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Raft Swamp Presbyterian Church

From an undated photocopy of a history written by Henry Hodgin, Jr. of Red Springs, NC. This document is missing from the Henry Hodgin Cabinet at the Robeson County Library in Lumberton, NC. Luckily, I found a photocopy of it in my brother's genealogical collection and have transcribed it here. Another competent history of Raft Swamp Church was written and included in a publication for the Antioch Presbyterian Church Sesquicentennial Celebration in May 1983, though its author is unknown.

In Hoke County, a short distance east of Allandale Community Building, and just north of the intersection of county roads #1314 and #1318 is the site of Old Raft Swamp Presbyterian Church. A few yards of it is the family cemetery of John McMillan who gave the land for the church. [Note: Worth Currie of Red Springs, NC, now owns the land. –JE]

The first recorded reference to Raft Swamp is in the journal of Rev. Hugh McAden, who was sent by the Synod of Philadelphia as a missionary to preach to the Scots of the Cape Fear Valley. He records that he preached at the home of John McMillan to the group known as the Raft Swamp Meeting. He also tells of preaching at the home of Roger McNeill on the Cape Fear (now Old Bluff Church), at Alexander McKay's (now Longstreet Church on the Ft. Bragg reservation) and at the home of a Mr. Cameron (now Barbecue Church in Harnett County). This was in the year 1755 so there were Presbyterians in this area before that time. These Scots had repeatedly applied to the Church of Scotland for a minister to be sent but the mother church never acted on their requests.

For the next years there was no regular minister at Raft Swamp but it was supplied by itinerant preachers and whatever preacher who happened to pass through. Then came the Revolutionary War and the religious life as well as other enterprises suffered. After the close of the Revolution, it was learned that a Highland preacher was in Charleston, S.C. seeking a location. John McCormick, Duncan McMillan and a Mr. Currie, members of Raft Swamp, consulted and determined to visit him and secure his services. They constructed a boat in the swamp of Lumber River and set off down Lumber River and the Little Pee Dee into Winyah Bay at Georgetown, S.C. There they left the boat and proceeded on foot to Charlestown. There they located Rev. Duncan Crawford [Note: Various local and foreign records reveal his name to have been Dugald, not Duncan. –SCE], a Highlander who had served in the British service as chaplain and remained in South Carolina after the Revolution. After explaining the situation, Rev. Crawford agreed to accept their offer and the four set out on foot for Georgetown carrying the preacher's effects on their backs. When they reached Georgetown, they loaded the boat and started the long trip up the Pee Dee and Lumber Rivers. After landing at Campbell's Bridge near Floral College, Rev. Crawford's things were loaded on a drag and carried to Raft Swamp and he at once entered upon his labors.

Rev. Crawford had a severely dignified and cold appearance and would walk straight to the church without speaking to anyone and deliver his sermon as fast as he could enunciate.

During his ministry he visited Scotland, where the University of Edinburgh conferred on him the degree of D.D. Also while there he visited Rachel McQuilkin [Note: McQuilkin is the earlier gaelic name for Wilkinson], sister of "Scrubbling Archie" McNeill, who was the husband of the famous "Jennie Bahn", a member of his Barbecue congregation.

Upon returning to America, he preached but a short time. Being susceptible to a pretty woman's charm, he wooed Jane Dobbin, daughter of Hon. John Dobbin of Fayetteville but as she rejected him, his mind became unbalanced and he had to give up preaching. He returned to Scotland and soon afterward was drowned off the Isle of Arran.

In 1789 Rev. Crawford organized Raft Swamp Church, although services had been conducted at the site since about 1750. Hugh McAden preached there in 1755, Rev. James Campbell made it one of his regular preaching points from 1757 till the Revolution, Rev. John McLeod of Bluff preached there frequently.

After the church burned in 1825, Raft Swamp was not rebuilt. Unfortunately there arose a great temperance revival about this time and a schism in the congregation resulted. As the old court records show, many of these old Scotchmen considered the family still property of considerable value, passing by will from father to son. So Raft Swamp congregation divided into factions of drys, wets and the apathetic. It is told the drys joined Centre and the wets chose Bethel where the minister was far more tolerant of the situation. However a solid nucleus met in a brush arbor at McPhaul's Mill where they usually had some passing preacher. In 1832 this group changed their location to what is now Antioch Church and in 1833 changed the name to Antioch. Therefore Antioch is the successor to Raft Swamp. By 1800 the members of Raft Swamp had formed churches more centrally located to their community and as a result Raft Swamp was the mother church of Antioch, Big Rockfish, Centre, Laurel Hill, Philadelphus, Ashpole and St. Pauls.

