Tales of Knotts Island

Table of Contents




































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


In this chapter you will find the culmination of the church row in a fight; but that of the roads still intact. Both Hunter and Woodhouse were bony, tall and muscular, and looked to be men of great strength and were so counted; while Stone was not so tall, but better proportioned--broad shouldered, well built, and carrying the right amount of bone and muscle to make an all-round fight, and I am sure he was pluck all over. So this feud terminated in a fight near Kempsville, Princess Anne. General Woodhouse (I believe his proper name as Hunter Woodhouse) lived near this village and rode horseback a good deal; in riding out one morning soon after the Knotts Island carousel, he met Stone in his sulky. Stone halted and exclaimed: "You dare not get off of your horse." Woodhouse was called a war-horse in a fight, when a fight was required or forced upon him by a challenge. So he proceeded to get off his horse and in doing so his back was turned towards Stone. In a flash Stone leaped from his seat and had Woodhouse fast behind. Stone was a strongly built man and one most people would have dreaded to fight; but Woodhouse was the stronger and reach Stone's hair in the rear with his long arms; brought Stone's head in his front; threw Stone face downward in the sandy and dusty horse track, took him by the ears, and pummeled his face in the sand till Stone cried for mercy. Woodhouse let up-without striking a blow. Woodhouse thereupon gave Stone a lecture; that he should be thankful that he had caught it so light, for he (Stone) deserved a good thrashing for telling that lie; and, furthermore, wearing the robes of a preacher, and daring people on the public road for a fight, called for a double dose, and the next time he was guilty of such conduct he would get what he deserved. Stone, preacher though he was; had got the best of Woodhouse in this affray, probably he would have been satisfied; but in being otherwise, he straightway swore out a warrant and got it into the courts of Princess Anne. This was precisely the place Woodhouse wished to show up Stone. The Methodist members of this county didn't wish this affray and its causes to be openly canvassed in the court-house; for the testimony alone of both Hunter and Woodhouse, two well know respected citizens, would be unimpeachable; so Woodhouse was seen relative to a compromise. To this Woodhouse said no, for, said he, a man like Stone who was full of falsehood and deception and who had brought so much disturbance not only in the church but outside as well, should be shown up, and the court-house was the only proper place to do so.

It was now well known that there would be an abundance of proof of Stone's misconduct; and, to save the county such a spectacle, there were influences brought to bear on the prosecuting attorney to lighten up, so the case never came to trial. It strikes me that I have heard that Stone, the main witness for the state was absent when the case came on for trial--hence a nol prosequi was entered. However, whatever turn may have been taken in this case, it was never heard in court. So ended this tumult.

As far as the writer's recollection goes he has tried to pen down this fighting affair substantially as he heard from all sides, and have tried to narrate the points that had become so notorious in this fight, for it was an affair and canvassed for fifty miles from this battle ground.


Princess Anne circuit by this time had had enough of this Knotts Island wrangle; and, if my recollection serves me, Stone was relieved of his charge the next conference year.

Knotts Island, though, stuck to Stone to the last, and named children "William Wark Stone," and there is still one Stone or more there yet.

Princess Anne circuit; having had enough fuss, quiet began to prevail, a better feeling ensued, and spread even to Knotts Island.

The preachers sent the next year and years after this advocated peace, and these preachers were apparently friendly. Tom Jennings for the Reformers and one Gibbs for the Methodist were very friendly, and Jennings preached for Gibbs more than once. This brotherly feeling between the two preachers had its effect on the disturbing elements.

The M. P. Church got a young man from Westmoreland County, Virginia, named W. W. Walker. A brighter young man, it was said, never graced a Virginia pulpit, and I had reasons afterwards to think so. He was an orator of the first class, thoroughly educated, and a leader of the masses. Everybody liked Walker, even the Methodist.

This Walker thereafter became famous not only as a preacher but as a lawyer and politician. Virginia, when under carpetbag rule after the Civil War; when looking for bright, progressive men that could lead the masses, never done a better thing than selecting him to stump the state in behalf of the democratic nominee for governor.

There was no doubt, from what I heard, that he did as much as or more than any other man in making that campaign a success, which resulted in placing another Walker in the governor's chair, and making the carpet-baggers hustle out.

Walker preached two years on this circuit, and was compelled by the rule of the church to leave; but after the absence of one year he was returned for two more years.


Big meetings on the Island in those days often lasted four weeks; any meeting that didn't last two weeks was considered a small affair.

Often the two churches would have their big meetings going on at the same time, for all of the prejudices had not as yet disappeared. So the Rev. W. W. Walker appointed his meeting and when it came on he had at once a stirring revival. The Methodists commenced their meeting a week thereafter, the time looking propitious, and they also had a big time.

The two churches were about a half-mile apart and dense meetings in revivals often lasted till morning. If a crowds travelled from one to the other all night, for these meetings in revivals often lasted till morning. If a controversy should arise, however, even at one of these revivals and even among church members, about this same old and new road matter, the disputants would be ready at once to pull hair. So Joel J. Wicker and William Fentress, the latter one of the most peaceable men on the Island and a church member in good standing, had to be separated about the half-way mark between these two revival grounds, about where William Cooper lives or did live, This is mentioned not because it was an isolated case but because it shows the sentiment in both church and state even in the midst of two revivals.

