to promote Christian values by providing academic curricula that encouraged intellectual, spiritual, physical, and social growth. In 1903, Mrs. S.P. Lees became a major benefactor, resulting in a name change occurred to the Lees-McRae Institute (chartered by the state in 1907), now Lees-McRae College.

In 1914, Rev. Tufts created the Grandfather Home for Children when he converted a farmhouse belonging to Lees-McRae Institute into an orphanage for homeless children.

There were many denominational efforts throughout the southern mountains that started churches, did health work, and built schools.

© 2009. Presbyterian Heritage Center at Montreat.
PO Box 207, Montreat, NC 28757

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