Tales of Knotts Island

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Be aware that the information in these tales is dated and, as expected, may not be as socially, politically, or racially sensitive as current writings.

by Henry Beasley Ansell

from 1907 to 1912


A year or so after the establishment, this new church elected a delegate, and the churches in Princess Anne two others to go to Conference, now close at hand, and select a preacher for the coming year.

They went to the Annual Conference--(and let me say this was a new thing in the church at this period, and was one of the great causes of the secession movement and split in the M. E. Church) and got the preacher wanted. His name was Morris J. Langhorne, a brother of the presiding elder George Langhorne of the M. E. Church. An excellent preacher, pleasant to every one, he preached to the satisfaction of all and everything went on smoothly for the year. This Langhorne was a good and worthy man in every respect, as the following will show: There was a nice old lady in our neighborhood named Nancy Ballance; she was not a native of the Island; her parents had moved to Knotts Island, and she and family had followed. I do not know that she belonged to any Church prior to this move, but I am satisfied she was of the Baptist persuasion. In the last year of Langhorn's charge, this lady was in the final stage of consumption. During his sojourn on the Island, Langhorne had paid special attention to her, especially so in her last sickness, on religious subjects. Just before she died Langhorne on leaving for Conference went to her house to bid her farewell. She told him that she was reconciled and ready to pass over the river, and the only regret with her was the he was going to leave and could not preach her funeral. Langhorne replied: "If you want me to preach your funeral and if your friends will inform me of your passing away, I will come and do it, though I be in the mountains of Virginia". After ascertaining his new station he sent this family his post office address. She soon died and this preacher came as he had promised from Lynchburg, Virginia.

One beautiful Sunday he preached her funeral sermon to large congregation and did it without money or price. This preacher, at that day when transportation facilities were so few, underwent many difficulties and much expense in getting from Lynchburge to Knotts Island, to preach a poor woman's funeral; for which he refused any compensation whatever. A purse had been made up by her family, friends and congregation, to pay the preacher for his trouble and expenses; and when it as offered to him, with tears in his eyes he said, "Never, never; I would not dare take a cent for this service; I shall never be the poorer for coming to encourage the family and friends of this good Christian sister. How I wonder would it be now? That and such is the reason that I have said before, there was a grandier in society in the past, with all its rough edges that does not exist now.

Langhorne was the first Methodist Protestant preacher sent to the Island by the reform Conference and the building of the Reform Church was in his time. During Langhorne's last year, the Methodist got a new preacher, and it was said that he was got by an exchange from Currituck Circuit for the special purpose of tearing up this new beginning of the Reformers on Knotts Island. Now it made little difference whether this report was true or not, for these two denominations were ripe for a religious war, and were gradually drifting back into the throes of the old and new road quarrel, or, if possible, something worse.

What developed that year indicated the truth of this report, as we shall see further on.

I was told, as news from Princess Anne, that this new preacher was a fighting man calculated to down all obstacles in his way, as he had been a missionary among the Indians beyond the Mississippi. His name was William Wark Stone.

Now this man Stone, as far as preaching went, was right there. He was fight, in countenance, tongue and action; and I am sure but few could surpass him in a tug of war. At his first appointment on the Island all wished to see him, as his reputed qualities had already preceded him.

He had a packed house. He stated he had been many years a missionary among the Indians beyond the Mississippi and had gone through many dangers and mishaps; being in civilization once more he was going to put his talents and energy to work for the good of this circuit and solicited the aid of this church in his work.

Stone proved a doctrinal preacher, his manner generally fiery; but he could change at will, and with the greatest ease, like a trained actor, to the mere amusement of his audience and again back to ridicule or other quality. Furthermore he was an orator, and as a political stump speaker "A-1".

It was soon narrated that he had prophesied the total failure of the Reform Church; that its members were seceders and rebellious; that they had gone into a wicked conspiracy, and against the mother church at that; such always should and would be crushed and brought to naught. He would tease the Princess-Anneans about furnishing the money for building this Island church--"what a failure: Money gone"' etc. To verify his prophecy, once when he had been on the Island and had gone back to Princess Anne, he told "General" Woodhouse (ashe was called) and Jonathan Hunter and others, that just as he had predicted their money was gone; for he had just been on the Island and at a brother's on the southend of the Island be had been informed by some of the Reformers themselves that the work on the building had stopped and would not be continued. This news was soon spread broadly in Princess Anne.

So a delegation of Methodist Protestants from Princess Anne came to the Island to see about this matter, and when there, to their great surprise, the church was already "shut in" and carpenters hammering away to completion. They told what Stone had strewn through their county, which they now found to be false. One of these carpenters happened at this brother's house at the time Stone referred to, and Stone had asked him why the carpenters were not working on the church that day as he passed by; he was told that they had been waiting two days for shingles with which to cover it; that the shingles had just arrived at the landing and were then being hauled up; and that work would be resumed the next day.

