An American Family History


New Bethel Presbyterian Church

East Tennessee is part of Appalachia. At the end of the French and Indian War, colonists began drifting into the area. In 1769, they first settled along the Watauga River. During the Revolution, the Overmountain Men defeated British loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The State of Franklin was formed in the 1780s, but never admitted to the Union.

The History of Sullivan County said New Bethel was organized in 1782 by Reverend Samuel Doak (1749) in Piney Flats, Sullivan County, Tennessee.

The first members were followers of the Reverend Dr. Joseph Rhea, who was pastor of the Piney Creek Presbyterian Church in Maryland. After serving in East Tennessee during the American Revolution, he encouraged his congregation to relocate there. Rhea died on the way.

Henry Massengill described how the church was built:

I was to furnish logs, boards and all timbers needed to build a large house, with a section of benches in the back side for the Massengale and Cobb negroes, numbering at this time, 151 souls, so these slaves can come out and be refreshed in body and soul. This house of worship was completed by July 1777, and was known as the Massengill House of Worship.

Samuel Doak was the first pastor. James Gregg, Sr., John Alison and Francis Hodge, Sr., were the first ruling elders.

Other members included the Doak, Dyer, Hughes, King, Massengill, McKinley, Rhea families.

In the early history of the church the first building of logs was erected... The pulpit was in the west end, around which the male portion of the congregation gathered. The women and children occupied the end near the chimney corner.

Reverend Samuel Doak
Presbyterians are Protestant Christians. The denomination originated in Scotland and congregations are ruled by elected elders. Presbyterian theology follows the Calvanist tradition and emphasizes the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Scriptures, and grace through faith in Christ.






The Holston River flows from Kingsport to Knoxville.
map by Kmusser

from Encyclopaedia of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America edited by Alfred Nevin

New Bethel Presbyterian Church, Sullivan County, Tennessee.

Amongst the earliest names associated with the origin of this church is that of the Rev. Joseph Rhea...

In this latter year, or about this, time, from the Piney Creek congregation, in Maryland, and from the contiguous portions of Pennsylvania, from what is now Adams county, then York, came many who had been members of Mr. Rhea’s congregation, or who had been his acquaintances, and made their homes on the Holston and on the Watauga, or passed on further as settlements advanced.

The tradition is, that in the year 1782 the Presbyterian families brought here through the influence of the Rev. Mr. Rhea were, by the Rev. Samuel Doak (elsewhere noticed in this volume), organized into a church, and the name New Bethel was probably suggested by him as a memorial of the Bethel Church in Virginia, in the bounds of which he had passed many of his early years.

It is believed that James Gregg, Sr., Francis Hodge, Sr., First; and John Alison, Sr., First; were the first ruling elders. It is not known how many members constituted the new organization...

About the time of the first period of Mr. Wood’s ministry the first enlargement of the church building was made. In the early history of the church the first building of logs was erected. This was used for many years as a school-house. The building was of contracted dimensions, and had a stone chimney at the east end. The pulpit was in the west end, around which the male portion of the congregation gathered. The women and children occupied the end near the chimney corner.

Soon after the revival of 1838 the increase of membership and of attendance required enlarged accommodation. An addition of hewn logs was joined to the west end, and the building was thus enlarged perhaps to twice its former capacity. The pulpit was now in the middle of the north side of the church. In the new part of the building, what would now be considered a very old fashioned stove began to do service in the cold wintry days. For about forty years the building just described answered the needs and served the purpose of the congregation in its public worship. The present commodious structure, an attractive country church, was completed but two or three ymirs ago.




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©Roberta Tuller 2020
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