After this, when some years had rolled by, the Methodist Episcopal Church in the Virginia Annual Conference so amended those rules and laws which primarily had caused the split that the Methodist Protestant Church became reconciled and joined itself again to its mother, the Methodist Episcopal.

While all the Reformers were not satisfied with this move, yet most of the old class of both sides who had fought so bitterly were dead and few were left for bickerings. So ended this crazy church war; and, it is hoped, forever.


Now I say, and let it be expressly understood, that all the people of Knotts Island did not rock and nurse this Church quarrel, for there were conservatives on both sides that regretted such a tumult; but there were enough religious pretenders and fanatics on both sides, who gloried in disputes and quarrels; and it had a tendency to draw many better people into these brawls: for, according to the times, a church quarrel might be precipitated there perhaps as quickly as a row in politics. At any public gathering for political purposes let a few, though half drunken and of the most ignorant class, get in the road, throw up their hats and hurrah, even for that which they know not the meaning of, and it has a tendency to fire up many more of the crowd present and a tremendous noise may result.

Such crude shows, taken for patriotism, always inflames the small boys.

Well does the writer remember when he was but eight years old, and Harrison was running for the Presidency, (1840). The writer was born and rocked in the democratic cradle, but he didn't know the difference between the democratic and whig parties, and knew as little about geography; nevertheless he beat his finger-ends and knuckles till blistered, on tin pans, that General Cass might down "Old Tippecanoe and Tyler too," with their helpers--log-cabin, hard cider and green gourds. When news came that Harrison was elected he said no--impossible--for he knew that that hero got scarcely any votes at the Island election for he was there.

Now, my friends, aside from the preachers and a few others perhaps, those who entered into these church brawls and kept them aflame knew as little about creeds and their government they were fussing so much about as I knew about political parties and geography when Harrison was elected President.

Just one month after his inauguration (April 4th, 1841) he died. Harrison was a General, a military leader, and I suppose a good man; but the hot politicians and news-papers that opposed him declared that the Almighty brought him speedily to his end, on account of being a whig and to thwart him in carrying out the whig doctrine in his presidential term. Such stuff was preached by the democratic stump speakers after their convention in 1844, that nominated Polk and Dallas as their leaders, against Clay and Frelinghuysen of the Whig party. The whigs to play evens on this line put in their campaign songs and sang:

"James K. Polk and George M. Dalls; One for h__l and 'bother for the gallows."

Such puffs that the democratic gave to account for the death of Harrison, as aforesaid, sometimes make great changes in the political sphere with the ignorant and the superstitious, for methinks thereafter the whig party began to dissolve.

Politicians should never infuse such doctrine into the crowds, neither should preacher be culpable in church rows. If Stone had stuck to the work he was commissioned to do; and the fussy members of these two churches had stuck to their vows, there never would have been such disorder as herein set forth.

In this road war both sides had a reasonable sense for the dispute that arose; but this church war there was little sense with no reason at all. The Reformers, or the M. P. Church split off on account that none but bishops, elder and preachers had a say-so in church affairs, the laymen being kept in the background to do nothing but jingle their pockets in Church support etc.

Now both sides worked a wrong in this church war. The M. E. Church in their Virginia Annual Conference, after a war of Twenty-five years or more so altered their Church rules & laws to admit the laymen to have a vote and now they have laymen delegates even in their Annual Conferences-- on paper if nothing else the most important thing that cause the split & secession to take place in 1830. Now, why had not the M. E. Church have so altered their laws at the time of the split, if so likely there would have been no split at all, and this twenty yeras of war and fuss breeding would never have been. There where the old side Methodist werewrong. Now, what is to be said of the new side Methodist--M. P. Church--Reformers; they were wrong also; they preach against bishops, elders and preachers, that were rulers of the church and called such episcopacy, and by the laymen having no voice in the church, the M. P. Church called this monarchism, etc.

Now what did these Reformers do, after the Mother Church had somewhat changed their rules as to allow the laymen to vote and to be delegates to their conferences, they all in a body went back to the mother church with its bishops and elders etc. Now two thirds of the causes of this split, methinks, were freakish and trivial. Suppose the heads of a church are called bishops. I think bishop, in religious matters, is more ecclesiastical than president. What's in a name anyway.

I think the best officials of the Methodist today are its bishops and elders. An elder has a circuit of circuits; goes the rounds of each circuit four times during the year, and if the preacher in charge of a circuit scarcely fills the bill, the circuit can at least hear 8 or 10 good sermons from the elder. The information the elder gets from the preacher in charge, the church officials, and viewing the Congregations he addresses, he can come pretty close to the kind of preacher needed on each circuit. These elders talk such things over with their bishop at the conferences before the appointments are made and generally the appointments turn out satisfactory. So the Methodist denomination always have a preacher without hunting up one, and there you are without worry. This church war was creedism, pure and simple.

A good thing perverted is doubly dangerous: Politics and religion so necessary to man's moral and social state are subject to terrible abasement. How apt we are to ignore the substance and grasp the shadow; to quote the precept and dodge the practice; to worship the creed and forget the Christ!


Back to the top.