Presbyterians in North Carolina
Race, Politics, and Religious Identity in Historical Perspective
This volume is the first comprehensive overview of North Carolina Presbyterians to appear in more than a hundred years. Drawing on congregational and administrative histories, personal memoirs, and recent scholarship—while paying close attention to the relevant social, political, and religious contexts of the state and region—Walter Conser and Robert Cain go beyond older approaches to denominational history by focusing on the identity and meaning of the Presbyterian experience in the Old North State from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries.
Conser and Cain explore issues as diverse as institutional development and worship experience; the patterns and influence of race, ethnicity, and gender; and involvement in education and social justice campaigns. In part 1 of the book, “Beginnings,” they trace the entrance of Presbyterians—who were legally considered dissenters throughout the colonial period—into the eastern, central, and western sections of the state. The authors show how the Piedmont became the nexus of Presbyterian organizational development and examine the ways in which political movements, including campaigns for American independence, deeply engaged Presbyterians, as did the incandescence of revivalism and agitation for reform, which extended into the antebellum period.
The book’s second section, “Conflict, Renewal, and Reunion,” investigates the denominational tensions provoked by the slavery debate and the havoc of the Civil War, the soul searching that accompanied Confederate defeat, and the rebuilding efforts that came during the New South era. Such important factors as the changing roles of women in the church and the decline of Jim Crow helped pave the way for the eventual reunion of the northern and southern branches of mainline Presbyterianism. By the arrival of the new millennium, Presbyterians in North Carolina were prepared to meet future challenges with renewed confidence.
A model for modern denominational history, this book is an astute and sensitive portrayal of a prominent Protestant denomination in a southern context.
Walter H. Conser Jr. is professor of religion and professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. His books include A Coat of Many Colors: Religion and Society along the Cape Fear River of North Carolina and God and the Natural World: Religion and Science in the Natural World.
Before his retirement after thirty-two years of service, Robert J. Cain was head of the Colonial Records Branch at the North Carolina State Archives. He is the editor of The Colonial Records of North Carolina, second series.