Vol 2: No 2 Spring 2013
The 3rd Orange County Courthouse built in 1790 was originally a 25’ x 40’ frame building located on the same lot as the 1844 Courthouse built by Capt. John Berry. As such, it is the second oldest courthouse still standing in NC. It has an illustrious history of serving the needs of four different Christian denominations for almost 200 years.
Today, it is hard to believe that in 1800, there were no church buildings and no organized congregations in Hillsborough. The colonial-era St. Matthew’s Parish Church fell into disrepair after the Revolutionary War and was torn down, and its successor, the Episcopal Church, was not re-organize until 1824. But in 1807 the Methodists added Hillsborough to their Haw River Circuit and a three-day camp-meeting held in the courthouse on October, 1821 increased the number of Methodists in Hillsborough from two members to forty.
In 1844, a Virginian Baptist missionary, Elias Dodson, assigned to the Beulah Association, was determined to purchase the old courthouse to use as a Baptist “Meeting House” in Hillsborough. He had preached in the courthouse on previous occasions. The project took him several years. After buying the property for $75, he persuaded Susan Washington, mother-in-law of Gov. William A. Graham, to purchase a lot at the corner of Churton and King Street for $100.00 upon which to relocate the building. After several failed attempts, Berry came to his rescue and moved the structure in January of 1846. The Baptist Church was organized in this building on November 19, 1853 and met there until they sold it on August 18, 1862 to George Bishop of New Bern for $750. In 1866, Bishop sold the building for $1,200 to the Quakers of Philadelphia to be used as a Freedman’s school for African American children. They established similar schools in Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Durham, Mebane, Goldsboro—and elsewhere.
Meanwhile in 1865, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, also founded in Philadelphia, began sending missionaries to start separate black Methodist congregations in the south. Many of these missionaries taught in the Freedman’s schools. By April 1867, an AME congregation was meeting in the old courthouse school building and eventually purchased the building from the Friends Freedmen’s Association in January of 1886. The building was later bricked and today is known as Dickerson Chapel AME Church.
Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, and African Methodists used the old courthouse to serve their denominational purposes. Can any other building claim such a rich religious heritage?
* Based on a talk made by the Rev. N. Brooks Graebner, Ph.D., Rector, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church on December 2, 2012 at Dickerson’s Chapel during Hillsborough Candlelight Tour.
Interesting Tidbits about Former Pastors – Biographies have been written for most of our former pastors and can be found on the church’s website.
John Robert Greene, pastor from 1911 to 1915, was born in a log house in Cherokee County, North Carolina, on September 1, 1877. He weighed only four pounds at birth and had to be fed milk with a spoon, but survived because of his mother and aunt’s continuous care. He accepted Jesus at age 13 during a revival held at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, near Murphy. At age 17, he was licensed by his church to preach and needed an education. There were no high schools in his area and he had to travel 100 miles to Clyde, NC to attend Haywood Institute that was built by the Clyde Baptist Church with support from the Southern Baptist State Convention. He went on to attend Wake Forest graduating in 1907; he was 30 years old at the time. While at Wake Forest he pastored the Berea Baptist Church in Durham County and on July 23, 1905 he was ordained by the Baptist Church in Clyde. After graduation, he returned to Clyde to serve as their pastor, but soon left to attend the seminary in Louisville, where he graduated in 1910. From 1911 to his retirement in 1939, he served Baptist churches in Hillsborough, Jacksonville, Boiling Springs, Drexel, and Mebane. During most of his ministry and after retirement, Greene lived in Chapel Hill, NC and was a member of the University Baptist Church. He married Elizabeth Andrews who was born on June 16, 1895. They had two children, Mary and Phillip. His wife died on May 18, 1964. Greene died on December 18, 1969 at the age of 82. They are buried in the Bethel Baptist Church Cemetery, Orange County, NC.
Rare Documents – Bishop to Morris & Others
This is the beginning statement found on the deed that was filed with George Laws, Orange County Clerk of Court, on 12th June 1866. Bishop sold the old Baptist Meeting House located at the corner of Churton and Kings Street to three trustees representing the Friends' Freedmen's Association, an organization of Philadelphia Quakers founded in 1863 as Friends' Association of Philadelphia and Its Vicinity, for the Relief of Colored Freemen. Its purpose was to provide relief and education to freed slaves during and after the Civil War.
First Baptist Church Hillsborough NC
201 W. King Street
Hillsborough, NC 27278
First Baptist Church of Hillsborough, 223 West King Street, Hillsborough NC 27278, 919-732-8174