Bethesda Presbyterian Church celebrated the 163rd anniversary
of its founding on Sunday, November 18, 2009.
While we celebrate our heritage we eagerly embrace the future.
When charter member, Mrs. Margaret Cowan McNeely died February 7, 1849 in her 72nd year, her large tombstone in Bethesda Cemetery identified her as “the first Mother laid in this retired place.” Described as “the consort of Archibald McNeely,” research disclosed that the couple were married in December 1795 in Rowan County, North Carolina. The inscription further noted that Mrs. McNeely “..has long been a consistent member of the Presbyterian church.” The memorial is one of two gravestones that date back to the earliest days of Bethesda’s formation.
Robert McNeely was born March 16, 1798 and died November 28, 1876. He and Jane Lenora Cowan were married December 26, 1832 in Rowan County. Of the couple’s seven children, the majority would have numbered among the first children in Bethesda Church. Mrs. McNeely was born December 18, 1811 and died September 7, 1882. Mr. and Mrs. McNeely and three of their progeny are interred in the Bethesda Presbyterian Cemetery.
Born December 20, 1799, Jesse McNeely was elected in 1848 one of the first Deacons in Bethesda Church. He was also a “clerk” (song leader), in the Church as revealed in an article published in the April 20, 1900 edition of The Statesville Landmark newspaper. Penned by Captain Henry Chambers, of Chattanooga, TN, the feature detailed a number of memories about Bethesda and the local community from the perspective of one who attended the Church as a lad in the late 1840’s. Jesse McNeely died October 18, 1872.
McNeely’s wife, Margaret L., lived from February 24, 1804 until November 30, 1895, dying at almost 92 years of age. Mrs. McNeely was the last survivor of the group of seven women and seven men who established Bethesda Church. The McNeelys were the parents of at least three children. A daughter, Margaret Ann, was the first child baptized in Bethesda Church, according to an interview with the child’s mother in an 1894 Statesville newspaper. Mrs. McNeely also told correspondent J. A. B. Goodman that she was present 54 years earlier “at the stand in the woods where Bethesda church now stands.” The nonagenarian added that the first sermon was preached by Rev. Andrew Yancy Lockridge. That event would have occurred in May 1840, more than seven years before the organization of the church.
David Goodman was born June 25, 1809 and died October 1, 1873 at the age of 64 years. He was elected to Bethesda’s first Board of Deacons. Goodman became an Elder in 1868, as confirmed by a simple phrase on his handsome tombstone in Bethesda’s historic cemetery. Mary (?Moore) Goodman was born February 22, 1817 and died September 6, 1850. She was interred in the Filhour Family Cemetery in western Rowan County.
Nothing further is known about Mary Millar (sic) other than she left Bethesda in October 1848 to unite with Thyatira Presbyterian Church in the Millbridge community in Rowan county.
Thomas Alexander Freeland was born September 15, 1816 and died in 1881. He was elected to the Bethesda Diaconate in 1848. Freeland’s second marriage was to Sophia Caroline Lentz, who was born July 19, 1823. She and Mr. Freeland had eight children. In a listing of infant baptisms, the Clerk of Session named Elizabeth Mary Ann Freeland as the first recorded baptism in Bethesda Church on January 23, 1848. The child also seemed to be Bethesda’s first death on November 4, 1848. After the Civil War ended, the Freelands emigrated to Hillsboro, Montgomery County, Illinois where Caroline Freeland died in 1891.
Three siblings who were members of Third Creek Presbyterian Church near Cleveland, NC, helped form the nucleus of Bethesda’s first congregation. John Knox, Ann, and Thomas Alfred Patterson were children of James and Frances (Knox) Patterson of Rowan County. John Patterson, a bachelor, was born ca. 1790. An inscription on his grave marker in the Bethesda Cemetery announces that Mr. Patterson was “one of the first Elders of this church and first laid in this place.” Patterson was elected to the Session in November 1847. He became Clerk in 1849, serving the congregation honorably until his demise at the age of 77 years on November 19, 1867.
Ann Patterson lived from September 16, 1796 to September 27, 1875. An unmarried woman, Miss Patterson “…was one of the first members of Bethesda Church,” her tombstone declares.
Thomas Alfred Patterson, a younger brother to John and Ann Patterson, was born September 23, 1805 and died January 17, 1888. He was elected to Bethesda’s first Board of Deacons. Alfred Patterson and Elizabeth Johnston were married January 14, 1835 in Rowan County. Mrs. Patterson was born November 17, 1809 and died November 30, 1871. The couple’s children included Mary Frances (ca. 1835-1879), Rebecca Jane (1839-1878), James M. (1841-1913), Thomas Leroy (1846-1900), Joseph Houston (ca.1848–), and Josiah Pinckney (1853-1861).
When Bethesda was organized a congregation within the jurisdiction of Concord Presbytery, the church elected two Ruling Elders. George Steele Robison, a transfer from Thyatira Presbyterian Church in Rowan County, was born in 1795 to Hugh and Jane (Steele) Robison. George’s first marriage in 1824 produced children by Nancy Cowan. After she died, Robison wed Elizabeth L. Cowan (January 15, 1809-March 2, 1874). Mr Robison, 79, died September 1, 1875. His gravestone in the Bethesda Cemetery identifies this servant as “…one of the first Elders…”
–Neal D. Wilfong