You can say what you want about the little town I live in, but I am mightly proud of it. The first settlers who came to Stockton's Valley (now Albany) near the very end of the 18th century were proud Americans. They were veterans, or sons and daughters of veterans, of the American Revolution. The struggle to win independence was not just political, it was also spiritual, and those who came here before us were a part of both.
In the early 1700's the moving of God’s Spirit touched, convicted, and converted thousands of Americans. The Reformed denominations (Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Dutch Reformed) found themselves swept along in a mighty outpouring of God’s saving grace. Another phase of this great revival occurred not in the North, but in the South; not among the Reformed groups of New England, but among the Sandy Creek Baptists of North Carolina.
The man responsible for carrying the fervor of the Great Awakening to the South, Shubal Stearns, was among those influenced by George Whitefield, the powerful English evangelist of the Great Awakening. Stearns was born in Boston in 1706. After his conversion to Christ around 1740, he eventually became a minister with the Baptists. In 1754 God called Stearns from his home in Connecticut to fields farther South. He labored for a short time in Virginia, then moved to Sandy Creek, North Carolina.
Backwoods North Carolina was a spiritual as well as a physical wilderness, and into this religiously barren land came Stearns and his family. The small church at Sandy Creek began with sixteen members, half of whom were Stearns’ own family, but when Stearns began preaching, God’s Spirit began to move. In a short time, the Sandy Creek church swelled from sixteen members to over six hundred.
The churches that grew out of Stearns’s ministry banded together in 1758 as the Sandy Creek Baptist Association. This group, under Stearns’s benevolent but firm leadership, sought to advance God’s work throughout the southern colonies. Aflame with revival, the churches in the association continued to increase in number and influence.
But trouble was brewing within the officials of North Carolina who regarded Baptists and Quakers as enemies of Anglican order and, because of the success of the evangelism of Stearns and others, a hindrance to the growth of the Episcopal Church, which was the state Church of the colony. Governor William Tryon and his appointed agents who ruled the colony of North Carolina had imposed unjust taxation on the frontier settlers. The frontier regulators organized resistance to these injustices and on May 1, 1771, confronted Tryon's select militia in The Battle of Alamance, not far from Sandy Creek Baptist Church. Tryon's militia attacked the poorly armed and poorly led frontiersmen and defeated them. After the battle, Tryon hanged 12 of the Regulators and laid waste to many Baptist plantations in the area.
Shubal Stearns died on November 20, 1771 and within a year of the battle that had taken place a few months earlier, Sandy Creek Seperate Baptist Church dropped from over 600 members to a level below that with which it had started.
The Awakening ended, but the story did not.
The majority of the Sandy Creek refugees fled to Washington County, Tennessee, where they established Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church. Its first pastor was Tidence Lane. In his youth, Tidence had been convicted and converted under the ministry of Shubal Stearns. Most exciting stories had been told about the piercing glance of his eye and the melting tones of his voice as he preached the word of God. Tidence once held "the most hateful feelings toward Baptists," but it was curiosity that led him to make a horseback trip of some forty miles to see and hear Shubal Stearns speak.
"When the fame of Mr. Stearns' preaching reached the Yadkin River, where I lived, I felt a curiosity to go and hear him. Upon my arrival I saw a venerable old man sitting under a peach tree with a book in his hand and the people gathering about him. He fixed his eyes upon me immediately, which made me feel in such a manner as I had never felt before. I turned to quit the place, but could not proceed far. I walked about, Sometimes catching his eyes as I walked. My uneasiness increased and became intolerable. I went up to him, thinking that a salutation and shaking of hands would relieve me, but it happened otherwise. I began to think he had an evil eye and ought to be shunned, but shunning him I could no more effect than a bird can shun the rattlesnake when it fixes its eyes upon it. When he began to preach my perturbations increased, so that nature could no longer support them, and I sank to the ground." Morgan Edwards' unpublished manuscript.)
Among those who helped start Buffalo Ridge Church in 1779, were the Denton and Crouch families. Later, those two families migrated West to a new frontier that had opened up in Kentucky. They settled at Stockton's Valley, which later became Albany.
To me, what's special about this story is how Tidence Lane was saved under the preaching of the legendary preacher, Shubal Stearns, and how that when he began preaching, one of his converts was 18-year-old Isaac Denton, who helped organize Clear Fork Baptist Church soon after the Crouch and Denton families migrated to Stockton's Valley. Not only did he help organize the Church, he was her first pastor, serving for 46 years.
Today, most people say we are in need of another 'Great Awakening." In Church yesterday, we sang the song, "My Country Tis Of Thee,"
also known as "America."
When we got to the second line in the fourth verse, I had to stop singing as I was unable to move past that line.
"...long may our land be bright with freedom's holy light."
America has suffered over the years because so many families, our schools, even our leaders do not put God first. Our country was founded on biblical principals that are not outdated as some claim. God's Holy Word is unwavering. It was a solid rock and shield for our forefathers and it should still be that today. Americans should honor God always. During the American Revolution, it was not simply freedom's light that shone bright across this great land, it was freedom's HOLY light.
God Bless America!