Stone, by telling this yarn, doubtless to nettle these Princess Anneans who were aiding in building the church, got himself into a very close place; for this brother of his knew there was nothing of the kind said that day in his house.

This delegation, when it returned, reported Stone's falsehood. Stone to a-lay the feeling of his church on the Island that such a report would be liable to make, informed some of his brethren that he had never said such things as had been reported, and that at his next appointment he would clear it up to their satisfaction.

All knew Stone was going to give some kind of explanation at his next appointment, but neither he nor his adherents knew that Hunter and Woodhouse were to be there to face him. Before Stone's preaching day (Friday), on came Hunter and Woodhouse, to face Stone in case he denied telling this yarn.

There was a dense crowd on the church ground that day, Hunter and Woodhouse among them, all seated under the oaks; while the women pews were packed--all waiting for the preacher; and they did not have to wait long for the preacher as usual was on time.

Stone drove up in a glittering new sulky hung to a fat, skittish and well groomed nag equipped with brand new harness. The preacher looked his best when driving up near the oaks; his whole turnout looked dressy, clean and prosperous. He drove right up to the oaks under which the men were shaded, his horse ablaze with spirit but under control. He spoke to the people from his seat; in doing so his eyes rested for a moment on Hunter and Woodhouse, when his mouth went awry and a flash of red with small protuberances shot out upon his face as was usual with him when in argument or earnest exhortation.

While hitching his horse he told the men to go in and be seated, which they did. Woodhouse took a seat in the "amen corner," while Hunter took one along the aisle about half way from the "blue posts to the altar.

Stone came in, sang, prayed and preached a very touching sermon. Just before closing his warm sermon and while bringing the house down with his usual oratorical power, a wasp darted and aimed for the window back of Stone and in a line precisely with his face. Every one saw this and expected a sting and a crisis; but with the alertness of a stage actor, he dipped his head aside without disturbing in the least his subject, just as if he might have dodged many an Indian arrow out West with much more danger.

After preaching he sang another hymn and every one began to think there was no church matter to be discussed; but they were mistaken in the man. After singing was over Stone arose and said: "I have been informed that a story has been in circulation on Knotts Island that I had said that the Reformers had stopped work on their church had quite the job, and that I had heard it from the Reformers themselves at Brother ______'s house; and I say, (lifting his clenched fist heavenward) that the person who said I ever told such a story (here he lifted his fist higher) is a liar, is a liar"--twice bringing his fist down forcibly on the Bible and causing it to bounce from its position.

In an instant both Woodhouse and Hunter were on their feet and said in unison: "You did say it, you did circulate that falsehood, and there is plenty of proof even from your own members in our county; and says Hunter "if that word lie comes out of your filthy mouth again, I will drag you out of that sacred stand which you are disgracing and beat that foul mouth of yours against this floor."

I had never heard the like before nor have I since in church or elsewhere. Every one was on foot, the men with clenched fists; the women were up, even standing on their seats waiving their handkerchiefs toward Hunter; just such a confusion of tongues had not been heard since the days of Babel. One could understand a flock of blackbirds in full blast as readily as one could understand this large, tumultuous assembly. The parties that interested themselves and took sides in this tumult were about equally matched; for although the Methodist Protestants were in the minority, those of the Baptist persuasion and others sympathising with the small side, were all there. Any one who had read Dante's inferno had plenty of grounds for suitable comparison. Just such a row could not have been beaten, not even in the afternoon of and old-time election day, when the suffers steeped in Jersey-lightning were, as I one case them, fighting six deep. Of course, in such an assembly there are always to be found some conservatives who regret such conduct; and there were some of these on both sides when the tumult was raging; fearing it would culminate in a sweeping conflagration, and that in church too, they began diplomatically, as if agreed upon to quiet this tumult.

The Methodist persuaded Stone to go no further that day in this matter; the Reformers begged Hunter not to whip Stone in church, but you could not hear them in this confusion. Hunter was to whip Stone, though, when out of the church. This roaring flame, like a pile of corn-stalks on fire, slowly began to settle; but there was no dismissal doxology sung that day.

When out of church there were such gatherings around Stone and Hunter that there was no chance for a fight.

Eventually this small conservative element got the hot heads to cool down; the noise abated somewhat, and all departed.

If there had been one blow struck that day, likely there would have a hundred fights, and our Solicitor would have made enough fees by submission to have purchased a farm and bankrupted Knotts Island; fortunately it thus passed away.

If true religion in these partisan church-brawlers of that day had been water there would not have been enough to moisten a glass. It must have required many prayers like old David's to rid these two churches of malice, prejudice and ill-will. The religious pretensions of these churches at this time, were truly amazing, while Satan doubtless smiled.

When men get as religious as some of these pretended to be, the Devil begins to look them over to see if they are not about ripe enough to pluck.

The people of Knotts Island today have better sense, more tolerance is now put up with, and I am sure such a tumult that arose seventy years ago by the churches will never more be repeated.

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