The Diary of Sue Austin








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Knotts Island Diary

by Sue Fentress Austin

The early Knotts Island Baptist Church records were lost years ago in a fire; therefore, this writer has drawn upon Henry Ansell’s unpublished boyhood memories. He was a Knotts Island native, born in 1832, and quite knowledgeable concerning the religious, social and economical conditions of Knotts Island in the 1800’s. According to Mr. Ansell, the Methodist Church has always been, by and large, the prevailing religion of Knotts Island. There were, however, other religious groups. In the early 1800s there was a "Free Church" which opened its doors to all creeds. It was classified as a shanty and had apparently been a private dwelling, either donated or purchased by the people for divine services. Unfortunately, this arrangement led to disputes and bickering.

Around 1840, the Knotts Island Methodist Episcopal Church underwent internal chaos, of which the result was another church group called "Reformers". These folks were disgrunted Methodists, aided by a strong Baptist element, plus other outsiders. Church members wanted more of a say-so in their affairs. None but bishops, elders and preachers could vote. Another church called the Methodist Protestant was built, even with its own preacher. Reverends W. W. Walker and Jennings were two noted Reform preachers. Big meetings were held by both churches at the same time. Crowds would travel from church to church, often on foot and they were only 1/2 mile apart. Eventually the two factions settled their differences; laymen were given the right to vote, and the church was no longer divided. The author imagines, as in all disagreements, the appeasement was not 100% because in 1876 the Baptist church was erected on land deeded by Mr. John Newman. Before 1876 there had never been a Baptist church located in this community, but religious families of this persuasion were quite a few and influential on Knotts Island. Some names of note were Dick Morris, Cabe Gordan, Alice Wade, Sally Ann Bowden, Levy & Pat Miller, John & Nan White and George Cason. On the land formerly owned by Mr. Newman, a small white country church was built by local carpenters, John Wade being one. The décor inside was the prevailing style at that time - tongue and grove, eventually covered over by paneling. There was a raised pedestal effect where the preacher stood. The church contained no Baptism fount; therefore, the South End of the Island was usually where the baptising took place. And in the style of present-day Corolla Chapel (of the Outer Banks) and other smaller churches, there was no altar. There were kerosene lamps along the walls and a tall stove sat towards the middle of the room. Roll membership in the late 1800’s was probably never more than 100; regular Sunday attendance 30 to 40 continued until the mid 1950’s.

This church has always had an independence that reflects its early religious heritage. The people strongly believe in controlling their own internal affairs. Their Mother Church was Oak Grove Baptist located in Creeds, Virginia. At the present time (1970s) this is a Southern Baptist Church.

Revivals or "protracted meetings" as they were called more than a century ago, would often last as long as a month. Anything less than two weeks was considered a small affair. Present day members can recall the small church being so crowded that horse and buggies were drawn up to the outside windows. Sometimes benches were even put outside to accommodate extra folks.
Early preachers were circuit riders from Princess Anne County (now Virginia Beach, VA). The frequency of services depended upon weather conditions. The people walked to church, pushing carriages containing several small youngsters, or went in horse-drawn carts.

Around the turn ofthe century (1900s), the Baptist Church was sometimes utilized for Children’s Day. Those who wished could recite long speeches and such to the delight of their families. Long time church member, Bessie Cason remembered one such afternoon well because of a terrible electric storm that was going on at the same time as recitations. Lightning struck a tree outside and two horses were killed. Church members had to go outside and bury the horses.

Music was provided by a pump organ at the little church. Singing at both Island churches was led by Mr. John Taylor Waterfield. Until the early 1950’s, many of the religious folk attended the Baptist Church in the morning and the Methodist for the 2 PM services.

With the advent of the automobile and better roads, church attendance was severely affected. Many Island people had to make the hard choice when both churches elected to hold their services in the morning. For some families it meant they no longer could attend as a unit and this no doubt created internal strife.

There was some addition made to the church in 1912 by Dick Morris and Sunday School rooms were also added in the 1950s.

During the 1970s and 80s the Knotts Island Baptist Church underwent a spiritual reawakening and church membership began to steadily rise. A beautiful new building was erected in the spring of 1983 and dedicated on July 17 of the same year. Membership continues upwards. Henry Ansell may yet be proved wrong in his belief that Knotts Island would always follow its church prestige and remain staunchly Democratic and Methodist!

The original church clock was in possession of Jane Miller Brumley. Her family members (Levy and Pat Miller) served as caretakers of the church for many years and safeguarded this precious possession of the church. It has now been returned.

The Knotts Island Baptist Church July 17, 1983 Service of Dedication brochure handout includes the History of the Church.

Royal Hutchinson, Chairman
Bob Triplett, Raymond Williams, Buck Huffman, Larry Caffee
Church Plans - David StClair

Chester Blakeway, Chairman
Raymond Williams, Royal Hutchinson, Romie Waterfield, Farell Huffman, George Cason, Chuck Cesil, Herman Ewell, Honorary Building Foreman Way Hutchinson


Leona C. Lilley, noted Knotts Island correspondent for the Virginian-Pilot Newspaper’s twice-weekly insert known as The Beacon , wrote in a December 2/3, 1982 article entitled, "Bible is the foundation of Knotts Island Baptist."

In 1876, the Knotts Island Baptist Church consisted of only 17 members. Over the years church attendance ebbed and flowed. The few who remained faithful began to work diligently, and over the years attendance picked up. The beautiful church is surely the result of earnest prayer and steadfast devotion by the faithful few. When the new church was dedicated in 1983, members totaled 161. Only believe.

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