Besides exerting a great influence on the religious life of this area, it contributed to the cause of Presbyterianism in the south. By 1800 five of its sons were studying for the ministry at Dr. Caldwell's School in Guilford County. There were Rev. Daniel Brown, Rev. Duncan Brown, Rev. Malcolm McNair, Rev. Murdock McMillan and Rev. Murdock Murphy. Rev. Daniel Brown was licensed by Orange Presbytery at Barbecue Church in 1800 and the other four at the same place in 1801.

Rev. Daniel Brown

Daniel Brown was the son of "Tory" Neill Brown and Sarah McPhaul. After finishing he was sent by the Synod of North Carolina to the Natchez Territory as a missionary. From his letter to his father, that must have been a rough and wild place. Completing his missionary work, he returned home and was called and accepted the pastorate at Philadelphus as their first full time minister.

After his pastorate at Philadelphus, he went to Williamsburg District, S.C., near Kingstree where he preached at two churches, Kintyre and Indiantown. Being notified of the illness of this mother, he came to Robeson [County, NC] to visit and while here his mother died. Two weeks to the day after her death, he died on August 18, 1815. Both are buried in the pre-revolutionary graveyard behind Philippi Church in Hoke County. He married Catherine McPherson, daughter of Rev. Daniel McPherson and Sarah McNeill. She outlived him many years and is buried at Antioch. [Note: There are NO records proving Daniel McPherson was a minister. In fact, many records exist to prove he was not a minister. The records of Robeson County, NC, also show his wife's name was Marian, not Sarah]

Rev. Duncan Brown

He was the son of Hugh Brown Sr. and Mary Buie. He married Susan Frierson of S.C. and soon afterward moved to Maury County, Tennesee where he lived and preached many years. He died at his home there and his many descendants are still in that section of Tennesee.

Rev. Malcolm McNair

Raised near Laurel Hill Church, he was the son of John McNair, immigrant, and Catherine Buie McFarland. In 1809 he married Jennet Little who bore him three daughters and one son. Born in 1776, he died in 1822 and is buried in an old cemetery in front of Laurel Hill Church. After preaching in this section for a number of years, he was sent to Oklahoma Territory and Arkansas where he served as a missionary. In his latter years he returned to Scotland County [,NC] and preached among other places at Laurel Hill Church. He was an outstanding preacher and highly respected wherever he worked. While in the west, he organized many churches.

Rev. Murdock McMillan

Rev. Murdock McMillan was the son of John McMillan who gave the land for Raft Swamp Church. He preached for some years at Bethesda Church in Aberdeen, N.C. and taught at Solemn Grove Academy. Finally he left N.C. and went to Tennesee where he preached the first Presbyterian sermon on the Chickasaw Bluff of the Mississippi, now Memphis, Tennesee. He never returned to N.C., living, organizing churches and dying in west Tennesee. He has many descendants living in that state and throughout the midwest.

Rev. Murdock Murphy

He was the son of Neill Murphy and a Miss Downing and grandson of Murdock Murphy and his wife Jennet. He was reared on what is known as Dan McArthur Jr.'s farm between here [Red Springs, NC] and Wakulla. He served in S.C. for [a] period and then went to Old Midway Church near Darien, Georgia where he preached thirteen years. On leaving Midway, he moved to Mobile, Alabama to be near his brother, John Murphy, who was the fourth governor of that state and signed the state constitution. While in Mobile, he organized the oldest Presbyerian Church in that city, called Government Street Church. He labored many years in that church, died there and is buried at Spring Hill, a suburb of Mobile. The ones of the Murphys who remained here met with disaster in 1820, all of them except one dying within a two-month period. They are buired in the old Murphy cemetery on the hill of Richland Swamp near where Dan McArthur, Jr. lived.

It may be of interest that the First Presbyterian Church of Red Springs is the grand daughter of old Raft Swamp. All of its charter members coming from Antioch or Philadelphus.

Contributed by Henry Hodgin, Jr.