To varying degrees, most of Haywood County’s Baptist churches – and there are many – date back to preacher / missionary Humphrey Posey, who helped organize the first church in North Carolina west of the French Broad River, now known as Canton First Baptist. .
Posey’s reach stretched from Rutherford and Buncombe to Watauga, Jackson, Swain and Macon counties as well as Haywood before he served as a missionary with the Cherokee, eventually moving to Georgia. It is a mark of respect that during his lifetime at least 16 sons were given the combination of Humphrey Posey’s first and middle name in the Southern Appalachian region, including at least four in Haywood County.
Posey always seemed to organize churches. He helped organize what is now Canton First Baptist, then known as Locust Old Field Church, in 1803. In 1814, Posey helped form Crabtree Baptist Church, the second oldest in the county, and a helped found First Baptist of Waynesville in 1823, although it is not known whether he was its first pastor.
The Methodists had Francis Asbury – the missionary who rode a quarter of a million miles on horseback in the South, including at least two trips through Haywood. And the Baptists had Humphrey Posey. It seemed that if someone could have been in two places at once, Posey would have been that man. He also helped establish churches in Buncombe, Jackson, Swain and Macon counties. Churches he is credited with helping found or serving as founding pastor include Hominy Baptist Church in Candler, Cowee Baptist Church in Macon County, and Mount Zion Baptist Church (later Lufty Baptist) in Swain.
The churches Posey helped found would in turn sponsor other Baptist churches. Crabtree Baptist, for example, formed from Locust Old Field and in turn contributed to the formation of Fines Creek. And in Waynesville, this Baptist church helped found the Baptist churches in Antioch and Allens Creek, among others.
Reuben Philips of Haywood County wrote a biography of his spiritual and religious life, which describes Posey as a friend and mentor: “I had remarkably fun under his ministry,” Philips wrote of Posey. “He was a Baptist missionary and preached free salvation to all. He was a great revivalist, and many were added to the church (Locust Old Field) that year.
Posey was born in Virginia in 1780, but his parents moved to Burke County, North Carolina when he was about 5 years old. By the age of 7, according to a biography written by Robert Fleming, young Posey had read the New Testament several times, being educated at home by his mother. However, Posey did not make a personal profession of faith until he was 20, shortly after his marriage, according to his biography.
His conversion was so profound, however, that he soon felt a call to preach and was ordained a Baptist preacher around 1802. The following year he began to lead Cane Creek Church in Buncombe County and to from there he began to help organize other congregations. At that time, many pastors took turns serving several churches, many of them riding hundreds of miles on horseback each month.
Posey seemed to see his calling as that of a church organizer, constantly moving west, from Buncombe to Haywood, then to Macon. Finally, he will ask the Baptist Mission Board for permission to preach and organize a school for the Cherokee in Valley Town. He encountered opposition, not from his Baptist godfathers, but from certain white settlers, who opposed the education of Native Americans.
The Baptist minister’s relationship with the Cherokee was complicated. From his biography and the work of history student James Anthony Owen while at Western Carolina University, a picture emerges of a man devoured with love for Native Americans but, like many white missionaries, fails. not to understand their deep connections with their language, their heritage and land. In fact, at one point, Posey acted as a land agent for the federal government, arranging the sale of individual Cherokee plots in preparation for what would eventually become a forced westward move for all except from the Oconoluftee community of Cherokee.
Challenge the Methodists
Not that Posey was a stranger to controversy, even before the establishment of his Valley Town School, where the challenges of Native American rights and culture, abolition and slavery, and the gospel converged. In the years leading up to Valley Town, Posey, described as warm and sympathetic in person, clashed with the Methodists at least twice.
The first time was in 1819, when Posey criticized a Wesley translation of the New Testament used by Methodists.
“Posey said the scriptures had been changed and for the worse,” Philips recalls. “(Methodist preacher Allen) Turner said otherwise… This matter caused a stir among Baptists and created a great deal of grudge between the two denominations. … I felt very sorry that a difficulty arose with my old particular friend and the people I taught.
In the early 1830s, a young Methodist preacher, William Brownlow, was becoming known for his harsh criticism of the Baptists. When Brownlow wrote to Posey and described him as being “devoid of all sentiment, so blind to the beauties of religion, so plagued by crime and so lost in any sense of honor and shame,” the preacher Baptist sued and won in Macon County Superior Court. Brownlow had to sell his horse to pay the $ 5 fine and court costs.
Controversy also stifled Posey during his time at Valley Town School, when critics billed extravagant costs for the school. Posey’s case was not made any easier by his lack of detailed records, although there is no evidence that he embezzled funds, and some of the criticism may have come from those who were against the education of the Native Americans.
After financial matters, Posey left school and returned to work with white settlers in Georgia, where he died in 1840 in his Coweta County home, less than three weeks after preaching his last sermon.
Sources for this story include “Haywood County: Portrait of a Mountain Community,” Curtis W. Wood, editor; “Brief Baptist Biographies, Vol. II” by Robert Hamby; “West North Carolina, A History from 1730-1913” by JP Arthur, and “Sketch of the Life of Brother Humphrey Posey: First Baptist Missionary to the Cherokee Indians and Founder of Valley Town School, North Carolina, ”by Robert Fleming, and“ The Peachtree Valley and Valley Town Mission: A Baptist Recategorization of a Cherokee Landscape, ”a master’s thesis by James Anthony Owen.