Practices of faith evolve with lives of Mercer County pioneers

Jeff Harvey

Sticking with the pages of William Sanders II “A New River Heritage, Vol. IV” (1994, McClain Printing Company, Parsons), we turn to the role that various religious groups played in the early years of what would become Mercer County.

The first religious gatherings were in homes, then moved to log buildings and open-air campgrounds. Survival against the wilderness was all-absorbing, with little commerce and cash flow. The form of religion was Primitive Baptist, which accurately fit the severity of the wilderness situation.

The transition of the Primitive Church to the various degrees and brands of the Missionary Baptists was a traumatic practice among the various Bluestone settlers. The Primitive Baptists selected their ministers from among their ranks, which still prevails as the basic Baptist democratic process. The migration and intermarriage of first settlement families were largely facilitated through the early church associational meetings.

The first church was the Greenbrier Baptist Church, founded by Elder John Alderson at Alderson on Nov. 24, 1781, with 12 charter members. I should clarify that this church claims to be the first church founded in the Allegheny Mountains of present southern West Virginia. Alderson’s gravesite is on the church grounds, along with another prominent minister, Rev. Matthew Ellison.

According to Sanders’ source, Elder Norvell P. Mann, Alderson may have been the first, and if not the first, the best known Baptist minister in the area. He was the son of Alderson’s namesake, John Alderson, making him John Alderson Jr. James Ellison, the son of settler and Indian fighter James Ellison, was also one of the early pioneer Baptist elders.

The Indian Creek church at Greenville is held to be the pioneer Baptist church of the wide area. Elder Mark Lacy may have preceded Alderson, Jr.. as an elder of that church for a short while.

We’ll pick up there next time.

— Contact 

Jeff Harvey at

Recommended for you